1. Hell in Crete

#1 Hell in Crete

Having received numerous e-mails from my adoring public (Sid and Doris Bonkers) I have none the less decided to ignore their heartfelt pleas and recommence my occasional series of epistles bringing the public up to date with certain events in my furiously frantic fun filled life. (At this point you may press the escape button if you so wish; details of how to delete e-mails and/or add my name to your spam filter will vary from browser to browser.)

To bring you up to speed, I’ve finished at Big Skool and I am now considered fully educated, at least to some degree, and I need only go back for more if I have the money. I managed to complete my course without incurring too much damage though I did manage to blow up the household electrics of one of my lecturers….on the coldest and darkest day of the year. Other highlights of the three years included watching a fellow student, bound for Sandhurst after doing his History degree, intent on showing us how fit he, and by inference the whole of the British Army, was by doing squat thrusts (I think that’s what they’re called; they look painful and energetic) in the corridor while waiting to go into a seminar and splitting the crotch of his trousers from top to bottom; hearing that well known Classical scholar Boris Johnson having his Greek corrected at a public lecture; realising I was in the presence of Constantine ‘No Name’ Glucksberg, the deposed King of Greece, and that I didn’t have a gun about my person, and discovering that academics are not the godlike beings I once took them for, but are in fact capable of terminological inaccuracies, particularly when it comes to diagrams illustrating the difference in the size of cows in western Europe before and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire*. However, I eventually left the Strand Poly in the capable hands of the little old lady who, previous readers will be glad to know, is still safe and sound in her nest of books and papers in the Theology section of the library.

Having no lectures to attend and no essays to plagerise write, I was at a loss as to what to do with myself, the memsahib’s suggestions being mostly impossible or too painful to contemplate and involving ‘work’, whatever that is, I reached the reluctant decision that I would just have to spend the remains of my student loan on the memsahib and myself wintering in Crete:  look on it as a painful burden I have taken upon myself in a, no doubt vain, attempt to prop up the Greek economy.

Into this scenario was incorporated a cunning plan to inveigle myself onto an academic event rejoicing (?) in the title: Hell in Crete. It turned out to be anything but hell, although I did discover that asking a, what appeared to me to be simple, question of 12 or more very high powered academics, a number which I discovered afterwards exceed the critical mass for Art Historians, results in receiving 19 different answers, all of which appear, almost but not quite, not to contradict each other, but are in fact at total odds with the answer you got from the previous academic….what’s more it’s all done so politely – sometimes. I did, however, at last, discover the real reason that the man in the Venetian-Cretan Fresco in one church is having a plough inserted into a part of his anatomy into which ploughs were not designed to go; discovered that the punishments in hell stipulated for fornicators, both male and female, are too painful to reveal -but think snakes- and that the fate prescribed in hell for cheating tailors involves scissors and had me waking up at nights screaming.

It doesn't bear thinking about!


I’m sure Cretan Television is a wonderful thing, after all, the main channels devote serious amounts of airtime to traditional Cretan dance and music, something the BBC1 has yet to do. (Actually, to be fair, BBC1 plays as much Cretan traditional music as they do English traditional music.) However I fear that they must be running out of Cretan dances to broadcast, a conclusion I reached from the fact that I came across a Kreta TV crew, cameras, lights, sound, producer and front man, carrying out an interview in the gents toilet at Chania bus station….while the toilet was still in use.

Given the state of the Greek economy and the austerity measures being introduced, civil service wages cut by 30%, retirement ages raised overnight by 8 years, VAT raised by 8% and yet more to come, it’s not surprising that they shipped and extra 7000 police into Thessaloniki for the opening of the International Trade Fair, an event to be attended by both the PM and the Leader of the Opposition. However, according to my friend Spiros who’s in one branch of the forces of Law and Disorder, the extra police, mostly from Athens, are civil servant also and while they haven’t, for obvious reasons, had such a swinging pay cut, they are not happy bunnies. Accordingly, the Athenian police apparently only agreed to go to Thessaloniki if they could have their own anti-austerity demonstration before all the other scheduled demonstrations and they got paid up front for the extra overtime they would be working; the fear being that by the end of next month when their overtime pay is due, there will be no money left to pay them. 

As a student of history, I am of course aware of previous tensions between Greece and Turkey. Conscious of the ‘Malvinas Factor’, I was discussing this very topic with Spiros, (not the previous Spiros, this was another one) and based on his experiences doing National Service in the Greek Air Force as a radio/radar technician in the late 1980s,he was vey gloomy about it all. It appears that the last time when relations between the two countries got a bit ropey, Spiros was a part of a detachment sent to guard an airfield from a possible Turkish attack. Fine in theory but rather difficult in practice since they didn’t give the conscripts any rifles; Spiros did have a helmet but it was a silver painted parade one, made of plywood. Naturally I queried the apparent lunacy of sending specialised troops to carry out an infantry role and then not arming or protecting them. Spiros looked even gloomier.

‘Yes,’ he said

‘I asked the same question and my officer told me that Air Force conscripts were expandable.’

So there it is; if Turkey attacks they will be faced by hordes of 100 metre diameter, Greek Air Force conscripts, and the war will be over before it’s started.

( For the attention of those reading this who might just happen to be Greek – you know who you are Spiros -……….I know I shouldn’t be rude about Greek mispronunciation of English, particularly given that I’ve been coming here every year for 15 or so years, I lived here for 18 months, that I’ve tried, and failed, to learn both modern and ancient Greek and still I can only just about manage to order a beer in a taverna,  but that’s the way it is I’m afraid; so I’m now going to go down to the restaurant, past the door marked ‘Stuff Only’ and try and decide where to have a plate of fish fingerings or some fresh Greek nuddels for dinner.)


*True, but the laws of liable prevent me from explaining further.