Time for Big Tech to “Play Fair and Pay Fair” to Safeguard Diversity

Watch Madeleina’s song “Stand Up For Your (Copy)Rights!

The EU Copyright Directive first came to my attention when I was giving a talk for EuropeersUK, (part of the Erasmus+ network in the UK). Known mostly for my anti Brexit activism as #EUSupergirl, I had been asked to speak to the youth group about becoming the next generation of “EU influencers”. At the end of the talk, there was a Q&A and a lad asked me what I thought about plans to reform the EU Copyright Directive, claiming that the EU was trying to censor the internet and ban MEMEs. At the time, I had to admit I didn’t know enough about the issue to comment, but promised to find out more at the next opportunity…

Which as luck would have it, turned out to be the following day, as I was travelling to Brussels to speak on a panel after the presentation of the #EUMediaPoll 2018 results. The research is conducted annually by communications agency Burson-Marsteller and pollsters ComRes to identify “what influencers the influencers”. I had been invited to provide a British perspective on the news outlets which have the most impact on Brussels policy makers and also to discuss how the state of the British press may have influenced the debate about the EU in the UK and inevitably Brexit. So whilst I was there I took the opportunity to raise the subject of the Copyright Directive with Dennis Abbott, who is an ex journalist and head of comms at BM in Belgium (now called bcw Brussels).

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Dennis Abbott and Madeleina Kay at the Brussels Press Club for the #EUMediaPoll Results

From the press publishers’ perspective, the directive is critical for safe-guarding the future of the press by addressing the siphoning of revenue streams by Big Tech platforms, who have been increasingly exploiting news content without recompense for the people actually producing it. But it soon became apparent that the new reforms have wider implications for the creative industries who are having the life blood sucked out of them by profit-hungry tech giants who are failing to cough up for the creative output which is being shared on their platforms. Having a vested interest in blocking the Copyright Directive, Big Tech has been funnelling vast sums of money into an online campaign to spread dissent and object to changes aimed at creating a level playing field. Sadly, much of this opposing argument has been powered by falsehood and myth. I recorded a brief video interview with Dennis to send back to the Europeers team to show the youth group who had initially drawn the Copyright Directive to my attention, but also to share on my social media platforms to raise awareness of the issue and challenge the tech giants by presenting the arguments from the perspective of the creatives.

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Myth Busting Illustration about “Banning MEMEs” by Madeleina Kay

It has long troubled me how Britain’s creative industries can continue to thrive in an era presenting endless hurdles and next-to-no support. When sapped of revenue, the inevitable result is a lack of opportunities for emerging artists and creative start-ups, leading to a sad and regrettable diminishing diversity and loss of potential.

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Lyrics from Madeleina’s song ‘Stand Up For Your (Copy)Rights!’

As someone who is very committed to using the Arts as a forum for exploring and discussing ideas and issues that affect our society, it is devastating to see our young people’s creative aspirations denigrated in our schools, when the only sensible advice careers’ services can see fit to offer is to stay away from the highly risky creative sector. I know this is the situation because I’ve experienced it myself. It’s outrageous, but the reality of the situation is that it is getting harder and harder to succeed in this highly competitive sector where jobs and opportunities are becoming fewer and fewer. I have known so many creatives, artists, musicians, writers and journalists who are dedicated to their passion and producing high quality output, but can barely scrape by in life. I have seen others who have abandoned their dreams for a more secure career option, leaving them unfulfilled and resentful. These are the inevitable consequences of a cultural landscape sapped of resources and investment by digital “innovation”.

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The result is a shifting cultural landscape, where media and content is increasingly shared online and freely available to internet users, which seems like a great deal for the consumers, but not so great for the creators who are running on increasingly diminished resources. Many newspapers can no longer afford to publish in print and are laying off staff at alarming rates.

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Madeleina Protesting in Support of the Publisher’s Right outside the European Parliament

In Britain, we’ve seen many closures and mergers, especially among local and regional titles, with fewer journalists having to do more with less. It’s a similar story in many other European countries. This is having a serious impact on the quality of reporting and the ability of media to cover important issues – like Brexit – in a balanced way. If the press is starved of resources, they can’t do their job properly – and this has major repercussions for democracy.

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Illustration by Madeleina Kay

Meanwhile record sales have plummeted as music has been made freely available on platforms such as YouTube, so that artists find it increasingly hard to “make it” in the music industry because they simply can’t make ends meet. Oasis legend Liam Gallagher complained recently at even having to make his own cup of tea, “Money’s too tight to mention… gotta do it yourself, haven’t you? No one buys records these days… These little smartarses download tunes. And they wonder why there’s no real rock ‘n’ roll stars around – cos this is the shit you’ve got us doing, fuckers.” And whilst I rather approve of Liam having to make his own cuppa, there is a serious point in his comments. People aren’t paying for music anymore, meaning that the industry overall is struggling and people lower down the food chain are suffering the most.

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It’s not the case that there is no money to be made by the creative industries anymore. Big Tech are reaping the rewards of advertising as social media use increases. Facebook made $16bn in profits in 2017 and Google’s parent company, Alphabet $12.7bn, so they can more than afford to play fair and pay fair. It makes perfect sense to me, that platforms should pay for the material that is generating advertising revenue, just as radio stations have to pay for the music they play.

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Madeleina protesting for #LoveMusic outside Google HQ

Press publishers large and small are backing the reform, known as Article 11, which would take the form of a licensing fee paid by social media platforms to the news providers. One of the myths being pedalled by opponents is that this would be a ‘Link Tax” charged to social media users, but this is untrue. It is perfectly possible to reimburse the media for editorial content without asking consumers to pay. “Free linking remains unchanged. This has been clarified in the compromise recently adopted by the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee.” It is after all, in the press’s interest that their content be recommended by their readers, hence the existence of social media sharing buttons underneath articles. It is important to stress that the so-called Publisher’s Right would not prejudice the rights of journalists, as some critics suggest, as it cannot be invoked against the author/rights’ holders. Moreover, protecting the publishers’ rights is in itself beneficial to journalists because it strengthens the financial power of the press. This is also of benefit to consumers, because it safeguards the publishers’ ability to invest in creating quality output in a world of fake news and alternative facts. A compelling article in The Guardian by war reporter Sammy Ketz very effectively illustrates the inevitable consequences of a cash-sapped news industry that can no longer afford to send their journalists into conflict zones, “bullet-proof vests, armoured cars, sometimes bodyguards, and insurance. Who pays? The media pays, and it is a heavy cost.” Ultimately, a diminished ability to produce quality reporting is dangerous and damaging to our democracy. If we want Truth we have to be prepared to pay for it.

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Illustration by Madeleina Kay

I was at the European Parliament in Strasbourg the week of the first vote on the Copyright Directive reform, when the initial proposals were voted down by 318-278 MEPs. As a content creator, I was invited to perform some of my songs at an event organised by the cultural and creative sector the day before the vote. Obviously, I was disappointed by the outcome, but considering it was such a close margin, I remain optimistic that after amendments the directive will be voted through a second time (the decisive vote is due to take place on 12 September). I spoke to one MEP before the first vote, who recognised the need to reform copyright in the digital era in order to sustain Europe’s creative ecosystem, but he felt that the legislation needed revising before it should be passed. I also recognise that MEPs have been put under a huge amount of pressure from the opposition campaign, which has been pedalling myths whilst making enticing arguments about internet freedom. Phrases like “breaking the internet” and “online censorship” easily trigger a sense of fear, but when examined, this rhetoric is unfounded and almost laughable. The EU has already awarded performance protection rights to the film, television and music industry which hasn’t negatively impacted the internet – the Publisher’s Right is a slimmed down version of these rights.

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Madeleina Kay and Julie Ward MEP supporting #Vote4JURIreport in Strasbourg

Another key issue of contention is Article 13 which intends to make online platforms legally liable for copyright material put on the web by users – dubbed as “upload filters”. But the rule doesn’t apply to bloggers, citizens or media companies who make commentary on their own website or in discussion forums – the purpose of which is to offer copyrighted works.

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Another criticism is that “upload filters would result in the banning of MEMEs” which inherently use copyrighted material. This again is nonsense. MEMEs along with Mash-Ups are covered by existing copyright exceptions (i.e. parody, criticism, citation, etc.) but the myth has successfully duped many, including the lad who asked me for my view at the Europeers conference.

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Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson, supports the #LoveMusic campaign with Musicians Ed Harcourt, Crispin Hunt (Longpigs), Madeleina Kay, Dave Rowntree (Blur) and Newton Faulkner

The crux of the problem, as I see it, comes down to finances. We all like to think that we are accessing our content online for free, but the reality is there is a price to pay: we pay with our attention and ultimately our wallets when we are exposed to advertisements – otherwise why would companies bother to advertise at all? It seems only fair to me that the Big Tech firms who are generating advertising revenue should share the rewards with the content creators who are drawing users to their platforms. But capitalist companies are driven by profit, not ethical practice, so it is necessary for government to step in and legislate to re-address the power imbalance. As long as Tech firms have control of the profit, they will have control of the internet and the content that is shared online. If MEPs want to ensure the health and diversity of Europe’s creative industries and give the artists and publishers a say in how their content is used, they need to vote in favour of the copyright reforms.

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I had the privilege of performing my song ‘Stand Up For Your (Copy)Rights!’ alongside music legends Dave Rowntree (Blur), Brett Anderson (Suede), Newton Faulkner, Ed Harcourt and Crispin Hunt at a busking stunt organised by the #LoveMusic campaign outside Google HQ in King’s Cross, which was reported in the i-Newspaper.

