8 November 2015

The esteemed but retired official from the European Commission was a worried man as he approached me in a fine hotel in an old city of Europe on the evening before an international jury of experts would meet to decide which institutions deserved some awards. My role as a consultant researcher and writer on the project had been to summarise the achievements of the most deserving candidates, for consideration by the jury of experts. The chairman of the jury was holding my summary paper and saying, “There is something rather crucial missing. You have not said who should win.” So, feeling rather puzzled, I said, “That’s what the jury is for, surely?” And the old bureaucrat looked at me as one would look at a naive young child and declared, “You cannot expect these people to decide for themselves! You need to make recommendations.” So I said “Oh.” Well actually I said much more, indeed I was told I was rather rude to the prestigious official, who was actually standing before me in his fine silk pyjamas and dressing gown at the time. My childish naivety, even though I was aged 43, had clearly disturbed his plans for a good sleep. But after an argument with this man far grander than myself I cancelled my own plans for an hour or so in the bar with my colleagues and went instead to sit in my room and type out my recommendations, which I made in great haste, and without the benefit of any particular expertise at all. And then I slept, as did the chairman and members of the jury. I think there were fifteen of then in all, each representing a different country. And in the morning the jury of international experts who had been flown in from all parts of our wide European Union and had been wined and dined and accommodated in order to make their decision, all received, scanned and quickly decided to adopt my recommendations. And the meeting was soon closed, and I typed up the jury’s decisions for the press release, and a good time was had by all. It paid for my house, that project. And it taught me a lot.