The last gasp

Judging from the FATHERS’ DAY JAZZ announced on a board outside the front door and the twenty-odd empty beer kegs lying outside The Shepherd’s Crook, I am sorry to have missed the party. Two weeks after Fathers’ Day they are still obviously clearing up the debris. Unless, of course, the mess is the fallout from a demonstration against the smoking ban, which was introduced two days ago. Either way, this tiny village seems an unlikely venue for a loud statement of any sort.

They certainly aren’t having a party or a defiant moment the night we were there. There are only four people at the bar and they are having one of those inimitably English pub conversations:

“How’s your Mum today?”

“Oh, much better. At least she’s eating again now and her leg has stopped falling off.”

These few splashing out on a lager top are a sharp contrast to other parts of Britain where there have been defiant smoke-ins, dramatic demonstrations and days and days of newspaper debate about the rights and wrongs of the nanny state’s controlling the pink fluffiness of its citizens’ lungs.

At the better-known Coach and Horses in Soho over the weekend there had been a huge lung-blocking shindig of a smoking party until 6am on the Sunday morning when the ban had come into force. Outside, thereafter, a ‘Civil Rights Response Unit’, manned by an unknown comedian in the back of a hearse, provided refuge from the rain for those wishing to smoke but not prepared to defy the ban and risk landing their publican with a 2500 fine. Clubs all over the country had held last-chance-to-smoke-inside parties and pro-smoking lobby groups had tried in vain to argue that the smell of smoke was far less bilious-making than some of the more basic smells that would now come to the fore instead.

With my pint of Beechwood in hand I compare the drama of it all with this timber-beamed hostelry in the Chilterns, carriage lights, bumpkin waitresses in boots and tights (despite its being July) and a few old boys having a puff in the car park under an umbrella. Like all good English pubs none of the chairs match and the menu is on a blackboard with more than half of the items unavailable. A notice on the bar announces that beers under 4% cost 2-60/pint and those over 4% cost 2-70. A small discount, then, for the driver. Guinness is 2-90  a small surcharge for being Irish.

My scallops are outstanding. When we tell the bouncy chef she simply says “Well, I hope you like your mains.” Well, we do. The sole is soft and fluffy (like a healthy lung) on the inside and crispy and black (like an unhealthy one) on the outside and the garlic in the monkfish would drown out any tobacco smell for days. There follows a spectacular chocolate and ginger pudding. Who needs a cigarette when you can get fat on chocolate instead?

In over 1000 pubs across the country, smokers are apparently ‘defiantly lighting up’ and vowing to go to jail to protect their right to slow, painful suicide and accidental murder. They want their day in court, they crow. They refuse, they say, to be cowed like their Welsh, Scottish and Irish counterparts into taking this infringement of their liberties lying down.

Back in the bogs at The Shepherd’s Crook, though, the sobering view from the urinals of the floodlit graveyard at the back of the Norman church next door would have been enough to put anyone off an illicit smoke. Even more alarming is an advert on the loo wall for a beer called The Dogs Bollocks announcing that ‘Now you can have you Bollocks in a bottle’.

Now, nanny state or no nanny state, that’s sure as hell no way to celebrate Fathers’ Day.