I have just received a visit from "your local Labour candidate" as he called himself. I don't have a Labour candidate! I wouldn't know what to do with one if I had one - target practice with the old shotgun, perhaps?
Anyway, the cheeky bugger came walking up the driveway and started banging on the door. As you might have gathered, he woke up the Rotts, so there wasn't much left of his trousers about ten seconds later. He started ranting about dangerous dogs, upper classes laying traps for the workers and so on. So, I had to invite him in and placate him, at least until I could find him an old pair of the gardener's trousers and call him a cab that was prepared to take him south of the river.
While he was sitting in the drawing room waiting for the cab, downing large glasses of vintage Johnny Walker Black label, and chain smoking my full-size Havana Romeo y Julietas, he started banging on about his lot's smoking ban.
"The government ban on smoking," he explained, "has a secret agenda: to improve the health and wealth of the nation. But not for smoking related diseases." This is how he explained it to me.
"Nobody could have failed to notice the rise in nudity, graphic illustrations of sex and blatant pornography now available on television and generally in the media. City streets are filling up with nude table dancing clubs; and cinemas are now showing films depicting sex acts that, twenty years ago, would have had the distributors down at the Old Bailey in a heartbeat. The internet provides every form of pornography even the most perverted mind could want at the flourish of a credit card and the click of a mouse."
"All of these sources of virtual sex are, of course, no more than a poor substitute for the real thing; [I agreed with that!] but the government is happy to permit them wherever they pop up. It is what the BBC describes, in glowing terms as an achievement of the Blair years, as the "liberalisation of society".
"Now, what has any of this to do with smoking you may ask?" he said. "Well the answer, although not at first straightforward, is obvious once you think about it for a minute."
"In films, going back at least to the nineteen-thirties, smoking has been portrayed by Hollywood as cool and sexy, part of the romantic ritual. Just cast your mind back to flickering black and white images of the masculine hero, lighting two cigarettes and passing one to his beloved; or the hero and heroine, cigarettes in hand, staring at each other across the table, with love in their eyes, a 100 piece orchestra playing and her eyes welling up with tears" [probably due to the haze of smoke she was sitting in, I thought].
"In later, more avant garde offerings from France, the couple would lie back in bed following the culmination of their passion - and light up a cigarette while they discussed how much they were in love. This created in the minds of the audience the clear image that the cigarette afterwards was the normal, trendy way to conclude such an encounter, before turning over and going to sleep, going home, or whatever else came next in their lives."
"Today, we understand that casual sex is socially irresponsible as it can lead to unwanted pregnancies and extremely unpleasant, sexually-tranmitted diseases. The government also understands this, and is naturally very concerned about how much Health Service money child birth and STD treatment are diverting away from its project of creating more jobs in the NHS" [for bloody incompetent managers and bureaucrats, I thought, but let him continue].
"So, we come to the point," he said. [Thank God, I thought] "The government is encouraging the provision of vicarious sexual images and contact from a host of different sources, all delivered directly to your High Street, television and computer on demand. These constitute the ultimate form of safe sex, as the one element missing from them is ... er ... sex. No chance of getting pregnant, or of needing a quick trip to the STD clinic on Monday morning, after a few lap dances or an evening surfing the net."
"However, every time someone lights up a cigarette, or sees someone else do so, there is a danger that they might be reminded of those old movies, and think about indulging in the real thing. The simple and effective measure for the Nanny State" [he was pretty pissed on the Scotch by this time, so didn't mince his words] "to guarantee sexual health, prevent all those unwanted pregnancies among the oiks, I mean voters, and save shed loads of money, therefore, is to ban smoking, initially in all public places - and then in the bedroom. Simple really."
So I said, "Yes. I don't know why I didn't see it before," put him in the cab, lit up a Havana, and left myself a note to fire the gardener for leaving the gate unlocked.