Sunday, November 27, 2005

Smokey In Chokey

I pointed out some time ago that making prisons exempt from the forthcoming smoking ban would mean that if you flouted the ban and refused to pay the fine you could find yourself allowed to do in prison the very thing for which you were imprisoned in the first place.

I consider this to be the Labour Government's finest legislative achievement. If you manage to engineer something so triumphantly bonkers it is best to leave it at that and not try to add little sub-jokes that might detract from the central absurdity. But this Government never knows when to stop.

To be fair, they are faced with a dilemma. On the one hand, a prison cell is regarded in law as someone's 'home' and to ban smoking there would be an extreme denial of their liberties. Or such few liberties as a prisoner has left. On the other hand, the Government fears 'passive smoking' legal claims from non-smokers forced to share cells with smokers. And since 80% of prisoners smoke, to ban smoking entirely would cause riots to erupt in every jail in the country. So what to do?

Well, if you are as divorced from reality as either someone in a Broadmoor padded cell or a New Labour Minister you announce that prisoners will be encouraged to "make arrangements to suit each other, such as the smoker agreeing to only smoke outdoors - say in the exercise yard."

As it happens, this very scenario is recorded in the prison diaries of my old solicitor chum Jonathan Trumpington-Browne which came into my possession after he was found hanging from the bars of his cell:

17th May

Just when I thought things couldn't get any worse, I was moved into a cell with 'Slasher' Simpson who rules the roost on D Wing and who, as one of the prison officers confided to me, should really be in a special hospital with all the other psychos.

This afternoon I said to him "Look Slasher, I'm sorry to be a bore and all that but would you mind not smoking in the cell? Maybe you could just have a social cigarette when you're out in the yard? I know that's only one hour in every twenty-four but think of the money you'll save. You could afford a lot more phone cards to ring your old mother in Edmonton. And I'm quite happy to make a reciprocal sacrifice and give you first crack at the Guardian crossword. Otherwise, this passive smoking is going to make me ill. I've been a martyr to bronchitis ever since prep school. The dorms weren't heated like these prison wings, you know."

Slasher sat on his bunk and smiled at me, twisting a large gold ring round and round his little finger. After several minutes he said "You know the cigarette I really enjoy? The cigarette I smoke after sex." He stood up and placed his tobacco tin and cigarette papers next to my pillow. "Passive smoker, are you? Don't worry, only five hours to lights out."

While I was digesting the implications of these remarks, Slasher picked up my crossword and lay on his bunk.
"That six across, eight letters, beginning with 'c', mentioned on the first page of an Anthony Burgess novel. Think you'll find it's 'catamite'. Dear me, that must have been a crap school you went to. Pass me the pen and my snout, Johnno. We'll finish it together. Something to do until bedtime. We're going to get on just fine, you and me".


At 8:23 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Burgess' "Earthly Powers", wasn't it? Something about the Pope waking up with his catamite. Quite an arresting opening for a novel.

- Tony -

At 3:45 PM, Blogger zaphod said...

I had to look up the word catamite.

Then I re read the blog and laughed some more.

Ho hum ... learn something new every day here.

At 5:44 PM, Blogger Merkin said...

Willie - first time I've seen the word catamite used since it was my log-in name on a certain website. Thanks for the memories.

Can I call you Slasher?!?

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Cut-Rate Parasite said...

Catamites and the smoking ban ... I'm seeing an odd connection here. Until recently here in the U.S. - and I'm sure at some time not that much longer ago in Britain, but perhaps longer than I'd imagine - sodomy (which I hear catamites often engage in) could get you sent to prison. Wonderful place to cure you of that nasty habit, isn't it? (Well, nasty in some people's opinions ...)

At 9:47 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Tony: Yes, it was Earthly Powers. I haven't read it, just as I have never done a crossword. Nor, for that matter, have I ever been in prison.

zaphod: in a moment of absent-mindedness I almost put 'concubine' which would have spoiled the whole thing.

merkin: so that was you?! Only joking.
You may call me that if you wish, but please only in the relative privacy of this comment box.
Actually, I go for a slash with increasing frequency. I'm sure it's the cold weather rather than my age.

c-r p: yes, and drugs are apparently widely available in prisons, something that I've never understood unless the staff are complicit in that.

At 6:10 PM, Blogger Mike said...

"It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me".

Anthony Burgess. Read both his auto biogs, funny, clever and probably outrageously exaggerated. Preferred listening to him to reading his work. Read some of his 'other' fiction including Earthly Powers, but always found it hard going, especially EP.

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I stopped reading novels a long time ago. I find most contemporary novels unreadable.


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