You’ll always find me in the toilet at parties

Ever asked yourself how much of libertarian you are? Well this government seems to want to ask us that question every day.

Martin Samuel in The Times wonders what life would be like if all the government’s lifestyle legislation actually was implemented and enforced:

There should be an ASBO hotline over which the latest diktats from the Home Secretary can be heard. Today on his hit list: people who drive in puddles, those ordering a G and T on the 5.10 to Orpington, anyone lighting up in a queue at a hotdog stall, radical Muslims and anyone who makes jokes about them.

Taken to its illogical conclusion, a gentleman emerging from the buffet car with a pint in one hand, a fag in the other, who proceeded to his seat, carelessly shook off a wet umbrella, and told his travelling companion an off-colour story about a vicar, a rabbi, a priest and an imam before adding: “Still, that Omar Bakri Mohammed, I always thought he made a lot of sense”, would not get out of prison for 30 years.

Except none of it would make the slightest bit of difference, because there would not be a copper around to enforce it.

Which brings us back to one aspect of the smoking ban which hasn’t been given much attention. According to Patricia Hewitt anyone caught with a cigarette in the ‘public spaces’ that are now to be ‘smoke-free’ will be handed on the spot fines of £50.

Who by? Well we aren’t told. Picture this scenerio – its Saturday night in a packed Yates’ Wine Bar in the centre of Burnley and the local football hoolies are having a bit of a session. The nasty looking lad in the burberry baseball cap sparks up and so a few of his sidekicks follow suit. The Landlord isn’t bothered and neither are most of the customers in the pub. Are the police going to come in and charge the lads £50 each? And even if that unlikely turn of events did happen you can be sure that each of the ‘offenders’ would say they didn’t have £50 on them. Then what? Frogmarched to the cash point? Court appearances?

There was a lovely, touching piece in the Observer on Sunday: Smoking ban lights up love life explaining how in ‘smoke free’ Ireland the fact that people now have to go outside for a fag means they strike up more conversations with the opposite sex.

Welcome to the practice of smirting (smoking and flirting), a craze which has swept Ireland since the introduction of the pub and restaurant smoking ban in January 2004. As it took hold, enterprising pubs and bars introduced outside areas for smokers to gather and with them came a more relaxed attitude to meeting people. Now, instead of spending time in crowded bars, people find themselves striking up conversations over a quick fag.

‘It’s brilliant,’ says David Conlon, 24, of the ban’s unexpected side-effect. ‘You spend your time going in and out from the bars to the outside areas and that’s a great way to get meeting people. There is definitely more pulling, just because you’re inevitably chatting to way more girls during a night. There’s nothing sleazy about asking for or giving someone a light or a cigarette, so you don’t feel as stupid as you would just going up to a girl in a pub.’

Fantastic. “Have you got a light, love?” – I bet you’d never thought of that line had you?

Now outdoor spaces for smokers may be all well and good for shy Irishmen or in summer in Somerset but let’s go back to Burnley town centre in January shall we? The government really wants to encourage young drinkers to hang around on the street outside pubs? Do they know the police have spent the last decade trying to stop exactly that?

I’ve no experience of Ireland where apparently it is not only hardened smokers who hang out outside. ‘In Ireland more women tend to smoke than men, so the ratio is pretty favourable if you want to pull,’ but I have been clubbing in smoke-free Italy and, as in airports and so many other venues, the smoking area is now designated by the following letters – WC.

This has led to some conflict in venues where for years the toilets have been the near exclusive preserve of coke-sniffing fashionistas and nympho shaggers. Now ordinary people just wanting a quick drag are joining the ‘toilet community’ and it is starting to get a bit uncomfortable for everyone and embarassing for some.

This will happen in London and Manchester too – rest assured, if you are addicted to nicotine you will go to the bog for a fag. So the government will, one presumes, have to act. Nanny Patricia should be starting work on ‘The Correct Use of Toilets Act” pretty sharpish if she doesn’t want to get caught out by the next wave of ‘anti-social behaviour’.

But what the right-wing libertarians often forget is that the private sector is just as capable (if not more) of treating us like two-year olds and on the issue of ‘toilet abuse’ they are ahead of the game:

Zoe Williams in the Guardian: This is the deal the AA has brokered with its employees, as part of a £12m savings scheme, which can only, conceivably, come out of the pockets of the staff: it plans to introduce “dataveillance”, which is a form of electronic tagging, only without the glamorous black ankle bracelets. Each employee is entitled to 82 minutes a day away from the computer. Given the statutory 60 minutes for lunch and 15 minutes for tea, this leaves seven minutes for going to the loo. They’re going to have their loo-breaks logged, in other words.

…..If it were just the AA (and the launderette), a simple boycott would be in order, but myriad other companies – Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Pets at Home, Spar, Securicor – are looking at similar monitoring equipment. It is, as the GMB union has said, “treating employees like battery hens”. But hens, bless them, will never find new and exciting ways to subvert you. Workers will – you destroy the fragile goodwill of the boss-staff relationship at your peril, you bog-snoopers.

The SLF have a nice quote from Abraham Lincoln about prohibition but one of their heroines found another good way of putting it:

Poor is the man
Whose pleasures depend
On the permission of another


See you in the toilet Madge….