Category Archives: Personal

The stuff that shows we’re real people

Taking a break

So, having sat at this desk for much of the glorious summer, I am heading off for two weeks holiday, just as it turns to autumn…never mind…

See you back here in two weeks for more fun and games!

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Off-topic: Beagledors

One of the most common search terms that brings people to this site is, surprisingly, “beagledors”, because of this post in 2008. And maybe this one. Oh and possibly this one. Anyway, obviously there are lots of people interested in Beagledors, so I thought I’d give them something today: the most recent pic I have of Bailey, the Beagledor who started it all off.

Photo by Jon Boyle. All rights reserved.

PS In case you think I am exaggerating, I just looked at the list of top search terms for this blog and “beagledor” is top. By quite a long chalk. And there are 4 beagledor-related terms in the Top 20.

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Working for a living

This week is clearly careers week. I don’t think I’ve done a single careers talk since I arrived, and I’m doing two this week. On Monday we had someone from EPSO, our recruitment service, in the Rep holding open sessions for graduates (or soon-to-be-graduates) on the new round of recruitment and the new system. I was there to give a bit of a personal view of working in the Commission, describing my career path, and of course answering questions. The experience of new aspirants to an EU career will be a bit different from mine, as they will be taking tests designed to test competence and not knowledge. So no more questions about how many traffic accidents were there in the EU, or what is the weight of printer paper (both terrifyingly examples of questions in past competitions!). I was only at the final session of the day, but it was striking how many of the people who came along were from other Member States. Apparently this was less the case earlier in the day, but it raises yet again the issue I mentioned at Abingdon about the spectre of a loss of UK influence within the EU institutions.

Tonight I’m going to City University to talk to their Sociology MA candidates about possible careers for social science students. Given that I did a social science Bachelors and am starting a Sociology MA at City in September, it seems a shoe-in for me to do!

So, if I’m having to stand up in front of people and encourage them to consider a career here, I have obviously have had to think about what makes it a career I enjoy. So here is a purely personal look at the main things:

1) I love being able to use languages on a daily basis (and so that’s something I really miss here). As a spokesperson I got to do interviews in French and English, brief journalists in those languages and German and improve my minor languages by reading the press cuttings. Really made all those years of language learning worth it.

2) I’m a bit of a butterfly (5 different posts and 4 houses during my 15 years in Brussels), so working for an organisation with such a broad range of subjects means I can imagine about a lifelong career without worrying about getting stuck in a rut.

3) Leading on from that, there’s something for everyone. If you’re a really technical type, whose life revolves around widget regulations, then you can spend your whole career on widgets. If you want to move around a lot you can. There are many jobs giving an overview of a broad policy area, and many that are highly specialised.

4) The calibre of people you work with, both within the Commission/other institutions and their broader ecosystem of trade assocations, think tanks, law firms etc is very high. So intellectually it’s an amazing environment to be in. Like university with better food…

5) There is a strong element of idealism. I came to the view when I was a teenager that it is in our continent’s best interests to work together, and I was happy to be given the chance to work daily to make that happen.

I’m sure if I sat down for a beer and talked about this, more would come up, but that’s it for the moment. If any of this strikes a chord with you, why not apply for one of the recruitment competitions coming up? If you’re on Facebook you can follow developments via the EU Careers fan page.

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Filed under Coming Week, EC in UK, EU Careers, Languages, Personal, Youth

Doing the Boo

I was at the London Wetlands Centre this morning for the launch of a new animated series called My Friend Boo, which is designed to be both informative and entertaining, in the best tradition of children’s TV. As it was part-financed by the European Commission’s LIFE+ financing programme (though we had no influence over content and creative direction), we were invited to say a few words, alongside the project partners, which include WWF and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. The best bit was when a class of 7 and 8 years old came in to watch the three programmes that deal with Water (it being World Water Day and all…) The programmes clearly struck a chord with the children, who were all humming along with the theme tune by episode 2, and there was almost a riot when the project leader said they’d all get their own copy to take home!

I also got a few minutes for a bit of bird-watching over the Wetlands and in just the few moments I was there I saw cormorants, a lapwing and what I think was a Red-crested pochard, never mind many ducks, geese and moorhens. On a day like today, it was difficult not to totally fall for the place! And even better, I have discovered this fabulous widget on the RSPB site to help you identify birds you see – perfect for a novice twitcher like me. They even have a mobile version.

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Le plat pays

I lived for 13 years in Belgium and a very happy 13 years they were. It’s easy to get around, it’s got urban, rural, all the major bands play there, it’s got loads going on, you’re near stuff elsewhere – day trips shopping in Lille, or going to stadium gigs in France, Christmas market in Aachen. Yes there are internal tensions, but that’s not unique – there doesn’t seem to me to be much love lost between north and south England sometimes, and I’m sure some French people would love the idea of getting shot of Paris! Most countries of continental Europe have existed in some other form in the past – why single Belgium out as a non-country on that basis?

Various things do unite Belgians, and perhaps most importantly, distinguish them from their neighbours in France and the Netherlands. For example, try getting a meal in a restaurant in the Netherlands after 9.30 pm: in all parts of Belgium kitchens are often open past midnight and they do enjoy their food and leisure in a very non-Northern European way. You can even eat the kebabs when you’re sober…!

There’s the old chestnut that there are no famous Belgians. A very trendy restaurant in central Brussels has a wall covered with the names of famous Belgians, which makes you realise that the problem is most people think the famous Belgians are from somewhere else. Even if we discount the many famous Flemish School painters, on the basis that Belgium didn’t exist as a separate nation then, the Belga Queen will tell you that the famously French Johnny Hallyday is Belgian.

Another famous Belgian that most people think is French is the incomparable Jacques Brel. I came across him only a few years ago, when I was asked to do a speech on him for the annual Caledonian Society Burns Supper. One “best of ” album from iTunes and a bit of googling later, and I was hooked. Interestingly in light of some of the recent discussion, he was fiercely proud of being Belgian. Not Flemish, not Walloon, but Belgian. He once said:

“If I were king, I would send all the Flemings to Wallonia and all the Walloons to Flanders for six months. Like military service. They would live with a family and that would solve all our ethnic and linguistic problems very fast. Because everybody’s tooth aches in the same way, everybody loves their mother, everybody loves or hates spinach. And those are the things that really count.”

He wrote the achingly lovely “Le Plat Pays” a love song to his country which doesn’t dress it up, but for me really captures a lot about the place. Here he is in action:

If you’re not familiar with him, you have to watch his performance of Amsterdam, I’ve watched this loads, heard the song hundreds of times, but it still give me goosebumps.

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Who’s the twit?

So, I’ve made a decision to change the approach to Twitter. As you may have noticed, I’m a big fan. I love the interaction with people, the information and intelligence and having a lovely helpful network at your fingertips (literally) to help you out, whether it’s with a treaty article or a good restaurant in Rome.

On the other hand, I’ve been blogging under the reps name, but with a lot of my own interests in there (London life, web 2.0). So I think I’ve decided to change the name of my account to match this blog. That way it’ll be clear that it’s me tweeting, albeit retaining the link with my professional capacity. And then I will leave EUlondonrep for the original purpose, which was a resource for all the office to use, whether from the media section, schools, regions, networks, political etc.

I’d really appreciate some input from the Twitter crew – is this a good idea?

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Can’t find my way home

I’m gearing up for a few days of travel chaos. I’m off to spend Christmas with my parents in France and am booked with BA. though I fly the day before the strike is due to start and come back the day after. But you never know… The boyfriend is also on BA right slap bang in the middle of the strike, so we’ll have to see how that works out. Added to that is my trip to Brussels this weekend on Eurostar which is threatened by strikes as well, and you can see why I thought this list of reminders for travellers was worth repeating. Although the UK isn’t implementing the Rail Passengers Rights Regulation yet (in spite of its entry into force on 3 December) the cross-border services like Eurostar are covered nonetheless.

1. If you travel by air and you are denied boarding, or if your flight is cancelled without notice or is subject to a more than five hour delay, ask for reimbursement or rerouting.

2. You also have the right to assistance and, in some cases, to a monetary compensation in case of cancellation or a delay exceeding 3 hours. In all cases the company has to inform you about your rights on the spot, when an incident occurs.

3. If your luggage gets lost or damaged, you have the right to a reimbursement of up to €1223 when you take the plane.

4. When you book your flight ticket online, remember that the final price must be clearly indicated on the first page.

5. When you check in at the airport, only take small quantities of liquids in your hand luggage (a maximum of 100 millilitres is permitted per container, which includes creams, powder and mousse). The total amount of liquids per person cannot exceed one litre.

6. If you are planning to travel by aeroplane outside Europe, check the black list of airlines banned in the European Union before buying your ticket.

7. If you are a passenger with disabilities or reduced mobility, you will be granted non discriminatory access conditions if you decide to travel by air or by cross-border train within the European Union. You have the right to free assistance before, during and after the flight, when travelling by air; to free assistance at the station and on board, when travelling by train. Inform your air carrier at least 48 hours in advance if you require such assistance.

8. When you travel by cross-border train within the European Union you are entitled to reimbursement (or rerouting) and compensation, plus assistance, in case of cancellation or delay at departure or at arrival of more than 1 hour. You will also enjoy adequate information before and during the journey.

9. If your luggage gets damaged during cross-border rail travel within the European Union, you are entitled to compensation of up to €1300. In case of accidents during the journey, you are entitled to advance payments and compensation for you or for your family.

10. If you are not satisfied with your cross-border rail journey within the European Union, keep in mind that each railway company has to communicate you the contact detail of the complaint handling body, which will answer to your complaint within one month.

11. When you buy a travel package, always make sure that both the price and all relevant information are clearly indicated.

12. Keep in mind that one out of four road accidents can be attributed to excessive alcohol or drug consumption. Don’t drive if you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs!

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