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.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Fascists are on the pavement and the the dogs are on the roof

Rooftop space is a big deal in Athens. And balconies. And there’s nothing special about that of course. The same thing goes in most countries where the summer months mean long hours of burning heat. A rooftop is a place to retreat to in the early evening with a long cold drink. A place to watch the sky turn all colours from burning blue to blood red to soft black. And course it is the place to catch the faintest of breezes after a day of pavement cracking heat.

Our place in Athens was perched high on a steep hill and the view from the roof was enough to take the breath away. The city spread out in all directions, a densely packed sprawl of shining white buildings which climbed up through the valleys of the surrounding hills. Stunning, spectacular, scenic; all those view describing words beginning with the letter ‘S’.

But Athens had one rooftop feature that was a first for us.


Lots and lots of dogs. The city is home to hundreds of thousands of them. Some are ultra pampered and the pet sections in the supermarkets are made up of many shelves. Others are of the mangy mutt variety; the skinny strays who compete with the African refugees for anything edible in the over flowing bins. With so many dogs in such a tightly packed space the pavements offer a constant challenge. If you walk the cracked Athenian sidewalks with your head held high your shoes will be in a dire state after fifty yards.

The rooftop dogs spend their days lazily prowling their space. They take an occasional slurp of water from a silver dish. Sometimes they crash out in a shadow. Other times they retire into their rooftop kennel for a more serious kip. Every now and then they will exchange barked conversations with fellow rooftop dogs and from time to time these exchanges hit an enthusiastic pitch and the barking spreads across the neighbourhood.

One day I was sitting out reading and the sky started to turn angry. White clouds became grey clouds became black clouds. All of a sudden the mountains on the horizon were no longer there and slowly but surely the outer neighbourhoods were swallowed by the dark clouds.

Fierce forks of lightening slammed down on the suburbs in much the same vindictive way that Hitler’s Stukkas had once upon a time softened up the city for the jack booted entry of the strutting ranks of the Wehrmacht.

Anyone not watching the scene would have soon been alerted as the rooftop dogs started to howl at the approaching storm. And as the storm drew nearer, the dogs relayed the message with doleful howls. If you were getting ready to head out and your heard those howls you would be fool to leave your coat on the hook by the door.

Many in Athens are convinced that there is another storm on the way and they are trying to howl out a warning. It is a storm that the city has known several times in the past. Way back when in the days of togas and philosophy and stabbing spears, the government took a lurch to the right and cracked down on new liberal ideas. Socrates was deemed to be the problem and he decided to opt for suicide rather than execution. In the forties Greece was part of a big European club of countries who had Fascism pushed down their throats by the Nazi jackboot. The cancer returned in 1967 when the generals seized power and clamped down for seven years.

Now whenever you fall into a conversation with an Athenian is seems that there is an inevitability about the course that it will take. This isn’t a place where a chat tends to end in football. Instead they say that they have that Germany in the early thirties feeling. And to be honest history makes it easy to see why. Unemployment is over 25% in general and north of 70% for young people. Every week sees another 1000 join the list. Dole has been cut and it only lasts for a year. Then nothing. Nada. Zip. And there are not many who think there is a cat in hell’s chance of finding a job in a year. The shops are closing down one by one and people with rusting shopping trolleys wander the streets and root through bins. Anyone with any money is salting it out of the country in case it should be rendered worthless by a forced return to the Drachma. The super rich are getting out of Dodge as fast as they can and doing their bit to drive up the price of property in Mayfair and Belgravia.

Most consider the Government to be complete joke and it isn’t hard to see why. It is a sickly coalition riddled with corruption that in every way apes the bickering Parliaments of Weimar Germany that Hitler was able to shut down with such arrogant ease.

The state is withering on the vine. We visited a magnificent emergency food project where a bunch of volunteers were by hook or by crook managing to feed a hundred and fifty people a day. One of the volunteers had once upon a time been seconded to the project by the Health Board. Then they just stopped paying her. No letters. No redundancy. No appointment with a sombre line manager. Just no pay at the end of the month with no explanation. She still turns out twice a week as a volunteer. Her brother had been a big success in the boom years. He ran a hip club and drove a Merc. It’s all gone now and he lives of his mum’s pension: a pension that gets cut by 20% every three months of so.

The country is held together by strings and one by one they are fraying and snapping. The rich are leaving, the middle classes are being eroded and the poor are just plain screwed.