Please support the #LoveMusic campaign by signing this online petition

And help support the Publisher’s Right by contacting your MEP and ask them to vote in favour of the Copyright Directive on Wednesday 12th September.

Watch Madeleina’s song “Stand Up For Your (Copy)Rights!

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Musicians protest in favour of Copyright Reforms outside Google HQ

 

#EUsupergirl’s European Tour Part 2 – Berlin

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After an early night in Strasbourg, I was up fresh and ready to make the long train journey to Berlin (which actually retraced my tracks through Frankfurt) for the Schwarzkopf Foundation’s annual summer “Hoffest” celebrations. Ever impressed by the standards of the Franco/German trains it was ever a pleasant journey. I even manage to commandeer an entire compartment to myself for about an hour, which allowed me to take my guitar out and softly practice my pro European songs to myself whilst watching the German landscape roll past the window. (One problem with constantly travelling around from gig to gig is that I rarely get chance to actually practice and make sure the performances are up to standard, which can rather a frustrating at times.) Unfortunately this idyllic, musical revere was curtailed by the arrival of two, adorably cheeky German kids and there care worn mother. I put my guitar away rather than subject them to my political serenades, and watched with great nostalgia as they sat scribbling on their colouring books with pencil crayons. After a while, of course, like all good kids they grew bored and began squabbling with each other. The little girl, who I guessed was the slightly older of the two, had the upper hand in their disputes. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying, but the chubby young lad in his baseball cap, became increasing red in the face whilst his sister, who had a cute fringe running down to her glasses, tittered smuggly. After about an hour they started doing – what I surmised to be – the classic “Are we THERE yet?!?!” badgering of their poor mother, who was doing her best to make them behave. Just before we parted company, they took turns on toilet trips, and whilst the mother and brother were absent from the compartment, the little girl braved herself to speak to me. Unfortunately I have no idea what she said, so I just smiled politely and told her, “I am English”. It’s at times like these I really wish they had offered more language lessons at my secondary school and college, because I would really have liked to have known what she said!

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I was slightly confused departing the train, which I hadn’t realised was running late, as it stopped at multiple stations in Berlin and I was slightly panicked that I had missed my stop. A german man who had joined my compartment after the departure of the mother and her two tiresome offspring, assured me in broken English that we hadn’t arrived at the main station yet. Which reassured me, until he started demanding to know where I was staying and the address of my hotel. “Why?” I asked him cautiously. He replied “For you, to help you find it.” He may genuinely have been trying to be helpful, but i’ve had enough encounters with creepy blokes on my travels to know not to tempt fate or disclose information unnecessarily. I made up a white lie about meeting friends at the station and getting a taxi with them and scarpered from the compartment as fast as I could. When the train finally arrived (German trains running late?!) I was seriously impressed by the sheer size of the Berlin Main station, with all its escalators and platforms on many levels – some seriously impressive engineering and architecture.

 

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A Lovely EU Glam Gift from Louise

Myself and the previous winners of the “Young European of the Year” award, were booked into a hotel near Alexander Platz and the famous TV tower. The others were out enjoying an evening at the Opera with some of the Schwarzkopf staff. I had arrived too late after the journey from Strasbourg, but was perfectly content to enjoy the peace and quiet of the cool room after the previous week’s excitement, and I took the opportunity to repaint my nails with the blue and gold sparkly paint which Louise had very kindly given me from her vast collection (thank you Louise!). As A.C.Grayling himself pointed out, #EUsupergirl’s attention to detail in her outfits is of very significant importance! The following day I was up early to attend the full day of meetings at the Schwarzkopf Foundation headquarters… Except not early enough, as it turned out when I realised that I had forgotten to re-do the blue dye in my hair, as I had planned to the night before. Using semi permanent dye means that after a week or so the vibrant blue fades to a disappointing pale turquoise, and seeing as I had made the effort to buy a little travel pot (under 100ml) and bring the dye with me on the flights and trains, all the way from London, I might as well use it and hope that the others would excuse my tardiness. Thankfully, they did, Vincent affirming that it was important for my “big performance” at the Hoffest party that evening. After all, #Eusupergirl wouldn’t seem quite so super – or quite so EU – with pale turquoise hair! (I’m sure A.C.Grayling would have approved of my decision)!

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The agenda for the meeting was for the “Young Europeans of the Year” to determine the nominees for the Schwarzkopf “Europe Award”, which would then be put to a public vote (for those aged 35 and under) to decide the final winner. We proved to be a very productive team and quickly came out with a strong and balanced (1 woman, 1 man and 1 Organisation) shortlist of 3 nominees; Roberto Saviano and Laura and the New Europeans, which we felt represented a range of key issues affecting different areas across the Europe. This initiative is a great way to promote the great work of those fighting for a stronger, unified Europe but also to engage the youth and open a discussion about why it is so important for us to protect our rights and the values upon which the EU was founded.

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We also had a nice lunch in the sunshine at a restaurant that seemed to have some kind of Salsa dance class going on inside. I took the opportunity to roll out the #BollockstoBrexit stickers and got everyone to sticker up their phones. There was a brief interlude between the meetings and the Hoffest celebrations in the evening, so after I had done a sound check with the technicians, I decided to go for a wander around Berlin and attempt to find a present to post to #EUsuperDad to placate him for missing Father’s Day (the following day, Sunday 17th June, when I would be travelling back from Berlin to London). I had already made/ordered/bought all his presents before I set out on 6th June, however, I would’t actually get around to giving them to him for another 2 weeks! I eventually located a very thin box of chocolates, which looked highly postable which said “Merci!” on the packaging. Wrong language, I know, but neither of us speak any German at all, and I had just come fromStrasbourg anyway, so I figured it made little odds and he’s still appreciate the gift. Upon returning to the Schwarzkopf Foundation headquarters I discovered the cobbled courtyard, slowly beginning to fill with jubilant revellers. It was fantastic to see so many young people, coming together with their more formerly attired elders, in this proud celebration of our European identities. It’s this welcoming and inclusive spirit, like being part of a big European family, that makes me truly pity the Brexiters and the Eurosceptics who deny themselves this sense of belonging to such a positive progressive community.

The party itself was amazing. The entrance to the courtyard was lined with a blue carpet, adorned with gold stars, EU flags hung from every window and bunting with the national flags strung from the roof tiles. There were multiple bars serving beer (of course!), a BBQ and kiosks with falafel and crepes – pretty much everything you could have wanted at a party. And BOY do they know how to party in Berlin! The evening started more sedately with speeches, the announcement of my award and my performance – my “We Are Europe” song was particularly popular – we even had a discussion about whether I could perform it for Germany in the Eurovision Song Contest (we concluded this would only be possible if I married a German!). Then the DJ took over and the real partying began, and i’m not a seasoned clubber, but I must admit there was some pretty good dance moves being thrown, so much so that I didn’t want to leave despite the early start in the morning. I made sure I stickers up as many Germans as possible with the “Bollocks to Brexit” stickers and attempted to drink a pint of beer (I managed 2 sips before I gave up) before I bid my farewells and headed back to the hotel determined to make the train in the morning.

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Despite drinking considerably more Jeigermeister than was advisable (when you can’t stomach the taste of beer, Jeigermeister is a near second), I managed to get up at 7am and got to the station in plenty of time to catch the train. I even had enough time to hunt out a decent sized coffee (the first time in 8 days travelling Europe I located a caffeinated beverage bigger than a thimbleful) and the cup was aptly labelled “Einstein”. I was also thrilled in passing, to discover a plaque informing me that the highly impressive station had received EU funding. So I departed Berlin feeling rather chuffed with myself, despite being slightly hungover, and ever more determined to continue my relentless #EUsupergirl campaign.

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Unfortunately the 10 hour train journey home did not run as smoothly as my travel to Berlin. The usually reliable Deutsche Bahn trains failed me, when I changed, the second train was cancelled. I was instructed to hop on another train and then catch the replacement coach to Brussels. I immediately telephoned my lifeline, the invaluable Charlie, to find out whether I could still feasibly make my Eurostar connection back to London. His analysis concluded: possibly. If everything ran smoothly and there was no traffic I would skip the anticipated wait around Gare du Midi, and just make my Eurostar just in time. “If everything ran smoothly”. Of course, it being the adventures of #EUsupergirl… everything didn’t run smoothly. The coach hitting traffic coming into Brussels spent half an hour almost stationary, and after checking google maps, I despaired in the knowledge that I could probably still make my train if I took public transport across Brussels. Eventually, after making precisely zero progress and wasting more precious time, the bus driver seemed to give up on delivering his passengers to our destination and he dumped us on a street corner about 10 minutes from Paris Gare du Nord. I legged it to the platform, to discover the next train to Gare du Midi would arrive 15 mins before my Eurostar was dues to depart. Contemplating giving up this mad dash across the capital of Belgium and going for a coffee somewhere, I phoned Charlie again, who seemed determined that I could still make my train “if the Eurostar staff get you through security quickly”. I resolved to try, because #Eusupergirl is no quitter. And thanks to the Eurostar staff , who literally are Eurostars and the almost entire absence of any queue, I sped through security and made the train back to London with minutes to spare.

 

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Finally back in London, I checked into my favourite St.Pancras hotel “The European Hotel” (preference literally being due to the name and value prices), and spent half an hour scribbling a makeshift Father’s Day card ready to post in the morning along with his chocolates wrapped up in a German flag*, before going to bed, content but utterly exhausted.

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*My Dad upon receiving the parcel informed me that he had put the German flag in his bedroom window to piss off the England fans in the pub opposite our house!

#EUSupergirl’s European Tour – Part 1 – Liverpool to Strasbourg

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.

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EU Super Girl’s Adventures in Europe

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.

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Contemplating before the start of the World Wide Wednesday event in Liverpool

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).

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The Q&A Panel at the World Wide Wednesday Event

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”.

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Banner Displayed at the No.10Vigil Opposite Downing Street

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.

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The Banksy Mural in Dover

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.

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What Vegans Eat

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.

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Mike unimpressed by the stickering

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.

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Mike Galsworthy at the Pulse of Europe Event in Frankfurt 10th June 2018

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#EUsupergirl Performing at the Pulse of Europe Event in Frankfurt 10th June 2018

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).

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28 EU Flags Outside Strasbourg Station

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.

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Success After Several Attempts Trying to Restring My Guitar

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)!

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With Julie Ward MEP at the Parliament in Strasbourg 

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.

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Seb Dance MEP #EUsupergirl and Roger Casale

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.

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#EUsupergirl Speaking at the ‘Freedom of Movement’ Event organised by the New Europeans

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”!

 

The Adventures of #EUSupergirl in… Strasbourg

Since the drama of my travelling escapades seems to be greatly anticipated by my followers, I decided to write up the tales of my recent trip to Strasbourg whilst it’s still fresh in my (somewhat hungover) head… Recalling various incidents has been making me spontaneously giggle throughout the journey home to Sheffield, so hopefully the following blog will provide some hilarity and entertainment for anyone who can be bothered to read it…

 

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The Adventures of #EUSupergirl in… Strasbourg

I was invited to attend the “European Youth Event 2018” at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Saturday 2nd June, where the ‘Young European of the Year’ Award was to be presented by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. As I was the awardee it was somewhat necessary that I attend, so I duly noted the dates in my diary but delayed booking the travel, until perhaps regrettably late, due to my continuously fluid and changing schedule. (Making travel plans too early frequently results in cancelations or alterations to the schedule, which usually adds additional expense and complications). In this instance, I belatedly discovered that my Youth Movement, the Young European Movement (YEM), for which I am an Ambassador, was holding workshops on the 1st June, the day I had anticipated travelling to Strasbourg. Wanting to make the most of the trip, I planned to travel on the 31st May and found a potential accommodation option for that night… Until I discovered all the trains were booked up, so that wouldn’t be a possibility. So back to the original plan, I bought train tickets (at huge expense – €400!* Which fortunately will be reimbursed) to travel on the 1st June, leaving early in the morning so I would at least make it to Strasbourg in time for the second workshop at 17h, a debate where I had been invited to make a concluding speech – assuming of course that the journey all went to plan. Which, thankfully, for the most part it did.

*Travelling by plane would have proved even more costly due to the fact that I needed to bring my guitar which would have meant booking 2 seats.

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The first leg of the journey, the Eurostar was an utterly delightful experience as I was given a coffee “on the House” by the staff in the Eurostar Lounge ‘Pret A Manger’ I believe because of the Bollocks2Brexit stickers on my bag! This caffeine kick was greatly received after getting up at 6:30am (for those who are not aware, I am a nocturnal creature and find dealing with early starts a thoroughly unpleasant experience). Nonetheless, the Eurostar seats were as comfortable as ever and I was in bliss listening to the train manger’s french accent announcing that his name was “Henri” and his colleagues were called; “Herve”, “Arnaud” and “Jean-Paul”. In fact, I tweeted as much, “Couldn’t be more French! Listening to his French accent = bliss! Vive la France!” and was thrilled when the Eurostar official account replied to tell me they “will let Henri know how much you appreciate him and his team”. Needless to say, I was in fits of giggles for the remainder of the journey, much to the bemusement of my fellow passengers. Meanwhile, some of my followers began replying to the Eurostar account demanding that I be moved to 1st class which only intensified my giggling.

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From Paris Gare du Nord, I made the short walk to Gare d’Est where I discovered a lovely little landscape garden project in the otherwise concrete urban surroundings, that really brightened up the scene. I had an hour to kill so it was lovely being able to chill in the lush green surroundings, watch the kids playing on the gym equipment and enjoy the fish swimming around their pond. For anyone who doubts the psychological benefits of urban greening, for the weary traveller it really does make all the difference to the experience of the journey and ultimately one’s mood. The train I took to Strasbourg was one of the impressive (to a British person used to rattling Northern Rail sardine can style carriages) double decker SNCF trains, which was again very comfortable, and also running on time (which again seemed miraculous).

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Once in sunny Strasbourg I checked into my hotel, which was located near to the station, so that I could ditch my case and leg it to the European Parliament buildings, hopefully in time for the YEM workshop at 17h. At which point I was incredibly grateful that I had recently made the decision to upgrade to an Android phone with a 20GB data package, as the use of Google Maps has become more or less essential with all the travelling I have been doing. I remarked on how aesthetically delightful Strasbourg seemed to be as I walked hurriedly along the river bank clutching my phone-come-Satnav in my palm. I also spotted an “Alba White Wolf” double which is always bound to brighten my day. As I progressed from the river course towards the parliament, I encountered the tram lines which I was amused to see seem to run on the grass, which i’ve never seen before, but have to admit looks great. Unfortunately at this point the storm clouds looming overhead began to spatter and I realised i had left my new leopard print umbrella (to match my “Theresa Mayesque” leopard print suitcase) in the hotel stupidly thinking that the immediate warmth of the Strasbourg climate would equate to rainlessness. No such luck. So I continued on my journey with my jacket held above my head trying to follow the instructions on the luminous screening my palm. I eventually located the parliament buildings, in what would have been reasonable time, were it not for the fact that I had approached them from the wrong side where there was no access. Due to extensive building works occurring nearby, I was forced to take a ridiculously long detour of 10-15 minutes, under the direction of Juuso, the president of YEM, who I called in desperation to seek navigational assistance. Once I finally approached the Parliament buildings it was close to 17h, so I promised Juuso I would get there ASAP and headed to the registration centre. Luckily there was no queue, as Juuso reliably informed me that they were waiting up to an hour earlier in the day as 6-8000 European youths descended on the parliament for this event. A lovely lIrish lady at the desk recognised me from Twitter and promised to register me super quick, declaring that I was given a blue “EYE2018” tote bag, “It has to be blue for her!”, the alternative choices being red and yellow. My speaker’s wristband, however, happened to be bright red rather than standard visitor’s blue wristband, and I discovered with great pleasure the power of flashing my wrist at the security gates which allowed me to skip queues and pass instantaneously into the buildings. When I was further thrilled when given a “Yo!Fest ARTISTS” wristband the following day which also gave me access to the backstage area where the Greenroom consisted of some awesomely “festival chic” tents complete with coffee machine and fridge!

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Anyway I digress from the YEM workshop, which I arrived at a fashionable 15 minutes late, and heard enough of the subsequent debate – on whether the UK should be welcomed back into the EU if Article 50 were to be withdrawn – to be able to give an informed and relevant closing speech. The group had been split into two and allocated opposing views; the pro UK remaining side’s principle arguments being that the current situation was mutually advantageous and that the UK has much to offer the EU in terms of economic benefits – valid points with which I fully agree, but I had to point out that the EU is about much more than just finances, the greatest achievement of the EU being the peace it has brought to a continent historically at war. Conversely, the pro UK leaving side’s argument consisted almost solely of the familiar argument “it’s the will of the people” therefore Brexit must be implemented, which failed to address the actual question that was being debated of whether the EU should welcome the UK back after another democratic vote. Nonetheless there was a lot of interest when I drew to their attention the question mark over the legitimacy of the outcome of this supposedly democratic vote where the 3 million EU citizens and UK expats were denied a vote, where election spending rules were broken, where there was misuse of data harvesting by Cambridge Analytica, and the fact that the vote was advisory only and therefore not legally binding. The group unanimously voted in favour of the EU welcoming the UK back and I left them on an optimistic note, giving them my sincerest apologies for this epic blunder on the part of the UK and reassuring them that Brexit can and will be stopped and that I am doing my utmost to achieve that aim.

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After the workshop there was a “rap battle” between MEPs, which was somewhat entertaining, but I was fading fast after the early start and long journey, so left the others to their evening entertainments and headed back to the hotel to snooze for a good 10 hours!

On the Saturday morning I took the opportunity to explore Strasbourg in the blazing sunshine. Which I later regretted having forgotten to bring my Factor 50 sun cream with me. I always find jogging (or cycling for that matter) around a city to be one of the best ways to get a true sense of its character. If you travel far enough it forces you to leave the central touristy areas and engage with different socio-economic areas and life as the locals experience it.

After the informative run, I got ready for my “Big Day” and set off for the parliament attired in my new Wonder Woman outfit, complete with EU badge which I had sewn on the day before I departed on the trip. Walking around Strasbourg in superhero garb attracted an understandable amount of attention, with little kids gawping and pulling their parent’s arms and several people shouting “It’s Super girl!”, who obviously weren’t keeping up to trend with the new look (#EUsupergirl is SO last year…) One there, I met the representatives from the Schwarzkopf Foundation who were presenting the Young European of the Year Award, and we chilled backstage in those oh-so-hipster greenroom tents, before the award ceremony at 15h. As with seemingly all events I am involved with, the timings and venues were all altered at the last minute (it’s a good job my frayed nerves are accustomed to the necessity of flexibility), which meant I was forced to miss a debate I had promised to participate in during the afternoon. On the MASSIVE plus side it also meant that instead of performing a half hour set on the small acoustic stage, I would be performing 10 minutes on the big stage before the headline act in the evening (Which meant less work and greater impact, which is always given a thumbs up from me).

The award ceremony was made somewhat more nerve wracking when I discovered it would be filmed and broadcast on the large TV screens that were strategically positioned around the site. But ultimately all went to plan, and after listening to the rationale for my selection; namely the creativity, passion and relentless energy I put into campaigning, I graciously accepted the award declaring that if I failed in my mission to Stop Brexit before March 2019, I will be leading the campaign to take us back into the EU, because the British youth, who I represent, did not vote for Brexit and this is not future for my generation that I am willing to accept.

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The award also comes with a €5000 grant from the Schwarzkopf Foundation which can be used either to fund a 6 month internship with and MEP or for a project that promotes European values. I was asked to mention on stage what i intended to use the grant for, but forgot, so I will state here: That, despite being offered a placement with Guy Verhofstadt’s social media team (a very tempting offer indeed) I will be using the funding for the latter of the two options. My background is in organising arts projects, previously I worked with arts organisations in Sheffield and also received funding from O2 to lead Eco-Arts projects for disadvantaged groups; the homeless, Young Carers, etc. However, I am delaying the organisation and delivery of this project until the fight against Brexit is over, for 2 principle reasons: firstly, I am needed on the ground to support the campaign in the UK, and I am exceptionally busy so scheduling a 1-2 month project isn’t feasible as stopping Brexit has to take precedence; Secondly, I want to use the project as a bridging device to reflect on the outcome of this mess (whatever that may be) and reconcile our relationship with our European family.

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Between the award ceremony and my evening performance I decided to return to my very cool hotel room (the thermostat was jammed on the fridge-freezer setting) as I was burning in the afternoon sunshine. I decided to change out of the “EUWonderWoman” outfit  and into something more casual as I anticipated going out in the evening and didn’t want to be in superhero costume for the entirety of the day. I discovered to my great amusement that the red dye from the fabric had rubbed onto my skin and turned my tummy a hilariously bright pink so it looked as though I had been sunburnt through the fabric of the costume. Heading back to the European Parliament building things took a turn for the surreal, when I was accosted by a drunk french man in a green “Borat style” mankini and a rainbow clown wig, he presented me with a packet of condoms and asked me (in french) to put one on him. He was accompanied by a gang of mates thankfully not all in mankinis and clown wigs, but equally pissed, so I can only assume it was a stag do prank, but nonetheless still a thoroughly unpleasant way to behave. I made a slightly astounded noise in response and ran away as fast as I could, it was only subsequently after posting about the incident on social media, that a friend suggested a more suitable reaction would have been to offer to put the condom on his head.

Irrespective of the country, I have a habit of attracting unpleasant drunk men like some sort of Twat Magnet, but i’m relieved to declare that I had no such other incidents during my trip to Strasbourg. My performance on the main stage went swimmingly, and afterwards we joined a group of mates who had congregated on the riverbanks to drink cheap, warm red wine from a nearby supermarket. Which wouldn’t be my beverage of choice, but was accepted in preference to beer which was all that was available from the bar tents on the festival site. And after downing a considerable amount straight out of the bottle I got my guitar out and had an impromptu jam session as the sun began to set over the parliament buildings. The dusky pink light and impressionable buildings reflecting in the waters, provided a rather magical end to the evening.

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Except of course it wasn’t the end of the evening, because we all hopped on the tram into town to get even more plastered than we already were. After attempting, and failing in drunken broken french to find a restaurant that would seat a large group without a reservation, we decided to split and I ended up in a Japanese sushi restaurant with fellow 4 fellow YEM members and 3 others who, if they told me who they were, I have no recollection. At this point I made the grave error of ordering Ricard (an aniseed liquor, and french speciality, of which I am particularly fond) and which my fellow Sheffielder, Logan, impulsively decided to join me in drinking (having never tried it before). Logan’s reaction to his first sip of the feiry liquid was possibly the best i’ve ever witnessed, “I like it… But…. It burns!” He passed it onto his girlfriend, jade, who gave a similar response. Needless to say, I ended up consuming both mine and Logan’s drinks, which I would sorely regret in the morning.

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All of the others were staying in a youth hostel, so after checking the distance from the restaurant to my hotel, supposedly 10 minutes walk, we parted ways and I promised Logan I would message him when I was safely back at the hotel… Which turned out to be much later in the evening than originally anticipated. In my drunken stupor I must have somehow altered the address in google maps, and subsequently followed the little blue dots further and further away from the centre of town. It was a good half an hour into my blissful nighttime ramble, prancing along singing to myself, before I twigged that something was amiss. The devious blue little dots had lead me to… the middle of nowhere! And a good 45 minutes  At which point in dawned on me that I was lost, alone, in the dark, in a foreign country, at 11:30pm at night. I was stupidly drunk but not so much so that I wasn’t aware that this was not the safest predicament to be in. I decided Uber was the best solution and put the hotel address into the App, or at least, what I believed to be the address…. When the driver picked me up and confirmed the destination “l’hotel Mercure” to which I replied, “Oui, lequel press de la gare!” He replied to inform me that the address I had given was “Loin de la Gare”. After some confusion, I assured him that my hotel was indeed near the station and we headed in that direction, but of course when we arrived he couldn’t locate the hotel, and asked me for directions, which I was probably too drunk to provide, in french, so we ended up driving around in circles whilst he became increasingly frustrated. I tried to persuade him I could find my way on foot from the station if he would just drop me off, but he refused, and after eventually locating the correct road, we became stuck behind a 4×4 inexplicably stopped in the middle of the road. This eventually turned into a roadblock, as other cars turned into the road and began honking their horns. My driver got out and began shouting at the driver of the 4×4, whilst I sat in the back giggling at the hilarious situation I had once again managed two get myself into on my travels as #EUsupergirl.

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Once finally back into the hotel, I messaged Logan to inform him of my safety. It was well after midnight at this point, an hour after we had parted company. Although, being so stupidly drunk, my level of safety was questionable, as I managed to conclude the eventful evening by walking into one of the cupboard units and taking a sizeable chunk out of my knee, which resulted in a lot of blood pouring down my leg. I considered heading down to the lobby to locate a receptionist and a first aid kit, but decided I had suffered enough embarrassment that evening, so fell asleep with my leg looking like something out of a horror movie prosthetics department.

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I’m not sure which hurt more, my knee or my head when I awoke to the sound of my alarm at 8h (at least I had remembered to set it), and packed up my stuff, checked out of the hotel and embarked on the return journey from Strasbourg to Sheffield. After locating a surprisingly large (for France) 40cl coffee, and taking some ibuprofen I was in much better spirits and spent the remainder of the journey giggling to myself as I recollected the previous 2 days shenanigans. The journey went miraculously smoothly, given the french rail strikes, and the congestion in the Eurostar passport control which resulted in our train departing late, still devoid of half its passengers. After arriving into St.Pancras, I managed to sprint across to King’s Cross station and catch the train back to Sheffield with 2 minutes to spare.

Back at home, I had 2 days to rest up before my travels recommenced, so I asked my Dad if he would put my clothes in the wash so that I could repack my case… A request I soon regretted, when he informed me that, having put the whites in with my turquoise blue hoodie, all of my clothes were now dyed a pale blue. I suppose there could be worse colours for an EUsupergirl to wear.

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EUSupergirl Grazia Portrait (Translation)

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Anti-Brexit Supergirl

Britains and Europeans are searching for an agreement and Theresa May’s government is torn on the subject. On the other side, the opponents to Brexit campaign with inventiveness – they even have a mascot – the activist Madeleina Kay.
 
That day in the cold rain of London, she wasn’t wearing her “EUsupergirl” outfit. For this protest in support of the NHS, Madeleina Kay, 23 years-old, is marching in another costume; a blue striped dress in the style of a nurse. But this Leicester-born girl, still sports her favourite symbols. The flags of the UK and the EU are stitched to her apron, connected by a heart. The message on her placard is clear; “Your Choice: Brexit or the NHS, You Can’t Have Both”. Because of Brexit the number of EU nurses coming to the UK has fallen rapidly and the effect is being felt in the hospitals. “I belong to a generation that is apathetic to the political debate.” Recalled the blonde-haired activist. “We feel like we have been cheated by all the politicians.” Before the EU referendum she was not politically active, she voted Green and quietly studied Landscape Architecture. On the 24th June 2016 she felt lost, “I voted to Remain. I was shocked by the result.” Without hesitation, the daughter of university teachers, wrote a protest song and shared it on social media. Soon after, the Liberal Democrat party organised an anti-Brexit protest in Sheffield City Centre, where she performed her song. Nowadays, her campaign to Stop brexit takes up all of her time. When we meet her in the procession of the NHS march on 3rd Februrary, she was about to participate in the launch of a new political party, before going to Bath the following day to sing at another pro-EU protest – this time wearing her EUSuperGirl outfit. Madeleina loves wearing costumes. She also dresses as an anti-Brexit Pirate “Captain Saboteur”, a nurse… And has even been a Royal Mail postwoman after he collect 1000 letters last year from Remain campaigners, with messages given to the European parliament at Christmas. A few months before, in Brussels, dressed as EUSupergirl and in full view of the press cameras, she was thrown out of a post-Brexit negotiations press conference given by David Davis and Michel Barnier.
 
Hyperactive, the young ativist also writes and illustrates books. She sent her Satirical parody of Alice in Wonderland, “Theresa Maybe in Brexitland” to all the MPs who voted against triggering Article 50. Another work, “Alba White Wolf’s Adventures in Europe” features her immaculate Wolf-dog as the central character, in an adventure around all the EU countries. “A way of showing that the European Union reinforces the diversity and unique identity of all each member state.” In need of funding for her campaigns, her books have been published through crowdfunding. Her travel to protest across the UK are funded, in the most part by Pro EU organisations.

