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Thursday, 24 January 2013


I've always naturally been a Europhile, and I've always believed in the importance of the European Union, not only as a natural consequence of the events of the 19th and 20th centuries, but also (through it's various mechanisms) to act as a conscience of the countries of Europe, curbing the selfishness that goes along with pursuing national interests.

I can trace these feelings and beliefs by looking back at my education and the experiences I had growing up with Europe and its people:

At Forfar Academy, if you studied History at Standard Grade and Higher, you could forget learning anything that happened prior to about 1830. It was very much a Modern History department. I'm not complaining. I enjoyed it, and it did provide a historical education that naturally segued into a political and social education in a way that learning about the Norman Conquest probably wouldn't have.*

In Modern Studies, which most of us didn't pursue beyond second year, my only abiding memory was learning about the structure of the EU and its associated bodies. I vividly remember a worksheet showing how the EU environment policy had prevented the destruction of wetlands as it had stood against a national body desiring to develop the area. For some reason, that stuck, and for a long time I associated the EU with being the protector of endangered birds and animals across the continent. A lone voice standing against the rampant desire of the developer to pave paradise and create some new parking lots. For a 15 year-old vegetarian, that was quite important.

Back to History, and we learned a lot about pre-1945 Europe. Through the Battlefields Tour, exchange trips with school and Guides, family holidays, and a compulsive need to collect pen-friends through those leaflets that would periodically arrive in children's magazines, I learned to love the countries of Europe and their inhabitants.

I had a French penpal, whose name I can't recall, but she had beautiful handwriting, and she sent me pictures of her cat. I had a Dutch penpal, I think her name began with E. She was a speed skater, and I was very jealous of this activity. Andreas (it's actually embarrassing that I remember his name, and not the penpals), was on the German exchange trip and we kissed at the edge of Forfar Loch. He gave me a necklace with a lion on it, because my star sign was Leo. Pontus and Frederick were two Swedish scouts, who stayed with us after the camping portion of the Swedish Scout exchange trip. They were exceedingly polite, and gave us a table runner in pale blues, pinks and creams as a gift. There was Mats (why can I only remember the boys' names?!), another Swedish scout, with ginger hair and freckles, and a smile that made my heart leap. And then there were family holidays: we went to Brittany one summer, and I gorged myself on chocolate and crepes. Or holidays with other families, cycling across CenterParcs, swimming every day, and agreeing that the national food of Holland was most likely clogs.

Later, at Uni, when I worked at the Balmoral Hotel, the waiting staff was comprised of students and young people on gap years. There were people from: France, Sweden, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Germany, and Norway. It was a great place to work.

I have nothing but fond memories, so vivid that I immediately recognised the centre square in Strasbourg when I caught a glimpse of it in a recent film, despite only having been there for a two day trip.

So, I've never thought really thought it's a bad thing that "Europe" decides some things in European parliaments and European courts, because I've never thought of "Europe" as a place that we are not part of. None of this talk about Europe imposing things on us resonates with me at all.

Why not?

It's not just because I studied history, or because I knew lots of Europeans not as "Europeans" but as French people, or Dutch people, or Swedish people. Athough, is that part of it? Probably.

And I suppose a significant part is that I was part of a youth delegation to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, during the parliament's summer recess. There were 14-16 year olds from all of the member states, and we each had a seat in the parliment, as though we were MEPs. We attended mini-conferences, and talked about problems facing the EU and how they could be overcome.

So, to me, it's always felt like a real parliament, with all the compromises that entails. There is no Europe, over there, trying to impose its will upon Britain, despite what the tabloids will have you believe. And if sometimes it feels like that, that's just because the other blocs are better at building consensus. Equally, sometimes Britain will be inside those blocs, enacting its own interests along with like-minded other countries.

In many ways, it's like being a Scottish MP, or a Scottish person, looking at Westminster.A small bloc, sometimes feeling hard done by, with locally devolved powers, but the requirement to make a contribution to a bigger whole, and sometimes feeling that you don't get enough back. Or being from London, like Boris Johnstone, and constantly whining that you contribute more than the North.

Both sections have valid reasons for thinking they'd be better off alone, but that doesn't mean they will be.

I've always felt reassured by our presence in Europe, and by the moderating and restraining action that the EU has had on all of its member states. I hope we don't leave.

*Despite that enjoyement, I had had my fill of the Bismarck, Corn Laws and Universal Suffrage, and Appeasement and the Road to War by 6th year. If you chose Sixth Year Studies, you could choose your own subject. It will come as no surprise to learn that my backlash against all this modern history was to go right back to the earliest possible point in British history that still had primary sources: the Roman occupation and the location of the Battle of Mons Graupius.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Where are all the female cabinet ministers?

Why is is that David Cameron binet cannot even meet the gender diversity targets for his Cabinet that Lord Davies recommended for company boards?

Well, for a start, there is a lower percentage of women as MPs than there are women in most companies.

Although female MPs, as a percentage of the whole, have been steadily rising, they're still only at 22%. This is not very good. It's not the worst in the data set I was looking at (that's Georgia: 6.5%), but it's not the best (Sweden: 46%). In fact, it's squarely in the middle of the table.

In some ways, it should come as no surprise that there aren't many female MPs and Ministers.

 For many years MPs have fought to improve conditions at Westminster. Debates regularly extend into the wee, small hours of the morning. Childcare provision is awful, and most MPs wouldn't even have their children in London with them anyway. Who wants to commute to London every week for a job that doesn't even pay paritcularly well when you compare it to an equivalent role in private sector, or even in the civil service?

Mind you, perhaps the issue is even more fundamental than that, striking right to the core of our society:

Eton, Westminster and St. Pauls aren't co-educational, and given David Cameron's propensity to select his Ministers from these Alma Maters, then women really have no chance, do they?

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Very Busy Person

I was at a meeting the other day when someone announced that they were covering for someone else (meetings and people will remain anonymous to protect identity), because that person was "triple-booked".

Triple-booked appears to be the new double-booked. It's no longer acceptable to simply have one other place to be. Now, to ensure that you appear as busy, in-demand, and to excuse you from a meeting you need to be triple-booked.

Why? It is quite sufficient to be double-booked. Or even just "unavailable". As an attendee of said meeting, it didn't matter to me that the person had two other places to be. One other place for them to be was quite enough.

I wonder whether this could be related to the same phenomenon I wrote about in The Most Amazing Blog Post You Will Ever Read? It feels like it might be.

Anyway, must dash. I have a meeting to go to. Just the one, though.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Super spies

Lori's genius ideas and observations about the world continue. Today, she was watching Josie and I work on some French translations on our new app, Duolingo (which is good fun, by the way, check it out at, and compete with us!).

Lori: Are you two learning French because we are going to Germany?
Josie and I: *blank looks*
Lori: Because that's a really good idea, because they won't know what we are saying,

She is in a world of her own - we have no plans to go to Germany, we haven't talked about going to Germany. Who knows where Germany came from.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

I think....5000!

I remember walking along the road with my Mum when I was maybe 5, or 6, and asking how far it was across London. In the grand tradition of parents, I think that she asked me what I thought, and I said 1 mile. I remember how surprised I was to find out how much bigger it was.

I think Lori felt like that this morning, when she estimated the population of the UK to be "maybe 5000?". When I told her it was more like 60 million she looked surprised, and then accepted it with some equanimity:

"Well, I was close," she replied.

Josie was not convinced that 5000 was very close, but she kept quiet, as usual, so as not to dishearten her sister.

And that was the walk to work on my second day back after the Christmas holidays.

I am very lucky.

Monday, 7 January 2013


Festive period over, it's back to blogging, writing, and work.

I can't decide whether to make any New Year's Resolutions this year. I did last year, 12 for 2012, in fact. However, I don't usually, and my 12 for 2012 had mixed success. This is what they were:

1. Cook a new recipe at least once a week. Partial success - I had done this every week until this happened.   I've started again, thanks to an added financial incentive from contributing to the new website RecipeYum, and I think I am going to continue this one into 2013.
2. Do at least 70 pieces of ironing a week. Partial success - I did this some weeks, and not others. I absolutely have to do about this much ironing to stay on top of the children's school needs, and my work clothes, so it's back on the list.
3. Help Josie and Lori learn to swim without armbands. Partial success - Josie can swim without armbands, but not confidently, and mostly due to school lessons rather than my help. It's back on the list to focus on in 2013.
4. Perform in a burlesque show. Success - I performed in the Big Dance in July to Come Fly With Me.

5. Sell our house. FAIL! The insurance company dragged their feet interminably, meaning there was absolutely nothing we could do here, despite repeated complaints to them. We'll be selling in 2013 as soon as we can.
6. Perfect a double pirouette. Partial success - I've done a few doubles, but they're hardly perfected. I've signed up for more ballet classes, and I'll be trying again.
7. Do the splits. FAIL! Hmmmm. This was hard. I think I need to find a yoga class to help with my flexibility.
8. Get up at 07:00 on week days. I thought this would be almost impossible, but I actually, by and large, completed this one. Despite a 07:00 wake-up time, we were still incredibly rushed every day. I think I need a different approach in 2013. 
9. Cook a family meal at least once a week. Success - with only a couple of exceptions (around the burnt hand incident) this was a success.
10. Learn to sew (goal: child's dress). FAIL! I haven't sold my house, my sewing machine is still in storage. This will be one for another year.
11. 3 portions of fruit and veg in packed lunches. Success - although sometimes they went to school dinner, on packed lunch days they always had at least 3 portions.
12. 53 kg. Success - but only briefly! Christmas munching has seen to that.

So, that was my year in Resolution terms, however I also snuck some more achievements that I never meant to, like completing the first draft of a children's book, or becoming a paid writer for my Weekend Notes work, or helping Josie and Lori prepare for their music school audition, so I don't feel quite so bad about the "misses".

Goodbye, Edinburgh 2012:

Onwards, and upwards, to 2013. Happy New Year, everyone!