Friday 11 December 2015

Episode 38: If you Tolerate this...

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.

You’ve been in the playground when the school bully walks in with his goons. We all know what that feels like, unless you were the school bully. Everyone tries to continue playing, maintain the nonchalant appearance of normality while being desperately aware of every skip, every jump, every word. Movement in the studio became stepped, metered. Trakas, the New Democracy Finmin played the denial card.
“Here come the goon squad.” He said just low enough to believe he couldn’t be heard.
But the studio had gone churchly quiet. “Traka! Show some respect. You’ll be begging at my table soon enough.” Ares answered, not loud but with entitlement.
There is a reason that teachers cannot combat bullying. It doesn’t start in schools and it definitely doesn’t end there. People who need recognition force people who need to follow to victimise people who need protection. If the meek ever do inherit the earth it will be after many more heads are flushed down toilets and a lot more lunch money is taken.
The entourage made its way through the middle of the room and everyone found jobs to do on the peripheries.
This wasn’t the first time I had met Ares, first time I was the fat kid of the class and he made me piss myself. I strode over to introduce myself. One of the shaved gorillas stood in my way. I smiled and Ares waved him aside. He looked down at my outstretched palm. ”I know you, mongrel. I read your file. Your own people don’t want you, you think my people do?”
“You have a file on me? What an accolade.” He looked straight through me, I doubted that he could pass the Turing test. I implored him to be nice, after all this was just a bit of telly.
“Enjoy your little skit, comedian.” He turned and continued through the studio. Needless to say he was the only one who did not address me in English. The host walked with him onto the set. Only there did his entourage break, positioning themselves behind their leader on three sides, just out of shot.
“Ladies and gentlemen, to your places.” A production assistant gently lead me by the arm to the set and placed me at a low coffee table opposite my new friend from the Golden Dawn. I crossed my legs and relaxed in my chair. My pissing days were long over.
A jingle played and the host began his introduction.
“With the elections upon us we give the spotlight to some of the minor candidates and ask if they have a new perspective to offer.” He introduced Ares who wished the viewers a stoic good-evening. “And a self-professed New Greek from England who surprised everyone by winning the mayoral elections.”
I smiled and added that I was not the least surprised at that one.
“The minister of finance, Manolis Trakas, to outline the government’s strategy, should it get re-elected.”
“We also have the renowned economist, Panayiotis Karaletsos who will give us his views on the causes and possible remedies of the crisis that grips our economy.”
He nodded.
“And it is with you, Mr. Karaletsos, that I’d like to begin. What do you think is the root cause of the present situation?”
He began with the European central bank’s incompetent appraisal of Greece’s qualification to join the single currency then accelerated to the austerity and bail-out plans that have only managed to get the country in more debt. I followed it quite well and found myself nodding, more in comprehension than agreement. He seemed to have omitted any mention of Greece’s role.
The host then opened the question to each of us to offer our manifesto to a viable solution. According to Trakas, New Democracy proposed more of the same, we were on the road to mend, we just needed more time and cooperation with the European union and the good will of the creditors. Ares proposed freeing the country from its immigrant burden. Then to me.
“Well, Stelios. I think we need to get businesses doing business. We need to build a business environment unencumbered by bureaucracy with clear, consistent taxation so that they can plan ahead and compete in the world market. This would provide jobs and stability.” Sounded like a plan.
“How would you go about addressing the huge problem of tax avoidance?” Karaletsos countered.
“Yeah, well people and businesses fiddle their taxes all over the world,. You only need to look to Starbucks, Amazon and Apple with their funnelling of money through Holland, Lichtenstein and Ireland. And, they’re only the big names. I think a fair stable tax system, staffed by understanding public employees who would be more empathetic to local industry would make businessmen and women more willing to give their fair share, right?”
The economist sipped his water and coughed into his fist. “So you propose that a nice fair tax system would turn round an economy that has shrunk by almost thirty percent in four years. With a debt to GDP that has gone from seventy eight percent to a hundred and ninety four in the same period.”
“I’m sure everyone would be more willing to contribute if they could see the sense in it.” Surely he could see the wisdom in that.
He smirked at me. “Capital is leaving the economy faster than we have seen since the junta period and your strategy is empathetic taxmen? May I ask if you actually have an economic strategy in your manifesto?”
I chuckled at this. “If we didn’t, would I be here now?”
“I haven’t managed to find it!”
“I’m sure you can understand that we need a stable tax environment to attract outside investment and let’s be honest, when we go to the tax office we feel loathed to give our signatures let alone twenty three percent of our earnings.” I checked the cheeky step. Done. Now in lieu of flirting with the host I turned to the Golden Dawn representative. “Now your people, Ares. I hear you do a lot in the community to help the old and needy.”
“The Greek people know that we are their true supporters—” he said slowly building pace. But I cut him short.
“Yeah, all well and good. I’m sure you are aware that this is one area where we agree. We have worked hard to give our citizens their dignity back. But we need to work with the international community, not against it.”
The finmin nodded in agreement.
“We don’t need your foreign money and your foreign laws!” Ares sneered.
“As far as the Euro is concerned, I think we are agreeing again.” I leaned over and touched his knee. ”The UK did not adopt the single European currency for just that reason. But the world is a family that must work together. We must embrace our neighbours.”
“We have been taking care of our people in the community with food and protection. The old and the children look to us for help. We are strong because we don’t look to others for charity.” His fists were tightening.
“Yes, and once again we find ourselves agreeing, Ares.” I leaned over again but he was just out of reach. “He’s not so bad after all,” I said looking at the host. “I have implemented initiatives in my town to help local businesses thrive and provide jobs and welfare for local people. Where we do disagree is—”
“We don’t need foreigners to dilute our Greek blood.”
“Now that is an interesting point there, young man. And, were my wife here, I’m sure she have have a lot to say on the matter.” I smiled at the camera. “You have a particular problem with people from other countries, don’t you?” I gave him time to answer but his eyes just went blacker. “I couldn’t help noticing the tattoo on your man’s neck here.” I invited the camera to pan to the bodyguard standing behind his master. “It’s a swastika, right?” The camera didn’t move. “An Indian religious symbol adopted by the German Nazis when they tried to subjugate Greece, with help from the Bulgarians and the Italians.” I didn’t see it coming but it came nonetheless, first the splash then the smash of a glass impacting with my cheekbone.
He was across the table and on me “MONGREL. FAG. FOREIGNER!”
His knee went into my balls, my hands sprung to defend my face but his taught abdomen got in the way. All I could do was scream to get this madman off me but it was he that rose above me, drool running from his lips. I scowled as defiantly as I could, trying not to flinch too cowardly. He spat and landed one across my jaw before swinging his head at the goons and walking out.
The studio security were still planted by the door.
The production crew fell on me with cloths and tissues, they came away blooded.
I pushed them away, stood and looked the camera square on. “If you tolerate this, then your children will be next!”


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Wednesday 11 November 2015

Episode 37: Nowhere to Hide

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.

Youtube stats have become a bit of an obsession, I must confess, dear Blogees. I tried to find a way to get my account to let me know of any updates but they were too slow so I just check in on a regular basis to find that nothing has changed.

The campaign video is only creeping into triple figures. At least the Greek version, the version in English was doing great for a few days and it’s still ticking over. That said, the kid playing Thunderstruck on his bouzouki has got nearly four thousand views already. Fortunately my name is tagged on the video and the edit even left a few moments of my speech. Well, mostly me shouting THUNDER! Socrates got his number and I think we should have him as a regular. I must admit though, piggybacking interest from a high schooler with an ethnic instrument is a new low for me. Some of my old stand-ups and TV appearances are into the millions and one where I made a US news anchor turn bright red on live TV, nothing to the colours I made her turn later off camera, is getting on for three. But, getting a few thousand locals to watch me promise them a brighter future, albeit dubbed, seems to be beyond me. Maybe my charisma just doesn’t translate.

The family were still sleeping so I indulged myself for a couple of hours with those old videos. Watching the guy in the golf trousers and Punisher t-shirt that used to be me made me a little me-sick. Not for the booze and drugs and fast-food sex, just the me that had something to say to people who understood. I’m telling them I’m a New Greek but I’m getting the feeling that all they want are new cars and new phones. Greeks are better when they’re vintage.

Socrates had me booked for a TV interview later. We were flying down to a studio in Athens, shouldn’t have been too taxing. I flutter my eyes at the hostess, be a bit cheeky and tell them to face up and claim their country back. Simple recipe but it works. It worked pretty well back home until the church got involved. I didn’t get how much people still listen to them.

I got an email from Jude but only had time to skim it. The people back home. Should stop saying that, here is my home now. Anyway, they were divided by my foray into saving Europe’s hardest doneby, divided but interested. He’s coming back to get the inside story, follow me around for a while.

The family were waking up for the school run and Socrates called. I refreshed the Youtube page. Nothing. He gave me the itinerary for the day. I had a two-hour Greek lesson then we were off to the airport. He warned me that this may be a bit of a challenge and to have my wits about me.
In my office, I opened a box of index cards where I wrote my vocabulary for a last minute refresher before the tutor arrived. I’ve been enjoying the lessons and the wife says it shows. The kids still won’t speak to me in Greek.

In the cab down to the airport I vigorously practised hypothetical speech with Socrates. It had been the subject of the lesson and the tutor deemed it an important skill given the task of the day. Socrates answered me in a mixture of hypothetical and definite which confused me a little. Not as much as I confused the cab driver asking him what would happen if we took that road or this.

He pulled to the side and leaned over the seat. “You want me to go this way or that? If we go that way,” he pointed out. “We will not get to the airport and you may not get your flight.” His syntax was textbook. Socrates was smirking behind his fist. “If you were to allow me to get on with my job, we might get you to your destination!”

“Were I to do that, would you be able to get us there on time?” I asked.

“I would have no doubt about it.” He turned and pulled back out into the midday traffic.

“We are definitely getting our money’s worth from the tutor,” Socrates said. “But, if I were you, I would shut up for a while.” I think he was just a little proud of me.

“I was a philologist before I had to start cabbing.” The driver bemoaned. “It would seem that you are getting good instruction.”

I wasn’t sure If he meant Socrates telling me to shut up or my Greek tuition. He enquired where I was from and what I was doing here. He knew of Essex, it used to be a brand of washing powder here, but he had friends who had studied at the university in Colchester. When I told him that I was the mayor of the one-horse town where he picked us up and my political ambitions, he nearly stoved the car into a queue of traffic at a red light. “Yeah, I saw you on Youtube!” At last someone. “Fantastic! It’s about time we had some fresh blood in this political circus. You really showed them.” He turned his attention back to the moving traffic. Socrates nudged me to get into campaign mode. Not that I needed telling. He pulled a left into the final straight to the terminal and I started talking about claiming the country back from the bankers and eurocrats. Greece was a debt colony that had fallen into the role through apathy and malaise. Playing the sympathy card would no longer cut the mustard and we needed to fight back.

“I was at a march only last week…” the driver said.

“If I could stop you there. You can march and chant all you want but unless you have allies up top, in Athens, in Brussels, no one is listened.” The driver corrected my verb use. “You need a new regime, a meritocracy. Get these self-serving politicians out of Athens.”

“So who do we vote for?”

“Vote for me! Tell your friends and family, tell everyone who gets in your cab! If you are still going on marches a year from now, don’t blame me. You saw what I did in my town, you saw the youtube video. Spread the word!”

We arrived at the terminal and the driver helped us with our bags. As we walked away from the cab I turned and wished him happy trails, he raised his fist in the air and cried, “THUNDER!” Maybe he saw the wrong video.

The Palaver of check-in and boarding is longer than the flight from Thessaloniki to Athens and I managed not to get into any conversations. Conversations on planes are so awkward, if they go well, you have to exchange details and go to baggage reclaim together. If they don’t, you have nowhere to hide.

Athens airport is in the middle of a desert, the harsh, bare terrain that surrounds it is a juxtaposition to the heaving metropolis that neighbours it but all that bustle is just a facade over the same scenery. The Parthenon sits aloft a bare rock jutting from the city, alluding to its ancient antecedents as well as the barren landscape that it attempts to conceal.

The taxi dropped us at a concrete box dressed in pollution and peeling paint. Polished marble cladding surrounded the revolving door to the studios and a vagrant slept in the corner to the right, I suppose even tramps get to siesta. I pulled a note from my pocket and slipped it between his cardboard bed and his nicotine-stained beard. I turned just as a camera clicked.

The studio was like any other, dark but blindingly bright. The host, I had expected a woman, introduced himself. I shook his hand and he politely enquired about my journey.

“I hear you’re doing good work up there.” He said in English that he could not have acquired here. I thanked him and he left.

Socrates introduced me to one of the guests, Panayiotis Kara-something, an economist who told me he had studied at Essex.

“Did you attend Essex?” he asked in an overly deliberate English accent.

I told him I hadn’t had much time for academia due to the pressures of the real world.

He hummed and said, “Shame. Fine place.”

The second guest was Manolis Trakas, the government’s finance minister. Another of the Euro-lackys who had Swiss bank account written all over him. I offered him my hand. “Ah! The comedian.” Why was everyone speaking to me in English?

I replied in Greek taking pains to get it just right. “No, sir. I am the Mayor.”

“A mayor,” he corrected.

A girl with an iPad shuffled around inviting us to take our seats for sound and lighting checks. The doors to the studio opened and two broad men in identical bomber jackets and shaved heads bowled in and told everyone to stand. Behind them was a young well-dressed man in sharp suit and a frown. Behind him was another clone of the two in front and two members of studio security at a safe distance. I recognised the young man as Ares, the democratically elected MP from The Golden Dawn.


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Thursday 5 November 2015

Episode 36: A Rousing Speech

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 made me a pariah. 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 called a meeting with immediate effect. Socrates rolled into the main conference room more than four hours later with the well-assembled secretary in tow. She set a laptop on the table and Mike the IT guy’s face appeared on the screen.

I asked them if they had seen the campaign video. Socrates nodded, the secretary smiled and Mike’s image flickered and jerked like some bearded Max Headroom.

“Mike, for fuck sake. Why are you video conferencing from down the hall. Get down here now!”

The secretary looked to Socrates who shrugged. She offered to make some coffee and disappeared without receiving an answer.

I was nestling the hot cup in my hands before Mike arrived. He gingerly tackled the door and entered with all the fluency of someone unsure of how to deal with a three dimensional world. He stood above a chair and swiped the air above it before Socrates pulled it back for him to sit. His presence carried an air of body odour and burned wiring.

“You OK?” I asked him, he clearly wasn't.

He keystroked the table before answering. “I’m fine, Mr. Mayor.”

I had my doubts but his new aura was beginning to make me regret bringing him down from the server cupboard. Socrates coughed and moved chairs.

“I watched it this morning and I have some issues.”

“I thought it was very nice,” the secretary offered. “You came across very well.”

Came across well? “I was dubbed!”

“You looked nice, though,” she said.

I held her green eyes in mine for the briefest of moments. I did, but! “The point is, have you seen the stats. Hundreds of thousands across the world and barely thirty from here.”

Mike tapped the table, “thirty four… five… six.” His eyes glazed, “Premature exit. Dislike registered. No comment logged.” He shut down but his fingers continued keystroking the table.

Socrates leaned back in his chair. According to him the Internet was no substitute for TV and some good old fashioned campaigning. Hoards of warm voters in a town square with banners, souvlaki and a couple of barrels of local wine. He looked to Mike who to my surprise supported his view.

“Data would indicate the while brands with well-established market awareness are able to leverage social media to gain further traction in sales, emerging brands are 83.28% more likely to increase market share after television exposure. This data indicates world trends as specific Greek data is insufficient and unqualified.”

“See! Banners and souvlaki.” Socrates gloated. “We start this evening. A few warm-ups locally. Got a crowd in especially.”

Mike swiped the table. “Online strategy will reach critical mass in 76 hours.” He stood, wobbled and headed for the door. The face on the laptop screen followed him as he left the room and smirked as he fumbled with the door handle.

“Mike, are you sure you’re OK?” I called after him but it was the Mike on the screen that answered.

“We’re getting there.” Then he was gone, leaving just a bad smell and a screensaver.

Smoke wafted the smell of grilling meat across the stage as the warm-up act played bouzouki-rock and sung of revolution. The barrels of generic white and generic red wine on the make-shift hospitality tables were going down as well as the band. I knew because I was helping. Not with the serving but the consumption; it was the best way to talk to the voters and turn their waves into a tide of change.

My sandwich man was there and I recognised some of the faces from the video shoot. He flitted to the grill and came back with two sticks of souvlaki and offered me one. I took it, still jigging to the beats coming from the band screaming for their lost youth.

“This is called the five hundred euro generation!” The singer announced.

“They’re good!” I swung my head in the direction of the stage.

“Meh! I make the best souvlaki you ever tasted.” The sandwich man replied chewing another piece of meat from the stick.

“No. The band, they’re good!”

He glanced at the stage then back to the bare stick. “I make much better! You will try.”

I’ll never understand souvlaki connoisseurs, I mean after all it’s a national dish that comprises of only two ingredients and one of them is wood.

I felt a warm pressure in my back and a hand on my shoulder. I turned to find the very well-assembled secretary smiling. “You are on in five minutes, Sir.”

I emptied my plastic cup and rested it on the table. Made my apologies to my company, handed him the remainder of my stick-meal and headed for the back stage area.

Socrates was there with my pre-fight rub-down speech. Give them what they want, give it to them nicely and get them on your side. Check? Check!

The singer from the band introduced me as the new Greek with the new vision and began to play AC/DC’s Thunderstruck on his bouzouki. I would have preferred The Smiths How soon is now or something from the KLF but there was no denying the effect it was having on the crowd. I waited in the wings and told Socrates to keep this kid’s number. The crowd were overhead clapping and punching the air in shoddy unison. I walked out took the kid by the shoulder and punched the sky. 

“THUNDER!” I shouted.

The band packed up their instruments and left me to the stage. As the front-man left he turned raised his instrument and shouted in English. “Hey! I saw you on youtube. You’re awesome, man!”

I paced the stage, taking my usual stance of enraged intent. A position of discombobulated exasperation with an electorate who faced with a choice, invariably chose feckless habit over informed volition.

“THUNDER!” I shouted, fisting the sky. “You want THUNDER?” I could hear the bouzouki arpeggio playing in the back of my head.

The crowd cheered.

“So why is it that every time you get to use your vote, you choose rain?” I paced some more. “You want the thunder of Zeus and you vote for an old man with a Swiss bank account!” I was loosing them. “I want to give you Thunder! The power of Zeus back in Athens, where he belongs!” This got a cheer. “I will give you back the country built on YOUR backs and sold to the Germans!” They were watching now and I moved closer to the edge of the tiny stage, to look them all in the eyes. “Because You are the backs of Greece!” I paused. “The backbone of a nation, proud and straight! Your will is the waves than lash the shores and beaches. Your blood, the life of our communities. Your votes the THUNDER that will strike at the heart of Europe.” My attention was momentarily snatched by the barbeque. “YOU are the WOOD in my souvlaki!”

This evoked a forest of sticks waved high in the air. “WE ARE THE WOOD!”

I looked off stage and called for the kid with his bouzouki to come back on. He raced out, plugged in and soon the familiar riff galvanised bared nerves.

“Your vote is the THUNDER! Give it to me and I’ll take it to Europe!”

I hugged the musician who continued playing as I waved my way off the stage.

The secretary was at the narrow exit just behind the curtains. She caught me in her green eyes as I squeezed passed. “Very rousing, Sir.”

Socrates shook my hand and kissed me on both cheeks. “Thunder, eh! Get that on fucking Youtube.”

He had some press for me to talk to waiting in the wings. From behind me I swear I heard a woman’s voice say, “You are the wood in MY souvlaki.”


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From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY