I’ve got a brand-new combine harvester

and European rules don’t say anything about whether it can be used in the wet. You have the UK government to thank for the rules reported in the Yorkshire Post on 23 October that farmers are not allowed to use their combine harvesters in waterlogged fields. We leave those sort of decisions to Member States. Which makes sense if you think about it – wet fields must be a much bigger issue here than in southern Spain…unfortunately.

Not that we can complain about the weather at the moment, it’s my favourite – cold and sunny and crisp. Guess it’s all those years in Finland affecting me.

So glad it’s the weekend, though I did enjoy last night – it was the 120th anniversary of the Foreign Press Association and 40th anniversary of the Association of European Journalists, and they had a reception at the FPA’s headquarters in Carlton House Terrace, which used to be Gladstone’s house. I met some great people and was also able to say hello to Brian Hanrahan, who interviewed my parents last year. He remembered them well, and also how much he loved that part of the world. I just watched the interview again and it’s amazing to see how much the garden has changed in just a year.

Looking forward to seeing my brother over the weekend and maybe also catching up with my friend Hannah from Brussels. If you’re in town, come along to the Language Show, where I’ll be manning the stall for a spell on Saturday.

The lights on Embankment like jewels on chains

It was nice to have a day in the office yesterday, which meant I could trawl through a week’s worth of e-mails, do our regular planning for the weeks ahead and prepare for the various interviews I’m doing this week. One was today on the good old pesticides issue that is keeping us so busy at the moment. that was for BBC Breakfast and will air on Saturday. I’ve also been invited to take part in a programme that Jamie Oliver is making about bacon, so have been reading up on food labelling, geographical indications and animal welfare. The One World Broadcasting Trust event last night was very nice, and it was so interesting to talk to the Fijian. I thnik we sometimes take for granted having a press that can pretty much say what it wants – there are many places around the world where just reporting the facts, without any comment, can result in threats and intimidation. And yet it seems difficult to find people to stick up for freedom of speech in those circumstances (though they seem to manage it for Holocaust-revisionists…)

As I was already in Soho, I decided to treat myself to a Korean meal, and I found a pretty good place called Gama – their kimchi was certainly tasty. After dinner I walked down along Charing Cross Road, through Covent Garden and across Waterloo Bridge. That really is my favourite view in London and on a crisp cold night like last night, it was magical. The lights on Hungerford bridge created an effect of raindrops on a spider’s web, it was lovely. I decided to get a bus home, but got off it way too early, so was a little block of ice when I got home (having lost one of my gloves walking to work that morning).

Last night did instil a feeling of, well not quite nostalgia, I’m not sure what to call it. I was walking through parts of London where I used to spend a lot of time, and rarely go any more. That’s what’s so great about London, I suppose – it’s one thing to you as a 20-year-old student, and something else entirely as a 37-year-old with a 9-to-5 job. Wonder what I’ll think of it at 70…?

These are crazy crazy crazy crazy nights

Sorry it’s been so long, but the last few days have been a bit mad. On Thursday and Friday I was up in the North-East, representing the European Commission at an event for local authorities, universities and businesses in that region, to highlight possible sources of European funding and where to fgo for assistance and advice on policy areas of interest to them. I also took the opportunity to meet some of the regional press – it’s always good to make human contact with someone, and the regional press tend to have a strong interest in some issues that don’t make it into the national dailies, such as farming or some industrial issues, as well as the obvious regional funding aspects. I was at my friend Clare’s engagement party on Friday night, which was a lovely opportunity to catch up with some people I haven’t seen since my landlords left. On Sunday my friend Kathryn came round for lunch with her little boy Sam, who is a little sweetheart. That evening I containued my advantage-taking of London’s cultural scene by going to the Electric Proms (not the Oasis gig, but rather the Introducing… night featuring new bands. Headliners were the really-rather-good Pete and the Pirates.)

Monday started with a meeting at the London Development Agency, to plan an event in early December with the Regional Policy Commissioner. If Kissinger joked that he didn’t know who to call in Europe, he would enjoy talking to London people… I think three or 4 acronyms were chucked at us during the meeting!

Tuesday was CRAZY! Meglena Kuneva, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner was in London and we had set up visits to the Watchdog and You and Yours stdios. I had to meet her and her team at St. Pancras at 9.38. I left Balham at 8.30 and at 9-ish was sat at London Bridge. For quite a while. Just as I began to panic, the voice came over the intercom “Northern Line suspended, please seek alternative routes”. Oh and by the way the Victoria line was stuffed as well. (This was after taking 90 minutes to get to Camden from Balham on Sunday. I am so over the Northern Line).  So I went haring up the escalators, out onto Borough High Street, and jumped into a cab, which took 10 minutes to get from London Bridge to Bank! By this time I was getting seriously panicky about whether I was going to make the meeting at all. Luckily the cabbie tok pity on a fellow South-Londoner and hot-footed it up to Kings Cross, making it with 3 minutes to spare! then it was into the car and off to the BBC’s media centre. We had a really interesting hour or so with the Watchdog team in their shiny new studio and got a real insight into the work they do and how they organise themselves. then back in the car to Broadcasting House to visit the You and Yours Team. The Commissioner was interviewed for the programme, and then we headed over to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, where she met the Minister. I then had to shake tail up to Emirates Stadium for a meeting of the Languages steering group, linked to the Double Club, a meeting I was over an hour late for, which I hate so much. we were in a box overlooking the pitch though, which was very cool! After that meeting, I went to meet Kate in their press office to talk about the Brussels visit, which is next week. I then got a call from the office asking if I could do an interview on Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon programme, which would mean going into their studio at…wait for it…11.45 at night! I said I’d do it, because it was on a campaign that Sainsbury’s are doing to get us to drop rules on fruit and veg marketing standards which we’ve arelady said we’re going to do. So at half ten I headed over to the BBC, sat around for a while and then did the piece which lasted all of about 2 minutes! Then home again to bed. Crazy night, indeed.

So today has been my first proper day in the office for a week. I spent it sorting through e-mails and just getting organised – things really pile up when you’re out for so long. We had our weekly planning meeting today as welll, which is always good for getting our heads straight about what’s coming up. Off this evening to meet this year’s recipients of the One World Media Fellowships – looking forward to talking to the Fijian, in particular, as my parents lived there and I visited several times.

Oye como va

Pretty busy day today. It started with heading out to my old stamping ground of Notting Hill Gate (I lived there in my second year at LSE, which is not as glamorous as it sounds – there were four of us in a two-bedroomed flat, with no central heating and directly over the tube, so the whole place rattled loudly every time a train went by…). We were at the Spanish Consejeria de Educacion, to select the schools that are going to take part in the Double Club trip to Brussels in a few weeks. There were loads of applications and it was really encouraging to read how the project has taken root in schools and is fostering a real interest in languages, especially among boys, who traditionally don’t go for those subjects. If you don’t know what the Double Club is, you can click the tag to go to previous posts which explain it.

I also did an interview for the Food Programme on the labelling of ingredients in alcoholic drinks. Keeps you on your toes, this hopping from one subject to another.

I’ve ordered all the books for my Open University Spanish course, which starts on 1 November. I’m also doing a short course on the science side, so I hope I haven’t taken too much on. But the Spanish is a work thing really – sounds strange to say that it would help to learn Spanish now that I’ve moved to London, but we do a lot of work on languages here, and the Spanish are real movers in that area. Anyway, I feel you shouldn’t have to search too far to justify learning something new. As I found out with the science course last year. Maybe Barcelona (my dream city) will need a press officer in a few years time!

Madagascar

I had a very lovely day on Saturday with the Anglo-Malagasy community, which I mentioned I was going to in my Friday post. To give the backstory – my father was British ambassador to Madagascar from about 1998 to 2002. I went out there for four weeks at Christmas/New Year 2000/2001 and was absolutely enchanted by the place. I find it difficult to explain why, possibly something to do with the uniqueness of the environment, the charm of its people, and amazing flora and fauna with no life-threateningly nasty insects! Anyway, when I came back, I started raising money for projects there, by running party nights (the famous Whatever nights!), and over the years probably raised several thousand euros. There’s an organisation here in the UK called the Anglo-Malagasy Society, of which my father is a member and he forwarded the details to me, as he thought I might be interested in going along. Their meeting was this Saturday and as it was in London, it would have been churlish not to go. So I toddled along to South Ken on Saturday morning. I didn’t know anyone there (or so I thought) so spend the first 20 minutes or so floating around like a ghost, though any time I was asked to give my name, people did go “is that as in Charlie Mochan?” which amused me greatly. There was one guy I thought I recognised, but shrugged it off as projecting the only Malagasy I really know onto the event. And then it turned out to be him! Tsiry worked in the Embassy when my parents were there and has now moved to the UK with his family, running a business importing Malagasy produce. I tried the chocolate which was wonderful (you should order some, Moray!). I also got talking to the people from the Andrew Lees Trust, because one of their projects is supported by the Commission. There were 2 presentations, one from an NGO called Azafady, who work in the Fort Dauphin area and the other from Kew about their Millennium Seed Bank and Vegetation Atlas projects. Over a delicious Malagasy lunch I chatted to other attendees (we were about 110 in total), some of whom had family connections with the island, or had volunteered out there at some point (some this year, some in the 60s!). At the end of the day, the Chairmanship of the AMS was handed over from Sir Mervyn Brown, who was Ambassador there in the late 60s, is generally seen as one of the UK’s top experts on the country and has been Chairman of the AMS for the last 22 years, to Stuart Edgehill. There were many tributes and the afternoon was finished off with a performance by the Malagasy Lutheran Choir. My heart sank a little when this was announced, possibly as a result of nights being kept awake by the choirs in the President’s garden in Fiji (that’s another post…) but I couldn’t have been more wrong – the music was as uplifting and filled with sunshine as the Tarika albums I have, and performed with such joie de vivre. Just a lovely day and one that has filled me with renewed vigour to do what I can to support development in this wonderful country. When asked about it, I often tell people it’s somewhere that everyone should see before they die. I can only encourage anyone reading this who hasn’t been to give it real consideration.

The sound of silence

Sorry, have been very negligent in my blog-writing duties. It’s not even that we’ve been totally swamped with work. It’s been quite busy, but in a very bitty way, doing a lot of admin and financial procedures for the various events that we have coming up before the end of the year and doing a lot of planning, so we are on top of upcoming issues. It’s my mantra that it’s better to plan what you can and give yourself the space to deal with last-minute emergencies rather than being in a permanent state of stress because everything is being dealt with at the last minute. It seems to be working quite well, though as long as most people in Brussels operate at the last minute, there’s not much we’re going to be able to do. Which is what is nice about this job. We are dependent on Brussels for the majority of our work, but at the same time there’s a lot that’s in our own hands and so we manage that as best we can.

We’ve been meeting all week with providers of contact databases for journalists, as our contract is up and a new tender is underway. I’ve never used one of these before, so it has been interesting to see what systems are out there. Looking forward to sorting it all out and starting work with one of these systems, which will hopefully allow us to manage our contacts with journalists better.

The telly in the office has had unprecedented levels of pictures of Brussels on it. The summit was given practically blanket coverage on News24 – have you ever seen a Berlaymont VIP corner live on British TV? Great stuff.  My favourite moment was when they covered live Angela Merckel’s comments to the press as she went in. In German. Without subtitles/interpretation. Cue lots of confused looking people in the BBC studio, saying things like, well I have German O-level but didn’t understand a word. Heehee.

Took advantage of the lovely weather to go for a walk this lunchtime, over Westminster Bridge, along the river, back over Lambeth Bridge and past the Houses of Parliament. We bumped into George Parker, Political Editor of the FT and former bureau chief in Brussels, which is always a pleasure.

I’ve got the house to myself at the moment, as the Housemate is away on a work trip which he is turning into a long weekend. Not that I’ve got much planned. Tomorrow I’m going to go to the meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society, sort of representing my father, sort of for myself (looking forward to the Zebu sarnies…!) Sunday I’ll be round at my aunt’s for lunch. It’ll be great to catch up with her. Otherwise a very quiet weekend ahead.

It’s the end of the world as we know it

Or is it? Loved Charlie Brooker’s take on it. Like one of the people who commented, my spending all my spare cash on holidays and having a good time is beginning to look like a sensible decision – at least I’ll have some lovely memories to keep me warm. Part of the problem with the whole discussion is that buying a house is treated as a purely financial decision. I mean, of course there is a large financial element, but why should we expect buying a house to be a money-making exercise? I could have bought in Brussels when I arrived 13 years ago, and would probably have made on it, but then I wouldn’t have gone to Fiji, Madagascar, Morocco. I wouldn’t have visited so many places in Europe. I might not even have done my OU course. And all that is worth more to me. Never mind the fact that I didn’t end up staying in Brussels, the main reason I didn’t buy anyway.

I promised you anything written about Verheugen’s interview on Friday, so here it is. It’s always interesting to see the process through from start to finish. If you’re interested, these are the various steps in a case like this:

We find out a Commissioner is coming.

If there is room in the programme for doing media, we find out from the people in Brussels what there is to talk about that would be of interest to journalists (this is the crunch bit and often the most difficult, trying to convince people that some conference isn’t (usually) going to float anyone’s boat)

We identify journalists that might be interested in that issue and pitch the interview to them. If we think we can get a “big fish” along, we can offer them an exclusive interview.

We may be involved in the briefing process, letting the Commissioner know who he or she will be talking to, what they have written about in the past and what sort of issues they have flagged up to us. The Commissioner may want to talk about X, but the journalist will sometimes come along because they want to talk about Y, so we have to make sure that everyone is prepared. That’s a difference we have with government: Commission portfolios are pretty clearly defined so Commissioners will often be reluctant to talk about something that’s not their area. So if we have the Commissioner that deals with widgets here on a particular day and the big EU story is about sprockets, then he may not be prepared to talk about sprockets and so there’s no coverage of that Commissioner.

Finally, one of the team will often sit in the interview, especially if the Brussels-based spokesperson hasn’t come. That way, we have a record of what was said, if there’s any comeback. We get a first-hand idea of what the Commissioner thinks, which always makes it easier to brief the press. And also we are known to the journalist if any follow-up is needed.

Final step in the whole process is to monitor the press for the interview and make sure the Commissioner and his/her team gets the final product. In some European countries, the convention is for someone to get a chance to comment on a draft of their interview before it goes to press. That’s certainly NOT the convention with UK journalists, so we often have to explain that to the people at HQ.

Anyway, just thought it mighjt be interesting to see what’s going on behind the scenes.

 

We’ve been having a lot of stick from the Royal Mail in various ways over recent months, as they (ably supported by UKIP) blame the EU for post office closures in rural areas. (On the contrary, the EU rules say that every household and business should get delivery at least once a day 5 days a week and that deliveries must continue in rural, remote and urban deprived areas. EU rules allow the UK government to support rural post offices financially.) But they’re taking the biscuit today. If you can believe it, they’re trying to blame the fact that there is only one delivery a day on EU rules limiting the speed of lorries! I know we’re a bit of an Aunt Sally, blamed for all sorts of wrongs that we aren’t responsible for, but that’s one of the worst I’ve heard. Maybe the PR guy who came out with that line was working at British Rail when they blamed the “wrong kind of leaves” for train delays?!

Knitting, talking and dancing

Something strange has happened to me since I arrived in London. I have started talking to people I don’t know. Not in a crazy-lady kind of way, but if there’s something to say. And you know, it’s really working well. Take last night. I was on the tube travelling back from an event in the centre of London (which, as an aside, had Brendan Cole at it, who came over as much less arrogant than he does on the telly, I have to say) and I decided to get the Bakerloo to Elephant and Castle so I’d be on the line down to Balham, rather than changing at Waterloo and then again at Kennington. DOH! Because we waited for aaaages at waterloo and then again at Lambeth North. The woman next to me seemed to be getting quite irate, so I asked her if the Bakerloo was always that slow. We talked about the tube system a bit and then she asked me if I had anything planned for the weekend. I told her that, at the risk of her laughing at me, I was going to the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace. Turns out, she’s really keen to learn to knit and while she can’t make the Ally Pally think, she might come along to Stitch and Bitch. So you see, get talking: you might find yourself taking up a new hobby!

The event last night was an opportunity to learn a few new dance steps – we did a bit of Lindy and Mambo, and the really great thing was that i found out where all the swing dance classes are. So might try some of those, especially as one is in Balham!

We had Vice-President Verheugen in town today and I was there while he was talking to the Observer. Very interesting to hear his take on the impact of the current stock market turmoil on what everyone seems to be calling the “real economy”. Which must make banking and finance the “fake economy”… Will link to any article that comes out of the interview on Monday. He was supposed to do an interview with a German radio station but infuriatingly the ISDN line seemed not to be working again. We’ll need to get the technicians in, because it’s just embarassing when that happens.

Otherwise not a particularly busy day, just answering calls, providing people with links to information and doing the things you can do in slightly quieter times, like filing and clearing out your e-mail. Glad it’s Friday – I plan a very quiet weekend at home, apart from the above-mentioned trip to Norf London.