13. Sacked!

# 13    Sacked.

 My many fans, Sid and Doris Bonkers, have repeatedly asked me what the effect of the Euro crisis is having on the Greek economy. In response, I can only say that the English version of the online daily Greek newspaper Ekathimerini (http://www.ekathimerini.com/) has, within the last week, finally stopped advertising  private jet hire at 5,000 Euros per hour (plus fuel and crew) so I guess things are getting pretty ropey among the jet set. Here in the south west of Crete things are not noticeably bad other than the never ending rising price of petrol. However, out of public view, there are, so I am told, at least 12 families in the village who are totally destitute and depending on the local social services office for food and clothing; the council workers, including the social workers, haven’t been paid for six months and public infrastructure upkeep in the shape of the road repairs etc. is more or less nonexistent at the moment. The truth is that the correlation between paying tax and in return receiving some sort of benefit from the state, has yet to take hold in many Cretans’ minds because of the widespread belief that all politicians, other than the ones looking after you personally to whom you may on occasion make a small undeclared cash payment for services rendered, are a bunch of crooks and on the take.

The pheasants are revolting! Teachers join the Indepenence Day parade with a banner protesting the 25% cut in their salaries and the withdrawal of funding for local schools...the mayor was not a happy bunny

From personal experience I know of one politician who most definitely cheats.

Last Sunday, in the run up to Carnival, the all powerful ‘Women’s Committee’ held a ‘Traditional Games’ evening in the community hall, to which the memsahib and I were summoned upon pain of death invited to attend. I have to admit that the prospect of doing any such thing did not fill me with deep joy so I wandered into my local taverna for a degree of fortification beforehand. There, sat in the corner and drinking a glass of 12 of tsikoudia, was the mayor and a number of his friends. I said hello to them and sat down reading my book and sampling the house red. About an hour later I received the call to go to the hall across the road because they were doing strange things with yoghurt. The mayor must have been under the same three line whip as I was because he got up at the same time and followed me over to the hall where they were, indeed, doing strange things with yoghurt.

The evening was not quite what I had expected, the organisers had brought in a professional entertainer, a man who had collected lots of old Cretan games as played by the children in the pre television era; he was demonstrating these games to the kids and, with a great deal of success, getting them to join in with them. It rapidly became apparent that the problem wasn’t the kids; it was the adults of a certain age who were being reminded of the games they played 40 or more years ago and who wanted to have a go themselves. I should have known it was not going to end well when one particular game was hijacked by the mayor. The game involved a victim, standing in front of a group of their friends and having to hold their hand behind their back. One of the ‘friends’ then gives the hand a slap and the victim has to try and guess who did it; if they guess correctly the slapper takes their place, if incorrectly, they continue to be slapped.* (I suspect it was the pressure of having to play games like this to pass the time that led directly to the invention of television.) Watching it being played, the Mayor decided that the youth of today were a load of cissies and that the slaps were delivered much more forcefully and painfully in his day. He then decided to join in as did a group of his friends and, apparently, some of his political enemies – at least I assume they were his enemies because while their version of the game didn’t quite draw blood from the force of the slaps, it wasn’t far off doing so

About an hour, several more games involving doing strange things with yoghurt, X more tiskudias and at least one bottle of retsina later, the adults had taken over and the organiser announced a sack race would be held, the course being from one end of the hall to the other and back.  At this point, with, I am sorry to report, the apparent connivance of the memsahib, I was physically assaulted and forcefully manhandled onto the starting line where I was thrust into a sack. Now as many of you are aware I am not one who takes the slightest bit of interest in sport but being placed on the starting line, next to the mayor no less, in a Cretan sack-race and instructed to uphold the honour and dignity of the expats in the village, I had little choice but to participate.

 I’m absolutely convinced that the tactics I adopted, holding myself back in the first stretch up the hall in order to surge to victory on the return leg, would have worked. However, I hadn’t calculated on the desire to win at any cost that got the mayor to his lofty position. Honestly, I was just about to put on the spurt that would have seen me triumph, when by means of a strategically placed foot within a sack and hence in theory unidentifiable but clearly belonging to the mayor, as was the elbow in my back, I was sent base over apex. For some reason this seemed to appeal to the baser instincts among those in the audience and was greeted with loud cheers and laughter; however, not as loud as the cheer when the mayor went over having misjudged the slipperiness of the intersection of a polished floor and a jute sack. In spite of my setback I didn’t come in last…quite.

I would like to report that I triumphed in the next leg of the sack race, but unfortunately I was disqualified for wearing the sack on my head. The mayor did apologise and even invited me to join in on his team in another game. However, since this involved doing strange things with yoghurt, I made my excuses and left.



* The game also involves people making noises like a bee, but that fact is too silly to include in this missive.

2. The Philosophers

#2 The Philosophers do their civic duty.

The area around Onomia Square in Athens is inhabited by a number of gentlemen and ladies of a philosophical bent; the type that, after a litre or 12 of wine for breakfast, are likely to proclaim their views on life, the universe and everything in loud voices using such (philosophical) turns of phrase as; ‘Millennium, shrimp and buggerit I told them it was a duck but polishing it only took the paint off and would they listen….’, although in Greek rather than English of course.*  The main road leading out of the square is a three lane, one way, road, crossed at right angles by minor roads which from the north, run down hill across the main road and down again to the south; thus while the main road is flat, the side roads run downhill across it, a geographical fact of which you will need to take note.

Coming along this main road one evening at about 9pm I observed a number of the local philosophers struggling to put out fires that some clown had started in some plastic rubbish bags and a large, wheeled, plastic rubbish bin; the bags and bin being situated in a side road to the north of the main street, i.e. in a road sloping down into it. They were doing their civic duty by using whatever liquid was to hand, and I can report that, in spite of its alcohol content, wine doesn’t burn. While they were struggling with this, two policemen sat in a police car in the southern, lower, side road opposite them and watched, offering no assistance, as the philosophers dodged the traffic to cross the main road carrying jugs of water from a nearby ornamental fountain and bottles containing various liquids of an unknown nature.

The rubbish bags were fairly easily dealt with but the fire in the bin eventually got out of control when someone, no doubt with the best of intentions, opened the bin lid to throw some water inside, but failed to shut it again. This fire then started to set alight to the tree underneath which the bin was situated and at this point things started to get rather silly.

A philosopher decided to move the bin from under the tree and took the brake off in order to do so; forgetting in the heat of the moment (sorry about that), that the bin was on a slope. The bin rolled down the hill, the flames getting higher as it speeded up, and eventually came to a halt in the middle of the main road, burning and melting away to its heart’s content.  At this point the police decided to take some action and pulling out of the side street, reversed their car against the traffic and placed it into the second lane to prevent other cars driving into the, now merrily burning, bin. They were joined a few seconds later by another police car which drew alongside them, blocking the two inner lanes, thus totally isolating the bin. While all this was going on, the philosophers were still fighting the good fight against both the fire and the traffic, and the police were still staying in their cars.

Enter the fire brigade…eventually.

The innermost police car, the last to arrive, now drove past the bin and off into the night thus allowing the fire engine to drive past the bin as well. Having done so, the fire engine parked up, and, with the assistance (?) of the philosophers, the fire fighters got to work putting out the fire. However, at this point, the remaining police car, which had until then been blocking traffic to prevent cars driving into the bin, itself drove off and parked beyond the bin, leaving both fire fighters and philosophers to carry out their task in the face of oncoming traffic. I am happy to report though, that the two policemen, who had watched this from the relative safety of their car the whole of the time, did now get out. One went straight into the coffee shop, while the other ran across the main road, dodging the traffic, in the style of the philosophers and fire fighters, and proceeded to have an animated discussion with one of the local ladies of negotiable affection.

At this point I could take no more and went back to my hotel.

The next morning the only signs of the previous night’s events were a somewhat singed tree and a number of thirsty looking philosophers who were, no doubt, philosophically content in the knowledge, if they remembered the previous night’s events, that they had sacrificed their breakfast for the common good.


*More perceptive readers will notice a certain similarity between the philosophical teachings of these philosophers and those of ‘Foul Ole Ron’, the rather malodorous “star” of a number of works by that nice Mr Terry (Oh, why in the name of the gods did he accept a knighthood?) Pratchett. Perhaps Mr Pratchett has been to Athens.