Showing posts with label toastmasters. Show all posts
Showing posts with label toastmasters. Show all posts

Friday, 1 June 2018

My Rebirth in Athens

Christ! 5am might be a good time for monks and people with serious careers but it was playing havoc with my circadian rhythms. All I had to counter it was instant coffee and a cold shower. I took them grudgingly and dragged my bag to the door. I stopped and took stock, shoes on feet, trousers fastened and shirt on back. It wouldn't be the first time I’d left a house at such an ungodly hour without one of these. Shit! Getting out of anywhere with the shirt on my back was a huge bonus in this day and age. I stepped into the lift. I would normally take the stairs, they offer a much more authentic experience of gravity, but my legs couldn't be relied on, the mutinous fuckers would love an opportunity like this to see me sprawled out on my face at the foot of the stairwell, my underwear and travel-sized toothpaste spewed on the floor.


Twitshot


My driver was familiar so I maintained an air of grateful indignation. The nightclubs had closed their doors to revellers no more than an hour before so the roads were clear and soon enough we were pulling up outside airport departures. I alighted the cramped vehicle and she didn’t. I promised to call and patted the pocket that contained no phone.
Airports before sunrise are an anthill of activity. The travellers tend to be going somewhere to do something rather than the child-dragging escapees who’ve staked their annual savings on two weeks burning their skin, drinking cheap cocktails and preying the kids don’t drown in the sea.
No, pre-dawn flyers have to be in an office discussing things they don’t trust the phone with or gathering in hotels for conferences about stuff while dreaming of tanning their skin, drinking Tequila sunrises and preying the kids would shut up and drown already. I, dear blogees was one of the latter. The Toastmasters convention in Athens was entitled ‘Rebirth’ and I only had vague circumstantial evidence that I had experienced it the first time, birth that is.
I was flying to Athens, the crucible of democracy, western philosophy and so much more at a time when my ancestors were still figuring out how to get 100 tons of stone 200 miles from Wales to stand on Salisbury plains. And, that many years later we still haven’t worked out why.
In my seat was a young woman who was already looking nervous. She asked if I wanted her to move and I said I didn’t mind. We briefly argued about who didn’t mind the most and she stayed put. My seating was random, I had opted to save the €3 so all she had achieved was to randomise my random seating, worth €3 of anyone’s money. She was peering out the window shuffling in her seat.
“Looks a long way down, eh?” I agreed with the thought that she had not verbalised. “But you’ll hardly notice it once we get above the clouds.”
She turned and pursed her lips, I was sure I could detect a smile.
The crew took their positions to show us what to do in the event that gravity interrupted them selling us perfumes and cute, anthropomorphised plushy aircraft. We wouldn’t be flying over the sea so I ignored the bit about topping up the life vest. I mean, they love showing that video of the guy landing his Airbus in the Hudson river but we all know that air travel was never intended to be survivable. You hit the sea from 35,000 feet, you’re gonna be a smoothie with foreign coins in your pocket, you hit a mountain and you are destined to be some other passenger’s brunch. No, if I feel the earth accelerate towards me, I’ll turn my ipod volume up past the recommended safe level and try to edit the boring parts out of my life flashing before me. That said, a well-pumped life vest could go someway to breaking your fall were we to clip the top of mount Olympus. Aw! Ever the optimist.
The exhilaration of acceleration always sends a tingle up my trousers, this time it was augmented by my new travel companion’s nails in my forearm, not nearly as unpleasant as it sounds! I wondered if she’d react the same way on landing but I was too polite to request.
I opened the book I had been reading and watched the words swim around the page for a while, the instant coffee had done nothing for my concentration. Domestic flights in Europe never last long and just as I'd got settled in, the flaps on the wings started their downhill dance.
We touched down and for a moment I felt the landing gear and fuselage quarrel over direction, this sharpened my focus to the life jacket. If I was thrown from a gaping hole in the aircraft, would the inflated vest soften the impact with Terra Firma as I had previously hoped? My synapses were sparking faster than I was accustomed but I knew I wouldn’t be able to roll a cigarette and light it before the end. And anyway the no smoking lights were still lit. I reached for the duty-free bottle I’d procured before leaving the departure lounge but her nails snagged in my arm. Was this how it would all end? Thrown from a budget airline seat to be spread like jam on the toasted Athens runway and would the cramp in my legs subside for this? I would probably break her fall and be hailed a hero. At least the compensation and bolstered book sales would give my wife and kids a more comfortable life than I had managed to give them while I had been the right size and shape to fit into trousers.
Unfortunately, I was in the smokers cabin in the arrivals hall scribbling these very words when I realised none of this had actually happened. These glass-walled aquariums of shame played soothing music while extracting the smoke and advertising the sponsor’s particular brand of tobacco freedom. The rugged middle-aged model in the pictures bore no resemblance to someone who would reach for a packet and lighter before opening his eyes in the morning then hack his lungs between his first drags of the day. Modelling had never been a career option for me but in the name of honesty I made a note to self to contact Imperial Tobaccos for an audition. I reached into my bag for the bottle but it wasn’t until I was replacing the cap and putting it back that I seriously considered the folly of my actions. It was 7.30 and I still hadn’t had a decent cup of coffee, there is much to be said for keeping events in the proper sequence but saying it was a close as I got. I took one more nip before deciding that.
There was one last bag rounding the carousel when I emerged. I guessed it must be mine and took it. I headed to the first java franchise for some hard, hot and black.
I was well into my second when another flight safely touched down from the north carrying two vibrant balls of enthusiasm who were to accompany me to the conference. One of them had a plan, which was more than I had.
On the train into town they fizzed with excitement about the upcoming events, the gala ball, the keynote speakers and soon my discomfort became palpable.
I told them I’d need to dump my luggage, I could only speculate that it was mine but if people could believe that our existence was down to a huge explosion in the universe or the hand of a bearded guy who was never born, I could believe this bag between my legs was the one that contained my underwear.
I called my host for the weekend. It was obvious that I’d woken her, shit! She told me to get off at Monastiraki station and head for the ancient columns. I asked again, this was Athens, the capital of ancient, I knew I would be sleeping on a park bench trading favours to be allowed to snuggle into a flea-bitten mutt for warmth… again!
My fizzy companions got off the train. One said she’d see me soon. The other asked if I’d be ok. I doubted either.
Things were looking up. I exited the station and just outside were some columns. I took a place in the shade and rolled a cigarette. A herd of Americans passed extolling hyperboles of awe in their metallic burr, the same that makes tourist trap scammers around the world rub their hands in glee.
I finished my cigarette and ventured into the square. The stalls were hanging with hats and sunglasses and sundry tat that while professing to the contrary would never pass Greek hands until money changed hands. Many of the tourists may in fact be taking the trinkets back to where they were made.
A tall slenderman thrust a piece of handwritten paper in my hand. I gave it straight back and looked defiantly non-American.
“NO!” I said.
“Habla ingles?” he asked.
I went back to the columns for safety.
My host arrived with a smile, kissed me on both cheeks and told me I must be thirsty. I was, was it that obvious. We scurried past the made-in-China Parthenons on a chain and ducked into a bar. My watch was chiding me but I ignored it which by the second beer became easier.
We headed back into the heat and she gave me the tour of the neighbourhood. There were three supermarkets but this was her favourite. She told me to pick up a basket. I was dragging a wheelie case wearing a backpack and now trying to balance a basket that was rapidly filling with bottles and cans. I had my reservations about the cans but chose not to share them at this time.
We passed a guy sitting outside a carpet shop and my host called him by name.
“Hey! This is my English friend who’s come to write about us.”
“Are you a journalist?” he asked in perfect English.
“Well…” I began to answer but before I could I was introduced as a great writer who had a particular interest in the sub-cultures of Athens.
We spread our cache from the supermarket on a table that was hurried from inside the shop along with a bottle of a clear but potent liquid. We were joined by a parking attendant from a open space opposite that was infeasibly chequered with vehicles. They quizzed me about my life in Greece, most of which was answered by my host. They talked of a Greece that was the mother of wisdom in antiquity, a paradise on earth for tourism but had gone to the dogs in the modern context. The carpet salesman told me that he had a post-graduate in Greek literature but had been waiting for his call-up from the education authority to teach in high school, the parking attendant was a lawyer who never had the connections to get a foot hold in the profession, my host was a philosophy major who taught German at a private school while volunteering at a psychiatric ward. I felt like a hack but inspired by the potent clear liquid, the setting and hubris I invoked the Socratean method and Douglas Adams' 42.
“You see, the poverty of the modern age is not answers, we have no end of them!. No, our poverty lies in our questions!”
My company nodded in sagely agreement.
I drained another glass and fleetingly remembered my purpose in Athens, the convention. I remembered my promises to my fellow Toastmasters but we had begun to delve into the truth of Socrates’ existence and the potent liquid clarity had burned a path down to my deep-rooted acquiescence.
I looked up and just over the rooftops, high on crag of rock stood the Parthenon, and I was convinced it was gloating.



Next: I find a stage

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY