Say what you like about the French Revolutionaries but at least they had a poetic imagination. When they wanted a new name for October, they anticipated Keats and named the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness ‘Brumaire’, meaning ‘foggy’. Which is a lot more evocative, I think we can agree, than its current incarnation under the new politically correct Terror: Stoptober.
Stoptober. Geddit? That’s ‘-ober’, as in the second half of ‘October’, with the word ‘Stop’ cunningly positioned where the ‘Oct’ would normally be. And what marketing genius was responsible for this rebranding? Why, someone from an Orwellian body which you’d probably much prefer didn’t exist, let alone to have to fund with your taxes. Public Health England.
So far, according to the official Stoptober website, more than a quarter of a million people have signed up to the pledge. Instead of doing what any normal person would — numbing the miseries of the end of summer by upping their consumption of booze, nicotine and suchlike — they have vowed to ruin their entire month with cravings, irritability, mood swings, restless fingers, insomnia and boredom by giving up smoking for 28 days.
Here’s one of the alleged participants, explaining his motivation: ‘I gave up smoking cos it’s really bad for your kids’ health to smoke with them in the back of the car. So when I quit the ciggies it felt great to be able to drive the kids around without ’em on the roof rack.’
His name is ‘Lee Nelson’ which, I learn from the interweb, is the alter ego of a former medical doctor turned stand-up comedian called Simon Brodkin. Is it just me — or is observational stand-up not what it used to be? I mean, comedy, I thought was a) meant to challenge the nanny state’s authority not endorse it b) impart some truth about the world (yeah right, smoking in cars with children in the back is, like, totally one of the great issues of our time, about which we all agonise A LOT) and c) be funny. But maybe that’s why I’m not a successful stand-up myself. I’m just not in tune with the times.
And the times, if Lee Nelson and his abstainer-miserablist pals are right, appear to have grown very depressing indeed. In the bad old days — where reprobates like me still live — there were these things called individuality and personal responsibility. If you drank or smoked, you accepted that there were consequences. In return for the pleasures of the sociable altered state brought on by your mild addiction to booze or nicotine, you understood that you might die horribly of cancer or cirrhosis or in a hideous car crash. Your life, your call.
What you certainly didn’t expect or demand was that Big Hand of government would be there at every turn to wipe your bottom for you with schemes like the one currently being rolled out — at your expense, of course — by the NHS, whereby if you think you drink a bit too much, your nice doctor will prescribe you a magic pill which forces you to consume alcohol within the ‘safe’ limits decided for you by the men from the ministry who know best.
Nor, if you were a smoker, did you have to be protected from your cravings by having all packs of ciggies hidden from public view in a special naughty cabinet. Or by offputting pictures of tumours and tar-encrusted lungs. Such measures, you would not unreasonably have thought, are not just patronising and infantilising but also an insidious assault on liberty and free will: the sort of thing you’d fully expect in a place like Nazi Germany (the first regime to ban smoking on public transport) but most definitely not in the land of John Wilkes, George Orwell and Howard Marks….
I suppose I should have known it was all over when Jeremy Clarkson surrendered at the time of the smoking ban. He didn’t mind the government’s dishonest, undemocratic and illiberal assault on property rights and personal freedom, he cheerfully explained, because as a weak-willed smoker himself he rather liked the decision being taken out of his hands.
‘Et tu, Jeremy?’ I thought, because even though he’s not necessarily the greatest of public intellectuals, I had imagined that he would instinctively have understood the basic point: government is there to preserve the rule of law, protect property rights, guarantee the defence of the realm. It really isn’t there to prevent, say, the owner of a private club from allowing his membership to enjoy a postprandial puff of a weed which harms no one but themselves.
But we’re all communitarians, now, apparently — even Clarkson, even Boris Johnson, who recently chose to dedicate large chunks of his Tory conference speech not to the bracing pleasures of free markets and free will, but to the virtues of lavish state spending. The time is fast approaching, I fear, when I may be the only classical liberal left on earth. Unless, perhaps, I can persuade a few of you to join me in sticking up for the old values, even at the cost of our lives.
Let’s start by reclaiming October. October, let us remind ourselves, has one purpose and one purpose only: it is nature’s way of telling you that the cubbing season is in full cry. No abstinence is required. Quite the opposite in fact. It can be cold and boring, sitting on a horse by the side of a wood waiting for something to happen. That’s why you need fags, to make the time pass. And booze — plenty of it, in every variety from sloe gin to cherry brandy — to keep you warm, and give you the necessary Dutch courage in the unlikely event of a ‘Tally ho!’
It’s either that or Stoptober and its grisly relative Octsober. Your call, freedom lovers.