This week, a bearded man stood up to be counted. Like many a native of this island before him, his stand was noble as it was hopeless. His bravery ranks with that of the lone Chinese student who stood, shopping bag in hand, in front of a bristling army tank in the friendless vastness of Tianenmen Square all those years ago, before the onset of Olympics made everything all right.
Deserves to stand with those who braved the water cannon at the start of the Troubles but who now sit alone in pubs, prematurely old men muttering into their pints, secure in the final realisation that they might just as well not have bothered — principles they believed noble and pure having been proved worthless.
But what did this bearded man do, I hear you cry? Burst into Iris Robinson’s bedroom wearing a tutu? Attack the Giant’s Causeway with a chisel? Attempt to speak a whole sentence in Ulster-Scots? No, nothing as ambitious or startling as any of those.
No, Chris Carter was fined £250 for being in ‘possession of a lit tobacco product’ (and ordered to pay £1,000 costs).
Even the very description of his crime immediately raises the hackles of all free spirits. ‘Smoking in a prohibited place’ would have done the job just as well. But being caught in ‘possession of a lit tobacco product’ somehow conveys to the casual observer the leprous contempt in which the smoker is held by those who are paid to look after us.
Chris Carter has vowed to continue his fight. His crime was evil. He walked into the offices of North Down Borough Council and sparked up a Benson and Hedges. He was asked to put it out. He did not. He was making a stand.
The judge said: “It is clear even to a casual observer that Mr Carter deliberately invited prosecution ... It is quite clear that Mr Carter, by his actions, was aware that this was an enclosed area. He is therefore guilty as charged. I sentence him to hang by the neck until he is dead.” (I made up the last, well, sentence.)
I say, well done, Mister Carter, and I hope your appeal is successful. Law abiders amongst you will be shocked when I tell you that if Mister Carter had done what he did in any European country that has opted for a smoking ban (except here), he would have been allowed to finish his fag. He wouldn’t have been prosecuted either.
Why? Because other countries realise that every once in a while a man should be allowed to smoke where he is not allowed to as long as he doesn’t abuse the privilege.
There is a word that is sometimes used to describe that kind of attitude. The word is ‘civilised’.
We are incapable of that here, terrified as we are of the puniest by-law. Some of us can now be fined £100 for not closing the lids of our wheelie-bins properly.
It is therefore no coincidence that Jeremy Clarkson has been declared most men’s ideal role model. Otherwise sensible men are being driven into the arms of a man who in any civilised society would be seen for what he is, a large, self-regarding, oafish, boastful rugger bugger who would run down your granny if she wasn’t quick enough off the mark at a zebra crossing.
If the man-in-the-street was accorded even a shred of dignity he would think twice about looking up to the likes of Clarkson and Gordon Ramsey (third most popular, second was actor Ray Winstone).
And things are getting worse. Management consultant Linda Buchanan was shoved off a railway platform when she asked two yobs in their 20s to stop smoking.
She broke a wrist but narrowly missed falling onto a 750-volt live track.
The yobs were clearly scumbags of the lowest order and what they did cannot be condoned, but let me ask smokers this.
If Jeremy Clarkson were smoking in the open air on a railway platform and a management consultant fellow passenger told him to put his fag out, what do you think he would say?
I thought so