One of the reasons I kind-of-sort-of welcomed England’s recently-passed smoking ban is my largely positive experience of nipping outside for a crafty gasper while drinking in other countries. While I don’t actively seek them out, and very often the short session outside the pub is a solitary one, brief chats with fellow smokers in the US and Ireland have generally been pretty good.

Since on day one of the new UK-wide ban I met a crazy, I thought it might be worth documenting the more unusual of the conversations with my fellow martyrs.

Number 1: July 1, 2007, Franklin’s, Lordship Lane.

Setting: Franklins is as much a restaurant as a pub. It was (I understand) an eating house which was retro-fitted to be a gastropub and I really can’t recomend it highly enough. At least, I’m not going to. It specialises in St John-style offal-accented big British food. That night I’d greedily scoffed a lamb’s brain terrine and followed that with a Bath Chap, which (it turned out) was piece of pig cheek wrapped around a piece of pig tongue and slowly roasted (I think). After all that, I needed a smoke.

Nutter: perfectly civil and perfectly drunk middle aged lady with big blonde bouffant and crooked lipstick. With young, silent, slightly dangerous-looking, even more drunk male sidekick.

Her: “Well it’s stupid isn’t it? The prisons are full up and they’re letting perverts out and they’re going to put us in prison for smoking in the pub.”

Me: “Haha yes well I’m not sure they’ll be putting us in prison anytime soo…”

Her: “If they fine me and I don’t pay the fine then they’ll put me in prison and to make space they’ll let out a pervert. I think it’s disgusting.”

Me: “….”

Her: “Of course they’ll probably end up making perverts legal. They made being gay legal. I mean I’ve got nothing against them but when I think about sixteen year-old boys who might be all confused and someone could talk them into doing THAT ACT. You know who the last one they prosecuted for that was?”

Me: “No?”

Her: “That actor, Orson Welles. He went to prison in Reading or somewhere but he wrote a book about it and made millions.”

Me: “…..”

Her: “Of course I couldn’t be prejudiced. I’ve got nothing against them, or the blacks. Of course, if my daughter came home with one… but I wouldn’t throw her out or anything, not my own flesh and blood… but anyway all of mine are married now, I’ve nothing to worry about.”

Me: “I’d better go back inside.”

Her: “Nice to meet you.”

[Please note: I am not the hero of this story: this story is the story of my own inability (or unwillingness) to engage with strangers’ views when engagement might lead to argument. Perhaps this series may become a record of my conflict aversion.]