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Thursday
Mar312011

One of those days

You just know it's going to be one of those days when you're sitting on the train and you suddenly realise that you ironed only one half of your shirt.

Wednesday
Mar302011

Live and kicking – the new Forest website

The new Forest website is now live and you can visit it here.

It's a project that is still in development but I'm rather pleased with it. Visually it's a big step forward, but the big difference is that visitors can now post comments on the site in response to breaking news stories.

The aim is to make the site more much immediate and interactive than the old one, so I hope you will add your own comments in the days and weeks ahead.

We are still editing and updating copy that has been transferred from the previous site. When that work is completed we will add new information and resources.

The site will be updated regularly so I hope you will bookmark it and become a frequent visitor. We want to create a useful resource for adults who enjoy consuming tobacco as well as providing them with a platform for their views.

Politicians, broadcasters and journalists will be alerted to the new site so the more people who post the better.

Be the first to add a comment to the new site – click here.

PS. Although the new site is live, your browser may send you to the old site (which had the same URL). Don't ask me why. It's something to do with the Domain Name System (DNS):

DNS is a hierarchical naming system built on a distributed database for computers, services, or any resource connected to the Internet or a private network. Most importantly, it translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices worldwide.

Alternatively you may get a message saying "No page could be found at this address". Click on the 'Back to Home' link and it should take you to the new site.

It should sort itself out within 24 hours or so. If not, let me know.

Tuesday
Mar292011

What I remember about the introduction of the Irish smoking ban

Today is the seventh anniversary of the smoking ban in Ireland.

Older readers should look away now because I've told this story before (many times, in fact) but it was an occasion that for personal reasons I shall never forget.

The ban was introduced, if I remember, in the early hours of Saturday morning. I was intending to be there anyway but I was invited to Dublin as a guest of the Richard Littlejohn Show on Sky News. The producers had decided to do a live broadcast from the Shelbourne Hotel on St Stephen's Green on Friday night and the fact that England were playing Ireland in the Six Nations that weekend was, I guess, a coincidence and an added bonus for production staff.

Anyway the programme was broadcast from the main bar of the hotel from 7.00-8.00pm. Guests sat at small tables drinking and, in some cases, smoking, and Littlejohn moved from one table to another asking pre-arranged questions about the ban.

On my table was the former footballer (now an outspoken pundit and TV presenter) Eamonn Dunphy, who some might call a professional curmudgeon. I couldn't possibly comment. Thankfully he was on my side of the argument because I didn't fancy picking a fight with him.

Actually it was a miracle I was there at all. I had flown to Dublin the previous day and stayed overnight with friends in Delgany, Co Wicklow, which is south of the city. Around midday they dropped me at the station in Greystones, a mile up the road, so I could catch the train to Dublin, check into the Shelbourne (where Sky had booked me a room) and enjoy a quiet, relaxing afternoon.

It takes 50 minutes to get from Greystones to the city centre but it took me six hours. The trouble began when I boarded the wrong train, which was heading south instead of north. I didn't think this was possible because Greystones is the last stop on the DART (Dublin Area Regional Transport) network but in hindsight I had obviously caught a different service entirely.

Even then I didn't twig until, 15 minutes down the line, an inspector looked at my ticket and announced that I was travelling in the wrong direction.

He was very good about it, though. At the first available halt he instructed the driver to stop the train, helped me off, and pointed in the general direction of a few houses several hundred yards away and said, "See those houses? Keep walking. You'll come to a main road and a bus will take you back to Greystones."

Perhaps I should explain that a halt is nothing like a station. No platform, no taxis, no-one. It's the rail equivalent of a request stop for buses. As far as I could tell I had been dropped in the middle of a field miles from anywhere with a heavy bag and few directions other than the promise that I would eventually find the main road if I kept on walking.

To cut a long story short, I did find the main road. It was in a village called Kilcoole but to all intents and purposes Kilcoole was shut that afternoon. There weren't many cars on the road either and no sign of a bus.

I think I waited two hours but a bus did eventually appear and slowly (very slowly) took me back to Greystones where I finally caught the DART to Dublin. It was past six o'clock when I arrived in the city centre and I had to run (sweating) to the hotel where I checked-in, showered, before taking my seat in the well-lit bar where the Richard Littlejohn Show was about to start. I made it with 15 minutes to spare.

What really struck me that weekend was the response of the Irish media. There was a sense of pride that Ireland was "leading the world". The issue was tobacco control but it could have been anything. (The French, I'm sure, felt the same pride when they were the first to send fighter planes to enforce the no-fly zone over Libya. "Leading the world", see.)

What mattered was the fact that, for one weekend at least, Ireland – and Dublin in particular - was the centre of world attention.

PS. ASH Ireland ("working towards a tobacco free society") is using the anniversary to urge the Irish Health Minister to introduce further measures to tackle smoking. It has produced a "10-point plan" which I am looking forward to reading ... (not).

See also: Amend smoking ban "to help save Irish pub", says Forest Eireann.

Monday
Mar282011

Coming soon ... 

I am spending the day putting some final touches to the new Forest website.

This is not a facelift, as in 2007. It looks totally different and has been built with new software, which we are just getting to grips with. (Actually, it's quite intuitive.)

There are a few bugs and what builders call snagging to sort out, but it should go live in a day or two.

Watch this space.

Monday
Mar282011

Scandalous behaviour

Sorry to see one of my favourite emporiums, Fortnum & Mason, "stormed by 300 yobs" on Saturday.

I'm not a frequent customer but I do pop in now and again. Perhaps they were protesting at the price of glacé apricots, utterly delicious but now £40 a box.

Now that is something to protest about!

Monday
Mar282011

Don't be fooled by Ed Miliband or those estimated attendance figures

Inspired by Ed Miliband and the TUC rally in London on Saturday I have written a piece for The Free Society about public spending cuts.

Here's an excerpt:

Famously, the British governed India (population 300-350 million) with just 1,200 civil servants. By all accounts, British rule in India was highly efficient.

Goodness knows how many civil servants there are in Britain today (where there is a population of 60 million), let alone public sector workers, but in 2009 the Ministry of Defence alone employed 85,730 civil servants.

Clearly there is a huge amount of waste and inefficiency in the public sector which is staffed by hundreds of thousands of unelected mandarins (the same mandarins who draft tobacco control regulations).

Don't be fooled by Ed Miliband, the TUC and everyone who attended Saturday's rally in London. The economic crisis has given Britain an unexpected but wonderful opportunity to cut public expenditure and reduce inefficiency in the public sector.

See: Demonstrate? Cuts in public spending are something to celebrate

As for the estimated attendance on Saturday, I would treat that with a gigantic pinch of salt.

According to the TUC, between 250,000 and 500,000 people attended the rally. Taking its cue from the organisers, the BBC reported: "It is estimated more than 250,000 people from across Britain have taken part in a demonstration in central London against government spending".

I have very good reason to be sceptical about this estimate. In October 1983 I stood on the roof of an office in Whitehall which gave me a bird's eye view of a CND march in London. According to the BBC, it was estimated that one million people took part in the march and subsequent rally in Hyde Park. Bizarrely this was far greater than even CND's estimate of 400,000.

They were both wrong. The group whose roof I was standing on belonged to an anti-CND outfit called the Coalition for Peace Through Security (CPS). Julian Lewis, who was director of CPS and is now MP for New Forest East, takes up the story:

"The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament had, in its time, managed to rustle up more shouters on the streets than most: it turned out about 150,000 and 100,000 in 1981 and 1982 respectively, and characteristically claimed a quarter of a million on each occasion.

"In order to frustrate yet another such cavalier exaggeration in October 1983, the Coalition for Peace Through Security commissioned an expert photographic analysis which showed the true figure on that occasion to be approximately 98,000 for march and rally combined.

"So as to show 'progress' on their own grossly inflated estimates for the previous two years, the CND had felt obliged to claim 400,000 – a total ruled out as absolutely impossible by our aerial survey."

Without a similar survey I don't know how anyone could estimate accurately the number of people at Saturday's rally, but you can be sure that neither the TUC nor the BBC will have erred on the side of reality.

A bit like Ed Miliband, in fact.

Saturday
Mar262011

Squeeze at the Royal Albert Hall

I mentioned earlier in the week that I had gone to the Royal Albert Hall to see Squeeze.

It was an eventful evening because I got a puncture en route and we missed most of the support act, which was a pity because I like The Feeling too.

The first time I saw Squeeze live was 30 years ago at a very different venue - the hot, sweaty bearpit that featured in the title of the Clash's 1978 single '(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais'.

Anyway, here's a video of Glen Tilbrook at the Albert Hall on Tuesday. He's singing one of my favourite Squeeze songs, 'Vanity Fair' from the 1981 album East Side Story.

Friday
Mar252011

Scotland: time to rethink smoking ban

Tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland. Forest has issued the following press release:

TIME TO RETHINK SCOTLAND'S SMOKING BAN, SAYS FOREST

The smokers’ lobby group Forest has called for amendments to the smoking ban that would bring Scotland into line with most European countries.

The group wants pubs and clubs in Scotland to have the option of providing separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms. It also wants the regulations on outdoor smoking shelters to be relaxed so that smokers can light up outside in greater comfort all year round.

Speaking ahead of the fifth anniversary of the smoking ban in Scotland, which was introduced on 26 March 2006, Simon Clark, director of Forest, said:

“Other European countries have found a sensible compromise ranging from licensed smoking premises to exemptions for small or drink-only bars. Why not Scotland?

“At the very least the regulations on outdoor smoking shelters should be relaxed so people can smoke outside in a warm and comfortable environment all year round.”

Clark blamed the smoking ban for accelerating pub closures in Scotland and called on politicians to act:

“Research demonstrates that the smoking ban is the main cause of pub closures in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

“Total pub losses in England, Scotland and Wales since the introduction of smoking bans in all three countries are in excess of 5,500. Scotland alone has lost over 700 pubs since the introduction of the ban in March 2006.

“This cannot be allowed to continue. Pubs and clubs are the heart of many rural and urban communities and their loss is having a serious impact on jobs and many people’s social lives. From the feedback we receive, the ban continues to provoke a great deal of anger and anguish.

“We accept that many people do not want to be exposed to other people’s tobacco smoke, so what we are asking for is an amendment to the ban that would allow separate, well-ventilated smoking rooms in pubs and clubs.

“The majority of licensed premises would probably remain non-smoking but there would be a degree of choice for those who want to smoke and drink indoors in a warm and sociable environment.

“At present smokers have no choice other than to stand outside, whatever the weather, or stay at home. An increasing number are choosing to stay at home and who can blame them if there is nowhere for them to smoke and drink in comfort?”

Clark added: “For the sake of our local communities, the Scottish Government must review the impact of the smoking ban and consider amendments to this unnecessarily harsh piece of legislation.”

Click here to download a pdf of the news release.