Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Writing can be Damn lonely



Writing is something that I've always done. No matter what has interested me, I have always gone back to it. But, DAMN it’s lonely! Anyone who knows me will attest that I am not a wallflower, not the bookish shadow in the corner, I love people, I love attention. I have given seminars and speeches in front of hundreds of people and while my colleagues are pouring over their PowerPoints or eyeing the exit, my nerves are a beehive of excitement. Don’t get me wrong, I am nervous but for me it’s an elixir, pure adrenaline. Now I have responsibilities and a family and me and time have had a major falling out so I have to fit more of what I love into what I have left. Just last week I found the impetus to marry two of my passions.
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World storytelling day is observed on the spring equinox, this year it fell on 20th March. I found out about it the Friday before but after some reading, it turns out that it begins a week of oral literature so I had some breathing room. I found a venue at a little boutique hotel in town and began rallying the troops. I set up a FB event and called on my mates at the Toastmasters club I have been a member of for a month or so.
The day arrived and me and the family made our way downtown. Now, I'm usually pretty cool about talking in front of a crowd but I noticed a drilling in my head, a stiffness in my back. I was anxious. This was my story I would tell, I had poured over the words and phrasing to get the impact I wanted. What if I fluffed my lines? what if I missed a scene? What if they didn't like it? I've gotten rejection letters for my work before, I've had readers who didn't get it, but to have to look them in the eyes while they did it… I didn't know if I could take that. This meant too much to me.
This is Greece and 6 o'clock is more an advisory concept than a time. Greek time pieces have rubber hands and blurred faces so when I arrived and found just a couple of faces my heart dropped and yet it also embraced a kind of relief, I might not have to do it and I can blame others. Get off scot-free. After a half hour wait, however I had enough who had made the effort to come not to be able to back out. I launched into my preamble about the importance of storytelling. More began to arrive and by the time I reached the end we had a good turnout. There was even an American lady who had wandered into our room to wait for a friend. My plan was to call on others to take the floor and share their stories before I told mine but while I looked to them, they looked to each other and it was clear that I would have to fill the void.
“This is a story about sex, the insatiable appetite that drives us all. This is a story about love and how it hides in its shadow…
I guess I could have picked a lighter story but I have been working on a video for this story and I wanted to hone the performance, plus I was pretty sure I would remember it well and be free enough to immerse myself in the role.
I gave it my all and despite fluffing lines and drenching the armpits of my shirt, I reached the end delivering the final lines that left most staring, silent. It was maybe the hardest thing I've done but I'm glad I did it.
Eventually, I managed to coax the others up to tell their tales. If I'm honest, this was thanks to my son who was the first to volunteer. He told a wonderful story of how he had gotten away with some mischief at school. After that no one really had an excuse not to join in. Most didn't really know what to expect. Hell! I didn't but it was so good to tell and hear stories from people I knew well and many I didn't.
We had three hours without phone twitching, no one checked-in, no one shared and calls were rejected. At the end of our allotted time in the hotel’s meeting room, we all agreed that it should be repeated. We talked of interesting and inspiring venues and even outdoors in the park on the seafront.
What I learned that day was what I really care about. The reason I could take a stage and talk for hours was because at the end of the day, it wasn’t so important. This was important and too important not to do again.
I am looking forward to doing it again. See you all there.
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Saturday, 17 March 2018

Storytelling

World Storytelling day is coming and you may groan at yet another world 'something' day but this is one that I feel we should take greater heed to.


"World Storytelling Day is celebrated every year on March equinox and the following week. This year it starts on Tuesday March 20. The idea is to have as many people as possible tell and listen to stories in as many languages and at as many places as possible. Doing so we promote oral storytelling all over the world. We also get a chance to build friendships across national and cultural borders in joyful ways. As if we meet around a global campfire."

With it come some misconceptions. First of all, as you have seen, it is not a day it is a week and secondly, well secondly, allow me to elaborate.
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 Storytelling is a wonderful medium of entertainment. We tell our children stories to help them sleep at night. Right? Wrong!

Storytelling pervades our lives on such a powerful level that we just take for granted. If you are in marketing or advertising, you already know what I mean.

