Thursday, 25 August 2016

My Grand Tour: The Police play an unexpected role

I've never been frightened of the police, I'm not a member of an ethnic minority group who feels targeted by the authorities. I didn't grow up in a high crime area where the police employed heavy-arm tactics to deal with wayward yoofs. On the contrary, my first brush with the law was when my mum asked a bobby to have a chat with her seven year old who had lifted a fiver from her purse to blow on sweets and matchbox cars. The police, to me, are just naturally flawed people stuck between government legislation and those chose to harm us, protect and serve. Foreign police are another deal altogether, they carry guns, they don't say 'please' and they know you are alone.


As the Bulgarian officer waved me over to the side of the road, I knew we were
in for a state sponsored shake-down. Their job is to raise money for the state through on the spot fines for and a smile for themselves by terrorising tourists. I had neither the budget nor the stomach for either.

He tapped the windscreen and started in Bulgarian then threw in the Greek words 'teli kykloforeias' (road tax). My wife pulled out the folder with the car paperwork and Handed over pieces for his perusal.

Applied arts museum, Budapest 
"No, no Bulgarian tax. Vignette," he said in English.

Shit! I had no idea we needed any tax and what was a vignette? A small film or prose? I had been told that when Bulgarian police give you a fine you can wave a €20 and amicable arrangements can be achieved but I have never bribed anyone and would not know how to offer one without evoking an insult. Then to my utter surprise he sent us on our way telling me to get one at the next petrol station. Could this be the EU in action? I hoped so but I didn't hang around to push it any further. We headed off gingerly and got one before crossing the border into Serbia, €10 worth of phew.

The border was slow and backed up but not nearly as much as the other side going into Bulgaria, the gods were on our side. It took the best part of an hour to get through the two check points but at the Serbian side one of the boot/trunk divers, those whose job it is to go through your smalls looking for contraband, spied the car's plates and shouted "Yiassou re!" a very casual Greek greeting. I returned the sentiment.

Alone and dejected. A Red Bull Air Race obstacle

We stopped just after to change up the remainder of our Bulgarian Levs to Serbian Dinar in a sweaty shed. Would we need a vignette for Serbian roads? I jumped the barrier onto the incoming queue and looked for someone to ask. The first car was Italian, the driver shrugged at my question quite apologetically, no English. Then I spotted a German car with a family. "English?"

"DEUTSCH!" came the drawn-out reply from the rotund driver without looking up from the wheel.

I tried to explain my question, tapping on the windscreen and making international gestures for money.

"DEU-TSCHE!"

So much for euro relations, I headed off to find some travellers' camaraderie.

One of the teenage girls from the German car called me back and in broken English explained that their was no vignette for Serbia. A Romanian who despite having very little English confirmed in great detail that there were no tolls until Nis then motorway began but the tolls were quite cheap.

Tolls and Rain, these are two of my favourite things!
At Belgrade we hit rain and the tolls. The rain was much harder than the €6 toll, they cheerfully took Euros. A board just before the gate showed the charges for different vehicle categories and point of entry onto the highway in both currencies. Serbia has been a candidate nation for the EU since late 2011. It still hasn't earned membership but treats European travellers well and appears to be behaving itself. The highway after Nis are great and you get a lot more for your money than in Bulgaria.

So that's Serbia, covered in 6½ hours of driving and 10 lines. We saw a bit more on the way home. Our next stop would be Budapest but first we had another border. 

The Serb side was a breeze but the Hungarians were much more difficult. The boot/trunk divers were making a show of turning out baggage and grilling drivers. We were checked by two crews who seemed to be checking each other as much as us. A rather stern woman in uniform made me open the boot then walked off, were we done? I went to close. NO! she poked at my bags, What is this? A bag. What is this? A bag... What is this? Cigarettes? alcohol? No. then she walked off again. It took one of the other uniforms to wave us on. The next just gave us a cursory check then grunted us on our way.

I bought an €11 vignette from a very glam young lady (absolutely no irony. She was dressed to kill.)... in a garden shed. They had run out of stickers so I just got a receipt. I could have got a special double with Hungarian and Austrian vignettes for €14 but the disco shed did not inspire confidence.

