Archived entries for New Year

Flapjack challenge

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So far it’s been a eventful start to the new year. Last week involved a press conference with Martin McGuiness and Ian Paisley and an interview with Hungarian MEP Pàl Schmitt, who happens to be a keep a piano in his office, as you do. Schmitt also happens to be a former Olympic gold medallist, in fencing. Interesting chap. (Too flattering, perhaps? Hey, it’s not everyday you get given a bottle of Hungarian wine.)

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My second week back at work and I’m in Strasbourg once more. As usual on the journey down, we stopped off in Luxembourg for 10 minutes and I had my usual mini-deliberation as to whether or not I would have enough time to go and get a coffee and something to eat. This ritual, I should point out, happens every time I make this journey down here. It’s all about timing. You see, the train sometimes stops for five minutes, sometimes seven, sometimes a whole ten minutes, but you can never be totally sure whether or not you actually have time to go and buy something.
What made it worse, this time, was that I could see the station cafe just down the platform. However, every time I think about dashing off the train, wallet in hand, a little nightmare scenario begins to emerge in my imagination.    
What if you get there, and there’s a big long queue? You spend the rest of the journey without that nice cup of tea and flapjack, muttering bitterly to yourself that you bet you would actually have had time to wait in the queue, it wasn’t that long. The risk, of course, is that as you’re happily putting your change back in your pocket, eagerly anticipating the first sip of your paned, and first bite of flapjack – you’ve been up since half six – you walk out of the station cafe to see the train slowly making its way out of the station. Oh yes, and you thought, genius that you are, that it would save time on Mission Flapjack to leave your bags and laptop on the train so they’re now going to end up in Zurich. Nice one, Mr Bond.  
Of course, all the while as I’m sitting in dreamland, visualising frantic phone calls to lost property in Switzerland and just dreading the thought of having to call the office (“I’m sorry, Matt, I don’t quite…flapjack…laptop…oh god”), there are people cruising to the cafe and returning triumphantly with minutes to spare, three coffees and a small bakery of treats. Next time, I think to myself, I might just risk it.

New Year in London

I spent New Year’s Eve in London this time. Not in some super-expensive, dance-till-collapse club where they charge you loads to get in for the treat of paying £15 a shot (“I’ll have…Christ, give me half a shot of orange juice, please”) but at my girlfriend’s friend’s house party. It was great, an interesting location and a varied mix of people and just the right amount. I met someone who works as an architect specialising in sliding roofs (why not?) and had a chat with a gardener about power tools. I didn’t come close to having to listen to some high-rising financial player bore me to tears about how awfully exciting it was to be finally closing the multi-billion-pound deal with the American firm. I also didn’t expect to find myself within walking distance from the Canary Wharf Tower; Zoe used to live in London and was used to it. I, on the other hand, was stopping every five minutes to proclaim something really touristy: “Hey look! It’s the headquarters of Reuters! No, look, the real thing! It’s even got a…where’s she..? Hey, wait for me!”

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London’s an interesting place, for me I never feel like I’m in the heart of the UK because it’s just so different from anywhere else, it’s on another scale altogether in so many ways. Perhaps I felt the difference more this time because as part of my Christmas trip I also visited Hampshire, where Zoe comes from, and that really does feel like proper England. It’s got the rolling hills, the country barns and pubs, and Winchester, especially with its famous catherdral and narrow, cobbled streets, really felt like quite a timeless place (it could have been 1407 if it wasn’t for some of the high street shops) but very English all the same.

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Maybe international capital cities, such as London, Washington DC, Buenos Aires and so on, should be separate (e.g. London being the “international capital” of the UK, for example) and at the same time perhaps we should establish “national capitals” which better represent the national character. As seems to be the way of things in 2008, to get people interested, a national vote could be held on TV, with people phoning in to nominate different cities; I hope the ideas people at ITV are reading this.



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