Storytelling is one of the most ancient human arts, in fact it is prehistoric, pre-language even. We know this because the earliest creations of man, cave art told tales of hunts, of ceremonies and a need for moments in life to be passed on to later generations. Even the most primitive cave art, the hand stencils in France, Spain, Indonesia, Borneo and many others that date back 10,000 - 40,000 years display a need to transcend lifespan with their tale of existence. So how can a bunch of hand stencils tell a story. Well, the same way six words can not only tell an entire narrative but also evoke deep emotions.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

In this work by Hemingway we can understand the power of narrative... it is the reader who writes the story. I showed this to some young children and their interpretations were quite different to yours or mine, this is called schemata and it is the way we connect our own experiences with the words.

Stories are eternal, common and unique and are written in the reader or listener. 

Aesop taught morals not by lecture but by stories. In fact, his "The boy who cried Wolf!" is my favourite tool for teaching the folly of lies. Plato passed Socratean philosophies through narratives of his mentor's exploits.

The Celts chose their leaders, not just by their prowess on the battlefield but by their skills to spin a yarn. A great leader, Churchill was a modern exponent of this skill, drawing on common schemata can inspire his people to achieve heroic acts.

Christ! just think, who are the most applauded writers in the English language, (and this applies to most, if not all languages) was it Isaac Newton or Charles Darwin, who wrote volumes on the most ground-breaking discoveries. No, it is Shakespeare, who wrote stories. 

Then came a man called Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud. He turned public relations and advertising on its head when he realised that emotions sold soap, cars, insurance and even ideologies better than information. And, it wasn't long before they realised that stories were the most effective conduits for emotional response.

So why is this?
  • Stories invite us into the lives of others. Some we relate to, others we abhor but all are fascinating.
  • Stories give us context. We understand the environment in which motivations develop.
  • Stories ask and answer the question 'Why?' We can understand why things happen because we make similar choices to the protagonists. 
  • Stories evoke empathy and take us to a place where we open our minds to new ideas.
At a recent presentation I attended there were two speakers, one employed a narrative to explain how she was sceptical about some new methods and materials asking "Why should I change something that has worked so well for so long?" then proceeded to explain why she did exactly that. The audience empathised and engaged with her. The other gave us information about how it operated and pretty soon, the phones came out and facebook was being checked.

Storytelling is one of the most important skills we can develop.

Steve Jobs was not the greatest inventor or innovator, Steve Wozniak did most of the heavy lifting but we bought his story and his phones.

Stephen Hawking may have had his equals and dare I say his betters but we bought his story and his theories and many were inspired enough to go into science. Maybe even inspiring his successor.

Elon Musk is doing the same...

It is no coincidence that the best selling books of all time are by Agatha Christie and God and he must know a thing or two about inspiring mankind.

"Would you like to organize your own event?
It could be a cosy gathering in your kitchen or a school event with stories by pupils, teachers or professional storytellers. Or an evening at the storytelling club, library or a museum. Or a big festival or anything you and your friends can come up with!" Click to enter the World Storytelling Day site.


            

Monday, 12 February 2018

My Reward Video

Generation X, The MTV generation. If you were born between the mid 60s and the early 80s, if you grew up listening to Punk, The Smiths, The Cure and Depeche Mode. You came home from school with the door-key in your pocket. This is for you. We defined teenage angst but now as we have kids of our own and The Smiths are played on BBC Radio 2, the station our parents or even Grandparents listened to, we are defining a new phenomenon, Midlife Angst.

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The soundtrack is "QUIET" by This Will Destroy You, who have graciously allowed me to use this track. I strongly urge you to check them out.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Did I tell you about when... I didn't save a life

