Monday, February 18, 2008

A little higher, Julio.... thaaaat's right...

Although I have been known to dabble and do, as you may know, enjoy having smoke blown into my face I am not, technically, a smoker. Nor have I ever been, exactly, a smoker. However I do object to both pub smoking bans and the way it’s apparently now quite acceptable to lambast people for smoking and, judging by some recent performances from friends of mine, either pluck a cigarette out from between their lips or hide their packet of cigarettes in an unknown cupboard in a kitchen full of cupboards (yeah, tiger, I’ve forgiven you now but… really).

The issue, obviously enough, is one of freedom and civil bloody rights.

So Charlie Brooker (yeah I know this blog is rapidly becoming an Ode to Brooker but he has a window into my soul, damn it) has my vote when he suggests the it’s-for-your-own-good regulation brigade could be getting a smidgen out of control. The catalyst for this week’s rant is a proposition by Health England chairman Julian Le Grand to require smokers to carry smoking permits. Over to the future Mr Emery:
“Good news for smokers: Le Grand reckons said licence should cost only £10. Bad
news: he wants to make the application process as deliberately complex as possible. You'd have to fill out a lengthy form, attaching a photograph, proof of age and a fee, and send it all to a central Smoker's Permit processing centre and wait for your licence to come back, by which point, let's face it, you would have probably died. Oh, and the licence expires after a year, so you have to apply all over again each time it runs out. Why leave it there? Why not make it expire every 24 hours, so you have to
reapply each morning? Or include a Sudoku on the application form? Or force the tobacco companies to sell cigarettes inside complicated Japanese puzzle boxes? Or change the name of the brands each week, without publicising the change, while simultaneously making it illegal for a shop to sell you anything you haven't asked for by name, so you have to stand at the counter fishing for codewords for an hour?
Or here's a good one, Julian: make it a requirement for smokers to walk around with a broomhandle stuck through their sleeves, running behind the neck, so their arms are permanently splayed out, like a scarecrow's. To spark up under those conditions,
they'd have to work together in pairs, flailing around in the outdoor smoking area like something out of It's a Knockout.”

Of course smoking is bad for you. As are hard drugs, trans fats and waking up every morning to perform rote-learned tasks at a soul-destroying job but you don’t see anyone legislating this stuff do you? Oh wait, yeah, you kinda do for the hard drugs bit but I think you see my point. Possibly. Anyway…

“(Julian’s) paper, incidentally, also proposes "incentives for large companies to provide a daily 'exercise hour' for staff". Welcome to your future life: having struggled into work suffering withdrawal pangs because today's smoking licence didn't arrive in the post, you're forced to spend 60 minutes doing squat-thrusts in the car park. And each time you start crying, a man in a helmet comes round to gently remind you that it's all for your own good. Through a loudhailer. If that sounds like a nightmare, don't worry: you can still wriggle out of the squat-thrusts, provided you're carrying a valid Laziness Licence, whose application process involves climbing a ladder to reach the forms (stored at the top of a 200ft crane), ticking 900 boxes with a 7kg pencil, and finally posting it into a motorised mailbox that persistently runs away from you at speeds of up to 25mph. In other words, you still have freedom of choice.

"Provided you're carrying a valid Freedom of Choice Permit, that is. Getting your hands on a Freedom of Choice Permit is pretty straightforward. The application
form requires only your name and signature. Admittedly, you have to deliver it in person to the Freedom of Choice Licensing Agency, which is open only between 4.15am and 4.18am, and is based in an unmarked office in the Falklands, but nevertheless, thousands have already applied, if the queues are anything to go by. The current waiting time is a mere nine weeks, although you'd be advised to get there early and guard your place in line because there have been reports of disturbances.”

Brooker is, as ever, quite ridiculous, but the point is a good one. Where do you draw the line when you start regulating behaviour? I think it’s quite preposterous, frankly, that illegal drugs are, you know, illegal. Whose business but mine is it if I want to squirt heroin into my eyeballs or have a lithe 20-something cabana boy blow cocaine up my arse? There are social consequences to drug use and abuse but if it wasn’t illegal it wouldn’t so expensive and I wouldn’t need to turn tricks to get it. If it wasn’t illegal I might actually know what goes into it and might not, you know, die.

And when you get down to it why do we want all our citizens to live forever anyway? What good has an ageing population ever done for you eh? Can’t we allow ourselves to burn out, not fade out? Why not let us clog our arteries, destory our lungs and generally mess our bodies about if that’s how we prefer to pass our leisure time instead of, say, sitting at home with The Bill and a hot cup of tea. Well we can do all this, says Brooker, because even in this New World Order your rights are carefully protected – so long as you’ve got your papers in order.
“Anyway, once you've got your Freedom of Choice Permit, you're free to do as you please, within reason, provided you notify the Central Scrutiniser six days in advance of any unapproved activity, quoting your 96-digit Freedom of Choice Permit code in full, which isn't printed anywhere on the permit itself, but is given to you once and only once, whispered quickly into your ear at the desk in the Falklands, by a man standing beneath a loudspeaker barking out other numbers at random. The permit itself, incidentally, is shaped like a broomhandle, and is designed to be threaded through your sleeves at all times. If you couldn't be bothered with all that, you will just have to do as you're told, which isn't that bad, to be honest. There's a compulsory exercise hour or five, and an approved list of foodstuffs, but that's about it. You will still have at least 10 minutes a day to do as you please, although we've just banned
violent videogames, which are bad for your head, and there are one or two ideologies we'd rather you didn't discuss with friends or on the internet, which is why we're not issuing any Freedom of Speech Permits for the time being - although if you'd like to be notified when they're available, simply book yourself into one of our underground holding pens and remain there until your name is called, or not called, or time itself comes to an end. Whichever takes the longest.”

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