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  • Writer's pictureJack Martindale

Not wearing a mask on public transport! You might as well spark-up in protest...

Updated: Nov 8, 2021

Of course I am being provocatively facetious with the title. Bringing back allowing people to feed their nicotine habit on the tube, or any other public transport now seems anachronistic as it does hazardous.

It is difficult for me in this sense, to comprehend that until the tragic King’s Cross Fire of November the 18th 1987 killed 31 people – so less than a year before I made my debut into London’s Whittington Hospital – smoking on the underground was as commonplace. It was then in my birth year of 1988 that I understand smoking was officially banned on the underground. Must have been a bit like chewing gum in its ubiquity; both hobbies can be deemed unsightly and responsible for damaging clothes, though smoking evidently wins hands-down in terms of the affliction caused to passive bystanders. The aroma of a stale ashtray throughout communal places, must have just been the norm.

Anecdotally, I’ve heard recounted by family members, of how you’d often have to fight hard for a space non-smoking carriage, as they could go like gold-dust during the rush hour. The other thing that I can’t help but find morbidly amusing, is that nearly all of the escalators would also have still been made of wood! When put like that, it’s pretty miraculous that there were not more fatal fires. When you think that not so long ago, not to be allowed to indulge your nicotine habit would have been the exception rather than the standard practice, it does feel as though we’ve evolved a long way at a pace.

You don’t have to go too far back to see footage that evidences this. It now seems unthinkable that hospitals provided ashtrays with their beds, you still often see the remnants on coaches with ashtrays fitted to their seats, and airplanes allowed smoking until the late 1980s. Trying to keep it to a cluster of three in terms of places where you could now not imagine being allowed to smoke should be an epic fail, as cinemas, department stores and waiting rooms are areas where it feels ludicrous to picture anybody puffing away. Indeed, I feel old enough, just in the fact that before the smoking ban of the 1st of July 2007, I recall smoking areas being the expectation in dining establishments, nightclubs and not to even mention pubs!

What attracts me to all of these memories and images is how is ever floods that with that age old massive weakness of mine; nostalgia. For around a decade (the transition between running for a club and starting smoking happened overnight) I enjoyed inhaling and exhaling. Nonetheless, I always I relished being a fair-weather smoker. Or I was just lucky that I always escaped feeling addicted; at least where alcohol wasn’t involved. Perhaps it was my belated teenage rebellion that I never really had, as nobody in my close family any longer has a relationship with nicotine, beyond that of the sanctimonious ex-smoker.

I gave-up quite a few years ago now, almost as subconsciously as I started. Ha, you could say that it just no longer fit-in with my lifestyle. Fewer of my friends smoke anymore and yet more significantly, my girlfriend Sarah’s never been a smoker. If ever there was a prime opportunity to give-up… Yet, family members (who only discovered that I ever smoked post my hospitalization in 2010!) had to acknowledge many ways my relationship with nicotine – and I’d never feel at all comfortable smoking around them anyway – seemed to be well controlled. It was certainly only ever socially that I’d ever bother to spend time smoking since my accident of 2010.

The real instigator of my no longer buying any tobacco was when the May 2017 law came into force – conveniently coinciding with the sheer beautiful coincidence of meeting Sarah at this time – as I simply did not smoke anywhere near enough to make use of a 50g pack. Consuming the smallest 12.5g a week packet (depending on sociability) was well pushing it by then anyway!

Especially given the prices of pouches nowadays. Jeez, I think that I started – the odd lug off of friend’s cigarettes first obviously – buying the all too classic gateway of a packet of 10 Richmond Menthol Superkings for £2.10 from my local corner shop! Ah happy days. And that is perhaps unhealthily, what my association of cigarettes; lost innocence and expectation. It was almost something of a sentimental longing that I always had for encapsulating something of the charm of a lost bygone age. Even though I no longer partake of it. Disney’s Cruella De Vil was ever something of a childhood idol of mine and she personified smoking as the epitome of glamour…

As Lady Bracknell infamously quips in Oscar Wilde’s celebrated play the Importance of Being Earnest “am glad to hear it. A man should always have an occupation of some kind” upon discovering that her future son in law feels forced to divulge his habit. Whilst I shouldn’t go as far as to want to advertise smoking, it’s not something that I should deem as appropriate, to dissuade anybody else from doing. Given the tremendous amount of tax on cigarette packets, I’ve ever thought it a tad unfair to demonize smokers for their habit or to burden them for the cost they placed on society. It’s self-righteously judgemental if nothing else. Not to even mention undermining.

This is where it ties in with the notion of not sporting a mask on the underground. It’s unfair on the people around you to inflict them with your germs.

Tremendously selfish is no overstatement in my eyes. Unless you have an invisible underlying health condition, which coincidently seem to have increased at least three-fold over the past several months.

I’ll be the first to put out there, that I hate wearing facemask. First, because I just don’t like us all being so expressionless, it’s an extra must-have item when you leave your home and as anybody who wears glasses should be able to relate, they steam up in cooler weather to the extent that you’re as good as blind. A small squirt of washing up liquid rubbed into the lens prevents this and throughout winter became an added part of my morning ritual. As with most COVID chat, it’s all sad and boring. This being said, I should not yet be able to dream of not wearing a mask on public transport.

Don’t get me wrong, I cannot wait until burning your mask can be used in an empowering way. Though at the minute, it just feels a more threatening of certain sections of the feminist movement encouraging us to burn our bra; that is in that they are there to serve us benefit. Whatever your own views upon the matter, the scientific advice is encouraging us to wear mask to protect us all for the protection of everybody. I cannot even imagine where people are afforded with the audacity and arrogance, if not just seeming ignorance, in not sporting a mask. It’s so lazy.

This is how I see it anyway, though I’m not wanting to offer too much of a lecture. This is what our disconnected chattering middle-classes do with such prowess; such as being so determined over when we need to be in lockdowns. On the one hand, I can appreciate my socialist principles being all for whatever protects the most vulnerable. Albeit, yet us post-grad professional liberal community often seem incapable of acknowledging the bitter irony of being the people advocating the necessity of locking down whilst seeming to neglect the fact that this is often incredibly more taxing for the most deprived in society I.e. those Deliveroo couriers who provide them their well-earned nutrition.

Not to mention the plight that locking down places on the socially isolated, the elderly, sufferers of domestic abuse etc. etc. I just cannot bear the thought of another lockdown and wearing a facemask seems to be the best way of avoiding this from happening. That is why part of me would like it if people could blow smoke into the faces of anybody not wearing a mask. I’m just too much of a conformist woos when it comes to things like this to make this happen. But in principle I just want people to help to fight COVID.

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