An 'appy New Year to one and all

1st Jan 2005

What a jolly chap I am sometimes. Out for a run on the first day of 2005 and merrily wishing every dog-walker, afternoon rambler and shitty little ned a Happy New Year as I zoom past them. Some replied with a great Thank you and reciprocal message, others patronisingly responded with a laugh and "hi" or worse, embarassed silence. They didn't dampen my spirits though. I felt like Scrooge on the morning after his three spiritual visitations; a Dickens cockney accent wouldn't have been out of place either. Left me all liberal-like. Unlike dinner the night before.

To end 2004 "L" and I were entertaining my parents for Hogmanay. We'd booked a nice restuarant providing traditional Scottish food and music. We arrived at the recommended time of 7.30pm to find it completely empty. We were shown our table and it was the probably the worst in the whole place, less than 6 feet from the door. Of course we asked if there was another table but they were fully booked. So as each party was ushered in for their own special evening, a rogue wind tagged along, chilling us to the bone. This is the kind of thing that I loathe, so after about half an hour of wildly fluctuating temperatures, I lodged a complaint. I realised it was largely futile so never kicked up a proper stink. I'm not sure if the glasses of champagne that followed were a form of reparation or simply part of the evening meal. I didn't ask.

Hang on though, it got worse.

We chose this restuarant specifically because it operated a no-smoking policy on Friday nights. Now think: "New Street People" by Loudon Wainwright III. So for the next hour? Yes, all the nicotine addicts were buzzing around the door, puffing away in order to maintain their mental (im)balance; so not only were we utterly frozen but we got our fair share of second-hand cigarette smoke too. Just when I couldn't stand it any longer the starters began to arrive and acceptable conditions returned.

Food was very nice, all five courses. A piper heralded the incoming year to raptures. There was well-wishing and hand-shaking aplenty. All the mobile networks were jammed so friends and relations afar had to wait for their New Year toast. A superb night. We were all pretty pissed too.

Oh, I forgot to mention what happened when this ignorant wanker sitting on the other side of the door lit up a cigar after his main course. The whole event brought to mind a run-in I once had with a smoker on public transport about ten years ago.

I was travelling by bus to Arbroath to visit a friend. All of a sudden I'm aware of cigarette smoke drifting effortlessly up my nose. Instant fury. I jumped up and immediately located the culprit. Before any contemplation I blurted out:

"There's no smoking allowed on this bus, can you put out your cigarette right now", not a question but an order and delivered as such.

Embarrassed at his public humiliation he said nothing and quietly extinguished the vulgar roll. No, I didn't do it to feel big or clever and it certainly didn't have that effect. But it was a defining moment. My moral muscles had a memorable workout. As the bus pulled into the next station, the smoker rose to alight and before passing, stopped at my seat. Surreptitiously holding open his full length coat, at once increasing his physical size and displaying a menacing knife strapped to his belt, he leaned forward so his face was very close to mine and quietly growled:

"Don't speak to somebody you don't know like that. They might kill you."

"Jings!" I thought.

He left the bus and a very shaken young man.

So, this wanker lit up a cigar after his dinner in this no-smoking restuarant. Instantaneous fury with bells on. Ah, but rememeber I'm a responsible guy these days. And my parents are sitting next to me. I'm not going to do something stupid and get myself killed. So I think for a few minutes...

"Just popping to the toilet", I explained to the table.

As I rose the cigar-man rose simultaneously. I gave him a friendly smile as our paths converged and I put my arm round his shoulder.

"Enjoying the meal?", I enquired in a friendly manner as his foul-smelling roll found it's way up my nose.

"Oh, yes that steak was soooo tend...", he began before I interupted him.

"Did you realise that this restaurant is no-smoking? No? Well, just put that cigar out right now and you'll avoid getting your head kicked in later", I reassured him with a grimace.

Well, that's what I thought would be a good thing to say but as I approached him I felt this inexplicable pity for the man. As I went to put my arm round his shoulder, he visibly broke out into a sweat. Maybe he was homophobic... I don't know! Importantly though, he proceeded to stub out his cigar without any personal request from myself. Bloody scary. I followed him to find the toilet had been designated the unofficial smoking room. So that's why nobody had been nipping outside for a fly puff; they'd been using the toilets like a bunch of naughty school children!

My immediate thought? What are these desperate people going to do when this law comes into force in just over a year? Things are going to turn nasty and I'm not sure if I'm looking forward to seeing a whole new breed of pugilist out there: they just get nastier and more dangerous with each generation.

real life