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Most people in the international community in Luxembourg will recognise the name Nigel Fossey and will associate him as Secondary Head at St George’s International School in Luxembourg-Hamm.  

Nigel was in the Grand Duchy, and at St George’s, for your years. Before that, he headed the Humanities and Modern Languages Faculty at Portland Place, an independent day school in Central London.  

But now Nigel has ventured further abroad, to Beijing in China, to be exact. He has taken up the challenge/position of Vice Principal at the British School of Beijing, a school which is split over two campuses (like the European School here in Luxembourg and the University of Luxembourg) and with Early Years, Primary, Secondary and a Sixth Form College. The school has pupils from around 50 nationalities enrolled and it follows the curriculum for the International GCSE (IGCSE) and Advanced level (A Level) examinations, as well as having an excellent range of extra-curricular activities.  

Nigel and his wife, Emma, and three young children have recently arrived in Beijing to start their new life there, in advance of the new academic term that starts on 27 August, similar to the school calendar in Luxembourg. They are settling into their house and have acquired a dog, a beagle which came with the house and which the children are loving!  

Nigel will be contributing a regular blog post to The Luxembourg Chronicle, sharing his and his family’s experiences of their new life in China, covering culture, geography and education… watch this space!

Wednesday, 01 August 2012 09:14

What now for Luxembourg Cycling?

Since the rise in prominence of Luxembourg cycling over the past few years, directly as a result of the exploits of Kim Kirchen and the Schleck brothers in high-profile races such as the Tour de France, Luxembourg has ridden of the back of this success and has promoted it and the Grand Duchy for all it's worth.

The formation of a Luxembourg-based professional cycling team, Leopard Trek, bankrolled by Flavia Becca with the help of a number of sponsors, was the high point of this story which saw a hot of top cyclists including Fabian Cancellara (Switzerland), Stuart O'Grady (Australia) and others line up beside Luxembourg's very own Frank and Andy Schleck. The team was initially called Leopard Trek and had top management as well as top cycling stars.

Andy Schleck narrowly missed out on winning the Tour de France last year, to Australia's Cadel Evans in a tussle that really just came down to the individual time trials which has never been the Schlecks' forte; nevertheless, Andy and Frank finished second and third and joined Evans on the podium in Paris. Glory days indeed!

And the mood brightened even more a few week's ago when Andy Schleck was presented with the yellow jersey as winner of the 2010 Tour de France after Alberto Contador was stripped of the title due to a doping offence which incredibly took almost two years to sort out.

But the mood this year has been different. Luxembourg's Team Leopard Trek merged with the US Team RadioShack and a new team was created, Team RadioShack-Nissan-Trek, with the two teams of cyclists being merged into one. However, the spirit never seemed to be there but the cycling-mad public of Luxembourg were willing to bide time and wait until the results came in during the season.

Andy and Frank seemed to have different training schedules and it was just one of them at a time who entered races in the early part of the season. Was this a deliberate ploy to focus on specific training programmes and series of build-up races to the Tour de France for the two cyclists? Again, the public was waiting for the big one, the Tour de France.

Then the unthinkable happened. Andy crashed and got seriously injured and had to withdraw from the Tour de France, also from the Olympic Games; Frank had to continue by himself (without brother Andy) but suffered in the early stages of the Tour de France when he was caught in one of the many crashes that blighted the early stages of this year's tour. He never really recovered and was in around 12th place overall when he was tested positive for Xipamide, not a performance-enhancing drug but one that is used to conbat hypertension, etc. Frank protested his innoncence and the team withdrew him from the race (which was not obligatory regarding this class of drug). Overnight the Luxembourg representation in the caravan preceding the cyclists on their daily trek, was removed and Luxembourg disappeared from the tour altogether.

Also, before the tour started, RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team manager, Johan Bruyneel, was himself the subject of charges from the US Anti-Doping Agency over alleged doping practices during his years working with Lance Armstrong, and was not present during the tour at all. Additionally, a number of cyclists from the team, understood to include the Schleck brothers, complained that they had not been paid wages; all this compounded to paint a picture of disharmony. Even before the Tour de France started, there have been strong rumours that Frank and Andy Schleck would be moving on to another, German-based, cycling team for next year.

With the internal wrangling between cyclists and management, and Frank Schleck's positive dope test - he was also caught up in a cloud of doubt a few years ago when linked with a Spanish doctor who had been found guilty of supplying drugs to various other cyclists (evidence of a payment from Frank Schleck to the doctor was discovered, but was explained as for advice given) - Enovos have become the first sponsor to pull out of the RadioShack-Nissan-Trek team.

Will they be followed by others or will the team face up to its responsibilities and reality by taking the steps necessary to present a unified and clean front and retain the top riders and sponsors for next season? Will Frank retire or will he be explain his way out of the hole in which he now finds himself? And as for Andy, will he recover from his injury and be able to ride with team-mates who will support his quest for a "real" Tour de France win, one in which he stands atop the poium on the Champs Elyssees wearing the maillot jaune?

The bubble has burst somewhat in Luxembourg, with this year's Gala Tour de France (scheduled for 11 days' time) being cancelled. Will the star rise again and will Luxembourg follow and support Luxembourg cycling with such passion, fervour and pride again? Or will Luxembourg cycling, the team and cyclists be shunned by the sponsors and the public? Time will tell.

But it is interesting that the nationalal tourist office here have - quite rightly in my mind - promoted cylcing in Luxembourg as one of the main selling points of the Grand Duchy, even bringing out a special publication on leisure cycling in Luxembourg. And even the recent Nation Branding Conference held at the Chambre de Commerce was discussing about linking personalities, including Jean-Claude Juncker, Lea Linster and Frank and Andy Schleck, to the Luxemboueg brand. In good times, maybe.

Expect some news regarding Luxembourg cycling int he coming weeks and months..., and not all of it may be good.

This week-end just gone by was another summer week-end touring the length and breath of the Grand Duchy for a host of culture and leisure activities.

While sunbathing, swimming and barbecuing at the lake at Esch-sur-Sure was out of the question on Saturday following Friday evening's thunderstorm, it was still a week-end of culture.

Wiltz was the place to be on Friday evening. While the festival train is comfortable and convenient, we decided to drive and had a most enjoyable journey through the rolling countryside on our trip north. The first act of West Side Story was most enjoyable (see review on chronicle.lu), but the electrical storm which had rolled up from the south of the country finally hit during the interval and, despite the best efforts of the crew, the second half was cancelled due to safety issues.

Saturday evening was then spent at Echternach, at the Orange Open Air Film Festival where Project X was screened to a great crowd, all the more surprising as the opening evening on Friday was called off due to the electrical storm. But the organisers there have ensured creature comforts with covered seating in case of rain, the VIP lounge with armchairs, etc., as well as hot and cold food and drinks. Located at the adventure playground by the lake at Echternach, parking at the nearby Youth Hostel affords only a short walk. The equipment is rented from Germany, including an inflatable screen support structure and an excellent sound system that allows for a most enjoyable cinematic experience.

The previous week-end was a similar north-to-south week-end journey, again starting in Wiltz on the Friday evening, this time with the Elvis show, then the Blues n Jazz Rally in Luxembourg-Grund and Clausen, then the Sunday evening show at Casino2000 in Mondorf...

Who says nothing ever happens in Luxembourg?

The planned project to build a new national stadium at Livange, near Roeser, has been in and out of the local news for the last number of months.

Initially, and going back to 2008, a project to build a shopping centre at Wickrange with Guy Rollinger as the developer seemed to get the go-ahead after discussions with local residents, etc.

Then another plan to build a new national stadium to replace the current Stade Josy Barthel on the Route d'Arlon was suggested, with developer Flavio Becca behind the project. At this stage, various people in parliament started to stake notice as the new stadium project included a shopping centre and it did not seem sensible to build two projects offering similar services within a short distance from each other.

Accusations and rumours have been flying about concerning backhanders and the relationships of politicans with the developers. Former Minister of the Economy and Foreign Trade, Jeannot Krecke, has received assurances from the state prosecutor's office that he will not be investigated as the only evidence is one man's word against another.

