cigarette pack Shed Pubs.
Reconstructing pubs in Britain.
cigarette pack

Yes there's an ashtray on the table and another on the bar, and the pub is in the UK and the photo was taken in 2008. It's a shed pub and I chose this one because of the well fitted tongue and groove, the arched ceiling and the overall proportions.

Pratts Pride shed pub

It was an entry in the Cuprinol shed of the year competition. That's been running since 2007 and the number of shed pubs being entered has gone up as has their standards. 282 this year in that category alone, with the best shed pub award for 2013 going to a gentleman in Ayrshire (1).

However my favourite is a complex of sheds that house a bar, snooker table, juke box and even a classic Vespa scooter! This one's got ashtrays on virtually every flat surface, so take a look and spare a thought to the sheer determination, time and money needed to make this recreation of a village green happen (2). And all within the rules that the structure should be less than 3 meters high and at least 1 meter from any boundary wall.

It seems their reason for entering the competition is pride in the finished article and, having spent many hours looking at entries dating back to 2008, their standard of construction is very high indeed.

The owners' summaries are revealing, especially the overall cost of some of them. £3,000 is way too high for most, yet the best have been built to last a very long time indeed. So we're talking "mates rates" and "contacts in the trade" for many of them. That's excellent because there's no VAT to account for and contacts in the trade means "shop soiled", so cost price!

But they're not all a refuge from the smoking ban; many of them are non-smoking and that's exactly what I'd expect to see in a free market (3). I sometimes forget that some pubs and many hotels were non-smoking prior to the ban. Even now in places like Italy, where separate smoking rooms are allowed, not all owners have elected to install them. Same in the Netherlands.

However the competition includes many other types of shed and one caught my eye, "Nanny Pats Tea Room". It's twee, yet manages to squeeze in at least four tables - and there's an ashtray right next to the kettle (4)!

Whether they allow smoking or not, they all have one thing in common; they're all leisure facilities. Some owners have used them for christening parties, birthday bashes, wedding receptions and anniversary venues. Others have wi-fi, satellite television, darts, pool tables and BBQ pits, so they're like any regular pub; some are just for drinking, some are entertainment centres and some cross into that lucrative category of "venue". That widens their scope considerably as some are so good that they can take the place of hotels and social clubs as well as pubs. That's first class because it keeps it in the family / community.

We're told that pubs are closing at an unprecedented rate - and I see this myself in Edinburgh, however these sheds seem to be more than capable of taking up some of the slack. I admire people who sort things out in a simple, straightforward manner. No pub of your liking in your area, then build your own! Sod the politics, sod the rules, stuff the finger pointers and just get the job done. It seems to me to be along the lines of Cameron's society thing, except this is not a big society, this is a far more understandable and far less expensive "Little Society" thing!

But there's one thing missing from all these sheds, a cash register. That's interesting because it means there's no income tax, VAT, business tax or property tax. Remove all these taxes and that means vastly more pints or nips for your money. And that's entirely justified because our taxes are - by and large - frittered away on things like policing Julian Assange, security for the G8 meeting and Bilderberg as well as the Olympics and that outrageously lavish funeral for a former Prime Minister. Oh and let's not forget the hundreds of millions they throw at fake charities or the billions they sling at "overseas aid".

One thing I like about groups of people in a relaxed state is the way ideas begin to boil up. And it's okay to talk about big ticket items because the cost can be shared amongst those able to use the shed. Maybe it's to pull funds to buy beer and spirits in bulk to take advantage of discounts on offer for larger amounts. Or perhaps they may experiment with brewing their own. I'm told that beer and cider are relatively easy to make and it's far more economical to go with large batches, which is no problem with your average shed where several gallons can disappear in a night. That can result in pints that cost pennies and avoids all the tiresome business of duties, taxes, middlemen and such.

Smokers have an advantage in these circumstances. An extended group is helpful because there's always someone who's off on a trip somewhere and they can be asked to bring back tobacco or cigarettes. HGV and continental bus drivers are a good addition to the group as are air or ferry crew members. Then there's the business of buying tobacco leaf, always much cheaper when bought in bulk, or growing your own. Either way the big costs are quality shredding machines and tubing machines. Not a hassle if that's shared between six to ten people.

