Category Archives: Living in London

Small World

I was at Embankment Tube yesterday waiting for the Northern Line, on my way to Kentish Town to see Gomez. I sat on one of those seats and then thought, I think I know the guy sitting next to me! I looked (surreptitiously) and thought, he looks like Anthony Browne, who used to be Times correspondent in Brussels. The tube arrived, he got on and I didn’t, and seeing him face on I realised it was indeed Anthony, but it was too late. When I came in today, I thought I’d google him to see if he is still at the Times, but it turns out he’s just started as Policy Director for Boris Johnson! So if you’ve got a web alert set up for your name, Anthony, and it spews up this post – congratulations on the new job and it’d be nice to get in touch!

It was a day of renewing old friendships. As I say I was at the gig where Gomez played their Bring It On album, which won the Mercury Music Prize in 1998. Hearing each song was like rediscovering an old mate. Appropriate, because I was there with Jane, who I was at school with and until I moved back to London, hadn’t seen for about 15 years!

I’ve signed up to man our stall at the Thames Festival for a few hours next Sunday. Sounds like a fun event – as long as the weather holds. At least I’ll be under cover!

Just for information, I’ve started an events page – we support a lot of cultural events and I thought it would be good to let people know what is going on. I’ll do my best to update it regularly.

I won!

Aah, the joys of the wacky London scene. I saw an entry over on kudocities asking for a soundtrack to go with a magic show. I sent a few ideas in and won a night at the museum with free drinks! Something different to do on a Thursday night and certainly nothing you’d find in Brussels. I never win anything like this, so I’m chuffed, while at the same time reasonably sure I was the only person who entered…

I thought this week would start off really busy with everyone in Brussels coming backfrom the August break and the Commission meeting again today. But it hasn’t happened like that – at least not yet. But the planning apparatus is up and running and it looks like we’re going to be in for a heavy autumn. From the treatment of lab animals, illegal logging and the pharmaceuticals market to consumer rights, text roaming and urban mobility. And that’s before we get into the political stuff, like the informal council in October and whatever foreign policy problems might crop up. One of the best things about coming to London is the range of subjects I am called on to be up on – today it was electronic tagging of sheep and independent mechanics.

Bit depressing looking at the weather forecast and just seeing rain rain rain for the rest of the week. The one bonus is that now that I grow plants, I can comfort myself with the thought that the rain is doing them good. Non-Brits I met in Brussels (and elsewhere) often asked me why we Brits are so obsessed with the weather. My answer is that we have so much of it – no discussion to be had in Andalucia “Nice out again, like yesterday and tomorrow and most of this year”. But in a country where it can be summer in the morning and autumn by afternoon, as was the case yesterday, well, there’s really something to talk about.

Enjoy the silence

*weird, this got caught in the out tray. Still, here it is for the record*

Sorry for the long break – I was in France for a few days for my father’s 60th birthday, then Brussels sorting out moving all my belongings out of the house there and into the one here. The stuff arrives on Friday this week, so that will be a few days of graft getting it all out of boxes. Moving is a great time to clean up your life a bit and there were 35 bags of rubbish outside my house on Wednesday – most of them recycling bags I hasten to add. I’ve also got loads of stuff that I’m trying to give away to the Sally Army or something, if I can arrange for someone to pick it up. Got to go back one more time for the final tour through the house and transfer of utilities meters, but I’ll be staying with Abi (and my cats) then, as I was the few days I was back this week.

Abi stayed with me in Balham on Friday and we had a really nice night (watched Little Miss Sunshine, which is absolutely hilarious!). Saturday I met Hannah, someone I knew in Brussels, and some of her friends and we had a great day – late lunch at Tate Modern, drink at the Oxo Tower, then joined in a trance party on the river beach by the South Bank! We ended up in the ICA bar, which was great. Sunday I just watched Olympics for most of the day, which is no hardship with Team GB going so well. I’ve particularly been enjoying the velodrome, as always – how crazy are the events there??!! Just looking forward to seeing what else our lads and lasses can achieve!

So back in work, and as is usual in August, it’s all very quiet. Actually August is even quieter here than it is when you stay in Brussels, or maybe I’ve just always chosen bad summers to stay! Let’s see what happens…!

Making the most of our research funding

More science news – you didn’t know this was a science blog, did you…! We’ve made an announcement today about a pilot project to make the results of EU-funded research more available. Basically research groups that receive money from the EU’s Research Framework Programme will be required to put any articles or reports into a depository, which should then be openly available after an embargo of 6 to 12 months, depending on the research area. This embargo gives time for the results to be published in peer-reviewed journals, but ensures that potentially useful information is not then locked away where people who could really use it don’t have access to it. This is a delicate area, where you have many interests vying – the publishers want to maintain their revenue streams, the scientists want to make sure the peer-review system remains credible, the Commisson wants to make sure that tax-payers ultimately see a return on the public investment in science. By having varying embargo periods during this pilot phase, we can gauge just what the effect is on journals and scientists alike, and by opening up, we hope that smaller businesses that could build on information coming out of research but that they can’t afford to access when it’s only available through specialist journals. It’s an issue we’ve been looking at for a while, with a policy paper brought out last year, after a lot of discussion with people across the spectrum, and looking at examples of open access, such as the Wellcome Trust.

Was out last night at the Royal Festival Hall with the Stitch and Bitch London crowd. Really fun night – it’s amazing how empowering it is doing something a little strange in public with lots of people… Going to eat Southern Indian food in Tooting tonight with The Housemate – if anyone has any suggestions of the best place to go, I’d love to hear them.

Our woman in London

I’m sitting in my office with the fan on, feeling like something from a Graham Greene novel! I lolve the warm weather, don’t get me wrong, but I do prefer it when I can lie in a garden overlooking the valley of the Neste river, or lie by a pool in Ibiza. It’s just not the same sitting in an office in Westminster!

Had a lovely weekend, with my first party at the house. Just a casual lunch thing on Saturday, with about 20 of us. No-one had met before, but everyone seemed to get on, and there were quite a few kids running around, from 7 months to 10. All great fun. A schoolfriend I hadn’t seen for nigh on 20 years turned up, which was delightful! Sunday I went to Clapham Farmer’s Market. Here’s a weird coincidence – Nafees who was on the Eisenhower Fellowship with me went to the Bonneville Primary School (where the market is held) for a short while when he was little. It’s a very small world…

It’s much more clear this week that the holiday season has started in Brussels – today has been very quiet. Still, gives me a chance to get on with some of the more long-term things we have to deal with, like helping a university that would like to give its journalism students a taste of “Brussels”, and tenders for this and that.

Also having some admin nightmares, not only on the personal front, with no-one having come back to me yet about my move, but also as I’m trying to recruit some new staff and have to wait until September for someone from Brussels to OK my choice. Given that I can only recruit people off a list drawn up after a recruitment procedure, I’m having difficulty seeing the logic in that…

It’s raining Euromyths

*sigh* a few days out of the office having a blast at the samba festival and I get back to find the office is euromyth central. For the general information of the world out there – we are not banning the acre, we are just not extending the use of a derogation that the UK government doesn’t make use of any more. The same legislation secures the status of the mile and the pint, so they’re not going anywhere either. Equally, we have nothing against Peking Duck, but some ovens used to make it have been found to be dangerous and so rightly removed from use – I don’t think anyone wants crispy skin so much they are willing for someone to get carbon monoxide poisoning. Let’s just recap: the EU is NOT banning the acre and the EU is NOT banning Peking Duck.

Another NOT in my life at the moment is I am NOT flying anywhere on EasyJet any time soon. We were left at Toulouse airport for more than 2 hours yesterday, so by the time we got through passport control and customs, it was too late for me to get a train back to Balham. Len and Bev very kindly let me stay at their house, but I’m really looking forward to getting back to Balham tonight and sleeping in my own bed!

The festival itself was ace though, indeed much more fun than I thought it was going to be. I thought it was going to be all samba dancing and women with big headresses and little bikinis, but actually it was predominantly percussion baterias and I can confirm that the rhythm IS going to get you… There was also some fantastic street art – from a troupe of musicians with bombards and drums singing in minority languages like provencal and languedocien, to a street magician, and Ens’batucada who were just outstanding – stuff for Watch This Space next year?. Plus I did stuff I love like going to French markets (3 in 5 days!) and I saw my house, which I’m so happy about. Just need to get some furniture into it now.

It’s oh so quiet…shh…shh

Sorry I’ve been off air for a few days. Crazy days…

The weekend saw the move into the new house. Well, I already live there, but I had to move rooms and the new guy arrived and Rob and Amanda left, so it was all go. My brother arrived in the middle of it alland I met him and his friends in the evening. So a nice, but knackering day and I slept like a baby. Sunday was very low-key, which was more than made up for by Monday!

We have a really busy week, with several big stories coming out, including the drive to reduce the price of text roaming that will be announced today. We’ve been answering questions, setting up interviews and so on. It’s good to have announcements like this, which prove that we’re not all about arguing over institutional issues – mostly what we’re about is getting on with using our combined strength as a single market to benefit consumers.

Another story that cropped (hoho) up today was about tobacco and the agricultural subsidies that go to it while at the same time we are spending money on combatting smoking. It’s an irony that is not lost on the Commission, which is why we have pushed through proposals to stop the subsidies from 2010. Of course they can’t just be stopped one day, as it’s about livelihoods, and they need time to adjust their farming to a different crop. But from 2010 there will be no EU budget support for tobacco growing, in spite of attempts by some in the European Parliament to extend that deadline.

I had a really interesting meeting yesterday with a woman who does communication for a variety of EU research projects. It was nice to have that link back to my old subject, which still tugs at my heartstrings, and also to hear about how the projects are working with each other to address their communication needs. She works in the field of health and nutrition, so really relevant to today’s world and something that can really resonate. I was speaking to a health journalist a few days ago  and she said that when a press release comes from the European Commission about scientific results, they are more likely to take it seriously, as it demonstrates an objectivity (ie not funded by food or pharma companies).

One of the funny sides of this job is being a “diplomat” in your own country. No, don’t worry, I don’t get diplomatic immunity or anything like that, but I am part of a community here in London, with invites to the embassies, working with them on initiatives, taking part in cultural events. It’s a really nice side to the job, and makes it feel less like I’ve “come back” to London, and more like I’m in a different place to last time.

Hanging around in limbo

I was in Brussels this weekend, to work on getting the house organised and see my friends of course. It was Rachel’s birthday and so we had a lovely brunch outside the Orangerie in Parc d’Egmont on Sunday. Most of my closest friends were there, which was lovely, but it was really strange to have to leave them all to go and catch the train “home”.  I got an e-mail from Rachel apologising for not talking to me much, as she still doesn’t think of me as not living there! But funnily enough, I feel based in London, I just don’t have the community of friends here yet that I do in Brussels. I’m sure I will though! It’ll also help when the move is completed and I have my own things around me – I was crazy happy yesterday at having a few more of my own clothes hanging up in the wardrobe!

The office is pretty quiet today and the phones are up the creek, which helps! I found out I have to go to Liverpool later this week with the President. My first official engagement, if you like! It’s a whirlwind visit and we’re trying to set up a press point – if you’re interested, let me know!

Welcome to London Transport

It had all been going too well – turning up to Balham station, getting on the train – I even got a seat one morning. Last night coming back from Notting Hill the Circle Line was disrupted so I got the Central and then Northern, which stopped at Kennington, so I had to change… And then this morning the Northern Line was suspended so Balham overland station was crazy busy. Oh for the little city where I can walk to work and you can get anywhere in a cab for €20…

But then, I was in Notting Hill because I was at the closing night of our Common Language Film Festival and the star of the final film Il y a longtemps que je t’aime, the one and only Kristin Scott Thomas was there and did a Q&A afterwards. And as I was walking to Balham train station I bumped into my brother’s best friend and one of the people I’ve known longest in my life, so was able to travel in with him. Now, none of that happens in Brussels!

The admin of being in a new place is coming together – I’ve got my work mobile phone now, I can answer my colleagues’ phones and all the computer systems seem to work. Having said that, someone hasn’t flicked a switch somewhere in Brussels, so the people that do pay think I am still based in Brussels and so won’t pay me in my UK account yet…the wheels turn slowly sometimes, in any big organisation, and ours is no different.

Nothing big planned for today, except meeting my European Parliament colleague, but that’s the joy of press work – you just never know what’s going to come up!

Euonymics

euonym (n):

1. (obscure) A name well suited to a person, place or thing so named.

2. (contemp.) The name of the weblog of the new head of media at the European Commission office in London.

That’ll be me!

So. I arrived from Brussels on Sunday, and settled into my temporary home staying with the lovely Rob and Amanda in their lovely home in Balham. I’ll be here for a month while I get myself sorted with a place to stay. Already on Monday I went to look at somewhere – a houseboat on Eel Pie Island. It was great and I’m going to go back and have another look, as well as going along the river with my cousins to see what else there is.

The first week has been fun so far. Monday was the usual “first day at school”, unpacking boxes, getting a telephone, working out where the loos are and that sort of thing. But now I’m starting to get into it, have even taken a few phone calls!

One of my responsibilities is “cultural diplomacy” which covers the work the Rep does in promoting European culture. That’s going to be ery rewarding and right up my street! Already in this first week I’ve been to an exhibition of paintings by the Luxemburg ambassador and a film festival up at Notting Hill Gate. Last night I saw “Elle s’appelle sabine” about Sandrine Bonnaire’s autisitic sister and tonight I’m going to see “I’ve Loved You So Long” and might even get to meet the film’s star – Kirsten Scott Thomas!

One of the team is leaving on maternity leave, so we had a nice hello/goodbye lunch with the team yesterday and a baby shower. It’s going to be very different, in lots of good ways, working in a small office like this, rather than a gargantuan one like the Berlaymont. In a way it’s an atmosphere I’m used to, having grown up around embassies. And the office is in an area where I know a lot of people (all those civil servants) so it shouldbe quite easy to keep in touch with people.

The President is in town today, so the office is pretty quiet at people are out supporting him and his entourage. He’s not doing any media except a press point with the PM, so I haven’t had to get involved – which is a relief, given I know nothing at the moment. Hopefully I’ll be a bit more clued in next time he comes. The big thing here is going to be getting the planning right – like in my old job, if you plan for the things you can plan for, then the emergencies that crop up can be dealt with more effectively. So we’ve been looking at what’s coming up in the next few months to see what seems to be of particular relevance to British business or society. I think there’s some good things coming up, so watch this space!