Monday, 25 May 2015

Episode 26: Hobnobs

From Under Dark Clouds

From Under Dark Clouds

After scandal and a legal battle with the Vatican, a British media celebrity has a very public breakdown and seeks asylum in a sleepy Greek mountain village. Battling his addictions and delusions, all he needs to do is keep his head down while the clouds pass.

But can he keep his ego under control? Can he fuck! He gets himself elected into public office. 

The situation on the home front had gotten pretty bad pretty quick, Dear Blogees. I don’t expect you to understand, celebrity is a fickle mistress and she had chosen me to do her bidding. Trouble is though, that the wife is having some issues with my burden. I don’t think she is willing to share me with my public. The world’s press is camped out in the street and she’s phoning round her relatives for a spare room. I think a couple of sessions with Dr. Alex would do her the world of good right now but I have bigger fish to fry.

My phone rang, this time it was Socrates so I answered. “Where the fuck have you been? I need to give a statement.” He told me to sit tight and wait, he was cooking something up, vindaloo hot. I told him to curry up; I really had my comedy mojo back. The wife had already beaten some paparazzi off the veranda with a broom. It was gonna get ugly, and soon.

The wife had holed the boys up in the play room under strict instructions not to come out. I went down to check out what they were doing. The little angels’ faces were bathed in light from the screens as they swiped and poke at them. My eldest lifted his head. “Are you ok, Daddy?” He is a real chip off the block, sometimes I feel like he’s the only one that truly understands me.

“Listen son, things are gonna get a bit mad for a while but Daddy promises you, and your brother that everything will be good.”

“Look Daddy, I built an abattoir in Minecraft!” he said. I believe that his resilience comes from a balanced upbringing.

Outside, a hum of excitement and the ignition of generators preceded a knock on the door; it must be Socrates with his curry-hot news. I raced to answer but the wife grabbed my arm with a stern warning not to open the door. I waved her down but did look through the spy-hole, it was the neighbour. I opened and ushered her in.

Had we seen the hullabaloo outside? Apparently there was some infamous fugitive in the neighbourhood. The wife said that we knew and tried to sweep her out, not with the broom this time. She asked if we knew who it was. I told her calmly that there was a very famous celebrity in their midst but there was nothing to worry about. She asked again, “Who?”

The wife opened the door and as she pushed her out I caught the smell of grilled meat. Someone had set up a barbecue and was selling souvlaki to the journos. This gave me an idea.

Hobnobbing with the world's press
I told the wife to put the kettle on and make, I made a quick calculation, twenty cups of tea. Did we have any Hobnobs?

The wife opened the door again and pulled the neighbour back in, she hadn’t got far and was willing to help in anyway but still wasn’t clear on who the paparazzi were looking for.

A fanfare of tea and biscuits announced my appearance on the veranda.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you are all dying to know the developments in my story since I retired from the limelight and retreated from Blighty’s shore.” I began.

“Got any more Hobnobs?” Came a voice from behind a camera.

I looked to the wife.

“Could I have coffee, instead?” asked another.

“I know that, just like me, you have a job to do that comes with great pressure. I am just a man.”

“Yeah! I don’t drink tea, either.” Another shouted.

“We have always had a good rapport, you and I.” I turned to the wife to pass on their requests but she simply hung an erect finger at her thigh. “Sorry, guys I’ll see what I can do later.” This provoked groans but the enterprising souvlaki guy sent his boy off in the direction of the mini-market. “Sometimes expectations on me were more than I could burden,” Shit! wrong word but they wouldn’t notice. “I needed to be with my family, my dear wife needed a husband and my children a father.”

“Is that why you said you were the son of god?” A bushel of iPhones had sprung from under my parapet.

“I wanted to empower my fans to make real change!”

“The Pope didn’t see it that way, did he?”

“How much was the settlement?”

“Have you paid it all?”

“How much do you have left?”

I heard the door slam behind me, this was a very sore point with the wife.

“Now, guys! Let’s look forward. I now have a mandate from the fine people of this country.”
“So, are you Greek now?”

The questions were coming hard and fast but my campaigning had honed my skills; I ignored them.

“I want to tell you about the good work I’ve done since my inauguration as mayor.”
“Didn’t you break into the town hall?”

“And do time for it?”

This was a much tougher audience than the electorate had ever been. “Any more tea, guys?”
This provoked mumbles and shaking of heads. “Some more Hobnobs?”

