Category Archives: Living in London

The Mighty Quins

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.

Come home

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.

Nothing else matters

Like I think pretty much everyone in the whole wolrd except Michael O’Leary, I couldn’t believe the reports that Ryanair are thinking about charging for use of in-flight bogs. Is that actually legal? But there is a good side – the endless creativity and humour that people can bring to bear to these kind of situations – look at this great blog post. Also enjoyed Gideon Rachman’s piece in the FT on losing his euroscepticism (not that I ever had him pegged as one!) I also love the fact that I found out about both of these via Twitter. (and they’re easier to find when you’re not been bombarded by Tweets from Stephen Fry on a donkey somewhere…)

Reason for the title is that i saw Metallica last night at the O2. Great stuff, proper old-fashioned rock, with huge flames and lasers and generally ROCK silliness. I also realised that I clearly play my bass with my legs far too close together and my guitar far too high up my body. Not like Robert Trujillo at all:

What a rock bassist should look like
What a rock bassist should look like

Loads of stories today in that white noise way we sometimes have to do things. A new campaign to highlight the iniquities of the gender pay gap is being launched – an issue that really needs to be highlighted, as it’s only going to get worse with the recession, as the types of jobs that women are generally in (part-time, services) are among the first to go. Here in the rep we’re hosting an event bringing together the new round of Life+, environmental projects financed by the EU budget. More about that later, either here or on our website, as our new intern, Anastasia, is following the event.

Lots of admin on my desk though – tenders for media montoring, planning documents for our internal use and Brussels, and recruitment to replace Greta who left last week. Best get back to it.

Baby you can drive my car

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.

Thirteen is the magic number

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!

Music is my radar

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.

Christmas is coming…

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.

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.

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!

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.