The greatest power in the land...and the Budapest Parliament
Now, remember my list of things that shouldn't be too cheap? Well, Budapest added another candidate, a hotel room. I had booked a room for €23 through booking.com. It looked basic but serviceable and well placed. It was very well placed. We arrived around 9pm to a dark red-light zone replete with sex toy shops and a police watch. The reception was full of desperate looking people and a fat sweaty man in string vest sitting over a pc in a box room, this was the receptionist. Ever the optimist, I decided to ask to see the room. A couple of Lithuanian bikers came out swinging their heads and rubbing their noses.

"How bad is it?" I asked.

"We will find and sleep in our sleeping bags. NOT here!"

The benefit of the doubt had gone. But where would we stay?

"Sweetheart, I booked a WHORTEL!"

So with the night getting old we had to find somewhere to stay. Police to rescue again. The wife went over to speak to the police and came back with an address. Passing, I waved a thank you to the Bobbyskis. Next thing I know they've overtaken us with blues and twos and beckoned us to follow... at speed, through red lights until we reached a decent looking hotel.

For €50 we got a very comfortable 6 floor suite without breakfast. DONE!
Budapest is basically two cities, Buda and Pest. We stayed on the Pest side. The night was vibrant and the architecture opulent if a little dilapidated. Looking up was a wonder, looking down told another story. The pavements were streaked with piss. Whether this was negligent dog walkers or pub-crawlers, I couldn't be sure but doorways were occupied by men and women clutching the by now ubiquitous family-sized beer bottle. They didn't appear to be transients, they didn't seem to have the equipment that homeless have. It may just have been their idea of a night out.

This was once one of the capitals of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and It is well-worth seeing. Many of the buildings are Gothic or Neo-Gothic style and very grand in scale, their parliament building is the third largest of its type in the world. Although a little research reveals that they are not as old as they look, mostly mid to late 19th century. 

A student's bedroom in Budapest
Budapest is teeming with Brits! This we discovered at a nice pavement bar. The next table were Brits around our age group. Down in the basement of the bar there was another table of younger Brits. The bar was very cool, decorated like a well-read student's bedroom with an excellent soundtrack. 

Finally the bar closed and after four large Urquells for €7 we went in search of some local fayre. Again fruitless. Was it us or has everyone franchised over to pizza and burgers? Local beer was easy but noone seemed interested in food. We hit McDonalds again full of Brits and assorted tourists doing the 'talk slowly and loudly' but still using their same colloquial vocabulary in hope of being understood.

Next morning the heavens opened so we snuck into the breakfast room. Busted! The camp chubby fellow who beavered around the buffet tried to tick us off his little list that we weren't on...oh dear! I resolved to settle up on check-out. Sorry, I resolved to see if I could side-step settling up on check-out. The wife ratted me out as I tried to shush her. The receptionist tried to rush me €19 and I took it out on her, I had nearly 6000km and a lifetime to go with the wife, the receptionist would soon be a stranger. We settled on €10 and left.

We met a couple from Germany who had travelled down by train. While we were outside in the pelting rain under a half-roof having a cigarette. I introduced myself as British and asked the man about Brexit.

He laughed, "How stupid! How will you travel now? Better you stay and Greeks leave!" My wife introduced herself. He said sorry.     

Budapest was hosting the Red Bull Air Race that weekend and we went down to the banks of the Danube to watch the action but the rain and wind had other plans. It was cancelled. 

Watch my Budapest moustache tour



Part 2:

                                                     


By around 3pm, the rain was not letting up. I turned to the wife in the car while eating scenic sandwiches and asked, "Shall we go to Austria?"

Goodbye Budapest, we'll be back.

Next: Opulent Vienna to the Ominous Nuremberg 
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Sunday, 21 August 2016

My Grand Tour: Into the Eastern Bloc

Shopping for Freedom
Just a Brit, a Greek and a French car heading north. We hadn't booked anything, the route was advisory and we had only owned the car for a week. Oh, and I'd forgotten what 3000km really means. The missus and I had reached middle-age but were more than willing to put that all behind us. Something told me we were being pretty reckless and it was about bloody time.

