Mark D. Roberts

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?

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