Tag Archives: Arsenal Double Club

A good day

My friends will know that I’ve been having a bit of a hard time recently and am feeling quite unsettled about my life. Whether it’s chicken or egg, I don’t know, but this feeling of unease has also applied to my job. Maybe it’s unsurprising given I have worked for the Commission for 18 years. But then sometimes a day comes along that makes you think, my job rocks. Not only is it interesting and varied and intellectually challenging, but I am also part of something that is actually helping people and changing attitudes. And that day was yesterday.

It all started at Arsenal Emirates Stadium, where the kids involved in the Arsenal Double Club Olympic Song, Together in the Language of Sport, were putting together the video. The Double Club is a project that we have been involved in for several years, which uses football to help kids engage with foreign languages. Working with the Goethe Institut in particular, a song was written and schools were invited to take part in a competition where they wrote verses along the Olympic theme in 5 different languages (Spanish, French, Italian, German and Greek) and an English chorus. They recorded the song, and then yesterday 350 kids came to Arsenal to do the video. It was lovely seeing all these kids singing with great gusto in different languages. As a language junkie, I also loved learning the chorus in British Sign Language. Whenever I meet a deaf person now I’ll be able to have a great conversation, as long as it involves the phrases “there’s no losing, only winning” and “all together in the language of sport”. Here’s a brief taster of the video, which will be released officially on 18 July. Be warned – the song is a complete earworm that you’ll be humming for the rest of the day.

Then that evening I headed to the Royal Opera House for an event the like of which I’m sure that august venue has never seen. It was called With1voice and was a one-night festival with performers who are or have been homeless. There were two rooms, one more acoustic, with individual performers, poets, films and then a mainstage, with bands, choirs and theatre groups. It all came to a head with Streetwise Opera blasting out O Sole Mio. It was an astonishing evening, and really challenged my preconceptions of homelessness. It really made me realise that but for a few quirks of fate, that could be me, you, anyone. I think of all the acts I saw, the one that affected me most was Veteran Voices, based in Aldershot. Two of the former soldiers read poems they had written. They weren’t the greatest poetry ever written (and I know, because I write bad poetry myself), but these quite buttoned-up men, trained to be emotionless and direct, writing about what has happened to them in a very matter-of-fact way, but with the pain and hurt leaking out of the seams was so very moving. How has it come to this, that men who offered their lives to protect us are living in sheltered accommodation?

This was part of the London 2012 festival/Cultural Olympiad and the first time that homeless people have had a voice during the Olympics. There’s a petition to sign, if you’d like it to be a regular part. And an article in the Society Guardian to get another point of view of the night.

Some of the acts and films showcased:

Jason Hinchey

The Homeless World Cup

 

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.

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!

The financial storm

Reading this blog recently, you might wonder whether I’m even aware of what’s going on in the world at the moment. Naturally, the answer is “of course I am”. It’s just that it hasn’t had a very direct impact on us. These things are going on at a different level to an office like ours. But my colleagues in Brussels are certainly feeling it! When I was back there last week, it dominated discussions at our midday briefing, with several of my former colleagues involved: Jonathan on competition issues, Oliver on regulation of financial markets and Amelia on central bank coordination.

It’s a real challenge doing a job like this at a time like this, when there is only one real story on the news. Of course, we’ll often try to make the link with that story, or focus on issues that are relevant. But there will always be interesting things that go unnoticed that at another time might have got more coverage. An example today was the announcment on strengthening consumer rights. The proposals cover a whole range of issues of concern to consumers such as clear information on price, additional charges and fees before they sign a contract. They will also strengthen consumer protection against late delivery and non-delivery, and set out EU-wide consumer rights on issues such as cooling off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract terms. This isn’t just a consumer story though – it’s a business story too, because with a clearer system in place across Europe, there will be greater opportunities for selling Europe-wide, especially online.

Went to the National Theatre last night, to see The Year of Magical Thinking. A tour de force performance from Vanessa Redgrave, but I thought the play was a little too long for the format (a woman in a chair talking) and there were some directorial decisions that I would question (if an amateur like me is allowed to question David Hare!) I went with Irina, one of my fellow Eisenhower Fellows, and it was lovely to see her again. While there I bought tickets for Every Food Boy Deserves Favour, a new play by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn, which has a full orchestra! Sounds mad. I’ll have to wait till January to find out what it’s all about though – tickets are for then.

We’re making progress on the Double Club’s trip to Brussels, which I hope will be a lot of fun for those involved. They’re going to visit a school, take part in lessons, play football with them, go to an Anderlecht game and then do lots of sighseeing. we need now to work on the Monday, which is the Commission/Parliament end of things.

The new stagiaire (intern) started today, and it’ll be great to have someone around to give a hand with some of the research that we find difficult to get done. Sometimes the difficult bit is remembering that you have someone there to ask to do things when you’re used to doing them yourself – always the first challenge when you get staff.

Back in the hotseat

Sorry it has been quiet for a bit. I was in Brussels Monday and Tuesday of last week for a meeting of the people who do my job in all our reps across Europe. It was great to meet them at last – most of them have been just voices across the ether or very small pixellated images on the daily press conference. They had a better idea of what I looked like, so it was a little disconcerting to be hailed as an old acquaintance by people I didn’t know I knew! We also had a meeting with press officers from the European Parliament, looking in particular at next year’s European Parliament elections. It was of course very useful to talk about what we had in common in our work and what is so different. We’ve had the press officer from our Romania delegation, who was saying that a visiting Director-General did several interviews – we can barely get people interested in Commissioners!

I stayed on a day in Brussels to catch up with what was going on in the different portfolios of the Commission and talk over some upcoming issues. I also took the time to catch up with my friends from the Potocnik Cabinet, which was of course as delightful as ever. I do miss them all alot, though not sure I miss the work that much!

On the Wednesday evening I went to Paris and then caught the night train to Tarbes, as my furniture was being delivered to the house in France. My parents and I worked really hard over the next few days, first cleaning the house, then dealing with the delivery and then getting things sorted. I don’t have a bed yet (the packers in Brussels broke the one I took down there) but otherwise the place is looking pretty good. We had Sunday lunch in the little hostellerie across the river from the house – mine host comes into the dining room every 15-20 minutes and regales the diners with jokes and stories. Great meal though, in a French country restaurant kind of way (which is totally fine by me).  I feel so happy about the decision to get a place down there. It’s lovely to keep that French link, which I have been missing since I left Brussels (even spoke to the Francophone guy in Thorntons this mornin in French!) and the place is just so wonderful – life moves at such a relaxed pace you can’t help slowing down yourself. Twice driving to the house we got caught in a traffic jam caused by herds of cows walking along the road!

Last night I went to see Tricky at the Barbican. Amazing. Words used in reviews I’ve seen were “feral” and “unique” and that’s pretty much on the money. It was a one-off experience, totally strange, but mesmerising. He didn’t even sing on all the tracks, but you can kind of see why because it was so involving and hypnotic when he did, it almost would have been too much to have that for over an hour. Really glad I went.

So it was back to work this morning: the Northern Line had packed up so the train was mobbed, just to remind me that I wasn’t in Kansas now, Toto. Most of the day has been spent in just trying to catch up after more than a week out of the office and handling the backlog of e-mails. Of course, I missed all the Mandelson fun while I was out, and the pile of press cuttings about that is its own backlog. Today was mercifully a lot quieter on the news front, but there’s still quite a bit to do for the Brussels trip of the Double Club, the Mock Council and of course, quite a few admin tasks, now that I’m in a management position! In fact, we did a recruitment interview – seems longer ago than this morning!

Off to the theatre tonight with Irina from the Eisenhower Fellowship. Will be lovely to see her again.

Feeling calmer now

I didn’t post yesterday because I was having a ‘mare of a day dealing with various administrative things in Brussels and here and the entry would have been one long rant. And no-one wants that, do they! But I met a friend after work and went to Watch this Space and that went a long way to calming me down.

I was at the Spanish Embassy this morning for the awards to the schools in the UK that teach Spanish best. I went along because quite a few of the people involved in the Arsenal Double Club were there. That project is winning its own award next week, so we have been thinking about how to get word out about it. I tried some different angles – Observer Sports Monthly, Times Education – but I’m not hopeful. Shame, because I think it’s a great story on many levels. They were saying at the awards today that Spanish is rising in popularity as a foreign language, partly because of cultural things such as seeing big stars like Antonia Banderas, Penelope Cruz and J-Lo working and talking in both languages, and the growing role of Hispanic culture in the US. I think the number of Spanish sportpeople here is an issue too – is it a coincidence that 2 of the schools are from Liverpool, where both the red and blue teams have Spanish players? We have a report out from the Commission tomorrow about languages and business, and apparently it is a big issue here in the UK – the business community often complain about the UK’s lack of language skills. I know from personal experience that having those skills was a huge advantage for working while I was at college – I did telemarketing in German and worked as receptionist at a language school and got both of those jobs because I spoke foreign languages.

By the way the salt cellar story was definitely a Euro-myth – though not a total myth. Apparently Gateshead Council came up with the idea and Rochdale are trialing it during Salt Awareness Week. The article from the Daily Mail was pretty positive about the idea, as were the vox pops they talked to. I can’t imagine it would have been like that if the suggestion had come from the EU…would you like double standards with those chips, sir?

First the cucumbers, now the kiwis

[Sigh] One step forward, two steps back…

The redtops are full of a story today about a market trader who is being fined for his kiwis being 1mm smaller than the rules for grade 2 kiwis allow. Of course “Brussels bureaucrats” are getting the blame. Now, there are a number of things here:

1) We do not ensure implementation of the rules, the countries do. So the bureaucrat in this case is British, not Brussels

2) We are trying to get the rules changed so that even if there are standards for how things can be marketed, produce that falls below those standards can be sold.

3) The standards are set at UN, not EU level: http://www.unece.org/trade/agr/standard/fresh/fresh_e/46kiwifruit_2008.pdf

3) In this particular case the fruit were on average 4g below the minimum weight for a kiwi fruit to be sold for food. Now I’m no mathematician, but I reckon that’s more than 1mm smaller than regs – in fact the regs don’t have any size requirement in them at all.

I was thinking about this case in the shower this morning (rehearsing how I would make these points to anyone that calls us…) and it occurred to me that the humble kiwifruit is a result of one of the best ever marketing campaigns – remember when they weren’t called kiwi fruit, rather cape gooseberries? That was dreamt up by the New Zealand fruit marketing people, to encourage people to buy theirs. It’s all spun back on them though, because now they’re called kiwi fruit, wherever they are from!

Quite a busy day today, not helped by my being out of the office yesterday afternoon with the hayfever. Sounds stupid, but I was having such a bad attack I couldn’t do anything except blow my nose and feel sorry for myself! Today we’re trying to place an article on Zimbabwe, have another on patient rights that needs serious rewriting, I’ve got to get in touch with the Arsenal Double Club people as it looks we’ll be able to arrange a visit to Anderlecht with the kids, been talking to the National Theatre about how we can market the European aspect of the Watch This Space festival. And then I head off to Brussels this afternoon! Looking forward to seeing everyone there again.