Monthly Archives: November 2008

Back in the saddle

It’s been a bit quiet because I was away on holiday for a week, up in the Pyrenees mountains, far (mentally if not physically) from internet connections and the world of work. I had a busy couple of days before I left, which included a breakfast meeting (I was one of many there!) with Robert Peston of the BBC and being on the judging panel for a journalism award for diversity issues. We had the architects in all day yesterday finding out what we want from our new office in Smith Square. We won’t be moving for years, so we/they have to think about making it relevant to tomorrow, not today. I admire what they do – if you’ve ever looked at my other blog, you’ll know this was something I got really interested in when I was in the US – how the design of buildings influences their use.

We have a nice event today – a model EU Council, where 16-18 year olds from schools across London and the South East take the roles of different Member States (and the Commission and Council Secretariat) to debate 3 issues – GMOs/food safety, immigration and climate change. I was out at two of the schools before I went on leave, talking them through what the Commission and Council Sec do and hopefully pointing them in the right direction to get the Commission’s position on things. I’ll head over there later – once I’ve done this interview with Russia Today (!!).

Possibly the worst thing about being in London is the commuting. Just having a 45 minute trip into work is enough of a shock to the system (it was about 15 in Brussels) but squeezing onto packed trainsadds insult to injury. Yesterday, though, Southern managed to plumb new depths. Balham has 4 platforms, 2 of which are unused. But the trains were stopping there yesterday, just no-one seemed to know which trains and when. So we’d all be standing on platform 2 waiting for the Victoria train and they’d announce that the next one would leave from platform 4, so down the stairs we all go, up the stairs ont he other side to find that the guy was blowing the whistle for the train to depart. Then they said that the next one would be from 4, so we waited there, then as it was arriving, oh no, sorry (acutally no-one said sorry as far as I can remember) it’s on platform 2… Twenty minutes it took me to get on the train, running from one platform to the other, missing the trains. Total nightmare. And of course there’s nothing you can do about it – that’s the train you have to take to get to work, and they know they can treat you like that and get away with it. Grrr…

Update: you can see some footage of today’s Mock EU Council here.

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Calling all bloggers

Are you writing about European issues, or interested in doing so? The European Journalism Centre is running a competition to get 3 bloggers from each EU Member State to write during the European election campaign. Each participant will post at least once a month (February 1 – June 9, 2009) on the TH!NK ABOUT IT Elections 2009 blogsite. In February and March, any European-related topic is welcome and from April-June the theme is the European Elections 2009 (issues, candidates, parties, EP, national views on the elections). The entries will be assessed for journalistic quality and prizes will be given at the end of the campaign. If you’re interested in taking part, you can register on the think about it site.

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We are(n’t) scientists

The Commission has put out a survey about young people and science. There’s some pretty encouraging messages about optimism as to how science can improve things, but, particularly for the UK, some pretty scary ones about interest in science. The UK figures show that young Britons are among the least likely in Europe to consider studying science subjects. When asked if they were considering studying science subjects, Britons gave a probable or definite no to natural science (86%), engineering (76%), maths (76%) and social sciences/humanities (66%). This is really worrying for the UK, which considers itself a power-house of European science, a fact borne out by the numbers of European Research Council grant-winners that are based at UK universities, even if they are from elsewhere. But we can’t rely on foreign expertise to drive our innovation. Where are the scientists of the future going to come from? Where are the science teachers of the next generation going to come from? I suppose it’s linked to the story on Today yesterday (see under 7.42) about how children want to “be a celebrity” as a career choice, without necessarily having done something to be famous for. Things like X-Factor are one thing – at least the winners can do something, and if you look at Leona Lewis’ past you can see that she and her family made sacrifices for her to pursue her singing dream. But anyone from Big Brother? People famous because of their parent? Because of who they go out with? Doesn’t seem something to aspire to really.

This was an issue I was looking at a lot when I was in the US earlier this year, and if you’re interested, there are some great examples of good practice on my Eisenhower Fellowship blog.

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Sorry seems to be the hardest word

It’s been tough watching the news over the last few days. What with the horrific Baby P story, those two boys in Manchester and the Shannon Matthews trial, it does make you wonder what the hell is going on with the world. As Keanu Reeves memorably says in Parenthood: “You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.” Or, indeed, mother.

What I don’t understand though, is this obsession with apologies. From some time yesterday afternoon the focus of the Baby P story was that “Haringey hadn’t said sorry”. Now that someone has, that’s what’s being reported. Will them saying so make a difference to the families? The question is a genuine one, by the way. We’ve seen this in quite a lot of cases recently, and it goes from the cases where individuals are the victims, like Baby P, or the David Norris/Luke McCormick incident, to apologies for slavery or abusive priests, where thousands or even millions were affected. Put “apology” into Google News and you get reams of results, just in the last day or two. I guess I feel that actions are louder than words, and if I had been affected by something like this, my priority would be to see that something was actually being done about it not happening again. As I say, this is a genuine question and I’d be interested if anyone has any first-hand experience of this to share with me.

I’ve been asked to be on the national jury of the For Diversity Against Discrimination journalism award. Our jury meeting is next week, so I went through the articles today. There were quite a few entries, of varying quality, but I think there are a few potential winners in there.

We’re also gearing up for the EU Mock Council event, where schools will take on the roles of the different Member States to debate various issues. I’ve offered to help the schools that will take the roles of the Council Secretariat and European Commission, as I seem to be the only person in the office with much experience of going to Council of Ministers’ meetings (a somewhat dubious honour…!)

I missed my first OU tutorial last night to go to the BBC News channel for a live piece on the fruit and veg standards. It’s a real shame about missing the tutorial – when you’re learning a language, it’s important to talk it to people I think, and that’s not something I’m doing at the moment. Not that I can say very much yet!

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Hanging on the telephone

I had a very frustrating morning. I had to work from home because I got an automated phone calls yesterday and Monday telling me that my new Dell computer would be delivered between 8am and 1pm today. Come 1pm, no computer. So I looked up on the Dell website and lo and behold! it now had it marked down that the delivery would be on Friday! When I called customer services it turns out that this is all because I couldn’t confirm the delivery, because the internal phone system here wouldn’t allow it. Course, if a PERSON had called me to confirm the delivery there wouldn’t have been a problem. I think I’m going to implement a strict “shopping in shops” policy from now on… The irony is that I’ve been forced into buying the computer in the first place because the OU doesn’t provide its software for Macs, at least, not for the courses I’m doing, so in the end the simplest thing to do was to get a PC, even if it’s cost as much as the course. If you see a spike in the November retail figures, you’ll know why.

I hope you’ve all heard the news about getting rid of standards for intra-EU fruit and veg (bananas will still have standards, but that’s more about it being an international trade issue). I like the comments on the BBC Magazine article about this, which went along the lines of “if this is all about EU rules, how come I can buy all sorts of funny-shaped veg in France and Spain?”. Down in my bit of France they have a tomato that’s totally ridged and lumpy. It looks quite weird. I bought some in a supermarket because they looked so unusual and they were DELICIOUS – really intense tomato flavour, perfect for a simple tomato salad with shallots and some good olive oil and loads of pepper. yum! These rules have often been quoted as a “Euro-myth” NOT because the rules don’t exist (obviously they do, otherwise we wouldn’t have to get rid of them), but rather because they weren’t imposed on the UK by the EU – such standards already existed in the UK before it joined and in fact harmonised rules were something the UK fought for during its accession. It’s a bit like metrication – the UK embarked on the process of introducing metric well before it joined the EU.

If you bought a car between 1998 and 2003, it’s likely you were affected by the cartel on car glass that the Commission has just fined a record €1.38b.

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The Lovecats

Sorry about the radio silence, but it’s been in a very good cause – I’ve been over in Brussels picking up my cats and bringing them back here. My girls have been staying with a friend of mine over there while we waited for the period of 6 months from their successful rabies test to expire. I then had to go over there, take them to the vet to be given tick and echinoccocus ( a sort of tapeworm, wikipedia tells me) treatment, and have their passports signed off for travel. Much as it’s a bit of a pain to go through all that, it’s meant no quarantine and I get to have them with me now, so I think we can definitely notch up the pet passport as One Good Thing that the EU has done for us.

We’ve had the Court of Auditors report today, which is never a day you look forward to, but it seems to be dealt with mainly from Brussels, so hasn’t had too much of an effect here, beyond the usual media monitoring for the folks at HQ. Nice that they approved our accounting this year, even if there are still errors (not fraud!) in certain parts of the spending. Two of the team are out today, one in Brussels on the last day of the Double Club visit which, if the footage on EBS is anything to go by, seems to have been a really great trip. I hope the kids felt they got something out of it at any rate.

My best mate, Abi, is in town, as she drove me and the cats over on Sunday. It’s been really nice having her here, even if the wretched weather meant we haven’t gone out much. Thanks goodness she was there this morning, as the insurance people were supposed to come round to look at my car (you may remember someone backed into me in August, the day after I bought the car off my brother, and the other guy’s insurance company have been appalling at dealing with it). Anyway, we had arranged an appointment “first thing” on Monday, which in Belgium would have meant the doorbell going at 7.30. When they still hadn’t come at 9.45, I just couldn’t put off going into the office any longer. Luckily I explained what it was all about to Abi, as they turned up soon after I left. Hopefully this means the dent will be removed from the car, because I’m fed up of looking like a stupid woman-driver who has driven into something when that’s not the case at all!

I’ve been asked to be on a jury for a journalism award, which is going to be interesting. We got the articles last week, so now I’ve got to start reading them all. I’ve never been asked to do anything like this – just one more way in which this job in London is opening up new horizons for me!

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A night to remember

Whatever happens tonight, it’s going to be one to remember I reckon. Is it just me, or does the whole day have that “on the cusp of history” feel about it? I have a friend coming round who used to live in the US and an American friend of hers, so it should be interesting to get that perspective on events. Well, that’ll be tomorrow’s entry I guess!

The weekend was quite fun, even the stint on the stall at the Languages Show. I was there just over 2 hours and spoke to so many people, some of whom were just going from stall to stall seeing what jobs were out there, but some of whom were genuinely interested in a European perpsective to their careers. Somebody could maybe do a study about the correlation between the UK’s declining language skills and the rise in Euroscepticism. And you might have seen me on BBC Breakfast that morning – lots of people did, even if they did get my name wrong! My brother came up that evening with a few friends from Stowe, which was fun – my first big stay-out-late, go-clubbing, wake-up-with-a-hangover night since I got to London – oh how things change. On Sunday I drove up to Suffolk, where I stayed in a lovely B&B before filming for a Jamie Oliver programme, which was good fun (if sooooo cold.) The drive back was much less fun though – 4 hours in the rain and the dark, hitting London’s rush hour traffic. It isn’t so much the cars, I can pretty much cope with them, it’s the thousands of motorbikes and scooters every time you stop at a light. If you’re near the front of the queue they swarm round you like a cloud of midges, it’s very weird.

Today has been pretty horrible – the woman at Arsenal doing the Double Club trip has been taken into hospital, so with all the last minute arrangements to be done, our main liaison, or rather lynch-pin, is pretty much out of the picture. So cross fingers that we manage it all and those kids have a good time. Still, Toomas, our intern, has done a fantastic job, hats off to him.

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