I DO like a bit of fog. It smooths the rough edges off the grimier bits of London and dulls the morning clatter.
Mind you, it could be said we currently live in a permanent metaphorical fog as we try to work out the latest post-lockdown Covid regulations. When does the new system come into force anyway? A minute past midnight on Wednesday or on Thursday? The jury’s still out.
Boris Johnson, whiffling through his own personal Brumaire, clarified that: “What we want to avoid is relaxing now too much, taking our foot off the throat of the beast.” That’s all clear, then.
We Londoners are approaching the new regime with our customary equanimity. The Tesco Metro in Tooley Street was teeming as usual this morning as locals stocked up on vital pre-weekend supplies, bulk-buying mainly cigarettes and lottery tickets by the look of it.
A few of us plan to be at the starting gate next week to grab an outside table at the Horseshoe Inn when the pubs reopen. Apparently, you can only have a pint as part of a substantial meal, helpfully identified by the BBC as “such as a pasty and chips”. Yum. Can’t wait.
It seems our brethren up north are in a tiz because most of them have been dumped into the harshest Tier 3 regulations. No pasties for them!
They’re whingeing that they are once again having to bear the brunt, conveniently forgetting that when the bug was raging through the capital at the start of the pandemic nobody north of Watford gave a monkey’s.
But I don’t want to stir further divisions in our island nation. We’ve got enough of them already. That said, I worry that the so-called tier system can only exacerbate the situation.
I can see it entering the vocabulary. Picture a group of Islington yummy mummies eyeing up the new parent at the pre-school drop-off. “Oh, but she’s so Tier 3!”
All of London has been shoved into Tier 2 despite widespread discrepancies across the city. Southeast London is having it pretty easy, while across the river in Shadwell and Stratford, they’re apparently dropping like flies.
And are we making a fuss? No. Londoners are remarkably sanguine about these occasional upsets, perhaps because our history contains so many of them.
This morning’s fog got me thinking of the old pea-soupers. You don’t get them any more because they were not so much fog as festering clouds of poison, the greatest and last of which descended around this time of year in 1952.
The Great Smog killed a pandemic-level 4,000 people in a week, although those of us who were kids remember it rather fondly. The game was to head out into the gloom, barely lit by the odd bonfire to guide the buses, and to see how far you could stretch your fingers before they disappeared.
The smogs had got worse by the early 50s. Churchill had bumped up the production of coal post-war and it was virtually the only means of domestic heating for most of the city.
The Great Smog figured in Netflix’s The Crown – not the latest one about Princess Di, but the one with Churchill in it. One episode had an increasingly senile prime minister wrestling with the smog crisis.
In a sense, the Great Smog marked the end of a wartime era that had persisted since 1945. Rationing was to last for another two years. Money was still in short supply as were things to spend it on. Inner London was still scarred with bombsites.
After the passing of the first Clean Air Act the use of raw coal was eventually banned. The London pea-souper became a distant memory.
A couple of years ago, I met a producer on The Crown who had been responsible for the fog sequences. He asked me, as a survivor, how I thought he had done.
I told him: “You could have made it thicker.”