June was always set to be a busy month but as an ever increasing series of events popped up in my diary, I drew several conclusions; firstly, I was going to be away from home for a good few weeks (6th-28th June), secondly, that I would need some assistance making the endless and horrendously complicated travel plans and thirdly, that I really need to start writing down what I am supposed to be doing in some form of diary or planner.
After my trip to Strasbourg for the EYE2018, I had a few days at home before it all kicked off again. Starting with the “World Wide Wednesday” event with Mike Galsworthy in Liverpool on 6th June. The journey there was made significantly more complicated due to works at Liverpool train stations, taking a ridiculous 3 hours to get there from Sheffield. The change at Liverpool Southparkway was brightened when I approached one of the guards to ask which platform to take, and he looked at me in shock before announcing, “WOAH! HAIR!” Clearly the blue rebellious streak is having the desired impact. Anyway, after going through multiple barriers and bizarrely having to queue to access the platform, and waiting for nearly half an hour before finally reaching Moorfields station – I found Mike (who had had a much smoother journey from London) and we checked into the hotel before heading to ‘Avenue HQ’, the Waterfront venue.
I opened the show with a few songs, which was followed by 3 ‘TED style talks’, Mike talking about why we needed to ditch Brexit and rebuild Britain. Afterwards there was a Q&A with myself and the 3 speakers, where some very good questions led to some very in depth responses and thought provoking discussion, that would have been slightly more engaging had we not been blasted by artic temperature gusts from the air con, which was located directly above where the panel was sitting. I was dressed in one of my habitually skimpy outfits, so sat shivering whilst doing my best to follow the otherwise enthralling debate. (For the record, Mike did gallantly offer his jacket, but in a pathetic attempt to maintain my “invulnerable” superhero image, I declined, a choice which I rapidly regretted).
Besides the fridge-freezer Q&A, it was a very successful evening, concluded by a trip to the pub drinking for pints and in my case, Sambuca (or “her poison” as Mike described it). In the morning we travelled down to London where I had a meeting with the European Commission and an interview at the No.10 Vigil with an American journalist for the BBC World Service (at least the International News give us coverage unlike the national UK news….) On the tube on the way home, still dressed as EU Wonder Woman, I had a rather hilarious encounter with a smartly dressed commuter who came over and announced that he “loved my costume”, until he examined it more closely and added, “except for the EU flag”. I looked him straight in the eyes and replied, “The flag is the best bit”.
The next day, 8th June, I travelled to Dover for, what was supposed to be, a filming session for the European Commission’s “EU Road Trip” project. We had been trying for several months, to arrange a date for me to meet the kids who are currently on a bus touring around every EU country, discovering EU funded projects and creating promotional videos with a production team… And we had agreed they would cross the channel to make a fleeting visit to the UK to film with #EUsupergirl in full costume and with guitar to hand… However, problems arose when they discovered one of the team, (originally from Ecuador), did not have the correct visa necessary to make the journey. Up until that point, he had experienced no problems travelling through Schengen area countries, but the company contracted by the EC to make the travel arrangements had not realised he would need an additional visa to travel to the UK. The upshot was that they cancelled the filming, and I arrived in Dover and spent the day on the beach (I figured there was worse places I could be), which meant I not only got a nice sun tan but had some unexpected time to try and get on top of work, travel arrangements and also to take a phone interview from a journalist. I also had an opportunity to get a decent selfie with the splendid Banksy Mural, which I have only seen in passing whilst on transport.
On Saturday (9th), me and Mike flew out to Frankfurt for the Pulse of Europe event the following. Due to the excessive anxiety I experience travelling by plane, and my unfortunatehabit of encountering endless problems and delays when travelling, I insisted we had to leave ridiculously early to get to Stanstead airport, which Mike begrudgingly agreed to. We took the hand luggage through security and Mike was greatly amused by the number of “liquids” I had with me (all under 100ml) including; shampoo, conditioner, sun cream, hair dye, lip stick, mascara, etc. etc. which filled up 2 of their plastic bags.(It takes a lot of effort for #EUsupergirl to look this glam!) Mike, of course, had literally just brought a tube of toothpaste! Which I was actually quite grateful for, because when going through the scanners, the attendant informed me that passengers were permitted “Only 1 liquids bag per passenger”… Thankfully Mike took the second bag for me with the addition of his toothpaste. After that palaver, they then insisted on hand searching my guitar case, which took quite sometime because it was full of pro-EU material and paraphernalia. I gave some EUnicorn badges to the somewhat amused member of staff, who was given the unfortunate task. So after all that faffing around we wouldn’t have actually been waiting so long to board the flight, except that departure was delayed so we ended up sitting around for quite some time in the not-so-delightful surroundings of Stanstead airport. Being the trouble magnet that I am, I experienced further difficulties at the German end of the journey, when my biometric passport wouldn’t scan and I was then interrogated by passport control about why I had a guitar with me. They demanded to know the address of where I was performing, to which the response “A Square somewhere in Frankfurt” wasn’t happily received. When we finally got to the taxi rank, we got into the taxi and the driver to decided to get out and walk off with no explanation. At which point Mike was becoming somewhat exasperated at the amount of problems that were occurring when travelling with #EUsupergirl – I somehow doubt he will be travelling with me again! When we finally arrived at the airport hotel, it was of course too late and the restaurant had closed. However, we were informed that the bar would still be serving food until 1am. But as I discovered with great amusement, the German bar staff were not very receptive to the concept of veganism and all that was available on the menu was hot dogs and pizza. So I ordered a double whisky, nibbled some bread (that probably wasn’t vegan, but I couldn’t bear to ask at that point – ignorance is bliss), and then we headed up to our rooms.