We were sans enfants for the first time since, well since I lied about being happy with just a cuddle on the sofa. The kids had been packaged off to Britain with Grandma. Just a couple of teenagers with wrinkles instead of acne bowling off to the Bulgarian border and way beyond our comfort zone.

This wasn't my first venture into the ex-eastern bloc Balkans. Back in the early nineties me and a bunch of assorted Europeans ran the gauntlet of Yugoslavia just before the bombs started to fall. Banknotes were exchanged and the guy at the window scrubbed out the last three zeroes with a marker to show their new value. We only stopped for a cup of warm mud on the road while half of us guarded the cars. Some years later me and the missus took a trip up the Adriatic to Venice, a firework display of rockets from the coast added ambience to our romantic weekend; the Kosovan war was in full swing and the Slavs were bombing the hell out of each other. I recently went to the Serbian town of Leskovac to speak about innovation in education at a public school. The town was still pock-marked with bullet holes and its razed industrial zone was acres of bombed-out twisted scrap metal. I spoke to a teacher there about what they'd been through, Tito's communism, Slobodan Milošević, civil war, ethnic cleansing and now the euro-zone economic crisis. His reply will remain with me forever, "Things now, David are shit... which is a major improvement." There was no hyperbole, no drama, it was simple fact.

A Truss in Sofia
Bulgaria is now a member of the EU but a long way off joining the single currency (maybe a blessing). In 2013, I went to Sofia where I met David Rothschild and other business innovators at DIGITALK. I visited a start-up incubator that was far advanced of anything in Greece. Bulgaria had only ever been a suburb of the Soviet Union but it was obvious to me that it was keen to join the west and put its days in the shadow of the iron curtain in the past.


Sveta Nedelya Cathedral
My wife is very fastidious about paperwork and she had the car's history, insurance and green card ready for inspection. The border guard simply asked for our passports and waved us into no man's land, the 500 metre gap between the Greek and Bulgarian check points. A few months before, according to the press, the Bulgarians had threatened to fence the border to keep out refugees but all we saw was a deeply rutted road and a shiny little Duty Free shop. We took a selfie and wee break and ploughed on.

Bulgaria welcomed us with a single lane country road peppered with 50kmh (31mph) speed limits and the threat of radar traps. I kept a light foot on the peddle and a vigilant eye on every corner, I had heard too many tales of police shake-downs and even fake police blocks to relax.

We stopped for breakfast in Sandanski, a pleasant little shopping town popular with Greeks for its fake designer wear and cheap cigarettes.

A few km before Sofia the road opened to a wide modern highway with 120kmh limits. The road network seems to be building out, slowly, from Sofia and it was good to put my foot down and cut the breeze, I was finally starting to relax.

Sofia is surrounded by grim blocks of soviet era housing but as you enter the centre the Former Communist Party building looms and the cars rumble on cobbled streets, Sofia is unexpectedly impressive. We parked up next to a British-plated Jaguar opposite the Bulgarian assembly and headed through the park for wifi to book our first night's stay.

Hotel Bon Bon was the type of place you check the rooms before committing to anything and €32 a night was no quality seal but it was great. A big attic room with two big double beds and a balcony. I paid an extra €5 for guarded parking, which was a fenced-off corner of scrub land with a couple of guys armed with 2-litre beer bottles and began to explore.

The 2-litre beer bottle appeared to be the accessory de rigueur. Just imagine those huge Coke bottles... with beer! I later found out that they also came in  2.5 litre and cost between €2-3 depending on quality. I never had the gaul to buy one, I have a list of things that shouldn't be TOO CHEAP and on that (short) list is booze and ladies. I chose instead to take in the ambience at a pavement bar with reasonably priced draught beer and my most exorbitant wife.

Eventually, hunger set in and we began a very fruitless quest for locale fayre, pizza, spaghetti, burgers and Greek food was abundant but nothing that looked local so we headed back to a place we had spied earlier. The proprietor of the empty Chinese restaurant almost fell off his chair when we sat down and summoned a menu, This would not be our last Balkan Chinese meal as we made a pact not to eat pizza anywhere but Italy, a pact that was broken twice and very pleasantly. We avoided seafood dishes and were not disappointed, the next morning would be the acid test.

Next morning, our stomachs were unaffected, result! and I booked our next stop in Budapest through Booking.com, €23 (I later revised my list of things that shouldn't be too cheap to include hotels!). We took breakfast in the Hotel's Hawaiian beach-scape themed basement. The car awaited unmolested and protected by the same two men re-armed with more beer and we hit the road.

Sofia's highway network soon gave out to a single lane speed trap. We had over 800km to Budapest and 50-90kmh was not going to cut it. I pushed as hard as I dare but less than 100km from the Hungarian border I spotted a couple of uniforms and they were not waving.

Next: The Police play an unexpected role and a Grand 'Tache tour

Friday, 19 August 2016

My Grand Tour


This summer we decided to dispense with the usual beach lounging holiday for something a little more ambitious. A journey that took us over 6,000 km through 13 countries and 15 cities and some of Europe's most fabulous landmarks. It's not the first time I've driven through Europe between my adopted home and my place of birth but it was definitely the most pertinent. Along the road I spoke to locals, immigrants and travellers. Among them were migrant workers, business owners, artists and some EU civil servants.

We had an amazing time and I almost became desensitised to grandiose and opulent architecture but just when I thought I had seen it all, I turned a corner, my jaw dropped and OMGA! Europe opened a six-pack of awesome.
      
The British voted for divorce from a union that they never truly felt part of. The Greeks nearly got ousted. But how do the other members feel? 

Is Europe in peril? Is it Fuck! Follow me as I take you on a road from the Parthenon to Big Ben via the serenity of Venice, the odious ghosts of Nuremberg and the ambition of The Eiffel tower.


NEXT PART: Into the Eastern Bloc

Monday, 11 July 2016

Episode 43: Everything is Under Control?

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.



I knew there was no one home but I still ran upstairs and downstairs yelling the wife and kids’ names hoping to be wrong. There was no sign but the brimming ashtray of the boys that Socrates had sent to take care of my family. I checked the basement, the place I had sent them to hide when we had been attacked by the tabloids but this was not the press. They shot personal moments, they did character assassination. The people who had crucified the Chinese peddler to my door did not. They had little understanding of nuance or subtlety. Some clothes and shoes were in neat piles on the beds. The wife had managed to start her packing ceremonies that were the precursor of every family trip. The ceremonies that had annoyed me so much. Looking around and finding my breath I could see no signs of violence, were Socrates’ heavies in on it?
Socrates! He would know.
He answered on the second ring. He seemed confused which made me panic more. He said he’d call the boys and get back to me. I checked my phone, I had an unanswered from the wife. I called her back but kept getting the same message, “The subscriber you have called probably has their phone switched off.”
Socrates called, “They’re ok. They are boarding the plane. We have someone in airport security who is making sure they are cared for.” I didn’t reply.
“Jude, give me your keys!”
“But the insurance is only for—” his protests continued all the way to the car but remained just protests.
Jude and Roni fastened their seat-belts. Roni even clipped her camera to it.
I knew which lights needed to be heeded and I ran them all. Roni kept asking me questions about what I was thinking only diverting her camera to show the red traffic lights pass at speed.
I answered her once and that seemed to suffice, “WHAT DO YOU THINK!”
We turned the last right onto the long straight to the terminal and I put it hard down. The departures building quickly came into sight but just outside the police building a patrol car sat with its blues on and an officer stood flagging me down. They had been stopping people here for months checking their state debts before they left the country. I changed lanes and flashed as I passed.
I left the car outside departures where others were kissing friends and loved ones goodbye. I ran in, the journos close behind. I heard shouts and whistles but I needed to get there more than anything.
Thessaloniki airport is little more than a bus terminus and I was soon at the first security gate. A tall man walked up and put his heavy hand on my shoulder. He was at least a head taller than me but his face was bright and childlike.
“They left safely, Sir.” He pointed through the windows to the Airbus taxiing onto the runway. “I could radio the plane. But, I think it would be safer not to draw attention to them.” I looked up at him. He squeezed my shoulder and smiled. “I have a girlfriend on the crew, she’s one of us. She’ll take care of them.”
I watched as the plane took position on the runway. Roni bumped into me closely followed by Jude and the police. Radios squawked and more descended from nowhere. Roni screamed PRESS!
A hand fell on my shoulder. ”Miister!”
The security guard boomed and I shook in my shoes but he was looking at the officer who had slid his hand down to my wrist behind my back. “Come here, you!” Chris, for that was the name on the badge that was pinned to his chest at my eye level, “You know who this is?”
Soon the officer had let me go and was on his radio. “Stand down!” a crumpled reply came and he repeated, “Stand down, I tell you! It’s the Englishman.”
I looked round at the journos and patted Chris on the chest, “They’re with me.” He made a sweeping motion to the officers and they disappeared apart from one who insisted on shaking my hand before he left.
“Sorry, Sir.” He offered in broken English. “You maked us worry. Too much!”
I turned to the windows but the plane was disappearing into the cloudless sky.
Chris was still looming as I turned to skulk off. I turned to thank him.
“Nothing, Sir. Don’t worry, some of those pigs have not chosen sides yet.” He changed to English, “Your family, they will be fine.” Then back to Greek, “Tell Mr. Socrates that Christos,” he tugged at his name badge. “Says everything is under control.”
“Under control?” I had never fucking doubted anything more in my life.



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Sunday, 10 July 2016

Episode 42: GO HOME!

You know me. You followed me around the country. You loved me on the TV when I had you in stitches with jokes about my penis. You followed me in the tabloids, you supported my charitable works. Then you didn't. I don't know why. You just stopped. Now, I have people who love me again. So much that they made me their mayor. This is my new story, From Under Dark Clouds.


It would have been so easy, a forth ticket. Go back to London. The tabloids would pick my bones cleaner than a bucket of bbq ribs. But if I could just lay low for a while, they would eventually tire of it, start picking on someone else. I could turn the whole experience into a show, start touring again. Maybe. I could go stay with some friends in the States. Do some tearful tea-time chat shows about my exploits at the hands of the cave-dwelling Europeans. Get a guest-star on a soap or some Netflix series. Fuck! If Piers Morgan could get a gig over there. Might have to stay away from the bible belt but that’d be no loss. It would all have been so easy. Relatively.
The message crucified to my office door was unambiguous, it said GO HOME! And the ink had made a sticky pool on the carpet. The messenger would not be missed by anyone who wasn’t already missing him thousands of miles away.
I was sitting on the steps sucking the calm out of another cigarette when Jude arrived, he touched my shoulder as he passed to Roni who showed him inside.
Socrates pulled up next, followed by the police. He started at me, I swung a thumb over my shoulder and told him to see for himself. As he passed I grabbed his sleeve.
“Have you got any…”
He looked down and grunted. “There’s a couple of bottles in the trunk.” He looked at his watch and walked away.
When he came back out he snatched the bottle from my mouth. “I need you sober!” I disagreed, no one needed me sober, much less me. I tried to take one last deep swig but the old bastard won, the strength to fight him was in that bottle.
“There’s a fucking slant nailed to your door!” I should have been offended by his racist slur but truth was the guy nailed to my office door did appear to be Chinese, Asian of some sort, but more importantly dead and beyond caring about any other word to describe him.
The police came out in a crackle of radio and started running yellow and black tape across the entrance.
I heard them snigger,”Yellows. Blacks. One less!”
They finally ejected Jude and Roni before sealing and went back to the squawking of their radios.
Someone told the officers to call an ambulance. “Too late! Chinese takeaway, send a fridge and the cleaners.”
Socrates was still holding the bottle and my mouth was arid for it.
The staff began to arrive but a police cordon sent them back home. None of them were too eager to argue but a crowd had begun to gather, many of them holding phones and cameras in the air. One of them I recognised as the ruddy-faced Englishman from the Town Hall towers riot. Bad news travels fast. My secretary broke through and ran to me, she was no athlete but she looked good when she ran.
She pulled the flight details from her bag and asked if I wanted her to call the wife. I did but I would have to do it. My hand fell to my cigarettes before my phone so I lit and sucked hard before tapping her face on the screen.
She didn’t know what was going on but she would before the flight. I had to be sure that she would leave. I told her I would call her mother to pick them up at the airport. Greek mothers are a force to be reckoned with. She made me promise to follow after. I promised, then repeated after. I couldn’t decide whether I was being brave or stupid. Fortunately the plain-clothes arrived and I didn’t have to choose.
We gave our statements in an unsullied end of the building, an English-speaking officer had been brought in for me, Roni and Jude. Their memory cards were taken after some protest. We were left with a uniform at the door.
Socrates had not been confined to the room, he’d arranged for a couple of the boys to go up and take care of the wife. I asked if we should get a police guard. He laughed, “I’ll send some boys up, they’ll be safer.”
Roni and Jude were being very supportive. They kept asking me how I felt and what I was planning to do and who I thought was responsible. I really needed to talk to Dr Alex but we had to keep a lid on this as long as we could. The less people knew, the better and I had Roni. She was quite the sounding board. The more I talked the better I felt. You know, it wasn’t me nailed to the door. The wife and the boys would be on a plane to London soon enough and the police would get them, after all this was a threat on a major political candidate. This could even swing the vote. In a few short months, I could be running this place. That would show them.
Jude yelled “Oh yes!” from the corner. I knew he was behind me.
I mused out loud over the idea while idly tapping through my facebook feed. The same last-night party pictures, inspirational memes and coffee cups. Roni ummed and ahhed and absolutely-ed. I liked and shared some of my campaign videos. Replied ‘thx’ to some kind comments. My phone continued to ping with interest. People were liking what I stood for. The fact that I’d rattled the fascists had to be a plus.
Jude leaped to the window and yelled, “Roni, camera!” I jerked up from my phone she didn’t have to ready her tool, it had been trained on me. How much had she filmed?
The stretcher coming out of the main doors of the town hall was covered with a white sheet that did little to obscure the gore of its load. The arms protruded from each side. The rectangular shape of his peddler’s tray lay flat on his chest. The same tray that had bore the message painted in his own blood, ‘Gamoto soy sou!’ I FUCK YOUR FAMILY! I could pick out every detail under the sheet, still seared in my eyes but the face had gone. All I could see now were my own features in place of his.
The legs of the stretcher folded as it entered the back of the blue van then dropped again as it was pulled back out. Some commotion began, arms waved. One of the crew walked away waving his palms in clear rejection. Jude sniggered and Roni echoed. A police officers stood forward and grabbed one of the arms as he thrust the stretcher hit the back of the van but the arm was now parallel with the body. He did the same with the other then thrust an open palm at the ambulance crew and walked off.
The man who had until recently been crucified to my office door was probably from China, well known in the low-rent neighbourhood for peddling smartphone cases and selfie sticks as well as cheap plastic toys that were popular with the kids. He would never be reported missing. Anyone who could have known or cared would be more interested in protecting their own safety. Anyone back home might notice the cheques stopping and never learn why. Just one of nearly 1.4 billion people who would quickly be replaced.
I had to get home, I had to see my kids. I had to see someone who cared if I lived or died. I ran out of the office to tell the officer that I would be leaving, with or without their sayso. The door swung open and bounced off the wall. The corridor was empty. Through the window I could see a lone squad car, the officers were nowhere to be seen. The ambulance had taken the peddler off to be forgotten, the crowds had dispersed.
We took Jude’s rental up the mountain. He was getting used to driving in Greece and no longer made a big show of stopping at amber lights but we arrived to an empty house.


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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Enough is Enough



On 23rd June 2016 Great Britain made the historic decision to break a 43-year relationship with Europe. A relationship that has never been without its issues, Britain is an island nation and never truly felt part of the continent.

Both camps, Brexit and Bremain campaigned on "fear and loathing", half-truths (I may be being a little generous here) and statistics (see Disraeli's quote).

But one truth remains, a democratic referendum took place and the outcome, while close, was clear 52% of those who cared enough to be heard said that enough was enough.

Now panic has set in. 

  • Crazy talk of London becoming a separate state.
  • David Cameron has stepped down
  • Talk of Britain being a fascist nation
  • Blah
  • Blah
  • Blah


All of this is a distraction from two key points.

