Learning to live with the smoking ban

In February of last year, a clerk working for Birmingham City Council came across some obscure medieval manuscripts in the archives.

Amongst other things, they contained a royal decree dating from the year 1385, banning the practice of breaking wind in public places. The legislation was specific to one particular shire in the West Midlands.

The documents were passed on to senior councilors who immediately sought medical advice. Several health advisory bodies promptly advised that such behavior could be harmful to health; not only for those engaging in this particular activity but also unwary recipients of the noxious fumes.

Feeling obliged to adopt a politically correct stance, Birmingham City Council re-enacted the edict, banning gaseous anal emissions in all public places including pubs.

Now my local is one of those affected and there’s little doubt that this draconian measure has had a hugely detrimental effect upon my drinking experience.

A couple of days after the ban came into force I popped into my local for a quick pint. Within minutes, I felt an overwhelming urge to break wind and duly eased myself up onto one buttock; about to let rip when Colin (the landlord) intervened.

I’m afraid you’re going to have to go outside Bob” he said.

But I’m gagging gaff” I pleaded. Colin gave me short shrift, merely pointing to a large sign behind the bar.

It stated in no uncertain terms that the act I was about to engage in would result in a hefty fine.

Reluctantly making my way outside, I pondered the unfairness of being ostracised for indulging in a perfectly natural activity; one that gave me a great deal of pleasure. None of my friends ever seemed to object, so what was the problem?

That said, the ban came into force on July 1st, so initially resistance was somewhat muted. In all honesty it felt quite pleasant to step outside and let rip in the warm sunshine. In time, a community of us gathered out there; all resolved to making the best of a difficult situation.

Someone came up with the novel idea of organising a competition to see who could produce the best emissions.

In the weeks leading up to the event, I put myself through an arduous training program; dining almost exclusively on hummus, curry and a variety of pulses. On the day of the contest I felt supremely confident; convinced all the meticulous preparation would pay handsome dividends.

However I hadn’t reckoned on Reg. He’d opted for a diet of brussel sprouts and baked beans and it appeared he’d chosen wisely; opening proceedings with a couple of absolute corkers. Clearly I needed to be on top of my game; nothing less than my very best would be good enough to impress the judges.

My performance in the early stages was steady without being particularly spectacular. Then, just as though it seemed my greater consistency would win the day, Reg delivered the coup de grâce

Taking a lighter from his pocket, he set light to an absolute ripper. A huge ball of flame shot into the air, engulfing the overhead canopy and reducing it to ashes within seconds. Needless to say Colin wasn’t best pleased. The assembled audience however roared their approval; it was clear to all that no-one was going to top that.

Over time however, the novelty of spending increasing amounts of time outside wore off. A number of customers became increasingly resentful and more than a little disillusioned with the landlord.

The onset of winter did little to placate their anger. Arctic conditions arrived with a vengeance; it was only then that the full implications of the ban became apparent.

One evening, suffering the inevitable after effects of a chicken vindaloo, I felt compelled to don my snow shoes and venture out.

Gasping as the freezing air hit my lungs and knee deep in snow, I looked in desperation for the external heater; desperately hoping it would offer some respite against the mind numbing cold. Eventually I located it, solidly encased beneath several feet of pack ice.

Now have any of you ever attempted to break wind in temperatures approaching minus 20°c? I suspect not.

Take my word for it, it’s damned near impossible. After several aborted attempts I gave up and hurried back inside, relieved to have suffered little more than mild hypothermia.

My mate Len was less fortunate. One particularly harsh winter’s evening he popped out for a quick emission. Sometime later we noticed he hadn’t returned. A search party was organised to go and look for him.

Fighting our way through gale force winds, a raging blizzard and almost zero visibility we eventually found his frozen body at the far end of the beer garden. Perched on one leg, a large icicle hung from his chin. He’d clearly managed to get himself in position to produce a real cracker before succumbing to the elements.

Prising him free from the ice, we carried his rigid frame back into the bar, placing it in front of the fire. Three hours later he’d thawed sufficiently for Colin to take him to the nearby hospital where surgeons diagnosed severe frostbite.

They promptly amputated six toes and four fingers and continued working well into the night in a desperate attempt to save his ears. Unfortunately for Len it was an exercise in futility, they were quite simply beyond salvation.

Both are currently on display in a glass cabinet behind the bar; testimony to the perils of breaking wind in sub-zero temperatures.

For some reason, we never saw Len again. It seems he’s become somewhat disillusioned with pubs, more than content to stay at home and let rip in the comfort of his own home.

He’s not the only one. Six months on, the pub is noticeably quieter. Colin reckons his turnover is down about 20% and there is little sign of customers returning. He’d hoped the ban would have boosted food sales; thus far it just hasn’t happened for him.

It’s clear the situation is far from ideal. Nevertheless what I find particularly frustrating is that many of those who have long since departed continue to blame Colin, implying he should have been far more proactive in fighting the ban.

What they don’t appear to understand is that he was as opposed to the legislation as they were. Like any good businessman however, he’s realistic about the chances of things changing; focused instead on trying to meet the needs of a changing market.

It’s also a tad ironic that many of those campaigning for the ban to be overturned don’t appear overtly proactive. If I didn’t know better, I’d think they merely want publicans to fight their battles for them.

I think it fair to say that they’ve got enough on their plate at the moment. There seems little point in getting themselves involved in a campaign they have absolutely no chance of winning.

So if you’re one of those who think the ban can be revoked, why don’t you stop boring everyone silly by constantly reminding us all about the impact it’s had on the trade and do something about it instead?

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