The great newspaperman Harold Evans once said that, along with italic, bold and so on, there should be a typeface called ‘ironic’. You see, sarcasm doesn’t always translate into print. But it’s surely the only explanation for the conclusion of Jeremy Clarkson’s column in the Sunday Times today.
After pointing out that – even in Britain – the laws against smoking in public places are being increasingly ignored or sidestepped (particularly in the haunts of the rich), the enthusiastic smoker concludes that the only answer is zero tolerance: a complete ban on burning tobacco in public.
Of course he doesn’t mean it. Before this ‘modest proposal’, he spends a good thousand words telling us about the Mayfair club where the outdoor smoking area is a tented drawing room, complete with a log fire. (There’s another nearby, equally lavish, with an open brazier and divans – but I’m not squealing.)
He reveals that, at one of the fancy restaurant he visits, the heated ‘smoking terrace’ is a lovely place to dine; at another, the waiter brings him an ashtray – indoors – after 11pm. He reminds us how the law against smoking in cars with an infant passenger has resulted in one solitary conviction.
We all have stories like his. I know a pub in Worcestershire that has its own version of the nightclub pavilion – a scaffold frame, a sturdy tarpaulin and a Calor gas heater. There’s an off-the-track pub in London whose anarchist landlord actively welcomes indoor smokers. And let’s not even start on the anomaly that cigar lovers are still allowed to ‘sample’ their Cohibas and Monte Cristos indoors, in soft-seated comfort. (Their special room at the Ritz must be 2000 square-feet.)
Whatever, Clarkson gives his real agenda away in the penultimate paragraph of his column today. Before proposing a New Prohibition, he compares smoking to farting: if you were troubled by frequent wind, you wouldn’t relieve yourself at a restaurant table; if you really had to let rip, you’d head for a special room called the lavatory. And a special room in pubs, clubs and restaurants – putting irony aside – is all that most smokers expect, or deserve.