  • Britons have democratically decided
  • The decision needs to be made to work


And here is the main point that needs to be understood.

Any U-Turn now wold be a white flag to the EU (read Germany). Any buckling now would be a sign of weakness that would forevermore be regretted by a Britain that would be forced to slowly but surely assimilate with the technocrats of Brussels under the watchful eye of Merkel, Shauble über alles. Did the British petition for surrender during the blitz?  

The fear-mongering continues but we need to put some of these fears into context.

Britons will still be able to work in Europe. 

Those who have the skill sets that are required around the world will still be welcome to share those skills for the benefit of the host countries. This happens around the world irrelevant of EU or non-EU.

Europeans will still be able to work in UK.

For the same reasons as stated above with the only difference that there will be more of a supply and demand basis. In other words, the skills required will be allowed and those that are adequately covered by the local workforce will not. 

Britons will still be able to travel freely through Europe.

For those of you who can remember travelling through Europe before before Schengen, which of course UK never joined, will recall that there was limit trouble crossing borders, no special visas. In fact, there are many countries around the world that accept Britons without any pre-arranged visa.

British companies will still be able to trade with Europe.

Does the US not trade with Europe, Does China not trade with Europe? Agreements will need to be renegotiated but if British companies work on quality and competitiveness, British products and services will still be in demand. The world's students will still come to study. Airbus wings and engines will still be made in Britain. 

The markets.

London is and will remain a world financial centre. The London stock exchange and Deutsche Börse entered a merger to protect themselves from just this eventuality. Fear-mongers are talking of it moving its operation centre to Frankfurt but the trading floors will remain. The markets are profit and confidence driven. If British industry continues to innovate, invest and give returns on those investments, the markets will be happy to trade. A slightly weaker Pound will improve exports while stimulating consumption of domestic products over imports. What we have seen over the last few days of turmoil has been a risk averse market in both Pounds and Euros keeping them fairly level pegging. If a Trump presidency does the same for the Dollar then the three major index currencies will balance at traditional levels (just saying).

The Economists.

There is no precedent for Brexit, this has never happened before. A major economy leaving a trading bloc on this scale. Any predictions are based on theory and what any economist or trader will tell you is that the world economy is not an exact science, it is based on human behaviour.

And it is with this that I will close. Britain needs to get working on making this work! Nobody really expected this but plans are in place, strategies have been drafted. 

I lived and am still living through Greece's show of strength and subsequent capitulation after last year's Athens spring. The EU does not play cricket.

Stop whining and vilifying the democratic process. There will be difficulties and challenges but this would not be the first time and we are still here after those battles. We will prevail only AND ONLY if we are decisive and not divisive. We need leadership and to rediscover what we capable of in SPITE of challenge.

The Sword is ne'er keener than in battle's midst! 


Keep it here for my ideas on how the EU's recent behaviour has qualified our decision.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Lobster: A Crop Of... review

Yes, I know I've been very quiet for some time but this, I just had to share with you.

About five years ago I was recommended to watch a film, now this happens all the time but this film was Greek. Despite Greece being my chosen home, I don't watch Greek TV, I love (...loved) my Top Gear, Dr. Who, IT Crowd. Few in the world do it better than the BBC. I love British music (been mainlining Radiohead's new one lately) and I ride a Vespa, which we allow the Italians to make but is STILL British! And, I love British films, we have more astounding actors than anyone, full stop. Anyways up, I conceded to watch Dogtooth and I was spellbound. I couldn't remember a film that had resonated for so long after the closing credits. It is an allegory of the Greek family, society and even the Google globalisation. I was stoked when it was in the running for a foreign language Oscar but it lost to some Danish film (I think) and that, I thought, was that. 

When I heard that Yorgos Lanthimos and Efthymis Fillippou had made another, this time in English, I chaffed at the bit to see it.

The Lobster is about a man, David who is ditched by his wife for another. Bad enough, but this is a society where singles are not tolerated. David is taken to an asylum where he has 45 days to find a partner or be turned into an animal of his choice (yes, it is that weird) David chooses a lobster and Olivia Coleman's Hotel manager congratulates him on his unusual but informed choice. Accompanied by a sheepdog who used to be his brother he tries to find a perfect match. Other men fake nosebleeds and other flaws to connect with the women but David chooses a sociopath and things don't go well. he finally runs from the asylum to join a group of 'Loners' who are just as dysfunctional as the society they live in.

The cast is jewelled with prime British talent like the aforementioned Olivia Coleman, Colin Farrell who rejects his Miami Vice good looks, Rachel Weisz, who can't help being gorgeous, Ben Whishaw, who was brilliant in The London Spy and Ashley Jensen who I loved in Extras. But it wasn't just Brits who made the scene, John C. Reilly who rarely puts a foot wrong and Greece's own Angeliki Papoulia.  However dazzling the cast, they only served as elegant brush strokes on Fillippou and Lanthimos' canvas of macabre observation and wit. Their clipped, metered dialogue shades cinematography that looks like it was filmed on a Poloroid instamatic. Many promising directors take a huge dump on the rulebook only to fall into line when signatures fall on the Hollywood chequebook. This has definitely not been the case with these two, The Lobster is as bemusing and beguiling as Dogtooth. Just think Nolan's Memento, Fincher's Fight Club, Arnofsky's Requiem. What do I know, I couldn't even tell you how much weight De Niro gained and lost for Raging Bull!

I urge you to see both Dogtooth and The Lobster. What I know of Greeks is that they have an opinion on most things but few have the eloquence and wit of Lanthimos and Fillippou. Once you have seen them, I want you to make me a sincere promise that if they make a film that makes sense with one viewing you are to send them packages of FRENCH feta cheese until they get back on track.    

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

If literary characters had representation...



The freezing drizzle fell heavy on the fine balance for my morning run in the mountain. A warm bowl of porridge was so much closer, so much… warmer. My laptop sprung into life without any such reservations and pinged Facebook updates at me, the weather, breakfast cereals and the internet were now joining forces against me. I didn’t stand a chance. I shut down the distractions and went to perk some coffee. Scrivener took me to the cliffhanger where I had left my characters dangling. Waiting saviour, solace or slaughter but I had none. The cursor blinked and blinked. My heart began to sync with it but no word, no letter came.
finally my characters huffed and stomped off to their trailers, chiding me over their shoulders as they left me alone, “Call us when you got something interesting to do.”
It’s a good job literary characters don’t have representation. Their trailers cost me a few keystrokes but the rewrites were endless. I made the mistake of giving a protagonist a shrink once and he’s still harping on about improving relations with his mother.
“Yeah! I’m going to update my facebook status.” My fragile, sympathetic heroine spat. I’m glad I don’t give her many lines, she’s an awful actress. Everyone knew she was going back to his trailer.
The cursor is still winking.
The bit parts start getting shifty.
I look at them and they look back at me. I could build you into a love interest, an evil nemesis, a cyber-borne virus.
“Ok, great! But get on with it. We took a day off Lidls for this. It may be minimum wage but it’s a living wage.”
The other mumbles something about a double shift at Nando’s.
This isn’t the first time I’ve hit a wall. You know what it’s like. What’s that face for? You know what ‘The Block’ feels like, hanging in the air above a huge abyss just knowing that falling would be preferable to hanging. I grit my teeth and began larruping the keyboard but the closest to a word I can get is q-w-e-r-t-I.
I’ve had this before. I got past it. I revisited an old post to benefit from past wisdom.
Fuck! Even I’m goading myself from the past. All I need now is for my late Grandma to call me and point out what a useless hack I am. She was published long before me and deserved it more. She lived through a world war, I barely made it through a consumer spending slump.
It’s simple, all I need to do is write, that’s what my past self tells me.
Inspired by my bullying self, I roll up my sleeves and resolve to write. Write anything and see where it takes me. I get back to scrivener just in time to see the bus leave, taking my remaining material off to a double shift at Nando’s.
Sod this for a game of soldiers! I’m going to lounge on the sofa and watch Stewart Lee slag off rich people with a cup of herbal tea…


…and a bacon sandwich.

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY