I had my first taste of season-ticket-holding Rugby League this weekend, when I headed to the Twickenham Stoop to watch Harlequins absolutely walk all over Warrington Wolves – 60-8 was the final score and 4 of those came from a try that was an individual run longer than the length of the pitch. Good stuff. Given that my sporting event recent past has been World Cups and various games at the Millennium stadium, I seriously over-estimated the crowd – max 3000, pretty much all of whom were in the one stand. But there was loads of noise, and a great atmosphere. Certainly a family game and a much less intimidating atmosphere than the last football game I was at. So I’m looking forward to a summer of Rugby League! One thing though – why have Quins nicked and rewritten the worst chant ever? “We’re Leeds Rhinos, we’re Leeds Rhinos” is now done as “We’re Quins RL, we’re Quins RL”. They did have loads of good chants, so why nick the worst one ever in any sport?! I particularly liked “can we play you every week” and “are you Salford in disguise”? Not highly original, but still funny.
Back to work today and the big boss was in town, Commission President José Manuel Barroso. We organised a press lunch for him, with some of the leading political and economic commentators, which was really interesting. Best bit for me was the team spirit – Nik getting the catering sorted at very short notice, David heading to Number 10 very early this morning and all the work he did on getting these august people along, Anastasia the intern happily jumping in to do rubbish jobs like taking coats and photocopying, Albena dealing with all the daily work of the office as we all ran around sorting out last minute arrangements. It’s a great feeling to have such a good team. And Emilia came back from maternity leave – it’s lovely to have her back. Now we just need Jen to come back from holiday next week and we’ll be at full strength.
Terrible news from Madagascar. I have a particular interest there, as my father was British Ambassador during the last crisis, when Ravalomanana was elected and there was gunfire and explosions on Tana… It’s like history repeating itself, the mayor of Tana takes on the President. Though the difference this time is that the president was elected. It’s such a shame for that country, which is the most amazing place I have ever been. I’m hopefully going to the next meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society on 1 April, so will find out more then.
I was at the Royal Court Theatre last night, at the invitation of their Development department. I saw two things – Over There by Mark Ravenhill and Wall with David Hare. What a night – one of the best I’ve had since moving to London.
The two pieces were very different. The first is about identical twins separated by the Berlin Wall and then brought back together. I have to admit I went with a little trepidation, as I saw Handbag by the same writer in Brussels about 7 years ago and thoroughly loathed it. But it’s a good job I didn’t let that put me off. Because Over There, directed by Ravenhill and one of the Royal Courts resident directors, Ramin Gray, is a masterclass. What I love about it as an art form is its teamwork – no one person can do it alone. The director has to have a clear vision, but he or she can – indeed should – draw on the creativity, innovation and vision of the team around him or her. In this case the designer Johannes Schutz had done something amazing. The stage was a box – no wings, nowhere to go. Obvious symbolism in that, but it left the actors very exposed. They were wonderful – Harry and Luke Treadaway. They look like each other, naturally, but they were just different enough not to mess too much with the audiences heads! Because there was enough head-messing going on as it was. I left feeling challenged, invigorated, excited, slightly disgusted…but most of all as much in love with theatre as I ever have been. It was a sterling example of how theatre retains that power to shock, question, engage. It’s only on for another week, but I would highly recommend it if you get a chance to go. On the train home I picked up thelondonpaper and theire reviewer gave it 5 stars out of 5. I have to agree.
The second piece was totally different. It was billed as a “reading” by David Hare of a piece about the wall being built in Israel. It was directed by Stephen Daldry. It was just a middle-aged bloke in a white shirt and black jeans standing on a stage and reading. Though of course it wasn’t. The touch of the director was barely discernible, yet undeniably there, probably most of all in the moments when Hare wasn’t reading from the sheaf of pages in his hand, which he let fall around him as the piece moved on, but rather addressing the audience directly and seamlessly returning to his “reading”. Of course, with Hare (I directed The Blue Room as few years ago in Brussels) the words are king and are his strength. I saw The Year of Magical Thinking at the National a while ago, performed by Vanessa Redgrave and directed by him, and though it was a tour de force performance from her, I found it far too static as a piece, as well as 15 minutes too long – it had reached what seemed to be a natural end, and then seemed to limp on for a bit more. And yet last night, even though it was the same thing – one person on a stage – it didn’t seem static and it certainly didn’t feel too long. After the privilege of seeing Michael Nyman playing Michael Nyman, how great now to see David Hare acting David Hare. This is the compensation, really, for having left behind all my friends and theatre involvement in Brussels. It was like coming home.
There’s so much going on today, what with those terrible fires in Australia, Premier League managers being sacked left, right and centre and all the hoo-ha about bankers’ bonuses, that I suspect Neelie Kroes’ meeting with the roundtable to discuss the future of the car block exemption may have gone unnoticed. I wrote about this issue in September, when it hit some of the papers. Today Kroes gave a “cast iron guarantee” that she would “not agree to any change to the rules that will make life harder for independent repairers”. She also said that the Commission “will not use competition policy to put unnecessary barriers in front of efforts to help the industry survive and adapt”.
Coming back to the fires, it beggars belief that anybody could deliberately start those fires, knowing how often Australia suffers. What is going on in the heads of these people? When I was Science Spokeswoman, we did a report every year about the previous season’s fires, as well as showing the system developed for monitoring and warning about fires. The 2007 report says for Italy, just to take an example:
The most worrying aspect is the increase in arson that, in percentages, is the highest since 1998 and concerns the cause of nearly 7000 fires ; it has more than doubled since last year.
If you have friends or family in Australia, I hope they are safe and well. It does make you appreciate the good things that you have.
For me that was very evident this weekend, with three of my closest friends from Brussels coming over to stay with me, and while they were here we managed to catch up with loads of other friends. The best weekend I’ve had in years. We went to Strictly Live, which was hilarious fun, and also managed to catch Derek Jacobi as Malvolio in Twelfth Night as part of the Donmar in the West End season – what a pleasure to see one of the greats in action. Not even the uselessness of London’s transport could get us down – neither the Northern Line nor the Jubilee line was working (fairly crucial if you’re going from Balham to the O2) so we drove, a trip of 11 miles that took 1.5 hours – an average speed of 7.33 miles per hour by my reckoning.
When it comes to rugby it is anyway – tonight I’m off to the “meet the team” session for season tickets of Harlequins Rugby league team. I decided that I needed to get out more at the weekend and going to the rugby would be a great way. I don’t think I’ll tell them that I’m not actually a huge Quins fan – I will be when they play Leeds or Bradford (and especially Bradford after reading this story) but not when they’re up against Catalan Dragons. My parents live in real French rubgy country and in fact the commune of Sauveterre-Comminges which is on the other side of the valley from mine is a divisional champion at what the French call “rugby a treize”.
As you will have seen from the site, I’ve been getting to grips with Twitter. I got the best e-mail today, even I know it’s automatically generated: “Barack Obama is following you on Twitter” With his 144,000 followers, it’s further proof of his ability to mobilise the digital generation. It’s not about age, as such, but openness to innovation and new ideas, and there’s no age limit on that!
We had to say goodbye to our receptionist Elodie today – she’s been an asset to the place, both on the switchboard and the front desk and we wish her all the best in her new career in Paris!
I got tickets for the Blur gig in July – yippee! One of the benefits of being an O2 customer – you get priority bookings for gigs at the O2, or ones they are involved in. It’s how I got Metallica tickets for March, which I’m going to with my brother – ROCK!
I had my first ever OU tutorial last night, as part of my Spanish course. It was a little chaotic, but certainly good to be with others, and getting feedback on accent, pronunciation and so on. Afterwards I went for a beer (or two ahem) with one of the other students – great to get out with new people and spread my social wings, so to speak.
A colleague introduced me to Google Reader today. A little slow to catch on I know, but a very useful tool. One of the reasons I was recruited to this position (I think) was for my interest in “new media”, and we will be working on improving our services to journalists and the public through web-based media, as well as continuing our support to papers, TV and radio. But as so many of the articles I linked to yesterday said (or implied), the boundaries are getting increasingly blurred. So we in the Commission need to address that more directly. Anyway, if anyone has any decent blogs to suggest, send me the link!
Brussels is the focus of the day, with the summit going on, so it’s quite quiet here. We did have an announcement today about clawing back around £80 million of agriculture money that has been mis-spent by the UK authorities, mainly for not meeting farm payment deadlines. Are we going to see parity between the euro and the pound? That’d be all very well for friends visiting me here, but it’s terrible news for the many retired British people living in Spain, France and elsewhere in the EU (and I’ll declare an interest – that includes my parents), whose pensions are paid in pounds and are seeing it slip away. What with the low interest rate, the problems in financial markets and now this, it does seem as if past financial prudence (saving, investing in pension funds and all those things we were told we should do) is being punished. Hardly the message we should be sending out, I would say.
Isn’t it just. I suppose now that it is actually December it’s allowed, but it does seem to have snuck up a bit – where did November go?! Anyway, here’s a little bit of Christmas cheer from the London rep: showcasing the best in young film talent from around the EU, an interactive advent calendar.
I was just in Brussels for a few days with a group of journalism students who were interested in finding out about how the EU works. It was great to be back and to see friends and colleagues, but there was no regret about the decision to come and work here at the Rep – any regret I did feel was for not being able to see my great friends more often. The students seemed to get a lot out of it, and they got access to some really good people while there, as well as having a day on the streets of Brussels talking to people about the role of the EU in that city.
The run-up to the end of the year is getting pretty packed, with Christmas events, of course, but also getting things finalised here budget-wise, several top-level visits and trying to organise things for a smooth start to 2009.