10. Bankers all

# 10 Bankers all.

 As the memsahib reminded me recently, Christmas day was on a Sunday this year. The previous Thursday evening we went to the local community centre to hear some carols sung by the newly formed women’s’ choir; and very nice it was too with 50 or more women singing in unison – harmonies are on the curriculum for early next year. This auspicious occasion was marked by the attendance of the mayor – never one to miss an opportunity for a bit of electioneering – and the newly appointed metropolitan (think archbishop – a man with a very big black hat) and his nine attendant priests. At the end of the carols the conductor was duly thanked and then the mayor got up to speak, much to the obvious discomfort of the majority of the audience who are well aware of his reputation of never using one word when 15 will suffice and of his ability to bore for Greece, let alone Crete. For once though, he was merciful and sat down top great applause after about two minutes – though I’m unsure if the applause was for the content of his remarks or his brevity. The new metropolitan then got up to speak.

25 minutes later I certainly had lost the will to live and by the look of them so had most of the audience. According to my friend Spiros, when I managed to wake him, the sermon speech had been about the need for the community to come together in these times of austerity and to look after its most disadvantaged members and the need for us all to acknowledge that the politicians, with a bit of help from the Orthodox Church and their God, will eventually find a way to the sunlit uplands of the glorious future – provided of course that no one votes Communist in the next elections and they don’t convict the monk from Mount Athos currently banged up on a charge of carrying out a massive multi million Euro fraud with the apparent help of the last but one Government (OK, so ‘m paraphrasing a bit but you get the general idea.) He and his retinue then left the hall along and got into their three illegally parked BMWs: the ones with the red and white ecclesiastical licence plates which indicate that the vehicles don’t require road tax to be paid on them and get their petrol duty free.

The following afternoon, Friday, we were sat in the kafenion opposite the XYZ Bank. Alongside us in the kafenion, drinking tsikoudia*, were sat two armoured car security guards waiting to make a collection from the bank. I know this because I could see the bank staff across the road cashing up and because I was told it by the guards’ companion and drinking partner, the bank manager, wearing his id badge, pass card and bank keys around his neck, who was celebrating his name day and keeping an eye on his staff from a distance.  After several or more small bottles of tsikoudia, his party was eventually joined by the assistant manager and, over the next half hour, by three of the four remaining staff and yet more alcohol. At about four pm the assembled multitude watched as the last, and presumably most junior, member of the staff struggled to wheel the loaded cash trolley across the street to the armoured car and then hung around while the guards finished their drinks, made their farewells, paid their bill, went to the toilet, said goodbye again and strolled out to open the security van. I was naturally fascinated by all this and cast my mind back to my job in a previous lifetime when I could conceivably have been called on to represent some of those involved in this type of activity. After a wistful 10 minutes or so I had worked out a theoretically possible defence but came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t have fancied trying it out in real life.

I thought no more of the incident until about 10 days later. I was up in a taverna in our favourite mountain village talking to Giorgos, the owner, who was not a happy bunny. He was bemoaning the fact that he had had to pay a 100 Euro bribe to get some electricians out on Christmas Eve to replace the heavy duty overhead power cable that supplied electricity to the kafenion and most of the village. To my surprise he blamed this on the XYZ Bank. I couldn’t quite make the connection (no pun intended) and assumed that it had something to do with the financial crisis, the calling in of a loan, a refusal to extend an overdraft or some such financial transaction.

“No” said Giorgos. “The Friday before Christmas the bank manager from the bank rolled up here at about five pm and started celebrating his name day and drinking tsikoudia. By six pm he was totally drunk and decided to continue celebrating by shooting his pistol at the electricity pole. Normally he couldn’t hit a wall if he was standing five metres in front of it but this time he was so drunk he managed to shoot accurately. He shot up the insulators, ruined the cable and blew out all the fuses in the village before we got the gun off him.”

At this point it dawned on me that I might have to rethink my hypothetical defence strategy.





*A rather potent Cretan spirit made from the leftovers after grapes are made into wine. Its ability to cure all known Cretan maladies, and several unknown ones, is little short of miraculous; drinking it certainly has an effect on gravity in the drinker’s immediate vicinity.





4. Priests

#4 How many priests does it take to change a light bulb?

During my previous working incarnations lives I’ve been asked many questions ranging from the size of 1C/Cu/ PILCSWAS cable to use on a 750kw compound wound motor1 (when I was an electrical installation draughtsman); the temperature at which it gets too hot to work and at which you can go home on full pay2 (health and safety advisor); if an employer can sack an employee who stole money even if the money is returned3 (trade union official) and the ppO2 at 15 metres on 42% Nitrox4 (dive master). Most of these questions I was able, at the time asked, to give a reasonably correct answer, even if it wasn’t the one the person asking wanted to hear, particularly in the case of the person being sacked for a theft they admitted.

 However, recently I was completely defeated by a simple (?) a question.

There’s a little village up in the mountains, about 9km away and 800 metres higher than our village, where we have been known to spend the odd, and I mean odd, hour or three, relaxing and taking in the local colour, wine and raki. On my first visit there this year I was greeted by my friend Spiros (see note above) with the immortal words:

 ‘Mixalis, I’m getting lobsters! What do you think I should do?’

Now, I’m the first to admit that my knowledge of first aid is limited to that required in the event of an emergency, i.e. keep the person warm and safe, carry out CPR if necessary, send for an ambulance etc.etc., but I’m pretty sure none of the courses I’ve attended over the years have ever dealt with an attack of lobsters, even those courses aimed at emergencies when diving. Consequently, before replying, I took into account that Spiros is young man in the prime of his life, with several or more girlfriends, and I that didn’t want to say anything that could be taken the wrong way; this is after all Crete, and Cretans have a certain reputation. Accordingly, I did what every trade union official learns to do at a very early stage in their career; I prevaricated and avoided answering the question.

Spiros then told me that he and his father were getting them together and were in the process of digging the tank for them. At this point I realised that I was thinking in entirely the wrong direction, that the subject under discussion was the proposal to establish a Crayfish  farm and that I should be considering the role of crustaceans in the Cretan economy rather than other, less savoury, topics. I’m afraid even establishing the crustacean connection didn’t help me to answer the question but at least now I know that somewhere up in the hills of Crete there’s a herd of crayfish happily doing whatever it is crayfish do before they end up in the supermarket at 50 Euros/kilo.

Later that week I revisited the village, this time for a spot of god bothering. The village church is dedicated to the 99 Holy Fathers, the followers of St John the Hermit, and before you start, I know it’s an oxymoron that a hermit should have 99 followers but as I keep telling you, this is Crete and things are done differently here. This particular day the church festival was being held and the service was to be presided over by the local Metropolitan (those of an Orthodox bent will understand, those of an Anglican/Roman Catholic bent, think Archbishop and you’ll get the idea, Lutherans, Presbyterians and atheists, you’re on your own) and such an august personage guaranteed that there would be more than just the usual priest to conduct the service. The event took place in the open air outside the church, which is halfway down a beautiful valley about 500 metres from the village, and, in order to permit maximum audience participation for the 100 or so people attending, was broadcast through a very loud PA system. Though we only stopped for 15 mins. or so, during that time we counted 17 (yes, seventeen) priests in attendance. We wandered back to the kafenion for a meal and sat there listening to the service and the singing; though we couldn’t understand what was going on, the sound of the chanting echoing around the hills on a late summer evening was indeed, rather pleasant. As we fell to discussing the priest overkill situation and whether or not the alleged sins of the 99 Holy Fathers were such as to require seventeen advocates, someone started to ask the inevitable question: How many orthodox priests does it take to change a light bulb?

No sooner had the words been spoken than the chanting stopped and the lights in the kafenion went out. There then followed a frantic five minutes as our host ran around trying to find some fuse wire to replace the mains fuse that had blown because, in order to cope with the crowds attending the festival, too many electric ovens had been plugged into the sockets in the kitchen, sockets which were also being used to supply the church PA.

Personally I think it was sheer coincidence but we never did find out the number of priest required; we could only conclude it was a number between one and seventeen.





  1. Single core, Copper, Paper Insulated, Lead Covered, Single Wire Armoured and Served; and I can’t remember, it was 40 years ago.
  2. There isn’t one and never has been.
  3. Yes, and they don’t have to wait until you’re arrested either.
  4. I don’t have my Nitrox Tables anymore so you’ll just have to look it up.