- 08 Apr 04
Devastated by the smoking ban’s blow to the image of the fun-loving Irish, Barry Glendenning’s spirits re- lifted by Jonathan Ross
Publicans concerned about their profits taking a nose-dive once Ireland’s ban on smoking in the workpl… pub got underway may not have factored in the vast sums they’d make from the passing trade generated by the new legislation in its infancy. The dawn of Ireland’s new smoke-free era was widely reported here in England and featured prominently in the papers, as well as on TV and radio news bulletins. And if the countless British journalists and camera crews dispatched to the front line to report on the effects of the ban were hoping to see Ireland’s notoriously busy boozers as empty of customers as they were of cigarette smoke… well, begorrah they were disappointed.
On the day the ban kicked in, every watering hole in Dublin was stuffed to bursting point, even if it was just with pint-toting English newshounds delivering cliché-ridden pieces to camera containing such puntastic phrases as “smoke signals”, “no more butts” and “finally stubbed out”.
To be fair, at least one hack I heard on a London radio station was lucky enough to stumble upon the story she was after, through a careful disregard of the facts and any other obvious sign of research. Reporting live from outside the obligatory Dublin saloon, she revealed that in anticipation of the smoking ban, the owner had stolen a march on the smoke nazis by installing outdoor heaters and garden furniture for the comfort of smokers among his clientele. Despite this remarkable foresight on the landlord’s part, it was with a certain amount of thinly veiled jubilation that the reporter in question declared his pub to be deserted. It was a state of affairs which clearly didn’t bode well for its future, she said gravely, or indeed the future of Irish pub culture in general.
And the name of this doomed commercial enterprise? The Bailey, one of Dublin’s busiest boozers which – despite having had outdoor heaters and furniture since the days before smoking was invented, never mind banned – has never really been noted for the roaring trade it does at 11:30am on a Monday, the time the report in question was broadcast.
Although it would be an exaggeration to say that Ireland’s new legislation is the talk of London, it’s certainly the biggest story to come out of the country since Roy Keane got himself turfed out of the 2002 World Cup squad. In London, opinion on whether the ban is a good or a bad thing is as divided as it is at home, but the one aspect of the whole anti-smoking jamboree uniting people north and south of the Thames is the sense of surprise and disappointment that it was the Irish, of all people, who were the first to implement a ban on smoking in the workpl… pub. “I’d expect it from the Germans or the Belgians, but not the Irish,” mused one bewildered adherent of mine the other day. “I mean please tell me why… why on earth would you want to go and ban smoking in the pub?”
Answers on a postcard, please, Minister Martin.
On a lighter note, I was lucky enough recently to stumble across that most elusive of treasures: an excellent radio programme. When it comes to the wireless, my needs are as simple as you might expect from somebody who still uses words like “wireless” without a trace of irony. I don’t want repetitive dirge-laden play-lists, I don’t want toe-curling banter, I don’t want wackiness or zaniness, and I don’t want flunkies honking horns and asking the presenter how drunk he got at the Scooby Doo premiere the previous night. All I’m after is a presenter who’ll play a decent song, tell me a bit about it and then play another one.
At least I thought that’s all I was after until I discovered a very fine show presented by the ubiquitous Jonathan Ross, and a man who I believe to be his longtime sidekick, the softly spoken Mr Andy Davies. The music is superb and sandwiched between tracks by the likes of the Scissors Sisters, Billy Ocean, Blonde Redhead, Madness, The Streets, Adam & The Ants, Foreigner and The Beatles, are assorted rants, raves, and off-the-cuff musings on a variety of diverse subjects. Throw in a couple of entertaining guests – some bloke from EastEnders and the Pet Shop Boys, on the day I heard it – and an utterly shambolic quiz involving members of the public and the result is three hours of radio that really shouldn’t work but does, brilliantly.
On several occasions, I found myself almost choking with laughter as Ross waxed lyrical about whatever was on his mind.
For instance, the thinly-veiled mockery of notoriously reclusive art-collector Charles Saatchi, who apparently dislikes going out so much that he attends dinner parties by sending somebody along in his place with a mobile phone which is placed in the middle of the table, so that he can listen and join in the conversation without actually having to leave his own house.
There’s a lot to be said for that kind of behaviour, because if you could make friends with a few more like him you could throw incredibly lavish dinner parties without ever actually having to go to the trouble of setting the table or cooking anything.