Having very generously been offered a lift to Stony yesterday morning by Tom Paine - a true non-smoking gent - in his magnificent Maserati GranTurismo, Vittoria, I mentioned that the dreadful weather might discourage attendance. As we approached the venue at around 10:45, though, it was clear that it was going to be a successful day.
Posted sentry-like outside was
Just two weeks ago, this blog had floated the idea of a visit to the historic town - post-scripted with "I'm serious, by the way" - and my good friend Gawain had got in contact offering to "try to get Farage". There followed a lively 14 days of arrangements; a venue; further speakers; media coverage; and most importantly of all, people to attend. After all the e-mails, Facebook and Twitter calls to arms, and media enquiries amongst other activity, to see our protest take a tangible shape was both thrilling and a blessed relief at the same time.
The BBC give the attendance as 200 and, although this is a tad high, it's not by any means a massive exaggeration. As the BBC cameras arrived, I counted 80 to 90 people and they were still turning up! The final total was in excess of 100 is the best I can estimate as I was to be rather busy for the next couple of hours.
There was one irritating inaccuracy in the Beeb piece, that being:
The meeting was followed by a "mass light up" by smokers opposed to the proposed ban.Firstly, it preceded the speeches, and secondly it only happened at all after the reporter requested that we arrange it for them to film. It's worth getting that on record as you just know it could be eagerly misconstrued by some.
The speeches started late as we were desperately hoping Farage would get there in time. It soon became evident that an accident on the M1 had stymied that idea and the other speakers would have to begin without him.
And excellent each of them was too. Bill Etheridge with his Churchillian reference; non-smoking Patrick Hayes waving a Gauloise (which I later smoked) and emphasising the threat to wider liberty this posed; David Odell speaking passionately of his deep love for the town as a family-run business owner, and how Bartlett's plan threatens its prosperity; and Roger Helmer promising to smoke a cigarette on the High Street if Bartlett gets his way on Tuesday. When Nigel arrived 30 minutes later he was, well, Nigel. Passionate, articulate, direct, and still forthright in his view that anti-smoking legislation has almost become a parody of itself.
With the main part of the day completed, and the many press personnel having left to file copy and photos, the rest of the early afternoon was whiled away with a refreshing beer, a relaxing smoke, and good-natured conversation amongst like minds.
This was a day to cherish, with many believing it should not be a once-off; that successes like this should be built upon with action elsewhere should it become necessary; that a line in the sand had been drawn. I'll certainly be willing to go again the next time some petty dictator tries to enforce his personal preferences on others, and not just towards tobacco, either. Increasingly, other areas are being attacked by the same methods which are equally dangerous to our general freedoms.
Before leaving, I thanked the landlord of the Bull Hotel for his generosity in allowing us use of his premises (though I'm sure he was quite happy with the early Saturday takings), and he gave me an interesting snippet of info.
Apparently, Bartlett himself had popped by The Vaults bar on Friday night, bearing leaflets which hinted that he may be thinking of withdrawing the motion. He was given short shrift by the locals who "ran him out of the bar", I was told. Time will tell if Bartlett has really come to his senses but, if not, the locals of Stony Stratford who made up around 40% of the attendance have made their views perfectly clear for councillors prior to the vote. To a man and woman they angrily insisted that Bartlett should butt out.
I'd like to heartily thank all those who attended yesterday in the driving rain, you helped us make a stand - in our own little way - against the kind of mean-spirited miserablists who are increasingly making this country an intolerant and spiteful place.
Let's do it again sometime, eh?
- Top two images courtesy of Andy Roberts, AboutMyArea/MK11
- Video footage by Stony Stratford resident Paul King from 4Thought Productions Limited
- Bottom image courtesy of westcoast2