Wednesday
Apr132011

From Austria with love

Just back from Austria.

Further to my previous post I now have a complete set of cigarette packs featuring the following slogans: 'I Love Austria', 'I Love Nature', 'I Love Snow', 'I Love Mountains' and 'I Love Sunshine'. Imagine something similar in Britain. (No, nor can I.) The only thing missing is 'I Love Freedom'.

If you've never been to Vienna I strongly recommend it, if only for the legendary coffee houses. This time yesterday I was enjoying breakfast – or should I say frühstück – at Café Landtmann which is said to have been popular with Sigmund Freud, Marlene Dietrich, Burt Lancaster and Paul McCartney.

According to their website, "The Café Landtmann offers a big non-smoking area as well as large facilities for our guests who wish to smoke". We were sitting in what appeared to be the largest indoor area and as far I could tell there was an ashtray at every table allowing customers to eat, drink and smoke at the same time. A more civilised way to start the day I cannot imagine.

Café Landtmann wasn't the first coffee house I visited yesterday and smoking was allowed in every one. An increasing number of Viennese restaurants ban smoking indoors but not the one where I had lunch, so everyone has a choice, including staff.

Talking of food, Austrians love their meat. I feel like I've eaten an entire cow over the past two days. They like their food battered too, and I don't mean grievous bodily harm. At lunch on Monday even the cauliflower was deep fried.

Anyway, I'm about to hand you over to Dave Atherton who has written a guest post about the one-day conference we attended on Monday. It took place at Hotel Lengbachhof in Altlengbach, a short drive from Vienna and was organised by Verband der Cigarren und Pfeifenfachhändler Österreichs (VCPÖ).

And, yes, enquiries revealed that Hotel Lengbachhof was chosen not just for its conference facilities but because delegates could smoke inside the hotel in comfortable smoking areas and even in the restaurant (which is no longer the case in many Viennese hotels).

Anyway, I've thoroughly enjoyed the past few days. Austria? I'll be back.

Monday
Apr112011

Chris, Dave, the Danube and me

Currently in a Viennese bar overlooking the Danube.

Three hours ago I was in another bar, in a hotel some kilometres outside Vienna, with a certain Dave Atherton. Chris Snowdon - another name familiar to readers of this blog - was in the vicinity too, threatening to visit the hotel sauna.

What are we doing in Austria? I will reveal all on Wednesday when I get back. I have invited Dave to write a guest post, and Chris will be blogging too, I'm sure.

I should mention that people are smoking (shock horror) in the bar where I am currently sitting, just as they were in the hotel restaurant last night. Writing as a non-smoker, I genuinely consider it to be the height of civility and quite wonderful to behold. I can't understand why Britain doesn't try it.

Sadly, if the tobacco control movement has its way, the unsuspecting Austrians around me could lose this precious freedom in the near future if a referendum goes against them. We must do everything we can to stop it happening.

Sunday
Apr102011

The smell of freedom

Just back from a very educational trip to Blackpool.

I was a guest of the Clubs & Institute Union (CIU) which represents working mens' clubs and was founded in 1862. On Friday night we gathered at Blackpool Football Club and had dinner in a modern function room overlooking the pitch.

Yesterday I was a speaker at the CIU's annual meeting in the Opera House, close to the Promenade and Blackpool Tower. I talked about the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign, our aims and objectives, and how members of the CIU can help.

I confessed that I don't know very much about working mens' clubs but I do know that they are the heart of many local communities, they have been in long term decline, and the smoking ban has accelerated that decline. I promised to do everything we can to help them, and I hoped that in return they can help us.

I was number seven on the agenda, sandwiched between the Presentation of Club Management Diploma to 1st Prize Winner and Brian Binley, MP for Northampton South, who gave a rousing speech about his childhood, his council house roots, and the value he places on working mens' clubs. Brian appealed for the CIU to work with local pubs, pointing out that issues likes the smoking ban affects both pubs and clubs.

Brian and I were invited to sit on the stage alongside the National Executive Committee. I sat next to David Clelland, the former Labour MP who helped launch the Save Our Pubs & Clubs campaign. David is now doing some consultancy work for the CIU.

There was a real sense of frustration from some speakers about the smoking ban – and bureaucracy in general – that is hastening the end of many clubs, but the meeting was dominated by financial matters and the need to address some very urgent problems.

It was the first union meeting I have attended (I felt like a member of the Politburo as I sat on stage!) but I felt enormous warmth and a great sense of camararderie. Society has changed and working mens' clubs have been a victim of that change, but there is no sense in hastening their demise with unnecessary and petty legislation.

Credit, btw, to the mayor of Blackpool, who looked like a slightly older version of Frank Skinner and had a similar engaging sense of humour. He not only turned up for dinner on Friday, he also made an appearance at the CIU's annual meeting. Now that's what I call dedication.

Anyway, I am going away again on business, this time abroad and for three days. I'll post when I can. In the meantime you might like to read an article by Tom Miers on The Free Society website. Tom is currently on holiday in France – he travelled via Holland and Belgium – and is relishing what he calls "the more adult approach to smoking on the Continent".

See: The heady scent of freedom

Saturday
Apr092011

Review of the week

Friday
Apr082011

Blackpool beckons

Travelling to Blackpool later today.

I'm having dinner tonight at Blackpool Football Club with several hundred members of the Working Mens Clubs & Institute Union (CIU).

Tomorrow, wearing my Save Our Pubs & Clubs hat, I'm giving a short speech at the CIU's Annual Meeting at the Opera House in the famous Winter Gardens.

I'm told there will be 900 members at the Annual Meeting. I'll be asking them to become active supporters of our campaign and contact their member of parliament. (Note: I had a call only last week from an MP who stressed the importance of of writing letters. If MPs don't hear from constituents about a certain issue they assume it's not important.)

One MP who doesn't need any persuading to change the smoking ban is Brian Binley, Conservative MP for Northampton South. Brian is another guest of the CIU tonight. In fact, I think we're on the same table.

PS. I'll also be inviting branch secretaries and other members of the CIU to join us at a special event we are organising in June. Can't say more just yet but watch this space.

Thursday
Apr072011

How healthy do you feel?

I've yet to read, complete or return my UK census form.

I don't know if ours is the same, but writing on the Forest Eireann blog today John Mallom points out that a new question in the Irish census reads: 'How healthy are you?'.

John suggests a different question. 'How healthy do you feel?'.

If you're feeling up to it you can respond here.

Wednesday
Apr062011

UKIP, the Scottish Parliament and the smoking ban

Scotland: UKIP vows to scrap the smoking ban.

Fair play to Nigel Farage. He's obviously pushed this through himself because it wasn't in UKIP Scotland's manifesto last year.

I also like his pledge to sack MSPs. Sadly it will never happen (not in the foreseeable future, anyway) but it's a nice thought.

Question is, if any UKIP candidates are elected as MSPs to the Scottish Parliament, would they then resign – or sack themselves – on principle, or would they join the gravy train like many other politicians?

It reminds me of when I was a student at Aberdeen. I was editor of the 'unofficial' (non-union) student newspaper and we decided to put forward a candidate in the election for delegates to represent the university at the National Union of Students conference in Blackpool.

There were something like 16 candidates for six places and our man stood on a platform of 'Not Going' if elected. (The NUS was and still is a complete waste of time and money.)

Well, he romped home and, true to our word, we promptly declared that he wasn't going. And he didn't. And all the student union reps had the hump because we'd treated their conference as a joke.

PS. Our candidate who didn't go went on to have a long and successful career in ... the Foreign Office.

Monday
Apr042011

Housekeeping

When posting a comment on this blog have you experienced a problem?

For example, are there times when you repeatedly get a message along the lines of, "The server unexpectedly dropped the connection. This sometimes occurs when the server is busy. Wait for a few minutes, and then try again".

If so let me know and I'll look into it.

Perhaps it's just me.