Interior Minister, Jean-Marie Halsdorf's name has also been dragged into the controversey amid allegations of accepting hopsitality from Flavio Becca to various sporting events as well as receiving presents of watches, allegations he denies.

It is understood that Flavio Becca, one of those behind the RadioShack Nissan Trek professional cycling team with Frank and Andy Schleck, will be subjected to an investigation into his finances, but it is unclear how this could happen.

Guy Rollinger is apparently upset that he has been forced to abandon his Wickrange project into which he has devoted so much time and effort, in favour of the Livange project which has still not been confirmed.

Additionally, Arthur Sinner, former mayor Roeser in which commune Livange is located, has been accused by other councillors of aiding Flavio Becca back in the 1980s by helping him to acquire land for project.

The issue has been debated in parliament but is now being laid to rest without any investigation being launched or commission being set up.

Another related issue concerns the recycling centre in Strassen, beside the Stade Josy Barthel. If the national stadium site is not sold to go towards the new project in Livange (or wherever), then the freed ground will not be available for the construction of private dwellings - houses and apartments - and so the Ville de Luxembourg could be pressed into taking a decision on th future of the recycling centre. By selling off this land, it could make way for the construction of houses and/or aparments in this desireable location.

We haven't heard the last of thiese issues by any means...

Last week saw a pivotal moment in our household with one of our daughters graduating from university.

She has been reading English Literature and French at Glasgow University in Scotland and the graduation ceremony was on Thursday. Luck was on her side when she was granted an extra three tickets to the ceremony, so that meant her grandparents and sister could also attend, so six in total. There was also the small off issue of starting to take back belongings to Luxembourg which had accrued over four years of student life north of the border.

So, travel options: drive/bus to Brussels Charleroi and fly to Edinburgh and hire a 6-seater car for a few days; fly Luxembourg via London to Glasgow or Edinburgh and hire a 6-seater car; drive 10 minutes to Arlon, take the train to Brussels, take TGV to London (St Pancras), walk 300m to Euston (staying overnight in hotel between them) and take 5-hour train to Glasgow; drive to Calais, get on Eurotunnel, disembark in Ashford and drive to Scotland; drive to Zeebrugge, get on overnight ferry to Hull, drive rest of way to Glasgow; drive to Dunkerque, take ferry, and drive to Glasgow with overnight stop-off with friends/family - the options go on....

In the end we decided on the latter. Driving Luxembourg to Scotland, 2,500km round-trip. Preparations required - car service just a few weeks ago, check tyres, oil, window washer fluid levels, etc. Checked. Pack car - 1 bag each (work laptop excluded, of course - for every rule there has to be at least one exception...), all checked in to the hold, no cabin baggage allowed as we expected the car to be full on the way back.

Oh yes, and get a good night's sleep beforehand - this wasn't as easy as we had planned as our youngest daughter arrived back from 3 weeks traveling around Spain (to improve her spoken Spanish, was the justification presented - well, she is studying Italian and Spanish) at 1am in the morning, barely 7 hours before we intended to depart. And drinks for the journey.

Dunkerque turned out to be just over three and a half hours away, keeping within the speed limits and taking the Brussels ring road instead of opting for the Lille route. 20 minutes wait and then we boarded, well ahead of schedule. So far, so good. Got a meal on board and crashed out for a 90-minute power-nap before we were called back to our vehicles. Then a 5-hour drive around the M25 counter-clockwise, up them M1 and then the M6 to Manchester with a one-hour stop on the way, 6 hours in total, with the only traffic problem being around Birmingham.

What is it about indicating AFTER pulling out into the fast lane in England, it's as if some drivers do things in reverse? And why do some people simply not care about the state in which they leave public toilets? Why do cinemas not have rubbish bins as you leave the screening rooms like in Luxembourg, as everyone just leaves their rubbish, expecting someone else to clean it up? We're too used to the quality of life in the Grand Duchy. And why is diesel almost 50% more expensive in the UK than Luxembourg?