Have you ever thought about the time you’ll be called up to the plate, when you’ll be asked to go beyond the call of duty to help your fellow man. Maybe to save a life. More and more people these days have completed some kind of first aid training, CPR, heart massage, recovery position, but do you know how you would react if you really had to use it, if it was you standing between someone and ‘the light’. Many of you do and have made a crucial difference to the course of someone’s life. I had that opportunity once and it didn't go so well.
It was a scorching midday and I was taking a breather at Fat Yianni’s after performing my morning obligations. The ice in my frappe had all but melted and I was pondering a dip and a snooze before the evening’s rush, when I heard the panicked screams of a girl. Soon she was running past, calling for help. I stood and called her back. All I could illicit from her was that her grandma was unwell and she was in the pizzeria round the corner.
I ran, almost dragged by the girl. What I found was three generations of family surrounded by bystanders, standing by. Two generations distraught and at the epicentre, the third, an old lady in her eighties laid out on the stone floor. She had had some kind of attack. She wasn’t breathing and I found no pulse. I tilted her head back and checked her airways. I tried to find out if she had choked or anything but all I could get was that she had fainted and fallen from her chair.
“She was fine. She just fainted. Just fainted.” These words became a mantra, over and over to ward off the possibility of anything more sinister.
My mind danced cartwheels trying to remember what I had learned. I looked around, maybe someone with more to offer than me would stand forward but that person had already stood forward and it was me, just me. I opened her mouth, took a breath and gave it to her. It returned like a deflating balloon. I tried again. The same. I kept at it until a friend arrived.
“You know about this stuff?” I asked. He shrugged.
I kept going. I stopped and asked if anyone had called an ambulance, you know how easy it is to forget the most basic things in these situations.
I heard mumbles of “maybe” and “Did you?”
“No, I thought…”
“CALL A FUCKING AMBULANCE!” I shouted. “NOW!”
I joined my fists and began to thrust above the diaphragm, counting. I didn't know what I was counting but it seemed the right thing to do. I reached 20 thrusts and put another breath in the old lady. When I was at school, our biology teacher had procured a pair of pig lungs from the next-door abattoir. We took turns inflating them. This is what this felt like. The chest rose and fell blowing dead air into my face. I returned to the thrusting. 1-2-3-4-5-6…20 blow. Was there a blockage? Would I need to do an emergency tracheotomy? Did I need to intubate? WHY WOULD SHE NOT BREATHE?
I don’t know how many times I went through this cycle. I don’t know how many breathes I had put in but she seemed no closer to gasping than I was to giving up
The holiday rep had arrived and was comforting the family.
“WHERE IS THE FUCKING AMBULANCE?”
I couldn’t tell you how long this went on but I felt futile, impotent. I turned to someone, I don’t know who and demanded, “How long had she been here?”
“They came for coffee…” Then some conferring.
“How long had she been like this before I arrived?”
More conferring.
“Fifteen, maybe twenty minutes.”
I dropped my head. She had been long gone before I arrived. I had been trying to wake the dead.

...

The ambulance never did arrive. I think a doctor arrived. But the final nail in the coffin was when a old Datsun pick-up was brought to remove the body. The family were inconsolable. I remember telling them it was the most discreet method to move the body. I told them that she had gone with her family around her, with the sun on her face. I didn't know what else to say. They wanted to believe me but I knew I was just covering up things that just should not have been covered up.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Did I tell you about when... I was really hungry

Have you ever been hungry? I don’t mean missed-lunch hungry, I don’t mean Hollywood-diet hungry, I mean 3rd world hungry. I have. It was November and the tourists were long gone and they’d taken all their money with them. I had put some money away for my flight home but that had quickly become a ticket on the magic bus which had become 1000 drachmas, little more than the cab fare to the next village and back and my cupboards were bare. I had bought a bag of lentils and some assorted veg and made soup, a lot of soup. Each day I would take out a bowl of soup and pour in a cup of water. The water was beginning to win out.