I'm sure some shed owners have an informal arrangement with other shed owners to allow visitors to pop by when they're in the area. Very similar to the reciprocal arrangements found with "proper" clubs. Folk in tourist spots like Blackpool may find it mutually advantageous to do this with shed owners in London - and visa versa. That's neat because it empowers people to travel around without ever having to pay top dollar - and it's from that sort of thing that facts, ideas and concepts get passed around.

This leads to another issue; generally speaking, the average shed, or smoky drinky group is local to one area and they know it every which way. They know the gossip and they know which kid's going bad - and why. They may even know of crack houses, heroin dens and whore houses in their area, they may know about chop shops or ringers and who's shifting what out of which lock-up.

Pre-ban the police would have informers or they'd have a chat with the landlord and that would help solve crimes. Not now - and certainly not from anyone who's really hacked off at the smoking ban. Now that information stays within the group and is used by them. In my opinion this is one of the most important social costs of the smoking ban; we've lost our trust in politicians, religious leaders, so called experts and authority figures - and that includes the police (5).

Another issue is a good many shed people drive vans. Frequently it's tax efficient to register it in a company name, so it must display the no-smoking sign even if there will only ever be one driver. And every time they get stopped and fined for smoking in their cab, or even having a dirty ashtray, that's another black mark against the authorities and their enforcers, namely the police.

Certainly the fiasco of GCHQ trying to tap into all electronic communications will never replace good local intelligence (and has one glaring weakness - the courier). Even if they tag a likely suspect, there's always a delay. That's why many petty crimes are never solved and why we've seen the dramatic explosion in CCTV. Too many resources being allocated to electronic policing instead of the real thing.

Depressing developments and extremely expensive but, when put into context, it's just another one of those "unintended consequences of the smoking ban". We're way too far gone to reverse things in Britain, however I have to wonder if many of the countries where the rule of law is not as well established really understand what they're letting themselves in for, just to comply with the FCTC treaty.

Dick Puddlecote brought us information that Philip Hollobone MP (6) is trying to put forward a private members bill to allow smoking in clubs in separate ventilated smoking rooms should the members vote to do so (7). That's nice and I have to say I admire his pluck for so doing, yet my gut tells me this has more to do with trying to stem closures of Conservative Social Clubs. All political parties have seen the same thing and they're useful places to entertain the rank and file, motivate local activists and of course to add substantial sums to party funds. Their loss costs them dearly, though I've no doubt that somewhere in Middle England there's a shed, possibly many, where party activists can meet socially without the dues or markups and avoid all the boring old prep talks.

Now he's raised his head above parapet, Philip will be monitored by Tobacco Control and he'll join his illustrious colleagues with an entry in Tobacco Tactics. And it won't go anywhere because few MPs want risk their reputation, nor the vindictive consequences of daring to challenge Tobacco Control. They've seen what happened when plain packs was omitted from the Queens Speech; virtually every opportunity, both on and off camera, is being used to make out that Ministers are in cahoots with the tobacco industry. That's fine, Tobacco Control is their creation and they're its paymaster. The irony is amusing because some of them really do understand that being forced to sit on their hands in their little bench in the House of Commons will result in their losing their seat at the next election!

What these sheds as well as the smoky drinky's and the shisha lounges all show is that the ban is not acceptable to many people. Each one may only provide a place for about ten people yet, when they're all toted up, that amounts to thousands each year! After six years, that's an awful lot of socialising, entertainment and a new normality; one where children will grow up to know and appreciate, and very probably replicate themselves in time. If you feel our legislators are cutting off their noses to spite their faces, especially when you factor in the financial side of things, then you're not alone!

The charade has been so successful that even if there is a complete change of heart and the smoking ban is relaxed, I doubt much will change. There's something very special about hanging out with your mates in a place you lent a hand constructing. That shared experience, that smokers and minorities know about, won't disappear even if they allow three sided shelters, indoor ventilated smoking rooms and leave tobacconists to do what they wish in their own premises. Whatever they do will be mean and grudging with lots of rules, caveats and such, all designed to maximize revenue to the exchequer - and doubtless some political party will vow to reverse the whole lot if they ever got into power.

Nope, I'm firmly of the opinion that shed pubs will continue to be built and will thrive. Cuprinol's figure is 282. Taking out all the overseas entries, that means about 20 per month are coming on stream, and it's anyones guess as to how many are built without being entered in the competition. For some this is the new normality and - understandably - it's by invitation only!
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Smoking Scot
July 2013