It was great to catch up with friends we haven't seen for a while - that is not counting the three times we saw each other at 50th birthday parties last year and at the Ireland-England rugby demolition last season. Their eldest had just finished A-level exams so it was the right time to visit. Up again in the morning - with a few hours work on the laptop in between and a few hours' sleep - and a four-hour drive across the border. The scenery on this leg of the journey was spectacular with first the lake district and Cumbria, then the Scottish borders. And then the rain. We heard dire weather reports both before and after this leg of the journey, but apart from the sudden downpours and slowing the pace, we didn't come across or experience any misfortune.

The grandparents had arrived safely and were safely encompassed in the student flat by the time we arrived for a late lunch. We caught up on recent family news, health issues and the like, and had a relaxing day while the rain teemed outside. After a relaxing evening and comfortable night, graduation day had arrived. A quick bout of culture in the morning at the botanic gardens before lunch and changing into formal attire for the ceremony. 6 in the car - all had seatbelts, so it was perfectly legal and safe - and I found parking close to the university gates.

Crowds of graduands, families and friends milling around the covered cloisters and quadrangles in the gothic setting. Queues for gowns and hoods, formal/official photographs and then locating the university chapel for the pre-graduation service and then the Bute Hall for the ceremony itself.

Lots of pomp but not much circumstance; the university mace was placed, the university chancellor and other brightly-robed scholars paraded in and sat down in the majestic hall. Apart from the speeches and the ceremony itself, all ears picked up when Julia Donaldson was one of two to receive honorary degrees. Where had I heard that name before? Scratching the deepest recesses of my cerebral lining, it was made clear for me - the author of the Gruffalo. Wow, right here in the same room!

Afterwards it was time for a quick reception - Buck's Fizz or Apple Juice - not a glass of crémant to be seen or sipped anywhere. And then they were gone. Seriously, I haven'r a clue how they spent a couple of hours lining up the gllases, pouring them and then putting everything away while everyone had their first and only drink. Amazing! We found a nice location in the quieter of the two quadrangles for some family photos, with some classical architecture and greenery in the background, and then off for a drink and a graduation dinner. We had a private room reserved in a classy restaurant in the West End but as we walked through the main dining area we saw some faces from the ceremony, including the Gruffalo lady!

The following day was filled with culture including a guided tour of the university, including the first house in Scotland to have electricity and was named after my father who was mightily impressed - but the guide couldn't answer my question as to from where the electricity had come int he first place... Then onto the Kelvingrove museum and art gallery where there was something for everyone, from the original Spitfire plane to a couple of original Monets, etc.

One of the great delights of the UK is the delis and the mouth-watering surprises they continually serve up, both succulent meats and creamy salads. Note: visit Peckham's in Glasgow next trip too.

The following morning we then got back in the car but with not too much accompanying remnants from four years of student life. That will have to wait until another trip next month. Six hours plus an hour's lunch rest and we reached the M25 and stayed with cousins near Alton Towers.

Again, great to catch up and to compare stories, then up and away after breakfast, stopping off at a supermarket to fill the boot with items that still evade the shelves in Luxembourg, and back onto the boat. Same drill, meal and sleep - but the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding was by far the best meal I can remember having on board (with DFDS, and we have travelled P&O, Sealink, Norfolkline, etc.). And then back to Luxembourg in time for the EURO2012 final. At least that was in theory. We hadn't bargained on the roadworks around Bruges which turned the 3.5 hours into 5 hours. But we weren't in a rush for once and we were on the homeward leg. Yes, we were tired, but not exhausted, we had a highly successful trip, the transport and accommodation were reliable and comfortable and we were the proud parents of another graduate in the family.

Two down and one to go...

Normally this is the time of year when we take a break from football, the season usually ends in May and starts again in earnest in August. But not this year, not with the European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

Now we are in the real business end of the tournament, approaching the semi-finals and with a couple of evenings free from the screens, we can reflect on what we've seen to date. There has been some great football played in the pristine stadia, but teams including The Netherland and Ireland have dissapointed their fans no end by not only coming away without any points at all, but also not playing well.

