Back from travels

Much travelling in the last few days, over for now thank goodness.

Monday last week in the Hague, seeing various foreign policy players. It was rather amusing because it was the day their foreign minister was appointed the new head of NATO and there was a certain consequent buzz of excitement in the ministry (and also a most un-Dutch level of minor confusion about who was attending our meetings).

Tuesday back in Brussels for a meeting with a shadowy Balkan organisation of the kind I wouldn’t normally mention in a semi-public forum – except that they then put out a press release describing what I had thought was a confidential meeting! Luckily none of the media picked it up. Apart from the obvious problem that it’s written in a language nobody else can read, I think “leader of obscure organisation meets with minor NGO official” doesn’t make a very good headline.

Wednesday to Montenegro for two days, where nice Euro-finance people had invited me as their only external speaker at an internal retreat; my hosts have a surprisingly high proportion of actual Balkan people and also of women among their staff, so get good marks for that (as well as for paying my plane fare business class both ways and then to Dublin and back). Sveti Stefan is a lovely resort; unfortunately I had a rotten cold and couldn’t make the most of it.

Friday to Dublin, via long stop-over at Belgrade airport, for P-Con which was excellent; put me onto several panels at the last minute; I met up with characters Gerry Doyle and Julian West; had great fun also chatting to the likes of , , , , , Ken MacLeod, , , John Kenny, John Courtenay Grimwood, Jim Hogan, Juliet McKenna, Angie McKeown, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and so on. Thanks very much indeed and for organising it all.

Two more Balkan-related meetings in Dublin yesterday, and then back today to find the Macedonia report still hasn’t gone away and has now been joined by a Georgia report. I’d better get on with them, I suppose.

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26 April 1967

Last year, having hit 35, I did a web page about April 26. Desperate to stay awake today, I was googling people who shared my precise date and year of birth, and came up with a few obscure celebrities who I had not heard of – the musician Green Velvet, born Curtis Alan JonesWWF wrestler Kane, born Glen Jacobs aka Marianne Jean-Baptiste. And there are a few less famous people too, whose home pages, or employers, or sports teams, happen to have listed their birth date as the same as mine. At some point I’ll get around to listing them.

Then I came home, tried a slightly different Google, and to my astonishment realised that there was in fact someone who I knew of, who in fact I had quite close links with, who was also born on 26 April 1967, though in sunny Santa Monica, California, rather than in damp and not-yet-troubled Belfast. Like me, she always had a strong interest in politics; unlike me, she actually did her first degree in it, graduating from Stanford in 1989 and then getting a job with the National Democratic Institute for International AffairsFulbright Scholarship as an excuse to be in South Africa in the run-up to the first ever multi-racial elections due to take place in 1994. Amy Biehl never saw those elections, though she had worked hard for them to take place; on August 25, 1993, driving through a South African township, she was dragged from her car in a racially motivated attack and murdered.

That was just over ten years ago. Anne and I were looking forward to getting married at the start of October. I was just getting re-engaged in Northern Irish politics, barely aware of where Bosnia was, let alone the other countries that have become part of my life since then. As I jiggled the baby on my lap this evening, trying to read the website of the Amy Biehl Foundation, I realised how lucky I am to have had the last ten years of my life; and also how proud I am of the work that I do, which is probably about the same as Amy Biehl would have been doing if she were still alive. Over the summer break I had some doubts about whether I really wanted to continue trying to make the world a better place, or whether in fact I should sell my soul and find a more lucrative and less demanding job. Thse doubts are now beginning to dispel.

Basically, I do the work I do because I’m good at it and mainly I enjoy it. Yesterday I was invited to argue with the Bosnian prime minister and foreign minister at a public meeting and then went on to brief a senior Euro-politician about the situation in the Balkans. Today I’ve been emailing various of the ambassadors I met in Vienna over the last week to find out what the latest is in the Moldovan peace process. I love it when it’s going well, and if I were only sleeping a bit better I would be able to maintain a more balanced perspective.

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Ooh, late night last night having dinner with big name Euro-politician, and then early morning caused by Bridget creating mess in the kitchen (which in my befuddled state I had left unlocked). Not surprisingly finding it difficult to get down to the Macedonia work today.

I discovered how you can check out other schools and colleges at – probably everyone else knew this except me, but it killed some time, and I was able to check up a bunch of Cambridge contemporaries who were at different colleges to me (including of course ). Of course since I’m in indolent mood I only emailed one of them.

Aargh. Back to work.

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Time Out

Enjoying a good hour or so of surfing on the ´net at a Viennese hotel where despite the rather minimal facilities they give guests free Web time.

Catching up with Queen of Wands. It´s great, but a bit slow-moving, so I save it up for weeks between reads. Fun stuff over the last month or so but only really comprehensible if you´ver read it from the start.

A somewhat bizarre meeting with dubious ex-Yugoslav businessman tonight. Mostly my colleague speaking the language formerly known as Serbo-Croat (which I can mostly understand) with occasional interjections from me in French (which I sort-of speak but my colleague doesn´t understand). Eventually I gave up and came back to the hotel to surf for free.

More meetings tomorrow. Back home on Tuesday, thank heavens.

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Rude messages and 100 best books

Someone just sent me a rude email about the web page where I compare the results of the BBC Big Read Best 100 Books with two other lists to spot which books made it to more than one of the lists. My correspondent, whose name is similar to that of a Simpsons character, said:

If you’re going to be a critic learn to count. Crime and Cunishment is on all 3 lists.

So I had no choice but to reply:

If you’re going to send offensive messages, you should learn to spell “Punishment”. It is, after all, on all three lists.

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Working away

Three major tasks to do for today and just one of them has been completed; it’s already 1730.

But I managed a slightly strange lunch with a senior Finnish diplomat, and a cup of tea with the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Also I bought a Dorling Kindersley book yesterday about how to Organise Your Life. Very much needed; I ploughed through it last night and found it full of good advice. Why does nobody ever teach you these things at school?

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Why I write about bearded presidents

Someone emailed me to ask why I wrote this web page.

I was inspired to do it during a visit to DC last October. I was having lunch at McCormick & Schmidt’s on K Street, where they have a full run of presidential portraits on display, and noticed that the bearded presidents were more chronologically concentrated.than I had expected. The next morning I was given breakfast at the American Bar Association’s headquarters in a room with a portrait of Charles Evan Hughes on display, and of course his beard was rather splendid; I wondered if he was the last serious bearded candidate. And indeed, on further research, it turned out he was.

The person who sent the message also asked about Martin Van Buren’s sideburns, but I’ve added my response on that point to the page itself.

I’ve met Wesley Clark a couple of times. He’s a very intelligent bloke who understands that there is a world outside the United States. He doesn’t have a beard either.

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What I learnt on my holidays

My explorers account was stuffed for days with the Sobig virus.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith is very good.

Even thinking about work makes me feel very tired.

I had 950 unread emails in my inbox when I got back.

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