Monday, March 30, 2009

Exit Greece

From Greece 09

I'm sat in Athens airport, where there's 45 minutes of free net access and thinking, I'll just post a final blog entry before submitting myself to British Airways and the flight home. And I've loads of thoughts about Greece which i shall put down while trying hard not to sound like Jeremy Clarkson.

- Greece is drop dead beautiful and there are a load of places where most tourists haven't heard of. I think I'll be back and maybe a bit later in the year next time so I can do some swimming.

- The ban on smoking in public places is a good idea. Getting used to secondary smoking again has been no fun. Greeks light up all the time, often with other people's food within range. There is no culture of public health here the way we have it at home, and over the years I've got used to it.

- Greek drivers are fine outside cities. But put them on a motorway and they will try to kill themselves and take you with them. The hard shoulder is just another lane to them (and they use it for overtaking slower traffic) as are lanes closed off for maintenance. And if the traffic is a bit slow on the main carriageway they'll speed through rest areas just to hop a few cars. In 150 miles of anarchic motorway yesterday I saw no police whatever.

- Greek food. It's fine as far as it goes but basically its in a ghetto because none of the cosmopolitan influences that have transformed our eating out experiences have arrived here. They used to major on fish but thats not possible anymore because the fish stocks are so depleted. And there are too many chips. They arrive unbidden with virtually everything. But on the plus side, God, I like chips.

- The collapse in the value of the pound has made Greece quite expensive. And if it's bad here what will it be in France for example? We Brits have got used to our spending power on the continent and it's hard not to see a political fallout when UK dwellers get home from their hols this summer.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

More Grecian Meanderings

From Greece 09

We've fitted in a great deal in a short time; the ruins of Mycenae yesterday and today we visited Epidaurus – the highlight being an enormous theatre which seated 1400 people. Despite its undoubted majesty the structure was literally a side show for the main event, which was a complex of buildings set up to heal the sick. The key healing ingredient was apparently a labyrinth filled with snakes; the sick would crawl about in the dark being bitten and so (incredibly) healed. Everyone believed it was the sacred snakes that did the trick, so much so that Rome sent for one when suffering the plague. But in reality the healing was being achieved by the canny Greek doctors who separated the infectious from the recovering and groped towards a proper understanding of medicine. An inscription at Epidaurus warns of the dire consequences if their fee didn't get paid. Physicians haven't changed in 2300 years.

25th March


Spent the night in a hotel with paper thin walls and decor unchanged since 1952. Was awakened by an unsilenced motorbike. I lay semi conscious, a bit hungover, as snoring from a neighbour (NOT Ms T) echoed through the walls.

But today is Greek Independence day. I had already seen the first small boy in national costume by 8.30am. Ms T and I debated what our national costume might be. A shell suit, a soccer shirt and a permanent sneer maybe. But here the bunting has come out, the local national service boys are marching on the seafront, and I suspect a party may be in the offing - notwithstanding the weather, which has gone a bit cloudy.

26th March


After driving for hours round hairpin bends etched into the side of mountains we've fetched up in a small village on the coast, sleeping in one of Alastair Sawday's 'Nice Places to Stay For Middle Class People' (It's not actually called that, but it might as well be.) We'd had lovely weather to explore the coast but as we checked in the clouds gathered and rain lashed the small fishing hut where we drank our beers and ouzo.

I think they've been watching Gordon Ramsay round here. Last night a shouty restaurant owner told me to eat my boiled Broccoli.

On the brighter side the coast is really incredibly pretty, and full of interesting shrines, fortified towers and the remains of Ancient Roman settlements - and best of all there's virtually nobody here. And the weather this morning is glorious. I keep thinking of touring holidays my mum and dad used to go on in the Highlands, mum striding about the heather, clad in brown anorak and headscarf.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Greek Odyssey

From Greece 09

I'm in Greece with Ms T for a few days, so web access is a bit hit and miss. So I'll post up my travel diary which I'm keeping as we go, strangely enough.

22nd March

Ancient Corinth

First full day in Greece, having arrived at the ruins of Ancient Corinth. Yesterday it rained hugely as we drove south from Athens along the motorway but the weather this morning is much better. Wandered about in the old city and saw small improvised church service. Wondered why, then realised that these pilgrims were following in the exact steps of St Paul, some 2000 years previous.

Watched TV in the room last night. Specialty here seems to be news channels which record and rebroadcast Sky News leaving in the remarks of Kay Burley.

23rd March


We have pitched up in Nafplio, a frightfully chi-chi town which reminds me a bit of manicured places in the south of France. On the way here we had various adventures, such as nearly rolling the car by reversing it over a cliff someone had thoughtlessly left in the road. Fortunately a team of Greek villagers came to our rescue. They righted the unscathed vehicle and I rushed around saying thanks. They looked a bit bemused. Maybe helping the clueless British is all in a days work.

Much exploring ancient ruins, which makes me wonder how long before there is a shopping revenge by Ms T who is usually resolutely opposed to looking at piles of stone with notices attached. Perhaps it's not long off; we are staying in a remorselessly trendy hotel with wifi, so last night we had the weird experience of listening to the Archers as we dressed for dinner, and around me I see the dread mark of the designer boutique.

I have been conditioned to New Labour's Britain, so it came as a shock to see how many people lit cigarettes in the restaurant last night. I expect the EU health people will make them buckle under, sometime in the next three centuries.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

This Is Not A Game

I had lunch with Adrian Monck, who now lectures in journalism, a few months ago. And I'm sure I asked him then why he left TV news. I think he may have glossed over it at the time, for it seems that this is the reason, and it must surely rank as the bravest blogpost of the year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I am like, Meh.

Now that I'm 44 I'm slow on the urban speak, so it's only recently I've caught on to this fab word 'Meh' which has wriggled into my language . I turn to the Urban Dictionary to discover that it's been currency among the cognoscenti since 2002:

Indifference; to be used when one simply does not care.
A: What do you want for dinner? B: Meh.

As language does, it's changed its meaning slightly in the intervening months from 'I don't care' to an estimation of the quality of something.
Here's how it was used the other night at Hendotowers:

Hendo: I watched the first episode of Red Riding on Channel 4 the other night.
Ms T (doing something else way more engaging): Hnnn?
Hendo:..and I thought it was a bit 'meh'.

There's so much this handy little word can get applied to these days, and now I 've got a nasty cold and no voice it can be applied to me in totality, ie:

Hendo: I'm having an early night. Meh!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Being Burgled

We got off lightly really. Ms T came home on Friday - the 13th naturally - to discover glass across the bathroom floor and 'evidence of entry'. The thieves, or thief, had broken in by a first floor window, but then our security meant he couldn't leave via a door. So he'd left emptyhanded the same way he came in.

I got home from Manchester an hour later to discover the house in a social whirl. Rachel, who knows a few things about surviving crime, had come round to lend moral support to a cheerfully stoic Ms T. Rebecca and her kids arrived, and decimated the fruit bowl. Brixton CID also attended along with an utterly glamorous Scenes Of Crime Officer. They declined tea, did 'house to house' and 'took swabs'. A glazier came round and sorted the window. Rachel and I cleaned up the broken glass. The cats emerged from under beds.

As I say, nothing had gone. The DI examined my Playstation and pronounced it 'insufficiently cutting edge'. Infact we're up on the deal, as they left a handsome garden fork in the back yard.

What can you do? I sorted out a stiff G&T, put it down to modern life and thanked God neither myself and my loved one were in at the time.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Two nightshifts punctuated by depressing news from Northern Ireland. But at least I was supposed to be on duty. When the first shootings happened a certain correspondent (I could name him but won't) abandoned a family holiday and turned in an apparently endless series of packages and two ways. Our coverage of these distressing events has been first class as a result and I am proud to have a played a minor role in it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Docklands Walk

From Docklands060309

Ms T has a new book which features shortish London walks - between three and seven miles - so we did one with our friend Han this afternoon. The one we chose wound through Wapping next to the Thames. The weather was spring-like with seagulls arcing in the cool breeze and boats cutting foamy wakes in front of the looming Canary Wharf. Lunch was at The Prospect of Whitby which boasts its own gallows with a good view of the river.

"Was anyone hanged there?" asked Ms T
"Pirates" came the reply.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Spare Tables

From Drop Box

To Canary Wharf to have lunch with my City friend. The recession has arrived and it is as awful here as anywhere. One in ten people in his company had been fired the previous day. Many of the tall buildings were half empty, he informed me, and the atmosphere at his firm - usually upbeat and businesslike - was naturally very low. Smollensky's restaurant, which had been too busy to find us a place when we'd been a few months ago, had tables to spare.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Time Out Country Walk Book 1 No 48

Swans: 2
Fish: Numerous
Pints of Ringwood Ale: 1.5
Distance: 20Km

To Hampshire during a much needed break in the wintry weather for a long walk mainly along the Test. The river is high; not quite bursting its banks but nearly there. The water was clear in the strong March sunlight and you could see the enormous trout the Test is famous for. We explored two churches, both dating back to the 11th century, one with stocks outside and another with a 1610 picture of somebody being stoned for collecting firewood on the sabbath (see above).

The pub was the Plough, one of those bland affairs with maddening soft rock muzak which have turned into a restaurant to survive. But the fish and chips were great and it was good to find locally brewed ale.

The walk's been messed around with, partly by landowners who are keen on enjoying their bankside privacy and also by a farmer who's let the path become overgrown and at one point has actually barred access to a style. And elsewhere Hampshire council have diverted 'the Test Way' around a huge and smelly pig farm. In my rush to get out of the house for the train I'd printed out the wrong updates so it was unnecessarily stressy at one point, what with Ms T needing new boots because the pair she has are pinching her ankles.

Apart from that it was fine.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Crunch Nightmares

The figures are almost too big to imagine, but here's a link to a superb article in the New York Times which explains the mess the US insurance giant AIG has got itself into. Bears of little brain, ie me, will want to read it twice; it explains in relatively simple terms how we ended up where we are.

But here's the paragraph that chilled my blood:

Here’s what is most infuriating: Here we are now, fully aware of how these scams worked. Yet for all practical purposes, the government has to keep them going. Indeed, that may be the single most important reason it can’t let A.I.G. fail. If the company defaulted, hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of credit-default swaps would “blow up,” and all those European banks whose toxic assets are supposedly insured by A.I.G. would suddenly be sitting on immense losses. Their already shaky capital structures would be destroyed. A.I.G. helped create the illusion of regulatory capital with its swaps, and now the government has to actually back up those contracts with taxpayer money to keep the banks from collapsing. It would be funny if it weren’t so awful.

I shouldn't look at the internet, it gives me bad dreams.