We don't really mind too much if we don't win, but we do mind if the team we support don't play well.

It's now down to four teams, with this week's semi-finals pitting Portugal against Spain and Germany against Italy. In my eyes, Germany and Spain have been the two teams to stand out from the crowd. But these two teams have come from just two of the four pools, groups B & C. Interesting...

But even before the dust settles after Sunday's final, attention will waver towards the start of the three-week Tour de France in which the hopes of the Luxembourg nation will be on the shoulders of Frank Schleck now that his brother is ruled out due to a back injury following a recent fall. We also have the tennis starting at Wimbledon today and the draw for the prelimiary rounds of the Champions League and the Europa Cup are being made today.

All to play for...

 

As I'm writing this piece, I'm reflecting on what has just happened and what has been happening. Not only have I been across the city and back again many times over the past few days, but I've attended a variety of events and happenings that illustrate the diversity of life in Luxembourg.

From the Rugby Club's Gala Ball one week-end to the British Ladies Club's Diamond Jubilee Ball the next, with the European Commission's Digital Enlightenment Forum at the CCRN and both the Greater Region Business Days and the ICT Europe at LuxExpo, as well as the Monster and Greenpeace press conferences and the ACL's 80th anniversary celebrations, not to mention the networking events organised by the American, British and Indian Chambers of Commerce recently.

Yesterday evening we had the Chronicle.lu Launch Party at Utopolis in Kirchberg which saw a massive turnout of representatives of the business and social communities here, as well as of various cultural and educational institutions and NGOs and charities too, totalling in excess of 250 attendees. I was assured it wasn't just because there was no football on tv from EURO2012 and that there was free food and drink, but because people genuinely wanted to support this new initiative. A massive thanks to everyone who attended and to those who sent their messages of support. It was very much appreciated!

In my presentation yesterday evening, apart from acknowledging the support if each and every sponsor and briefly covering the background of the new service and the launch, I was able to address a subject close to my heart, that of volunteering and Corporate Social Responsibility. I made reference to the Croix Rouge, Luxembourg Air Rescue, the Luxembourg Alzheimer's Association, Special Olympics Luxembourg, the World Peace Forum, the Ilula Orphan Program in Tanzania and SOS Villages d'Enfants Monde which is the charity being supported by the Chronicle.lu-organised Discover Luxembourg on Saturday 15 September.

Helping others by giving our money or our time should be something that all of us should be doing at some stage. I hope to increase awareness of how people can contribute to society and to feel better within themselves for doing so. I certainly do.

Friday, 01 June 2012 09:20

Geoff Thompson - A Season for Sport

Now that the Champions League final has happened, the Heineken Cup has been reclaimed and French Open has started, it must be summer.

Not that the days are getting longer and the nights shorter, but rather the Tour of Luxembourg cycling race is underway, EURO2012 is about to start and the top European rugby nations are about to o on tour to the Southern Hemisphere; these are the points by which many of us tell the seasons.

Yes, it may be hotter and sunnier outside - and we must heed the potential of thunderstorms too - and the garden may be calling for some attention, but the draw of the TV and/or the pub in these summer months is growing stronger by the day. And maybe Place Guillaume will have a large screen on which to watch the football and cycling this summer as in previous years?

As it's the French Open now, Wimbledon must be just around the corner, and so too the Tour de France. Now that Andy Schleck has finally received his Yellow Jersey after Alberto Contador was finally stripped of his title, Luxembourg will be urging him on this year with even more fervent support than before. And we must not forget the Olympics either, being staged in East London where so many dreams will be shattered and some realised.

The ING europe marathon is now over and England's cricketers are beating the West Indies in cricket, other signs that the seasons have changed and summer is upon us. But in only a few weeks' time the new rugby and football seasons will be upon us and we will be approaching another autumn. Let's enjoy the summer while we can.

I have just returned from a week in Ireland, meeting up with family and friends and getting in some relaxation which for me means going out with a fishing rod.

