I wear two hats when I write this blog of mine. First and foremost, I manage a small charity in a small Scottish town called Dumfries. Ours is a front door that opens onto the darker corners of the crumbling world that is Britain 2015. We hand out 5000 emergency food parcels a year in a town that is home to 50,000 souls. Then, as you can see from all of the book covers above, I am also a thriller writer. If you enjoy the blog, you might just enjoy the books. The link below takes you to the whole library in the Kindle store. They can be had for a couple of quid each.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

In this land of broken dreams.

As the plane eased down to the tarmac of Athens airport I guess most of the non Greek passengers would have been thinking the same thoughts. So what is it going to look like? The Athens of the news has been all about petrol bombs bouncing and skidding along the road making riot police hop and jump. Clouds of tear gas. Eyes streaming tears. Scarves wrapped around faces. Burning Nazi flags. Blazing graffiti. But of course the news always focuses on edited highlights. On the news Athens seems on the verge of being the next Beirut. How would it be in real time? Well for us it looks like picture which is the view from the terrace of our hillside apartment. And hell, this is what Athens really should like, for when all is said and done this as the cradle of democracy. So the gleaming, sparking city of white marble sweeping up and down sun baked valleys under a blue, blue sky is absolutely on message.

One day in and it has to be said that on the surface everything seems remarkably normal. I have yet to see a riot policeman and the air is filled with the aroma of kebabs, not tear gas. Sure there are many, many boarded up shops but not as many as Dumfries High St.

As is so often the case it is the little things that give the game away. Over the last couple of years it has been more and more common to see people stoop down to collect a cigarette end from the Dumfries pavement: if there are a couple of last draws to be had out of it. The body language is still all about embarrassment. The picker up will cast a quick look about to check if anyone is watching. Then they will be up and down and moving away in quick, edgy steps. Picking up a fag end is still a thing to be embarrassed about. They have gone past that stage here. If you sit out at a table in a pavement café you will not have to sit for very long until you see someone stop and reach down for a fag end. There is no subterfuge. No nervous haste. They simply pick it up, brush it down and light it up. On maybe salt it away in a breast pocket for later on. There is no reason to feel embarrassed any more. Everyone knows that everyone else is flat broke. It has become the norm.

The supermarket offers a similar set of undramatic clues. Pink Floyd took Henry Thoreau’s words and came up with the line ‘hanging on in quiet desperation is the Engish way’ and yours truly has followed suit and half inched his words as the title of my latest book which will be available on Kindle in the next day or two. Plug, plug! Well a Greek supermarket is indeed very much a place of quiet desperation. You can just feel it. You see it in the way that it takes punters forever to put four items in a basket. They are weighing what to put in and what to take out and how the hell to make it add up to about 75p. And when they reach the checkout they pay in coppers. And there is something unspoken about the whole thing. No pleasantries from the checkout assistant. No small talk from the shopper. Heads are kept down. Meagre supplies are stowed away in a shopping bag which leaves the store seemingly as empty as when it came in. Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves. But for many here, there are no pounds any more. The day to day economy is all down to pennies. Counted pennies. Pennies which are not remotely enough. Quiet desperation.

Time in a pavement café people watching. An endless steam of young black guys walking from here to there and back again. Sometimes talking. Mostly not. For what is there to say? They have shelled out their $5000 dollars to be people trafficked to the dream of Europe only to find themselves marooned and hated. Then there are the mothers with their wide eyed young kids. Every worldly possession is contained by a couple of cheap PVC bags from China. Maybe they are walking. Maybe they are sitting. Maybe there is a husband looking for the price of a meal. Maybe not. They are off the map. Statistics to be resented. The stats boggle the mind. The are 10 million Greeks here. And 4 million illegal trafficked immigrants. It is equivalent to about 20 million illegals in the UK. These are people with not a penny to their name, not a prayer of work and nowhere to sleep but a park. Not surprisingly many are driven to crime to come up with the next meal. And the more crime they commit, the more they are hated by the locals who resent the fact that geography has deemed that Greece is the first stop for many of the world’s most desperate. And sure as eggs are eggs, the whole thing is a recipe for the head bangers of the far right to have a field day. The blatantly Nazi Golden Dawn party got 15% in the last election. They even have party shops where wannabe Nazis can pick up their balaclavas and baseball bats to prepare for a good old night’s fun clearing the parks of sleeping illegals. But that is the news. As yet there are no Golden Dawn stormtroopers goose-stepping their way up and down the narrow streets of gleaming white buildings. All you see is the endless procession of slowly walking young black men. Walking and walking and walking and never arriving anywhere. Stuck. No way forward and no way back and everyone just knows that things are only going to get worse.

Most people speak pretty good English here and they all want to tell you what a nightmare everything is. ‘Where are you from?’ asked the bloke in a sun glasses shop. I told him and he shook his head and gave me a rueful smile. He told me never to forget how lucky I am because I live in a country where there is no Euro. I got the feeling that he hadn’t sold a thing for days. The shop had an end of the line feel to it. Meagre stocks were stretched thin. He had a couple of pals sitting with him. They were meandering though the empty hours. I doubt if he had been able to pay any rent for a while. And every morning he must have been tempted to say stuff it, I ain’t going in today. What’s the point? I will just sit there all day and sell nothing because nobody has any money any more. Well not for sunglasses. All they have is a few coppers for four items in the supermarket. But if not the shop, then what and where? Another day watching TV at home all day? And maybe, just maybe someone might call in to buy something. A long shot, but what else is there? And all that is left is a small collection of goods to try and turn into cash before the bailiffs come to change the locks and board up the windows. Quiet desperation.

Youth unemployment has passed the 60% mark here. If you factored in the 4 million illegals, it would be up in the 90’s. Which quite frankly beggars belief. At the moment it means endless thousands of young people walking up and down streets where more and more widows are boarded up. And when they scoop up a fag end and light it up, they do so without a trace of unease. And later they will be fed by a grandmother who has made the pennies of her pension stretch to an ultra plain meal of starch and little else.

The new book is Quiet Desperation.

The last book was Mere Anarchy.

The question is when does one title become another?

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