So, yeah. It has that last days of the Weimar Republic feel to it. The opinion polls show that with every passing week public support for the Golden Dawn party eases up and up. Golden Dawn. How quintessentially fascist are those two words! They put you in mind of those heroic posters that Hitler was so fond of. You know the kind of thing. Heroic looking blond men and women with determined faces and bulging, bronzed muscles all eager and ready to gather in the harvest and breed kids for the Fatherland.

Golden Dawn are up to 14% in the polls now and their message is hardly subtle. Things are crap and it’s all down to the immigrants. They don’t bother trying to put on any kind of gloss of respectability. They just say it like it is. Most wannabe Fascists in modern Europe at least make an effort to pretend that they are vaguely moderate in their hate. Marine Le Pen in France played the power dressed lawyer act and it was convincing enough to get her over 20% in the Presidential election. Even our own beloved BNP do all they can to claim they are more reasonable than the press tries to pretend.

Golden Dawn have no time for such subtlety. They want mine fields along the border with Turkey to blow up illegals before they get the chance to reach Greek soil. They advocate sticking every one of the millions of refugees on planes and flying them back to whence they came. And if starvation, torture and death await them in their homeland, then so be it.

If you want the services of a Golden Dawn stormtrooper for what ever reason, you can hire him in for 1.80 Euros an hour. He’ll no doubt get more than that. The party makes up the balance from their war chest. Who fills the war chest? Who knows, but it isn’t all that hard to guess. Many of those who filled their boots during their good times are no doubt a tad twitchy about things at the moment. If you have a million pound house up a leafy cul de sac and you haven’t paid a penny of tax for years, you are probably feeling a little vulnerable at the moment. It is a time when many in high tax dodging places probably feel the need for friends in low places. A nice cheque to the good old boys at Golden Dawn gets you a few goons at the front gate at 1.80 Euros an hour. It must be tempting to many who have happily sucked the country dry over the last few years.

History tells us that Fascism thrives when the State has all but given up the ghost. Almost everyone we met told us that there is no Government any more. There is a big fat vacuum that offers a perfect breeding ground for the headbangers of the right. What is left of the State seems to have little appetite to take them on. In the last elections Golden Dawn polled at its strongest in the areas immediately around major police stations. Nothing new there then. Instead of taking on the Fascists, what is left of the State seems to be using its energy to hammer down on anyone being too loud in their criticism of the austerity measures. Two years ago, before she became head of the IMF, Christine Legarde sent the Greek Government a list of 2000 citizens who had cash stashed away in a Zurich bank. She suggested they might look into the list and send out a few tax demands. Successive ministers managed to mislay and forget the list until a freelance journalist who has recently set up his own magazine decided to publish. My goodness me that got the engine of the State running at full revs. He was arrested and charged in days and spent a weekend in custody. In the end the charges were so laughable that they were thrown out, but the whole dismal episode showed where the government’s loyalties lay. Who was on the list? The usual suspects – politicians, big businessmen and gangsters. Oh, and their wives.

Twitter worked at its absolute best for us whilst we were in Athens. I tweeted an activist and freelancer who is at the forefront of the anti austerity campaign. I asked if we might meet up to find out what is happening and to get an intro to a food project. A reply fizzed in straight away. Sure. No problem. There would have been no way of making such a meet happen a few years ago. No wonder Fascists and dictators hate Twitter with such a visceral passion.

So we met and she proved to be a very impressive individual, if a little shaken. Golden Dawn ring her regularly to threaten all sorts of nasty stuff: as often as not it is her mum who picks up the phone. The day we met, she told of how as she was writing an e mail that afternoon, the lines on the computer disappeared as fast as she could type them. No matter how she tried, she could not seem to register as a follower of my Twitter site. She wondered if I would be flagged up on any shared MI5 lists? God knows. Probably. To cap it all her mobile phone was behaving in a distinctly peculiar fashion.

So there it was. A story that would seem so familiar to any well meaning liberal who tried to stem the Nazi Behemoth back in the late 20’s and early 30’s. They failed of course, and those who had spoken out against the brownshirts got beaten to a pulp in Buchenwald and Dachau. That is when you know a real storm is a coming. It is when the State, the gangsters, big business and the pavement Fascists start to work together. Try to shine a light on it, and you get locked up at best and beaten black and blue at worst.

We like to think it could never happen again. Maybe it can’t. Maybe it won’t. But when you hear those rooftop dogs start to howl, it is worth looking out of the window to see if a storm is on the way.

And they are howling right now.    


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