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Being in London as History is Made

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Part 6 of series: European Reflections 2006
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As the last leg of our European sojourn, my wife and I spent six days in London. We were there from July 1 to July 7. Though it was not our plan, we ended up there as history was being made.

What history, you ask?

Well, I’m not talking about the bomb threats, though these were certainly newsworthy. Right before we arrived in London, car bombs were discovered in the city, and during our stay a burning jeep was crashed into the Glasgow Airport in Scotland. For a good part of one day Heathrow Airport was closed because of concern over a piece of abandoned luggage. That was a false alarm, but the threat of terrorist bombings was certainly a major concern while we were in London. Yet this is not the historic part.

I’m not referring to other items that made lots of news during our London stay, These included:

• Wimbledon tennis tournament just outside of London, which fought to remain afloat amid heavy rains.

• The London premiere of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which my wife and I just happened to stumble upon. We stuck around for a while, and I even spied Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) and Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) in person, though from a distance. The whole event must have included 10,000 screaming teenage girls. Quite fun, but hardly historic.

• The pound at a twenty-six year high against the dollar. Now this wasn’t much fun at all for us travelers from the U.S. It wasn’t hard to figure out prices. You just double the pound number to get the number of dollars (almost). I hated paying $8.00 for a sandwich that was worth about $4.00.

• The start of the Tour de France in London. Yes, indeed, this most famous of bike races, this truly French bike race, began in London this year. It was not the first time this has happened. In 1974 and then again in 1994 the Tour included a British stage. No, they didn’t change the name to Le Tour de France et Angleterre.

So, if it wasn’t the bomb threats, or Wimbledon, or Harry Potter, or the pound, or the Tour de France that was so historic, what am I talking about? Indeed, I’m referring to an event that happened for what was probably the first time in over four centuries. I’m talking about something that I personally experienced, though it impacted the whole of the United Kingdom. I’m speaking of something that, ironically enough, fits perfectly with the theme of my recent blogging. What is this monumental event? I sat in an English pub without smelling cigarette smoke. (Photo to the right: interior of the pub where I had dinner on July 1, 2007. Do the empty seats reflect the change in the law?)

Actually, that’s just one small implication of the historic event. The fact is that on July 1, 2007, nobody was smoking in English pubs. Or at least nobody should have been. On that date smoking in pubs, and in most other indoor public places, was illegal for the first time in British history. And this means for the first time in hundreds of years.

Pubs have been around in England for around a thousand years. The Trip to Jerusalem (no joke!) pub claims to be the oldest in the country, and it was founded in 1189 AD (see their website). Smoking was introduced to England sometime in the second half of the 16th century. There’s a debate about the precise details. This means that people have been smoking in English pubs for over four hundred years . . . until July 1, 2007.

I’m sure some folks still smoked in their favorite pubs on that date. There had been some comments on the news about people committing acts of civil disobedience. But during my week in London, I didn’t see anybody breaking the law. The smokers had gathered on the outside, sitting at small tables. In once case I saw two men sitting outside as they enjoyed an ale, a smoke, and fervent conversation, while it was raining. Now that’s commitment!

For what it’s worth, I’m not a smoker, but I’m not a fervent anti-smoker. In fact, if I wrote the laws, I’d give the pub owners the freedom to decide whether their establishments would be smoking or non-smoking. When I was hungry, I would choose to do business with non-smoking pubs, as would many others, I expect. In time, the market would decide what’s works best, and I imagine there would be smoking pubs and non-smoking pubs.

Nevertheless, I was glad to be able to enjoy my fish and chips (translation: “French fries”) in a smoke-free environment. Now, if only those chaps would stop arguing in such loud voices, I could have a truly pleasant meal. Perhaps in time they’ll pass a law outlawing shouting. Who knows?

Topics: European Reflections |

2 Responses to “Being in London as History is Made”

  1. David Faulkner Says:
    July 18th, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Hi Mark,

    Interesting to read your reflections on your visit to our fair country. Sadly, the smoking ban doesn’t apply to all pubs - only to those where food is served. (There speaks a militant non-smoker!)

    Obviously the pound/dollar exchange rate is bad for you, and worsens the high cost of living we have, even with low inflation in recent years. Nevertheless, your sandwich sounds expensive. There are good high street outlets to get decent sandwiches cheaper than that.

    What also happens, though, is some software firms just change the dollar sign for a pound sign when pricing their goods in the UK. You wouldn’t want to buy Microsoft Office or Adobe Photoshop here, for example (unless you get Office bundled with a new PC).

    Oh, and not that it matters (I’m just a dreadful pedant) Wimbledon is in Greater London, not outside. There’s your trivia fact.

    Finally, many thanks for all your stuff on Christopher Hitchens recently. I wrote to a popular culture magazine The Word ( that had given uncritical praise to Hitchens and Dawkins, and commended your series. I got the lead letter in the August issue - and a feisty response!

  2. aurorawatcher Says:
    July 25th, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    I don’t smoke either and truly appreciate being able to enter a restaurant without the stink. Our town has no laws about smoking in restaurants, but a local restrauranteur saw the handwriting on the wall a couple of years ago and went voluntarily non-smoking. He advertsied the fact and the drop in customers at restaurants where smoking was still permitted (and his resulting business increase) told the tale. I don’t know of any restaurant in town that still allows smoking. They followed him one after another as customers voted with their feet.

    Seems to me that smokers brought these bans on themselves. If they’d just been civil and recognized that as a minority with an obnoxious habit it was their responsibility to not pollute the air of non-smokers, non-smokers would likely not have begrudged them smoking around the corner away from public entrances and the like. The more they insisted upon their rights, the less sympathy they got from those of us who were tired of our clothes and hair stinking of cigarettes when we don’t smoke. Civility is a somewhat lost art in our world, but this is just one of many cases where the use of it would have made things a lot more friendly between differing groups.


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