Tuesday, April 18

Going crazy - fast

D is busy being her normal helpful, strong and dizzy self. I’m putting on kilo’s too fast because she insists on feeding me twice a day whilst my body, for most of my too long a life, was used to only one major meal daily. I like food – if its there, I eat it. For me, the solution is to cut out one of the meals. For her, the solution is too still eat twice a day but just a little less. Impossible most of the time, and only my cats benefit from the bonus left overs they get thrown daily.

What is it with kids these days? Where is personal responsibility? Is it the fault of the parents (and I include myself in this category) or today’s culture and expectations; Or, both?
My son, living with me here now, is 25. He can drive me crazy. I support him in all I can and in board and lodgings, an office and internet access, and more. Will he help me run the rental business from which we both get our income? No. So will he take care minimising my expenses such as his mobile? No. When finished his (successful but part time and largely unpaid) work will he do anything more than eat the food I provide, lie on the sofa and watch satellite TV? No. Will he lock a door at night? No. Will he leave all lights blazing at bedtime? Yes. Will he insist on having his ‘personal space’ within the living room and on and by the coffee table, where he can keep his shoes, his coat, his work folders, his fags, his drinks, his papers, his life? Of course he will. His bedroom and bathroom could embarrass a Brazilian slum dweller, with his clothes in a bundled heap on floors or in cupboards, the bathroom basin (rarely in the cupboard above) often contain my toothpaste tube, toothbrush, my brush, my used soap, my hair gel, my after shave lotion, sometimes even odd socks and more. I know many young men today are like this, my friends tell me.
Does it make me old, to talk and think like this?
Am I odd?
Different?
At his age I was working, starting a family, looking after my Mother financially, and more. Am I a boring old fart who missed out on youth or just an adult wondering what’s changed?





Name and Shame


A certain Swedish furniture Co. operating out of Athens and Thessaloniki, and who have twice previously fleeced me rotten on extra delivery charges, is one of my subjects this week. Although it’s not their direct fault, and I like their service and products, it is their appointed delivery company who are a problem and who repeatedly perpetrate a ‘con’ on the Swedish Co.’s customers.

It happens like this: You buy your products, you need delivery, and so are pointed to their delivery subcontractor within the same store. These people take the goods, weigh them, and price the delivery by the address you give them. As I live in a small village (about midway between Athens and Thessaloniki) the village name often needs looking up in their mapbook, and they also write the nearest big town name – first - on the delivery vouchers. Then the delivery occurs; But only to that nearest town. There, they stop and call asking for the village address, then ask for more money for the ‘extra’ mileage: Then, they arrive at your door and ask for more money again to offload into your drive.

The 1st time this happened to me was even more bizarre, as I purchased specific goods, that I needed by a certain date, in their Thessaloniki store. This date passed without delivery, and after several chase calls and some more broken promises, eventually a call came through from a delivery driver en-route from the Thessaloniki store asking for exact instructions to get to my front gate. I met the driver on the street as he arrived. He had the goods on the lorry. But he wouldn’t unload them. He had to take them to Athens first, from where they would be delivered to me.
But you have them on the lorry already’ I argued, and he agreed. But he wouldn’t offload. 4 days later the same driver in the same lorry with the same goods called from the nearest town – this time from the Athens direction. He was coming to deliver but first I needed more money for the final journey to the village.
But I bought the goods in Thessaloniki – this village is nearer to Thess than Athens; It’s only now because you’re delivering from Athens it’s further’ I protested. All to no avail, as I eventually had to agree to pay an extra charge. And, when he arrived at the village, another further charge as it was difficult to ‘get into the house’ - and unless I paid he would only offload in the street.

The 2nd time was a repeat of the extra charge process, but this time the goods bought from, and delivered direct from, Athens. Again, extra charges from the nearest town, despite assurances at the time I paid the delivery in the store that it wouldn’t happen.
You may be wondering why I allowed myself to buy a 3rd time; So did I, but I needed the very same matching products so had little choice, buying again from Athens, again with promises the delivery would be fine and without hidden extras.
But I’m at last learning the ropes of living here.
On delivery day, when the inevitable call about extra charges from the nearest town came, I agreed he should continue to my house; He arrived to a welcoming party of me, a local friendly policeman, and a friend of mine who happens to be reporter from the local TV station and just happened to be with me, with microphone and camera in his hand. Not only were all claims about extra distances and charges dropped as a misunderstanding, they even offloaded the goods from the lorry and up the drive and into the house and into the appropriate rooms and refused a tip. So helpful!

Seriously: The Swedish furniture Co should take more responsibility than merely lay the blame at their subcontracted delivery Co. and cease copping out with this excuse. Service is all elements of the experience, and as long as I don’t need further matching products, I for one will not be buying from them again. Not for a mistake they made. For them washing their hands of their responsibility.    

Monday, March 27

An apology


OK, I really am sorry that our night our turned out so badly.
But you know me, by now. You know I’m not at all the suave, sophisticated, humourous, intelligent and vaguely sexy man I make myself out to be, I’m really pretty boring. I count the dimples on toilet paper, for Christ’s sake, and most of my thinking comes from Chinese crackers, I spend too much time fantasising rather than doing, and I worry every morning about are you worrying about my bald spot, and I could use an owners manual for new relationships. With a guarantee, or at least a refund policy.

But I am a romantic, and I thought it would be great for you to come and join me, in the taxi I arranged. OK, the blindfold was a bit over the top, but I thought it fun and teasing. You wouldn’t know what was about to happen, nor where it was going to happen.

And I planted the M&M’s in the back by arrangement with the driver. I mean, who the hell doesn’t like M&M’s nowadays? And I didn’t remember you are allergic to peanuts. How could I remember, you told me at least 4 months ago and we had sex just after, and you know that all men never remember or believe anything said when there’s sexual tension around. If you weren’t so allergy prone, you’d know M&M’s are just great, and it’s the thought that counts, after all.

Anyway, why was I angry when you arrived at the restaurant? Well, I had been sitting on my own for 55 minutes after stuffing myself with canapes and wine. And I always turn my ‘phone off in restaurants, as I think its rude to answer calls there, so how could I know you had tried phoning from the surgery to tell me you were taking an injection for the rashes and redness and swelling the nuts gave you? OK, you explained when you came – well, actually, yelled at me when you came – that you were pissed off, but why did you leave home without the taxi fare. Although I arranged the taxi, I never said I was going to pay for it. And I did offer some food from my plate, from my dinner, and although it has gone a little cold it had been delicious. But no, you refused it and then whined all night long about how hungry you were.

See, I knew the M&M’s would come in very handy.

Anyway, then you frowned at me over the table for the rest of the evening, making me feel very uncomfortabale even after I eventually offered you €5.00 for the taxi fare; and then you threw the change in my face. And that ’s when I got really angry; Can’t you even work out that if the fare was €3.45 then you should have thrown €1.55 in my face and not just €1.30?

And the water I threw back at you was Perrier. It’s the best, and that’s got to be worth something.

Thank God the cutlery had been cleared away when you attacked me otherwise if the coffee cup had been a meat knive I could be dead by now. One of my better shirts, too! (How do you remove coffee stains, by the way? Could you fix it when you’re next around?).

Anyway, look, let’s make up. It was a very nice restaurant and the food was good, and the idea was well meant. Next time I promise I’ll pay the taxi fare, too. And the fact I can forgive you shows you I do have style, too.






Monday, March 20

Progress

I’m a people watcher. For me, there’s nothing better than sitting in a a café and watching those passing you by, those sitting near you. You see loneliness, arguments, love and sometimes intimacy, anxiety and more, just passing by your life. And you learn about culture, and tradition, too.
Sitting in The Village cafenio yesterday evening I sipped my wine as I watched the (mainly old) men sit in groups or individually, sipping ouzo and chipero, and smoking. Many had finished what would have been a hard days work in the olive fields and many looked tired and very worn. Some were talking amongst themselves and gesticulating, no doubt arguing about the finer point on harvesting, or the latest per kilo prices from the distributor, or the acidity levels of the olives this season, perhaps politics, or inflation; and then, I noticed they were mainly talking about what was playing on the new 45 inch flat screen plasma TV screen in the corner - football, I guessed, as I couldn’t see the picture from my table. I watched through the haze of smoke as they enjoyed it, some slapping themselves on the backs, others laughing, talking animatedly between themselves, until I finished my wine and, leaving the table, was now able to see what they were watching. It wasn’t football. It was the Fashion TV Channel on satellite, and they were watching, in a show live from Miami Beach, designer fashions as they strutted their stuff.
That’s progress, I guess.

Friday, March 17

Dreaming

A conversation in my local tax office……

“Good morning” I said. “I’m here to ask you to stamp this form from the British Inland Revenue.”
“Why?”
“It’s to stop me paying tax twice – here and in the UK. It’s as it says on the form – it’s the Double Taxation Treaty”.
“Never heard of it
“Well, maybe, but it exists. As you can see from the form.”
I don’t care, I’m not stamping it
“Why not?”
Because I don’t know about it
“Then look it up. Phone someone. Read about it. Use the computer”
“I haven’t got a computer, and I haven’t got time to read, I’m too busy to phone, and you can’t smoke in my office”
“But you’re smoking already”
“It’s my smoke. I don’t want yours
“May I sit down while we talk about the form?”
No”
“It’s standard procedure between EC countries”
Not in my office”
“But if you don’t sign it, I may pay double tax”
Shrug
“I don’t want to pay double tax when I come to live here”
Go home, then
“Greece is my home”
Shrug
“Really, all you need to do is just stamp it”
Shrug
“It’s very simple, really…..”
“….and, I’m not leaving without you doing this”
He looks at the form
“It’s in English”
“It’s from England”
“Tell them to write it in Greek
“It’s 31 pages long, and for English people. The only bit for Greece is the box for your stamp.”
Translate it. Then, have it notarised as an official translation.
“It’ll cost me a fortune”
Shrug
“Will you stamp it afterwards?”
No. I’ve never heard of it”.
“Will you look it up in your manual then, or call Athens, or ask a friend, or the audience or anyone?”
Go away, I’m busy”.
“Who’s your boss?”
She’s busy, too”.
“So, you have one?”
I’m not telling you”.
“Is she here?”
Shrug
“So she is!”
Shrug, lighting another cigarette
WHO’S THIS ….PERSON’S MANAGER!” I call out
Me”, says the woman  - in almost perfect English – and sitting at the other desk beside him. “And please don’t shout
“Will you please stamp it?”
Only he can stamp it
“Will you tell him to stamp it?”
No. He doesn’t understand it
“Do you understand what it’s about?”
Shrug. Pause. “Maybe”

Another conversation in my local tax office…….

“Good morning” I say. “I’m here to ask you to stamp this form from the British Inland Revenue.”
“Of course”
“It’s to stop me paying tax twice – here and in the UK. It’s as it says on the form – it’s the Double Taxation Treaty”.
“I haven’t heard of it before but I’m sure I can find out
“Well it exists. As you can see from the form.”
Sure. Give me time to call Athens or investigate, leave it with me, come back tomorrow……have a coffee…………………
“Thank you, I appreciate it”
No problem. We’re here to help
“It’s standard procedure between EC countries”
Then we must understand it”
“If you don’t sign it, I may pay double tax”
We’ll make sure you don’t
“Greece is my home”
“And we welcome you here”
“Really, all you need to do is just stamp it”
He looks at the form
“Let me understand it and see if I can…”
“It’s from England”
“I like the English
“It’s 31 pages long, and for English people. The only bit for Greece is the box for your stamp.”
Easy, then.
“It’ll cost me a fortune to translate it”
Don’t. We can handle it.”

Another conversation in my local tax office……

“Go away, he can’t talk at the moment”.
Why not
“Because I’m torturing him”
What!”
“I’m stubbing cigarettes out on his large stomach, and sticking his computer mouse up his ****”
Why?”
“’Cos it’s fun to be like this”
And then what will you do?”
“Stamp his forehead. And arse. And stomach, and tongue”
And then?”
“Post him, in a box, to the Ministry for Investment, Ministry for Tourism, and Ministry for Economics”
You can’t
“Why not?”
They’re all on strike and there’s no post this week”.

OK. Tell me. Which is the true version?

Wednesday, March 15

Signs of God

The Church authorities in Lamia, central Greece, have described the buried body of a preserved Orthodox monk Vissarion Korkoliakos that has remained intact 15 years after its burial as a “sign of God” as medical experts fail to come up with a scientific explanation to the alleged phenomenon.
The digging up of a body’s bones is an integral part of many the death ritual/psyche of many Greeks. In the Village where I live my house rests at the foot of a hill, which is crowned by a beautiful old church and cemetery. In this cemetery is a building containing the ossokubotio, the containers of those previously dug up. As it’s a poor village, some of these containers are, literally, biscuit boxes and biscuits tins. What a way, to end up as a Cadbury’s chocolate finger or digestive biscuit.
D, of course, wants to join in the thousands of other believers and visit the body of the Orthodox monk in the belief that it is a miracle, and that he is some sort of saint. Despite my deep respect for anyone religious and all religions, I can’t bring myself to do join her – out of curiosity let alone any extremely thin and slim idea that a miracle has somehow occurred.

Whilst I joke, it can, though, be deadly serious (excuse the pun)! My Mothers sister was buried in Athens, and after 3 years we all attended a graveside ceremony for the removal of the body (or its remains) to the ossokubotio. My Mother – fortunately - was late arriving and missed the ceremony beginning, and the rest of us watched as the coffin was opened to see a basically intact skeleton and only partly decomposed body which, without further ado and to our shock, was hoisted out and placed in a wheelbarrow and promptly carted off in the direction of what I assume was the local bone-crushing machine. As we saw in the distance my arriving Mother walking towards us, and saw in the foreground the skeleton being wheeled away, we realised there would be a point where Mother and her sister would meet. We saved the day by racing to our Mother and turning her around and walking her the other way so she wouldn’t see the sight of her sister’s almost complete skeleton advancing towards her in a prone position with rictus like grin on the face.
This ‘ceremony’ and other rites are a function of space (and history); It’s not all bad, though can seem wierd to the uninitiated. The first time I approached the open casket in a church and kissed the forehead of a deceased uncle was somewhat strange, but I learnt through that experience that seeing the body – especially in cases of unexpected death – can give one closure. Something I miss in the case of other family members who I suddenly and unexpectedly never saw again after saying a normal goodbye, after a normal day, in a normal busy life.
But the 3 year ritual of digging up isn't closure, more the reopening the wounds for me, and in a very painful way. The recent Greek decision to allow cremations will go a long way towards ensuring a repeat of these horrors never happens again.

Sunday, March 5

Small victories and firelighters, please

A busy 10 days with no time to visit here has ended in a minor victory for sanity and a peep into someone's despair.

The minor vistory was over a parking ticket, slapped overnight onto my car windscreen and, to add salt to the wound, having my number plates removed; all in a street that had no “No Parking” signs. After being met with some unsympathetic shrugs from the administrators at the police station, I determined to see the Chief Policeman to protest to his face. No, I mean in his face.
This busy man kept me waiting outside his office for 70 minutes whilst he……..did nothing but kept me waiting; whilst he talked on his mobile, had his second morning coffee, adjusted his uniform a couple of times, picked his nose ferociously, and generally ignored me. An Englishman’s patience is his virtue, because there I waited and waited outside his office door, smiling at every eye contact with him, in an obvious “I won’t go away” ferocious glare.
Finally admitting me into his inner sanctum, but not offering me a seat, I promptly sat down and explained to him the fine was wrong, and I’d like my plates back. He explained to me that tickets are never issued wrongly, and so, no, I can’t have them back before paying the (€70) fine. I persisted, and as his patience began to wear thin, in an act of desperation just to get me out of his office, he suggested we go and visit the street. If I’m wrong the fine would treble to €210; If I’m correct, the fine would be cancelled and my plates returned.
“If I’m correct, and you’re wrong, then you should, personally, re-fix the plates to my car” I suggested, adding, “that’s a proper bet”. And, to my surprise, he agreed. And, to my delight, after travelling through the Big City in a flashing – blue – light – with – loud – siren - blaring police car, complete with several sycophantic waves and shouts to the Chief from other passing drivers and pedestrians (even with flashing lights and sirens you don’t actually go fast anywhere here and can still have a casual conversation whilst travelling) I was right. And, fixed in my memory, I still have the image of him on his knees, in his police car park, re-fixing my plates. From such small acorns of victory do the elms of hope and serving the public grow.

My house is being repainted by a very expensive, local, artisan who described himself to me, quite modestly, as probably once the best painter in the world. And I’m sure he’s never seen a Heineken ad.
Whilst he bought the paint, I bought the cardboard sheeting and plastic sheets for him to cover up my furniture and personal belongings, and I left him to it. And returned, after the first day, to completed bedroom walls in my chosen warm, rust, colours – but also complete with a warm, rust coloured duvet, wardrobe (now very modern – liberally spattered with colour) and TV (difficult to see a picture through the paint drips, though) complete with semi re-coloured floor tiles, and a warm rust covered, somewhat forlorn looking, cat.
At my insistence Georgios, the ‘artisan’ met me that evening in his cafenio, when I liberally, but politely, complained about the quality of the work. No problemo, he said, because he always was to clean going it up afterwards. And on the second day he started doing so, but not before berating me for challenging the quality of his work, daring to question his integrity, and having the cheek to complain about the finished article. Actually, berating is the wrong word, as at one point in his tirade he threw a paint brush at me, in another he called my Mother some names she has probably never heard of and wouldn’t want to, in another he had me by the shoulders shouting in my face for an apology, and, finally, he broke down, cried in despair and then cuddled me.
So that’s how I’ve started redecorating my house; With a broken, cryful, mad old painter who I’m now spending my days looking after whilst chasing around laying plastic sheets and cardboard before him, whilst he feels useful and wanted again.

They’ve announced a change in the laws this week to allow cremations instead of burial. I’m considering applying for AOT (the Greek National Tourist Organisation) to be the first victim. You see, it’s a very simple procedure “that shouldn’t take more than a week or so” to get to the point of actually making the formal application for a license. You see, you need something called a FEK – it applies to your specific application type – to understand how the application has to be made. And there are, um, probably several hundred of them, and so far I’ve been told to use 11 different ones by 9 different AOT personnel. And they can’t give you a copy from their office, you have to either go online to get it, or better still go to your local KEP to take a copy. And they can’t decide if my property is traditional or non traditional, within the urban planning zone or without, subject to a 1998 FEK or its updated 2001 version, a village or city dwelling, to be classified as a hotel, a house, a villa, a residence, apartments, rooms, a B&B (how about a hostel for ancient, worn out and emotional decorators?) and more.
They’ve just announced a new tranche of grants for such property’s, application period from March 15th until sometime May. My gut tells me not this year for me. Or, next, probably. Someone please ready the firelighters, I may need them.

Following the Vodaphone affair ND has dropped off in its support, barely edging PASOK now, but Karamanlis still seems to be the favoured choice of leader. Personally, I’ve high hopes for Dora Bakoyannis taking the leadership at, or just after, the next elections. She seems a formidable woman, and women – and women leaders - seem to have more of the necessary reserve of strength and integrity that men lack when the going gets tough, the politics bumpy, and the voters tetchy. Can’t wait.

Wednesday, February 22

Why Do This?

I don't know why it is such a sore subject to complain about the Greeks or Greece. What makes it so special and such a taboo subject? The blog is just a place where you vent or express your point of view. It is not a historical document that has to be treated with all the aplomb of such. It is a personal perspective of the blogger's own reality. It is often said that our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else. That is why we are such social creatures, that we seek each other even through this medium.
Just because this blog is about living in Greece, do I need to censure what is said? Reality is such, for most of us living here, that we are afraid to complain because we get such reactions from people that aren't even Greek. We seem to be in a hypersensitive milieu where any negative comment on the subject of "Greek Dom" is a personal attack. This is a dangerous thing. If we can't express our opinions, then what is freedom? We can complain about the British, the Americans, the French, etc. and the Greeks are the first in doing so, but when it comes to Greece, the line seems to be drawn and deep. This is prejudice and madness.How can we know what is wrong to be wrong, or not just our imagination, if we can't discuss it with others, and exchange points of view? Not discussing the issues that make life difficult doesn't make them go away, but in fact, cements them in. You can't bury your head in the sand and wait for someone else to change something that you believe needs changing, or acknowledge something you believe to be wrong. Especially if they don't know how you feel, because you've never said anything. Reality is merely an illusion. We know reality is shared, not absolute. It's how we come to terms with that surrounding us that gives it meaning. What is right and wrong may seem absolute, but it really isn't. It's what a particular group has determined it to be. So if you are not satisfied with it, you MUST say something. Otherwise, who will speak for you? Who will point it out, as such?I don't blame the Greeks so much for their view of themselves or how they live with their daily woes. We define ourselves through others. If all you’ve known is one thing, then how could you be expected to see any other options? Or how could you appreciate other possibilities if you don’t know them as possible. Most Greeks have never questioned themselves or their realities. They don’t see any other. And our silence shows we agree. If something has always been accepted as a truth, how could you be expected to think otherwise on your own? Complacency is natural. The first step towards amendment is the recognition of error. No one innately swims against the current if there is no perceived need to do so in the first place. It is our fault that the status quo is maintained. You don’t have to be a citizen, a true member from birth to be part of a society, and claim all the rights deserved. That is too high a price on liberty and justice, to exclude those members on such grounds. It is the silence of those who don’t think they should speak, which should be addressed. No one has a right to tell someone they can’t have an opinion or voice it. It takes courage to stand up and say I have been wronged, or this could be better. The cowardly will just slink away. Don’t make cowardice and complacency a goal. It only takes the silence of the good to make the evil possible. Did we not learn this through human history yet? I’m not saying that living in Greece could be compared to the horrors of previous times. But that the principles learnt apply in all our lives forever. It is difficult to make a step, to say what you feel, when you know it will not be praised. But never the less, someone must say it. Many times I have been guilty of this myself...just didn't want to bother to burst their bubble. The reality is that for any change to be possible, there has to first be the acknowledgement of the need for change. So do not censure the ones that have courage enough to point and say, "this is crazy!" or ‘this is frustrating to me’. It's like the fable of the emperor has no clothes. Just because nobody dared say it, didn't mean he had on any.I'm not saying the Greeks need to be more westernised, or more British, or whatever. It should be OK for them to hear that not all they do is perfect in our view. It's OK in any other western culture to criticize the majority, or those in power, why not here? Especially since it is very difficult to live among people you love and hold back from offering them advice. I think, as foreigners here, we make it more difficult for them to realize that we don’t think them so perfect. We short change them in the process. They are stronger than we give them credit, and although passionate about their nationalism, they were the first to give a voice to the philosophers. They are capable of thought, logic, and appreciation of it. Let us not forget that. They may seem irrational in many ways, but the seeds are there. They will be upset at first but, wasn’t it Socrates who said: ‘Think not those faithful who praise all thy words and actions; but those who kindly reprove thy faults.’Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology. -Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

This post is dedicated to someone called Sue, who wrote this comment to me in support of some critical comments I recieved about the content of my blog. I can't have said it better.

Friday, February 17

Birthday Boy

Well, OK, birthday Man but I like to be coy about my age, and who doesn't as they reach my years. Strange things, birthdays. Like Time, they weight heavily on those who have least of it or least left of them. It's today (Thursday) but as I approached midnight on Wednesday, another year in The Village just ending as the struggle continues, I was out. Not on the town you'll understand (there isn't one here) so lets describe it as on the 'long road that starts at the olive press and ends at the periptero' (doesn't quite roll off the tongue, I know) with some friends, drinking wine. Actually, drinking litres of the stuff. With my wallet on me. Only it's not just a wallet, its a portifoli holding the contents of my life within it; Passport, UK driving license, insurance papers, citizenship, bank cards and bank book, and - unusually for me - some €2,000 in cash. And as I got home to bed I realised I had lost it. Somewhere. So spent the next 3 hours retracing my steps from the streets I walked to the cafenio's we visited to the periptero, the toilets, the cemetry (yes, what's wrong with visiting a cemetry?) and scouring the interior of the car.
Without any success, I resigned myself to the inevitable loss and consequences, and so to bed, but not before calling the UK to cancel my passport and emailing for a new driving license. Welcome to the 1st day of a new birthday year.
This morning, bright and early (the day) and dreary, red eyed and early (me) I stood in queues in the big Bank awaiting my turn at the cashier counter to lock my accounts from anyone who may be trying to part me from my cash. New cards, pass book and access again to my money would take a few more days as I borrowed some euro from a friend to fill some petrol in the car for the journey home. To find a policeman at my door. (Oh Oh). Who greeted me with my full name (Double Oh Oh) and who started to question me about who, what, and why I am, doing, and for what, in Greece. As I searched my conscience for some wrong deed (was it, I thought, the 11 very old roof tiles I found roadside last week - worth €1.50 in total - that I purloined for my very old roofed - house?) I began to envision the inside of a Greek jail. Worse, the embarrassment of a Greek jail for €1.50 of discarded roof tiles.
And then he produced my portifoli. Intact of all papers. Intact of all bank cards and passbooks. Short about €500 in cash. Someone had found it, in the middle of the night, dropped by the roadside; Had opened it, found some papers that gave the name of The Village; Had called his cousin from The Village to ask if he knew of me; Had tracked me down, then handed everything to the police, who were now at my door.
So, today, €500 lighter in pocket, I feel far better off, and truly fortunate, and genuinely thankful for the honesty of man, than I did yesterday whilst walking around with €2,000 in cash in wallet getting somewhat drunk with friends. There's a message in there somewhere. There's a morale in there, too. Tonight, I've just returned from returning 11 roof tiles to the roadside where I 'found' them last week. And the puzzle? What sort of person would find my wallet, open it and see all the money, and take just €500 before replacing it where I had dropped it?

Tuesday, February 14

Follow Angelina's advice, please

I know I'm a little neurotic, but 3 interesting facts are beginning to worry me more than most.
On January 8th, the Earth stopped wobbling; I discovered that the pressure at the tip of the heel of a woman's high heeled shoe is more, per square centimetre, than that of a fully grown elephant; and the Vodaphone phone tapping scandal is still running.

Scientists don't understand the consequences of the wobble-stop. It's a first, and although forecast for many years, now it's arrived, nobody's quite sure what'll happen next. They reckon it'll take several months before any consequences begin to show. It could be something, it could be nothing, it could be a disaster about to unleash itself on mankind, it could be The End.
The high heeled shoe worrries me more though. I've never really considered the fact, and although heels have been a small fetish of mine for some time, now the thought of 10 tons bearing down on me in a frenzy of sexual tension makes my legs lock together in fear and the thought of bumping into Angelina Jolie at a party dressed in meshed nylons and heels a lot less attractive than it seemed yesterday. 'Course, it wouldn't stop the intimate conversation we'd have sharing stories from LA and Greece, Hollywood and The Village, the Oscars and the Vodaphone scandal, Iraq and...the Vodaphone scandal, the stopped-wobbling Earth and...the Vodaphone scandal, Iran's plans for nuclear fission and...the Vodapahone scandal, Avian flu and...the Vodaphone scandal, 3rd world poverty and...the Vodaphone scandal, the prospects of a worldwide economic slump and...the Vodaphone scandal.
However well, though, we got on, I doubt I'd get close to first base, however hard I try not to be put off by the thought of those high heels bearing down on me. She'll no doubt call me a mindless twit, with nothing better to do than gaze at my national navel, someone who tries to make large capital from minor events and suggest I take my mobile and insert it in a place where I wouldn't want to answer it anyway if it rang again because there are much bigger things to think and talk about than that.

I think we should all follow her advice.

Thursday, February 9

Time for Depon

I left The Village to travel to the Big City yesterday. I need to visit a government office, talk with an english-speaking employee, about How To and What To and When To do certain things with my new (and I sense looooooong) application for a license from the GNTO for my rental business.

I don't really want to do this and remain unconvinced about the value to me in taking this piece of paper, but the local GNTO to me know of me, and are pressuring - no, insisting to me - I do.

My preliminary investigations have confirmed my worst fears, as I grapple with translating and comprehending the 'FEK' applicable to my situation. Despite the fact my property has 3 modern and fully equipped bathrooms adjoining the bedrooms I must have a small cupboard per bedroom housing toilet paper rolls. And 2 small stools per bathroom (OK, I'll remove the bidets, the vanity units and maybe the baths to accomodate them then). My dining table, seating 10 poeple, doesn't meet the rules as it's too small. (Never mind its a wonderful piece of antique furniture that, with its matching chairs, looks beautiful in the room. But I don't need matching chairs if and when I throw this out). The original 400BC walling surrounding part of the pool area needs to be......painted!! And, I suspect they will insist on controlling my prices. At a level considerably below what I currently charge, and that I currently recieve from guests who invariably on departing, insist the stay and facilities are great value. Of course, they can't confirm any of this until after I make the application which will, after I have paid for the new triplicate plans, elevations, inventories, new photographs, urban plans and topography drawings, cost around e2,000 - e3,000. Never mind that I'm the only local tourist trade in the area, employing 2 local greeks, bringing some 200/250 people annually into the area spending their dollars and pounds. Apparently, I don't know what I'm doing.

So in the hope that it's the local office that don't know exactly what they are doing tomorrow I visit the central offices. And last evening I stayed in the Big City and realised just how much I have missed the energy, buzz, chaos, and variety of this place. I visited the Banaki Museum for a launch of some paintings of Samos that will feature in the calendar of one of Greece's cement companies. The paintings (in my modest view) were average but the general company was energising, especially later as some of us danced (or tried to, anyway) the night away in a nearby Tapas Bar heaving with Latin music.
Today, I'm envigorated, up and energised, albeit my head hurts. A lot.
Sitting in an internet cafe', head in hands, reading press reports from England about the London street protests surrounding the publication of those Danish cartoons. And seething at our pc-correct hypocracy. Some weeks ago a mother who lost her son in Iraq stood 350meters from Parliament in a modest, almost silent protest against Blair. She had one placard with her sons name on it. She shouted her sons name when Blair's car appeared in the far distance. And she was promptly arrested on public order laws. But those protesting against the cartoons were allowed to parade with some of the most viscious, inciteful and vitriolic banners and placards I have ever seen, to burn the Union Jack, to display obscene images from 9/11, to call for the decapitation of the West, its leaders, its people, its democracy, its religions, its values and its beliefs. And to date, no-one, not one, person has been arrested. Freedom of Speech is a difficult line to draw, I know, and I'm not sure I support the publication of the cartoons. More freedom, less prohibition of speech is my instinct; But to live in a country, draw benefits from a country, and preach its downfall from within is an absurd travesty; And to take no action against this on the concern of upsetting these people is an obscene hypocracy.
Time for Depon.

Saturday, February 4

Why this?

I got some heavy criticism from a blog reader yesterday saying that I’m too cynical, that anyone can write such negative stuff, and suggesting that I “go home”. That critic was answered by another saying how, in my writing, she sees just how much I love Greece. And for anyone else out there who can’t get my style or read between thre lines, let me repeat that. I love Greece.
But it just happens I’m a believer in not sitting still and saying nothing.
In using the power of words to engage the brain.
In love not being blind.

And, coincidentally, when I saw on another blog about googlefight, I linked to it, and I started to fight England vs. Greece. (As a half and half Brit-Greek, I’m not sure which answers I favoured, though).
In googlefighting the phrase “English beauracracy vs. Greek beauracracy” Greece got 1.990 hits vs England’s 17.200. What does that tell us?
Is England more beauracratic? I don’t believe so. Do they talk about it more? Yes, they do, because it’s not accepted. There is much wrong with Britian today, and too many Brits are too passive about it, but institutionalised beauracracy and blatant corruption isn’t part of it. And I guess that’s part of the nub of the Greek problem – beauracracy is institutionalised and corruption is largely accepted. It’s not being bitched about enough. Passive acceptance of a status quo is a dangerous thing – think about the many obvious historical examples. Change, improvement, doing things differently, comes from within. Within an individual or within a family or within a group or within a populace or within a race. One can influence any change by talking, discussing, writing, voting or marching on the streets about it. I can’t vote, I doubt if marching down through my The Village will get much positive attention, and so I choose to write about it.
With some humour. I hope.

That brings me to another point. As Greece ‘modernises’ (an over abused word) and morphs into a more Northern European type country - more credit, higher living standards, improved working conditions, more freedom of labour and capital, more service than manufacturing economy, with it will come the very conditions that has lost their northern european counterparts their soul and spirit and values and, in the case of Britian (I can’t speak for the other countries as I don’t know them well enough) has now tilted them too far over into a pc-correct, litigious, credit-laden, often violent, society. That will be a terrible thing for Greece, and Greeks. For all its current faults, where it’s at now is a far better place than where it may get to. How the changes can take place without taking on the downside baggage, I don’t know. It seems to me that, sadly but inevitably, you don’t get one without the other.

Finally, discussing passiveness, take my dear Mother as an example. As a Greek she’s lived in England for some 50 plus years. Passive, she’s not. Hardly a week goes by without her firing off a letter of opinion, complaint or critique to Blair, his cronies, the press, the broadcasters, the Queen, and others. OK, it doesn’t make a difference and I doubt if Blair quakes at the mention of her name. But not only does she feel better about it, she is fulfilling not only her right but her responsibility to be involved.
Maybe I get it from her, but when I see blatant curruption or ridiculous beauracracy – in the same way as when I experience poor service or rudeness - I have to do, or say, something about it.
That’s everyone’s responsibility.








Monday, January 23

So who turned the lights off?

Was I the only person alive and outside in the snow this week?
I'd decided that a beautiful snow-draped day deserved an outing from me to The Village.
It did snow and it was quite heavy in The Village, but where was everyone?

The Bank was closed (I didn't have money in it to take out, but I would liked to have just stood in a long queue in anticipation of that day arriving again).
The School was closed, again. Because the bad weather stopped building work on the new school (14 years in progress now). So the schoolkids went on strike. (I wish that'd happen in my day!)
The Cafe' was closed. No electricity.
The Tax Office was closed. No arguments, today then, for me!
Even the police normally hiding with their speed guns, in the same obvious layby by the same motorway, had gone absent.

I heard that, by and large, the governments preperations for the bad weather worked well. So what went wrong in my Village?

My Greek teacher had no work for the day, so she did a treble lesson with me, instead.
I believe she's a Sadist. She had time to set me 105 verbs, and order me to decline all of them in all 8 tenses. Sο what started as a good day ended up a real grouchy, moody, pain in my head, wish I hadn't started day.

But I made a high. I spoke to the Directorate for Services (Dept. B) for VPR tax, in Athens, to clarify the argument I'm having with my 4th new accountant of whether my invoices should carry VPR or not. I believe work done outside the EU for citizens or business entities shouldn't carry tax, but he insists otherwise. I had previously visited 2 major tax offices in the City to get clarification, and all I had got were shrugs. The Experts!
The Directorate for Services (Dept B) in Athens confirmed my opinion. I had won. But this small victory of saneness over madness was pyrrhic, as my accountant promptly claimed money for work done to date. No problem with that, until I asked for a reciept and he answered that the charges would be 40% higher if he provided one. VPR and another tax combined. (What other tax?) So I got a post-it-note receipt instead.

And my mood promptly worsened when I found I had no electricity at home, and still haven't, and am working in the dark. Like, it seems, much of the time, here.

Friday, January 20

I have nothing worth saying

I've been back nearly 2 weeks now, but hadn't posted anything. I haven't been in the proper frame of mind, and never wanted this to be a daily journal. But I've had a few emailed comments now, and am starting to feel under some pressure to do something here. All I've got is a few thoughts in my head I may post later next week, and the row I had with my accountant and the taxman this week. It's the usual Greek tax storyline. One of the things I do here is run a (unprofitable) new internet site. And the accounts for 04 confirm the story.

But the taxman doesn't believe. He insists I should be making money. And so he insists I should pay some taxes to reflect the fact I should be making money. He doesn't understand the words 'business model' as that every new interent business model says 'it'll initially lose money', or the words 'risk/reward' as in yes, its risky, losing this money, but the reward may be bigger in the longer term. There's more. He doesn't understand VPR either, and when I tell him the rules change for doing business outside the EU, he disagrees. When I give him the Govt. booklets on same, he refuses to read them. When I show him printouts from the internet research I've done, he disbelieves them.

He's stupid, ignorant, jobsworth, and incompetent. A fool. And probably wants a bribe, but I refuse to give it to him. I'll probably adjust my accounts to reflect a different scenario, one less tax damaging. And of course, in doing so, I'll merely be following what many Greeks already do. Cheat the rules because of incompetence and ignorance and corruption. Which just reinforces the existing culture, just spirals everything further away from the proper objectives, just reduces the overall tax take further. But I'll do it, anyway.

My lemon trees won't grow lemons. It's been 2 years now. I've checked and they are real lemon trees. I bought a book back from London, found the pictures and descriptions and spent a freezing cold early morning checking out each tree against the pictures I had. They're genuine, all right. So they must be protesting, in denial, of something, but what I can't imagine. And I'm not to clear on what to do next. Talk to them and hug them? Kick 'em? Rub a rind on them? I'm told I have to propogate them. Anyone out there a lemon expert?

I returned to find one of my friends had a cancer scare over Xmas (and sweetly didn't tell me in London so not to ruin my break). She had an Xray, and the Doctor reviewing the photo gave her the all - clear just as a mutual friend, another doctor, arrived at the clinic for a seperate appointment. Interested, he checked the pics too, and immediately told her to pack a bag and go to Athens and see a specialist. Right away. That day.
She did, was confirmed with a cancerous growth, had an immediate op, and has now been given a provisional all clear.
And the mistaken Doctor? Turns out she studied in Rumania. It's 'easier' there to qualify, apparently, though it costs a lot of money. Know what I mean?

And another friend finally agreed to start dating a man, someone who had been chasing her for months with invitations on trips, small presents, the ocassional flowers or chocs (he's old fashioned, and old). The sex was great, she reports, the best she's ever had. Until he started beating on her by slapping her face hard and harder. Then he started arriving with a whip.
He tells her all men do this stuff. I tell her to leave him, tell his wife, and tell the police.

Told you I had nothing to say. I'm boring myself, too.

Tuesday, January 3

I chose to live here

I was returning for my first Xmas back in the UK when why top lip split open. Why? I guess I was smiling so much, and the next thing was, blood was all over my luggage and coat.

As I was trying to staunch the flow with my hand, my mobile rang. It was a friend from London. I told him I couldn't talk right then as I was haemmorrhaging.

'Your life is so complicated, so much drama' he sighed.

So much drama? So complicated? I know! I know! Please, it's called Having A Life.

There are 3 types of person in the world.
Dead.
Alive, Dull and Easy.
Difficult, Dramatic and Intruiging.

I just happen to be the last. A DDI man. And without much effort, really.

So when someone asks me 'How's Greece?' my reply will be 'How long can you talk for?'
When they say 'What's the problem?' I'll reply with a full analysis of it, or ask which problem do they want to hear about. What's the use of a problem if you can't share it?
Sometimes, life can be shitty, and what's the point of pretending otherwise?
Sometimes drama gets in the way, like the ghastly looking mark on the left hand side of my chest, the worry- me - stupid - for - days - thinking - cancer type mark that consequently turned out, in the doctors surgery after I'd plucked up enough courage to go and see him, to merely be a ink stain from my broken fountain pen in my inside jacket pocket.

There's nothing worse than someone who says 'I can't complain'. It just 'aint normal. They aren't normal. Who are these people? Do they hibernate until they meet a friend?
When a doctor tells me I've checked out OK, I'll ask Why? or at least ask him if he's Sure?

So when my friends in England say to me 'You're so lucky to be living in Greece' or 'What's the problem?' or 'You should live my life!' I'll look at them, take an exasperated deep breath, and launch into a dissertation of what's happened and why in the intervening months since I last saw them.

It's not that I want their life. Some hardly move from their house. Or their workplace. Or remove their heads from within their posterior. My dramas and problems are living, breathing, life - type problems that make me rich in experience, rich in personality, rich in interest and rich in intrigue and rich in stress and anchos. And, I chose to live here, and choose to stay.

But what's rich and intriguing to some people can be annoying and dull to others. So I'll probably end up dying alone. And the Greek's intuitively understand and respond to that.

Monday, January 2

The New Me this year

My New Years Resolutions.
1. Be kind to my Brother. Rather than let him think up another way to seperate me from my money, just gift him my cheque book signed with post-dated blank cheques. It's less stressful for both of us, and at least I can plan my finances better this way.
2. Drink more designer cappaccino at the most expensive Greek cafe's I can find.
What would I and everyone else do everyday if they ended up going out of business?
3. Stop playing tennis. Or rather, stop being so competitive when playing tennis. A half-demented - shouting - McEnroe-like - 50- something who never gives up isn't a pretty sight for any spectators and makes my opponent nervous. It's not war.
4. Be less compulsive-obssesive. Accept it's OK to be shouted at by a public servant. It's OK to pay someone for doing hardly anything. It's OK to bribe someone. It's OK when my Albanian gardener continues to decapitate my sprinkler heads with the lawn mower. It's good that my OTE internet connection hasn't failed again. When a Greek says " trust me, we wear trousers", Trust him.
5. Be the real me. When I'm stopped in my car by the Greek police, stop acting the stupid englishman abroad. When I'm called by the english tax authorities, stop acting the half-Greek.
6. Pay more bribes. It's not about the money or the principle, it's about less angst.
7. Remember my new years resolutions.

Thursday, December 29

Waste your time

It occurred to me, watching my english friends over Xmas, how I'd previously learnt to plan everything and live my previous live according to what I had to do, should do, must do. And feel guilty if I didn't.
As if I was wasting the day.
I even planned when not to do anything.
Y'know, "between 18:00-19:00, I'm gonna read a book" sort of planning. And that I'd unleart how to... do nothing.
And then it struck me that it's more of an English thing, this planning. The Greek's, they plan everything but don't mean it. 18:00 means.....the evening. Today means...sometime.
"Do you wanna' go to the cinema in 2 hours time" can often get the response "I'll see.." or "I don't know, I'll think about it...".
Tomorrows a week ahead, a month an eon.
So with them New Years Eve is a special time - you can get them about next year when it's only hours away.

Saturday, December 17

Too my Roots..

I was trying to fix my pc, get some work done, when I suddenly realised...Bollocks, I want to go to london for Xmas. So I'm off, all arranged. A little bit of Sanity. Exit The Village. Sod the cats. Empty the pool. Bar the doors. See some friends. Easyfly, courtesy of Stelios. Humanity and Saneness. Maybe Father Xmas will bring me some gifts. Wave a wand over me (does he have one?)
See you soon.
Maybe (grin).
Probably (sigh).

Thursday, December 15

Go for it, Mr Karamanlis

Good on you, Mr Karamanlis. I don't care if they question certain aspects of your lifestyle. I only question your real determination. You've started the process of deregulation of the public labour market to break the stranglehold on jobs for life and the unions and 'workers' have obviously kneejerked into strike action. Its a natural process. Ignore them, it's your public duty.

Only, I wonder will you have the time to complete this process before the coming elections? Do you really have the determination aka Thatcher? She needed the Falklands to buy her the time to complete the changes needed. What distraction will your political Gods give you, 'cos you'll need it for sure. You can count on me to help. Maybe I could invade Cyprus for you?

Wednesday, November 30

OTE's Masterful Masterplan

Recently the Greek National beauracracy called OTE agreed a plan to remove several thousand of it's underworked employees by offering specially enchanced early retirement packages worth, on average, 250,000 Euro per person. This is so the Govt can then continue with it's plan to part privatise OTE through attracting foreign investment interest, knowing no sane, sleek, service-orientated, overseas business would otherwise touch OTE with a barge(or telephone)pole. I'm all for this, though I did gawp somewhat at the price tag attached to the plan - about 1.6 Billion - yes, I said Billion, Euro in total. Unsuprisingly, the offer from OTE was vastly oversubscribed as some several thousand employees allowed themselves to be crucificed on the cross of progress and privatisation, no doubt happy in the thought they could wrap their wounds afterwards in one-hundred euro notes.
Personally, I hope the local manager from my village OTE office in included, though I suspect he may have found is desperately difficult to mobilise getting up from his desk and giving anything more than his standard shoulder-shrug, his normal response to any of my (several) complaints to him. If I had the money, I would personally pay him off, too.

Then, when I had spent most of the weekend not enjoying television, a film, a book, or friends, but instead desperately and repeatedly trying to connect to the internet to keep my business-server up and running (and after calling OTE's 24 hour service lines only to find...errrr...they couldn't do anything because...uummm...it's the weekend and nobody was there)I wake to the announcement that, in a bold masterplan to drive greater penetration of broadband through Greece, OTE are intent on hiking dialup access prices by up to 500% on existing user connections. Before broadband access is nationally available. In a country where Internet access costs are already the highest in Europe and Internet penetration is already the lowest in the EU.

Now I don't pretend to be a great business strategist. Or a great anything. I have difficulty just spelling business startegy. But even I can see the basic flaw in this Masterplan. Perhaps they know something I don't. Or, perhaps, they ......just don't know. Or, perhaps, they're just greedy and ensuring their locked in bonuses delivered on future profitability are more certainly going to be achieved. Well, I hope they don't go internet banking to check them.

And check this from a recent web post: In a reference to Armenia the organization's report says Armenia is one of few former Soviet republics where the government does not censor the Internet, but it says the government is slow to secure Internet development that still remains inaccessible to the overwhelming majority of population. The report says high Internet connection price and its poor quality remain major obstacle to its development. "The reason is the Greek OTE that has a 15 year monopoly in Armenia's telecommunication market," it concludes.

Tuesday, November 29

BUYING MY HOUSE Vol 36

I did it! I bought it! I beat them! I managed to get all the lawyers into one room together, and they signed. I'm happy! I'm broke!

Friday, November 25

English Dinner Party, Greek style

I announced a few days ago to D that I’m going to have an English dinner party. (Some months back I told D of my ambition to make her more English middle class.) "What's an English dinner party?" D asked. I explained that it's typically for six people, you come a little dressed up, you have to cook the food yourself, you drink and eat slowly and politely, everyone makes intelligent and wildly humorous conversation, and you can’t smoke and you can fart between courses. No lamb on a spit, no hand-covering-toothpick-covering-mouth, no staring at the plate wondering if it’s dead, no Greek salads, and preferably, proper cheeses (even more preferably, English and French cheeses) and a good red wine. From a bottle, not a box or a metal jug. In wine glasses, not tumblers.

Then yesterday D asked some more. She’s been reading up in things called books about English cultural life. “Do we all get naked and fuck?” she asked, excitedly. (She's such a tease, sometimes, really.) “And don’t we have to have someone dressed in black serving the wine?”, she said, pulling her book from her bag. “And don't we need jester’s?. And a hanging basket from the entrance staircase?”

We agreed a hanging buffet might well be a social first for The Village.

I looked at her book, a library piece about the salaciousness of Jacobian life in England around the 1630’s, by a JW Rochester.

I'll keep you posted, but I don't expect it’ll happen, because I haven’t got an entrance staircase, or friends that old….

Friday, November 18

GREEK SEX survey

GREEK SEX SURVEY

According to a recent sex survey the Greeks are the world’s most prolific lovers, averaging sex 138 times a year. With 5,345,879 Greeks living in Athens, and presuming doing it to each other, thats almost 365 million times the earth moves there annually, or 1 million times a day.
No wonder, then, the Acropolis is in the state it’s in.

Tuesday, November 15

BUYING MY HOUSE Vol 35

I warned you I wasn't finished.

Friday I came to Athens for the day to complete the simple job of taking a tax paper from the central tax office. Monday, I'm still here, and tomorrow I will try again.

Okay, so the office had moved 6 months ago and seemingly told no one, including Directory Enquiries and my local tax office. That's just a glitch.

In a spanking new, 4 floor, office block one hour later I hit the queues, and while waiting made some new friends standing waiting with me. Forms, forms forms. An M1, followed by an M7, followed by an E1 and an A5 so I could get an A7.

My passport, my driving license, my ID card were not enough to confirm my identity. Could I show them my tattoos, would that help?

Dizziness with vertigo. Queue at the counter on Floor 1, take the form to an office on Floor 3, get it stamped on Floor 4, come back to Floor 3 office for a computer print out to take to another office on Floor 1, collect a fax from another office at Ground Zero, back to the Floor 1 queue to rejoin my new friends.

2 o'clock - close down time - was approaching uncomfortably fast and I was still speed elevatoring between various Floors and offices. Resigned looks were appearing on the faces of those further back in the queues.

But humour and helpfulness was everywhere. Everyone knows the processes are badly broken, but everyone from office clerk to member of the public, dealt with it gracefully and with a smile.

But I timed out. A hand with a stamp within it was actually hovering over my papers when an eagle eye spotted a minor error. I was in the wrong office in the wrong location because my Α.Φ.Μ was 'attached' to a different area of Athens.

So tomorrow, at 8am sharp, I will do it again.

Friday, November 11

BUYING MY HOUSE Vol 34

I won't bore you with the previous #33 installments. You haven't got the time to sit and read them all, and because I spend most of my time sorting out things between my lawyers, notary and accountant, I haven't got the time to sit down annd write about them, either. Moses spent less time creating the Commandments.
But here's the good news. I'm nearly done. Well, I was nearly done. Now, I'm not so sure.
All it took to finish was to take a simple looking piece of paper to the office where the water bill is paid, for them to stamp it (of course!) to verify that the M2 (square metres) shown on the bills is accurate and matches the ΔΕΗ (electricity) bill. This office pointed me το another office in another village - the office of the Διμαρκο (Mayor). Only they could perform this onerous, complicated, and highly trained task.
(Now, why is it we have to have a piece of paper, stamped and verified by the Mayor's office, to verify that the square metres shown on the water bill, the electricity bill and the Title deeds of the property, are one and the same when I already have a Notary, two Lawyer's and an Accountant already verifying this? Could it be that no one trust anyone else? Is the culture so embued with the belief everyone is trying to rip off everyone else? Or is it simply that it creates more work, and therefore more jobs?)

After some musings and frownings and calls to my notary for various explanations, the Mayor said he couldn't do this. You see, I'm actually buying a piece of land with 2 houses of different sizes within its boundary. And the current owners are 2 people, who own the whole thing in it's entirety, between them, equally 50/50. (Confused yet?)
The Mayor wanted to know which of the 2 current owners owned which of the 2 houses. (You must be, now?)
I explained they didn't. It's just 2 houses, and that they owned it's entirety between them. We arranged for my notary to fax through to him, there and then, the Title Deeds showing this to be so. After reading them, he sadly shook his head. He still coudn't do this. He insisted that we had to allocate one house to one owner. That the way the current ownership was split was illogical.
But illogical, or not, I protested, that's the legal ownership as it stands today. Your job, I told him, was to verify the size of the area against the water and electric bills, not question the illogicality, or otherwise, of the legal documents.
My protests fell on deaf ears, and of course, the more I protested the more obstinately deafer those ears became.
Further telephone calls between the Mayor and everyone and anyone who has anything to do with the buying of this land and houses ensued. (Now everyone was confused, not just you)
He explained the simple solution was to change the Title deeds to attach one house to one owner. My notary (and I could hear her shrieking protests 3 metres away from the telephone) said that would not only uneccesarily delay everything, but also add substantial costs, because (a) the Title deed needed changing and (b) such changes would probably need the owners to come to Greece (they live in the US) and (c) such changes would probably incur the owners paying further - and substantial - taxes in the transfer.
The Mayor enquired how much extra costs. The Notary suggested a sum of several thousand Euro. The Mayor smiled. 'Surely' he suggested 'given that, we can between us find a way to avoid all that and allow me to sign these papers as is, at far less cost'.
Do you get it? I did. Will he get it? Probably.

Monday, October 17

I'M TURNING INTO a Greek-Person

I'm turning into a Greek-Person.

I know this because:

I've suddenly got lots of cousins I never knew I had before.
I sleep in the afternoon's.
I go for coffee every, and several times, a day.
I'm friends with my priest.
I've had him to my house to Bless it.
My friends own taverna's, plumbing or paint shops.
If I was a plumber I'd call myself a mechanical engineer.
If I was a builder I'd call myself a civil engineer.
I'm now calling myself a writer.
I blame all my ailments on the ματι (the evil eye).
I blame everything else on the Government.
I play with a koboloi, even though I don't know how to use it.
I know all the gossip.
I seem to know everyone.
My nights out finish in the morning.
I drink coffee slowly, while smoking.
I desperately want to get a job in the public sector.
I now cheat openly, and I'm getting proud of it.
I go out almost every night, even if penniless.
I now know how to spend better, and have forgotten how to save.
I never visit others empty handed.
I always make it, even if it's the last moment.
I blame all the wrongs in Greece on the Turks.
I recognise danger better, but I must dare more.
I now know many people who cheat but I never report them.
I'm beginning to always have a solution to a problem, even if illegal.
I am tending to extremes.
I don't mind owing money, for the 1st time in my life.
I play with my mobile phone all day.
I talk on my mobile everywhere, even in restaurants, public toilets and meetings.
I want a new mobile phone every year.
I don't care my car is 4 years old.
My car's interior is my personal filing cabinet.
I don't care my car has dents and scratches on it.
I am avoiding paying taxes.
I am learning to be able to sit and talk in a bar whilst not hearing anything.
I can sip one drink all night long.
I go to private tuition lessons.
I order much more than I can ever eat.
I believe Rules were created to be broken.
I'll drive as I want. It's my road.
I want even more Public Holidays.
My main Greek words are ισος (maybe) and δεν κσερo (I don't know)
I'm beginning to believe Greek's created everything.
Even if I hadn't traveled and seen the World, I'd beginning to believe Greece is the best country in it.

I'm not minding living in a small, and poor, country with mindless bureaucracy because Ι'm also beginning to believe it's full of real people.

Saturday, September 17

She's suing me...

My ex-accountant's suing me. Remember I told you earlier she wouldn't release my papers as I moved on to another? This time one who could doesn't refuse to speak just some english, one who works, one who sees me when I need him.

So my ex (unfortunately that's a common epiphet in my world)asked me (in sudden almost perfect English) to visit her office, where she presented me with a chit of paper with a list in Greek of 'things she's done' and the price. About 1,600 euro.
'But you've done nothing for 9 months' I said to her.
'I can charge what I like' she replied.'
'How can you charge anything for doing nothing?'
'I was here. You weren't. You don't know what I was doing'
'The work, then?'
She tapped her head. 'Up here'. I tapped mine. 'So's my money'.

We'll meet again. In court, I hope.

Thursday, July 28

SIMPLE ECONOMICS

In my village, we have a carpenter. He's fantastic with his hands, and over the last 3 years I've witnessed him making beautiful pieces of furniture. I'm no expert ,and I don't know the technical terms, but even I can see the joints are built to last, and that they're almost works of art.
Last Winter I went to him for a building job in my house. He came to visit my home and measure up once, again, then again, and then three more times again, painstakingly noting down the measurements, angles and many other details I would have missed. The work, he said, would take 3-4 weeks. A month later I visited him. He was still working on the design, on a piece of paper he showed me.
In early Spring I visited again. He proudly showed me the wood he had bought for the project. In late Spring I visited, again. He hadn't started the work because he's big electric, dangerous looking, saw was broken and he was waiting for a repair man to visit to fix it.
Early Summer, again when I visited, he hadn't started because it had been raining. For 4 days since the previous visit.
Late Summer when I visited, again, he was on holiday, but a huge amount of the wood he had bought for my project had been used. But there was no visible sign of my furniture. I was hopeful, though.
Early Autumn he came and visited the house to check some measurements.
Late Autumn he had made little progress.
This Winter I bought what I wanted. And what was this? Noah's Ark, you may think? No, three shelves on which I could sit my TV, DVD and CD player.

Last year, I accidentally smashed a small pane of glass in one of my house windows. I visited the glazier, in the village 30 minutes away. He came and measured and was somewhat disappointed to see the smallness of the repair. Nevertheless, he promised to return within the week with the replacement pane. 3 visits from me - and about 4 months later - he admitted the job was too small for him. If I could break some more windows he'd be willing to do the bigger job, and for a discount. Thank you.

Last year, I wanted to get my name and address, instead of the previous house owners, onto my ΔΕΗ bill. I failed in my mission because I refused to accept it, and, yes, I nearly ate the instructions that went with these instructions. I needed a copy of the Death Certificate of the deceased previous owner (who also happened to be blind when he was alive). I needed an electrician to do a schematic of my house wiring (slightly difficult with the wiring buried 6 inches deep into the wall cavity) and I needed this schematic stamped by a special office (25 Km away), and then I needed this stamped and approved schematic in triplicate, one for me, one for the special office and one for the electricity company. And, finally, I needed to pay a fee of several hundred Euros. Or, as the man in the electricity office told me, do what everyone else does. Just don't bother. So I continue to own a house with a long gone, dead man's, name on the bill. And, presumably, so do millions of other Greeks.
That's why my post often never arrives, I suppose.

They recently opened a KEP office in my village. A great idea with less than optimal implementation.
The idea is a state funded office where one can go for information on almost anything and everything. Staffed by people who are computer literate and able to speak in 2 or more languages.
The result was a new, modern, well IT - equipped building. 3 very polite, professional looking, young women.
None of whom speak English. Who couldn't print a document I wanted because it was longer than 3 pages (a paper restriction I couldn't get around even after offering to bring my own ream in), couldn't Save It to floppy because it was too large (yet only 43 pages of Word), and couldn't email it (for reasons I still don't understand). I'm told these jobs were 'bought' by their parents.

This set me thinking.
Maybe they actually have it sussed here.

Maybe Olympic Airways shouldn't be sold. Maybe they should turn the planes into airborne lap dancing clubs with free drinks? Business Club bookings would surely increase? Overall seat yield would surely increase and positive PR would rocket? Every hot blooded male would fight to get a job with them? Or just fly with them. And, they should be allowed to continue to mailshot dead people their flying loyalty points statements.

Perhaps OTE shouldn't be shedding all these jobs at such a cost? I hear you could buy your way in for a small investment of around 17,000 Euro? For a 2 year/lifetime tenureship. And exit several hundred thousand Euro richer soon. No, they should be closing more offices down, sending bills out even later and with even less detail on, and in braille? And to dead people at my house address.

Perhaps we shouldn't bother to fill in tax returns. We should just visit the tax inspector, take them for a coffee, ingratiate ourselves for a few minutes, and ask him how much tax we should pay. And when he tells us, we should simply say Thank You, and move on for another year.
(Oh, I forgot, this is actually what happens now).

Why does everyone make things so complicated, when it only takes a fool like me to think up these simple solutions?

Saturday, July 9

Double Oh Seven - Oh No

I know a lady who wants to be very friendly with me. Saucy friendly. She has a wild imagination, which could be interesting for me if I could be more interested in her. She wonders why I am here. (Like I sometimes do).

But her answer is more interesting than mine.
She believes (yes, really believes!) that there's only one explanation as to why an englishman would come to The Village, live in privacy in a large house surrounded by high walls, overlooking the Aegean coastline facing Turkey, keep his own counsel, take on a girlfriend he can't communicate with, have a satellite dish on the roof, and drink Martini (I do, really, I do).

According to her I'm an english spy. How obvious. Passing plane movements to M16. As you do. And here I was thinking I was just a boring, middle-aged, fart.

Friday, July 8

DEFINING MADNESS

I like this.
My philosophy, too.
That's why I'm here.

"A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free"

Nikos Kazantzakis (a Greek Writer whose work represents a major contribution to modern Greek literature, 1885-1957)

Sunday, June 26

Business in Greece Vol 1: PLAN...for the Unexpected

When doing business in Greece, plan for the unexpected and you’ll still be surprised.

The culture shock is significant, like the experience I had trying to work with a Greek Ministry.

I had patiently ( and somewhat cleverly, I thought) made good contacts with a senior person in this Ministry, and over the course of 2 month’s work we had finally arranged a presentation to the key people I would need to get to for a decision.

I was thoroughly prepared, I knew who I was meeting, how many I was meeting and presenting too, I knew I could use a laptop for the presentation, and I knew we had 45 minutes together.

I planned for the unexpected, so left early for the meeting and when I got delayed 35 minutes in the Athens traffic, I still arrived at reception only 5 minutes late. Unfortunately, the receptionists weren’t expecting me, so there was another delay whilst my contact was tracked down. 20 minutes later we met outside the meeting room.

As I was beginning to apologies for my lateness, she greeted with the welcome ‘You’re early!’

‘No…. I think I’m late’ I said.
No, You’re early, she explained over a coffee in the empty meeting room. No one’s here yet, because they expect you to be late, and to be on time is a sign of weakness, or of desperation, or of attaching too much importance to these people.
(But these people are important, I was thinking, and okay although I’m not quite desperate, I did need these persons approval).

She explained that being early is Desperate. Being On Time is Very Bad. 30 minutes late for an Athens meeting is still Very Bad, because everyone is expected to be late with the Athens traffic, so 30 minutes late means you meant to arrive on time, and so is still Very Bad. Over an hour late suggests you don’t Care, and so they won’t care in return. The trick is to balance the arrival between 30-60 minutes, between desperation and not giving a damn, and looking totally relaxed about it. And, that if the audience is civil service, always err towards the 60 minutes.

Got it?

So some 20 minutes later I began my presentation, as planned, to my planned audience of 3 people. Only, it wasn’t 3 people as planned. It was 14. And 2 of the original 3 weren’t turning up, so 12 of the names and faces were new to me.

I hadn’t enough copies of my presentation for 14 people, and try to imagine controlling an audience of 14 people who started crowding around my laptop screen to peer over my shoulder as I began.
Extra copies were the obvious answer, so I asked if we could do this before continuing. This was an instant signal for a natural break, as my audience collectively broke away, either leaving the room or starting to talk into mobiles.

Of course, I could take extra photocopies, I was told. But, it turned out, there wasn’t a photocopy machine just outside the meeting room. Nor, one in a nearby office. Nor, one on the same floor. Nor, one even the same building. But there was one, outside on the street, about a block away.

Now my dilemma was Do I go for the copies and lose the chance of re-gathering my audience? And, if I do, do I have to be quick, or deliberately turn up late again? And, how late, not to look too desperate or too not giving a damn?

Okay, we’ll run without extra copies. It’s more cosy this way, anyway.

We re-started after a few minutes delay as everyone regrouped. Excluding the 6 people that now had disappeared entirely. Now I was down to 8, which greatly helped the comfort of everyone craning over my shoulder at my laptop.

No proper Greek ever turns a mobile off. And, never in a meeting. You have to learn to talk through the constant ringing in, or those around you sometimes making outgoing calls. And nobody leaves the room to have the conversation. They talk over you, whilst still standing behind your neck looking over your shoulder at the laptop. They raise their voice to be heard, you raise yours to be heard, they raise their’s louder, and so you continue in an ever-increasing cycle of loudness. Your plan for a calm, carefully controlled presentation, disintegrates into near chaos.

And still the unexpected can happen.

I had noticed one man not at my shoulder. Instead he sat at the end of table, looking totally disinterested, making the odd call, and writing in his diary. I decided I would make a point of talking with him when I had finished presenting, and I was nearly there, about to make the final pitch, and about to summarise everything into a conclusion they would bound to say a yes too.

And as I talked, a man walked into the room with a battery-powered drill in his hand. And promptly knelt to the skirting board and started drilling into the wall.

‘Shall I stop?’ I shouted to everyone behind me and through the dust he was creating. No, you shouldn’t they said. ‘Can you hear me?’ I mouthed to them. No, but it didn’t matter, they mouthed back.

Now I was beyond desperate, but I ploughed on determinedly. Until a few seconds later when the lights went out with a ‘pop’ and my laptop dropped to battery.

Imagine this. Your audience crowded around you shoulder, many probably unable to see the screen clearly, some of them shouting into mobiles, all of them not able to hear my shouted narrative, the shriek of a power drill 5 metres from you, and your laptop battery dying on you. What could get worse than my laptop battery giving up entirely? Which, of course, it did.

‘That was a very good presentation’ they shouted to me. ‘Really?’ I mouthed back, still in shock. ‘But I didn’t ..............' I was trying to say as the drilling suddenly stopped ......'GET TO THE CONCLUSION’ I was suddenly shouting at them. The room fell into silence, and they all stepped back from me.

I didn’t matter, they explained. It was very professionally done, they said, as I looked around at a room full of people I didn’t expect to be there, most without copies to take away, the ones I knew I needed to talk to ‘in absentea’, and those remaining still talking into mobile phones, my laptop beeping away on power-down, visibility in the dust reduced to face-to-face contact only , and the gentleman at the end of the table still taking no notice of me or his surroundings.

Bringing all my professionalism and training to the fore, I asked the closing question. ‘What are your next steps?’

We don’t have to do anything, they explained. They just ask their collective boss if he wants to do it, and if Yes, it’ll be done, they explained.
‘May I meet him?’ I asked. You have, they replied, pointing to the man sitting at the end of the table.

I approached him, asking if he liked the presentation. Through a colleague he explained he spoke no English, and hadn’t understood a word. But he liked me. And he liked my style.

So always expect the unexpected. And, you know what? Unexpectedly, 3 days later, this man approved the proposal.