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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.