Despite the travelling difficulties, the Pulse of Europe event itself was absolutely fantastic. We missed the start of the day which began with an event in the local church, followed by celebrations in the Square, which was packed for most of the day. I was amazed at the stages (2 of them!) and the big screen, for which I had prepared graphics for Mike’s and my own performances. We were part of the “Brexit session” with Mike giving a speech framed by a few of my songs either side. It seemed to go down a treat and it was lovely to see such a passionate pro-EU community, but also passers-by stopping and taking an interest in the event. One of my favourite memories from the event was witnessing the winding chain that formed, where everyone linked hands and skipped around the square, it was such a lovely, care-free expression of European solidarity and friendship that I have never witnessed in the UK. Later into the evening, after drinking probably a little too much vodka, I got my guitar out again to accompany the Pulse of Europe team as they packed up the stage, but to my horror, one of the strings broke and I realised that I hadn’t brought my spare set with me. After making a somewhat unnecessary fuss – “OH NOOOO! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO! I NEED MY GUITAR TO PERFORM IN STRASBOURG AND I DON’T HAVE MY SPARE STRINGS AND EVEN IF I DID HAVE THEM I DON’T KNOW HOW TO RESTRING A GUITAR! I ALWAYS GET MY GUITAR BOY IN SHEFFIELD TO DO IT FOR ME!!!!” – I was reassured that I would be able to buy some strings from a music shop close to Frankfurt station before getting the train to Strasbourg in the afternoon. At which point I calmed down and decided to cover myself with #BollockstoBrexit stickers and then began dancing rather hyperactively with the other equally inebriated members of the Pulse of Europe team. Mike, on the other hand, who had to catch a 6am flight back to London, was drinking orange juice and rather critically accused me of being “self indulgent” with the #BollockstoBrexit stickers – my response, (which he should have predicted), was to sticker him up too.
And after running around the square a few times in my #EUWonderWoman outfit, Mike had to be the responsible adult in the situation (he did have an insanely early flight to catch) and informed me it was time to return to the hotel. The journey consisted of two train rides, followed by a 20 min walk back to the hotel through a forested area and along the main road. In broad daylight this had been no problem, but at night, in my drunken state, I found the foreboding darkness somewhat terrifying. Mike on the other hand, was entirely unconcerned by the lack of lighting and instead began enthusiastically hunting for glow worms in the foliage. He called me over to examine the illuminated blobs squirming in his hand, when suddenly the scene was flooded with light. A figure got out of the car that had pulled up and came over to us. Talking first in German, then English, it took me a while to register that it was the police, wanting to enquire what Mike was doing with WonderWoman in a dark forest late at night. I informed him that we were just “looking at glow worms”, introducing Mike as “a biologist” and reassured him that we were on our way back to the airport hotel and new the directions to get there safely. The police seemed satisfied, and we continued along the pitch black path, ending the night in fits of giggles at the surreal hilarity of what had just occurred.
The following day, I didn’t have to catch my train to Strasbourg until 2h, so I figured I had plenty of time to sleep off my hangover, travel into Frankfurt and buy some new guitar strings before boarding the train. I had rather under estimated the impact of drinking 2 (small) bottles of vodka the night before, but somehow successfully achieved all the above objectives – So my only concern then became how to actually restring the guitar when I got to Strasbourg. I was very grateful to a lovely woman who works for the council of Europe who had offered to put me up in her flat in Strasbourg, from Monday to Friday (although she wasn’t actually home herself until Wednesday night). When I arrived it was rainy, and a bit muggy, but luckily I had my Theresa May style leopard print umbrella to hand. And I was pleased to be greeted by the beautiful sight of 28 colourful flags outside the station (a pleasure somewhat tinged with sadness at the prospect of the UK leaving this union of solidarity and hope).
Once I arrived at the flat, (thank you to Lousie’s lovely, but insanely mature daughter Alice, for giving me the keys and showing me around!) I skyped my “Guitar Boy” – Alex – a dear friend and folk musician who I knew from the Open mic scene in Sheffield. He patiently sat and instructed me as I painfully slowly attempted to restring the broken string, which took me about three attempts before I got it right – that will teach me for not paying attention when he showed me how to do it in person, back in Sheffield. Nonetheless, I was very grateful for his assistance, as I was incredibly grateful to Louise for putting me up on my travels, and I could’t help but reflect upon the amazing, supportive community that Brexit has created in the UK and across Europe. A community to which I am indebted and so proud to be part of.
My time in Strasbourg, during the plenary week at the Parliament, was spent in the company of Roger Casale from the New Europeans organisation, who had invited me to speak and perform at their Freedom of Movement event at the European Parliamentary Association (the social club for MEPs) and to support the Green Card Initiative. On Tuesday, after waking up and discovering a rather splendid, but inexplicable set of bruises on my right arm and pondering just how drunk I had been on Sunday night in Frankfurt, I headed to the Parliament to join Roger. We attended a back-to-back series of meetings with MEPs, which included, amongst others, Seb Dance and Julie Ward, who it is always a pleasure to see. I gave them both “BollocksToBrexit” keyring which my friend Charlie had recently ordered from the company who produce my badges (and I will give them a plug – mrtsshirts.co.uk – at this point, because they do a fantastic and speedy job and I would highly recommend their services)!
We also had the pleasure of bumping into Steven Woolfe, the ex-UKIP MEP, who appeared to be an old friend of Roger’s. He seemed somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t in costume, which apparently I had been wearing the last time he saw me. There were more meetings scheduled the following day, but when my favourite MEP (literally MY MEP for Yorkshire) Richard Corbett had to cancel his meeting, Roger suggested I have the day off to “rest” and prepare for the big event on Wednesday evening. As it so happened, I spent most of the day in a panic trying to make travel arrangements to get me back from Berlin on Sunday, which I had left rather late to book. Thankfully Charlie stepped in, and we figured the best option was to take the train (10 hours), which was cheaper than flying due to the pricey requirement to book an extra seat for the guitar. It also spared me the anxiety of another flight and working out how to get to the airport via train at some stupidly early hour of the morning after a night partying in Berlin. Of course, when I tried to book the tickets, the Trainline website suddenly decided to be dysfunctional and wouldn’t allow me to pay, after trying a second site with the same result, I nearly had a fit, so I was especially grateful to Charlie who took over and managed to book the trains separately (but unfortunately more expensively) through the Deutsche Bahn and Eurostar websites.
The event at the European Parliamentary Association was fabulous. A really in depth, and impassionaied discussion about the importance of Freedom of Movement as a cornerstone of the EU. I was on the panel, alongside two MEPs, Claude Moraes and Elmar Brok, and a professor from the university, Frederique Berrod, which was concluded with a Q&A. My favourite question coming from a young man who asked whether it was time we started a positive narrative about Freedom of Movement, and how we achieve this.
Following the formal section of the event, I changed from my smart (as smart as I will ever be dressed unless I am impersonating a Tory politician) red, white and blue outfit into my wonder woman costume to perform a selection of protest songs in the EPA basement bar. As always “the Brexit Dividend” and “We Are Europe” went down a treat and I finished the set off with the “Letters to Europe” song. Afterwards we posed for silly photos and I was bowled over by the irrepressible Italian charm of Matteo, who persuaded me to pose for some rather flirtatious photos, which I subsequently posted on social media.
Apparently the following morning, at the MEP’s breakfast, he was interrogated by Julie Ward, who has seen the photos appear in her Twitter feed, as to what exactly had occurred the night before! Hilarious though that was, I was in fact (unusually sensibly) back at the flat and tucked up in bed by midnight. I was, however, delighted to discover the following day that Matteo had an adorable little dog called Olga ( A sure fire combo to win over a girl’s heart: Italian charm and a cute dog!) which came to work with him at the European Parliamentary Association where we met to discuss plans for the “Garden Party” on 4th July – so anticipate a future blog about my 3rd trip to Strasbourg… But only after I have covered the intervening destinations on “Eusupergirl’s European Tour”!