|Illustration by Caty Bartholomew|
Before I explode with raw anger which, as ye know by now, is unusual for me, I simply have to tell ye about another lovely image of our continuing Indian summer which I discovered this evening in a corner of the cottage garden.
It was a kinda Resurrection thing which stopped me in my tracks. In a fork of a blackthorn bush in the hedge, did I not find a blackbird’s nest which was built last spring and duly raised a clutch of young ones to garnish life in Carhue.
It had been built quite low down in the hedge and so I was able to look down into it. It was warmly lined entirely with white hairs which I instantly identified as having come from our gentle Golden Retriever called Anika, whose only flaw is that she sheds more hair daily than would cover the floor of a barber’s shop.
Upon inspecting the nest even more closely I saw even longer, finer silvery hairs woven around the rim. and I am prepared to swear that they grew initially on my own head!
Imagine that now. Anika and I, without knowing anything about it, helped to raise and warm and rear the next generation of local blackbirds.
There is something deeply complex and complicated there which is beyond my ken. I had to tell ye about it.
Now I am going to explode even though I know in advance that many of you will violently disagree with the cause.
You see it was announced today that our government, and especially our Health Minister Dr. James Reilly, are launching a drive against the nation’s surviving cigarette smokers of whom I am one. The aim is to make Ireland tobacco-free inside the next four or five years by bringing in a whole raft of laws which will effectively criminalize us.
They say that they are doing it for the good of the national health, that too many of us are dying from tobacco-related illnesses, and, almost immediately, all of the existing workplace smoking bans and other measures will be strengthened and applied even more stringently.
Much of what is proposed makes common sense, especially in relation to the protection of children from what they call passive smoke. Even I, as a happy nicotine addict, accept that.
But what really riles me is a proposal which will surely come into force before too long which will have the effect of criminalizing me if I dare to smoke a cigarette when travelling alone in my own car!
That is the Nanny State of the New Ireland gone mad altogether. Stone mad.
I have been a law-abiding citizen all my life, but I hereby declare openly that I will break this law when it comes into force.
When on long drives alone in my own space, frequently putting yarns together in my head as I drive, I will continue to smoke the occasional enjoyable cigarette with the driver’s window open. I will do so openly if stopped on the road by the officials they now call the smoke policemen.
And I will go to jail in protest rather than pay any fine imposed on me for flouting a crazy law. I am prepared to swear that on a mile of Bibles as the old saying goes.
I have complied fully to date with the existing bans. I leave my company in bars and restaurants and go out to the smoking zones for my cigarette.
I fully accept that there should be no smoking in areas where folk are eating food or where there are children. At home, and in other homes, especially when children are under the roof, I go outside, even in the rain and cold of deep winter and puff my smoke.
Out there I often reflect that though it is clear that smoking damages our lungs and bodies, there is very little research into my assertion that, in times of great stress and pressure, a cigarette hugely calms our heads. In that role it is as effective as any tranquilizer in my humble opinion.
And, for the confirmed smoker like myself, a good meal of any kind is incomplete without the whorls of smoke over the concluding coffee or brandy.
There is a negative side to many elements of our increasingly Nanny Society’s laws. You cannot argue against the laws which now make it impossible to drive home from rural pubs, for example, after a few drinks.
It is equally true, sadly, that taxi services are woefully limited in great swathes of the increasingly depopulated countryside. So many countrymen are now literally fearful of losing their driving licenses.
They are buying supermarket spirits, drinking far more at home, becoming increasingly isolated and rural bachelors, as is often the case, can easily become one more statistic in a soaring rural suicide rate.
That is a cold fact of our modern existence if we are driven to examine them realities more deeply and darkly than I normally do.
We surviving smokers, through the huge tax imposition on cigarettes, contribute a rich stream of revenue to our governments. If these leaders really wished to take a dramatic step to cut the smoking rate they would so sharply increase the price of a pack that we would not be able to smoke as much as we do now.
But no, they need the revenue and so they inch up the prices every Budget by a few cents at most so that what they call the old reliables of smokes and drinks continue to be cash cows.
If I ever stop smoking, and I do not propose to stop something which I relish so much, it will very definitely be on cost grounds rather than concern about my health.
But even if I do stop I will certainly keep a pack in the car so that I can defiantly light up if I am driving alone through the west and encounter a smoke policeman at some deserted crossroads atop one of our many mountains. And that’s a fact and a promise.
And as I rot away in Mountjoy for my crime the incredible reality is that I will be free to smoke away in my cell!