Out of South Africa
Monday, November 18, 2013 at 18:18
Simon Clark

I haven't written about my trip to Cape Town because I've been pushed for time.

I can't let it pass without comment though because it was my first visit to Africa – North or South.

The size of this vast continent only dawned on me when we crossed the Med and left Europe behind. Two and a half hours into our flight and there were still nine to go.

Curiously, when we landed the next morning I didn't feel 6,000 miles from home. The time difference helped. It was only two hours ahead of the UK.

The weather also did its best to make us feel at ease. I'm told it was very hot the weekend before I arrived but while I was there it was like an English summer – warm and sunny one day, cool and overcast the next. We even had the odd spot of rain.

Echoes of Britannia were everywhere – the language, driving on the left. I even spotted a red post box outside our hotel.

The Mount Nelson Hotel, where we stayed, was named after Lord Nelson (not Nelson Mandela!). Afternoon tea in the lounge was in the best English country house tradition. There were scores of sandwiches and cakes, with tea served in delicate china cups. I resisted until the final afternoon.

We went to Cape Town because it was the venue for the fourth Global Network Tobacco Forum. Organised by the trade journal Tobacco Reporter, GTNF brings together a wide range of people from the tobacco industry and beyond. It's conducted according to Chatham House rules so I can't repeat what was said or who was present, although a list of speakers ('Look Who's Talking') is available online.

I can however talk freely about myself. This year I was involved in two sessions. The first was a panel discussion about the nanny state. There were six speakers – including some familiar names – so I only had a few minutes to argue that nanny has become a bully.

The term 'bully state', I explained, was coined by restaurateur Ranald Macdonald following a Forest reception - Politics and Prohibition - in Bournemouth in 2006. The previous evening Ranald had been 'arrested' and charged with "inciting people to enjoy themselves". One of the most laid-back people I know, Ranald had protested vehemently, "This isn't a nanny state, it's a bully state!"

I then brandished a copy of The Bully State: The End of Tolerance, written by Brian Monteith and published by Forest (via The Free Society) in 2009. From that I quoted Eamonn Butler, co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute:

"The line between nannying and oppression has become no wider than a cigarette paper. Not that you will be allowed to buy one of those."

Someone later described the session as a "libertarian love-in". I can't imagine what he meant but you'd laugh if you knew who it was.

On the second day of the conference I gave a presentation called 'Taking Liberties: Consumers' Rights'. I requested the session because I felt that previous GNTF conferences hadn't given sufficient weight to the consumer.

I was given 40 minutes and I chose to talk about Forest, smokers’ rights, the history of smokers' groups and their relationship with the tobacco industry, the importance of working with consumers, and our vision of the future.

I also posed a number of questions. Does the industry do enough to support the consumer? What is the purpose of groups such as Forest and what value do they offer? What purpose would an international network of consumer groups serve?

The presentation featured three Forest videos (total running time: 15 minutes) plus images from Dan Donovan's 90 Smokers project, so it was a bit of a gallop.

An interesting point about Dan's 2007 project is that every smoker featured would now be committing an offence because the photographs were all taken in areas now designated as 'enclosed public places' - pubs, bars, work vehicles, even a bus shelter. Now that's what I call a bully state.

Two of the videos were filmed at Forest events - the 2013 Freedom Dinner and the Save Our Pubs and Clubs reception at the House of Commons in 2010. The third was Welcome to Nanny Town which helped launch the Hands Off Our Packs campaign in 2012.

I could have picked several other Forest videos because I can only think of one that doesn't feature interviews with real people. The point I was trying to make was that products are important but people matter too and in my view the tobacco industry is guilty sometimes of overlooking the importance of the consumer and the need to defend their rights and interests.

The fact that very few people attended the session (I was competing with discussions on packaging and illicit trade) rather proved my point.

Hard to believe, in view of today's grey, overcast sky, but nine days ago I was whale-watching on a boat in brilliant sunshine.

It followed a two-hour drive to the coast via a mountain pass. When we arrived we were given our instructions - don't lean too far over the side, hold on to the hand rails etc. We then boarded the boat and took our seats on the small open upper deck where we would get a better view.

Once we were clear of the harbour it was quite choppy and until we found our sea legs the boat was like a bucking bronco. Two people had to return to the lower deck and one was physically sick. (Not me, I enjoyed it!)

Eventually, after some false alarms (seals mostly), we saw a whale - followed by another and another. They weren't enormous and they didn't dive or flip their tail fin in the air. Instead they moved quite slowly, like small submarines, with only their back and the top of their head visible.

Once you've seen one whale you've seen 'em all - in my opinion. I was interested to learn though that some whales live for 150 or 200 years - with nothing to entertain them apart from boatloads of humans straining to take a picture on their smartphones and digital cameras.

Back on shore, following lunch in the appropriately named Harbour Restaurant, we visited a local vineyard to sample some wine. Unfortunately our schedule - which originally included two more vineyards - was cut short because some people had to catch a flight. Next time I'll organise my own transport.

Ann, who runs the office in Cambridge where Forest has its HQ, is South African. Before I went to Cape Town she suggested some things I should do if I had time:

Try to take a walk through the Gardens to the Houses of Parliament and the museums that are in the area. The Castle is also very interesting.

Hire a car if there is time and take a drive along the coast Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay and over Chapman’s Peak. Table Mountain on one side and the ocean on the other, it's very beautiful.

Visit Groot Constantia or Buitenverwagting. Klein Constantia is nearby too, very small but worth a visit. They are very old, established wine estates in the Cape Town area. Uitsig, a wine estate/hotel with three of the best restaurants in Cape Town, is also in this area which is called Constantia. Lunch at La Colombe, Uitsig or the River Cafe on the Uitsig estate.

A drive to the winelands, about 1.5 hours out of Cape Town is well worth doing. Franschhoek or Stellenbosch are the most historical and nicest towns to spend time in. Stellenbosch has many examples of the Cape Dutch architecture and lots of historical buildings and museums.

Franschhoek are where the French Huguenots settled so there is a French influence to the place. Franschhoek is known as the gourmet area of South Africa with many excellent restaurants, some very expensive, some very reasonable, most are good. There are wine estates all along the roads in and around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and you can stop and visit at most of them without an appointment.

Go to the Waterfront where the harbour is. Lots of shops, restaurants, bars and live African music.

Needless to say I did hardly any of those things. That's the problem with business trips. Spare time is limited and most things are organised for you. Alternatively you're with a group of people who may not want to do the same things as you. I'm not complaining, that's just how it is.

Reading Ann's notes again, however, I'm tempted to go back and make a proper holiday of it.

Article originally appeared on Simon Clark (http://taking-liberties.squarespace.com/).
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