I think I'd like to move to Spain.
This week was only my second visit but the weather alone was enough to give it serious thought. Bright sunshine, clear blue sky, crisp, clean air and a mild temperature. Perfect.
The first time I went to Spain, eleven years ago, I attended a smokers' rights conference in Seville. Those four days did more than anything to convince me that working for Forest had a purpose, contrary to what some people might think.
I met people from right across Europe - Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and Spain itself. Most of them smoked but they didn't make a big deal of it. It was as natural to them as breathing.
They were smokers' rights activists but, more important, they were ordinary, considerate people who knew the health risks and couldn't understand why they were being lectured and marginalised for having a perfectly legal habit. They were prepared to take a stand but they didn't rant. They were thoughtful and charming.
I liked them very much and I have harboured an ambition ever since to organise a similar event in London, if only to demonstrate the "normality" of smokers and their habit which doesn't, I'm sorry to say, come across on some online forums where many activists sound as shrill, obsessive and intolerant as the opposition.
Anyway, on Tuesday I flew to Madrid where I was met at the airport by Alvaro Garrido who runs Club Fumadores por la Tolerancia, the Spanish equivalent of Forest. Alvaro also organised the conference in Seville. We have kept in touch and I was delighted to see him again after all these years.
After I checked in to my hotel Alvaro introduced me to his colleague Javier Blanco. We had lunch at Casa Lucio, a traditional tasca in old Madrid, and afterwards they took me on a tour of the city - on foot and, later, by car.
The smoking ban, they told me, is generally being observed in Spain and there is little or no opposition to the new law among mainstream politicians. If I understood correctly, bar owners are waiting to judge the effect of the ban before taking any further steps. By then, of course, it will be too late for some.
Some bar owners, it was suggested, will draw a curtain or usher someone they know into a separate room to allow them to smoke indoors, but customers fear getting the owner into trouble. Sound familiar?
Interestingly, the law in Spain exempts private smokers' clubs. In truth there are only a handful of clubs in Madrid and not a lot more nationwide. They can't sell food and drink and they can't make a profit so don't expect smokers' clubs to pop up all over Spain any time soon.
Anyway, it was a very productive - and enjoyable - couple of days and I am meeting Alvaro again in Brussels tomorrow. We are working on a joint project but I won't tempt fate by saying what it is. Not yet anyway.
See also: Meet the Spaniards fighting to stub out authoritarianism (spiked), and Prohibido prohibir – Ban the bans (euobserver.com)
PS. At my hotel in Madrid I ordered an "All-Spanish" breakfast. According to the menu this consists of churros (water and flour batter sticks, deep fried in oil), torrija (milk soaked bread dipped in egg), mini-tortilla (potato omelette), cured ham on tomato, rubbed toast, slices of butifarra sausage, fruit salad, orange juice, jam, honey and butter.
It was delivered to my room at 7.00am and it won't surprise you to learn that I returned home a little heavier than when I left. (Thankfully, Ryanair didn't charge me for excess baggage but it's only a matter of time.)
Which reminds me, I don't think I saw anyone in Madrid who could be described as overweight, and none who might be called obese. Not one. How is this? If you know the secret please let me know!