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Location, location, location

Even on holiday I am never more than a phone call away from work.

On Thursday the Welsh Assembly announced Bold plans to slash number of Welsh smokers by a third. The quote I gave the Western Mail was composed at Harthill Services on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Earlier, I dictated a response to an enquiry from BBC Wales (Welsh Assembly Government's 'smoke-free society' aim) from a multi-storey car park off Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

Car parks and motorway service stations feature quite a lot in my 'career'. Some years ago, during another short break in Scotland, I had to stop at Kinross Services in Fife to respond to a breaking news story. Two hours later I was still there, taking one call after another, while my family sat and simmered in the car.

The most spectacular location for a holiday 'interruption' was Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater in the Lake District. I was halfway up this famous fell when my phone rang and I was asked to provide a quote, quite literally, on the hoof. (At least it gave me the chance to sit down and take a breather.)

I've been interviewed while driving off ferries and sitting in airport lounges, but always fully clothed - unlike a former director of the Tobacco Manufacturers Association who told me that he once conducted an interview with the Scotsman whilst standing on the balcony of his Mediterranean villa stark naked.

Now there's a picture I shall take to my grave.


From your royal correspondent

Just back from four stress-free days in Scotland. Bliss.

On Thursday morning we went to the Glasgow Film Theatre to see a "screwball comedy" starring James Stewart and Ginger Rogers. Visiting the GFT is like stepping back in time, but in a good way. Within its wood-panelled walls are the most wonderful cinema and cafe that evoke the golden age of film. I can't recommend it highly enough.

On Friday we were in St Andrews. By coincidence Prince William and Kate Middleton were there too. Anyway, we were driving past my old school playing fields on the edge of town when we were held up by a police road block and signs that read 'Royal Visit'.

We had been sitting in a motionless queue of cars for perhaps ten minutes when a small cavalcade of vehicles, led by a police motorcyclist and a black Range Rover, passed in the opposite direction. And yes, in the Range Rover sat Kate and William, smiling broadly, directly at us, as we waved to them.

A few hours later, following a leisurely lunch at a restaurant overlooking St Andrews Bay, we were strolling along Market Street when I was stopped by a film crew. Would I mind answering some questions about the monarchy and the young couple in particular?

Would I mind?! Is the Pope Protestant?

The next minute I was launching into a short spiel. The crew looked at each other and laughed. "Do you do this for a living?" asked one.

No, but I'm open to offers ...


NICE work if you can get it

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is obsessed with its own importance, writes Simon Hills, associate editor of The Times Magazine.

NICE advises the NHS on treatments and makes recommendations to the NHS and other organisations on how to improve people’s health and prevent illness and disease. Like most quangoes it is obsessed with its own importance ...

Current thinking is that you need to control the innocent to bring the guilty to heel. (Stalinism, in other words.) So the government last year was presented with a report to lower the drink-driving limit to one that will ensnare sober drivers on the dubious evidence that it might “save lives” ...

We naughty citizens, as always, need to be more strictly governed. Needless to say that after 20 years of bullying and curtailing our freedoms, far from enjoying the possibility that we might soon not have to die of anything, all the government and its self-serving quangoes have achieved is to make society rather more obnoxious than it was.

Full article on The Free Society website.


Travel sickness

Last week, following visits to Brussels and Madrid, I had a six-hour round trip to Bristol to film a 30-second soundbite. (The actual recording took about ten minutes.)

Pah! My UK record is a ten-hour round trip to record a similar bite-sized interview for a local TV programme.

After travelling from Cambridgeshire to London I caught a train from Paddington and arrived in Plymouth shortly after lunch. I took a taxi to the pub where the programme was being filmed, hung around for an hour or so, recorded my piece, got a taxi back to the station, and arrived home via London some five hours later.

In the same vein, my all-time record is the time it took to fly to Dublin, stay overnight and fly home for what turned out to be a 20-second comment on Sky News.

For the remainder of this week I shall be in Scotland, but not on business. After all that travelling, I need a little rest and recuperation.

Feel free to talk among yourselves.


What's become of ASH?

Last week I intended to write a post that began, 'Have you noticed how quiet ASH has been of late?'

I refer, of course, to the London-based operation. You couldn't keep ASH Scotland quiet if you bound and gagged all 27 members of staff and left them on a remote Hebridean island without electricity (or a boat).

In England, however, there has barely been a peep out of our old sparring partners. They haven't issued a press release since November and their website hasn't been updated for what seems like ages. (To be fair, they're not alone in this. Forest is currently developing a new site, hence the lack of activity on our old one.)

Last year it was noticeable too that other tobacco control groups were doing more and more of what I like to call ASH's "dirty work".

Anyway, several theories are doing the rounds, including the preposterous suggestion that Deborah Arnott & Co are too busy drafting the new tobacco control paper for the Department of Health.

I couldn't possibly comment.

On Thursday, however, something stirred. According to Campaign, ASH seem to believe that the number of people who quit smoking is linked directly to the amount of public money spent on anti-smoking advertisements. (See ASH blames adspend freeze for failures to quit smoking.)

The advertising industry will no doubt endorse this view because it wants the money, but it's not shared by everyone. Chris Snowdon, for example, has this to say: How thick do ASH think we are? he asks.

I think I know the answer.


The cost of tobacco control

Forest Eireann's Smokers' Manifesto, published ahead of the Irish general election this coming Friday, attracted a fair bit of interest last week.

FE spokesman John Mallon was interviewed by several Irish radio stations, and the manifesto was reported in four national newspapers including two broadsheets, the Irish Times and Irish Examiner, and two tabloids, the Irish editions of the Sun and Daily Star.

There was also a substantial piece in the Cork Independent: Smokers are voters too.

When we wrote the manifesto I had forgotten that the outgoing Irish government not only introduced a tobacco display ban, it also banned the sale of ten-packs.

It is fairly clear that not only does banning ten-packs have no effect on smoking rates (youth or otherwise), it is actually counter-productive.

Writing on the Forest Eireann blog today, John explains how ten-packs enabled him to cut down from 40-a-day, while the subsequent ban on ten-packs merely encouraged him to use roll-ups instead. Not only has this saved him a small fortune, it has cost the Irish Exchequer thousands of euros.

No wonder the Irish economy is in such a mess.


The one and only Gyles Brandreth

Enjoyed seeing Gyles Brandreth on stage in Hertford last night.

It was the final performance of The One to One Show that premiered at the Edinburgh Festival last year and has been on tour since October, playing 45 theatres up and down the country.

I am, as I have mentioned before, a huge fan of Brandreth. I was lucky enough to interview him some years ago, and he lived up to my expectations.

It wasn't just his charm, wit and intelligence. He was remarkably generous with his time, agreeing to see me not once but twice, and when I read his diary last year I was bowled over by his energy, his joie de vivre, and his willingness to try all sorts of endeavours, even if one or two result in failure.

One sensed last night that he was beginning to flag after such a long tour, but it was still a very entertaining couple of hours.

After the show he sat in the foyer, chatting and signing copies of Something Sensational to Read in the Train: The Diary of a Lifetime. I have a copy but my son bought one for himself and after a false start (Brandreth initially spelt Ruari's name wrong before correcting it), the dedication now reads:

For Ruar-y-i – I thought I could spell. At least this makes this book unique. With best wishes, Gyles Brandreth.

If Ruari learns anything from the book, I hope it will be to take every opportunity that comes his way, and to see humour in everything, however bad the situation may seem at the time.

See also: Gyles Brandreth: The One to One Show (Daily Telegraph)


The NHS: a true story

The BBC this week reported that the NHS is 'failing to treat elderly with care and respect'. The story also ran in several newspapers.

The Health Service Ombudsman came to the conclusion after carrying out an in-depth review of 10 cases.

I'm not sure how the ombudsman can make such a sweeping statement based on so few cases. Nevertheless, I can relate to the story, and here's why.

Ten days before Christmas my father, 80, fell and broke his hip. He was taken to hospital and given a partial hip replacement.

It is normal, I believe, for patients to be sent home within five days of such an operation. My father's situation is not normal. Apart from his age, he had a heart transplant 12 years ago, and for the past two years he has been on dialysis three times a week.

So we didn't expect him home immediately. No-one, however, thought he would still be in hospital nine weeks later. In this instance - and it's not the first time I have witnessed it - the problem is not the initial treatment, it's the aftercare, or the lack of it.

As a result of his accident, which has weakened him considerably, it is difficult for my father to get in and out of bed without the help of at least one trained nurse, and he can only walk very slowly with the aid of a Zimmer frame. Without the regular physiotherapy he was told he would get - and hasn't - his recovery has been painfully slow.

Anyway, the following story speaks volumes. For the past few weeks my father has been sharing a ward with a delightful man called 'Stan' (not his real name). Last week my father made his way, slowly and with the help of his Zimmer frame, to the toilet down the corridor. Somehow he locked himself in and rang the alarm bell.

No response.

He rang it again. Still no response.

Stan, however, did hear it and from his bed bellowed for a nurse to come and help.

No response.

Stan shouted again. Still no response.

Confined to his bed, Stan thought for a moment. And rang the police.

Slightly befuddled, he couldn't remember the name of the hospital, but the police worked it out, contacted the hospital, and eventually someone went to my father's aid.

It sounds funny but that wasn't the end of it. The following day Stan and my father were both given a severe telling off from the person in charge of the ward!

Thankfully, my father is due home on Monday. I shall be keeping my fingers crossed for Stan.