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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Who remembers smoking on the tube?

I used to measure the passing of time by the proportion of the population who could remember the First World War. Then it was the Second World War. Now it's this.

Who remembers smoking on the tube?

The tube's 150 years old today.  When I first came to London in the late 60s you could smoke on every carriage of a train apart from the carriage one from the front and the carriage one from the back. I can no longer quite remember just how unpleasant that must have been. Discarded cigarette ends would gather in the slats of the carriage's wooden floors. Passengers who found the fug too unpleasant could reach over and open the windows. Non-smokers were inured to smoke. It was a fact of life.

At some point in the 70s things were reorganised so that most carriages were non-smoking, again apart from the penultimate carriages at the front and back. The ban came in by degrees after a series of fires. Smoking was banned on the actual trains in 1984 but still people lit up as they left the platform. The build-up of discarded smoking materials under the escalators contributed to the catastrophic fire at King's Cross in 1987, which killed 31 people. The smoking ban had been extended to all stations below ground two years earlier but the detritus of ages was still there.  In the wake of the King's Cross disaster the ban became total, covering all stations on the network.

You tell the kids of today that and they won't believe you.

14 comments:

ageing hipster said...

I find it even more astonishing to remember that you could smoke on aircraft, well into the 90s. Only in the last three rows, of course, but that general area quickly became packed with every occasional smoker on the plane and on the long haul overnight flights to Hong Kong which I well remember, became a place of satanic horror...

The Swede said...

A few days ago I was explaining the local bus-route to someone a few years younger than me who is thinking of coming to visit by public transport. I made a rather weak joke about not going upstairs though, because it would be full of smokers. My friend had absolutely no idea that this was ever the case. I suddenly felt very old.

Jon Peake said...

It seems incredible now, people can hardly believe it. I remember it well. I'd make a beeline for those carriages. You could basically smoke all day every day, wherever you went, even in shops.

One day the fact that you could smoke anywhere indoors will be met with the same incredulity.

Smoking in the cinema? Don't be absurd. But of course for those patrons who wish to smoke, etc. I remember watching films through a fug of smoke or getting my coat singed by someone dropping their fag end on the floor.

It's so much nicer to be anywhere inside now without sitting in a smoky atmosphere. And I say this as a committed smoker.

Darren Leathley said...

I remember going to the cinema (Wakefield ABC) with my dad in the mid 80s, even then finding it absurd that smoking was allowed, but only on the left of the auditorium. Did Brownian motion not apply when the lights were dimmed?

This pales in comparison to the first (and recent - not ten years yet) visit to a smoke-free pub. Now you wake up the morning afterwards, and the main stink is from the booze you drank, rather than the pile of discarded, definitely in need of a wash, clothing.

David Hepworth said...

It is one of the few things that reminds you how much the world has changed. I wrote a thing for The Times this week about David Bowie's new single. I could kick myself for not including the line "when David Bowie had his last hit you could still smoke on the London underground."

roym said...

urgh i can recall as a child the stink on the tube and the bus.
how about the last smoking carriage on overground trains? that was the late 90s wasnt it? i remember a trip to see Liverpool v Derby where the only outbound seats left were in that carriage. awful, as was smoking in restaurants.

Frankly for those accursed years, i now delight in seeing the smokers of today freezing their tits off outdoors.

Simon said...

Odd, I know I used the tube before the ban but don't remember it at all, or lighting up in cinemas. But I can still see the news reports of the Kings Cross fire if I close my eyes and concentrate and well recall going through there not long afterwards with all the temporary platforms and odd walking routes.

I can recall being forced up to the back end of a bus (single decker) on a trip with friends once as some of them wanted a puff, and being asked about smoking or non for my first flight (to Morocco in 1991).

Mondo said...

Yes to all of those - and also cars. Probably the major reason I suffered from permanent car sickness as a child was being sealed in moving chamber of stale smoke, cold ashtrays - then the parents burning through the gaspers for the duration of any journey

A couple of other indicators - buying records from charity shops. Those from industrial smoker homes had yellow inner sleeves and smelt of dead embers

Staff rooms at school - knock on the door, look through the window - a pea-souper from teachers tearing through the stress-smokes in their downtime.

Andy Brim said...

I agree Darren, I don't miss my Sunday morning ritual of taking a vacuum cleaner to a jacket to suck out all the microscopic airborne smoke particles.

Martyn said...

Me too Mondo. Add in the 'Feu D'Orange' air freshener that was meant to negate the effects of the smoke and it would have been an odd child who didn't feel like gagging

londonlee said...

Remember smoking on the Tube very well because I used to do it. Knew exactly where to stand on the platform at Fulham Broadway so the Smoking car would stop right in front of me.

At my first job out of school I had an ashtray on my desk too!

David Hepworth said...

30 years ago my wife was in University College Hospital expecting our first child. Obviously you couldn't smoke in your actual hospital bed but if you went in the TV room which was just behind the nurse's station you could smoke to your heart's content. Most of the smokers in that room were women. Heavily pregnant women.

Simon said...

I came to London (from Morley, near Leeds, where you could smoke on the top of the green buses and which my sisters and I took to Cross Hall Junior School since we were seven) in 1982. Ken was boss but there was smoking everywhere; on the Tube, where in order to actually get on the Northern Line you had to use the smoking car, and at work – I worked as a junior professional at the Science Museum's Library, where smoking was the rule in all the offices away from the public areas. Some departments, such as Cataloguing, were safe, being full of nice Radio 4 listeners who'd rather die than spark up, but in the "working class" departments such as Binding and Acquisitions, the fug of Bensons was almost solid. When I am carted off with lung cancer which never touched my grandad, who smoked 60 Woodbines a day since he was 12 and died in his 90s, it will be because of the cigs I was forced to inhale by those bastards.

rahul said...
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