Monday 29 June 2015

Episode 30: Potatoes

From Under Dark Clouds: The story of a burnt-out British celebrity who, after scandal and disgrace runs away to a little village in Greece to seek asylum and get his head together. All he needs to do is keep his head down until the clouds blow over and on no account get elected!

A fable about potatoes follows
Autumn is closing to winter and the clouds are moving in again. I’ve started taking off my sunglasses and realised that I can’t see as well as I could. I visited an eye doctor, first time I’ve seen a doctor for anything other than my sanity. He said that I needed glasses, and not just to make me look cool.

I really expected this business proposition to be irresistible but it seems we haven’t fallen low enough yet, Dear blogees. The Chinese, Bulgarians and Indians are cheaper and better equipped than us. I’ve approached a number of struggling businesses in the city but just being in Greece is becoming a non-viable proposition. The only export market that is booming is money, it’s leaving the country quicker than it can be taxed and the banks have the runs like a dog with distemper.

I offered rent-free premises, subsidised workforce and concessions on utilities but no-one seems interested. You just can’t give Greece away these days. We had Makis on the hook but until we have him in the net it is just hot air and big talk. Maybe my negotiation skills just aren’t doing the business and we needed to get the constituency doing business. 

I needed Socrates’ counsel. He began with an anecdote. When potatoes first arrived in Greece, an enterprising merchant rubbed his hands together in glee. He had exclusive rights to the next big thing in staple foods. He imported hundreds of tonnes of the nutritious tuber expecting them to sell like heroin on a council estate. However, his initial exuberant forays into the market met with apathy and derision. Understanding the market as he did, he realised that maybe he had priced them too high and began discounting to build a consumer-base. After dropping the price to below cost, he still had no interest at all, while his shipment sat on the quayside rotting. Eventually, resigned to defeat he opened the doors to give the stuff away. At least, he would be doing the community some service and he would not have the clean-up bill for the disposal of the rotten produce. Still no takers. Then, either by guile or fortune he put a twenty-four hour guard on the warehouse. Within three days the entire shipment was gone.

It took me a while to understand the meaning of this fable but the sun rose like thunder. There was something in what he had told Makis that had swung the deal and it was not based in orthodox business practice. 

“What did you tell Makis?” I asked.

“Son,” he said. “China will build him new premises. Bulgaria will give him third-world labour costs. But, I offered him something irresistible.”

Words bounced through my head like Porsche Cayenne, child prostitutes and even some position in the government but nothing I could put voice to.

“I offered him a tax haven here in Greece.”

“Profit?” I offered.

“No, you fool! Outsmarting the government! Did you understand nothing from the story?”

Clearly, I missed the crux.

Things had gotten a little difficult with hacking the tax department. Mike the IT guy is setting up a worldwide network of servers to hide his entry but he’s hit upon some other opportunities. He can generate paperwork that would show that produce from Greece was shipped to China, re-invoiced then shipped back to Europe at a huge loss. We could make Greece into an off-shore market.

“But, is that legal?” I asked.

“It’s saved the Irish,” he said. “With the difference being that we actually get to employ Greeks to do the work.”

Mike the IT guy was sitting in his dark room surrounded by screens and blinking lights jabbing at the keyboard. I asked him to explain the progress he had made. After what seemed like an hour, I asked him to explain it in English.

“Since this whole Silk Road business, the dark web has really upped its game. Porn was always the leader in IP cloaking but since drugs got in on the game, it’s gone in leaps,” he said pointing to things on the screens that just reminded me of The Matrix.

I told him what Socrates had said about China.

“Yeah, China was a challenge. You know they don’t connect to the web like the rest of the world. Facebook and Twitter are blocked but I got into a server in Taiwan and bounced through. I even routed through North Korea.” His eyes lit up. “Some mad shit there!”

I really wanted to understand what was going on but I just couldn't get how sending stuff half-way across the world and back again would benefit our people here. Wouldn't it cost a fortune in shipping?

“We don’t actually ship the stuff. We just generate the invoices so by the time it gets back to Europe, it’s cost more than it does to produce and everything is sold through stock houses at a loss.”

“But don’t you need to speak Chinese?” I asked.

“Remember the start-up team with the fruit porn? Well the girl really does know Chinese, she’s a qualified linguist. Very lingual too!” he smiled.

Now armed with how the process worked and the wisdom of Socrates’ anecdote, I went back out to build a business park.

I popped into the supermarket to buy some time with Spyros the supermarketer. He was in the back office but came out to greet me with some complaints and misery.

“How’s business, Spyro?” I enquired.

He began with his woes. He followed me as I put my milk back in the fridge. His bile would have turned it to yoghurt otherwise.

Eventually, I seized on a pause in his protestation. “We’re building a business park over in the abandoned warehouses on the edge of town.”

“Fucking waste of time!” He gurned disapproval. “Everyone I know is moving to China or Bulgaria, thick as shit but they work like slaves.” You know, I’m really getting sick of hearing that. “Or India, they work for a dollar a week there. Wouldn’t get these lazy bastards doing that!” I heard his checkout girl’s teeth grind.

I moved closer and reminded him that we had a trump up our sleeve; magic accountants. He smiled, only slightly and tapped his nose. I nodded confirmation.

As I left I turned and tapped my nose. “Spyro, this is between us, right! Not a word to anyone.”

He bowed his head and patted his chest. Then, looking up, “Hey, did you pay for the milk?”

Finally, it was time to get back to the town hall for some signing and stamping. I pulled a bottle of wine from the bag of incidental purchases made on my visits to our other special partners in the community and presented it to the well-assembled secretary. I kept the set of spanners. She beamed and held her bosom in surprise. My knees went a little weak.

“Oh! You have some messages on your desk, sir.” AND she calls me Sir!

On the blotter laid a perfectly ordered list of names and contacts, maybe twenty or so. At the top of the sheet was the title Enquiries for new business park.

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