Archive for March, 2011

Toilet break

I only ever come to Brussels for work-related stuff, so tonight I decided to see a bit of the city and leg it around the touristy spots before the sun went down.

It turns out the place is titchy, and unless I managed to miss a massive chunk of the city out somewhere, I saw pretty much everything the guidebook recommended.

Perhaps a little unfairly, Brussels has a bit of a reputation for being a dull place. Full of diplomats and government buildings, much of the characterful buildings have been overshadowed by large office blocks and glass and metal-covered towers.

But in the centre, in the Grand Place, there are some really snazzy, historic buildings which – coupled with its cafe culture – give the city a really nice feel.

The most famous touristy bit of Brussels though isn’t a big, impressive building. Instead it’s a titchy statue of a peeing boy.

Mannekin Pis

To be honest, I didn’t really understand the attraction. I certainly didn’t get why people were queuing up to have a family snap in front of it:

Family Pis
But I had to give a thumbs up to the nearby witty chip shop owners for making the most of its weird, crowd-drawing neighbour:

soggy chips
Not sure I’d want to eat there though. I hate soggy chips.

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The language of the CAP

I can’t remember any German when I need it, but every time I come to French-speaking  Brussels it seems to be the only language that leaves my mouth.

Having got off the Eurostar I couldn’t even seem to remember how to ask where the taxi rank was in English.

Instead I frightened a poor, unsuspecting woman with a series of windmill movements and random, broken (and entirely useless) German words.

“Zug nach centrum! Nein, taxi nach centrum! Wo! Canst du ihren helfen? Wohnwagon! Ich decke den tisch!”

It’s no wonder she edged away from me with a look of panic on her face.

Luckily I’m not the only British person who seems to have linguistic issues when in Belgium.

brussels

I’m here for a meeting between international farming journalists and the European Commission to talk about reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

As well as having a chin-wag with farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos, we’re going to talk about how to set up a communication network so the Commission can let us know what’s going on between now and the policy being reformed in 2013.

The main meetings don’t start until tomorrow though, so today I met Will, who’s an ex-journalist friend from London who has come over to Brussels to work for the NFU.

Will’s worked over here before so I expected his French to be impeccable, but he made me feel so much better about my earlier language disaster when he tried to order his lunch in Spanish.

Luckily, Will’s day job of dealing with MEPs and other Euro big-wigs is entirely English-based. He’s part of a team of five people the NFU has permanently based here in Brussels as part of a lobbying and communications team.

Basically their job is to let farmers back in the UK know what’s going on over here and how European policy decisions will affect them.

But they also have the rather unenviable job of trying to encourage politicians to listen to them over farm policy in the hope that they’ll support British farmers when it comes to policy discussions and votes.

The idea is through building relationships with MEPs, the NFU and in turn farmers can have a direct impact on the rules and regulations that are made here.

I doubt many farmers realise they have an effect on the content and wording of European policy, but it’s something the NFU is taking even more seriously in the run-up to CAP reform proposals being published in October.

Anyway, just be thankful us farm journos won’t be asked for our views on the policy’s wording. If I have anything to do with it there could be some very random German chucked in there for good measure….

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Mercosaur sighting #2

I wonder if the artist who drew the illustration for page 20 of this week’s issue of Farmers Weekly had seen my Mercosaur picture.

Mercosaur Dalmatian Cow

Coincidence?

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Doing porridge for a farm photo

When I was on holiday in Florida a couple of years ago, I managed to convince my friends to pull our hire car over so I could stop off to take some photos of an orange grove.

Not being farmer-types, they had a bit of a whinge about the delay. They couldn’t have cared less about orange harvesting and just wanted to hot-foot it to our hotel so they could kick back on a lilo with a mojito and a slab of key-lime pie.

Turns out if I did the same thing this year, they might well have had a valid reason for moaning – I could’ve got us locked up.

This bill has just been introduced by the Florida senate. You can read all detail if you click the link, but in essence it says:

  • A person who enters a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner (or a representative), commits a felony of the first degree
  • A person who photographs, video records, or otherwise produces images or pictorial records, digital or otherwise, at or of a farm or other property where legitimate agriculture operations are being conducted without the written consent of the owner (or a representative) commits a felony of the first degree

So that’s a first degree felony for photographing a farm, regardless of whether you’re actually trespassing or standing on a road peering over a fence.

A first degree felony which, as helpfully defined by law blog  The Volokh Conspiracy, is the highest degree felony other than capital crimes and ‘life felonies’, which carry a mandatory minimum of 25 years in prison.

The terms of imprisonment would be dictated by the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, but the maximum would be 30 years.

Farmers in the UK often complain about rights of access and people wandering across their land, but this seems a tad extreme to me.

Anyway, being too scared  to share the offending orange grove photo with you in fear of being banged up, I’ve had to illustrate this post with a different picture of my Florida trip. Just be thankful it wasn’t me in a bikini.

me and pluto

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The EU reporter’s job is safe in my hands…

Today I had to write a story about Mercosur.

Imagine my disappointment when I discovered it’s actually a group of South American countries who want a trade agreement with the European Union and not what I thought it was….

mercosur

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The funny side of farming

I managed to hold it together until the stereo started blaring out “Where’s your sausage gone?” to the tune of ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’.

It was at that point – stood outside Downing Street in front of a 16ft, shiny, hovering sausage – that I collapsed onto the floor in hysterical laughter.

sausage

You have to hand it to the pig industry – they certainly have a sense of humour.

At a time when producers are leaving the industry in droves thanks to spiralling input costs and appalling returns from retailers and processors, they went for comedy to make a very serious point.

At least, I hope they were trying to be funny.

Anyway, it certainly succeeded in being one of my more surreal days as a journalist. When I was at university learning the finer points of media law so I’d be able to bring down governments without getting done for libel, I thought I could only dream of being shouted at by Christine Hamilton for not wearing any gloves on a freezing day in March. Or asking the chief executive of the British Pig Executive in all seriousness how big his sausage was.

Much like the country’s pig producers, if I didn’t laugh, I’d cry…

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Sausage signings

Tomorrow I’m going to be spending seven hours in central London with a load of pig farmers, an ex-Atomic Kitten, an ice-skating Gladiator, a 15ft sausage and a load of marker pens.

Giant sausage
I am a serious journalist… I am a serious journalist…. I am a serious journalist….

Jay Rayner would be impressed.

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