ANDREW ROBERTS | September 16th 2008
"The government has stopped me enjoying my post-prandial pleasure, damn them", writes Andrew Roberts, an historian ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Autumn 2008
Intelligent Life asked 11 eminent people from different walks of life to look back over their adult lifetime and name the freedom we have gained and lost that means the most to them. They were free to take freedom in any sense, political or cultural, social or technological. What mattered was that it mattered to them.
THE HISTORIAN: ANDREW ROBERTS
Aged 45, author of "Eminent Churchillians" and of "Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West 1941-45" (Penguin, September)
It's midnight, I'm in black tie at a formal dinner in one of my clubs, the port and brandy are being passed around and I reach for my cigars before realising that it's now illegal to smoke, even in a private club. Even though every club servant has left the room, and only consenting adults are present. Even though the club servants all accepted their jobs in the days when smoking was legal, and "passive smoking" has yet to be established as a proven fact, and they can clear away the next day after the windows have been left open. Despite all this, the government has stopped me enjoying my post-prandial pleasure, damn them.
It's not a freedom that, in this 60th anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, I'm about to equate with freedom of religion, speech or association, but because I'm British I take all those big freedoms absolutely for granted. Being fortunate enough to be born British means that I can luxuriate in complaining about the loss of tiny liberties, like that of enjoying a cigar in my club amongst friends late at night, at a moment when the state should not be interfering with me.
Because smoking is not behaviour-altering, there is no contradiction between bemoaning my not being able to smoke in clubs, and hailing my new-found freedom of being able to travel by public transport without the presence of alcohol-swigging yobbos. As the first act of his mayoralty of London, Boris Johnson banned the carrying and drinking of opened bottles and cans of alcohol on buses and the Underground, with the result that behaviour has already perceptibly improved. Not long ago the Tube was reminiscent of H.G. Wells's 1895 novella "The Time Machine", in which the loathsome, subterranean, bestial (plebeian) hominids known as the Morlocks made life a misery for the sweet, good-natured middle-class Eloi. No longer.
Our new-found freedom from drunken, spewing football fans, stag parties and similar oafs has made travel by public transport almost pleasurable again. Once the Route-master bus has returned, we will once again be able to feel the warm wind in our hair hanging off the back of them as they zoom up Piccadilly. The Emperor Heliogabalus of Rome (204-222 AD) offered a prize for anyone discovering a new pleasure, but this is even better than that: the unexpected return of an old one.
Up next: the freedoms gained and lost by Henry Porter, novelist, London editor of Vanity Fair and Observer columnist covering civil liberties
Picture credit: DRB62/flickr
Co-ordinated by Horatia Lawson