Saturday, 1 July 2017

Episode 47: Confession


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 was alive and I had no idea how or why. The stench of death on his breath caught in my throat. Rotten undigested meat and bile. The light in my eyes prevented me seeing his face but I knew exactly what he looked like. Hate moulds all faces into the same gnarled affectation, over-chewed gum once all the taste has gone.
We had followed sometime after the set up team. Partly to get the arrival choreographed and partly because it had taken a fire extinguisher to get me off the well-assembled secretary.
Jude had gone off to Germany. America had a new president, an ex-country and western singer and she was to meet with the chancellor and her eurogroup pets. This took precedence over my antics in the arse-end of Europe.
When we arrived in the town square, I readied my face for the public. We circled the square looking for the welcome team. The secretary was sat up front so as not to distract me too much. I searched for our boys. A pick-up truck pulled out of a parking space into our path. My driver rubbed his hands together waiting to take his place. The secretary leaned round in her seat, she wore a terse smile. I spotted our banner and PA system. It was still in a pile in the middle of the square. I tapped the driver on the shoulder to circle again and call the set up team to get a move on. Shoppers shopped. Kids played. No crowds await.
The pick-up was still blocking our way. My driver raised his hands and huffed. The pick-up driver got out. A shadow fell over the car. The door burst on its hinges, the car rocked. Now, our driver was no light-weight but the hands that reached in and grabbed him were construction grade. He was excavated from his seat and replaced by a wirey man with cropped hair. The excavator wrenched my door open and planted himself next to me. I grabbed the door handle but the pick-up truck driver was there to keep it closed. The secretary screamed and the driver planted his fist into the side of her head and she fell silent. I felt impotent chivalry course my veins. We were moving out of the square. I spotted a squad car and waved frantically at the officers, the driver lifted an open palm, tipped his head and waved. My only thought was to get their attention, my only thought was bounced across the inside of my skull as the excavator replaced the thought with stars.
My hands were tied behind me but would have been useless under the circumstances. The wirey man standing over me was hewn from frustration. I was a man of comedy. Behind him stood the same piece of plant machinery that had filled my head with stars.
“Where is the girl?” I demanded.
They laughed. The excavator glanced at a door to my right.
I warned them not to harm her. I made a show of shaking free from the ropes. I amused them. A man of comedy.
The excavator pumped a laugh, “Like the Chinaman.”
I was alive, maybe the secretary was too. Maybe not. I was too high profile to kill or they were biding their time.
“Listen guys, what do you want me for?” This wasn't the first time I had faced bullies. It was them I had to thank for my career in comedy. “Let me introduce you to some people in London. They’re always looking for talented guys like yourselves. New suits, nice cars, toothbrushes, deodorant!” I didn't get to the pretty girls before they gave me a round of applause around my head.
I came to with the slamming of the front door. Wirey and Excavator stood to attention. The voice behind me was the reason I was still alive. Last time our paths had crossed he was pummelling my face on live TV. Ares was standing behind me. He smelt a lot better than the two before me but I could feel his fury like static electricity. He spoke with the smile of the victor. I hoped he was smug enough to Bond-villain his plans for me before the good guys broke down the door and whipped their arses.
“We've got a girl in the next room who’s full of your DNA.” He was smug enough.
I could feel my phone in my pocket. “MIKE!” The device pinged a response.
“You didn't get his phone?” They looked at each other. “Get the fucking phone!”
“Ares, they did a hopeless job of kidnapping me. I wouldn't stand for it if I were you!” my neck crunched as the blow from behind connected. The boys dove for my crotch.
“Destroy it!”
Wirey looked at the screen. “Just a facebook notification, boss.”
“Destroy it!”
“It’s an iPhone 7 plus, boss. 800 euros!”
I didn't hear another word but Excavator pushed Wirey, plucking the phone from his hand as he fell to the floor then folded it between his fingers.
“You annoy me, faggot!” Ares paced in front of me. “You should have gone home when you had the chance. Back with your beautiful family in London.”
I warned him to leave my family alone and I felt like I really meant it, like my warning made a difference to him.
“We are watching them and I only need to call…” He took out his phone and it pinged twice. Fuck, was it once for no, twice for yes? Four rapid pings. I think this means malaka.
“No!” I yelled. Excavator’s phone pinged twice. “OK”
Ares continued, “Yes,” Ping! “I only have to give the word and they are in a skip.”
“OK, I get it!”
He explained how the bitch in the next room could end up in a skip filled with my shit and I would be safely tucked up in a place in Greece where I would be frightened to take a shower, sleep or even eat for a very long time. He enjoyed this enormously wringing his hands. “…or you can go home.” He swung his fist into my cheek. “Personally, I hope you decide to stay.”
So, they were not going to kill me. This was some relief.
“So, should I stay?” Ping! “Maybe someone is coming to save me?” There was no ping. “I can’t fly without my passport.” Ares reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a British passport. Without let or hindrance. “I guess we are going to the airport. I hope you have money, my credit cards are with my…” He pulled my wallet from his other pocket.
I was surprised that Ares didn't take this opportunity to pummel me some more and before I knew it I had given voice to the words.
“You and me,” he paced. “Are not so different.”
“Yeah, there’s a bit of fascist cunt running through everyone’s veins.”
He smiled, “TV. We both understand the power of it.” He walked around me landing a heavy fist in my gut but at least he missed my nuts this time. “YouTube, facebook. It can make or break people.” He pulled out his phone and waved it like the holy book. “And we can do it all from here.” He swiped, tapped and spoke. “Bring her in.”
A moment later the door opened and Roni entered on the end of a shaved weasel, another came in holding her camera.
“Alright, Roni?” I asked.
She was sat down on a stool opposite me and her camera thrust into her lap. She instinctively made it ready. She was not alright but showed no sign of being treated with the same hospitality that I had.
A piece of paper was shoved into my hand covered with 5-year-old writing.
“I can’t read this, it was written by an illiterate!” Ares told me his nephew had written it and he had a Proficiency from Michigan. Figures.
On the page was supposed to be me apologising to the Greek people for insulting them with the idea that I could save them, that I had the answers, that I was a fraud. I questioned their validity and concluded nothing.
Wirey had pulled himself up from the floor and was rubbing his head. “You know, I could always get Asteris here to wring your scrawny little neck.” Asteris looked perturbed. “He might spend a few years inside but we’d look after his family.” He stopped. “And, it always sends a better message to the community when one of us takes responsibility for his actions. Anyway, when we get in this time, he gets out. And we WILL get in this time.”
“Why not the other one? He’d probably do it quicker.”
“No, he’s too handy and my mother likes him too much. Got a good appetite.”
Excavator smiled a grave-yard grin.
Roni lifted her camera and it was show time.
Ladies and gentlemen of the proud nation of Greece, for that is who you truly are. Not the gilded heirs of a land but the privileged caretakers of this fructiferous European allotment. Mia culpa. I confess my transgressions, of hubris that I may coalesce your democratic voice to one of common cause and purpose from one of self-service and proliferation of a status quo whose objective is to maintain division and denigration.
“STOP!” Ares waved at Roni to lower her camera. “what saying he?”
Roni swallowed hard, “He is saying that he is an arrogant big-head and Greek people are proud and wise.”
He grabbed my shoulder and waved the page in my face. “You say words!” his spittle stank.
I told him in his language that if I read these words, nobody would believe them. He kicked the floor and yelled that he should have brought his nephew.
“Would have been nice to meet the whole family!” Roni kicked my shin.
“GO! SPEAK!”
Roni raised her camera again and I worked out how to say what I wanted without getting myself in a skip.
That same misanthr… shit! Greek word, he’d get that. That same demago… more Greek, this was not going to be easy. Might end up in rhyming slang.
Roni kicked me again and pointed to the paper. Of course. Read it.
And so I make my risible confession so ineloquently composed to aforementioned ends. I read it. Punctuation errors, spelling mistakes like a senile in the throws of aphasia. This pleased Ares no end. And so into democracy’s crucible, I throw my hat.
“HAAAT!” Ares was spitting again. “WHAT IS THIS HAAAAT!”
“Throw in your hat, it means give up, quit.” Roni offered.
He snapped his fingers at Roni but she looked at him.
“Card, memory card!” He pulled out his phone and she gave him the large CF card from her camera. He offered it up to his phone. “What is this?”
“Compact flash. We don’t use the same cards as phones.”
The two men stepped back from Ares, they knew something was going to happen.
He swung the door to the bedroom open. The secretary was laid out naked on her front, her face to the door. Her eyes were open but there was no one behind them anymore.


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Saturday, 3 June 2017

Do we understand work anymore?

WORK: for many a four-letter word, for others the epicentre of their existence but for most of us just another necessary evil. Work is how we get the stuff we need to buy stuff and keep the kids in fidget spinners (replace with current craze). For some, it is in all too short supply and barely covers the basics for others it absorbs all our waking hours. It affords us prestige and position, for most a source of frustration. But do we really understand what work is any more. I say not.
Twitshot
Now, my old favourite, Plato (I always put him in, it makes me look smart… is it working?) suggested the principle of specialisation. This means that each of us should stick to what we are good at, traders trade, farmers farm and philosophers sit around telling everyone what to think. Du Monceau in his riveting work The art of the pin-maker used pins to explain how Plato’s ideas could be taken even further. Adam Smith continued the pin-making motif (It was nails, actually but I like continuity) in The Wealth of Nations to show how these jobs could be split up to make great improvements in productivity, Henry Ford used this to create the production line so he could employ less and less skilled people at much lower cost to produce a very complicated product. In other words, give someone something very simple to do over and over and he will be good at it while not having enough scope to demand more money.
In the 1970s mechanisation had reach a point where many foresaw a time when machines would take over the pin-making and we would all enjoy unprecedented leisure time. A logical progression considering that the 1938 Holiday and pay act had provided the first paid holidays for workers. Very soon the idea of being paid even on days when one does not work became a standard. So, the concept of working a 3 or 4 day week while still being able to support a family did not seem to be an unreasonable progression. The computer age should have accelerated this but it didn’t.
It was realised that just as Plato had suggested, everyone should stick to what they did best. And as Adam Smith had concluded, that this was good for the wealth of the nation. So, workers work, employers supply this work, education keeps pace with the supply of the workers that the employers need and the government keep the whole machine oiled with taxes.
Work is a simple exchange of time for money, the more valued your time, in other words, the rarity and desirability of your time, the more money you get. But, we also had a system that would ensure that our needs were catered for and the 5 evils of society under control. This means that everyone contributes what they can to the nation to ensure that everyone’s needs are catered for and amongst those needs are healthcare, security and leisure. Leisure is important to keep the balance right, each part of the machine should contribute, not dominate. At its heart a society which progresses human development and evolution.
Meanwhile a lady called Brownie Wise would change the way we would work for ever. She realised that Tupperware could be sold more effectively through direct marketing. She gave women the opportunity to earn some pin-money (pins again) by monetising their friends, but also these ladies were self-employed, outside the machine. A straight line can be drawn from there to app-builders today. So, now if you don’t have a job it is not because the employers are failing to provide it or the education system is failing to prepare you for it, it is because you are just not enterprising enough. Plato and Smith had agreed that you really should stick to what you are good at and we are not all entrepreneurs. This new ideology also absolves the government from the position it had worked so hard to establish of taking care of its population’s needs. Globalisation had allowed it to supply employers with workers by simply importing them as they would washing machines. They no longer needed to produce and you’ll see that most advanced nations have a skills deficit which they are happy to maintain because it is cheaper to import.
Here is the shift. Governments are now working to the needs of the employers, not its population. They continually tell the population that it must tighten its belts and forgo some of the luxuries of the so recent past, free higher education, healthcare and leisure time. They should continue to pay the taxes to support the system but should expect less for it. Business should be above all else. If we accept this we can all return to times of plenty for all. But expectations are being slowly readjusted. You must take on more of the responsibilities that were once provided by the nation. You need to do many of the things you are not so good at or pay someone to do them, if you can.
Now, businesses have discovered a new way to make money. Instead of making and selling pins, they can make money through the markets. Their stock value is the real route to success and all resources should be focused on maintaining a healthy market value. The pin-making is just a utility to this end. To increase the market value companies must make more money and this means higher efficiency which depends on cheaper labour expenses.
Workhouses 21st century
We live in the tech age and as the industrial revolution mechanised production, the tech age will automate almost all areas of the company’s operations. Artificial intelligence is rapidly out-pacing the abilities of the lesser educated and their jobs are in imminent danger. When was the last time you interacted with ebay or amazon, did you get the feeling that you were not talking to a person, interactive chat services are passing the Turin test on a daily basis and they are getting better every day. Call-centres were outsourced to India and other cheaper countries and it is one of the biggest industries in the Philippines but many returned because customers complained of the lack of communication, AI will do better and cheaper. Many of us shop online. We go to shops to try on the clothes and then order the same product, cheaper through the net. Some retailers have realised this and use their stores to close the sale and give customers incentives to order from them online after trying on the garments. As more and more of us get used to buying stuff without any interaction with a shop assistant, the retail fronts could be booths where you try on and order for delivery to home. No more shop assistants or call centre workers, next. Autonomous vehicles will soon be able to get us back from the pub after a skin-full, safely and legally. They may also have been serving our pint. They will also be able to drive our Uber, black cab, bus, train or truck they are even working on drone deliveries that will make postmen and pizza delivery boys obsolete.
Online education courses will increase the abilities of educators to be decentralised to begin with but will soon be surpassed. There are also robots that allow surgeons to operate on patients from thousands of miles away. These too may be surpassed by AI. Technology in conjunction with our diminished reliance on personal, human interaction will make all this seem quite normal. Just imagine, many of your facebook friends could be replaced with AIs and you wouldn't know the difference.
So, a whole bunch of menial jobs will disappear, so what? This could be great. The same thing happened after the industrial revolution and that saw rise to the welfare state. More leisure, more education, more interesting jobs. However, in order to develop the skills necessary to do these jobs, you need education and skills are a supply and demand market. To stem the flow of capable people, education costs and a great education costs a great deal. People are going into careers with a huge debt around their necks and to make the payments that are working harder. The information age makes them more available, more of the time. And those who don’t make the grade, well they’ll be left outside the wall and there will be no workhouses to ‘save’ them, no busses to drive, no call centres to man.
Work has always been a way to provide. First we worked our patch of land, hunted in the forests to feed our families. Then with the division of labour, it became a team effort and we evolved into a species that lived more and better. Work is a medium of distributing the wealth of nations. Each getting on with what they do best, no matter how little or how much. Each paying into society and communities to benefit from its prosperity. Work is not the reason for living. We hold ourselves superior to the ants and the bees. Quality of life is progress, servitude is devolution. Without it, children are not parented properly, communities do not have cohesion, we open ourselves to exploitation from those who would take from us, whether they be corporations or gangs of muggers.
“I’m working” is a phrase too often heard, it means I am being productive, useful, I have purpose. The same should be true of “I’m taking the kids for a ramble” or “I’m going to the neighbours for a drink.” Work is part of the equation, not the sum.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Back to a very dark age

So much progress was made in the last century. Huge leaps in technology, great advances in equality, despite what many believe, education and health care for great swathes of the population. We put men on the moon, connected the world’s peoples with voice, video and written word, put eons of knowledge in the public domain and put computers that would have dwarfed NASA in the pockets of the same people that would have been bought and sold in the 1800s. So what’s gone wrong. We are on the cusp (and I’m being charitable here) of going full circle. Let me explain.
Twitshot
I will take my native Britain as case study but I also hope to explain why Trump happened, why BREXIT happened and why I believe we are in danger of finding ourselves back in an 18th century with touch-screens.
Looks like a call centre, doesn't it?
Around the end of the 18th century many worked in agriculture on tied farms owned by the lords and landowners. They paid to live in a little cottage and work the land to keep their family alive. There was no time for leisure and even less for culture. This was the domain of the aristocracy. They filled their days with lofty conversation, art and literature. Some made great advances in science and exploration due to their brilliance and wealth but mostly due to their wealth. Then came the industrial revolution which invented the middle classes, smart, driven men who took the dispossessed and orphans to work in their factories. They had no rights and were expected to work hard and show gratitude. Education was a luxury and so all doors were closed to betterment. They were all governed by the aristocracy who had the education and hubris to assume their rightful position at the helm of the nation. Some of the new middle classes aspired to these positions as they realised it was leverage to more profitable business.
The workers had no such aspirations and even believed that they had no right to even consider such positions. The upper classes were the men for the job, no questions. They could not envisage people like themselves having the qualifications necessary to make decisions on such a scale. Here we will see the beginning of the loop, be patient.
So after nearly a hundred years of industrialisation work had become a little more technical and there was a need to educate the masses to deal with the advances in technology. It was The elementary education act of 1870 that allowed local governments to set up schools for the less privileged. They were still fee paying schools but they were a little more accessible than private schools and more numerous. More kids were learning the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic, maybe in itself an indication of literacy levels in those days) than ever before. In 1902 secondary schools were given the same treatment and just after the Great War in 1918 fees for elementary schools were abolished. This was also the year that some women got the vote.
The Liberals (Back when this wasn’t a bad word) pushed for universal free healthcare under Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George. The masses were learning but still grateful. The British labour party had taken over as the main opposition but many would not vote for them as they were seen as not as qualified for such positions as the ruling classes. People still felt that those in the upper echelons were there for good reason and Joe Blow would never have the wherewithal to handle such responsibility, after all they were just like the blokes they spent their time with down the pub. Some may have been great orators and even pretty smart but they still got pissed and tried to shag the barmaid!
After WWII the Beveridge report introduced the welfare state, the NHS, the largest employer in Europe. John Maynard Keynes found the money and the war on the 5 evils of society (squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease) was declared. People were put to work, educated to better themselves and their health and retirement was taken care of. Without the pressures of survival, people made huge bounds in progress and it is because of that era that we are where we are now. Microprocessors, the INTERNET, telecommunications, science, not to mention the arts would still be in the dark ages if these initiatives had failed. You can forget The Beatles and the Stones (Maybe even Radiohead… Gasp!).
Now, by the 70s things had gotten a bit strained and sectors of society that had always existed started to proliferate, those who were OK to kick back and let others take the strain and those who could make a buck from the toil of others. Neither the prior nor the latter were anything new but the prior were aided and abetted by the welfare state and the latter were waiting for the right conditions and they didn’t have to wait long. Productivity had fallen and the only way to keep the economy liquid was to allow people to spend the money they hadn’t earned yet. Credit was a way to give people spending power without upping their wages while giving bankers a way to make money that, they hoped, would trickle down to the masses. And, it did but not for long.
So now you have a people who had smelt the honey and they wanted more. You have the bankers who had enjoyed real power and they liked it. And you have a system that cannot support either.
The age we live in is characterised by technology but also by celebrity. Education allowed many to fast-track themselves and their kids to positions. Many of the Indians who fled Kenya in 1968 put their kids through medical school while working all hours in their own convenience stores. Many of the natives dreamed of getting on the telly or becoming rock stars, I know I did!
You see, the line, for most, between multimillionaire celebrity and themselves is comprehensible. Everyone can see the boy/girl next door in the people who compare game-shows or sing their favourite song. But, to run an international company or even country is tough and as education works so hard to rationalise their ambitions. Celebrity is far more attainable. The west has a huge deficit in skills production. With the exception of Germany, the US and UK have year on year chipped away at their education systems and health systems with the result of kicking people into survival mode. This results in people closing their circle of aspiration while still maintaining a level of desire for stuff and thus spending ahead of their years, keeping them focused on the job at hand.
Then along comes someone like Trump. He has built a multi-million international empire but still wants to shag the barmaid. He talks in the same simplistic terms as their buddies down at the bar but he has realised their dreams. He is the man for the job. He may be stupid but he is the kind of stupid they can relate to. The product of the education system. He is the perfect amalgam of celebrity and aristocracy, he even had a TV show.
But he will fail. He will be brought down by the incumbent aristocracy, in league with the academics and social media. He will be shown to be incompetent and his brand of bar-room politics to be unworthy. Not that it isn’t but the message is clear. Don’t get above your station. At the moment Britain is coming up for a general election where the winner is clear. Teresa May and the Tories, the same who had their power slip at the beginning of the 1900s, the same who wish those days to return, the same who feel a righteous purpose to privatise a system that tried to deal with the 5 evils of society, the same who will need to rely on imports of educated people to support innovative business or risk it going to the producers of educated people. And the only way they will be able to keep them will be to direct cash away from those services to reducing their tax and wages bills. We will be back in the industrial revolution and we will have come full circle.
The people will no longer feel adequate to aspire to anything more than surviving the week. Anyone like Jeremy Corbyn will be seen as a hapless student union dreamer despite having their needs at heart. And, those who say that in order to float the economy we need to run some teachers, doctors and nurses into the ground will seem most credible. But, education and health care is where this all began, it is what got us here. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a cycle that will come back round. The next phase will putting up fences that prevent it ever happening again.

You have been warned…

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Episode 46: Alternative Honesty

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 took my rage out on the hotel barman. They’re like hairdressers for men, their job is 60% therapy and their prescriptions a damn sight more effective than a cut and blow dry.
I was right, I was the first with the balls to tell it how it is. The bitterest pill.
“Will you vote for me, my friend?” I asked him.
“Yeah, I’ll vote for you.” He smiled. “Nobody else will, though.”
I put a ten euro note on the bar and pushed it toward him. He looked at it. “Honesty should always be rewarded, my friend.” He pocketed the note.
I asked him about his job, the place he lived, anything but me and my game. He was working his way through university. “Have a drink. On me.” I ordered. He motioned to a top-shelf whiskey. I told him to pour two. I was sick of that tsipouro shit. “Make it Irish!” the bar was empty. Apart from a middle-aged man in the corner with a young blonde. Almost private therapy. Who had the better therapist?
“What are you studying?” His English was serviceable so I dropped into my native tongue.
“Six years.”
“How long before you finish?”
“It’s hard. Work, studies.” He grimaced. “I’m reading archaeology.
“Good country for that though.”
“I’ll have to get my masters in abroad country. Only they dig in Greece.”
“So what will you do?”
“Maybe teach, maybe other work in the…” he searched for the word. “Civil service.”
I woke with a head full of therapy but little inclination to soft soap the great unwashed. The guys were in the connected room were watching something. I heard my voice.
You dream of driving a Greek car, you will drive a car built in Greece! Your children will get into university and do their job properly. They will not go to Bratislava where they have to buy their degree. They will be doctors Paid by your government, not back-handers…
“What the fuck is this?”
It was my speech from yesterday but nowhere close to what I remember.
A government you can trust!
It was on everyone’s social media feed. Me saying what needed to be said, how it needed to be heard.
“I didn’t say that!”
“Oh but you did. You did now, anyway. Even the people who were there are liking it.”
True, they were my words but they had been stir-fried into something else. More sweet than sour.
Mike the IT guy wished me a good morning through my phone in the other room. He doesn’t need to be swiped to answer, he just appears. “Sir, it is your honesty that people need but they need alternative honesty until they are ready.”
“What the fuck is alternative honesty?”
He explained that my brand of honesty needed some tempering until the people were ready for the real thing. “Mr. Socrates agrees.”
The video played on. We must grow some balls against this Eurocratic empire that our grandfathers fought against. We must have money in our pockets NOT controlled by the ECB!
My words, my words in the right order. A new order that the people could get behind.
The video faded with the words patriotism is an action!
“Play it again,” I ordered.
I watched the man in the video, wishing I could have his conviction, his bellicose determination. But, as hard as I wished, I didn’t. I wanted to go home kill zombies with the kids and have crazy sex with the wife. I wanted a stage where the audience laughed with me not at me.
My phone summoned me to the other room. It was Socrates, he does need to be swiped. His powers are quite different to Mike’s, old skool powers. He was the man who had got me into this mess in the first place and maybe the only one who could get me out. He didn’t. He banged on for nearly an hour about my role in the future of a nation that had lost its way. How only I from my objective position could see behind the curtain. Got to give it to the old bastard, he knew how to dump the fate of eleven million people on one pair of shrugged shoulders.
“If you don’t do it, who will?” Then he rang off.
Mike popped up on my screen, and flashed up my social stats. Thousands and thousands of likes, shares, red hearts and warm comments. Amongst them were some from the wife. I told him to connect us. We talked for maybe half an hour. She told me how important it was that I continue, how important it was for me to make it right, how important I was in this story of a nation finding its way. The connection dropped.
“Mike, get her back!”
He told me that some things were still beyond his control but he was working on it. He was hardwired into the net! He was no longer a man, he was a fucking algorithm and he couldn’t bring her back to me.
“Maybe she said what she needed to say and unplugged.” His avatar shrugged.
I decided to take a shower and wash this shit off me. Something bothered me.
Hot water and soap can clean more than the body and there was something about the wife’s demeanour, something about how she called me a dumbass fuckstick. Something.
The light changed, brighter, then shadow. Through the frosted glass of the shower I saw the shapely silhouette of the well-assembled secretary.
“Sir?”
I covered myself.
“It’s hard”
It wasn’t but it had plans.
“It’s hard when you feel everyone is pressing against you.”
She moved and was illuminated. She was wearing the suit she wore in the office, the one I liked best. I dropped my faux-modesty, trusting in the frosted glass.
“You will be remembered as a big man in this country’s history. You are a big man.”
In Greek, big and great are the same word, I wasn’t sure which to understand but one of them was becoming apparent.
“It can get lonely.”
I tried to focus on the wife but she flickered as she had during our video-chat, her sentences cut in all the wrong places.
“If you can’t wash off the dirt, you may need some help.”
I turned to change the water from steam to ice. I heard tailored cloth hit the tiled floor.
“The water is very cold!” I could feel that in my back, was it me or the cold water. It was nowhere near cold enough for me. She felt as warm as I had ever imagined
An hour later, dressed in a thin film of warm sweat and wrapped in secretary, I relived a guilt I had felt a hundred times before. She pushed her face into my neck and drew a deep breath. It felt better than it felt bad.
“We are all behind you.” She ran her hand up my body pulling my neck into her face and breathed me in, my leg clamped deeply between her thighs. “We need you.”
She untangled herself from me and I watched her walk round the bed toward the bathroom. She was terribly well-assembled. The sound of water splashing on her curves made me ready for more.
The connecting door sprung open.
“Sir, we have one event in the next town and a TV interview. But not until a little later.” I didn’t quite cover myself in time but it didn’t seem to faze the young man with the tablet in his hand. “Are we OK to confirm?”
“How much time do we have?” I asked.
His eyes fleeted to the splashing from the bathroom. “Just over two and a half hours before departure.”
I sat up in bed. “Two and a half hours?”
“Yes sir.”
“Lets fucking do this!”
The door clicked behind him and the water stopped splashing.


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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Episode 45: Tell it like it is

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.



We were in the car on our way to the next town before I realised what had happened. My phone was dancing in my pocket. Smiley, thumbs up, smiley. Mike was pleased about something.

“You were great!” The driver passed me his phone. I tried to find what I was supposed to see. “Over a thousand Likes on your post. Someone put a vine on instagram, look.” It was me saying if I don’t do this, who will? Over and over.
I wasn’t sure that I was.
“Mike, what’s the wife up to?”
Her browser history scrolled onto the screen. Mostly news sites, mostly Greece. Then her facebook, she had been active. My old stand-up routines, my diatribes about the government starvation of the NHS. The good days. The old days. Before they turned on me.
“You’re trending on Twitter,” something approximating Mike’s voice said.
“From the rally?”
“From the UK.”
“Is she OK, Mike?”
“Hasn’t left the house, sir.”
The bare rock at the peak of the mountains looked like snow as it reflected the sunlight. The EU-paid road traced the parting between jagged summits and turquoise seas. The occasional village perched on the coast unaware that they lived in the pages of National Geographic, where the people back home dreamed of spending their lives, a place under the sun to the soundtrack of the waves.
We passed the first signpost for the next town.
“Give me the most popular social from the rally, Mike.”
Seemed they like me saying Politics shouldn’t be trusted to the politicians and Greece has stood against worse and won before. The old, old stories. The old routines. “Mike, make sure 40% get a response and 20% get a personal reply”
“68.4% and 14.7% would be optimal.”
“Whatever…”
We arrived in the next town square where the team had made sure my car was mobbed. I put on my stage face. The cameras were always rolling. The heat spilled into the air-conditioned car. I prayed for rain, London rain.
I shook hands, kissed grandmas. A pretty young voter squeezed through the crowd, stopped then kissed me on the face. I smiled and forced a blush.
We didn’t have a big stage and sound system, this was guerrilla campaigning. I used to do the same thing at Covent garden before I made it onto the telly.
What are you going to do?
“I’m gonna clear the debt!”
How?
“I’m gonna get the country wiped from google maps. Then, if we’re all really, really quiet, they won’t find us and go away!”
I expected someone to challenge this. But no one did. They just laughed at the stupidity of the world. Same old stories, same old routines.
I recycled some of the routines from the mayoral elections that seemed so long ago that no one would remember. I made sure I left the stray dogs out this time.
The team collected up the modified karaoke machine that was our PA system while I did a round of the cafes and ouzeris that bordered the town square. I carried a bottle of water to avoid too many offers of drinks.
A pavement cafe was my first stop. Some young voters. I introduced myself and punched some fists. They googled me then beckoned me for selfies. I told them that their vote was their future. They said I was cool.
“So, what are you doing?” I asked.
One circled out a big group with his finger. “We’re students.”
“What are you studying?”
“Economics.” They shouted in ragged union.
“Wow! Guys. We are really going to need you!” I looked impressed. “Adam Smith, Maynard Keynes, Hayak. All English. Well, not Hayak but he did do most of his work there.” They looked at me puzzled.
A stout girl from Another group yelled something at me, I think, in English.
“Sorry, love?” I replied accordingly. She yelled again. “Didn’t catch that sweetheart.” Her friends laughed at her.
“English literature!”
“Oh!” I smiled. “So why aren’t you at lectures then? You come down here to see me?”
“No!” a giggle broke out.
“So when do you graduate?”
Another giggle. “When we give the lessons.”
“What are you going to do then?”
“Learn English in a school.” A pretty, slim woman answered.
“Your English is great already.”
“No!” Her frappe straw choked at the bottom of the glass. “Learn English at the childrens.”
Good luck with that one. “So, are you old enough to vote, how old are you?”
They each called out their ages, like a kindergarten roll call. 24, 26, 27, 29…
“Tough course, eh?”
More laughing.
“Well, my dears this may be the most important election of your lifetimes so make sure you help make some changes. For your futures. We are counting on you.”
“Mister.” One of them raised their hand. “You are very fun!”
“Thank you.” I bowed.
I moved on demographics to a coffee shop patronised by senior citizens. I found a spare seat next to a handsome looking gent with a well-kempt moustache. “Do you mind if I sit?” He looked at me and I was ready to walk away when he ushered me to sit.
“Who are you?”
I introduced myself, “… I am the new independent candidate in the upcoming elections. I stand for…”
“Yeah, yeah. Who are you, I said.” He looked me up and down. “Your mother, your father. Who are you?” The other men, for there were only men, joined his question. “Who are you?”
“I was born in England…”
“Your parents? Greek?”
“No, my wife is and my kids…”
“English. Foreign.”
“Let me ask you all something.” They conceded. “Are you happy with the government?” They grumbled.
One thumped the table. “Malakas! All of them.”
“Are they Greek?”
“Politicians are all malakas!”
One spoke up, “English, eh?” I nodded. “Thatcher! Good woman. Strong!” They all agreed.
“The last government. Were they Greek?” We all knew my question was stupid. “Einstein said doing the same thing while expecting a different result is madness. You don’t look mad.” I stood and began to leave.
“Grandfather?” I shook my head and some hands then moved on.
The next was a taverna. A large man draped over a protesting chair waved two stout fingers at me. “Eh! Boy. Come sit down.”
I complied.
“What are you going to do for businessmen, like me?”
“I don’t know. What kind of businessman are you?” I think my thought did not translate well.
“Eat something! You look thin.” He waved the same two fingers at the waiter. “Bring my friend a plate and a glass.” The plate and glass appeared. “Eat!”
I attempted excuses but it was only an attempt. He loaded my plate and poured me some tsipouro.
“You drink tsipouro?”
I nodded and necked it. He gaffawed and refilled.
“You gonna cut my taxes?”
“Maybe. You gonna pay them?”
He slapped me across the shoulders and declared to the whole taverna that he liked me.
He told me how this and previous governments had been bleeding honest businessmen like him dry. He told me how he had built his business from nothing and that his son would probably lose it all.
“Eight years for his bachelors, eight fucking years! Girls, night clubs. Lazy malaka!” He filled my glass, I necked it. “I sent him to London, Oxford university for masters. London is a very expensive country.” I took small bites at the meat on my plate but I couldn’t chew and respond. He loaded my plate with more than I ate. “I never went to university. I worked. These kids are useless malakas. No hope for this country. It’s his mother, treats him like a baby. You go to university?” I choked on my no. The eating didn’t impede his speech. He continued to fill his mouth. “See.” He pointed to a BMW parked on the pavement right out front the taverna. I don’t know much about cars but it looked comparable to anything my showbiz mates drove.
“Hard work is what this generation needs!”
I stood, necked the tsipouro and took a meatball from the plate. “Speak to some of the businessmen from my town. By the way, what is your business?”
“Me? I am a landowner, not a farmer!” He shook the fingers off my hand.
My car was waiting with the engine running. We left.
It was nearly half an hour to the next town. I told the driver to slow down. The tsipouro had kicked in along with the heat and the malakas. The selfies and pictures with the oldies were upped and shared to sharers, Mike saw to that. I needed a nap.
We arrived. Town square, mob, I thought we had doubled back. A curvy brunette pushed through the crowd. I blushed.
The banners were up and the photos taken. Always before I spoke, just in case the crowd wouldn’t smile after they heard what I had to say. Smart move.
“I don’t want to win, you need me to win,” I goaded. It worked before. “Politics shouldn’t be trusted to the politicians anymore…” Blah fucking blah! “Come see what we’ve done in such a short time in my town. Come, I invite you all!” I paced the square trying to find someone to give me a soundbite. “You have stood against worse and won. I want to do it WITH you!” I wondered what the wife was up to. “A change in vote is a vote for change!”
“Who are you?” I ignored the question. “Eh! Who ARE you?”
“You know me, I’ve been on the TV!”
“Not MY TV!”
“You speak funny!”
“He’s from London!”
“You from London?”
“Nearly, Essex. It’s close.” I replied in the general direction of the question.
“Sorry! He’s not even Greek.”
“From London!”
“Foreigner!”
“Maybe his parents…”
“Let him speak, guys.”
“Foreign?”
“He’s the mayor over in… where is it?”
“London?”
I stood back watching me being volleyed back and forth. “Hey, I’m still here!”
“Is that him on the poster?”
“Hey!” I shouted down the mic. “SHUT UP! No, I’m not Greek. Not my parents”
“Grandfather?”
“Not my fucking grandfather!”
I wished I was back in Covent garden, Leicester square with my hat jangling with coins, a fucking tube station. Anywhere but here.
“So you’re worried about a foreigner in your government?” a murmur of agreement. “I drove up here on a road paid for by German, British and French taxpayers, built by immigrant workers. You beat each other senseless on the terraces for a Russian oligarch’s football team. You drive a German car or dream of driving a German car. You let your country be sucked into a Eurocratic empire run by the same people that your people and my people fought against in you grandparents’ lifetime. The money in your pocket is controlled by the ECB based in Frankfurt… That’s in Germany!”
“Yeah, now they’ll make us have a limey prime minister?…” a man in Barcelona F.C shirt looked to the crowd for support. He found it. “Always the same! Remember Cyprus?”
“While you want to make money after starting work at 30, after eight years getting a bachelors degree. Your kids can’t get into University because it’s too stuffed up with students who drink frappe all day. So you send them to Bratislava to buy a degree with a carton of Marlboro. Then they become doctors, prescribe antibiotics for a cold and demand a back-hander to do their job properly, a job that you pay for with your national insurance and taxes, if you pay them because you don’t trust the government you have which is full of your own people! Greek people!”
“You wanna live in a better place? Make it a better place! Patriotism is an action not an excuse!”
I felt hands on me, pushing me into the car but I hadn’t finished.”
“Stop fucking bleating like the sheep you should still be herding!” the car was there, the door open. My arm pulled from within. “You bunch of fucking spoilt children grow some fucking balls!” My ear snagged on the door frame but through the pain I heard the cheer as the door slammed. I reached for the handle, there was so much more that needed to be said. My office door that smelled like a butchers block, my family in exile. For what? People who looked at their country like they looked at their mothers. Their dinners cooked, their shirts ironed and an allowance that allowed them to roll in at 6am to a clean, warm bed and sleep till lunchtime.
The driver left rubber as we snaked through the narrow, pocked streets toward the EU highway out of there.
The driver turned, “Sir, it needed to be said. They are malakas.”



            NAVIGATE EPISODES             





If you enjoyed this episode, you should SUBSCRIBE and get the whole of book 1 for your iPad, Kindle or Android device.


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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY