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…
0 Read More »

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I went hitch-hiking II

Hitch-hiking
Anyone who thinks buses are an unreliable form of transport should try thumbing their way through the mountains between the port of Patras and just about anywhere. It was getting late and the sun was sipping cocoa. Many hitchers stay in one place where they are most likely to get a lift, often with a cardboard sign. I like to walk, while I'm heading in the right direction, I'm making progress. Even if I'm in the wrong place, I 'spose that speaks volumes about me but maybe I'm, just stupid and impatient.

Twitshot

  A car passed and lit its indicators and my heart did a little dance. I ran to the waiting car just for it to speed off. Ha fucking ha.
I was starting to climb into the mountains, into the worst possible place to get a lift when Pasquale eased his huge truck into the side of the road. I knew he was called Pasquale because he said the word with a tombstone smile several times. The truck wore Italian plates and Pasquale spoke neither English nor Greek, I remembered a few words of Italian but they were of no use. I patted my chest and said David. Pasquale was carrying steel rods. I don’t know where and I didn't know that they wouldn't get there, not then. All I knew was that I had a lift.
Pasquale was working the gears hard but I was surprised at how nimble the huge vehicle was climbing the up into the wooded mountain.
Behind him was a cupboard full of snacks. He offered me some crisps and fizzy pop. Inflight meal. I was blessed.
So, we were winding through the narrow pass. I watched the sheer drops from my window, reassuring myself that Pasquale, a professional driver knew exactly what he was doing.
His hand had moved from the gearstick as the road levelled and was now working his shrivelled knob which he had stealthily slipped from his trousers. Fuck! It was dark outside, god knows how far from anywhere. I made the concerted decision to ignore it and hope it went back where it belonged.
“Wanky, wanky!” So, Pasquale had been a little coy about his mastery of English. But what he didn't understand was that when one is being ignored, one should stop playing with one’s cock to avoid any unnecessary faux pas or transgressions of etiquette.
Being British, I was well schooled in how to politely diffuse such situations. “Put it away.” I said in an even tone.
“Wanky, wanky!” Pasquale was Italian and never had the privilege of an education in the country whose main export is manners and civility. Plus, he was the driver and I was the passenger in the middle of the mountains where the headlights were doing their best to penetrate the blackness.
I galvanised my tone and repeated, “Put it away!”
The cock was now back safely behind his fly and I clenched praying for the next town to arrive.
I watched the tyres skim the edge of the road sprinkling stones down the sheer face.
Now, while London cabbies have famously enlarged hippocampi, the same cannot be said for Italian lorry drivers and it wasn't long before he had forgotten my request. Pasquale’s cock was out again.
“Wanky, wanky?”
Now, I failed to mention that while British to the core, I was raised in Essex, where a subculture of English restraint exists. I sung my fist across the cab and it landed square in his right eye.
“PUT YOUR FUCKING COCK AWAY!” Shit! I would drive this thing if I had to. My fist was now a grip on his collar and I had twisted to bring my right into play if circumstances demanded.
His cock disappeared in a nervous shuffle. I hoped it got stuck in his fly!
Now, the atmosphere in the cab was a little terse with Pasquale’s romantic advances rebuked. We've all faced rejection from time to time and it’s no fun.
I watched the edge of the road swing back and forth, the tyres kicking more stones over. He was clearly impatient to get me home, his expectations of a kiss at the door and a nightcap dashed.
A sweeping left leaned the cab over so that the tyres were momentarily out of sight. I caught my breath. The next right brought them back into view. I watched the cliff edge drop to an abyss then replaced by the door of the truck as the cab swung from side to side. I could clearly make out the letters of the livery. Then the wheels disappeared again.
They did not reappear.
The wheels had gone under and stayed under. The side of the mountain was coming but it was taking its time. Salt and vinegar crisps, Fanta, dust and moans filled the cab as we slid down. Down into the forest.
We hit the trees hard and the windscreen cracked.
It took a moment to confirm that I was still alive but I was. Pasquale was moaning his own name. He hadn't fallen on me, maybe his seatbelt, I wasn't wearing mine. I couldn't tell you.
My kitbag was between my legs but the footwell had compressed so I had to remove my shoe to retrieve my foot. I put my shoes back on and braced myself against my seat and kicked out the windscreen. It fell and I heard it tumble down into the trees. I pulled myself out and stood on the side pillar of the truck’s windscreen. The cab had snagged on some trees, pines I think but the trailer was hanging.
Pasquale reached out a hand. “Pasquale urrrgh!” The same hand that had been teasing his cock. The same cock that had got me in this situation in the first place. I braced against the window frame and threw a front-kick into his head.
I grabbed my kitbag and started to scramble up the steep slope. I could make out a car and two figures at the road.
“YOU OK?”
My right ankle was getting heavy and blood was coming from a deep cut on my right forearm but all things considered, I was good.
“Yeah. I'm fine!”
When I got to the top I found I had more blood over my left cheek but it wiped off easily, it was only Pasquale’s.
The police turned up followed by an ambulance. An officer took me aside and asked me what had happened.
Now my Greek was not great but I knew the word for masturbation, don’t ask me how. Trouble is that it gets used for everything in this country. I explained that the driver was, well, pulling his pud and this may have explained his lack of due care and attention but that translates as he was fucking about. I tried to rephrase with added gestures. The officer nodded in false comprehension, “Yeah, he’s a wanker!” I finally gave up.
Pasquale was sitting in the ambulance, chianti pouring from his head. I was ushered to join him. Pasquale freaked, waving his arms about. His black eye and busted nose were indirectly related to the accident but related nonetheless. I went in the squad car.
I was taken to the hospital first where my examination consisted of being asked to pull down my trousers and left in an empty room for half an hour. The doctor returned, asked me if I was OK and told me to hoist them back up. The irony of ending my evening with my trousers round my ankles despite my efforts was not lost on me, oh well.
The police were waiting outside. They took me for coffee down at the station and asked me to tell my story, tell my story! How were they to know? About two hours, four cups of coffee, a packet of the officers fags and a couple of ouzos later (I drank, the officers being on duty) they had written a vastly abridged version in Greek and asked me to sign it.
So now it’s about midnight and they want me out of town nearly as much as Pasquale. They take me down to the bus stop but the bus had left some ten minutes earlier. The officer waves wildly and we jump back in the car. He hits the road hard and we speed down the windy roads at a cracking pace. But, being professional drivers, I trusted in his experience…
         

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I went hitch-hiking

the hitcher
I think Rutger Hauer put the final nail in the coffin for hitch-hiking in the English speaking world. Anyone who saw The Hitcher would think more than twice about picking up any stranger from the roadside and most of us were already reluctant to stick out a thumb on the highway. In Greece in the 90s it was still fairly common practice. Young men on leave from their national service would wear uniform to garner sympathy. I would regularly village hop by thumb. So, when someone suggested hitching the six-hundred kilometres down to Zakynthos to see my grandparents, it struck me as a perfectly reasonable idea.
Twitshot
I loaded a kitbag, which was actually my kick-bag with the stuffing taken out and hit the highway south. A friend from the village gave me my first leg and dropped me at the toll gates out of the Thessaloniki. It was midsummer and the Greek sun takes no prisoners. My thumb was exhausted and I was nearly at the point of jumping the first bus back when a rickety Zestava pulled over. He was a middle-aged guy in a similar condition to his car but he was going my way and could take me some two-hundred kilometres down the line. Result!
My Greek at that time was pretty rudimentary at the time and he spoke with an impenetrable accent so conversation did not flow. What I did gather was that he was a policeman heading down to arrest a pretty heinous criminal. Dialogue soon dried up after him asking me to repeat everything twice and me trying to guess what he was saying through the clatter of the old car and his accent. I got the impression that he wasn’t the most amiable companion in any language so I decided instead to settle in for the remaining hour and a half trying not to nark him too much. The car was too small for any more friction.
The sun was high and piercing the windscreen so I opened the window. Clunk! It wound down a few inches then fell into the door. So much for not narking him. He was leaning across me trying to pull it back up, swerving across the lanes and snorting like a bull when he finally gave up. His destination would take me nearly half of my way and as it was a fairly big city, it would be a good place to get another lift.
My sunglasses were not enough to stop my retinas burning so I reached for the sunshade and flipped it down. A bunch of papers took flight like a flock of seagull through a jet engine and shot straight out of the window. Screeetch! My driver hit the brakes so hard I hit the windscreen. I barely had a chance to ask if they were important when he leapt from the car. He was dancing around in the breeze trying to grab the airborne pages. I watched as the slipstream from a passing truck flung them over a hedge into a field. He had stopped dancing for the paper and was now just dancing mad. His impenetrable accent was now simple expletives and they were aimed at me, my mother and my whole nation. He wanted to hurt me. Fortunately I stood a whole head taller than him and broad enough to deter any physical attack. But, he really wanted to hurt me.
In his ranting he told me what the papers were and I went back to make a more concerted effort to retrieve them. He went back to the car and drove off then stopped. I thought he had reconsidered his impetuousness, leaving me stranded on the side of the highway. He opened the passenger door so I ran toward it. My kitbag fell out onto the verge and he spun dust in my face allowing the acceleration to close the door.
Now flying across the neighbouring fields was the arrest warrant for a very heinous criminal.

Friday, 8 September 2017

Did I tell you about when... I got run over

Off to the beach, Yay! This is Greece, so nothing odd there except that we were in the grip of capital controls. Mr. Schauble and his Eurogroup were rapping naughty Mr. Varoufakis’ knuckles by shutting down our banks. My adopted home was in a state of panic. The cash machines would allow only €40 to be withdrawn each day and everybody wanted their money out. There was a slow but persistent run on the banks and queueing at the ATM had begun to dominate everybody’s day. So we went to splash in the sea and top up our tans.

Twitshot
It was a bright and pleasant morning, bollocks it was! Greek summer had kicked in and we felt like spicy KFC wings. People often say that I must have gotten used to the heat but I ask you this, do chickens get used to roasting? We loaded the car with inflatable toys and umbrellas like a bargain bucket for kids and headed for the coast.
We dived and splashed and drank frappe until finally, we were baked and ready to head home for austerity pie. On route we passed through a busy high street so I decided to stop and empty my accounts some more. I had four accounts at different banks and flip-flopped around the various machines, waiting in line to add to the trot on the banks. Eventually, I had taken my daily allowance from each of the machines and as I was wearing beach shorts, I had the cash and cards in my hand and a fog in my head, how much longer could we stand living in this teenager’s bedroom of a country? Surely we could earn enough back in my native Britain to not have to go through this and still be able to visit her beaches frequently enough. And, what about the kids, shouldn’t we take them somewhere where they would have a future. I swung my head checking the traffic, my cards and cash gripped firmly in my fist. I stepped off the curb. I heard the screech of brakes. The cracking of plastic and glass. I saw a car pass me. The horror in the passenger’s eyes. I spun. The tyres stopped squealing. I was sat on my arse in the middle of the road with one flip-flop. My wife ran across the road her mouth making wide vowels. I told her to take the cash and cards still firmly in my grasp. Yes, I really am that tight!
The passenger ran over in a sea of apologies, the driver still clinging to the wheel probably fearing the next few years in a Greek jail. He asked if I was alright and I told him to pull me to my feet. I limped to the other side of the street and started pacing. The driver joined us and by the look on his face he had already imagined dropping the soap. My foot was heavy but in no great pain, the pain in my left arm that had been holding the cash was seeping through the adrenaline. My wife checked me over for damage. Nothing apart from my elbow and foot. The car had gone over my right foot, my elbow had struck the windscreen, breaking it, my body had shattered the door mirror. My mind was racing over every frame of the scene. I continued pacing, ignoring the pleas to sit down. My foot was getting heavier, I didn’t want it to seize.
We exchanged contact details with the driver and he promised to take care of any expenses, a promise he held. Then we went home, my wife asking me over and over if I wanted to go to the hospital.
Later she and my mate convinced me to go. Say what you like about Greek hospitals but they keep the sick off the streets. I had Vangelis’ Midnight Express theme ringing in my ears. Vangelis is Greek, I wondered if he’d visited many hospitals.
The doctors were more concerned about me reporting the incident. I told them the car was Italian and I was British, no contest really. Fortunately, I had no breaks just a swollen foot. Same foot, incidentally as in the truck accident. My football career was over before it had even started. But, hey, I only have two so I guess it would always be 50/50.
As I left the hospital, I bumped into my youngest’s godmother. She was on crutches, she had broken her fibula tripping up a curb.
I prefer not to think about what could have happened. What did happen was that I got hit by a car and came off better. What did happen was that I was reminded of the tightrope we walk, one slip and the planet will hit you hard. Down will come up and bitch slap you out of existence.
But this was not my time.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Bring back national service

bring back national service
If you’re British, you would have to speak to your grandfather to have any chance of learning anything about National Service. The last healthy young men received their call-up papers in 1960. National Service was introduced in many countries after the wars as a legacy of conscription. It was a simple solution to keeping the borders safe and protecting the democracy of the nation. The bonus was that it also instilled discipline and obedience into many who, as impressionable young men, had been through the military process. Another bonus is that many who served together developed the bonds and camaraderie only possible with people who have had a difficult and defining experience together. Some European nations still have a mandatory period of national service although its number has reduced significantly. Greece, for example, still has 9 months, reduced from 2 years over the last fifteen years. However, the only threats to Greece’s democracy has come from within, civil wars and a coup d’etat. The biggest threat to most western nations’ democracy comes from ignorance and complacency, again from within. Now, it strikes me that National Service should be reintroduced but this time not military but governmental.

Twitshot
In my previous article ARE YOU QUALIFIED FOR DEMOCRACY I discussed the idea that the nation gets the government it deserves. However, we cannot hope to get any better without informed decision and democratic engagement. This cannot happen unless the government invests in the people. Many would, quite rightly, argue that this would not serve the agenda of the political classes and that the persistent dumbing-down to a point where people vote more fervently for x-factor than the nation’s government is part of the plan. I think that in order for any country to be truly democratic, the people need to have some idea about the choices they are making and the effects that they have. Just having the right to put your cross on a ballot does not constitute democracy. To that end, I think that the secondary school curriculum should include a government and politics course and all 18-22 year-olds (I feel the 15-17 year old age group of the ‘National Citizen Service’ scheme would is too young and could have the opposite effect if mandatory) should do a period of no less than 6 months in the service of the country taking roles in local and national government as well as political parties. I am not talking about community service, I do not suggest that the nation’s young be put to work in parks and maintenance departments (something that has been suggested before with great support), what I suggest is putting them into the places (in something like an intern role) where budgets are balanced, decisions made, policies pondered. This would give everyone an insight into how the country is run and motivate the young to take more interest in why it doesn't run as well as it could do.

Party politics
Now, who wouldn’t want to spend 6 months hanging out with Jacob Rees-Mogg, taking notes for Boris Johnson, mucking in with Jeremy Corbyn or working with any up-and-coming candidate or back-bencher. Maybe not, but working with political parties in fund raising, campaigning and administration would help conscripts to understand how the system works, its machinations and manoeuvres. They may choose which party they wish to work with. I think the parties would vie to be chosen as it would be an opportunity to convert young voters, also if any party tried to avoid taking conscripts, they would be seen in a very bad light by the electorate. It may be a good idea to get a balance of working with different ends of the political spectrum in order to obtain a more balanced impression but this may prove complicated. That said, the overall effect across the nation should provide this balance. Of course, working with the parties may strengthen the affiliations of some who had a tendency to their beliefs to begin with, while seeing behind the curtain may cause others to change their opinions. I also believe that having a steady stream of civilians going through the offices would cause them to change their ways. In a way it would be like Big Brother in reverse, the people would be watching, and no doubt tweeting, about the things they saw. This would keep them on their toes, maybe even keep them in touch with the people they are supposed to serve.
Some may become so disillusioned by the state of party politics that they begin to set up their own. Lets face it, some of the parties are so focused on their own survival and internal bickering that they really do deserve to be allowed to be put out of our misery. If it cannot be fixed or is so resistant to change, they should be just allowed to die.

National government
Whitehall may not be able to accommodate many conscripts but spending time in the house of commons and its backrooms would definitely show the young how the country is run. Of course, it would be a pain in the arse for many MPs and civil servants but they have chosen to serve the country and serve they should. Having daily contact with real people may help to keep them grounded to the issues they have sworn and campaigned and been elected to do. Putting TV cameras in parliament was supposed to reign in the carnival of government and it did to a certain extent, I’m sure having voters in their midst would keep them on track. Of course, let’s not be naive, politics and government is not as simple as having a good idea, a compelling argument and a just cause. There are thousands of those and only limited resources. Conscripts will learn negotiation and compromise, skills that would benefit them in all careers and benefit many industries, just imagine having a huge pool of experienced, talented political negotiators to call on during issues within the EU, maybe Brexit would never have been necessary.

Local government
From local MP through town councillors to the people on the front line, seeing how their town is run would give the conscripts an insight into the difficulties of the community. It is easy to throw stones at the council for not patching roads, fixing fences or maintaining schools that the pupils work so hard to destroy but compromises need to be made, even with best of intentions of the best of public servants. Solutions may be offered that have not yet been explored. And, maybe, just maybe more young would learn that working together for what they would like (a better place to live) is better than destructive protest. I’m sure that a more proactive input from the young could solve many of the problems communities face everyday.

Difficulties
Now, of course there will be some huge problems to overcome. First and foremost is the little fact that the UK has over four million people between the ages of 18 and 22, most countries would have similar proportions of the population to deal with. Places would need to be found to occupy the conscripts. We could not have them running around in the House of commons tagging the walls of Westminster but each conscript would serve maybe six months so once the initiative got rolling it would be around four-hundred thousand for each session, eight-hundred thousand per twelve months, considerably less than the number of unemployed. Another issue would be getting appropriate people into the right departments, not everyone is suited to academic administration while others lack the practicality to assist in other departments. I am not talking IQ or schooling but some kind of assessment would be necessary, that said I think most would be surprised at how capable many kids who the school system has written off could be. Now the BIG one, cost. This would be a new financial burden on the national economy and no doubt costly but it seems to me that so much money is spent on patching up problems caused by the breakdown in communities, so much money wasted dealing with the ramifications of a despondent society that this would be a proactive investment, hopefully stopping some problems before they become problems.

Disclaimer
This is an embryonic idea, an idealistic proposal and not to be taken as a blue print but what I do know for certain is that something needs to be done. Not more patching up, not more dumbing down. A nation’s most valuable resource is its people and none more valuable than its young. Governments are elected by little more than half of the electorate in most countries and of those who do vote the majority are 40plus and their choices driven by unreliable media campaigns (also discussed in ARE YOU QUALIFIED FOR DEMOCRACY). In the Brexit referendum, which attracted a significantly larger turnout than general elections, constituencies with proportionally larger young populations faired the worst, with Oxford and Cambridge notable exceptions (draw your own conclusions there). We could just make voting mandatory but that would not address the matter of engagement, people would vote ‘whatever’ or spoil their ballot. This is not democracy.

A YouTube video I watched recently said, “Harley Davidson, as American as low voter turnout…” funny until you see what those who did turnout chose and what the only viable opposition was. Time for change, I feel, before it is way too late!

… I await your comments below

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Satirists Protest Politicians' comedic genius

No Joke
London’s police were overwhelmed yesterday by the biggest demonstration the capital has seen in decades as the NUSSaGPT (National Union of satirists, spoofers and General Piss Takers) protested against their loss of livelihood in the present political climate for what a spokesman said “It is high time politicians went back to their jobs and left the comedy to us!”
Twitshot
Charlie Brooker who had flown in especially for the march from silicon valley, home of Netflix, addressed a rally in Trafalgar square. He smugly reminded the crowd, on three separate occasions, that he had preempted Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Cock in pig’ episode but lamented that for lesser satirists “Times are lean” going on to groan that “Things have got so dire, I’ve had to go and take the piss out of Americans for a living”.
A packet of Hobnobs, yesterday
Frankie Boyle and Johnny Vegas delivered the petition to 10 Downing street which was brusquely accepted by Prime Minister Teresa May. Fortunately, foreign secretary, Boris Johnson was on hand and popped his head out to offer tea and hobnobs. Boyle told him to fuck off but he and Vegas agreed to split the Hobnobs.
Erudite chairman, Armando Ianucci in an interview with our own roving reporter opined, “We satirists endeavour to eek out a living in a political environment so burgeoning with comedic genius like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg that we don’t stand a chance. We all thought things would die down after Cameron but they are going from strength to strength, even Jeremy Corbyn, an eccentric chemistry teacher from Chippenham is playing the straight man. Enough is enough!” He went on to say that after ‘The thick of it’ was cancelled he too had to cross the Atlantic for work adding, “Even Stewart Lee was reduced to doing material about going to Tescos Extra for a Twix.”
Ian Hislop and Paul Merton were unavailable for comment but insiders tell us that the next ten episodes of ‘Have I Got News For You’ have been filmed already with a string of back-benchers and that German bloke who can’t speak English.
The metropolitan police chief said the demonstration went unhindered by comedic incident adding that his police dog had no nose.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Are you qualified for Democracy

Keeping your head in politics
Every nation gets the government it deserves (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite), so said Joseph de Maistre after the French revolution. Plato (see, I always get him in) argued that not all of the populace are qualified to participate in democracy, in fact to include all people in democracy was degenerative. Of course, he had seen his mentor, Socrates condemned to death by a four-hundred-strong democratic court of peers. Then, Thomas Jefferson added that (When a people fear their government, there is tyranny,) when a government fears their people there is liberty. So, who had it right and what is the future of democracy, if any.
Twitshot
Now, as far as de Maistre is concerned, I think he got it right but we must first define a couple of words in the translation. When we talk about the nation we must assume that he meant the country as a nation, it is far too convenient to interpret this as the people. I cannot agree that the people get what they deserve unless we agree that they have free will and informed decision. Now, informed decision has never been an abundant resource in any nation. I would argue that informed decision of the masses prior to the education initiatives of the 20th century was at best limited and after Edward Bernays (Sigmund Freud’s nephew) revolutionised public relations and advertising using his uncle’s discoveries to drive people’s choices, it was completely thwarted. In order for the electorate to make informed decisions and thus elect a government they deserve, they must first objectively understand the bigger picture and secondly be able to count on the manifesto promises of the candidates, neither of which are tenable. I am not being derisive of the abilities of the people, effectively understanding the mechanisms of government and economics takes a lot of time and most are just too busy getting through their lives. Instead candidates campaign on emotive issues that people can feel rather than contemplate. This is a very general statement but if we can agree that democracy is the decision of the masses, it is also a very general decision. So, while many cast their votes based on social class affiliations (I am working class, therefore I vote left), personal gains based on the manifesto promises of the party or on an overall feeling about the character of the candidate, few are making a truly informed decision. So, the people getting what they want or deserve is a highly dubious proposition. However, as far as the nation is concerned, there is a different perspective. The nation administers education, it also regulates the democratic process, party funding, media exposure etc. So if government and politics is not taught in schools, manifesto promises are as ephemeral as marketing slogans and funding is accepted from sources with vested interests in less than democratic decisions, then it will get a pimped administration that whores itself to anyone with enough dollar to pay to ride the people of the nation. Of course, ‘deserves’ could also have positive connotations but seeing as the race to the bottom is invariably the faster and easier direction, it tends to win the day. Creating an upward spiral would necessitate investment in education, security and integrity, something that most nations don’t have the stamina for. So finally what they deserve is what they get, a self-serving bunch of politicians that bleed the nation of its resources in order to maintain their power, status and standard of living.
Be careful what you wish for...
Jefferson was bang on with the tyranny part, no people should fear their leaders. Just as children should not fear their parents, pupils their teachers or workers their bosses. When we get onto good wholesome god-fearing Christians things get decidedly muddy and unpalatable so we’ll leave that one well alone for the time being. As for the liberty part, here I must differ. Governments have the job of managing the biggest and most complex operations, nations. Like any any management team, they must often make decisions that will not be popular, many of you will know this all too well, but for the prosperity of the company and the many, some will need to put up with some results of hard decisions that were deemed to be ‘the least bad’ option. However, if the government fears the people, they will endeavour to appease them as much and often possible, often at the detriment of long-term plans and strategies. But according to Jefferson, liberty will be achieved. Bull! Liberty ends where another’s begins (a paraphrase from a quote originated by Voltaire If memory serves. Although I like another version: my right to swing my arm ends at your nose). So for each citizen there is a revision of the definition of liberty. This, however does not inhibit candidates from promising it and the electorate from demanding it, along with a number of other things such as higher wages yet lower prices and lower taxes yet better public facilities. When candidates and governments fear the people, popularism proliferates which creates demagogues and Trump. In order to have functional liberty, there must be respect from all parts and respect is tough to earn and harder to maintain. The recent wave of popularist candidates trade on, at best promising the electorate what they want and at worst distracting them on emotive polices from what they need. And while they may not fear the electorate, they do fear their disapproval. Children will prefer the adult that promises no school and ice cream for dinner everyday and the adult will revel in their popularity. Ayn Rand in her book Atlas Shrugged painted the picture of a nation that pandered to the needs of the people to the point where people realised that developing their needs was more lucrative than being productive and creative. Ms. Rand’s philosophies have a hugely devoted following among industrialists and while I personally find them a little too extreme, there is some merit to them. Especially when you consider that consecutive Greek governments have created public positions for the voting faithful to the point where it has one of the most bloated and bureaucratic civil services in the western world and is twice the OECD average in the Worldbank’s ‘ease of doing business’ ranking, where higher is more difficult. In order to curry favour with the electorate, it has scuppered the private sector’s ability to do business successfully and often legally. Governments should treat the interests of the people as priority but fear is never good counsel.
So, as for Plato, he argued that if you need a captain for a ship, you should choose someone well experienced in navigation. He gave a number of other examples but you get the idea. He said that the people in a democracy would make poorly guided, self-serving choices that would devolve into demagoguery, not dissimilar to Ms. Rand. But, what is the alternative. Businessmen have great insight into the workings of large-scale organisations but ultimately will make choices based on the needs of their business, profits and stock value. Academics have a deep understanding of the theories of government but often fail to appreciate the human condition. John Maynard Keynes, eminent economist, once tried his hand at the stock market (no-brainer, right?) but lost fortunes before realising that stock trading is not an exact science but driven by emotive decisions. So, a plutocracy and a scholarly aristocracy are as flawed as the system we have. Should we then do away with democracy all together. Entrust our nation to philosopher kings who work tirelessly for the greater good, unencumbered by petty desires and emotions. I fear that this Utopian dream is untenable and we could end up relinquishing authority to an AI system once we discover that such citizens could only be created in a lab.
The best alternative then must be to improve the existing one. To educate and inform the populace better and give them real choices. Force candidates to consider and realise their manifesto pledges better, control their funding better. Maybe even force voters to qualify to vote. This could not be achieved in a climate of fear, one way or the other. A nation is similar to a family, when the parents provide a secure, nurturing environment, the children will rest easy and get on with their job of developing into healthy well-adjusted adults. If the parents do a very good job, they will instill ambitions to improve on their own upbringing. If, on the other hand, the parents are weak and flakey, the kids will become insecure and rebel. They will become frightened, nothing scares a kid more than to look up at he people who should have everything in hand to realise that they are more clueless than them. And as I have already stated, fear is never good counsel.
Getting it right
So, how to make such improvements. In order to maintain a democracy, you need to invest in the people. Not just giving them good education and security but also encouraging them to take part in the whole democratic process. Many countries still have national military service, why could this not be adapted to national political service whereby everyone of voting age should in some way serve on local or national government for a mandatory period of time. The recent Brexit referendum in the UK illustrated the results of complacency. The young did not vote because they either did not engage with the issues or felt that as usual nothing would change for them. They were wrong. Many did not make that mistake twice and the recent general elections brought out record numbers of those who would inherit the results. This, I hope, was a turning point. If as many young voters were to make the same effort to vote for their government as they do for X-Factor we may see some change. If education was afforded the same investment as seducing high-tech companies that desperately need higher educated employees. If the health service were to get the same support as misbehaving financial institutions. If the parties were forced to concede that the electorate could no longer be bought with promises of less foreigners and lower taxes while hanging out with rock stars and comedians. This may result in a nation getting the government it deserves, finally.

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.


            NAVIGATE EPISODES             



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


Go on! You know you deserve it!



Don't forget to share with the little buttons below.

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY