Brexit, Business and Booze

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Interviewing former Trade Minister, Lord Price.  Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

Last week I had the privilege of interviewing five experts about the on-going British drama ‘Brexit’. I was in London for the annual conference of the Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) – a body that represents a £50 billion industry. Members are currently unimpressed with the government’s Brexit strategy – particularly the continual in-fighting. And when your business is all about imports and exports, you can see why leaving the world’s largest trading bloc might be cause for concern.

My first guest was the former head of Waitrose, Lord Price. He’d left his thirty year career with the John Lewis Partnership to become a government Trade Minister. But a few days before the conference, Lord Price quit government. It’s clear he is no fan of Brexit, and thinks that those who voted for it will be left disappointed. But having travelled the globe for 15 months as trade minister, he is certain the UK will eventually thrive. It’s just the time it will take to get to that point that’s the problem. Here’s the Guardian’s take on our interview.

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

I must also add what a delightful man Lord Price is. He’s written a book called ‘Fairness for All’ in which he demands a fairer kind of capitalism and seeks to explain why Brexit happened and Trump was elected. He also hammers home the importance of happiness at work, and says that’s the key to increasing productivity and therefore profits. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book and feel a few bosses might also benefit!

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

Interviewing Wetherspoon boss, Tim Martin. Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

Next up was Tim Martin, the millionaire founder of the British pub chain, Wetherspoon. Mr Martin is an ardent Brexiteer and contrary to the views of most of his audience, is in no doubt that the UK’s vote to leave the EU will be good for Britain. Although he had 200,000 pro-Brexit beer mats printed in the run up to the EU referendum, he is by no means anti migration. Given that one in 10 of his own staff comes from outside the UK, he knows how hard it can be to find workers. What Mr Martin says he feels passionately about is democracy and reclaiming ‘British sovereignty’. He dislikes the European Union to such an extent that he doesn’t think it matters whether or not the UK and EU secure a Free Trade Agreement post Brexit. (And yes, I did point out that would mean wine from the EU becoming more expensive, not to mention non-tariff barriers like customs delays.)

12/09/2017. London, Great Britian. 2017 WSTA Annual Conference.

From L to R: Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, Tim Martin, me & Sir Simon Fraser. Photo: Matt Cetti-Roberts

You can imagine the response that got from my next two guests, both of whom have worked in Brussels. Until 2015, Sir Simon Fraser was head of the British Foreign Office and is now managing partner of the business advisory, Flint Global. He was joined by the international lawyer, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez who advises clients on EU trade law policy and Brexit. Both are convinced that the UK will suffer economically post Brexit and believe the country must have in place some kind of transition period to soften the blow. Of course Tim Martin disagreed with almost everything they said. It made for a challenging, interesting and at times, entertaining discussion.  It’s a serious and extremely complex subject. But at least afterwards we could enjoy a glass of (English) wine or a (British) gin and tonic.

 

France says Merci to my Grandfather

Insignia

The insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur that has been awarded to my Grandfather, posthumously

A rather wonderful thing happened last week. My Grandfather, Donald Forrest, received one of the highest French honours for his involvement in the D-Day landings during the Second World War. He was appointed to the rank of Chevalier in the Ordre nationale de la Légion d’honneur, by the French President.

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 10.00.08

My late Grandfather, Donald Forrest

Unfortunately it arrived too late for Grandpop. He would have been celebrating his 100th birthday this month but very sadly he passed away last November.

Grandpop was signals officer on board HMS Nith. He was part of Assault Group G1 which was responsible for delivering the Army’s 231 Brigade on to Gold Beach on 6th June 1944. The mission was a success and Arromanche was captured.

But on 11th June, another vessel that my Grandfather was on board, hit a mine, was blown up and sank. Amazingly he survived. I am rather proud of the fact that he was taking a large consignment of whisky and gin to the Headquarters of 231 Brigade in Arromanche. Sadly the drink was lost – which always irritated my Grandfather!

We all know that Grandpop would have been delighted to receive his insignia. He would have also appreciated the accompanying letter from the French Ambassador to the UK. One paragraph that stands out reads:

As we contemplate this Europe of peace, we must never forget the heroes like you, who came from Britain and the Commonwealth to begin the liberation of Europe by liberating France. We owe our freedom and security to your dedication, because you were ready to risk your life. 

Here is the letter in full:

Ambassador's letter

The letter to my Grandfather from the French Ambassador to the United Kingdom

As the UK licks its wounds after a bruising but indecisive election, and the debate over Brexit continues, it’s perhaps worth taking a moment to reflect. Men and women like my Grandfather risked their lives for peace in Europe. And for that we should always be grateful.

Sending Love to Manchester from Berlin

Brandenburg Gate on Tuesday 23rd May

Brandenburg Gate, Tuesday 23rd May 2017. (Photo: @Nikiiide)

For the second time in just two months, Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate has been illuminated in the colours of the UK’s Union Flag. It follows two terrorist attacks on my home country.

