Monday 1 June 2015

Episode 27: The Startup Shed

From Under Dark Clouds is the story of a burnt out British celebrity who runs away to a little Greek village to seek asylum. All he had to do was keep his head down until the clouds passed. He couldn't even do that right, he got himself elected.

The future of modern business, from a Shed 
My nerves were jangling like a piano in a pickup, dear blogees. We are on the cusp of something big and it was all my idea. We have the tools to begin a new Greece from within, taking the young and equipping them with the needs of all their tomorrows. A wise man once said that if you give a man a credit card he will shop until he maxes his limit, but give him a banking licence and he will spend for a dozen lifetimes. We were establishing an an incubator in our town and I could not wait to get those eggs hatching.

Remember when we were running for office, Mike the IT guy had talked about such things but the truth is that we had kinda forgotten it until now, which was very fortunate because now I had the world’s press on my doorstep which would give us ample forum for its launch. We had some empty premises in our possession and all we needed was someone with the skills to run the project and now we have them. They are an outfit calling themselves The Start-up Shed, yeah I know, but apparently it has some kudos, something about Steve Jobs starting out in a shed. They are part of a new wave of entrepreneurs in this country who aim to bring it out of the same cycle of making money from tourists and olive oil. Young graduates have two choices, unemployment or they go abroad to get work in Britain, Germany or the States, programming apps and making tech and loads of stuff that the modern world is selling their grandmas to get hold of. The young bright hopes of this country are going to build the futures of other countries. This has to stop.

We had a meeting with the guys in the board room of the town hall and I was eager to get there on time. Socrates headed down while I went to pluck Mike the IT guy from his den with Jude, a correspondent for the Cerberus, a quality British newspaper.

Apart from the blinking LEDs and monitors mike’s den was dark. Mike slapped the lid of his laptop down and spun in his seat.


“We’ve got the meeting for the incubator-thing. You are coming?” I said.

He looked passed me. “Yeah, sure. When?”

“Now. Oh! this is Jude from the Cerberus.” I introduced the correspondent to our grandmaster geek.

“Oh, don’t listen to him. I’m just a hack!” Mike modestly offered his hand.

“Me too,” replied Jude.

I stopped at the door to the board room and composed my entry, but there was no need. Socrates was alone.

We sat in silence until Jude asked Mike about The Startup Shed.

“Well, they’re a group of professionals from diverse backgrounds who take groups of young entrepreneurs and accelerate them to develop or destroy their business plan.”

“Destroy?” Jude was taking pictures of me.

“Well, if their idea isn’t viable, they need to find out quickly and pivot.”


“Change their idea until it has potential to create revenue streams,” Mike said.

Jude put his camera down. I relaxed in my chair. He pulled out a tablet and began tapping away.

Socrates looked at his watch for the umpteenth time.

The first of the Shedders to arrive were a couple who introduced themselves, apologised for being late and asked where the others were. They were accountants and busied themselves with bags and folders. I was eager to know what this was all about but when I asked them they looked to each other and told us that it would be better to get the full plan from the team.

The door cracked and surveyed the room. “Is this the meeting for The Startup Shed?”

I smiled and ushered the girl in. She parked up next to the couple and leaned across to exchange some words with the couple.

Socrates looked at his watch.

The team’s banker arrived with an ashtray and a frappe, placed them on the table and squeezed our hands one at a time. “Panos,” he said and I had no doubts. He sat on the opposite side to us and leaned across the girl to speak to the couple. They shook their heads in answer. He pulled a packet from his suit jacket and positioned the ashtray before him. I was getting the taste as the smoke wafted under my nose. The town hall has a strict no smoking policy but seeing as I’m the mayor I guessed I had power of veto or something. I rolled and lit. The girl stood to open the window.

Socrates addressed the team curtly in Greek and the they shrugged in unison. He looked at his watch and began again, pointing to Jude and the lady pulled a phone from her bag.

The door bounced on its hinges and standing in the way in golf trousers and Batman t-shirt was Danny, the English contingent of the team. It was like looking in a fat-mirror. “Sorry I’m late, gents. Where’s our Aris?” He ran his hand down the back of his trousers. “I’ve got mine!” He slung a battered leather bag on the table and slumped in the chair next to the banker who greeted him warmly.

He looked up and launched a palm across the table at me. “Freddy! I heard you’d be here. You know we’re both A13ers.”

It took me a moment but it made sense. The A13 is the road that runs from London to the Essex coast.

The team huddled and turned to Danny. “Would you like to tell Mr. Fygaso about what we do?”
“What do we do, Anna?” He asked.

“Can you just tell them about the accelerator programme, Danny?” She jabbed her head in my direction.

“Right, yeah, ok! What we do is take a group of young hopefuls and—”

Another knock at the door and a tall lanky unshaven type with a school bag walked in. “So you started without me?”

Anna leapt to her feet and turned to me. “This is Aris, the CEO and founder of The Startup Shed.”

The English guy took his seat again, thank god, he was really starting to get on my nerves. I know I’m retired but too many comedians in one room is just too many.

Closely behind the lanky leader was a slight American woman and a young girl who was parked at the end of the table.

Socrates looked at his watch. I checked that we were all there. We were.

Mike stood to help Aris connect his laptop to the projector.

“Since Mike spoke to us about running the First-steps, pre-seed acceleration programme here, we have begun applications and have now narrowed the candidates from twenty eight to nineteen.” He spoke in English and very well too, albeit with an American accent. “I would like to show you a PowerPoint presentation. Mike, the lights please.”

Words in minimalist monochrome ping-ponged around the screen to a soft-rock soundtrack; Scorpions, I think.

The little girl occupied herself with a naked Barbie doll and some crayons, I wondered if she might like to meet my boys.

Eventually, finally, thankfully the outfit’s logo dropped onto the screen preceded by the words powered by and it was over.

Aris leapt up with a Cheshire-cat grin and looked from me to Socrates, to Mike. The little girl continued drawing crayon clothes on her Barbie.

It was Danny who broke the ice. “So, apart from the lighters-in-the-air rock, does it make sense?” Was this guy writing my thoughts?

Fortunately the lanky one continued. “We can be up and running with the selection process, the Saturday after this when we’ll bring it down to eight to ten teams. Then we’ll begin acceleration the week after. This is the schedule.” He threw some printed sheets with their logo all over them to us. I took one and began to browse.

“Aris?” He nodded.”Excuse my ignorance but I do have one question.” He smiled and looked like he was listening. “What is an accelerator programme?” Socrates deflated next to me.

“Well, we are a team of diverse professionals and what we do is take young entrepreneurs and accelerate them to develop or destroy their business plan,” he paused and smiled. “Now, destroy I hear you say! Well, if their idea isn’t viable, they need to find out quickly and pivot.” Pause and smile. “Pivot, I hear you say!..”

Jude stood. “I think I need to make some calls.” And left.

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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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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY