BUNHILL: Weeding out the smokers

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The Independent Online
I have a serious complaint about smoking, and may have to sue a tobacco company. It is this. In offices where smoking has been banned, smokers have a huge advantage. For one thing they do not work as much, because they are no longer allowed to puff as they work. For another they are the only people who know what is going on.

Bunhill Towers has a smoking room (see photo), where addicts of the weed congregate. They cannot see each other, but they do not need to because they are so busy swapping gossip. They know who is about to be fired (sorry, downsized), who is consorting with whom, and on whom to put their pennies in the 2.15 at Lingfield.

It is unfair. Having spent my life at the centre of the social whirl, I now feel excluded. Something must be done, and I know what it is. We must have a room where non-smokers can gather to exchange tittle-tattle without being fumigated.

But what? The obvious choice is a dormitory, but I fear the smokers would invade and set fire to the sheets, in the style of Lucky Jim. So what can't you do while smoking? Pick your nose? I'm not sure, and I'm not sure a nose-picking room would be seemly. A room where you blew up balloons, perhaps? Not bad, but it might be difficult to gossip if you are out of breath.

No, the answer must be a swimming pool. Smokers cannot swim, because their cigarettes go out under water, and because their lungs are too battered to keep afloat. Pools are excellent places to gossip, especially while floating on a rubber duck. I hereby demand on behalf of all non- smokers that for every smoking room there be a swimming pool, with adequate supplies of rubber ducks. There.

Maguy Higgs, my correspondent from Birmingham, tells me that Ofwat, which I mentioned last week, is an area next to Angkor Wat by the Irrawaddy. A fib, I think, which is a shame because it would provide a splendid place to send whoever is in charge of Ofwatand all the water company chairmen. Bless them.

Utility futility

One of those water companies, the usual one I'm afraid, has had to grovel to a man who has no water supply. Yorkshire Water sent a bill for pounds 55.86, the standing charge, to Ciaron Riley, who runs a motor repair shop in Selby. He said he did not have water or a toilet. They said he almost certainly nipped into the business next door to use the bog there, and anyway he should pay for the upkeep of the drains that coped with the rainwater flowing from his roof.

They threatened him with court action, and said they would cut his water off. Come round, he said ... at which point he had them by the short and curlies, and they realised it. Do you think Yorkshire Water has a "Let's get some bad press" office?

Maurice Saatchi is not a lord. Nor is Peter Gummer. Nor, for that matter, is Swraj Paul, whose life you will find elegantly detailed in these pages. Yes, we have been told they have all been peerified, but that does not mean they are peers.

Sir Jeffrey Sterling discovered this when he thought he had become a lord. No, he was told, you have to wait until you get an official notification, which could be two months after you have been announced. What you should be doing now, Sir Jeff, is to think of the place you want to be lord of. Then we will tell you if you can be; then you get the sealed envelope.

The same used to be true of knights and OBEs and other such riff-raff: they were supposed to use their gong only after they had picked it up from Buckingham Palace. But we spoilsports in the press started using the handle immediately, and correct form was forgotten. A shame, I think.

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Back to our competition to find new trade names. From Bob Edgecombe of Dunmow, a soap for adolescents called Simply Pimply; paper handkerchiefs called Snotties; and Gusto, the alternative to relish, as in "He ate with Gusto and Relish".

Chris Sladen of Ealing offers Mother's Shame, for factory-made sliced bread, while WJ Mason of Norwich comes up with the euphonious Booboobado for a brassiere.

Jeff McCready of Croydon offers a sad footnote to my new tax competition. "Is there," he wonders, "a tax on our British team winning Olympic medals? Perhaps a rebate might improve performance?"