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Entries by Simon Clark (2376)


End of the holiday


After 17 days during which we visited Seattle, Alaska and Vancouver (above), we arrived back at eight o’clock last night having had little sleep for 26 hours.

The flight from Vancouver to Heathrow took off at 10.00pm (Western Pacific time) and arrived at 2.15pm (BST) just short of nine hours later.

As luck would have it we were upgraded to premium economy. We were also in the first row which meant there was plenty of legroom and we didn’t have the annoyance of the person in front reclining their seat just short of your face.

On the other hand a fellow passenger in our section snored constantly - and very loudly - for hour after hour and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

(My wife, never short of a word, said, “Now you know how I feel.”)

Meanwhile, in the row next to us, a rather sweet baby gurgled and cried quietly (like a cat) before - eventually - drifting off to sleep.

His slightly older brother, however, who was no more than a toddler himself, kept up a running commentary - demonstrating an impressive use of the English language - long past his normal bedtime.

Eventually he too slipped off to sleep before waking up a few hours later, crying loudly and wailing, “I don’t like this! Why are we still flying? My tummy hurts!”

The joy of being one of the first off the plane and sprinting through passport control in a matter of minutes was then dashed when it was announced that a technical fault meant we would have to wait almost 90 minutes for our luggage.

To cut a long story short we eventually arrived home almost six hours after we landed.

Anyway, a final word on Vancouver which has just been rated the ‘friendliest city in the world’ in an online survey.

I don’t normally pay much attention to these things but it won’t get any argument from me.

I’d read a lot of good things about Vancouver (the food, quality of life etc) and in the short time we were there it didn’t disappoint.

Without over-exerting ourselves (it was a holiday, after all) we saw quite a bit of the city.

Highlights included the Roedde House Museum, a fascinating snapshot of life for one middle-class family at the turn of the 20th century.

A delightfully eccentric pair of volunteers gave us a guided tour of the small house, built in 1893 only seven years after Vancouver was established as a city.

The tour concluded with afternoon tea being served in the parlour room.

We also discovered some wonderful restaurants.

Kosoo, which serves traditional Korean food, was an unexpected treat. We stumbled on it by accident after finding that Sura, the Korean restaurant we intended to book, was closed on Monday night.

Another find, courtesy of my wife, was Salmond n’ Bannock which describes itself as the city’s ‘only First Nations restaurant’ serving ‘Native Canadian fare such as wild fish, game meat and bannock’.

I ordered duck sausage, bison hot pot and sea lion.

With the help of a local ‘guide’ I also visited a couple of cannabis stores, one licensed, the other unlicensed (ie illegal).

That was interesting too and when I get a moment I’ll write something about it.

I may also post pictures of some of the food we ate while we were away. As anticipated, I have gained half a stone and some of the trousers I took with me are, how shall I say, a tighter fit.

In the meantime, excuse me while catch up on lost sleep ...

Below: The catamaran on which we returned from our day trip to Victoria, Vancouver Island, on Tuesday


Vancouver to Victoria

Two more days before we fly home.

We are currently in Vancouver and yesterday we visited Victoria on Vancouver Island.

There are four of us so we decided to travel in pairs - one pair taking the seaplane (a 35-minute flight), the other taking the ferry.

I, naturally, opted for the ferry. What I hadn’t realised was that the terminal was a 45-minute journey by taxi from our hotel in downtown Vancouver.

In fact, it is almost on the US border.

Anyway, we arrived in good time for the 9.00am ferry and 90 minutes later arrived on Vancouver Island where a further 30-minute taxi ride took us to the Parliament building overlooking the harbour in Victoria.

We arrived at 11.30, four hours after we left the hotel, and there, waiting for us, were my wife plus fellow traveller Helen whose seaplane had glided gracefully - and directly - into Victoria harbour ten minutes’ earlier.

It was time for something to eat so we wandered up to the Fairmont-owned Empress Hotel which, like the Parliament building, overlooks the harbour.

Fairmont owns The Savoy and other luxury hotels so we bit the bullet and ordered afternoon tea (at midday) at £50 per head. (It was a cheaper option than lunch!)

The sun shone and it was altogether a glorious day.

Our tickets to Victoria were one-way only so we decided to return to Vancouver aboard a V2V (Victoria to Vancouver) catamaran that somehow took longer than the ferry but departed from Victoria harbour and dropped us in the heart of Vancouver, a short distance from our hotel.

Unlike the ferry, on board facilities included waiter service, complimentary drinks (including a glass of fizz) and a 3-course meal.

Best of all was the view of Vancouver as we arrived shortly before sunset.



Ship to shore

Today is the final day of our seven-day cruise around Alaska.

We are currently sailing to Vancouver having visited Hoonah, Juneau and Ketchikan. The other days were spent ‘at sea’.

Hoonah, which we visited on Tuesday, was a mile and a half from the jetty at Icy Strait Point where the ship docked for the afternoon.

The path to the town followed a rough, dusty road but there was little to see or do when we got there. A cluster of houses - some no more than wooden shacks - several churches and one or two bars.

There were plenty of small boats in the harbour but the days when the local fishermen could get rich are long gone.

On Wednesday the ship took us to Hubbard Glacier which, in truth, wasn’t as spectacular as I had been led to believe.

The problem, I think, is that cruise ships can only get close to the glacier during the summer months, and even then the size of the ship limits how near you can get.

I can imagine the scenery looks far more dramatic in winter when the surrounding hills are covered in snow and the sea into which the glacier ‘flows’ is also frozen.

To see that however you’d have to hire a small plane or helicopter.

In Juneau, the following day, we rented a car and drove to Mendenhall Glacier.

Can I be honest? It was much the same as Hubbard Glacier, albeit seen from land rather than sea.

Rather more impressive is the rate at which both these glaciers are retreating - one metre a day, apparently. (See Update below.)

We witnessed it for ourselves because on several occasions we saw large blocks of ice breaking off and crashing into the water below.

We also heard several rumbles of what sounded like thunder but that too was the ice cracking.

Neither glacier is going to disappear any time soon though. Hubbard may be in retreat but if I heard correctly it’s still seven miles long.

After Mendenhall we drove to the National Shrine of St Therese of Lisieux who was named patron saint of Alaska in 1925, following which they built a chapel in her name.

Today, in addition to the chapel, there are log cabins - two of which can be rented as a retreat - plus a tiny unmanned gift shop that relies on discretionary payments (a dollar for a can of flavoured water, for example).

It was a beautiful spot with very few visitors. Perfect.

Other news.

There have been one or two whale sightings but, inevitably, my back was turned at the crucial moment.

I did catch a glimpse of a large ferret-like creature among the rocks on the walk to Hoonah but the bears we were warned about were nowhere to be seen.

(We were instructed to stay in small groups and, if approached by a bear, to make a lot of noise. We were also told not to run, which is easier said than done if you ask me.)

Another warning (this time at the Avis car rental cabin in Juneau) read:

CAUTION: Vehicles returned smelling of fish or animals or with blood and hair will be charged a minimum cleaning fee of $500.

It makes a change from being threatened with a cleaning bill should you choose to light up in a hotel room.

Talking of which, I would advise smokers to avoid Icy Strait Point and Hoonah.

From the moment we got off the ship there were signs telling us that ISP is a ‘designated Non-Smoking Property’.

Other outdoor signs read ‘Tobacco Free Zone’ or simply ‘No Smoking’.

Overall however it’s been an enjoyable week and four days in Vancouver still to come.

Best of all, perhaps, the days at sea have given me the chance to read Andrew Roberts’ wonderful biography of Churchill, ‘Walking With Destiny’ (‘Undoubtedly the best single-volume life of Churchill ever written').

In view of the gathering storm at home, let’s hope Boris has read it too!

Warmly recommended.

Update: I’m told that Hubbard Glacier is expanding not contracting. It’s Mendenhall Glacier that is retreating one metre per day. Nature works in mysterious ways.


Good morning, Alaska

View from our balcony at 7.00am this morning.

Update: It’s clearing.


Notes from abroad

I am currently aboard a cruise ship, Celebrity Eclipse, with my wife and two friends, sailing to Alaska.

We left Vancouver yesterday evening and will be at sea until we arrive at Icy Strait Point on Chichagof Island tomorrow afternoon.

If you follow me on Facebook you would be forgiven for thinking I have done nothing but eat since we arrived in Seattle last Wednesday.

I can neither confirm nor deny it but if I come home less than half a stone heavier it will be a miracle.

Another miracle is that we arrived in America almost on schedule having missed by minutes the “temporary systems issue” that hit British Airways last week and led to 25,000 passengers having their flights cancelled.

Although our flight was delayed it was a relatively minor inconvenience. However, when we landed in Seattle nine hours later, the friends with whom we are travelling were short of two suitcases.

Given that we were due to embark on a seven-day cruise a few days later it wasn’t good news but they took it remarkably well and were rewarded when their ‘lost’ luggage turned up the next day.

Meanwhile our first full morning in Seattle was spent visiting a ‘scenic wine-producing estate’ just outside the city. This included a short tour followed by a tasting session that, combined with some serious jet lag, left me feeling more than a little woozy.

In the evening we made our way downtown where we found, quite by chance, a rather wonderful restaurant that served some of the best food - including octopus and fried chicken - I have ever tasted.

After dinner we explored Pike Place Market, a tourist trap during the day but quieter after dark. The original Starbucks coffee shop can be found here but it was closing time when we walked past so we didn’t go in.

On Friday we drove to the Boeing factory north of Seattle. We were booked on the 90-minute ‘Future of Flight’ tour but it was a bit of a letdown, to be honest.

It began with a short promotional film that offered no insight into the ‘future of flight’ beyond what is already on the production line.

Thereafter, in between jumping on and off coaches as we moved from one part of the factory to another, all we saw - from a distance - were a handful of planes in various stages of production but it was a bit underwhelming.

The tour finished, naturally, with visitors being ushered into a gift shop where, inexplicably, I bought a dark blue rain jacket with the word ‘Boeing’ emblazoned on the front.

Back in Seattle it turned out that our hotel was a only short walk from the Seattle Center that features the famous Space Needle, opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair, and other attractions.

The 1962 World’s Fair also saw the opening of the Monorail that connects Seattle Center to the Westlake shopping mall in the city centre.

Running every ten minutes it’s only a mile long but I’m surprised more cities haven’t built something similar and on a larger scale. There must be a reason but I’m struggling to think what it is.

Anyway, I started writing this aboard the Amtrak train that took us from Seattle to Vancouver on Saturday night - a journey of four hours - but there was a technical issue that meant I couldn’t post it.

The taxi driver who drove us to our hotel said it had been very hot in Vancouver the previous week but yesterday it was cool and wet.

It cleared up though after we boarded the ship in the afternoon and we had a good view of the city as we set sail at 7.00pm.

It’s now 7.55 on Monday morning and I am sitting in bed with the balcony door open listening to the sound of the waves.

The Internet connection may be intermittent but if I can post any updates I will. Watch this space.

Below: View from the Seattle Monorail


The erosion of tolerance and the freedom to choose

Within the next hour I shall be on a flight to Seattle.

I leave you with my foreword to Forest's new report, written by Josie Appleton, '40 Years of Hurt: The hyper-regulation of smokers 1979-2019', published on Monday.

(To promote the report Josie also wrote an article for Spiked – First they came for the smokers.)

I began by explaining the inspiration for the title:

ADDRESSING guests at Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner in London in June, Mark Littlewood, director-general of the Institute of Economic Affairs, struck an appealingly optimistic note. “It may feel like 40 years of hurt, but that never stopped me dreaming. Freedom,” he said, “is coming home.”

I do hope he’s right. A few months ago, during an ‘In Conversation’ event at the IEA, I was asked what was the biggest change I had noticed in the 20 years I have been director of Forest. “When I started,” I replied, “there were voluntary agreements and codes of practice. Today there is far more legislation. Coercion has replaced common sense.”

Reading Josie Appleton’s report I am reminded how true that is. In 1999 (let alone 1979) policies on tobacco were often agreed without the need for legislation or heavy-handed regulation, and they were arguably more effective. As Josie notes, the sharpest fall in smoking rates in the UK took place between the mid Seventies and the early Nineties when there were relatively few laws concerning the sale, marketing, promotion or consumption of tobacco.

Smoking was increasingly prohibited in the workplace but that was a matter for individual employers in consultation with staff and the unions. No-smoking areas were becoming a feature of many pubs and restaurants, and some proprietors chose to ban smoking completely, but it was their decision not the government’s.

Politicians and stakeholders, including the tobacco industry, generally got together and adopted reasonable policies that most people could agree with. The outcome, by and large, were measures that took into account the interests of all parties, including consumers. Increasingly however power and influence has shifted to professional activists and unelected mandarins in the Department of Health and quangos such as Public Health England.

Voluntary codes have given way to laws banning all tobacco sponsorship and advertising. Policies that allowed for smoking and non-smoking areas in the workplace, including pubs and restaurants, were ruthlessly stubbed out. Even private members’ clubs were forced to obey the arbitrary new laws.

‘The pariah status of smoking does not reflect public mores,’ writes Josie. And she’s right. The tragedy is that many of the anti-smoking laws introduced in the new millenium do not reflect public opinion. The results of surveys and ‘public’ consultations have consistently been ignored or disregarded. The smoking ban was introduced despite surveys that showed that only 30 per cent of adults supported a comprehensive ban. (Even today opinion polls throughout the UK consistently find that a majority of adults are in favour of allowing separate smoking rooms in pubs and private members’ clubs.) Plain packaging of tobacco was also pushed through parliament despite the fact that a public consultation generated a huge majority (2:1) opposed to the policy.

The consequence of such measures has been a gradual erosion of tolerance with a small but vociferous group of anti-smoking activists dictating government policy. Having been forced to smoke outside despite the fact that modern air filtration systems were perfectly capable of reducing environmental tobacco smoke to a level acceptable to most people, smokers today find themselves under attack from zealots who want smoking prohibited outside as well. ‘Now,’ writes Josie, ‘our noses twitch at the slightest whiff of tobacco smoke.’

Launched in 1984, No Smoking Day went from being a well-meaning initiative that helped smokers who wanted to quit, to an event that positively encouraged an anti-smoking culture. But at least it was only one day. Today, thanks to the taxpayer-funded Stoptober campaign, smokers have to endure an entire month of state-sponsored nagging.

The increasingly brutal approach to smoking cessation is epitomised by Public Health England which is currently demanding that all NHS trusts ban smoking on hospital grounds, a policy that actively discriminates against patients who may be in rm or completely immobile. Taking advantage of people’s physical condition to take away one of their few pleasures when they are at their most vulnerable, mentally as well as physically, is truly despicable.

Meanwhile punitive taxation (between 80 and 90 per cent of the cost of tobacco goes to the government) has one main aim – to coerce people to stop smoking. Low earners who can’t or won’t quit are pushed further into poverty, leading to more hardship. Despite this, anti-smoking policies are often characterised as an act of charity. Action on Smoking and Heath, the anti-smoking pressure group that drives the anti-smoking agenda in the UK, likes to be described not as a political lobby group, which is more accurate, but as a ‘quit smoking charity’. I fail to see what’s charitable about whipping up hostility towards a significant minority of the population.

‘Smoking,’ writes Josie Appleton, ‘is the canary for civil liberties.’ Again, she’s right. If we don’t stand up for adults who enjoy smoking, what’s next? Armed with the tobacco template, are public health campaigners going to move from informing the public about nutrition and healthy eating and drinking to banning more and more products that are deemed ‘unhealthy’ while dictating the amount of sugar, alcohol or calories we are permitted to consume?

Any review of the last 40 years would have to conclude that the freedom to choose what we eat, drink and smoke has been eroded alarmingly to the extent that, in 2020, an entire category of tobacco – menthol cigarettes – will be prohibited. All is not lost, though. As the IEA’s Mark Littlewood commented, when addressing Forest’s 40th anniversary dinner:

“Fellow smokers and lovers of freedom, let’s not worry about the tactical battles we may have lost. Let’s make sure that in 2059, when we come together again to celebrate 80 years of Forest, that we are able to light up, drink up, and reflect that the battle for freedom has been won.” Amen to that.


BBC presenter defends freedom to make 'bad choices'

I shall be on LBC shortly talking to Nick Ferrari about comments made by BBC presenter Michael Buerk.

According to the Press Association:

Veteran broadcaster Michael Buerk has said that obese people should be given the choice to indulge if they wish, and that they are "weak, not ill".

The BBC presenter said that those who are obese may be making a "selfless sacrifice" to stop the country being overpopulated if they die a decade earlier than the rest of the population.

Buerk wrote in the Radio Times magazine that he does not believe obesity should be classed as a disease in a bid to encourage people to seek treatment and to "reduce the stigma (of) fatness", adding that "you're fat because you eat too much".

Naturally, most of the headlines focus on the tongue-in-cheek element of what he wrote:

'Let fat people die to save NHS money, says Michael Buerk' (The Times), 'Michael Buerk suggests NHS could save money by letting obese people die early as a 'selfless sacrifice'' (Daily Mail), 'Ex-BBC man says fat people making 'selfless sacrifice' by dying early' (Daily Star) and so on.

Behind these headlines however are some serious points that apply equally to smoking. For example:

The former I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! star queried Public Health England's claim that overweight and obesity-related ill-health costs the NHS £6.1 billion a year.

He said: "Who can calculate how much an obese person would have cost if they were slim?

"How much would he or she cost if, instead of keeling over with a heart attack at 52, they live to a ripe, dementia-ridden old age, requiring decades of expensive care? (In any case, VAT on takeaways, confectionery and fizzy drinks more than covers it.)"

He added that the "freedom to make bad choices is what personal autonomy, indeed democracy, is all about", and asked "who is to say longevity is the ultimate goal in life?".

Quite right.


40 years of hurt - the persecution of smokers

Forest has a new report out today.

It's called 40 Years of Hurt: The hyper-regulation of smokers 1979-2019, a title inspired by Mark Littlewood's speech at Forest's 40th anniversary dinner in London in June.

The report, which you can download here, was written by author and civil rights campaigner Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club.

According to Josie:

“Smokers are the canaries for civil liberties. In the past decade there has been a series of novel and unprecedented incursions on public and private rights.

“Smokers are increasingly stigmatised and discriminated against not to protect the health of other people but ‘for their own good’.

“This directly violates the harm principle that assumes a person has autonomy over their own life and body as long as they do not hurt other people.

“Outlawing smoking in places of residence, whether it be prison, mental health units or social housing, demonstrates a worrying erosion of our rights to autonomy and privacy.

“Smoking is prohibited on hospital grounds and patients, some of whom are infirm or elderly, are forced off site or targeted with patronising messages on public address systems.

“Banning smoking in outdoor public places such as parks and beaches is justified not because there is a direct risk to anyone else’s health but to prevent smokers setting what the authorities consider to be a ‘bad example’.

“What began decades ago as a legitimate public health campaign to educate people about the risks of smoking has become a moral crusade that threatens our culture of tolerance and diversity.

“The war on smoking is not about smoking. I have seen the same move towards direct state coercion in many areas of social life, including regulation of the homeless and young people.

“It is also telling that the kinds of restrictions imposed on smokers are now being proposed for food and drink. All of us, whether smokers or non-smokers, have a fundamental interest in defending personal and civic freedoms so we can live our lives as we think best, rather than as the state tells us to."

The press release includes the following quote by me:

“Since Forest was founded 40 years ago anti-smoking policies have evolved from education and voluntary codes to coercion and legislation.

“It’s time to stub out the increasingly brutal approach to smoking cessation that includes the deliberate persecution of millions of consumers.

“In a free society adults must be allowed to make choices concerning their lifestyle without excessive state intervention.

“After four decades government must end the war on smoking and focus on choice and personal responsibility.”

I thought twice about using the word ‘persecution’ in relation to smokers but I checked and the definition includes ‘hostility and ill-treatment, ‘oppression’, and ‘persistent harassment’, all of which apply to smokers in 2019.

To read the report click here.

Update: Josie has written an article for Spiked - First they came for the smokers. You might like to comment.