Monday, 30 August 2010

Chasing Paper

Clear instructions indeed! 

So, there we were wandering around IKEA as you do, enjoying the fact that the kids were in the play pen and we could complete entire sentences without fear of interruption when my wife’s phone rang. It was one of the nice ladies from the daycare with glad tidings for any overstretched parent, “A program has be announced whereby parents could get free daycare.” The nice lady had scant details but she did give us a name at the town hall of someone who could fill us in from Monday morning. This was not an opportunity to be sniffed at, as like most overstretched parents free daycare would relieve a huge dent in our expenses. We were duly elated and the wedding present that we had intended to buy there gained a revised budget. 

Monday came and my good wife called the Town hall to garner more details as to our application. The nice lady told my wife that she herself was privy to scant details at that time but would call at some point with definitive instructions. She then took the kids off to my mother-in-law’s. The sun shone quietly and I got down to some serious writing, but noticing the worktop overpopulated with breakfast debris decided instead to tackle the feeding of the dishwasher first. Remembering that Top Gear had shown a new episode, I decided that I should have a quick look to see if it held any interest. I’m sure my laptop needed a format but of course this would interfere with my writing schedule. My bowels moved slightly and I harked back to the last time I had an uninterrupted movement. My phone rang. I could not have been more moved, so I didn’t. The number was withheld so I decided it must be the Town hall. “Could I please speak to Ms So-and-so?” I enquired, Britishly in Greek.

Keep your eye on the paperwork
but don't fall in the shit.
“She can’t speak now call back in 15 minutes...” kerderrrrrrr. My gratitude was cut off with a dialling tone, which incidentally sounds like a British engaged tone; nuff said.

The Top Gear team baffoond around on the screen in cars that cost more that my mountain abode for another quarter of an hour when I paused and called Ms So-and-so.
“She’s unavailable call back in half-an-hour,” seasoned in the ways of Greek protocol I smelt a runaround brewing.
“!5 minutes now 30 minutes,” I riposted “Can I leave a message?”
“Should I give up hope now?”

“Sir , I’m afraid I can’t help you. She’s probably dealing with the subject that you are calling about. Call back and she’ll be able to help you.”
Well, Jeremy, James and the little one drew their conclusions at the Masarati (note to self: sell house, buy one, make sign “Bends for petrol!”)
Called again, “Ms. So-and-so is unavailable.”
“My wife called this morning, I have called three times now. Who can I speak to about the daycare program subsidy?”
“Oh, you need to call the citizens services.” (as good a translation as I can make: Basically an office that does all of the gratuitous bureaucracy that the responsible office has or will drive you to psychopathic or suicidal outrage before telling you that you are missing a stamp or that they are closing. They do exactly the same job but with a smile. ) She did, however give me the phone number. “Oh, you need to call the citizens services.” (as good a translation as I can make: Basically an office that does all of the gratuitous bureaucracy that the responsible office has or will drive you to psychopathic or suicidal outrage before telling you that you are missing a stamp or that they are closing. They do exactly the same job but with a smile. ) She did, however give me the phone number. “Hello, citizens services. Make it quick I’ve got a long queue here!”
“I’m calling about the daycare program.”
“Oh, the deadline is in 5 minutes you won’t make it, have a nice day.”
‘But, but I was told.”
“Sorry, can’t help, got lots of people here, bye.”
I called the Town Hall.

The conversation that ensued was in no way becoming of a cultured middle-class gentleman but I'm of Irish decent, born and raised in Essex and I learned Greek from the streets. I threw more than a few Փ’s in and demanded to speak to the mayor who was also unavailable for comment. So, I jumped on my trusty Vespa and buzzed down with murderous intent.
On arriving I was greeted by a nice lady who had all my details and was ready to pass me over to Ms. So-and-so who turned out to be a young nice lady, not at all offensive to the eye and was apologetic to the hilt offering the national mitigation of “well, this is Greece”. She explained that she didn’t know the criteria of the subsidy and she would simply be passing on the details to someone else, she wasn’t sure who this would be but that my application would be valid. I maintained a sustained level of aggression making it clear that I would not be fobbed off. She smiled in a please-don’t-hit-me type way and fobbed me off.
Some balls yesterday.

We’ll see...

Update: Everyone at the daycare got the subsidy... except us!

Monday, 16 August 2010

Retail therapy?

The other day me and the wife decided to go out shopping to see what was left in the sales. The kids weren’t thrilled but we made it sound like an adventure. By the time we got back in the car to go home we had got some new sheets for the kids, the wife got some undies, a couple of whoopi cushions for the kids and a divorce. I don’t mind going to IKEA because they have a nice little smalland parking for the little darlings but we have to shop at other places from time to time as there’s only so much Swedish furniture you can eat. I’ve been wearing this UGGDAL wardrobe for two seasons now and it’s roomy but people are starting to talk.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Weekend at Mother-in-Laws

This weekend we took a trip down to the mother-in-laws, she lives in a little village at the bottom of mount Olympus, home of the gods and my mother-in-law, connection purely coincidental I assure you. We arrived bedraggled by our long haul, well, hour and half’s drive to be greeted by her usual hospitality of make yourself a coffee I've had a hard day in the field. She works on the five visits then you're home rule, believe me when I tell you that I've done my utmost not to reach that number of visits but a good number of them were taken up with wedding preparations. Anyway I must mention that my mother-in-law, despite having the usual ravages of time bestowed upon her and five fused vertebrae, insists on maintaining her two acres of garden in a way that some deal with a karmic debt with added bragging rights.
Ah, good, you're here,” a good start to a conversation you might think but I knew better. “A couple of trees need trimming at the bottom of the field.” told you. “Would you mind?”
Of course,” if only I could. “I'll do it."

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Postcard from a patriot

Still recycling my lost and found of meanderings about Greece...

I live in Greece, I am an ex-pat, something that conjurers up an image of someone whose best clothes are his bermudas sporting a David Hasselhoff perma-tan; I wish. The truth is that I live in a city of 1½ million people, a badly plastered Legoland inspired by the brave new world vision of 60's slum-clearance architects' high-rise hope for a future city. In Britain they had the good sense to raze them, where they didn't fall down of their own accord. Here they allowed them to proliferate to the point where it's only the double-parked cars that force the builders to leave gaps between them.

Greece is a country that tolerates other cultures as long as they do it the Greek way, where “excuse me” is a taboo and pointing out the absence of “please” and “thank-you” is countered by pointing out that I am no longer in England. The greatest compliment handed out to foreigners is that they have become Greek. While being far from perfect the Greeks are unapologetically Greek.

Britain has been reassessing it's own Britishness lately, and not before time. Britain is a tolerant nation of tolerant people, a polite people with respect and consideration for others and a sense of fair play. A strong nation that has not only built empires but has been pretty honourable about letting them go. A rich heritage, maybe not as old as Greece, maybe not as old as many, but every bit as relevant (except maybe for morris dancers).

I miss three-bedroom semis with gardens, green parks, pavements without cars on them, professionals in suits, civil servants who smile, real ale, a thriving diverse music scene and the BBC. I miss things that you would miss if they were gone and these are the things we have to offer to those who choose to live in our country. Not utopia, but nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe it's time we learned to stop being apologetic for being British and putting everyone else's needs ahead of our own. We have a lot to offer and a lot that is emulated by other countries. By becoming unapologetically British those who decide to live in our country will become proud of them too.
So, do I think about repatriating myself, are you mad, I'm saving a fortune on my heating bills.

note: I now live in a little mountain village overlooking a badly plastered Legoland. Looks so much better from up here but I am saving less on the heating bills.

Thursday, 15 July 2010


Greece is a country with a troubled history with Turkish occupation and a Fascist Junta but the last 30 years have been the most insidious of all. The boom in tourism and international trade and Greece's entry in the European union has brought in huge amounts of revenue that the management had no understanding of how to use. Wastage of public resources, corruption and jobs for votes went, not only unchecked but accepted as the natural order of things. With no accountability in the authorities people learned to look after their own and lost sight of any national common goal. This mentality has infiltrated every facet and strata of the country with builders and tradesmen botching jobs to make a quick buck to doctors receiving gifts to ensure their diligence up to public servants taking too much "work" home with them.

When they joined the EU and eventually the EURO they did it the only way they knew how. A new source of income was tapped to the full and squandered, offices that did nothing were established, roads were built badly and on a diet of nepotism and cooked books some got fat and apathy gained a greater hold over the Greek people.

Last year an ad campaign called for "tax conscientiousness" a risible concept given the actions of the governing parties over the last 30 years. The misappropriation of public funds have been nothing short of criminal and yet the leaders still rest on rhetoric and pointing the blame at others. Until the people at the top are publicly held accountable the public will have no change to rally around, no common goal and will eventually fracture under the strain of too much energy in too many directions. If Europe is to remain a union it needs to take its responsibility in overlooking the details of Greece's entry into an economic partnership it had no intention of contributing to.

Greece's economy has become a Hell's kitchen of badly cooked accounts and Europe needs to send in Its Gordon Ramsay to put some more Fs in office. Some backs need to go to wall otherwise the Greek people know that next time, and there will be a next time, there will be no more to bleed from this stone.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

What is Greece?

This is something I wrote while I was still in my honeymoon phase with Greece. It is still mostly true, maybe the final comments more so but I have changed and the books no longer balance.

I first landed at the human grill pan that is “Macedonia international airport” in the summer of 1990 believing that the plane had accidentally put down at a bus terminal. The doors were opened and a rush of heat, the like I’d previously only experienced opening the oven to see if my frozen dinner was finished, poured in. The captain and crew wished me and my fellow milky white travelling companions a pleasant holiday and I emerged into an alien landscape lettered with characters I had only seen in mathematics and physics at school and populated by a people who spoke incessantly to each other in the same tone that my mother would if I hadn’t tidied my room for a month. If you asked me what I knew about Greece on my arrival I would have pondered a while and told you that they ate kebabs, drank something that resembles paint thinners, had a penchant for large moustaches, oh and discovered some stuff years ago, while us British were still in the trees, as I was later to be told once or one hundred times.

I was instantly besotted, this was not a country but playground for the terminally immature. This was the place I had always dreamt of, a place where the schoolyard ethos of “all rules apply, just as long as it’s your ball you’re playing with” had been taken to national proportions. In the sleepy villages of Halkidiki I could instantly understand why Greeks, Cretians especially, had the longest life expectancy in Europe, somebody could easily pass on over a quiet afternoon glass of “tsiporo” and no-one would realise for years when it was his turn to get a round in and even by the time a doctor was called and eventually arrived his grandchildren could have children of their own so the death certificate would officially show a time of death decades after the actual event. The same, of course, would not apply to women, how long would a man wait for his glass to be refilled.


Greeks totally understood the idea of the motorbike, internal combustion’s answer to the horse. Some being mules, abused and over laden, in Britain we thought it fun to get 50 people in a Mini in Greece it was essential to get at least that many on a Vespa. Why should 13 year olds ride a BMX when a brightly painted “duck” with a Pringles tube for an exhaust was so much more fun, in Britain they are only to be found rusting in barns or ridden by eccentric vicars in countryside villages. I figured that rear tyre sales must have outweighed front by 10 to 1 as the majority spent more of their time with the front wheel economically in the air saving rubber. Helmets were a phenomenon rarely seen and usually, if at all, worn fetchingly on the elbow or adorning the head of a police rider. I learned to ride in Greece, not that I didn’t have a licence in England, no but here my instructor’s slogan of “a driver will only see you when you are under his car” was true, too true! I studied other riders and soon realised, as they had so many years before, that motorbikes and safety have no business in the same sentence. That’s not the point of them, 100 horses between your legs is not meant to be safe and the quicker you realise that the quicker you can get on with things.

Thessaloniki was the capital city of chaos, a place where organisation was stopped at the border and politely refused entry. Nobody ever had need for organisation; everyone knew exactly what they were supposed to be doing, and went about making every effort to not do it. Nightlife was lived like the last and tomorrow a concept that existed like a myth. Tomorrow was something that would be dealt with the day after.

Eurocrats are putting the screws on Greece to “grow up” and we are even spending the same money as Fritz and Pierre. The banks are using loans to enslave us to not just to tomorrow but 72 interest-free monthly payments and 30-year mortgages on a flat that we can’t wear, drink, ride fast or crash. The authorities are hell bent on us paying taxes on what we actually earn, going to bed early and not looking co

ol on our CBRs. But who’s to blame, is it the bored-bald Eurocrats who would rather fast food and wide-screen TV killed more than the roads or the spies within collaborating with John, Johannes and Jean to make the oldest civilisation in Europe “mature”. If you asked me today what I know about Greece I could tell you infinitely more than I could but remain as confused and ignorant as the moment I stepped off the plane that microwaved summer afternoon in 1990. Greece is not a country, it’s an enigma that was never meant to be solved, Fritz and Pierre wouldn’t understand the answer anyway.

Why write a blog

So, why do this, I mean write a blog, what in essence is a public diary. I’m a private person. I don’t twitter and fundamentally abhor Facebook, so why this.
I was seduced by a country that naturally enough turned out to very different mistress but I have commitment issues and instead of leaving her I stay. Saying that, like many expats I've become a fervent patriot.
Do I have anything worth reading to say? I can’t say but one things for sure, I’m going to say it anyway, god bless the Internet.

From Under Dark Clouds

The Century of DIY