Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

I read the news today oh boy, an MP killed just doing their job.


Shocked, just totally shocked that an MP, going about her job has been killed in the UK. I’m not totally surprised. The febrile atmosphere from the media over the last few years about how ‘they’re all in it for themselves’. The hapless MPs who took the piss of the expenses regime. Both have worked together to give the impression that MPs are not people’s representatives but fair game for hate and bile.

OK. Hands up. I was married to an MP and I worked for the same MP. So, I might have a biased view. But anyway, here it goes.

Most people who go into politics do so because they want to make the place they live better. Some get the chance to do so. Some get the chance to move on and have the chance to make the place they live, or come to represent and then live, better. Being an MP is a thankless task. I know, I saw it from the inside. I had to fight to get my wife to take one Sunday a month off and go to the cinema or do something else human. Reading happened on holiday. Otherwise it was politics at work and home 24/7. Hey I’m not complaining, it was a great life. However, go shopping and you have people looking at you, what do you have in your shopping bag? A bottle of wine, oh must be a drunkard! Go to the cinema, oh you’re neglecting your work. Do we want robots or humans as our representatives?

That’s one of the first problems. Consult the supposed expert upon our constitution and the answer is the MPs are representatives. Not delegates. They are sent to Westminster to listen to the arguments and make an informed decision. Not to do what you want. Not to do what you thought they went there to do. They are not delegates. Representatives. Lots of times working for an MP I heard or read people say, I want the MP to do this, they are my representative, therefore they must do this. No.

But enough of getting things off my chest. The main point about this post was that, despite the cynicism about MPs, fed massively by the media, most are good, hard-working people who have only their constituents interests at heart. I say this of Tory MPs of my acquaintance just as much as Labour ones.

After the Cheltenham MP, Nigel Jones, was attacked by a constituent in his surgery, and his member of staff lost their life protecting him, a review was undertaken of the security of offices of MPs and their surgeries. The MP I worked for did not encourage people to come to our office and we were on the second floor, there was a well populated reception area of another organisation and people were welcomed there and not invited up, unless let into the building by some of the other, clueless, tenants of the building, so we could invite a member of the public into the foyer of the building, if we had to, and there were plenty of eyes looking at what was happening. That did not happen often.

Surgeries were different. People came, by appointment, and were alone with the MP and a member of staff. An essential requirement to make sure the MP could focus on the needs of the constituent, the member of staff could take notes, and that there was a witness and a written record in case any argument ensued about what happened afterwards. Initially these surgeries, in the case of the main local council area the MP represented, were stuck away in a room hidden at the back of the building. The room was small and it was only possible to organise it so the constituent came in and sat next to the door with the MP and member of staff facing them. If the constituent got agitated, upset, or, even worse, violent, there was no way past them. The MP and member of staff were stuck there. In a tiny room, out at the far distant edge of the building from the security or other member of staff. It must be OK we were told as that was what councillors did and previous MPs did. It must be OK, there was a telephone in the room. Yes, also behind the constituent. After what happened to Nigel Jones the office requested the council move the surgeries to somewhere they were overlooked, especially by their security staff and somewhere the MP could escape from easily. The council were not happy. It had always been fine for previous MPs and councillors, why change things now? The death of an MPs staff member and almost of the MP were not a strong enough argument. I know some of the members of the council would have been happy if a nutter had taken care of the MP, but that was not the reasoning of the body itself.

Fortunately we managed to get the local police onside and they recommended that a more publicly visible venue, overlooked by the council security be sought and it was. Security intervened in the case of an old man unhappy at losing what he thought had been left to him, someone known to the community and no threat, just prone to shouting when he got emotional and unhappy.

They were not to be seen, maybe checking the rest of the building, when a man came in to the surgery with two knives in his belt, complaining about a burger chain restaurant in a nearby town, that was crushing up beetles and putting them in his burgers to get him sexually excited. The man was listened to, an undertaking was given to look into his problem and he left. All the time the MP was nearest the door and I was between the man with two knives and her. I was glad he left happy as otherwise it was me between them.

Le tour diary 1.


I’ve lived in France for seven years, more or less, now. During that time I’ve worked in the UK every summer. Initially at a summer school teaching teenagers from all over Europe or the world general English and last year and this at a university (pictured left) teaching students, about to start a Masters course at the university, how Academic English is different from the general English they learnt before, or what they did to earn their qualification to get to the university. I do that because people in France go away for July or August so you cannot organise classes in those months and now, increasingly working at the local university, courses finish mainly at Easter with a few lasting into or to the end of May and not starting until the middle of September.

Over time I’ve increasingly become interested in cycling. Initially, as a result of working on it for my job in the early part of this century, in track cycling – I saw races at the Manchester Commonwealth Games and at my local track when living in Reading. Over time this moved to interest in road racing, particularly the Tour de France. I even got to the last two and had an interview to manage the administration for Team Sky three or four years ago. In 2012, whilst working in the UK, I followed the race every day, when work had finished obsessively watching the races as the first Englishman and the first English based team went on to win the Tour de France. It wasn’t quite as obsessive, I had a new job in a new environment so hadn’t the time available, but I still followed the race last year and the second victory.

In seven years living in France I had never seen the race in the country that is my home. I had hardly seen the French TV coverage of the race. My knowledge of it came from the UK coverage on ITV4 and the previous coverage on a number of channels. You would think the tour coming to Leeds for this year would make me excited. I would be happy to be getting a chance to see it at last. Not, at all, it seemed wrong. So, it was with an ambivalence about this aspect that I returned to Leeds just over a week ago.

Thursday and work finished and preparation for Friday done so I went shopping to get a few things. Before leaving work I had talked with a few colleagues about the parade of teams which was taking place that evening through the streets of Leeds before they were presented at the Firstdirect arena.  Having finished shopping I noticed my route home was being closed off with barriers. I spied what would be a good spot to see the riders coming up from Millennium Square. So, I hung around in that spot and was joined by a flatmate and we saw the teams on their way from Millennium Square to the Arena. The one pictured are the Cofidis team. Whilst there I was given a ‘Spectator Guide‘ for stages 1 and 2 which led us to talk about the possibility of going to the ‘Grand Depart’ and possibly going out of Leeds to visit somewhere of interest and also take in stage 2.

On Friday further discussions took place and it was decided to go down to the centre of Leeds at 10ish on Saturday morning. Before that happened though I was wakened by a din from people playing popular beat combo music and talking French. But I’d left all that behind. was this some nightmare with my French living come to haunt me in Leeds? No. In seven years living in France I’d never seen the Tour De France and here theP1120919 caravan was going past my window. As well as the music there were vehicles advertising Haribo, ibis hotels, sugary fizzy drinks (pictured) and, best of all I thought, Yorkshire Tea. The last seemed so out of place with the rest but quite cool that it was present, like a very English intervention in the Tour de France.


Christmas Part I, or what we did in our holidays


This week I returned to Strasbourg from three weeks in the UK, seeing family and friends for Christmas and seeing the New Year in. If there was a theme for the period it was that we generally did the undoable.

dante%20gabriel%20rossetti%20lady%20lilith%20core_0The first day was spent looking round Walthamstow and the market, particularly to the good value store, and then on Friday we went to the Tate to see the Pre-Raphaelites exhibition. There were some fabulous paintings, a lot featuring women with long red hair, and I learned a lot about the movement, particularly on the impact they had on art, I hadn’t known before they were influential upon the Impressionists. The rest of the day was spent in London before meeting up with a friend who had recently left Strasbourg for Walthamstow.

searchSaturday saw us leave Walthamstow, via the fantastic and well worth visiting William Morris Gallery for more red-headed women, furniture wall paper etc, and headed to the Barbican for Complicite’s version of Bulgarkov’s Master and Margarita. Despite there having been earlier stage versions of the book it was held to be unstageable. Well it was three hours of fantastic theatre and definitely bought the story to life on the stage in an engaging and interesting way, was well acted and the time flew by.

Then I was with my parents for a week and JTO braved the flooding in the west country to celebrate Christmas with her mother, the first time we have been apart at Christmas for almost two decades! I went to see Reading FC play Swansea which was a dire game but they did what had largely been undoable for them before and avoided losing. After a really good night out in Reading with some friends and JTO going to visit her newly arrived granddaughter it was off to celebrate New Years Eve.

Putin up yours


According to the BBC, so it must be true, a Moscow Court has ordered that videos of Pussy Riot doing their ‘Punk Prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral should be removed from the internet or blocked. So, Mr Judge here’s what I think of your ruling:

Strasbourg English Speaking Union


It is hardly hot news but last Tuesday there was the inaugural meeting of the Strasbourg English Speaking Union. By the kind invite of the Deputy Mayor of Strasbourg it took place at the 18th century town hall.

The first presentation was from our host, Nawel Rafik-Elmrini whose official title is 2ème Adjointe – Relations internationales et européennes, coopération décentralisée for the municipal council, who talked about the building, Strasbourg and relations between the UK and the city. The room was the place where the Council of Europe had its inaugural meeting. After her speech Ms Rafik-Elmrini stayed on whilst we listened to the next speech.

Next up was John Darcy, Advisor to the President of the European Court of Human Rights. He started off by talking about the history of the European Convention on Human Rights which was then followed by the creation of the Court and then over time it was set up and started before the accession of various countries to the court. We hard about the way the Court had developed and the way the understanding and interpretation of the convention had developed, as a living breathing document.

He then talked about the almost 150,000 cases before the court which are added to with about another 50 to 60,000 every year. A lot of these are not cases which are relevant to the Court or have not completed all stages in the judicial process in their own country and are deemed inadmissible.

Mr Darcy, there was the inevitable reference to the name, then went on to talk about reform of the Court. Following judgements by the Court on votes for people in UK prisons and recently on Abu Qatada there has been pressure in the UK for reform of the Court or for the UK to withdraw from it all together. Following the visit of the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which I reported on here, as part of the UK Chairmanship of the Council of Ministers of the Council of Europe. He then spoke about what was then the upcoming Brighton Conference on reform of the Court. My understanding is it was outlined that as a result of the views of the other members of the Court it was unlikely there would be much of anything that would change as a result of the conference. Measures to streamline the judgement process to speed up decisions, and make sure that the Court does not make decisions that should properly be taken in countries, had been put in place anyway and were working.

So, it seems to me, that Dave’s attempt to attack the Court to satisfy his barking anti-European backbenchers resulted in him making a fool of himself in front of the Parliamentary Assembly followed by a lot of hot air with little, if any, achievement of change to the Court and the way it works.

After a short outline on the way the Strasbourg ESU would work we were given an apero courtesy of the people of Strasbourg and then we headed off, it being the birthday of JTO and I was taking her out for something to eat.

Trans Germany Express


Well not quite all, the last time you left our happy travellers they had reached Szczecin, close to the Polish/German border. After arriving a search was made for life but nothing much was found open by the station so an hour was killed in the waiting room with a Polish 24 hour news channel for comfort. On the news it was OK but a panel discussion about Polish disasters, like the rail crash that week, with detailed stories about people’s problems in the train were not the best in view of there being a train journey facing us. So we headed for the platform and waited for our train. It arrived and we got on. Berlin bound. I finished writing the earlier post and then we cracked open a bottle of wine we found in a shop near the station. We had no glasses but I’d managed to find some by going to a group of people sat in the foyer of the end carriage where there was a party taking place, and getting a couple of glasses.

I’ve seen fridge magnets saying ‘life is too short to drink bad wine’ but I think those people have not been on a Szczecin – Berlin train leaving after 20:00. It was like Ribena and at 10%, like Ribena.

We got talking in German and English to nearby passenger Uwe, whilst his mate slept. Uwe said his mate had slept during the day whilst he was out looking around the city. They both seemed to have consumed plenty of beer and had plenty of beer and vodka for the journey. During the discussion he said that his parents were from Silesia and had moved to East Berlin, and that he and his sleeping friend had been there to look at a place which had previously been German and look at the German parts of it. On arriving in Berlin we discovered that there was a special deal on the German railway of €10 for a day return to discover Szczecin.

Our tickets were only to Ostbahnhof but we managed to stay on to the Hauptbahnhof which is where our hotel was, well with a name of Central Inn at Hauptbahnhof that’s what you would expect. But having left the station and headed to the road of its address we discovered we were some way off. After various diversions, around 20 minutes off. After we had been helped into the building by the nice young women hanging around near it and walked the 2 floors up we got into our hotel room. The promised wifi didn’t work so it was not possible to download podcasts for the next days journey or upload already written posts.

However a good sleep was had as we woke up late the next morning and I had to forego a shower and shave to check-out on time. We headed to the Hauptbahnhof and a communication failure resulted in me thinking we had to vet to Ostbahnhof when we didn’t. I had been   about getting to the Hauptbahnhof to try to find the right platform to get to the Ostbahnhof and not get caught by the guards, at the same time JTO had discovered we actually got the train from the Hauptbahnhof so we didn’t have to go to the Ostbahnhof.

I was very pleased to see a bus to take us straight to the Ostbahnhof outside the Hauptbahnhof, no worry about platform, no worry about guards, so we jumped straight on and I paid for us to go to Ostbahnhof, only to hear we didn’t have to. Well it was an interesting journey through the centre of Berlin and I saw more of the everyday parts of the city than I had ever done. We got to Ostbahnhof to discover our train left from their anyway so we could join it, just hope no-one asked for our tickets. The most important decision now was to decide what to have for breakfast.That done we got on the train, our tickets were not checked and we headed off across Germany for home. The first part was flat with birch and fir forest and the occasional habitation or clump of windmills.

Change at Hannover and we went through central Germany over valley and through hill down to Frankfurt. From there I know the journey much more, on to Mannheim, which I would like to visit, together with Ludwigshafen. Much more interesting than the sterile Heidelberg which we had visited before. Then onto Karlsruhe before joining the Schwarzwald on our left as we passed Baden-Baden and the journey into the Rhineland plain to Offenburg where we detrained before getting the local connection to Strasbourg and home. After Karlsruhe, particularly past Baden-Baden, the train runs along the plain with the Schwarzwald rising up on the left, through the cultivated fields and villages and small towns with the distinctive local houses and it feels like all is right with the world.

In 1982 I spent the summer mad about the album, New Gold Dream by Simple Minds, and I saw the band play live at the Top Rank in Reading. When I went to university in Liverpool that Autumn I didn’t have a record player so I relied upon the radio and a few cassettes I had made and that album was one of them. I still didn’t get bored with it. Then the band chased after commercial success, they wanted to have hits in the US and play stadiums. I fell out of love with their music. Then I heard a song on the radio, Chelsea Girl from an earlier album and loved it and bought the album at a second-hand record shop in Reading. Then a friend gave me a copy of another earlier album Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings. I had recently traveled over the channel to Europe, if you ask me to be more specific to visit a friend in Germany, near Koln and the record sounded so clean and shiny, so travelling fast across Europe it seemed to be the soundtrack for what I had done. I have written here before about my love at the time for Germany, and about the fact I am converting albums to MP3 files. I did the 1980 records fairly early on and have recently been doing the 1970’s. This meant for the first time I had New Gold Dream and Celebration together and played them as we crossed Germany on shuffle, as we crossed Europe. It just seemed that they were not just the “windy words and oversized anthems” but just how fabulous the band were. As they said in a recent interview, “using sequencers and industrial textures to create an unsettling disco-rock travelogue….Going through these amazing landscapes my head was full of movie, book and characters…. We were speedy…Driving to Rockfield with 20 grammes… it was an innocent, young thing.” To me it was speed, Europe, shiny, new.

It seems I am not alone in thinking this as the band have released their first five albums as a box set. I wonder that they chased the dollar after New Gold Dream and were successful at it. They had the actress wife and everything that comes with the lifestyle. Now, having banked that they have realised the choice they made, to go for the money and not continue with the artistic credit for ground breaking albums. They are doing publicity to promote the new box set. The two main members of the band are going on about the artistic worth of the early work. It is true. For me the early albums are good. But they made a choice to chase the dollar and were successful at it. It just seems wrong now for the band to be trying to say, “Ah but we were worthwhile once and should have our place in history for it.” No, you became known for some dross, lowest common denominator songs seeking hits and money in the US in the 1980’s, nothing wrong with that. The point is you cannot have it all ways and re-write history as a ground-breaking historic act as you claimed you were afterwards. For me, I’ll continue to love the music and listen to it as I travel across Europe. It will represent to me travelling across Europe, especially ‘Sons and Fascination/Sister Feelings’.

le grand froid


On Wednesday I worked in the northern part of Strasbourg, Robertsau, which has its own micro-climate. I have gone there at times when there is no snow elsewhere in Strasbourg and snow has been falling there. One person joked that it is the fall out from the paper factory which used to be in the area. The weather in the area was the same as in the rest of Strasbourg ‘le grand froid,’ cold. As you can see from the first picture the Canal de Marne Au Rhin is frozen solid in this stretch. The first of the houseboats is also a clubhouse for Strasbourg’s motorbike club. Another belongs to a friend. The bridge behind the boats, Pont Pierre Brousse, just about obscures the massive lock behind it which leads out  into the northern part of Strasbourg’s port and from there onto the Rhine.

The second photo shows the ice had been broken and then re-frozen, in this instance the piece of wood and the light making it into a nice pattern.

The third picture shows the Parc De l’Orangerie across the Canal. The tree in the middle, with the light shining through it, has been pollarded and in about a month each of the branches will offer a base for the nests of a family of storks. There is a zoo in the park and their work to preserve the bird of Alsace has seen the numbers increase significantly in the period I have lived in the city. Just to the right of the tree is the spire of the Cathdrale and next to that the chimneys of the pavillon Joséphine, which in Summer also have Storks nesting on them.

I have written before about the prevalence of Coypu in Strasbourg. The fact they have no animal which preys upon them means there are a lot of them around the city and you often see them, They are also amazingly tame and unafraid of humans. This one looked a bit fed-up that, because of the ice, it could not be swimming in the canal.

The next picture is of the Euro-district in Strasbourg. From the right there is the Agora administrative building of the Council of Europe,(CoE) then the Lord Rogers designed European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) building. Facing them across the canal is the old ECHR building, which now hosts the IT department of the CoE, which was designed  by B Monnet, J Aprill, Papillard Architects. The CoE building designed by H Bernard is just visible before the block of flats which houses one of Strasbourg’s finest institutions, Chez Franchi. Between the ECHR and CoE the building of the European Parliament can be viewed in the distance.

The final picture shows the ECHR with the eponymously named tram stop in front of it. In front of that is someone with a case before the court who is living in a tent, not something I would fancy in the weather.

Eleanor Fuller Presents Sooo British


As part of the Strasbourg So British promotion, which I previously wrote about here and here, this evening I am going to see the film “Mrs Henderson Presents” at the Odysée cinema gratuit, free, nichts, for nothing. Not bad eh?

It is part of a retrospective season of Stephen Frears films which includes; ChériThe Queen, Mrs Henderson Presents, Mary ReillyPrick Up Your EarsDangerous LiaisonsThe Hit and Tamara Drewe. We are getting to see tonights showing free courtesy of the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom Delegation to the Council of Europe. It is the first time in four and a half years living here  that I have had any contact with the local representatives of the British government.

Earlier this month there was a season of films by David Lean at the Star cinema and there will be a season of Ken Loach films at the  Odysée in April and May. I leave this post here in order to properly follow the events with the England cricket team in the desert.

UPSATE: Here is a photo from before the film started where the two hosts for the evening, the manager of the cinema and the UK Representative, are introducing the film. There was a good audience and the people I talked to enjoyed the film. It was good to sit in an old fashioned theatre style cinema, it has been in use as such since 1913.

David enters the lions den


Well that is how we were spun to believe it would be when British Prime Minister, David Cameron MP came to Strasbourg to speak to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As with most things it wasn’t like that at all. It was my belief that it was actually more a case of he came here and said what he had to in order to not be in bad faith with what he has said in the UK about the European Court of Human Rights. That of course is being done to throw some red anti-European meat to the barking anti-Europeans in his party.

I was there and listened to the speech and to Mr Cameron then answer questions from members of the Assembly. You can read it if you follow this link, CoE Camo2012, together with the question and answer session that followed the speech. The pictures show the Prime Minister making the speech and then taking questions in the hemicycle of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. As I tweeted then I was not impressed with the speech, for the reasons given above about it being him talking to Daily Mail readers in the UK and because I thought there were factual and logical mistakes in the text. After the talk about the achievements of Winston Churchill, which include playing a part in the construction of the Council of Europe, and work to promote democracy, human rights and rule of law in Europe after the Second World War, it was a rather shameful speech from someone who would be a statesman. 3/10 Should do better or to put a more modern way, #speechfail

Strasbourg Calling (Sooo British)


Between November 2011 and May 2012 the UK is the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe. Not the European Union, which is also run by a committee of ministers confusingly called the Council of the European Union, but the Council of Europe (CoE) the body promoting and protecting Democracy, Human Rights and the Rule of Law throughout its 47 countries. The CoE is probably best known for overseeing the work of the European Court of Human Rights(EHCR). The Minister for Europe, David Lidington, announced the UK government’s priorities for its chairmanship of the CoE’s Committee of Ministers in a written statement:

“The overarching theme of our Chairmanship will be the protection and promotion of human rights. The Government has repeatedly made it clear that human rights are central to its foreign policy. We aim to be an example of a society that upholds human rights and democracy, and we are committed to strengthening the rules based international system.”

Here is a list of the items which have happened during the Chairmanship and, as you can see here the UK Foreign Office even has a logo for the period. (above)

There is also a programme of 30 cultural activities has organised by the Communauté urbaine de Strasbourg (The council for the municipality of Strasbourg) in the period under the heading ‘Sooo British‘ with a brochure highlighting them all, available by clicking on this link [PDF, 971 KB, new window] A friend who was at the offices of the council this week to renew his parking permit said that the building was plastered with posters promoting it. I have to declare an interest at this point as the theatre group, TAGORA, of which I am a member are putting onOh What A Lovely War” in April which has ben included as part of the programme. (It was actually at a rehearsal last night I was told about the posters at the local council offices.)

The political oversight of the CoE is provided by the Parliamentary Assembly, where members of parliament, representing their home parliament, from the 47 countries meet four times a year in Strasbourg to elect judges to the court, receive reports on the activity of the CoE and to receive reports on matters affecting democracy, human rights and the rule of law in member countries. The first meeting for 2012 takes place next week and it is going to be addressed by both the UK Minister for Europe and the Prime Minister.(here is the agenda for the meeting.)

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