“I didn’t get any!” Came a woeful cry. I assured them I’d get on it.

“Now, I’ve started a social housing programme for the displaced of the community and will soon have news of something hot. If you’ll just bear with me.”

I spotted Socrates’ old Mercedes coming up the road. He stopped at the mobile grill and tooted. This distracted the crowd just long enough to compose myself. The grill was moved to the side of the road and he pulled up in front of the house dispersing the faithful and emerged from the back door. Socrates conducted the journos with a raised hand and a smile. He strode up to the veranda with a file under his arm.

Socrates ushered me into the house and brought me up to speed with the spicy news. It was just what we needed to get the press looking forward to my great achievements.

We stepped out onto the parapet to make the announcement. I took a statesman stance and filled my chest with the air of pride. “Ladies and gentlemen, I can now proudly announce.” I paused for effect as they gathered back around, allowing them to ready their recording devices. “After much work by my team we have just secured premises and funding to establish an initiative to breathe life back into the community that will help nurture the young and enterprising to reclaim this country’s tomorrows. A plan that will empower where there was prostration, provide impetus where there was inertia. We will arm this proud and ancient nation with the tools necessary to nurture a renaissance of Spartan vigour, to beat back the oppression of the Eurocrats.” Socrates laid his hand on my shoulder, I turned to enjoy his smile, even the wife slipped back out to listen.

Turning back to blow their minds, I saw the crowd fragment. The souvlaki guy had an open box at his feet and was holding aloft a packet in each hand.

“Hob Nobs! I have Hob Nobs, chocolate and classeek!”

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Episode 25: How to Manage a Press Attack

From Under Dark Clouds

After a messy legal battle with the Vatican and a very public breakdown, a British media celebrity seeks asylum in a sleepy Greek mountain village. 

Can he keep his head down until it all blows over, can he hell! He gets himself elected as Mayor!

PaparazziThe dogs had the scent and soon they would be on the doorstep baying for answers to questions I didn't understand. Doorstep interviews wasn't something I could do, it wasn't my thing, they would hound and bark and throw statements at me to make me angry, to catch me off guard. I reversed slowly into the armchair and fell into its familiar embrace. Dear Blogees, it was my only guard.

The wife was still carving slices from Socrates, who it turns out had known for some time about my fallen celebrity. He had been Pretty discreet about it, though. I suppose I owed him one for that. She stopped and let out a squall, she must have noticed my distress. She snatched the car keys from the rack and whipped past Socrates nearly knocking the Bushmills from his hand.

“The boys! They’ll be at the school. If those vultures so much as—” She stopped by the door. “I’ll cut your fucking cock off!” She wasn't going to get provisions for my shattered nerves.

A plague of hacks on my boys. I shuddered, you know I really believe she would do it.

The thing with journos is that they cannot be stopped, once they have the scent they will not stop until the chase is done and they have their Dictaphones and notepads full of front page salacity. Hacks are voracious beasts but thankfully they have very little higher brain activity, everything is instinct and their attacks can be managed.

Socrates was on the phone and by the tone of his face, I knew he had a plan and I needed someone with a plan right then, preferably a plan that involved me coming out on top. I looked at him and he threw the Bushmills in my direction. I have cat-like reactions. Whiskey, embrocation for the soul.

His conversation ended with the word NOW! He pocketed his phone and disappeared upstairs, I disappeared into the warmth of Irish arms.

He reappeared with my red golf trousers and a ‘Punisher’ t-shirt. He threw them at me. “Put this on!” I hadn't worn this getup since the first day in court when I thought I was going to win. “You've got a green leather jacket, like a coat, a military—. You know. FIND IT!”

This was Greece in July. It was 40 degrees out there. I protested. He found it in the wardrobe while I was trying to untangle the bottle from the fly of the red checked trousers. They were snug even without the bottle. Married life had padded my bones.

As we left the house, the wife arrived with my heirs, safe and sound. I ruffled their hair as we passed.

“Sort this out!” She yelled as she herded the kids to the safety of the homestead. “I'm not going back to being the centre stage in a freak show!” She covered the boys’ ears. “DON’T FUCK IT UP THIS TIME!”

As we left the village, a white van with a wok on the roof passed in the opposite direction. They had found us. Fortunately the way house numbers and street names don’t work in Greek villages, even if they had our address, they would never find us without help from the postie or a crack fraction of old ladies. I knew that this would not stop them, just delay the inevitable. I called the missus and told her to head down to the basement and answer to no-one.

Pulling up in front of an abandoned warehouse it occurred to me to ask what the fuck was going on.

“You are going to be interviewed. You are going to tell them that have brought your family to the land of your wife’s ancestors and have tried and will continue to fight for the rights of you fellow man, here in Greece.” He leaned over the seat and instructed the driver to park in the shade and be ready for a quick exit.

I finished the bottle and opened my eyes wide to my mentor. He wasn't buying it.

Sitting in the make-up chair was like home. The girl on the other end of the brush knew me and some of the better parts of my career.

By the time I was under the lights and cameras facing the over-made-up blonde with the questions, I was riding a bike.

She told me about how much she loved my work and even quoted a couple of my lines. She didn't seem to have any problem with me talking about my cock for an hour, she even thought the movies I did were good.

She uncrossed and recrossed her legs and adopted a terse expression then continued with my activist work. I unsloached and met her gaze via her legs.

“So, why are you here in Greece?”
I went into the line Socrates gave me.

“It would have nothing to do with your legal spat with the Catholic church, then?”

“Listen,” I began. “They got that all wrong. A knee jerk reaction from a hubristic, oppressive church who needed to reassert their relevance in a world that no longer recognises their hegemony.”

“You deny you are the messiah?”

“No, there is no onus on anyone to deny or support such a claim. I—”

“You believe that you are here to execute God’s will?”

Just behind the glare of the cameras, I saw Socrates frantically slashing his throat with a flat palm. His face a chewed toffee of vexation.

“And how do you think the Greek-Orthodox church will react to your claims?”

I leaned forward in my chair composing my riposte. “The orthodox church—”

She touched her ear and cut me off, laughing. “The orthodox church has no such insecurities is what you mean?”

Socrates deflated and nodded.

“Yeah, sure, The Orthodox church—”

“The Greek-Orthodox church,” She corrected.

“Totally! Well it’s an integral part of the rich weave of Greece’s culture along with Aristotle and Zeus.” Socrates coughed. “I love living here and since I began toiling shoulder to shoulder with the Greek people, I have understood the unmitigated injustice of the Eurocrats, committed against the very crucible of modern civilisation. A blasphemous affront against Olympus and all the Orthodox gods.”

“Yes, of course.” She did that thing with her legs again. “Your children are Greek, aren't they?”

Were they?

She touched her ear-piece again and asked me if I would be standing in the elections planned for early next year. I told her that I was challenged enough with the demands of the town hall and maybe that should be the full extent of my political career.

“Could you be convinced?” She asked with a sparkle.

“Of course I could, but my wife would kill me!” She smiled coyly and she may well have blushed but the weapons-grade cosmetics protected her prudence.

She announced my name to the camera accompanied by an unfamiliar adjective then turned and thanked me heartily.

The lights came up, she stood up and looked down. “Nice pants.” and walked out.

Socrates bounded over. “Well done my boy! A statesman in the making.”

I must confess, the cameras had locked and loaded my Mojo again.

“In a couple of hours, it will be edited and ready for broadcast. By the afternoon it will be on the news. By the evening, on all the channels and tomorrow in the papers. Our message gets out before anyone else.” Socrates slapped my back. “You are the 21st century Byron.”

It was already on Youtube.

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Where it all began Episode 1 

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Who is the pilot on the GreekWings flight

The flight deck door is locked, autopilot is set, the passengers are frantically banging on the cabin door but can Greece bank before it crashes into the immovable Alps. And, more importantly, will we have to wait for recovery of the black box to discover who was really at the controls.

In these final few hours before impact the Eurogroup is steadfast in its position of total and complete capitulation by the Greek government before it will consider releasing €7.2 billion bailout funds. After reviewing Athens’ proposals for reform, the guardians of the purse strings have deemed them inadequate and even amateurish. So, what are the options for the eurozone if Greece does not satisfy their demands and defaults on the €450 million payment to the IMF on 9th April and who or what is driving those decisions.

The suspects are:

Alexis Tsipras, 40 year-old ‘Radical’ leader of left-wing coalition party, Syriza who has seen a meteoric rise in the last two years but has been in activism and politics since University. His mandate from the Greek electorate is the lifting of Austerity measures imposed by the Troika of creditors and to keep Greece in the single currency.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem, 49 year-old Dutch Labour party finance minister and president of the Eurogroup, the select committee of European finance ministers who since 2015 have jurisdiction over the Euro. His role is to maintain stability of the single currency.

Angela Merkel, 60 year-old German chancellor. She is the leader of the centre-right Christian Democratic Union. Germany’s position in the union makes it the de facto leader in negotiations but she has expressed a desire not to have the Euro fail under her watch.

Jeroen Dijsselbloem
If Greece defaults and a Grexit occurs then in the short term, the bond markets could go bear and the euro would go into free fall. In this age of bond market sycophancy, this is a big deal.

That said, any concessions given to the Greeks would become a precedent for other struggling Eurozone nations and while the band-aid needed to plug the hole in Greece is relatively small, Italy and Spain or even France could be far more damaging.

The austerity strategy appears to be working for some members such as Portugal and Ireland, both have exited the bail-out programme and re-entered the international credit market, the latter is now the fastest growing economy in Europe. However this is just balance-sheet understanding, many Irish and Portuguese are not seeing the benefits.

Many Eurozone nations would be watching Greece to see how it dealt with the divorce and depending on how painless it turned out or what could be learned from the experiment, there could be more departures from the single currency which could well lead to complete devolution.

Alexis Tsipras
In the event of an ill-prepared and messy Grexit the already fatigued Greek people would loose faith in the young prime minister, not only ending his career but sparking chaos and possibly an opening for the far-right fascist groups to seize control. Greeks have hankered for state reform for as long as I can remember but the reality would cause more collateral damage than they are prepared for.

An unnamed Syriza official recently said that as a left-wing government, faced with the choice of defaulting to the creditors or their own people it was a no-brainer. Brave words indeed but also damn straight, given the choice of paying the mortgage and feeding your kids, what would you do. No-brainer, right?

But his choice is not just death or dishonour.

Greece could gain support from Russia. Syriza harbours within its ranks some far left idealists who may still hold romantic notions of allegiance to Russia. They may not have realised that Putin’s Russia has bypassed communism to revert back to the days of the Tsars. 

However, Russia has its own liquidity problems and would not bailout Greece without some pretty heavy caveats whether declared or implied. Recent events in Ukraine are very telling of Putin’s ambitions. Russian gas supplies to Greece which are used for domestic use and electricity generation have already given it a significant political foothold.

Russians also represent a huge growth in tourism for Greece who are also buying up holiday property. In some tourist areas English has been demoted to third place on menus and shop signs.

Angela Merkel
Germany’s motives have much in common with the Eurogroup’s, but Angela must play to the home audience. Germany is running a sizable surplus due to its reluctance to take advantage of cheaper than cash credit which is available to it and the austerity measures it has been imposing on its own people, which it systematically blames on Eurozone slackers like Greece. Bending to Greece would be a domestic disaster for Merkel. While a short-term fall in the Euro could hurt but foreign currency holdings and cheap exports would buffer the blow and she would be seen as a saviour.

The Euro is significantly undervalued compared to the German economy. It is the only economy that could withdraw from the Euro with money in the bank but a return to the Deutsche Mark would mean more expensive German exports and it would go back to being another European nation rather than the epicentre of an EU empire.
If Greece were to be cut loose this would mean a constriction of the European borders especially in a very strategic area of the Mediterranean.

We forget though, there is a new wave of Eurozone candidate nations in the wings including Iceland, Albania, Montenegro and Turkey. Turkey gives access to the Med and the middle east, Albania and Montenegro who give access to the Ionian across from Italy and who along with Serbia and Macedonia go to bridging the northern members to Bulgaria and ultimately Turkey and beyond.

These candidates may be seen as more manageable than Greece and not to mention, a Greek withdrawal would make Macedonia and Turkey’s integration easier.

So who is in the driving seat then? 

Well, Merkel does seem to have the most options.

Tsipras is between a rock and several hard-places. Threats have been thrown of everything from Russia to opening the roads for Islamist extremists but ultimately his hand is bluff. Varoufakis’ and his post-election European road trip found few allies. His only option may be to steer into Russian and Chinese ploughed fields.

Dijsselbloem represents the auto pilot, his role is the result of programming. He can only prepare for the fallout.

And all the while the bond markets are licking their lips with glee, fail or fly the euro will make many hedge funds even more obscenely rich.

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Monday, 30 March 2015

Go Greek for a Week

The Greek tragedy that is being played out like a car-crash reality show that gets recommissioned for a new series every time we think it is coming to the final episode. Like any of you who stuck with ‘LOST’ until the climax, the story just lost any semblance of reason. The Greek narrative is becoming so convoluted and discombobulating that it is difficult to make any sense of it. Are the Greeks the lazy feckless moustache twirlers who siesta’d away over 300 billion Euros or is it the insensitive megalomaniac Germans, hell bent on annexing their neighbours… again. Is Varoufakis an economics rock star Yoda or a naive idealist who still believes he can have his souvlaki and eat it and is Greece’s claim to WWII reparations that could effectively wipe the slate clean valid or simply risible. The fact is that all of this has clouded the real issues. For the simple answer I urge you to look no farther than yourself, your neighbours and your family.

For anyone following the will-they-won’t-they Grexit saga that is being played out in the media, you will notice that the story invariably falls into the language of bond yields and bank solvency. The macroeconomics of the situation are both baffling and contradictory. The Greek government was loaned more money than they could repay under the guise of a stable Eurozone member. Then, woken by the shock waves of the same crash that brought down some of the world’s biggest financial institutions, the markets began to panic causing a world recession which tipped Greece, among others, into a downward spiral. Greece is now locked out of the world finance markets beholden to the TROIKA for its life blood. The money needs to be borrowed in order to pay the loans that have stacked up and not to repay the loans but just the interest. So, more than two thirds of the bailout money is going straight back to the banks. But, it still holds a responsibility to its pensioners, unemployed and the people who earn a living working for the state.

The EU have attached certain conditions to these loans, the so called austerity measures, imagine the credit card company coming into your home and telling you what you can and can not spend your money on, imagine the bank telling you that in order to keep your overdraft facility you will have to sell your delivery van and service your customers with a bicycle then punish you for your business going down the tubes.


I’m sorry, it is really difficult to talk about the Greek crisis without getting bogged down in the big picture, because it is so big and there is a reason for that. I did ask you to look to yourself for the answer and I will make good on that.

What did you do to create the property boom? Maybe you bid a little too high on the home you dreamed of, maybe you were a little creative with your mortgage application.

What did you do to cause the decline of the health service, did you worry too much about that lump, did you have an accident in your car, did you get into a fight.

What did you do to cause the downturn in industry that forced companies to move production to Asia, did you need too much to pay you rent/mortgage, did you pull a few sickies, did you spend a bit too much time on facebook.

What did you do to cause the credit crunch, did you fail to resist the sales, did you get tired of your old banger and borrow to get your family around in something cleaner and safer.

You will surely answer yes to many of these questions and more I could ask, so are you deserving of a country that has 25% of its workforce unemployed. A tax system that changes so unpredictably that businesses cannot plan or develop. Or as has recently started, main roads and high streets with the lights out at night because the council can’t pay the bills. No, of course you are not.

In 2011, channel 4 invited audiences to ‘Go Greek for a week’, they laid the blame for Greece's woes quite firmly on the population. This is a message that they intended you to internalise, to make you look to your own culpability in your nation’s flaws. There was some truth in the examples given but it did miss the point. The same point that is missed every time the media bang on about bond market yields and currency markets and GDP. The system manages the country not the other way round, the people took advantage of what was on offer, as you do. Government exists to manage a nation, bond markets exist to help finance these nations and the businesses that rely on the nation’s workforce and infrastructure to make profit. These same businesses and industries rely on the same population to consume their products and services.

The markets, industries, banks and governments exist because of the people, not the other way round. The EU and government’s sycophancy towards narcissistic markets has caused the problem, not you.

The markets are everything that Greece and all the other failing nations are accused of. They are fickle and myopic, they grab all they covet, they do not build civilisations, they do not nurture their own. They liquidate all they touch.

I would, once again, ask you to ‘Go Greek for a week’. Look at what is being allowed to happen to the people you met on holiday and whether you be British, French, German or anyone who feels above their plight to look around and see that you may not be the next Greece but that your time is coming.

The banks are so often described as ‘Too big to fail’ but surely this is a description that should only apply to nations of people.

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Also read: 
Europe needs councelling

I've been living in and writing about Greece for over 15 years This is my ride

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY