Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Public life consumes itself

The onslaught on our civil liberties pushes relentlessly on. I'm especially interested in the ban on smoking in enclosed public places which is due to be implemented, at an estimated cost of £50m, on 1st July next year.

"The ban covers virtually all enclosed public places including offices, factories, pubs and bars, but not outdoors or in private homes." It also apparently covers doorways, bus shelters and any publicly used area with at least a partial roof on it. So shop and officer workers who smoke, as well as pub and club goers, will be congregating outside in the street indulging their habit. How long before that too is banned?

How long before someone sues local councils under human rights legislation and they're all obliged to provide brollies, benches and braziers for the smoking population? Does an umbrella count as a partial roof?

I'm being silly now, but that's because this whole thing IS silly. OK, non-smokers (and I am one) have rights too. But nobody ever inflicted passive smoking on me against my will. If I choose, for whatever reason, to enter a smokey environment, that's my choice! I can quite easily stay away. There is absolutely no reason why I would ever HAVE to endure passive smoking unless, perhaps, I was obliged to share a prison cell with a smoker.

I was a heavy smoker in my late teens though so I can see the other side of the argument. Unless they quit (which is extremely difficult and can only be successful when the smoker is psychologically very strong) a regular smoker has to have their fix in order to feel comfortable. Withdrawal symptoms include rising irritation, irrationality, panic, hallucinations and increasing paranoia. A few hours without a fix and you literally feel like you are going mad: it affects the brain in that way. Your desperation and obsession to secure your next fix takes over everything and you are increasingly unable to think about anything else at all.

These symptoms can take anything between 3 days and a week to subside, which is why stopping smoking is so very difficult. It's do-able (as evidenced by the many of us who have done it) but you can see that a ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces is not going to do anything to help smokers achieve the high level of determination and psychological reserves of strength required to undergo days of cold turkey and kick the habit. You have to want to stop for yourself, not because someone made it inconvenient for you to continue.

Of course, there's a financial element to all this. Rebel smokers will be fined on the spot, £50 a time. There have been times when I'd have paid £50 to have a smoke and no doubt several £50s will change hands on this basis. I think they should have pitched it slightly cheaper though. £25 per illegal smoke would have had many more takers. Smokers who drop a tab end on our pavements here in Calderdale (or anyone who drops an apple core, or indeed any particle of anything, accidentally or on purpose) are subject to a £50 fixed penalty fine also.

In our local town centre the number of parking spaces have been reduced and the parking fee has doubled. There is a traffic warden and a street warden on every street corner coiled and ready to pounce on offenders. Yesterday I had to spend 10 minutes (and a significant contribution towards highway pollution and fuel tax) getting my car fully into the slightly-too-small marked space, because to err by an inch would have rendered me liable to a fine. One then runs to the parking meter (cunningly sited around the corner) and back to one's car in a race with the traffic warden, with both of you trying to get your ticket there first. If you can't run: tough. £50 please.

Oh and the fines are going up next year to fund the glossy brochure we're sending you all to remind you of your responsibilities as citizens, our new hand-held computers, centrally heated flourescent jackets and our Christmas knees-up. Not to mention the recruitment drive for new traffic wardens and the billboard posters we're taking out telling you all how much you need us "so that the ambulance can get through". (Model: female, asian, attractive and SLIM, big friendly smile.)

So town is an increasingly risky place to visit for smokers, drivers and anyone who consumes anything and might accidentally drop anything on the floor. Getting to town is also subject to rising costs. Bus and train fares are now largely unaffordable by my teens, who walk everywhere they can to save cash. Road tax is going up for many vehicles, petrol costs are rising and congestion fees are being implemented. The approach into town is indeed congested, but mainly by traffic wardens and traffic calming measures.

Have you noticed how much more slowly our town centre traffic lights are changing now? There's one in Huddersfield that goes green for about 5 seconds every 3 minutes. It's on a major route into town. You have to queue there even at 2am in the morning when the streets are deserted. Three years ago the junction didn't even need a traffic light: it worked perfectly well without one. Indeed, nowadays every town centre junction has traffic lights and the associated 'safety camera', which term makes me chuckle every time I see it. Bill for stopping one inch the wrong side of the line, whether you could help it or not? £50 please. Kerching!

So what with needing to have large amounts of disposable income to venture into town, and spare time and patience to negotiate the obstacles (including exiled smokers and increasing numbers of drunks and drug addicts who have given up trying to cope with all this and hordes of annoyed, grumpy, miserable people who are still trying to cope with all this but doing so with understandable bad grace) and run the gauntlet of officers in bright yellow coats ready to pounce.. it all begs the question: why would you bother?

Is it not all likely to be counter-productive? I thought politicians and businessmen liked town centres! But at this rate people will just stay at home or have illegal smoking, parking and litter raves in abandoned warehouses. Soon our town centres will be like ghost towns where the only occasional movement is the flicking to green and back to red of the millions of traffic lights, the eerie whirring of the CCTV and the 'safety' cameras (chortle) and the nervous twitching of tightly-coiled wardens-for-everything gathered on the street corners. The occasional shopper or office-worker will be stalked like prey in the kind of shoot-out environment they had in the old Westerns my grandad used to watch.

I'm starting to wonder whether the intention is for us all to stay at home and do all our work, learning and shopping online. Maybe we're easier to monitor that way, and taxing computer usage would be dead easy.

At least people would get more value for money out of their increasingly expensive homes and council taxes. We wouldn't need cars. We could use all that saved traveling and warden-dodging time growing our own organic vegetables and medicines in the garden. It might be very good for us: very safe, healthy, peaceful and calming. The ideal environment in which to stop smoking.


Blogger Tim said...

The plan is to divide us into groups and sub-groups. Nice little groups which can be demonised and controlled and watched.

It really doesn't matter what the groups are, Muslims, smokers, perverts, Jews, Anglicans, BNP members, motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, people who don't go out much, people who drink, teetotallers, old people, young people, parents, children they all need to be watched, it is for their own good, after all and who knows what they might be up to, particularly those shifty Internet users. The only people who don't need to be watched are criminals released on probation. Funny that.

So we will need lots more cameras, wardens, etc, etc.

Odd how we seem to need fewer A & E departments, though. Presumably, if we shut most of them down it will stop people from smoking outside them.

10:32 am, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Ruth said...

Our NHS policy here is out patients are not allowed to smoke in their own homes for so many hours before a nurse visits. How this is policed I do not know.

12:34 pm, December 06, 2006  
Blogger Allie said...

No sympathy on the smoking or parking issues for the following reasons.

Smoking in 'enclosed spaces' is usually in someone else's working area. I think it is not acceptable for bar staff to have to work in a grossly polluted environment. The idea that people can insist on a smoke free work environment for themselves is just unrealistic. D once worked with a woman who was a chain smoker, also her line manager, and they shared an office. The woman was also a good twenty years her senior. D had no chance of objecting to the pollution of her work space and suceeding in her job.

I do also think it extremely odd that people think it is ever acceptable to sit and fill the air with filth in the company of other people without even asking if they mind. If someone was overcome with the need to fart excessively to 'feel comfortable' I don't suppose they'd just sit there ripping them out - they'd go outside, or to the loo, or somewhere where they weren't inflicting the stink on others. I reckon smoking is a clear example of where people exercising their individual freedoms are harming others - and that's the point. If people were actually sitting there shooting up heroin I'd mind less - as that wouldn't be damaging my body, or anyone else's.

I see the car parking issue from a completely different place as well. We live in the city, without a car, and with two kids who need space to walk and run. When people park up to the corner, onto the pavement, double park, etc. they hem in me and my kids. I have even encountered people driving along the pavement and one who told me cheerfully that I should be holding my child's hand - ALL THE TIME in the street. Presumably because none of the street was actually ours to use - it was all just a race track and car park. I am prepared to put up with the fact that people feel the need to line the kerbs bumper to bumper with enormous metal boxes - big, ugly litter in my book. But when they think it their right to break every 'silly little' restriction on parking whenever it suits them then they get fined. Tough. Cars dominate our city, they pollute the air and with the ever present trundle of wheels on tarmac. I say all power to the traffic wardens round here. Maybe if people have to face the fact that they can't park legally and end up getting fined they might just figure out that it is because there are too many of those damn car things!

Sorry for the rant - both sore points with me, I'm afraid.

2:25 pm, December 06, 2006  
Blogger Tim said...

W.r.t. smoking. I smoke, I don't smoke indoors at home, I don't have any objection to not smoking on my all to rare visits to pubs etc. I agree totally that no-one should have passive smoking forced on them at work, or anywhere else for that matter.

If this were an attack on smoking I would be for it, but I don't believe that. "..any publicly used area with at least a partial roof on it" presumably means that it is illegal to erect a shelter of any kind to simply keep the rain off people who choose to smoke. That turns it into an attack on smokers. Smoking is not a criminal activity, it is heavily taxed, more than enough to offset costs to the NHS and so on. In fact enough to pay for people to pick up cigarette ends. So why is it prohibited to stand out of the rain to smoke?

3:19 pm, December 06, 2006  
Anonymous Jax said...

I was wondering about that. I do know of rather nice new office buildings just up the road for us where a kind of bus shelter thing has been put up for smokers (I assume it's for smokers, there aren't any buses in a carpark, and it's got those lovely butt boxes on the walls). Does that mean ppl can't use it any more?

What's wrong with a bit of balance, ppl, a bit of give and take? Allie, I very much take on board what you are saying about your children and walking down the street, but at the same time, public transport is inefficient and overly expensive. Last year I hunted for 9 months for a job, and could only find one 45 miles away, with no access by public transport. Should I have turned it down at that point because I have to have a car to get there?

8:08 pm, December 06, 2006  
Blogger Allie said...

Tim, you're right about the 'shelters' that just seems mean. Given that people use so much of their income on cigarettes it's clear that most of them won't stop just because they have to stand in the rain. Its the kind of 'schooly' bullying that the govt like.

I don't say that people shouldn't drive cars - I just object to the moaning about how hard it is to park illegally and get away with it!

I wouldn't even consider a job that meant I had to drive a car - but I know that makes me somewhat odd.

I think it is sad that people think they have a 'right' to litter public space with their private possessions (cars) and in fact get possessive about little bits of road ('their parking space')! I live in an area of terraced houses built in the 1860s, where the front doors open straight onto the pavement. No-one here fifty years ago had a car. I have read an account of someone's childhood, who grew up in this street in the 1950s. All the kids could play out, just getting out of the way of the occasional horse drawn deliveries of beer to the pubs. Now the whole area is a glorified car park. Gets me down. Probably makes me a bit less 'balanced' than I should be when thinking about cars.

9:20 pm, December 06, 2006  
Blogger Rosie said...

Banning smoking is not going to stop people from doing it- I was not allowed to smoke at home or at school as a teenager, but I still did it. It's just bully tactics.
Plus, I don't think it's a good idea because "it will affect children because smokers will simply stay at home and light up in front of their kids."
So health secretary Ms Hewitt thinks it will help prevent sudden infant death syndrome? how?
This kind of thing does not encourage people to be responsible. It is counterproductive IMO.

And Calderdale's parking campaign is nothing to do with keeping the roads clear for ambulances and school buses, as it claims. Suddenely there are hardly any free parking spaces in Hebden. The resulting measures have caused people to park along the A roads approching it, causing greater congestion and danger. The parking attendants are just there to collect money and enforce payment on parking places that exist. They don't stop people parking on double yellow lines.
They could have improved public transport and made it more affordable before doing this.

10:57 pm, December 06, 2006  
Blogger skypainter said...

Gill- this isn't related to your blog- but I don't have your email addy.

My mum is here for the weekend and I am hopefully (I WILL get it sorted) be giving her a black bag of baby clothes to pass on to Lou- to finally make its way to you! So I don't know when you are due, but hang on in there LOL! (Feel free to delete this comment when u have read it xxxx

12:12 am, December 07, 2006  
Blogger Tim said...

By the way, one thing which really puzzles me is this.

Double yellow lines are there to tell people that they may not park because it is either dangerous or will cause an obstruction. Those are the only reasons for having double yellows that I can think of.

So how come a car with a yellow disabled badge is neither dangerous nor an obstruction when it parks on them?

12:34 am, December 07, 2006  
Blogger Gill said...

Manda, thanks! That's much appreciated. You can email me at but I saw Lou yesterday and she now knows the due date, so alternatively you could just ask her, whichever's easiest for you :-)

As for smoking: yes I think Jax hit the nail on the head when she said there needs to be give and take, and understanding and consideration on both sides. Even as a teenager I don't think I ever smoked in an inconsiderate way that was damaging for others, but pubs and clubs are traditionally smokey environments! If you don't want to inhale smoke, surely you'd stay away? And there are plenty of alternative jobs to bar work for non-smokers.

I think if someone opts to do bar work or deliberately sit in smokey pubs night after night then becomes ill through passive smoking there should be a case to be proved that they had no choice but to be there, otherwise we have these nanny state bans which diminish the range of everyone's choices yet again. If I was going back into the licensed trade I'd be seriously consdering opening a smoke-free bar these days to compete with the smokey ones using that as its USP, which I've heard of some others successfully doing in recent years. This crazy ban removes that option too.

Re: parking, again, consideration should be the key. I wouldn't drive on the pavement or inconvenience a pedestrian to get to my favoured parking spot, but nor do I trust other car drivers enough to let go of my child's hand when we walk near traffic. Halifax and Huddersfield both work well with some pedestrianised areas and some not. The best way to help pedestrians, beyond that, would be to use the profit made from car users to subsidise public transport, which is still too expensive and/or inconvenient for many people.

If we had the train station people have been pushing for around here I wouldn't need to keep the car. The car's going next year anyway I think: it was a gift from someone but I can't afford to run it, especially with the new pricing changes coming in. After that, it will take us around 1.5 hours of walking and catching two different buses to travel the 5 miles to either Halifax or Hudds as opposed to the present 10 minutes in the car (+10 mins for unnecessary traffic light stops ;-) It will also cost us around £10 in fares, as opposed to the £3ish the car currently costs. £4 if you add the extortionate parking fee. So going to town wouldn't really be an option for us without the car.

Also without the car we won't be able to transport equipment to our home ed meetings, which we currently have to do because we don't have storage space, which brings me onto today's blog post ^^

Tim your yellow lines point is an excellent one too IMO.

7:01 am, December 07, 2006  
Blogger Baz said...

Owning a car in the New Labour age makes you a polluter, a criminal and - more importantly - a source of income.

And while smokers are being forced out onto the streets, driving is fast becoming the "new" smoking - because, as is inevitable when the tobacco companies have to face the fact that people in the more enlightened parts of the world aren't going to fill their coffers anymore and it isn't profitable to sell cigarettes here (they'll go and kill off Aficans and the Chinese instead) then the tax revenues will drop guessed it...the motorist will pay.

75% of the cost of fuel is tax. You can pay up to £220 per year in road tax, and motorists in London and other cities are paying £5/8 per day in congestion charging.

And - heres the kicker - none of that goes on road infrastructure.

In fact, less than 0.1% of your Council tax goes on road spending. The rest of the money goes on propping up NHS trusts and Education trusts who spend more per capita on admin staff than they do on the children they are supposed to teach, or the patients they are supposed to look after.

So, the new road pricing "proposal" put forward fills the smoking related income gap handsomely. And more than likely its going to be spent on Tridents replacement, the F35 Joint Strike Fighter Plane, two 50,000 tonne aircraft carriers and the next stupid folly the bloody Americans drag us into because they're into that Facist Groove thang and can't get on with anyone anymore.

And when it costs too much for me to go and see my son in Crewe, and the trains not an option because there is fresh air on the line preventing it from working (and it would cost me £45 one way anyway when I could get to Ibiza on Jet2 from Leeds/Bradford for less) I shall be buying a microlight, flying at 45ft above the motorway and sod the bloody lot of them.

As for speed humps and bumps, it has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that a lack of humps, signs, traffic lights etc means that people drive safer, because it forces them to be aware of their surroundings instead of them relying on someone to have taken care of it all for them. I know this, I have to read such things for my job, and I have to argue the case daily with people who really do not know what they are talking about.

And - oddly the environmentalists and nanny state protagonists forget this - a car engine pollutes more when its running inefficiently, at idle or between 5-20 mph. So all those people sitting in traffic making the roads "safe" are actually screwing the eco-system. And why is it happening?

Its happening because Doris and Irene - who incidentally were the only two people to show up at the local neighbourhood forum where the latest traffic calming scheme proposed by Mrs.Angry because "A car came to within 40ft of my childs secure nursery facility fencing (which incidentally makes it look like Stalag Luft 23)"
because they thought they'd get a cup of tea, a new pen and maybe a game of bingo - thought it was a good idea.

I despair, I really do.

8:47 am, December 07, 2006  
Blogger Gill said...

Hi Baz, thanks for the professional viewpoint on this! Given that you spend your working life being responsible for shoring up the crumbling road structures of one of our local areas from an ever depleting fund of cash, thats certainly an expert opinion.

I keep forgetting to link to your blog also, but will do so now.

9:08 am, December 07, 2006  

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