The first, in March, was in Westminster, Central London (where I used to work). Six people, including the attacker, were killed.

The second took place on Monday night in Manchester. So far we know that 22 people lost their lives and many more were seriously injured. The fact that the attack took place at a pop concert and targeted young people made it all the more horrific. Like millions of others, I found Tuesday a really, really tough day.

IMG_7113

Flags at half mast on the Reichstag (German Parliament) in response to the Manchester terrorist attack

I felt so grateful to Germany for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Great Britain. But when you’re an expat, away from home, and something terrible happens, it’s really hard to know how to respond.

IMG_7112

The British Embassy, Berlin

On Wednesday night we decided to visit the British Embassy in Berlin. It was comforting to see the flowers and messages that had been left outside the building by so many well-wishers.

But it was our seven-year-old son who really moved us. We hadn’t given him much detail about the attack, except to explain that a bad man had killed people and some of the victims were very young. Charlie has recently started to play the recorder at school and he was adamant that he wanted to play it outside the Embassy.

IMG_7116

Charlie plays the National Anthem outside the British Embassy in Berlin

As soon as we arrived, he opened up his music book, placed it on the ground and began to play the National Anthem. A small group of German women gathered and it was clear we weren’t the only ones moved by this impromptu performance.

It wasn’t note perfect, but it was played from the heart. And that meant everything.

Brexit: As felt by a Brit in Berlin

Brexit photos

A series of anti Brexit posters in Mitte, Berlin

Over the past nine months, I have managed to avoid the B word in this blog. It’s been a tough one because it potentially affects tens of millions of us living and working in the European Union (the UK included).

But today, I can no longer ignore the elephant in the room. The formal process for the UK to leave the EU has now begun. The UK is due to exit the European Union two years from now.

While some readers may be celebrating, I am not. As much as I try to be an impartial observer, this issue has really perplexed me. It has divided not just towns and cities across the UK but friends and families – mine included. And our differing opinions on this are as entrenched now as they were in the run up to the referendum back in June 2016.

concert

Flag waving at a concert in Berlin celebrating 60 years of the EU

Of course, I have a vested interest in all this because my husband, children and I are enjoying freedom of movement. We moved to Copenhagen in 2013 and to Berlin at the beginning of 2017. So where does Brexit leave us? Who really knows? Like the other million or so Brits currently living in the EU along with the three million or so Europeans in the UK, we are in the hands of the politicians. The script is unwritten.

As much as I am an optimist, I worry about my home country. I am not convinced that we really understand what we’ve done – politically, economically or socially. As a journalist it’s fascinating to watch, particularly from Berlin. But as a Brit enjoying the freedoms of the EU, I am not enjoying this one bit.

 

Denmark: The Danish family connection that lives on

 

 

grandpop-order-of-service

This week I said goodbye to my grandfather, Donald Forrest. He was my father’s father and was just six months away from marking his centenary. He lived a very full and interesting life which included service in the British Royal Navy during World War II.

img_5228

Some of the medals awarded to my father, grandfather and great-grandfather

Grandpop was involved in the D-Day landing, supporting Allied troops on Gold Beach just before they went on to take the town of Arromanches in Normandy. It was during D-Day that my grandfather managed to escape serious injury after the boat he was sailing on was blown up by a mine. I feel rather proud of one of his missions that day, which was to take supplies of whisky and gin ashore for the troops!

img_5236

Members of the British Royal Legion at Grandpop’s Thanksgiving service in Kemerton

We were all very touched when members of the Royal British Legion and the Sea Cadets came to pay their respects to Grandpop this week, at Kemerton Church near Tewkesbury. The Last Post was a particularly poignant moment.

granny-joan

My grandmother, Joan Forrest

But what I think was so special about Grandpop was his utter devotion to my grandmother, Joan. In her thirties, she was paralysed down one side of her body. To this day, no-one is quite sure why or how it happened. Granny lived until she was 89, and over that time, my grandfather was by her side every painful step of the way. I think it’s the most incredible story of love and devotion.

img_4342

My grandparents, Donald and Joan Forrest, in Denmark in 1953

Among those who also came to say goodbye this week was my grandparents’ niece, Christina, known as Krisi. She’s half Danish because her father (Granny’s brother, Bobby Lowein) married a Danish woman called Karin. In fact, while we were going through some old family photos we stumbled across a picture from the 1950s of my grandparents in Dyrehaven (The Deer Park) near Klampenborg in Denmark. It’s a just a couple of miles away from where my family now lives and it’s a place we regularly visit.

karin-and-bobby

My great uncle, Bobby Lowein, and Karin, on their engagement in Copenhagen

Sadly my great uncle and aunt’s marriage wasn’t to be, and after three children, including Krisi, it ended in divorce. Karin remarried, but in an avalanche on New Year’s Day in 1979 in Switzerland, she was killed. So too was her son, Nicholas Lowein (Krisi’s brother), Karin’s second husband, Michael de Pret Roose, and the Swiss guide and friend, Ernst Renner. It was a tragedy that completely shook the family and one which is still difficult to comprehend.

krisi-and-richard

Cousin Krisi Williams with her husband Richard in Copenhagen, 2016

34 years later (2013) and my husband and I find ourselves moving to Denmark. Krisi put us in touch with one of her mother’s sisters, Inga Peetz. Inga has been extremely kind to us. When she visited us in our apartment in Hellerup, she was convinced she’d been there before. She had – decades before, when her uncle owned the entire house!

img_0108

Inga with her other sister, Killer, in Denmark, 2013

Inga has also introduced us to members of her family, who I like to claim as distant relatives! Among those are her nieces, Camilla and Rikke, who now babysit for our children and have also become friends.

My biggest regret is that my grandparents were never able to visit us in Denmark and meet the wonderful Danes we have been so fortunate to know. But I like to think that both Granny and Grandpop are looking down on us smiling, delighted at the relationships we have forged with members of their own family.

img_3382

My father, Christopher Forrest, sailing in Denmark in the 1970s.

NB I’m very conscious of the fact that this family history would be much easier to write in Danish. Not because I am an expert, but because the Danes have more useful names for family. So my Grandfather Donald – my father’s father – is called Farfar. Isn’t that so much easier to understand? I could really do with a family tree to make it easier for you to see the connections. But I do hope you get the gist!

Denmark: Why are we shocked that a lion is dissected in public?

Sam pic

Being interviewed on Danish TV

This morning I was a guest on Danish TV News, TV2, where I was asked to discuss why Britons are so shocked that a Danish zoo is dissecting a dead lion. My live studio interview ran alongside pictures of a previous dissection – leaving nothing to the imagination. You can watch it here, but please be warned that there is graphic content. (No broadcaster in the UK could ever use images like this before the 9pm watershed.)

The nine-month-old, along with two others, was culled back in February because Odense Zoo had too many of the animals. Today just one – a male – was taken out of the freezer and, as I write, is being cut up in front of huge crowds, including children.

Dead lion

TV2 footage of the dead lion before the dissection began

Only last year, Copenhagen Zoo walked into a media frenzy when it decided to kill a healthy giraffe named Marius, dissect him in front of crowds and then feed him to the lions. So have these Danish zoos learnt nothing? Well yes because this time round, Odense Zoo decided not to publicise the cub’s death at the time, and not to give him a name.

But zoologists and most Danes in general are adamant that dissections are important – they say they are for educational purposes and not entertainment. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it again.

Which goes to show how culturally different Danes are to Brits (as well as Americans and other nationalities). There is no way on earth that a British zoo would or could do this in public. Let’s not kid ourselves – hundreds of ‘big’ animals in zoos across Europe are culled every year for many reasons, including having the wrong gene pool. And whatever we may think, it happens in the UK too – but in secret. Remember the storm that followed after it was revealed by the Daily Mail that Longleat Safari Park had put down six lions, including four cubs, because there were simply too many? I am, though, still shocked that killing ‘healthy’ zoo animals needs to happens at all – in the US they use contraception.

I certainly wouldn’t allow my five-year-old son to watch a dissection, even if he wanted to. That prompted the TV presenter to ask me if I was playing into the ‘Disneyfication’ of animals? Perhaps I am. But even though I know that children of all ages regularly visit abattoirs and watch animal dissections here in Denmark, it just doesn’t sit well with me. Does that make me, a meat-eater, a hypocrite? Probably.

I’m British: So why is it so damned hard to vote in UK elections?

registertovote

Ever since I turned 18, I have always voted in British elections.  This year, though, it’s proving much harder to cast my vote.

As I am currently living in Denmark I am classed as an Overseas Elector, along with millions of other British expats around the world. Back in January I decided to heed the advice from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and apply online to register. It was pretty straight forward.

vote

Letter from my local council in London

A few weeks later I received a letter from my borough council in London telling me that I had been successful. The electoral services department included a postal vote application – which is by far the easiest way in which to exercise my right. However, it came with this advice:

“Although ballot papers can be sent abroad by post, they are only posted out about a week to ten days before an election. You are strongly advised to appoint a proxy.”

A proxy? Someone I trust enough to put the ‘X’ next to the name/party to whom I’m giving my vote? Am I the only British citizen who finds this deeply uncomfortable? Where’s the ‘secret ballot’ in all this? Given the numerous investigations into postal election fraud in the UK, why is it considered ‘democratic’ to ask someone else to vote on my behalf?

I was hoping my parents would help me. But it turns out they’re out of the country on election day. So now I have to think of someone else who will exercise MY right on Thursday 7th May.

When I do convince someone to help, they then have the whole issue of how to cast MY vote. Either they do it in person in my South London constituency, or they can receive my ballot papers by post. If they choose the latter, there’s an application form he/she will have to fill in – one that I have to send them first, from Denmark.

The whole system seems crazy. With all this technology at our finger tips, why is it so damned hard to vote? Surely it’s time the Electoral Commission and the British political system in general moved into the 21st century.