May Day

Today is the National Day of the European Union.

In case you won’t notice in any other way.

Money Back Guarantee

Believe it or not, but the European Union does actually have a money back guarantee.

I’m not joking. The only catch is that you don’t get your money back if it isn’t working; but only if they haven’t managed to spend all the money you paid them during the last year.

Consequently, the EU is now paying back a total of EUR 1.5bn to its 27 member states, distributed according to the states’ gross national income (GNI). In other words, the most money to the fattest cats in the club, but that’s beside the point.

The full distribution list can be found here.

The EU Commission this year brags that this year’s budget surplus is the smallest ever, insisting that this is evidence of its excellent capacities forplanning and not asking too much in membership fees.

That’s one way of looking at it. Another way of looking at it is that they’ve been better than ever at wasting our money away this year, and that it’s a failure that they aren’t able to return much more of our money.

I’l leave it to you to decide which version you prefer.

Summit Time, And The Living Is Easy

I’m not entirely sure what’s wrong with Slovenian ham. I’ve just put down two delicious wraps with that and some other stuff in it, and it was lovely. But for some reason, they were the ones that most people here hadn’t touched at all.

In other words: It’s EU Summit time again, and I’m back at the press centre munching free sandwiches, traditionally handed out by the current Presidency so as to avoid insane queues where everybody is trying to pay for their meals. There’s hundreds and hundreds of journalists here, and any attempt to charge money for the food would probably lead to queues the length of Belgium. Where the last in line might get his/her orders in time for the next summit.

The first and second time I visited this event, the catering consisted of incredibly dry baguette rolls with dry chees or ham. Puffs of dust came out as you put your teeth into them. And – they were the only choice.

But that, I understood later, was all due to the presidency of the day, which shall remain unnamed for their culinary crime. Later presidencies have improved the snacks, introduced more variations, and the Portuguese last time offered some quite decent rolls with camembert, which raised my spirits considerably.

The current Slovenian presidency has rightly taken the opportunity to boost interestin its national cuisine, I realised as I just snuck into the press centre to check things out (and, frankly, to get a free snack).  As I said, the Slovenian ham was delicious, and I do hope that my colleagues’ disinclination to try something new and daring doesn’t put this and future presidencies off their attempts to offer something more interesting than air-dried cotton posing as bread.

Let’s see, who’s next in line…. aha, France.  Hmmm. If they do not live up to and beat du pain, du vin, et du Boursin, I shall slam them at their national pride on this blog, eternally shaming them for betraying their proud cuisine. Or something like that.

But first’ I gotta get another one of them ham wraps.

Seven Things You Didn’t Know About Me

OK, I’ve had this challenge before without responding to it. And when my friend The IT Mum tossed up the challenge once again some time ago, I thought I’d finally cave in, but haven’t done so until now. The idea is to tell your readers seven secrets about yourself and then challenge seven bloggers to do the same.

Just like The IT Mum, I’ll just leave the challenge here in the open for anyone to pick up. But here are my seven revelations about myself:

* I can’t swim.

* I play a handmade four-string fretless bass guitar tuned to B instead of the standard E.

* I have had both cornea replaced.

* I once invented a guitar chord whch required six fingers to play – and used it in a song, much to the general dismay of my band’s other guitarist.

* I have a fairly crooked left hand (leading to occasional vitriolic comments to the tune of ‘special capacities’ from fellow guitar players when trying to demonstrate how to play e.g. six-finger chords).

* I type so hard that my computer keyboards usually only about 18 months.

* I have had a bald patch about 5 x 5 millimetres big (small!) at the top of my head since I was a baby.

Eat that.

I’ve Got A Flat

In British English, the above headline means “I have an apartment”. In American English, it means “I have a flat tire”. Well, you’re right on both.

I don’t know what it is. But are car tyres generally of worse quality today, or have we completely gone mad when it comes to chucking debris all around us? For the first 15 years or so of holding a driver’s license, I only had a flat tyre three times. Two were on ancient tyres that surprised me by holding out for as long as they did. And oh yes, there was one other that never blew, but where the cord had split and would have blown up on me any moment. But apart from that, nothing.

Since moving to Belgium in 2004, I have now had four flat tyres. But my boss, who lives in the West of Sweden, seems to have had the same experiences lately, with tyres going like balloons on a kiddies’ birthday party.

In at least two of my cases, nails have been involved. (And no, they did NOT come from my garage floor.) On one of the latest, we discovered at least three or four nails when the tyre was removed from the rim. So what’s going on here?

Either we have a fierce and foul competitor, who is conspiring against us at Foodwire and blowing our tyres at night. Or the tyre industry has decided that we all change tyres too seldom, and have collectively impaired their quality accordingly. (Any anti-cartel authority out there reading this?)

Or we have just all become careless when it comes to littering.

Oh bother.

7-Eleven

My boss just wrote on his blog that a 7-Eleven is coming to the small Swedish town where he lives.

I want a 7-Eleven here in Brussels, too. But there isn’t one in the whole country.

As I’ve probably mentioned, shop hours are quite surprising in what aspires to be the capital of Europe. Everything is closed on Sundays, holidays, and long weekends, with only a few very notable exceptions. If you’ve forgotten to do your shopping, you could easily end up in a sort of wildlife survival experience in your apartment.

And don’t even think about dashing into a shop that happens to be open at the very last minute before closing time. A shop closing at, say, 7pm means that its staff reserves the fight to leave at 7pm. At our local supermarket, they post armed guards (no joking) at the doors about fifteen minutes before closing, to make sure that no last-minute shoppers will sneak in and force the staff to work a few moments’ overtime. Arguing with the guards that opening hours mean opening hours is no idea. I’ve tried.

7-Elevens and their like do not exist. There are a few “night shops”, though, which you even might find aftere some countless hours of driving around, which may be alright if all you need is a vat of over-sugared soft drink or cigarettes, but that’s it.

Quite frankly, I fail to understand the logic. Supermarkets are open all day, usually from 9am, when everybody is at work and have no time to go shopping. Being one of the notable exceptions to confirm the rule, I’ve often snuck in at our local supermarket around then after taking the kids to school, to get one or two things for breakfast or so. There are a few pensioners, one or two other people, and that’s it, staff sitting idly at the tills. Whereas when people do have time to go shopping, in the evenings and during the weekends, the shops are closed.

Utterly Useless

Oh, this is rich: what must probably be the one most useless excuse for a game ever conceived (and, sadly, also manufactured):

Gaming by calculator… how fun is THAT.

(ps. No, its not me guiding you there; the item comes from http://crave.cnet.co.uk/gadgets/0,39029552,49293700-2,00.htm – the rest there is worth checking out too.)

Today Is The Worst Day

Today is officially the worst day of the entire year, according to a mathematical formula developed by Dr Cliff Arnall at the University of Cardiff.

His formula alculating things like the time since Christmas, January debts, weather and failed New Year’s reslutions has pinpointed the date fr the “Blue Monday” every year since 2005, and this year, it’s today. You can read more here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Monday_(date) or here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/portal/main.jhtml?xml=/portal/2008/01/21/ftdepressing121.xml

I look out over the grey weather, the empty bank account, my ever so hanging potbelly, and wonder of there might be some truth to the good doctor’s formula after all.

Cough, Cough

The reason for my recent silence here is simple: Fourth flu in two months.

Maybe I should start living healthier.

Santa Is Using My Credit Card

…so I must have been a bad boy this year.

The Cake Was Awful And The Champagne Was Gone

I promised you an update on the Portuguese fiesta at the EU Summit… Well, easily done: The cake was awful and the champagne was gone.

The feast was to commence at 1430, but it only so happened that France was suddenly announcing its press conference to that very time as well. I thought I might go and get a glimpse and a feel of Monsieur Sarkozy, and in any case I wasn’t going to stay for that long. Or so I thought.

The room was packed well beyond its capacity, the heat from people and TV spotlights reaching corresponding levels, and oxygen had run out already before I arrived. I stood and waited, and waited, and waited. Eventually, I the floor started swaying under my feet and I realised I was about to faint, so I managed against all odds to find a free seat. There, I promptly nodded off, only to awake a few moments later to the buzz of a text message arriving in my cell phone and realising that absolutely nothing had happened. An hour and fifteen minutes had gone by and still no Sarkozy. (And no, he hadn’t come and gone while I was dozing).

The text message informed me that there was going to be a press conference with the Swedes immediately, and since I work for a Swedish news organisation, I decided for that to more important. After all, the Swedes usually do turn up on time and all that. So, I went up to the next floor in the EU Council bastion, and waited there together with the entire Swedish press corps for another quarter of an hour or so, before Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt’s press secretary arrived and informed us that the whole thing was postponed because all the headsofstatengovernment were still in their meeting.

I took a lift back down to the press centre, gleefully passing my French-speaking colleagues on my way, thinking that they’d probably remain sitting there until who knows when, oblivious to the fact that theman they were waiting for still hadn’t risen form the conference table yet. Good time then to have a bite and a sip.

Or so I thought.

It turned out that the champagne had all been consumed by then, by my thirsty colleagues, in spite of alarge group of them being stuck in the Fench briefing room (and another contingent in the German next doors). There were some sweaty pieces of cake left, which I sampled. Some dried-out excuse for a fruit cake, completely clad in what is best described as something between jelly candy and conserved fruit. It felt like eating dried packaging foam with glazed chewing gum.

Blah.

You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales

Sitting at the Press Centre at the EU Summit, I just can’t get the old Pat Boone hit “You Better Come Home Speedy Gonzales” out of my head. Which is of course because his namesake, Spanish ex-Premier Felipe Gonzalez, has just been appointed head of the reflection group that is to ponder the future of the European Union. By his side: a former Latvian Pesident, Vaira Vike-Freiberga – and the former cell phone giant Nokia leader Jorma Ollila.

Ollila was expected and Ms Vike-Freiberga too, but Mr Gonzalez had been ruled out as someone who was as unlikely as Tony Blair to take the helm. Instead, he was chosen to lead the group.

Upon hearing the news, a colleague remarked: “Isn’t there a song about ‘come home Felipe Gonzalez’?” She was soon corrected, of course, but then that old song’s hook was burying itself into at least my cortex: Na-NAAAAA, na na na naaa na na na NAAAAAA, na na na na na na na naaaaaa, na na na na na na na naaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”

To Reset Day, Press Which Button

It’s not even 10 am this Monday morning and it seems that everything has gone wrong already.

I’m not going to bore you with the details. Let’s just say that I would like to reiterate my request for a Reset button to be used on such mornings, to have them rebooted.

Where do you file such a request? Is the EU capable of introducing one?

Puke

The winter vomiting disease is over us or so I hear from various parts of the Northern Hemisphere. I am not surprised one whit.

After all, how often do you see people washing their hands after using public lavatories? Public, that is, which are usually dirtier than the ones you have at home. And then the current trend is to sell everything without packaging – especialy food, so the same hands which were just performing various bodily duties then go to digging around among naked lettuces, tomatoes or – as was the case with the one elderly gentleman I once saw performing something between swiming movements and archaeological excavations among them – spinach leaves.

When you have dug out your own fruit or veg, where all left bacteria have happily fermented during the days they have stayed in the shop – at room temperature – while being liberally sprayed by sneezing fellow customers, you then place them bagless in your shopping cart, the health benefits of which I have generously elaborated on in this previous blog post (clicking the image to the right will also get you there). Say no more.

And oh yes, I forgot, let’s swing by the burger bar on our way home (after digging around among pocket residue and perhaps left but used Kleenexes for your car keys), and eat some food with our bare hands just in case the bacterial labs you have just stuffed into your grocery bags doesn’t do the trick.

It’s more of a mystery to me that we actually manage to stay as healthy as we do.

It’s A Wonderful World When You’re Rolling In Dollars… NOW!

My boss just wired me some money. Nothing strange about that. It’s part of his job. And as usual, the transfer will take three days.

Now, that’s more strange, however.

It’s the same with most money transfers these days, which are now almost as quick as during the days when you would give the money to a runner on a horse and have him gallop off to the recipient in person. Today, using computers and a supposedly blink-of-an-eye-speed monetary system, transfers between banks in the known Western world commonly takes three days.

Some banks take three days even for transfers within the same bank. None mentioned, none forgotten: they are all sinners one way or another.

Now can anybody explain to me where the money is in the meantime? Held up in some digital roadblock on the Information Superhighway? Having to present its papers at some virtual checkpoint in today’s borderless global Internet world?

More interestingly still, exactly how is this possible? I mean, this is supposed to be the age of modern computer technology, where I can send a message to Australia and back in a split second. In fact, this very blog post may very well have spun a few times around the globe before reaching your computer screen. We read every day how investors press a button and ZOOM! goes a batch of dough equivalent to Belgium’s national debt into some offshore investor’s account (and out from under the feet of some poor company, sending it into bankruptcy, but that’s another story).

So how do the banks actually manage to make a money transfer for us common mortals last three days? Do they use computers at all, or have they upgraded to homing doves? Or smoke signals? Digital smoke signals, that is, having some poor bloke do the miserable smoke signals in binary – “one, zero, one, one, zero, one, zero, zero, cough, cough, oh, bother, there’s supposed to be a one there, I’ll have to start over again”.

Or is there some gigantic cash vault somewhere, where they pour all the bread in for a few days in order to have some time for a money-rolling orgy, whith bank managers wallowing in dollars like Scrooge McDuck and back-office clerks pouring fistfuls of euros over their heads?

The prosaic answer is of course that they are sitting on the money for a few days, cashing in interest by the minute, while not having to pay any interest to the rightful owners of the money.

You and me, that is.

Signal To Noise

I just woke everyone up here at the press centre in the Luxembunker.

It’s some time after 19.00 in the evening as I write this, and the journalists here are summing up today’s events at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council. That woldn’t take very long, so the calm spreading out here is considerable, and most of us will soon be retreating to our hotel rooms.

That is the kind of nocturnal setting against which I managed to produce today’s biggest noise here. I have had some problems with my computer, which doesn’t want to correspond with the headset I use to make calls via Skypa. So while searching the computer for a solution, I did the mistake of turning on a volume control that I knew from earlier on that I should have kept set to zero.

To cut a long story short, the result – when I some time later unplugged my headset – was a monumental feedback noise. A sharp and penetrating signal sound that would have made most people think that the fire alarmhad gone off. And to make matters worse – my computer froze in that state.

Dozens and dozens of pairs of eyes were staring at me as I frantically tried to kill or muffle the sound. I even considered shoving the computer into its bag and rushing outside, but maybe the security guards would have had some suspicions about that.

Eventually, I was able to quiet the computer by physically ripping the battery out. I then tried very hard to pretend as if it was raining, which has its difficulties when you’re indoors.

Well, at least I woke them up.

Playing With The Travelling Band

The travelling band commonly known as the European Union this month has its minsterial meetings in Luxembourg again (yes, indeed at the ghastly Luxembunker pictured to the right), and I will be playing along Monday and Tuesday as a reporter at the Agriculture and Fisheries council. (I wish I were playing with a real travelling band instead, especially when reading about old friends doing exactly that, but that’s another story.)

On Tuesday, the ministers are supposed to discuss fisheries, a common source of discontent not only because the ministers consistently fail to agree on quotas small enough to actually give fish stocks a chance to survive, but also because there has been widespread pirate fishing that compound the problem.

Notably from Poland, where the government has openly said that it does not intend to do one whit about it, because it believes that the fears for fish stocks are exagerrated. In short, they are allowing themselves an unlimited quota on the expense on every other nation around the Baltic. Marine harvest state terrorism is a concept that one is tempted to use.

However, don’t expect the Polish delegation to receive more than a symbolic thrashing about it, because Poland held general elections on Sunday and it seems that there is a huge possibility that there will be a change of guard there. And then, the process has to start all over again, with a new government which can always claim that it shouldn’t have to live up to the previous one’s agreements.

In the meantime, the EU is rattling its sabres (all two and a half of them), insisting that it will take deterrent measures against fishermen who can’t keep their tackle under control. Draconian measures are being considered, including a black list – a piece of paper listing of offending vessels – and a ban on selling catches that have bene landed outside the quota.

I bet the Pirates of the Baltic are quaking with fear.

Wise Men Say

Lo and behold, the EU leaders actually did manage to agree on a new constitution sorry, Reform Treaty. Already on Thursday night, that is, not, as I erroneously wrote in a previous blog post, during this weekend. I must have expected negotiations to drag on into the unknown hours, as always, but this time they were finished already at 2 am.

That’s such a stupid macho thing to do, by the way. Do they really think that we are impressed by them squabbling on into the night, emerging red-eyed at some hour no-one can imagine? Especially since they usually don’t get started before late in the afternoon? Is it supposed to be better to negotiate at night, and look tough and uncompromising, than to get some sleep and take discussions with all your mental capacities in place?

The current negotiations about the future Belgian government have been dancing to the same tune, speaking of that. Every other day, we are told on the news that an agreement has been made after hard negotiations at 3 am… 3.30 am… and so on. RUBBISH! I don’t give a toss for any agreement that’s constructed at that hour. Don’t try to tell me that it’s supposed to be better than anything hammered out by people who are awake and alert. And bearing in mind that nocturnal negotiations are usually staged to look nocturnal, when they didn’t have to be, it’s all such a ridiculous attempt at looking potent to the public that it makes my stomach turn.

Anyway. I’m not going to immerse myself in the details of the new constitution sorry, Reform Treaty – there is already, as always, an excellent account of it on EUObserver which you can read by clicking here. However, I do note that in the margin of things, the French president Nicolas Sarkozy’s idea of setting up a panel of “wise men”, to examine the future of the EU in the long to very long term, has been all but dismissedby EU Commissioner Olli Rehn.

I quite understand him. Where in the EU machinery would you actually find any wise men?

Bank Holiday

Oh my. I’ve just paid the rent.

Yes, it’s late, but there is an explanation: I lost my bank card.

Some time ago, my Belgian bank changed its security solution. Nowadays, you need to feed your ordinary bank card into a little thingy, where you punch in codes hither and thither and get other codes back and forth to access your Internet bank account, and eventually, after pressing every button at least twice, you’re in. It’s all very clever and much better than the variant they used to have – and so complex it’s probably foolproof – so I’m not complaining at all.

However, it does require that you have your bank card. And there’s where the fools may prove the foolproof permeable.

Last Friday, I was going to take care of the rent and a few other things. (Yes, that was late too, but there are reasons for that as well, involving transfer of funds between different banks in different countries that I have to do every month.) However, one of those “other things” was to pay my eldest son’s football club fee,

I realised late Friday afternoon – no, it’s more correct to say that it struck me full force very late Friday afternoon – that I would have to pay the fee during that same day, or else he would not be able to play the next  match, for insurance reasons. As I had promised he would. There are some things you just can’t explain to a six-year-old, so I had to dash off to the bank before closing time.

I just about made it, storming into the bank, fumbling all over their enhanced cash dispensers (ATMs) with payment capacity, where you also have to insert your card to pay your bills. On spaghetti legs, I slunk out of the bank, thinking that I’d pay the rent over the Internet when I came home, and drove off to do some other errands.

But when I got to the shop around the corner from where we live, I realised that my bank card was missing. I left my wife and kids there and sped off back to the bank, hoping to catch some staff or other even after closing time, probably breaking every known traffic rule on the way.

I caught the staff just as they were on their way home.

“Sorry, Sir, the machine has probably eaten your card if you forgot to take it, and we can’t access it because of the time lock. Come back on Monday morning at 9 am.”

Nobody had found my card anywhere else in the bank and handed it in, so there was a 90 per cent chance it was safely tucked away in the machine’s belly. But what if someone had indeed found it and was going to have a merry weekend on my expense?

I called the Card Stop number that every cash dispenser has posted. In the middle of my call, my cell phone credit dried up.

And I was cut off.

Back into the car, speeding back the same way I came, probably breaking every leftover traffic rule that I’d forgotten to violate last time. Quick rush up the stairs, to throw myself on the phone, to the amusement of my neighbour who happened to walk by just as I darted in from the car with my hair on end and sweat spurting out of every pore.

I managed to block the card, and eventually reunited with my wife and kids, who were reaching boiling point at the shop. And after a nail-biting weekend, my card sure enough turned up safe and sound at the bank on Monday morning. Without having been raided. Now all I had to do was to wait for a new one, so I could access my bank account and pay my rent.

“It will probably be sent to you by Wednesday”, the bank people told me. OK, a bit late, but fair enough.

Wednesday came. No card. Thursday came. Still no card. Friday came. No card in sight.

On Friday afternoon, I passed by the bank to ask. Sure enough, the card had arrived – mailed to the bank.

As I finaly logged into my bank account – remember, only able to do so by having my new card – I saw that there was a message from my bank. It read:

“Your KBC Bank Card XXX-XXXXXXX-XX XXXX in the name of JONATHAN NEWTON and linked to account XXX-XXXXXXX-XX can be collected from your KBC BANK NEGENMANNEKE bank branch from 12/10/2007 on. You can either collect the card yourself at the bank branch or autorize someone else who already has power of attorney over your account to do so, using the form of attorney. (see annex to account statements) Ask for it the next time you stop in at the KBC bank branch because the card you have now will not work as of 19/12/2007. If you have already collected your card, please disregard this message.”

Thank you very much, bank. Now let me ask you how you expect me to read this message without that very card, which I need to log on to the account where the message is posted.

Chat: Anuga, Choo Choo

Pardon me boy, is this the Anuga Choo Choo? is probably a question I could ask Monday, as I will be taking the train to Cologne, Germany, to cover the Anuga food fair. It used to be even more so in the city itself, as exhibitors’ and accredited journalists’ ID badges also entitled them to free rides on local public transport. The train from the Köln Deutz station, where the Kölnermesse is situated, to the Köln Hauptbahnhof central station could really be called the Anuga Choo Cho in those days – I have spent one or two trips there crammed together with other visitors like sardines in a tin can.

However, that trip is one of the most unnecessary in the known universe, since the two stations are just a bridge apart, and since the walk across the Hohenzollern bridge is a very pleasant one with a beautiful view of the city, the Kölner Dom and the Rhine – especially this time of the year, if we are as lucky with the weather as always, with sunshine and sparkling autumn-coloured trees adding to the picture.

Maybe it was the aesthetics of it all that prompted the arrangers to scrap the free rides, I know not. Or maybe the fair had squeezed public transport to its full capacity. Judging from the hotel situation, that might very well be the case, because when I started looking for hotel rooms some time ago, everything was booked. There was one or two suites at the Hilton left, but I realised it would be difficult to get my employer to pay for that since they cost like EUR 500 per night – and I would only lie awake all night in such an expensive hotel room anyway, worrying about what each second costs.

You may wonder why on Earth I need a hotel room in Cologne, which is only a few hours away from Brussels. But I have to cover an event Monday evening that starts 18.30 and goes on into the wee hours, and the last train for Brussels leaves at 19.44.

So, the only alternative being waiting at the Hauptbahnhof until the morning train, I will gamble on being able to scamper off to my train in time.

Wish me good luck.

Garlicked

Oh dear, I just overdosed on garlic. It’s so nice I had to take some fresh garlic on my lunch pasta… and now everything tastes garlic. My coffee, the little chocky I had with it… blah.

I suppose tomorrow’s lunch will be, ehrm, cold turkey.

Who Would You Like To Pay To Not Work?

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean “who would you like to bribe so you don’t have to work”. Rather, who would you like to pay to make them stop working?

That’s an interesting dimension of the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy (one which is due to be done away with today by the way), which BBC correspondent Mark Mardell happily explores in a great blog post which you can read by clicking here. Since it’s already posible to pay farmers for not cultivating parts of their lands, he argues, why stop there? Why not pay other professionals for not doing their jobs?

For instance, I could think of quite a number of politicians, whom I would be quite happy to pay for them not to do any more work.

Oh wait a minute… I already do.

Oh, bother.

Euromyths Revisited

Just discovered that there’s been a broken link since April to the great compilation of Euromyths I wrote about in this blog post. So, here it is again. Oh, it’s so nice I’ll post it twice, in plain text too: http://ec.europa.eu/unitedkingdom/press/euromyths/index_en.htm

GI Blues

While constantly bemoaning my motor vehicle-style airbag, which popped out from somewhere under my shirt around the time I completed my third decade in this world and has stayed there ever since, I came across an old friend from Elementary school the other day, courtesy of Facebook. As i got a bit curious of what had happened to him since then, I did a quick Internet search as I sometimes do, and lo and behold: He turned out to have been interviewed in a major daily some years ago for having lost 54 (!) kilos, using mainly the GI method.

(He also used to be the biggest Elvis Presley fan I’ve ever known. For those of you who know your King, hence the headline.)

Anyway. For those of you still blissfully unaware of the GI method, it can be summed up with an expression coined by one of its earliest proponents, Dr. Robert Atkins:

“Fat is good, carb is bad.”

That essentially means that you skip all carbohydrate-rich foods – pasta, bread, and anything else that’s tasty – and stick to veg and even meat.

Sigh. I put out a general question on Facebook – “How do I get rid of my potbelly?” – in search of alternative methods. But it only so happened that it was that very school friend (or what’s left of him) who produced the first response to it:

“Don’t, see it as an insurance for harder times. Your skinny body nead some meat on it”.

I am currently celebrating that insight with a large plate of spaghetti, as I write this. WHOLE GRAIN pasta, that is. Eat that.

Fa(r)cebook

OK, OK, I confess. I have fallen for the trend and have now set up shop on Facebook, thus ading to the growing number of employees who are tempted to administer their private Facebook accounts during work hours. A practice which has already prompted several companies to block internet access to the site.

Interestingly enough, I just discovered that one of those is the EU. I mean, I can’t vouch for the accessibility among staff, but here in the Commission’s press room, you cannot reach Facebook even when using your own computer.

Either there has been so much private surfing among staff that the Commission had to do something about it and extended the ban to the Press network by mistake, or I ought to be touched by the EU’s concern for the time efficiency of the media companies we journalists work for.

So, we’ll just have to get to do some real work, then. In an hour, Commissioner Verheugen is to hold a joint press conference about security, but since we are kept busy working, I expect one or two to have thought out some entertaining questions about Günter Verheugen’s active love life instead (see previous post).

Ho hum, this may be very entertaining.

Into The Fog

No wonder why there’s been so little from me lately – this is time of the year when everything comes to a halt all over Europe. EU people are on holiday, everyone’s on holiday, everything runs at minimum speed.

Not that I blame anyone. I mean, people need more days off, not less – especially in the UK where there’s at least a Bank Holiday coming up next Monday, but too little else in terms of red days in the calendar.

I deliberately placed my own vacation in both July (which is the main vacation month in Sweden, where or readers are) and August (which is the main vacation monthe here), having made the mistake when I was new to journalism to try to work during that time of the year.

Nice though that was, I’m still finding things pretty slow around here.

Back

…from six weeks’ R & R, four of which in sunny Sweden. 1.6 kilos richer. Arrived this morning after driving all night, went straight to work. Asking myself if I should have stayed.

Moan, Moan

Got to moan a bit more about the EU Summit’s press centre: The sandwiches may be free, but are ever drier than last time. In fact, I suspect that they probably are leftovers from last time.

That’s the punishment I get, I suppose, from complaining about it when interviewed by a German radio station last time.

…And More Vultures

Speaking about vultures, I just popped into the Summit Press Centre at the EU Council’s building Justus Lipsius to reserve a workstation.

At the December summit, I went to reserve a place some a day or so before the summit, and then, there were about 30 left. Last time, I went there a little earlier, and then there might have been, say, 20 left. This time, I was almost unable to find ONE. Well, eventually I did, but it was a close shave.

The thing is, you want to be in the courtyard (see image), where all the action is. There are more workstations two storeys underground insome hopeless cellar (basement), as there are a few more spread out in various other areas as well. And that’s what most other colleagues think, too.

Worst of all is that I live in Brussels, but was beaten by a few hundred journalists who are only here for the summit! Seems like I have a few more tricks to learn…

I was here at the end of last week (but then they hadn’t finished setting everything up yet) and could have easily driven past here on Sunday (but then they probably wouldn’t have let me in). But it seems that you have to keep the building under constant surveillance and rush in there as soon as things are set up, providing they don’t jail you for keeping the building under surveillance, that is.

Security is majestical during these events, but I suppose I’ll write more about that later during this week.

Off To The Luxembunker

Monday means off to the Luxembunker again. Wish me good luck.