Now that sounds really grim but the upside was that almost every night a car stopped outside my apartment to take me out drinking, I had been living on a diet of beer and bar nuts for about a month and I was hungry.
I visited friends and left with their potato peelings. Don’t get me wrong, they would have fed me but something had kicked in, something stoic and British. I would let them feed me when I had money, I would take some beers or retsina, but now I had nothing and I couldn’t, before I was poncing, now I was begging. I couldn’t beg.
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It was that same pig-headedness that had got me in such dire straights. I had had one too many animated altercations with Fat Yianni. I refused to sell five portions of chicken stew that had been bouncing round the kitchen for days.
“You couldn’t sell the ice cream in the Eskimos!” Fat Yianni spat at me. He had a big problems with mixed metaphors, but not only did I understand it, I was offended.
And I might have risen to the bait but I had asked the cook for a portion the day before. She shook her head grimly and brought me souvlaki, a fact that I had yelled at him in front of a packed restaurant.
That was late August and the end of my revenue stream. I got a little job on the scooters but there were no meals and I’d forgotten what an expense that could be. The ladies from the kitchen would feed me when Fat Yianni was away and leave care packages on my doorstep from time to time but that ended with the tourists.
The cycle continued with the car outside taking me for beers that were given freely by the bars that I had sent tourists to all summer. I guess it was gratitude or maybe just payment for my lunatic antics that spiced up a dull off-season in Halkidiki. I didn’t care. I got beer, I got nuts, I got wasted. The same car, I think, would then drive up outside the village and dump me on the roadside. A drooling lump of Essex laundry with a grin who could continue to entertain himself on the short walk through the village, singing made-up songs to himself, before passing out in the general vicinity of his apartment. Yes, sometimes I did not get all the way.
So, one night I was zig-zagging my way home when I heard a familiar sound. Familiar but this time it had new resonance, new meaning to a man who had been sustained on spot-the-lentil soup for too long. It was the clucking of a chicken. It sounded clucking tasty. I was clucking drooling. I looked around me and vaulted the fence. Now, I was of the opinion that chickens came in buckets and were finger licking good but I had some experience of turning a living thing into satisfied tummy back when we used to visit Uncle Ted. Uncle Ted had a small holding with goats and sheep and even a cow but most importantly in my education, he had rabbits and chickens. Uncle Ted had, when I was about 13, made me wring a chuck’s neck. Now, Uncle Ted had hands like two pound of Wall’s bangers, I did not. He took the poor dumb creature by the neck with his fist inverted and swung its body over the back of his hand. The chuck’s body did most of the work. It was still twitching but it had clucked its last. Then he looked at me. I took it in my boyish hand, “SWING IT!”. I did. In fact, I did it so hard, afraid that I wouldn’t do it hard enough that one of its claws nearly took my eye out. The adrenaline pumped hard, the chicken twitched. I did it. And, I could do it again. Difference was this time I didn’t have Uncle Ted to catch the bastard and hold it for me. I picked the one that looked a little slow on its feet. Was it lame? Did I care? I leaped and slipped in chicken shit but I got it. SWING! I shoved it into my jacket and zipped up. I couldn’t vault back over the fence holding the bottom of my jacket to stop the wriggling lump from falling so I climbed gingerly. A nail snagged my nads. My quarry fell on the floor. Now, many would have you believe that chickens run around after they are decapitated, it’s true they do twitch a lot and I guess if you were to put them on the ground they might run, but they don’t. That said, this one was doing a bloody good job of escaping. Its kinfolk were clucking and flapping while it lay back on the coup side of the fence giving its last. The sun wasn’t long to peer over the horizon and the last thing I wanted was to get caught chicken rustling. I leaned over scooped it up and launched my right leg over the fence. My jeans gave a rip! and unsnarled from the nail and I was off.
Back at the homestead, I pulled out the chuck and stuffed it into a saucepan. My biggest still had the remains of a soup that had sustained me so long so I went for the next down, it didn’t fit but it would have to do. I went to the balcony to suck a few lung-fulls of calm from a cigarette.
Now, what I did know was not much but I did know that plucking a cold bird is a hiding to nowhere. Those feathers need to come out warm and fast. I searched the kitchen for a plastic bag but I hadn’t bought anything for so long that I had nothing. All I could do was use my spare pillowcase and remember this was not a clean white bird, it stunk. I took it to the bathroom and ran it under a hot shower, some of the bits of grit hopped away.
I plucked, I’m not a cluckin’ plucker, I’m a cluckin’ plucker’s son and plucked some more then stuffed it back into the pan and fell unconscious on the bed satisfied with my labours.
I woke in the afternoon with chicken down in my nose. I had left the balcony door open and the breeze had got to the pillow case. I made a cup of tea, I hate tea but someone had left me a couple of boxes of Lipton bags before leaving. I had no milk or sugar but it was better than the taste of my own mouth. And I was spitting feathers.
The chicken’s legs were sticking out of the pan and it still needed gutting and cooking. I had images of mum’s roast chicken but I didn’t have an oven. I dreamed of chicken schnitzel, chicken chow mien, sweat and sour then I found half a bottle of medium sweet red wine, it was a little darker than I remembered. To be frank, I didn’t remember acquiring it or drinking it.
Coq au Vin!
Soon with blunt knives and brute force, I had it gut-free. I put the remains of the lentils in another pan and swished it round under the tap. Ready, Steady, Cook! It was as much as I could do not to nibble on bits of the carcase. I think the stock ended up with a Knorr cube and two parts drool, I was having problems staying objective.
As it was boiling, I went through the cupboards adding pinches of green stuff, red stuff, I even found one of those leaves mum used to put in the bolognese, at least I thought it was.
A knock at the door. Shit! Was it the gamekeeper? Or was it someone smelling my creation and inviting themselves for dinner. I froze. Again, a knock. I swallowed my lungs. I could hear my muscles creaking. Eventually I heard steps away from my door and I sucked in as much air as I could and nearly spat up my throat, fuck! that wine was tart!
I knew it would take an hour or so to cook but I didn’t want to leave it so I moved a chair into the chicken, I mean kitchen and tried to read. After watching the words dance around on the page, I gave up. I brushed my teeth, twice and swallowed the toothpaste. I tidied my room. I collected the feathers. The chicken boiled and boiled. I tried to nap but my stomach had turned on me, growling and griping. I couldn’t take any more. I went to the kitchen and fished out some of the meat that had turned white and brought it to my tongue, which was hanging around my knees. And ate.
The meat was tough but it tasted like Christmas. The juices needed some bread but the bakers would need me to give some bread and I had no bread.
It only took a plate full to make my stomach push against my belt, so unaccustomed to anything more than beer and peanuts, and I slept. I slept Christmas-day-in-front-of-The-Sound-of-Music sleep.
I woke full of beans but added some more coq to them before making my way down to the village square with a scribble pad and a head full of ideas. I slipped round the back of one of the tavernas that had closed for the winter and lifted a crate of empty Amstel bottles and took them to the supermarket. Ten Drachmas a bottle plus the crate got me two full bottles and a packet of Camels.
I pitched up on a wall at the square and began scribbling, poems and lyrics mostly.
A couple of old codgers pitched up within earshot.
“Come on Kosta, you know you can’t count!”
“No mistake. yesterday, I had twelve. This morning, I had eleven.”
“Malaka, It was hiding in the coup.”
“I'm telling you! Bloody Albanians stole my chickens....”
“Well... one.”
"Yeah! one..."


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Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Did I tell you about when... I got picked up by the fuzz

So there I was, scurrying along late and lost, as usual. It was a balmy moonlit night and I was going to pick up a friend's kid from night classes. I had circled the neighbourhood and finally found a space miles away from the music academy. Looking at my watch, it was 10.30 and getting close to the time when the kid would be looking for me and making panicked calls to his parents.

I was in full scamper when I heard the farty toot of a police horn, I looked round in curiosity. It was Papaki squad, two bikes loaded with four officers locked and loaded. Who were they after? I doubted they were going to ask for directions but maybe I might have seen some suspicious type running away from a crime scene. One of the pillions was standing and they tooted again. I stopped in a who-me? stance. The standing officer alighted and approached, was this really happening?
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He told me they just wanted to do a little check; blood pressure? customer satisfaction? 

He asked me if I live in the area, I told him I didn't. I told him to make it quick as I was going to pick up a kid from classes. He told me it would take 2 minutes, so I played ball. Word to the wise, Greeks baring gifts can and usually is very pleasant, Greeks talking minutes is tears en route.

I was asked if I was carrying anything illegal, I said I really hoped not as this wouldn't be the best time. He deadpanned the same question again until I told him that I was not carrying.

He asked me to turn out my pockets and normally I would have told him to turn out his first but instead I turned out my pockets and everything was carefully scrutinised. It was about this point when I realised what was really happening. No just cause, no suspicious behaviour, just a 40-something late and lost.

I raised my arms and accepted a full body frisk. One minute I'm doing my bit for community relations, next I have my nuts in a copper's palm. Thankfully he had gentle hands.