Fishing is not just about catching fish. While this does play an important role in the outing, it is actually much better just to be outside with nature. I am a firm believer in that we spend far too much time indoors and most of us need to go out, get some fresh air and be closer to the natural things in life.

Having spent a day in Dublin, I then drove with my Dad to Connemara in the west of Ireland and we fished from a boat on both Lough Corrib and also Lough Mask. It was the Mayfly season and while we caught a few trout on Corrib, the fish were full as it was coming to the end of the mayfly season there, but we hit it just right on Mask where the mayfly season was just starting and the fish were hungry. The weather conditions were perfect that day and we ended up keeping eight wild brown trout up to 3 lbs. And this in the magnificent setting of what is known locally as Joyce Country, where James Joyce hailed from, and the backdrop of the unique mountains and valleys of Connemara.

fishing-mask-20120520-1

After a couple of days back in Dublin, it was then down to the midlands, on the border between Offaly and Tipperary where I managed to get out a couple of evenings along the banks of the River Brosna. The mayfly were hatching there too and it was a delight to stroll up and down the banks, looking for and trying to catch rising fish. It was serene and peaceful while taking exercies without even realising it.

But it was the animals and birds there that caught my attention - I encountered a huge amount of wildlife from seeing dozens of frogs, a fox, black herons, kingfishers, mallard ducks, swans and wild brown trout to hearing a myriad of songbirds and actually seeing a cuckoo. And this doesn’t even take in the herds of cattle and flocks of sheep in the pastures sloping down to the banks of the river. In previous visits I've also seen owls, rabbits, voles and other animals too.

But, visible from both the banks of the river and the lakes were farms of another sort, wind farms with dozens of wind turbines on the horizon. While some argue that they are a blot on the landscape and others claim that they cause noise pollution, others are actually doing something about the inexhaustible supply of energy and are tapping into renewable energy sources. But would the begrudgers still be as vociferous if the modern wind turbines were replaced with wooden windmills used in Holland a century ago?

When flying over the English Channel on a fine day, one can see wind farms with 100+ wind turbines there too. Here in Luxembourg there are hardly any such wind turbines, but will this change? The amount of wind we get here is nothing like that experienced across Ireland and other coastal areas.

Little-Brosna

While in  Ireland it was impossible to escape the fact of the impending referendum on the fiscal treaty where there seems to be a very distinct generation split on intention to vot for or against accepting the EU fiscal treaty. Not only are lamp posts and other structures adorned with Yes or No posters, but newspapers and radio stations are awash with comment and opinion, and some fact. While the analysts are predicting a majority voting Yes, the considerable "Don't Knows" in the opinion polls are significant enough to make this a close call until the very last vote is counted.

 

Monday, 16 April 2012 08:39

Geoff Thompson: Back to the Future

Back in 2003 I launched the first online English-language news service; the Station Network was so-called as it comprised a network of "stations" - the News Station, the Event Station, etc. - and apart from a daily news service it provided a consolidated event calendar that was used as a resource base by the international community across Luxembourg.

This was all possible due to my background in IT and working specifically in Web Content Management solutions which were being deployed for the first time. With this technology then available, it allowed a glimpse of the future for the delivery of specific information to a specific audience. I then started the evolution from the technical side of such projects to specifically the content side of this project. In 2009, Station.lu was then incorporated into the "352" brand at New Media Lux which is sadly no more...

In 2010 I conceived myMOSAIK.lu following requests from both information providers who wanted to reach the international community, as well as from the international community itself who craved a dependable English-language news and information service. Sadly, this lasted just 12 months due to circumstances beyond my control.

Yet again there is a gap in the market for a timely and quality English-language news service for Luxembourg and the Greater Region. This time I have addressed the primary factors to minimise the risk attached with starting such a new venture - crucial in the current economic climate - and to ensure its success and longevity. With a number of commercial and culture organisations who have committed their support, I am delighted to announce the launch of CHRONICLE.LU. With a focus on Living and Working across the Grand Duchy, this project reaches out to, and networks with, the ever-active business and social communities here.

So where does this bring us, but Back to the Future!

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