How smokers actually help the country's finances

Whoa ho, and welcome to 2013, the year of the, well, what? The Chinese always ascribe the year to some beastie or other - rooster, snake, rat - and on January 1 everyone in China says, ''whoa ho it's the year of the rooster/snake/rat,'' and they make rooster/snake/rat noises (cockadoodle doo, hiss hiss and gnaw gnaw respectively).

They then let off a few firecrackers because the Chinese just love firecrackers before going back to making stuff to fill our shopping malls and forgetting about the rooster/snake/rat. My 2013 started as the year of the hibernating bear.

When all the ships' hooters went off at midnight and the drunks reeled from the makeshift post-quake pubs on to the corner of London and Oxford Sts to hold hands and sing ''Old Long Since'', in fake Scottish, an event that in former times I made a point of never missing, I had already been in bed for a couple of hours. I was dividing my resources between snoring like a bronchitic bear and digesting a bellyful of chicken, carrots and pinot that someone had given me for doing them an inconsequential favour.

The pinot, that is. I bought the chicken and grew the carrots. In consequence of the early night I woke up feeling decidedly more chipper than I am used to feeling on the first day of the year, took the dog out into the warm and sunny and thought to myself that the prospects were looking bright as the weather and perhaps 2013 was going to defy the precedent of 13.1 billion years, or however long the boffins now say the planet's been up and running, and become the year of the blue bird of universal happiness (though blue seems a strange colour for such a beastie.)

But, ha, of course. Ha, emphatically ha, Because on the way back with the hot dog I stopped at the dairy for 20 gaspers with which to celebrate having made only one new year's resolution, which was to make no new year's resolutions, and I found the proprietors of the dairy, who for the sake of columnar neatness ought be Chinese, but aren't, busily adding another monstrous wad of tax on to the already grossly inflated price of my vice: 2013 was clearly, and not for the first time, the year of the parson bird, with the parson in question being a puritan.

H.L. Mencken, may his name be spoken with reverence, defined puritanism as ''the haunting fear that someone somewhere may be happy''. The ostensible aim of the tax increase is to discourage me from smoking. Why? What on earth has it got to do with anyone but me?

My smoking does no-one any harm and it does society a great slab of good, not only by the extortionate tax that I hurl into the national coffers - my weekly smoking bill now exceeds my monthly electricity bill - but also because it renders me less likely to add to the ever-growing ranks of the elderly, who are all individually delightful but who collectively are a drain on the national purse.

And so if anyone voluntarily opts to make himself less likely to add to the ranks of those sans hair, sans eyes, sans teeth, sans everything, he should be patted on the back, and given a bottle of pinot for being such a selfless chap.

But no, nothing of the sort. The zeitgeist has decreed that it is a moral duty to emulate the wizened centenarians of Japan, including one who was in the paper last week for being 115. Poor old bugger.

So I grizzled my way through the first morning of the year and when the phone rang shortly after lunch I almost bit it. It was a friend ringing to ask if I'd seen her dog, who'd done a runner. No, I said, but feeling the need to get out I said I'd take a drive and look for her if she liked, and she said yes please, so I loaded my dog into the car as bait and drove down the road and turned left and there she was nosing cheerfully round some dustbins - the dog, that is, rather than the friend who rang. I called her dog and she leapt on board and then I drove around for a bit so that it would seem that I'd gone to great trouble to find her and then I might be given a grateful bottle of pinot.

Well, actually, I didn't, though the thought did cross my mind. I reunited dog and owner immediately and that reunion was so touching and the relief so palpable, that I decided that 2013 should be the year of the heroically-rescued dog. I hope you have a happy one.

By Joe Bennett. 


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