 

“The European Union is not perfect but much better than Brexit”

 
But what is it that motivates this European Supergirl? She has visited only 4 European countries, but believes passionately in the misdeeds of Brexit. “My generation did not vote to Leave the EU. I speak for them and the opportunities that are being taken away from us. There will be negative impacts on the economy and the environment.” The young woman has already seen the consequences of Brexit in her home city of Sheffield: The Grey to Green Scheme, an urban greening project in the city centre risks being stopped. “We were told that they don’t know where the rest of the funding is going to come from.” She continues, “The European Union needs to work on how it engages with its citizens, it’s true. The European Union might not be perfect but it is much better than Brexit.” But not everyone in the Uk shares her views. The young artist has written enough protest songs for an album, but she can’t go on tour,”In certain venues I risk being heckled.” She jokes. On the internet, the activist knows how to use the trolls to her advantage: “Sometimes I ignore them, but that’s no fun. Either I reply to annoy them, or I retweet their message with a humorous comment.” This method allowed her song “All I Want For Christmas is EU” to reach 60K views. With her child-like face, her piercings and her colourful outfits, Madeleina Kay has become a mascot. “Sometimes I am worried out being seen as a gimmick” She admits. But this does not stop her from tying to spread her message: “I have a message for Michel Barnier. Leave the door to the European Union open, my generation will bring us back!”

Reality TV Stars Should Keep Out of Politics

 

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Tory Party Activist and Reality TV Star Georgia Toffolo

The Conservative Party have got a serious problem with their party support and membership – the lack of young people. A generation has been blighted by absurd university tuition fees and student debt, with little hope of ever owning their own home and poorer life prospects than their parents, combined with growing inequality in the UK, with the rich getting richer and the working classes increasingly worse off, increased use of food banks, cruel benefits cuts and harsh austerity imposed for nearly a decade: it’s no wonder the Tory party have lost the youth vote.

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For the young people who aren’t now completely apathetic to politics, blocking out and muting political coverage and news reports, anaesthetised to the impending Brexit apocalypse – their unlikely saviour is “JC” or “Jezza” the far-left socialist rebel and Grandad figure (although, ironically some 55% of them believe he is Pro-EU). He was bought to the Labour leadership thanks to a narrow faction of the party and their Momentum campaign. In contrast, the Conservatives have “Moggmentum”, a campaign to catapult their hero, ultra right-wing, eurosceptic, anti-gay rights, “abortion is a sin”, Jacob Rees-Mogg to the premiership. (Lord help us all if they succeed). The Liberal Democrats of course have the 74-year-old Vince Cable, no spring chicken himself.

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JC Cooks Dinner for his Hungry Young Diciples

One thing that is consistently missing from the political debate, and political activism, is young people (unless it is a rare march for free education, then they turn out in their droves). Nonetheless, the Labour party has the upper hand of the main three, courting the most favour with the youth, after Jeremy Corbyn was backed by numerous pop culture figures and gave a rousing speech at Glastonbury music festival. The Conservative’s rather lack-lustre reaction s was to organise a “Conservative Ideas Festival”, a one-day event held in September at a “secret rural location” (presumably to keep the plebs out and prevent a Corynista style protest). Nonetheless, the Conservatives have a huge problem with their demographics…

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Apparently the Tory party’s solution to these concerning statistics is a youth engagement strategy that involves recruiting a reality TV star… Because there clearly aren’t enough reality TV stars cocking up world politics at the moment.

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The Conservatives have apparently met with Georgia Toffolo or “Toff”, a 23-year-old reality TV star, made famous on the show ‘Made in Chelsea’ and more recently being crowned “Queen of the Jungle” on ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here!’.

“I sort of just fell into it. It’s like the perfect job. Well, it’s not really a job, but just me hanging out with my friends.” – Georgia Toffolo

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 20.51.51.pngNow if the Conservatives are trying to appeal to the left-wing, Pro-Corbyn, Pro-European youth to win votes back from Labour, Lib-Dems and the Greens, they may have missed a trick. Georgia Toffolo may have 1.8million followers on Instagram thanks to her TV appearances, but it doesn’t take a lot of research to discover that “Toff” comes from a background of quite exceptional privilege: £23, 000 per year private school education and the West London town house that allowed her to be cast in ‘Made in Chelsea’.

“I left school and went straight into Made In Chelsea – I’ve never had any challenge.” – Georgia Toffolo

I highly doubt she has ever worked a day in her life as a cleaner making beds and scrubbing toilets, or as a cook preparing meals for hundreds at the Youth Hostel, or as bar staff working into the small hours of the morning and having to deal with drunken punters before they can make their sorry way home to stumble exhausted into a student style squat. She clearly has zero comprehension of the struggles that the majority of the young British generations face, having gone straight from private boarding school to reality TV. The idea that she should be the face of a political youth movement is foolish at best and dangerous at worst.

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Georgia Toffolo claims that “I want everyone to work to be equal!” and she votes Conservative on Welfare politics because, “It angers me, I watch television programmes, and you see people that are sat there that, you know, are clever, you know can go and work, and choose not to, they choose to go and sign on. It angers me.” Whilst she herself apparently pays her rent with her Instagram account…

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I was recently criticised for posting on Facebook, describing Gerorgia Toffolo as a “Vacuous, reality TV, celebrity, Bimbo”. But I still can’t think of a more accurate description. Thankfully many of my followers jumped to my defence, agreeing that she had indeed, created a career out of cultivating this image.

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I hope that the Conservatives are utterly mistaken in their belief that Georgia Toffolo’s endorsement will bring the youth vote to their party in swathes, because I believe that Britain’s young people are intelligent enough to see “Toff” for what she is – an over privileged, upper class, elitist white woman with no sense of her own good fortune in life. And certainly no sense of what it means to live with inequality, discrimination or disability. However, she clearly has a significant influence through her social media following, how else could she “pay her rent” through commercial endorsement. And despite having any experience or knowledge in politics, her opinions may well have an impact in favour of the Tory party. Although, hopefully her impact will be negligible, as i’m not sure how anyone who considers Jacob Rees-Mogg to be “a sex god” can be taken seriously.

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My advice: Keep Reality TV Stars who have no experience and little knowledge of politics and no sense of what it means to live as a “normal” person in society, out of the political debate.

Pro-EU Youth Instagram Strategy

We have spent the last year and a half building up Remain networks on Facebook and twitter and have realised great achievements through the supportive community that has developed. The social media infrastructure has allowed us not only to share breaking digital content, but to promote crowdfunders and campaign initiatives, to organise events and pool resources for different projects. I have been amazed by the number of people willing to volunteer their skills and services for remain; graphic designers, scientists, researchers, web designers, van drivers, textiles designers, animators, musicians, comedians, illustrators… the list goes on. But one thing that is markedly absent from all our campaigning is young people. At 23, I am one of very few young remain campaigners. So how do we get them engaged?

 

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Young Pro-EU Activists attending a Brexit Conference on a trip to Manchester Xmas Markets (Note this group of youths were from countries across Europe and only one member was British)

Well, a brief conversation with my super cool, but rather shy, 14 year old sister, drew to my attention the fact that she and her friends don’t use Facebook and Twitter. They use Instagram and Snapchat.

A quick spot check of Instagram shows the Remain presence is woeful. There are 3, 339 post using the #StopBrexit hashtag whereas there are 443, 589 using the #Brexit hashtag. (Those using the latter hashtag are not all necessarily pro-Brexit, but just to demonstrate the lack of the pro-EU message in comparison). Furthermore, most of the StopBrexit accounts have 1 or 2 posts, if any; as though people posted a couple of times at a demonstration then gave up because the influence was negligible. But as with everything, it takes time and sustained effort to achieve good results.

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So my initial thought was that if we want to increase youth participation then we need to shift our efforts to Instagram, an image based platform that lends itself well to highly visual #Stopbrexit messaging. But then someone pointed out something I think we should all bear in mind… The reason why “the Youth” don’t like using Facebook and Twitter, may be, because they are too highly politicised platforms. Most of what you see is Remainers and Leavers throwing biased News articles and politicised facts around effectively biting lumps out of each other. If you scroll through your Instagram feed, it is a very “happy-go-lucky” platform filled with smiling faces, cute animals, radiant landscapes and vegan dinners. It’s a cultural platform young people use to share and celebrate their lives, and getting involved in some political spat would be “tres uncool”. It’s no wonder the #StopBrexit posts have such little engagement.

With this in mind, if we are to instigate a “Youth Instagram Strategy” then we need to be a bit more careful about our approach than our typical guns-ablazing, EU-flags-abound, #StopBrexit-(in-mile-high-illuminated-lettering)-or-your-children-will-starve style approach. Instagram is designed to be an app for “mobile devices”, ie. they go out of their way to prevent you from posting from PC/Mac devices. (I have managed to circumvent this through Spoof Agent hosting on my web browser) But there are apps you can “supposedly” download for PC/Mac to upload images to Instagram such as Gramblr, Flume and Uplet, however I have not managed to get any of these to work consistently. You can still “like” and “comment” on images from your PC/Mac so even if you aren’t uploading you can help share other campaigner’s content through engagement and also by following other Pro-EU accounts.

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Uploading from mobile devices and tablets, however, seems relatively easy and lends itself to the style of Instagram posts we should be aiming for… NOT computer designed graphics, but real time photos, a little snapshot of your life. This is perfect for demonstrations and protest events, so we need to make sure we are sharing photos with the correct hashtags and tagging users who were there. We can also post photos of things like the “BolloxtoBrexit” stickers currently plastered across the streets of London, or the “The British People have been Conned” stickers I have seen in Manchester. These are great, not only do they have an impact in real life, for everyone that sees the message as they walk by, but we can amplify their impact through social media by using relevant hashtags. Other things that seem to work well on Instagram are the “Wooferedum” campaign which has pictures of dogs with a #StopBrexit placard demanding a “wooferendum”. Dogs photos are always a big hit on Instagram. Likewise I feel we need a “Whiskerendum” for cats. I also like the photos where people have written “Stop Brexit” into the snow on car windscreens or in chalk on the pavement. So the campaign can be subtle, but impactful, keeping with the Instagram style of sharing a “little moment of your life”. Selfies are always a good bet too.

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So I would encourage all committed remain campaigners to make an Instagram account, or if you already have, start using it more vociferously. Even if you don’t post much content engaging with other campaigner’s content will help to boost exposure. Check the #StopBrexit #Brexit #EU etc. hashtags and like/comment on all the posts that are on message. We want these posts to start popping up in Young people’s Instagram feeds so that it is on their radar, and hopefully they will be inspired to interact and post too.

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Young people hugely value their European identity, they are angry and upset that Brexit is taking it away from them, however most of them don’t believe there is anything they can do about it. So they are accepting it or ignoring it. We need to empower them to speak out for what they believe in. I have started using the hashtag #LoveEurope alongside the #StopBrexit hashtag to try and encourage people to celebrate their European identity, which #Brexit is undoubtedly threatening to take from them.

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“The Rebel Who Wants to Prevent Brexit” – Paris Match Article (with English Translation)

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Here is my Interview in the Christmas edition of Paris Match, from my last trip to Brussels for the Letters2Europe Project.
Sadly my experience talking to Europeans whilst I was there is that they don’t think Brexit is reversible and they feel that Britain has rejected them… I hope this article goes some way to countering those views.
So, this is my attempt at a translation…

“The Rebel who wants to prevent Brexit.

At 23 years old, the British Madeleina Kay has only one idea in her head: To stop Brexit. The referendum on 23rd June 2016 in favour of Britain leaving the European Union has turned her life upside-down. Then studying Landscape Architecture, the young woman from Sheffield ditched it all to become a militant pro-European. Persuaded by the benefits of membership of the European “club”, she attempts to convince even the most sceptical that the future is to remain fully one of the 28.
Spokes-woman for all who think they have been lied to by British politicans, Madeleina Kay is causing a sensation.” Madeleina Kay and her dog Alba in the Parc Cinquintenaire in Brussels: “I came to distribute letters from British people explaining their love for the European Union and why they want to Remain.”

“Why would it not be possible to be British and European?” By Celine Schoen.

 
Paris Match: A majority of British people voted in favour of Brexit. Shouldn’t the will of the people be respected and implemented?
Madeleina Kay: The Campaign before the referendum was based on nothing but lies. The electorate have been conned. They were made to think that the EU was responsible for inequalities in the UK, but it’s false. All the arguments in favour of Brexit, can be swept aside, compared to the economic, political social and environmental reasons to Remain. For the UK, leaving the European Union is national suicide. Seen as self-destruction. The irony is that areas of the UK, such as Wales and the North-East, who voted massively in favour of Brexit, are those very regions who received the most funding from the EU and will therefore be the most negatively impacted by the exit. But they believed that by turning against the EU they would be helping themselves…
Don’t all the debates about Brexit centre around the question of identity?
It is effectively central. I am often told that I must hate my country. But that is not the case, since we have voted to leave a Union that seemed to me so beneficial. What is important to understand is that the EU does not destroy national identities. The nationalists present the EU like it is a predatory, external institution, that takes away our rights. The language used by the media in the UK to report on Brexit is a huge part of the problem. It is presented as a battle between the UK and the EU, but their view is false: Why is it not possible to be both British and European?
What will Britain lose from Brexit?
The benefits of membership of the EU are enormous. Firstly, we often forget, that it is thanks to the EU that the continent is peaceful. I think it is important to remind people. Then there is the Single Market, the Customs Union, the ERASMUS programme, which the UK will no longer be able to access after Brexit. But there is plethora of other reasons to remain in the European Union: the European Arrest Warrant, consumer rights protections, research funding, protected food status, which we do not think of immediately but which aren’t trivial.
If the EU provides so many benefits why does it fail to appeal?
The problem is easy to see: the EU doesn’t talk to its citizens. It’s kept inside these huge, grey institutions, who are inaccessible, and filled with men in miserable suits who never smile. Their communication is pitiful. That’s what I blame, their lack of creativity. The EU must make efforts to show the good work that it does; As a catalyst for energy, a source of inspiration, a motor of dynamism and co-operation.
You use your creativity for the European Union. What are your talents?
Through my books and my songs, I try to change minds. All of my work is not related to Brexit, for example: “Go Back to Where You Came From!” Is a children’s book about the refugee crisis. I wrote it to draw attention to the plight of people forced to flee their country against their will: The intention was to teach compassion and tolerance. My next book was “Theresa Maybe in Brexitland” a satirical short story for adults about British politics after the referendum. This book is a parody of Lewis Carol’s masterpiece “Alice in Wonderland”. The publication of my books has been possible thanks to crowdfunding campaigns. I also sing and play the guitar. Most of my songs are about Brexit. Becoming an activist helped me to find my identity and to gain confidence. You have to be confident to perform pro-EU songs in front of hundreds of people.
In one of your children’s books, your dog Alba is the main character. She visits every country in the EU, why?
“Alba White Wolf Goes To Europe” is a book for European children, which celebrates the diversity of the cultures of the EU member states. I drew my dog Alba in 28 iconic European scenes, at the Parthenon in Athens, at the heart of Budapest, and passing le Mont St.Michel in France. Bringing Alba to Brussels allowed us to show the implications of Brexit on people’s daily lives. For example, Brexit will mean the end of the EU Pet Passport which allows dogs and cats (and ferrets) to travel in the EU if they have been vaccinated. So Alba is also here today to stand up for her rights!
To attract attention you wear two cosutmes: an EU super girl and a Pirate Brexit saboteur. Which do you wear most?
It’s difficult to say. They are both my identities, I like them both. Britain clearly needs a superhero to save it from Brexit. My “EU super girl” costume serves that purpose. As for the pirate, it’s for sabotaging Brexit. These costumes are designed to get attention, to inspire people and to try to change people’s minds. There are lots of anti-Brexit activists but I am “militant pro EU”.
 
The European Politician Guy Verhofstadt met you at the European Parliament. What did you talk about?
Yes, I was so pleased to meet him. He took two handfuls of letters written by British citizens and promised to reply on Twitter. Guy Verhofstadt is an interesting person. In his office at the parliament he had a brilliant fridge with the union jack print. Unlike Michel Barnier who is involved with all the issues relating to Brexit, Guy Verhofstadt is concentrating on the issue of citizen’s rights. The three elements which have comprised the first phase of the negotiations, seem to me to be the most important. It’s right that we must assure the EU Citizens living in the UK and the UK citizens living in the EU that their rights will be protected after Brexit. The two other issue are the Divorce Bill and the Irish Border.
Do you think the Future of the EU is Safe?
Brexit has shaken the foundations of the EU. It’s the first time a member state has tried to leave the club. This symbolic event is as strong as it is dramatic. But the EU has the intelligence to gather support rather than falling apart. And Justly, the EU has never had more need to be united, in the face of Brexit, but also against Trump, Putin, Erdogan, and the threats they pose.
Theresa May has triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which began the process of leaving the EU on your birthday, the 29th March 2017. Can you forgive her for this day?
The Conservative party is unpardonable. My 23rd birthday was not a happy event. But I was already afraid after the vote to Leave, I had no idea there was such a level of Euroscepticism in the UK. It’s important to bear in mind that the result of the vote was incredibly tight: only 51.9% of the electorate who actually voted, chose to leave. It may take 2-3 years to negotiate a deal: And those who were not of voting age on 23rd June 2016 should be allowed to have a say in their future. So I am demanding another referendum on the final deal. Similarly, all those who believed the lies about Brexit will have the chance to vote again. Then the road to Brexit will be barred. If after everything, Brexit still goes ahead, I don’t think I can stay in the UK. But to tell you the truth, I don’t think this will be the case. “

The Epic Tale of Alba White Wolf’s First Trip to Europe!

The Letters to Europe Project…

After collecting 1000 letters from Remainers at various protest events across the country I crowdfunded over £1300 to hand-deliver them to Brussels and attend meetings at the European Parliament with Guy Verhofstadt and others. Myself, Alba White Wolf and the Letters2Europe team (Andrew Galdron A.K.A FauxBoJo and Charlie Grosvenor) were to travel to Brussels from 6-10th December and make our voices heard at Christmas time with our message of peace, friendship and hope for the UK’s future in Europe. Brussels based friends Mathew Lowry and Richard Medic helped organise the trip and promote it from their side of the Channel.

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The Letters to Europe Team Protesting Outside the Berlaymont Building, Brussels

Difficulties From the Outset…

The trip was never going to be easy for several reasons; firstly, travelling with a dog adds a myriad of extra complications, such as vaccinations, finding dog-friendly accommodation, limitations on transport, etc. Nonetheless, we felt that it was worth the effort to raise awareness of the EU pet passport and animal rights issues, and because Alba looks super cute in her EU flag t-shirt which would make for excellent photo opportunities. Secondly, we were trying to organise the project on a shoestring budget, which meant we had to prioritise cheapness over convenience. Thirdly, due to a huge demand for accommodation (which we later discovered was due to the Catalonia protest on Thursday 7th) we ended up staying in one hotel on the Wednesday night and 3 different hotels on opposite sides of Brussels for the last 3 nights. We were also trying to achieve a project which had never been done before and hiccups are to be expected when venturing into unchartered territory (although perhaps not quite as many hiccups as we ultimately experienced!) Finally, Alba decided to eat my purse the weekend before we were due to travel. And having initially believed my debit card had escaped unscathed, the next time I attempted to use it I discovered 2 small teeth marks on the chip. Nationwide were unable to issue a new debit card outside of a 3-6 day time frame, which meant I had to travel to Brussels without access to cash in an emergency.

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Alba and her EU Pet Passport

Additional Complications…

The trip was made even more complicated when I was invited to a Christmas party in the Houses of Parliament on the day we were due to travel, Wednesday 6th December from 4-6pm. So the plan was for me to get the 11:49am train to st.Pancras with Alba, Drew and Charlie would collect her in the car at 2pm, then drive to Dover to get the ferry at 6pm, meanwhile I would go to the Christmas party and then take the 7:37pm Eurostar which arrives in Brussels at 10:30pm, roughly the same time as Charlie, Drew and Alba who would pick me up and drive us to the hotel, which was about half an hour away in the car. Terrifically complicated but perfectly possible.

Except I missed my train.

It would seem that trying to organise everything proved to much. Having spent the last few nights packing 1000 letters into envelopes, whilst attempting to make last minute arrangements for the trip, I was already in a state of agitation. On the Tuesday I couldn’t find my passport, which I had accidentally tidied away when a BBC reporter came around to film an interview about the Letters2Europe project, so I wasted an hour and a half frantically searching for it. I also had to travel to Doncaster on the Tuesday afternoon/evening for an event and, as usual, the trains were all running late. And Charlie had also discovered Alba would need a tape worm vaccination, which is valid for only 120 hours before re-entering the UK, so I had to book her into the vets on the Wednesday morning before we left. So when I arrived at Sheffield station on Wednesday lunchtime, I wasn’t at all surprised to discover that what I thought was the 11:59am was in fact the 11:49am train and had just departed from platform 5, leaving me stuck at Sheffield station for another 40 minutes. It was at this point my trademark gold shoes also took the opportunity to self destruct, which is not ideal when you are tying to manage a suitcase, a guitar, 2 bags and a hyper active dog. I had the ominous feeling that this was only the start of a run of bad luck.

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Filming with the BBC Reporter

Disasters En Route to Brussels…

We arrived at st.Pancras at 2:30pm but I couldn’t find Drew and Charlie in the car, so by the time we got everything packed up and said our goodbyes it was already 3pm. Charlie gave me some cellotape to temporarily hold my shoes back together before I found some glue for a semi-permanent fix. A woman passing by saw me sat on some steps wrapping tape around my feet, she laughed and then said I was “very resourceful” and congratulated me on “not giving up”. I then headed to the Christmas party at the Houses of Parliament, but was much to anxious and stressed by this point to enjoy it. I was actually in the process of listing everything that had gone wrong so far to Mike Galsworthy, when someone knocked into an MP who accidentally threw his glass of mulled wine down my EU elf dress. At this point I decided to get changed and leave, the last thing I wanted was to miss the 7:37pm Eurostar which was the last train to Brussels that night as missing it would mean also missing my meeting with Guy Verhofstadt the next day. Given my current run of luck, I felt astonished and relieved when I found myself sat on a packed Eurostar train travelling to the correct destination at the correct time. Then I got the text from Drew and Charlie, they had missed the ferry and were getting the next one at 8pm. Which was fine except I would be waiting around Gare du Midi for 2-3 hours. I didn’t have any euros for a taxi as Charlie still had them, and although my Dad who had given me his debit card instructing me “not to lose it”, I couldn’t find an ATM anywhere in the station and there were no staff around to ask. So I settled myself down on some benches in a well lit, open area in the food court, determined to “man out” the long, cold wait (I only had a thin waterproof coat as my other clothes were in a suitcase in the car).

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Live Animals are not allowed to travel on the Eurostar, however stuffed replicas are fine.

Panic Sets In…

But after about half an hour, Drew and Charlie contacted me to say their ETA was now 1am and I started to become concerned that my phone was running out of battery. I was busy messaging them when a man came over to me and tried to explain in french that he had just seen someone steal my purse from my bag, which was next to me on the bench. Not quite understanding what he was saying at first, more due to shock rather than lack of vocabulary, he went and told the security guards, who spoke english. Which made little odds because they didn’t have anything helpful to say, other than the police station was not open until the morning and they would be shutting the station at 1am and I would be chucked outside, with no money, nowhere to go and a dead phone battery. It was at this point that panic set in. Once Drew and Charlie knew the situation they attempted to book an Uber to get me safely to the hotel where they would meet me when they arrived (ETA now 1:30am) however, when I attempted to find the Uber it was nowhere to be seen. I walked from one side (of the huge) station to the other, trying 3 different exits and couldn’t locate the car, the driver wasn’t able to offer any helpful advice as to his location and every time I walked across the station I was being yelled at by dodgy looking guys and a gang of youths, one of whom decided to push into me to the delight of all her mates. I was on the verge of tears when Mike, phoned me to say he had a friend in Brussels who could give me euros to pay for the taxi to the hotel, an offer I wasn’t prepared to turn down at that point. I jumped in a taxi to his apartment and his girlfriend gave me camomile tea whilst my phone charged and I attempted to stick my shoes back together with UHU. Charlie and Drew’s ETA to our hotel was now 2am, so we called another taxi which should have got me there at roughly the same time. Except when it arrived it was patently clear that the crumbly, ancient driver had absolutely no idea where he was going. I was horrified when he pulled out a paper street map of Brussels whilst he was driving and attempted to navigate without GPS technology. Needless to say, he came off the motorway too early and we got lost. We ended up driving around a rural area on a country track that ran parallel to the main road, when we returned to a somewhat urban area, he continually stopped the car in the middle of the road to turn around and shout at me in French, jabbing his finger at the paper map and demanding to know how to get to the hotel. I was starting to wonder what I had done to deserve this hellish series of events and if I would ever make it to the hotel. In the end, Drew managed to call me with directions and I was relieved when we did get there at about 2:30am, although the taxi driver did try to charge me €46 for having driven around in circles for several miles. We checked in, and Alba snuggled up close to me having missed me during the eventful journey to Brussels. I would have slept soundly if it hadn’t been for person in the room next to me noisily snoring all night and then having a series of repeated coughing fits from 7am.

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Snuggled Up at the Hotel (Finally!)

Ceci n’est pas un Voyage… C’est un Cauchemar

The next morning, I got up bleary eyed to take Alba out for a run before we began the next day of hilarities. And on the country tracks near the hotel I discovered a pair of pink fairy wings lying in the middle of the road. I knew that Brussels is the home of surrealism, but felt that this was truly taking the piss.

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A Mysterious Pair of Pink Fairy Wings Provided a Surreal Start to the Day…

Bonjour, bonjour, bonjour… Vous faites quoi madame?

The next mission was to get from the hotel to the European Parliament in time for the meeting with Guy Verhofstadt at 12h. Allowing ourselves 2 hours, should have been ample time, but given our current run of luck, and several roads being closed for the Catalan protest, I was feeling slightly anxious.  We arrived outside the parliament shortly after 11h, but made the mistake of parking directly behind a police riot van who confronted us when we attempted to unpack the bag of letters out of the boot. The police officers in the back of the riot van seemed greatly entertained by my supergirl outfit, but the cheif officer seemed less impressed, demanding to see my passport and asking what we were doing at the parliament buildings. He didn’t quite believe me when I told him I was meeting with Guy Verhofstadt, doing a double-take at my unconventional outfit.

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With the “Suspicious” Bag of Letters Outside the European Palrliament

Meeting Guy Verhofstadt…

The meeting with Guy Verhofstadt was excellent, I was surprised by how friendly and down to Earth he seemed. I feel that the Leave campaign and the right-wing press have done a huge disservice to the honest, hard working individuals who are so frequently, falsely described as “Faceless European Bureaucrats”. It became patently clear in my brief conversation with Guy that European Citizen’s rights were his utmost priority in the Brexit negotiations, a refreshing change from the UK government’s blinkered obsession with the free trade deal they are hoping to negotiate. I think very few people, when they voted to leave the European Union, actually considered the impact that Brexit would have on millions of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living abroad whose lives are now in Limbo, faced with constant stress and insecurity. Guy’s focus is clearly to ensure the future of these citizens and their families. I was incredibly grateful to Mathew who managed to arrange this opportunity to meet such a lovely man (the whole meeting was live streamed to the Letters to Europe facebook page) to thank him personally for his work with a message of solidarity from the UK and a Christmas gift of a pair of EU socks!

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Guy opens one of the “Letter to Europe”, afterwards he took 2 more handfuls of letters to read

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Guy shows Madeleina his Splendid Union Jack Fridge

Alba Makes her Outrage Known…

After meeting Guy, we went to find Charlie who was looking after Alba. They walked with us to our next meeting with Luca Jahier, the future president of the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee). We had a much longer meeting, which was also live streamed, where we discussed Brexit and citizen participation initiatives as well as exchanging letters. Alba, however, was not at all impressed about being refused entry to any of the meetings in Brussels after she had travelled all the way from the UK to protest about her EU Pet Passport…

The Fun Continues…

After spending a good hour or so wandering around trying to find the entrance to the car park where Charlie had left the car, we checking into our 3 respective hotels, which were inconveniently on opposite sides of Brussels. In the evening we returned to Place Luxembourg where Mathew and Richard had organised a social event at the Grape Vine. Myself and FauxBoJo performed our songs and then we began distributing the letters to people in the surrounding cafes, asking people to write Christmas cards in exchange for their letters. We had a huge mixture of responses to the project, from people who flatly refused to take a letter and made it patently clear that they didn’t want to be hassled by pro-EU campaigners, to the other extreme, with people gushing about how distraught they were over Brexit and congratulating us on our wonderful project. There was of course many varied responses in between, with some people refusing to take a letter until I explained they were about Brexit, then they would suddenly break out in “AH!”s and immediately take a letter declaring how much they disliked Brexit. Some people who disagreed with Brexit asked me what was the point of the Letters to Europe project because “Brexit was happening and can’t be stopped”. In some ways these were the most important group to reach out to, making the point that Brexit can be stopped and there are many British citizens actively fighting it and moreover, regardless of what happens that we all want to stay friends and close allies with Europe. I met a young woman who works for an MEP and promised to give a letter to him; also a young man whose job in Brussels was being threatened by Brexit and he seemed deeply moved by the initiative. I was heartened by the number of people who recognised me from media coverage of the #EUsupergirl stunt or from social media, some of whom were initially sceptical suddenly became engaged when they made the connection – which goes to show the power of a friendly face. Many of these interactions were filmed and published on the facebook page to show everyone who supported the project, the tangible positive impact it was making to spread a message of peace, friendship and solidarity.

Thank God its Friday!

On Friday morning we discovered Theresa May had sneaked in and out of Brussels during the night. Sadly we missed her, but decided to stage a musical protest outside the Berlaymont building anyhow, performing our best protest songs with Drew’s portable amp for backing. We attracted a lot of cameras from passersby and journalists coming out of the European Commission and received a reasonable amount of media coverage in the Guardian, IrishTimes and even an asian publication for our stunt.

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Protesting outside the Berlaymont Building

Hitting the Christmas Markets…

In the afternoon we headed to the Christmas markets, but were once again faced with the ongoing parking and traffic problems we seemed to be experiencing in brussels. So Charlie took Alba and tried to find somewhere to park (the closest place he eventually found was 20 minutes walk away) whilst the rest of us took the very clean and efficient tube to the markets. They were as gorgeous as expected and I really enjoyed wandering up and down handing out the letters. The people who tended to be most receptive to the letters were in fact the store holders, many of whom were Belgian nationals who we spoke to in French. There was a particularly lovely video of a young man who said he was taking classes to improve his English, he read the letter and said he agreed with what was written on it, “We need to love each other more”. I was really touched by the sincere and heartfelt reactions from many of those who received the letters, however, I realised that these qualitative experiences many of which were caught on camera, also consumed a lot of time. I realised that we weren’t going to be able to give out all the letters, because people wanted to stop and talk to us about the project and about the issues we are trying to raise. This of course, is a very positive outcome, but has left us with the problem that we did not manage to distribute all the letters on this trip… Which means we will have to return to Europe in the New Year to deliver the rest of them (which I am not complaining about in the slightest!)

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#EUsupergirl Delivers Letters at the Brussels Xmas Markets

Trip Over the Border to the Netherlands…

On Saturday morning I had a 9am photoshoot and interview for Paris Match in the Parc Cinquaintenaire, but we had the rest of the day available to use at our discretion. We were very keen to visit another European country during our trip, to distribute more of the letters. We had initially planned a drive across the border to Auhaus in Germany where there is a pub called the UnBrexit. However, heavy snow conditions would have made it illegal for us to drive in Germany without winter tyres, so instead we decided to go to the slightly closer Rotterdam. I was especially pleased at this decision as the second destination in my book Alba White Wolf’s Adventures in Europe is the Netherlands, after Belgium!

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Alba was less than Impressed at the Prospect of Wearing Clogs!

Bridging ERASMUS

We decided to visit the Erasmus bridge, as we were also assured there would be a souvenir shop where I could buy Alba (2 pairs of) clogs. Unsurprisingly we also found wooden tulips outside and I bought a flag which made for some excellent photo opportunities. Whilst taking a photo of Alba in her clogs we attracted the attention of a young family and a couple, to whom we gave out letters. I also gave the little boys a copy of Alba’s book explaining that we are trying to take her to every country in the EU, just like in the story. They were all interested to find out about the Letters to Europe project and discuss their disdain over Brexit, it was becoming apparent through these encounters with Europeans that they find Brexit utterly incomprehensible. Then again, so do I.

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FauxBoJo #EUsupergirl and Alba White Wolf on the ERASMUS Bridge in Rotterdam

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Sniffing Wooden Tulips (the only Kind You Will Find at this Time of Year!)

Mission Accomplished…

Just as dusk fell, we located a windmill in the city where we could take a photo, replicating the illustration in Alba’s book…

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Destination No.2 in Alba White Wolf’s Adventures in Europe

Snowy Departure on Sunday

I was very pleased that the Paris Match photoshoot had been arranged on Saturday and not Sunday as the heavens suddenly unleashed a blanket of snow on Brussels. I took Alba out for a run before the long car journey back to the UK. She finds the snow greatly exciting, however she became somewhat too excitable and dragged me over in her enthusiasm causing some considerable damage to my leg. Concerned that we would be late catching the ferry, I plastered myself up with band-aids and suggested we find some more suitable bandages en route. However, I discovered that first aid items aren’t generally available at service stations or even on the ferry, so I had to wait until I got back to the UK to find a more appropriate dressing for my Alba inflicted injuries.

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Fraught Ferry Crossing

Having arrived at Calais just in time to make our ferry crossing we discovered that the port was closed after an earlier boat became grounded due to the horrendous weather conditions. Ironically the boat was called the Pride of Kent, or something equally patriotic. So we were instead redirected to Dunkirk, where we took a later ferry back to Dover. Alba made a fuss about being left in the car, but otherwise coped well with the journey. The same could not be said for me and Drew who both collapsed into some seats and fell asleep for most of the voyage.

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Final Reflections…

It was undoubtedly a challenging trip fraught with difficulties and hiccups, but it was also a lot of fun and I was amazed at the kindness and generosity of many of the people who helped make the Letters to Europe project a success or offered a helping hand in a time of need. Travelling with a dog is never easy, but Alba is the EU star of the show so it was 100% worth the effort to take her on her first Adventures in Europe… 2 countries down, 25 more to go!

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Alba visits Belgium, country no.1 of Alba White Wolf’s Adventures in Europe

Dear Santa Claus…

Dear Santa Claus, 🎅
I have been a very good girl this year… I have devoted all of my time and energy to fighting Brexit.
I’m sure you already know that All I Want For Xmas is EU… 🇪🇺🎄🇪🇺 And I would quite happily sacrifice all Christmas presents for the rest of my lifetime if I could keep my EU citizenship and stop Brexit from ruining the country that I love and call my home️. 🇬🇧💔🇪🇺️ But I am also aware that the presence of the Brexit Grinch may make it difficult for you to deliver on that Christmas wish. So failing completely stopping Brexit for Christmas, could you please give me some items that may assist in my fight to Remain in the European Union? 🇪🇺🎅🎄☃️🇪🇺🎅🎄☃️🇪🇺🎅🎄☃️
1) Gold trainers (mine self destructed en route to Brussels and are currently celotaped together)
2) A new purse/wallet (mine was stollen at Brussels Gare du Midi)
3) A new driver’s licence (inside the stolen purse)
4) A new EU Star t-shirt for Alba (the one she currently wears is too big and gets caught on her feet when she is running)… OR failing that:
5) A blue t-shirt and some yellow foam sheets to make a new t-shirt for AlbaWhiteWolf
6) A big juicy bone for Alba because she deserves one for being such an EU star! 🌟🌟
7) Another 1x2m EU flag (Alba has been chewing mine) 🇪🇺
8️) A 1x2m Union Jack Flag (I feel it is important to emphasise we are fighting Brexit for the sake of the UK) 🇬🇧
9) A new EU fancy dress outfit. Possible ideas:
i) EU Queen/Princess
ii) EUnicorn
iii) EU warrior/Queen Boudica???
iv) EU Ninja
v) I’m open to suggestions….
10) An i-Phone so I can facebook live stream/navigate on google maps/edit content on the go/etc. (trying to manage an iPad and a separate windows phone is proving to be continually awkward…)
11) Enough watercolour paper and paints to last me for the rest of this year
12) New paintbrushes (because mine are all ratty now)
13) EU Badges that don’t continually fall off my guitar case (because I think people are sick of picking them up for me when i’m travelling around on the tube/trains)
14) Free rail travel to protests for the rest of the year because train tickets are a complete rip off.
15) Somewhere to stay in London after protests because hotels are also a complete rip off.
16) A bath tub, because we don’t have one at home and it helps when i’m fucking stressed out.
17) A copy of Nick Clegg’s new book “How to Stop Brexit”
18) An EU umbrella to go with my Union Jack coat
19) Generally any pro-EU paraphernalia you have lying around your work shop would be appreciated.
20) A boyfriend with EU nationality that I can marry and gain EU citizenship if we fail to stop Brexit.
😂😂😂😂😂😂
I think that is all.
N.B. If you can deliver on the Stop Brexit request, none of the above items will be necessary.
Best Wishes,
EU Supergirl A.K.A Madeleina Kay
 
P.S. If you experience any problems delivering presents to the UK due to border/customs controls etc. Please let me know and I will send Alba to go and bite them.
🇪🇺🐺🇪🇺🐺🇪🇺🐺🇪🇺🐺🇪🇺🐺🇪🇺
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