Once they had satisfied themselves that I was no immediate threat to society they asked me if I was from round here, I told them again where I lived, not my address, just the area. He looked at me and asked the question again. I knew the question he wanted to ask, my accent had set off alarm bells. He persisted with variations of the are-you-local question without directly mentioning ethnicity. I told him that I'm British and he corrected me saying Greek-British, I told him English-British, BBC-British, Marks and Spencer British... British! Then the short one next to him started demanding papers. Now, I rarely carry ID as such, credit cards maybe but if you've ever lost your passport or driving licence you’ll understand that the risk of a night in the cell is worth all the hassle and cost of getting it replaced.

I told shorty that I took them on holiday abroad and I didn't realise that I would need to prove my identity crossing the municipal line. Shorty tells me that I am abroad and had to prove my legal status in the country. Yes, this really is happening. I told him that I'm a Greek tax-payer and European citizen. He asks me again if I had any ID, I tell him again that I was under the assumption that I was free to move around as I would be in Britain, yes I know this was taunting but by this time I had had enough of their bullshit. He told me that they would have to take me down the station if I wanted to continue (read: keep it up, sonny!) 

I offered my hands ready for cuffing. "If you are going to, get it over with..." 

They had two bikes and two pillions, how they would get me there was anyone’s guess.

Finally, shorty told me that due to having to pick up the kid they would let me off… Let me off for doing nothing, stopped with no just cause and after discovering no illegals on me; how fucking gracious!

I told them how grateful I was for their kindness and wished them a good evening, whatever that may entail.

As I shuffled off, I slowed my pace to a gentle mince in order to furtively readjust the two kilo bag of coke and various fire arms I had previously shoved up my arse... Nah, not really!


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Saturday, 23 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I went to a party half-cocked

12.30, I’d just finished work and I was on a mission. Word had reached me of a major party at the hotel where I had stayed when I first arrived and It wasn't going to happen without me. I had borrowed a 50 Vespa and I was on my way. Gerakina beach was some fifty kilometres away and with a top speed of about sixty, I would have to be patient. Very patient.


The road stretched out ahead of me and at sixty kilometres an hour it stretches a lot. I went through a village set on the main road which was still bustling with tourists and locals alike but after that I knew I had a lot of road that went through nowhere in particular so I settled in.
Vespas have a distinctive buzz, you know vespa means wasp in Italian, of course you did, well after twenty minutes that can become quite hypnotic. I've ridden the length and breadth of the UK on a Vespa, Exmouth, Skegness, Isle of Wight but always with a lot of company and always at more than 60kph.
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The road ahead stretched and stretched and faded.
The handlebars were snapped out of my hands and my legs flung in the air. I awoke with rocks and a dense patch of nature ahead. No time for coffee! I grabbed control and pulled the levers hard. I was only a couple of metres from the road but only a couple of metres from the edge that would have had me swimming home or worse. Fortunately, both wheels were pointing at the ground and my feet planted firmly in the dust.
I dismounted, sat on one of the boulders I had so nearly painted with my face and sucked the calm from a camel cigarette. Ok, I know smoking isn't good for my health but it tended to hover so low on my list of activities that I lit another with the first.
The second leg of my journey was filled with singing and wide open eye exercises to ensure my family would not have to fork out for one of those little shrines by the road and a mangled 50 Vespa.
It was around two when I indicated the right into the Gerakina resort and it did cross my mind that the party may have begun to wane by my arrival. No chance. The bar was heaving. I rolled in, hugging, cheek-kissing and high-fiving to the bar and got straight down to business. There was Michaili who I’d rented my first scooter from and who had given me my first left-hacker to drive, Tina the lovely barmaid and Tim. Tim had arrived in Greece the same day as me but he was working for Thomson holidays as a rep. He spoke in a northern tainted RP accent and clearly hadn't got out much before getting here, I had taken him under my wing which probably wasn't a good thing, I was fully expecting his parents’ lawyers to be contacting mine when he got back to Lincolnshire in the autumn.
I’ll tell you some day how I came to be in Greece and while love has a lot to do with it, it’s not how most think it is. For now, me and life were having a torrid affair.
Now, among the throng was Pasqual, Tim’s boss and head rep for the area. He had been working in the industry for years and had seen most of the world, in little blue shorts and a logo’d polo shirt but he’d been around and had tales to tell. We had a laugh and joke until he asked me what my plans were for the night, I obviously wouldn't be taking the Vespa the fifty kilometres home, not anytime soon. I told him that I didn't have any plans but I was sure Tim could put me up. Tim kicked me in the ankle.
“He most certainly will not!” was Pasqual’s curt answer. Whereupon he went into a diatribe about going off half-cocked and without making appropriate arrangements. Damn! I never did anything half-cocked! As for the arrangements, he had a good point. I think he was still going on when I left him to revisit the bar. Tim came and scalded me for getting him in shit. I told him not to worry and his boss would never know. Tim was making significant progress but was still decidedly risk-averse.
So, I had nowhere to stay. This bombshell had me upended so I danced to Happy Mondays on a table with Amanda, the new kiddies rep who had transferred from Corfu, or some such island.
By the time the sun began to yawn over the horizon there were just a few of us sitting in the bar. Tim had slipped off, possibly to avoid having to say no to me. Pasqual had waited for Tim to leave but was now gone, Michaili was still as chilled as always but still in full effect. Tina the lovely barmaid had been relieved by the owner, much to my disappointment so I was sitting with Amanda, who was just as lovely. She asked me where I was staying. She wasn't familiar with my village so I explained where it was and how far.
“How did you get here?” she asked.
I pointed at the diminutive scooter sitting outside.
“You came on that? Yor mental!”
“Chicken oriental!” I replied.
She asked when I was going back and if I would be sticking around for a while.
I shook my head, “Gotta get back tomorrow, today. At some point.”
She reached her hand across the table and I took it, I'm nothing if not polite. “You could stay with me but I share.” I concealed my disappointment. “But, but I might have something.” She stood suddenly. “Come on!”
The hotel was quiet, apart from some Germans laying their towels on the sunloungers. She smiled at the guy on reception and led me by the hand. Eventually we reached a door and she tried the handle, it opened. She raised a finger to her lips. She didn’t give me much time to survey my surrounding but I got the impression that it was some kind of store room. It had no windows so I went to turn on the light. She stopped me, whispering ‘no’ into my ear.
We bounced around the room, bumping into furniture. There was a big soft pile of something that was probably towels in plastic bags which suited our needs for a while then another stack of something harder. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark I spotted a pile of mattresses. I told her breathlessly to wait while I pulled one down onto the floor. We continued. I thought we were being quite quiet but to be honest I couldn’t be sure.
Finally, we were finished and laid out on the single mattress when she leapt to her feet swearing in a loud whisper.
“Oh shit! Oh my god!”
“What’s up?” I knew she had work but surely we hadn’t lost complete sense of time. She continued swearing and pulling her clothes from around the room pulling on my t-shirt in her panic. I asked again. She said it was nothing.
Not to be dissuaded. “You late for work?”
“I got my period! Satisfied?” Then slipped out of the door.
I grabbed half an hour sleep then slipped out myself, looking both ways before exiting.
In a cafe across the road I had two strong coffees, a spinach pie and the rest of the camels in my box before kicking the Vespa into life.
As I left the resort I nearly had a head-on with a police car that was in a hurry for something. I looked over my shoulder to check that he didn't turn. I wasn't wearing a helmet and although they rarely pulled anyone for such transgressions in those days, it did happen if they were in a bad mood.
I broke the return journey into manageable legs punctuated by coffee and camels. I laughed at myself, I had a couple of spots of blood on my trousers and even my t-shirt. Poor girl, she must have been mortified. I resolved to call her when I got back to reassure her that it was no biggy.
I didn't call, we had no mobiles then and I didn't know her surname. I could have sent a message through Natasha, the Thompson girl in my village but I got distracted and forgot.
A few weeks later Tim was transferred to my village. We went out for drinks which he insisted on paying for in lieu of letting me down that night. I told him it was fine but he felt in my debt. I had been helping him with some of the apartment owners, his Greek had not progressed as fast as mine. He had exhausted his tales of difficult holidaymakers when his eyes lit up.
“You know, the police made us give them all our lists!”
“When?” I asked.
“Must have been after the party.”
“Why?”
“There was a murder at the hotel! One of the rooms was covered in blood.”
“My round,” I offered…


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Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I was late for work

It was a beautiful summer morning as usual, well this is Greece and if there is one thing reliable in this country, it's the weather. Come to think of it, it IS the one and only thing. I awoke strangely refreshed. I say strangely because I had got to bed around four the previous night but this was a comparatively early night. It must have been mid-July and I had been partying since May, burning the candle at both ends was too benign an idiom for it. I was burning a Molotov at both ends and that nothing had exploded yet was outrageous fortune.


late for workI took a cold shower to rinse off the night and headed down through the village to work. Work was the nice restaurant where I waited tables for Fat Yianni, the classiest place in town. Although my work ethic was thoroughly Anglican, my play ethic was even more dedicated. I slept no more than two hours a night and lived the other twenty two like tomorrow was just a vicious rumour. Of course, I would get forty winks on the beach in the afternoon but most of those winks were to just about anything in a bikini.
Twitshot
I sauntered through the village well aware of the fact that I would be ten or fifteen minutes late but me and Fat Yianni had an understanding, he knew I was awesome and I knew he wasn't paying me what I deserved. He had confessed one drunken night that he had never seen anyone extract tips or sell ‘specials’ like me. I had no fears about my job yet I executed my obligations with diligence and aplomb.
Hangover was a pretty standard state but I had the constitution of Keith Richards and when it was showtime, I performed.
Nearing the village centre, I passed the first taverna and the owner was standing outside watching the world go by and swinging his worry-beads. I smiled and waved a kalimera. He grimaced and swung his hand in a chopping motion, this meant that you were in trouble, the cutting motion was a certain part of one’s anatomy that were for the chop. Christ! I was quarter of an hour late, tops!
I passed the souvenir shop and offered a warm morning greeting, she swung her head and tutted. When the same thing happened at the next taverna, I realised that Fat Yianni was in a foul mood and I would be getting it for some reason when I got in. I could handle the old bastard and our rows were legendary in the village but he would not do without me and he knew that I knew that as well as he.
When I arrived, maybe twenty minutes late, the restaurant was empty and I made quick work of readying it for brunch service. The girls were busy in the kitchen and I did my best to jolly them up. I'm a great believer in investing in a convivial work atmosphere. If you work in a miserable place, maybe you are the reason for it. I worked in a wonderful environment. The girls were reluctant to talk to me and no amount of horseplay would loosen them up.
Fat Yianni arrived in a tempest and I resolved to give him space to get his first frappe coffee with Bailys instead of milk down him before I engaged him. He planted himself behind the bar and followed me with his black gaze. His fat head was swinging, punctuated by swear words. I had already played out the game in my head. He would start griping, I would placate him until I reposted vehemently enough to provoke a full-on altercation, storm out and join some friends who had said they were going water-skiing. Whereupon I would return for evening service sell all the specials and leftovers and harvest a wad of tips then go down to the strip where I would party myself spastic and all would be forgotten.
“Where you yesterday, koufala?”
Game on. I ignored him.
“Malaka! Where you yesterday?”
“I was on the strip, mostly Bubbles bar. You?”
“I am here, doing yourself work, hamoura!”
“You couldn't do my work if your life depended on it, you muppet! I do the business, you collect the money!” I was readying myself for water-skiing.
“We banged your door. We shout you. You no answer!”
“Yianni, what are you on? Go back to your frappe, I got work to do!”
“WHERE YOU WERE, STUPID ENGLISH! WE GO YOUR HOUSE… MANY TIMES”
“Listen, you stupider Greek, I was here until that table of Greeks left at, what was it, 12.30? Then I went down Bubbles. And, now I'm here!” The villagers were right, he was worse than usual. I may have to forgo my evening tips to win out this time. He was like Mussolini on his period!
His big moon face cracked a smile. “David. What day it is?”
“Listen Yianni, I'm off!”
“DAVID. WHAT DAY IT IS?”
“You fuckin' muppet! It’s Tue—”
I snatched the rip-a-day calender to shove in his fat face. It read Wednesday 18th July…


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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY