The Invisible Bank Manager – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Gerald Thwaites – The Invisible Bank Manager

It was  1999,  and  Gerald Thwaites was in his mid forties, when he started to become invisible. Running a small high street branch of Barclays Bank in Potters Bar, it was his secretary Fiona, who first spotted that his left arm was missing. Although the process was gradual, after six months there was very little left of him to recognize, and he found it increasingly more difficult to discuss business with his customers.

At first he decided to wrap himself in a clean bandage every morning to disguise his physical absence, but he had terrible problems in travelling from his home by train – where he lived in Colchester – and suffered ribald remarks like “Here comes Fred the Faro” and  questions like “Which pyramid do you live in mate,” and “How’s mummy today?” This caused his general depression to increase, and his normal self esteem to almost leave him, but he was not a man to give up that easily.

Sometimes, he was difficult to find, but he continued to go to his office, although by now he had taken to sitting in a cupboard, and shouting to his customers through the keyhole. But soon his bosses at head office came to hear about his bizarre condition. Having worked for the bank for many years, they were reluctant to let him go, but suggested that he took some leave and some medical tests.

However, these tests were difficult to perform, because every time a doctor told him to take his clothes off, he immediately disappeared, leaving hospital staff extremely bewildered. His wife, Mildred, was of course very concerned, although to her he had been invisible for many years, and she only noticed him at all when she needed some more housekeeping money, a holiday, or a new car. Finally, his bosses suggested the use of a hologram.

Although technically successful, in the end this experiment did not work at all well. While ‘techno’ Gerald Thwaites would beam from the manager’s desk, as the real Gerald Thwaites shouted from the office cupboard, customers took to poking their fingers into the ethereal manager sitting before them, and laughing.

It was a complete failure. In the end, it was suggested by the management that he took early retirement, or look for a job where his absence would not be noticed at all. In the end, it was generally agreed that the best place for him to work was Bulgaria.

As it turned out, it was a wise choice. But he was not to know that at the time, as he invisibly stumbled naked onto a British Airways flight at Gatwick airport – which he was advised to do, in order to save the fare – nor was he particularly pleased when he arrived in Sofia Airport, in the cold light of a winter’s day.

In the absence of any difficulties with passport control and customs, within minutes of arriving,  Gerald Thwaites found himself standing outside the airport. Wrapping himself in some old copies of the Sofia Independent he found, and hugging the rear end of a number 84 bus, he finally made his way to Sofia, and a new career in Banking.

Gerald Thwaites discovered the keys to his new apartment, under a stone in the garden, and a supply of fresh bandages in the bathroom cabinet. Finally, he had reached his destination. Being invisible had created certain logistical problems, but when he opened the wardrobe in the bedroom and discovered his clothes hanging there waiting for him, he realised that all was well. On the dining room table there were two unopened letters, so he sat down and slowly read them.

The first letter was from the First Reich Bank, confirming his appointment as administration manager. It was warming, and welcoming, and in it the managing director gave him two weeks to settle in, before starting his job. It was also pointed out with great amusement, that the whole point of his employer’s presence in Bulgaria, was to do as little as possible. According to Giles Hawthorn, his new boss, the current  ‘in’ word in Sofia banking was ‘no!’

The second letter was from his wife, Mildred, which he opened with some concern, because she had not spoken to him, nor seen him for months. Uninspired and passionless she told him to wrap up warm, and not to drink too much alcohol. In her letter, she said – “I will personally take care of the family drinking, and I have already made arrangements with an off license in Colchester, for weekly consignments of gin.” At least this was one problem he didn’t have to face!

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Mildred Thwaites

The bank was new, situated away from the town centre, from attendant prying eyes, and gossip. It was also easy for him to come and go from his office, without much attention being paid to him. During working hours, and being a man of determination – despite being invisible – he tried to improve his appearance by wearing a variety of fashionable glasses, and different coloured gloves, to compensate for his obvious absence.

One day Vera his secretary – who came from Slivin – told him that she found him very attractive, more so than previous boyfriends, whom she generally met at the International Club, where she went regularly. And, due to his wife’s protracted absence, they started a heated love affair.

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Vera from Slivin

Vera was known to like bankers, because she was deluded in the belief that they actually had some money. But she also found this new relationship very challenging, and at times somewhat confusing. Not knowing what Gerald looked like, it was not easy for her, to fake an orgasm, especially if all she could see was a bobbing white bandaged head, or occasionally nothing at all. This surreal aspect of their romance was often hard for her to cope with, especially when faced with unrelated gasps and expletives, which seemed to be unleashed from nowhere.

Professionally, Gerald Thaites was doing well, and after a few weeks he had mastered the art of confusion. He discovered that by finding different things wrong with a feasibility study, he could elongate his discussions with customers for up to six months, before saying “Yes, you cannot have a loan, or no, you can have a loan, but it’s got to be more than $3 billion USD., so we will have to organize  another feasibility study!” It was all good for a laugh, and well within the bank’s policy strategy.

Meanwhile, his wife, Mildred, continued to write – often incoherently – informing him that she would not move to Sofia, unless they opened a Marks and Spencer store. But, by now, Gerald found this all rather reassuring, especially since Vera announced that she had become mysteriously pregnant.

She insisted that Gerald got a divorce from Mildred, and that they should get married – despite his somewhat unusual appearance – although, from time to time, she did express some anxiety about giving birth to a number of bandages, or even, giving birth to an invisible offspring which would keep getting lost. It was not easy for her to comprehend, but nevertheless in her own heart, she believed that she had Gerald Thwaites completely ‘nailed.’

He of course thought differently, knowing that he could escape at any time, by simply ripping off his cloths, and flying back to England. After all, it would be difficult to prove the true culprit, as it would be to identify him by a DNA test. He could simply disappear again, but this time, for good! All this would have been easy, but then suddenly, something rather odd happened.

One day, when he was attending a meeting at the ministry of finance, when Gerald Thwaites shook hands with the Prime Minister, and the Minister of Finance, a remarkable thing started to happen. Gazing at the empty sleeve of his jacket, during the ensuing heated discussion, he noticed that his right hand was slowly becoming visible once more. This made him very concerned, and not a little confused.

Whereas Gerald Thwaites had reached a new hiatus with the re-emergence of his right hand, and his somewhat fawning relationship with Vera his secretary – who came from Sliven – now that the days had rolled into weeks, and the weeks into months, his bandaged and shambling form, had become a part of the Sofia scenery.

In the warmth of an early spring, Gerald now found a peculiar freedom, and was often seen in public – occasionally wearing a loud Caribbean shirt – with Vera at his side; shy reticent, and inclined to use the side streets. But then things took a turn for the worse. Because Mildred, his wife, suddenly changed her mind.

In the past, she had clearly stated that she would not move to Sofia until there was a Marks and Spencer’s store, but she now found herself motivated by greater events. In a rather incoherent and rambling letter, Mildred declared that she would now be coming to live once again with Gerald.

In her letter she wrote – “ I have been assured by the manager of Threshers my off-license in Colchester, that gin is cheaper in Bulgaria, and since it is incumbent on me to be responsible for the family drinking, I shall be arriving shortly, as soon as I have consumed, my last crate of Gordons.” The facts were made abundantly clear to him.

The letter then stumbled on, into lesser details, where questions arose about the wholesale price of lemons, and tonic water, together with a strangely unconnected question about Marmite! But nevertheless, Gerald felt in his bones that the game was up, when she asked for detailed information about what sort of social life she could expect? What was the ex-pat community in Sofia like? Where could she safely go and drink gin and tonic? Who would be her friends? And finally, was there an International Women’s Club? Gerald did not know what to reply.

As previously explained, in England, Gerald Thwaites had been invisible to his wife Mildred for years, even before he had actually become invisible, so he found it quite difficult to give a clear answer.

Luckily, as spring progressed, by the time the heat of the summer had arrived, his passion had begun to cool for Vera, who was now curiously courting another without any mention of her  pregnancy, now obviously forgotten. They had met one quite night at the International Club, where she had found Geralds replacement. A rather large and ancient American bank manager, he was given to reading feasibility studies to Vera in bed, as a small part of her new, arduous and tiring duties.

But, Gerald was not broken hearted, on the contrary, he felt relieved, because he had become cogently aware of the many wagging tongues which could quite easily find their way to Mildred. The International Club was like a leaky sieve, when it came to protecting ones private life, and keeping secrets! But, this was a chance he had to take.

Mildred finally arrived one hot and sultry day, and having been badgered and messed about at the airport, she was not in a very good mood when she met Gerald at the reception point. He was surprised how much she had changed, and for her part – despite his bizarre appearance – she was similarly surprised by his obvious popularity amongst visitors to Sofia Airport; due no doubt to his occasional interviews in the Sofia Echo. Now, despite his anonymous demeanour, she saw him differently. Looking at the motionless white bandaged blob before her, she thought ‘Perhaps they were right? Perhaps Bulgaria was the right place for him?’

Trying hard to forget all those sultry nights spent with Vera, Gerald now attempted to look upon his wife Mildred with greater interest. Dressed for a garden party at the palace, she had brought her ‘aspiring middle class’ fashion to Sofia. Mainly purchased through a somewhat outdated Freeman’s Catalogue, and looking like some incongruous ‘Aunt Sally,’ she stood out against the backdrop of black frocked Bulgarian women, who all seemed by contrast, to be more suited to certain activities of the night. Gerald was a man who now knew about such things, and as Mildred took the tiller of Gerald’s life once more, she placed cold fear into his heart.

On the journey by taxi to Sofia, Mildred was very curious about Gerald’s six months of freedom. How much money was he making? What sort of car did he have? How much was the rent on his flat? What sort of expenses did the First Reich Bank give him, and finally, how much would he give her? Once more – in her mind – he had relapsed into this pathetic money-box she had always perceived him as.

“And, which clubs do you belong to, here in Sofia, Gerald” – she demanded to know, and Geralds mind raced, as the questions dug deep into his private world? Perhaps in a former life, Mildred had worked for the Gestapo, because as he stuttered and prevaricated, in his mind’s eye, he somehow saw Mildred dressed in a black SS nazi uniform! But realizing that his long nights of passion would now be replaced by cups of Horlicks, and hours of mental repression, inspiration suddenly struck!

“Why don’t you join the diplomatic club, there are lots of people like you there. I am sure you will find a lot in common.” It was the answer to his prayers, and then, in order to placate her even further, he said – “Oh, and downstairs where we live, I forgot to tell you Mildred,  there is a garage shop which sells Gordon’s gin at a special discounted price.” Finally, he falteringly said – “I am sure you will get on very well here, Mildred.”

But not even Mildred – who had very little imagination – could doubt the look of cold fear, hidden behind Gerald Thwaites bandaged head, as he made these amiable remarks in an attempt to appease the situation.

Mildred for some reason found her feet quite quickly at the Diplomatic Club, as she fondly referred to it. Meeting diplomats and their wives, the leaders of business, and the experts which surrounded them, her mind was soon opened to the rich history of Bulgaria as she listened to the profound opinions of those whose job it was to to know, and understand.

“We live in momentous times,” she would fondly say, as she often recounted little gems of history, she had managed to glean between gin and tonics. “Did you know Gerald,” – her accent had recently become singularly reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher – “That Todor Zhivkov is a member of the currency board, and  that his late daughter, Lyudmila, built the town hall in Cricklewood? ” It was then that Gerald Thwaites started to plan his escape.

Although just a daydream at the time, unfortunately, there were two major things missing in his plan. Firstly, he needed lots of money, and secondly somewhere to go, and although the fact that he was almost invisible, was part of his envisioned plan, one day – as he inspected the drawings of the bank and the codes to the safe – he realized that his plan was very real. After a few more weeks of Mildreds humiliation and bullying, he put his plan into action.

It was four o’clock in the morning, and Gerald Thwaites sat gloomily in the broom-closet on the first floor of the bank. Agonizing over his decision to evaporate from Bulgaria, and with the seemingly static passing of time, it was a moment of painful self-analysis and heart searching for him. This was because, he was not only escaping from his ghastly lawful wife, but he was propelling himself into the murky world of criminality, and that of the eternally pursued. Like some sort of invisible Ronald Biggs, he would now have to travel the world as an outsider, waiting to be trapped in some South American hellhole, by a latter day ‘Slipper of New Scotland Yard;’ or some humourless German equivalent.

However, the Bulgarian police would not be after him, a matter he had skillfully arranged by the handing over of a brown paper envelope to the First Secretary of the Ministery of The Interior. Gerald knew where this government ministers girlfriend lived, and the number of his safe deposit box at the bank. There were ‘no flies on Gerald Thwaites.’

The only trouble was that there actually were a few flies on him! As he thrashed about in the cupboard in pursuit of an elusive and irritating insect which was attacking his naked private parts, it seemed that his entire world was deteriorating in total confusion, if not into Bedlam. The sound of a mop leaving its resting place in a tin bucket, the sight of a seemingly detached and whirling luminous watch, the smell of sweat, together with the cold sense of fear, made Gerald picture his grotesque wife, and the options left open to him. Anything was better than a life of utter despondency and servitude.

Finally, the combined smell of gin and Horlicks suddenly pervaded his tortured memory, and instantly put paid to any lingering doubts about his leaving. The constraints imposed on him by this great wobbly tyrannical wife, totally ended any passing feelings of guilt.

Repressed in every conceivable way, it was Bulgaria that had opened his eyes to the realities of life. Thinking back to the day he had arrived on the back of the number 84 bus, the discovery of cheap and good quality bandages in which to disguise his invisibility, the sudden passion inspired by Vera from Slivin; all this had turned him into what he perceived as the glorious menopausal Renaissance man he was today.

In common with the many other foreigners who inhabited the four ale bars of Sofia, he had finally realized that there was life after the age of fifty, and that sex and Rock ‘n Roll still existed as an option, even though the record had become a little scratched over time.

From now on life would be better – moreover, even exciting – and his duty towards his awful lawful wife, was at an end. There would be no more early morning tea, unending washing up, and embarrassing bleary breakfast explanations. In fact, no more anything!

The thought of his depressing perennial morning journey to his wife’s bedroom –  tripping over, over-laden ashtrays, and half empty glasses of gin – his  slavish apologies for the sloppy milky tea, and her constant bleating demands for sex; this would now come to an end.

A fly which had catapulted itself up Gerald’s nether regions, simultaneously catapulted him through the cupboard door, causing him to crash into a fire extinguisher, injuring his already irritated private parts. Sitting on the floor of the carpeted corridor, Gerald took a few minutes to recover, before making for the stairs, and down to the basement. This was where he confronted the massively intricate safe. He now knew all the codes, and full full instructions on how it operated, but the greatest challenge was to get his timing right.

He knew that the automatic clock would allow the tumblers to disengage at exactly eight o’clock in the morning. In the past, he would be the first to arrive at the bank at this time, having been delivered to the front door, by the banks limo. But at four in the morning, there was little hope for him opening this German monolith, without the assistance of a quantity of Semtex B.  He had acquired half a kilo from a dodgy Bulgarian, soldier who used the bank, and some jetex fuse. He had bought it from the local model shop, together with a balsa wood model of a Hawker Hunter Mark III jet aircraft.

Having spent two weeks assembling this model, in what little spare time Mildred had allowed, he at last had the final alibi necessary to create the required explosion.  This would disassemble the door to the safe, which he had timed for six o’clock sharp, leaving him ample opportunity to inhibit all the security devices. A piece of cake, because he was used to this procedure as a part of his daily routine,  all that remained was how to assure his escape. That was the question?

Situated in Doctors Gardens, the bank had been built in a mainly residential area, so a loud bang at six in the morning had no fears for Gerald, knowing the great majority of local residents were foreigners, who would have been drinking heavily until all hours of the morning. A massive explosion of Semtex would not arouse them from their slumbers, nor their incumbent girlfriends, who seldom if ever emerged from their beds until well past midday. In that part of Sofia, few people were about at that time of the morning, including street cleaners, criminals or even policemen. But how would Gerald get away with a cool five million euros, which was his firm intention?

In the past, his determined analysis has precluded the use of a mountain bike or a car, as the sight of a riderless bicycle or a driver less car, might have provoked some interest from a casual observer, as he propelled himself towards his final destination, and freedom. Even in Sofia this would have been considered an unusual sight, so other means for his final exit had to be sought!

Five million Euros in 500 Euro notes is not a very bulky item in itself, and it fits neatly into a large military sized rucksack. Having discounted cars and bicycles; in order to make his final escape, Gerald had simply planned to casually jog through town to Sofia Airport, with the money strapped to his back. Ever considering the vast weight that the five million would represent – and the mental determination required in order to carry it – he had trained diligently to raise his physical status, by running up and down stairs at the bank, for the preceding three months, and not using the elevator.

His final plan was simple. For his final escape, he would wear a pair of inconspicuous red Nike trainers, together with a pink jockstrap for his own personal comfort. Whilst carefully painting his Hawker Hunter Mark III bright red, he had also painted Pizza Express on the rucksack that was ultimately intended for his final departure, which he knew it would work, and wouldn’t look out of place in Sofia; it was a cinch!

Promptly at six an almighty explosion rent the air in Doctors Gardens. As expected, there was no reaction, except by some nervous pigeons which took flight at the sight of some shattering glass, and falling slates. A dog barked, and a car alarm went off, but other than that, with quite a lot of dust and debris, nothing else happened.

Gerald was gleeful as the great steel door swung open, to reveal a cloud of fluttering banknotes, having used a tad more Semtex than was necessary. Most of the damaged cash was in the local currency, which was of no interest to our now successful bank robber, as he clambered into the gaping vault to retrieve the stash of Euros he had carefully earmarked the day before. Carefully stacked in a secluded corner, and neatly packed for transit, the flat bundles easily fitted into the Pizza Express rucksack, which he had kept hidden in his office. Gerald was delighted. Donning his red Nike trainers, and putting on his recently laundered colour coordinated jock strap, he was ready to set out on the journey of a lifetime.

Finally away from his appalling wife, Mildred, the ghastly bank, his broken hearted relationship with Vera, and the incredibly boring fellow members of the International Club for Foreigners, Sofia was shortly to become history! Gerald Thwaites never looked back, and reappearing bit by bit, is now a respected expat, happily living  in Havana.

A New Beginning for Brexit? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Emmanuel Macron President of France

France is not famous for having tall presidents – with the exception of General De Gaulle that is – but in terms of height, Emmanuel Macron certainly towers over the last three, particularly in popularity. As the result of beating Marin Du Pen by some two thirds majority, in the recent election, considering that he did so with an independent mandate, might well underline Europes fear of right wing extremism as well as its past oscillation, between the right and the left. By securing the middle ground, perhaps we are now seeing a Blairite reawakening in European politics?

By ignoring the boring and stale views of traditional political parties, stigma infested clichés, rampant popularism, bewildering and unworkable manifestos – presently being banded around by British politicians – is it any wonder that the EU itself, is now looking for a new view on Europe? Seeming to ally himself with free thinking politico’s, as well as good old common sense, perhaps we can now look to Macron, France and Germany, for some new ideas in the future?

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It is hard to imagine the UK; now looking across the Atlantic at its oft declared special relationship, seeking any new ideas from the US, since the Trump camp is now exclusively backing a closed economy, and which it can easily afford to do. Britain, on the other hand, might have big ideas about the wonders of Brexit and the Commonwealth, but it simply cannot exist without a strong position in Europe. That cannot be described as a win win situation, because, on the contrary, Mays – getting a good deal for the UK – can never be as good as the one it already has. Macron stated his position some months before the French election, indicating that he will not allow the British Government an easy Brexit passage, and he shows no signs of changing his views.

As an Englishman abroad, I find it easy to discern the difference between internal British propaganda, and the views of Europe, despite a dogged attempt by the British news media to bang the drum of nationalism. Because, that is how Brexit is now conceived in the UK press. The churlishness and deceit of the right wing press – discounting the 48% of voters who chose to remain in the EU – and the rotten means they used to sway the miniscule 2% of the British population in voting leave, defies all definitions of honesty and integrity.

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And now – if you have been unwise enough to admit voting to remain – certain groups will, unbelievably, brand you as a traitor. Well, George Orwell had this situation summed up in in his book 1984, and to some extent in Animal Farm! In the new era of ‘Alternative Facts,’ must we commend politicians for their bare faced lies? Is that all Donald Trump has done for the world?

According to the Observer newspaper, on the 25th January last – ‘People were already comparing the Trump era to George Orwell’s famed dystopian novel 1984, but all it took was one comment from Kellyanne Conway to send the books flying off the shelves. In the wake of her use of the phrase “alternative facts” to refer to White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s comments about Donald Trump’s inauguration attracting “the largest audience ever,” the book surged to #6 on Amazon’s Bestseller list, reached #2 Tuesday night and took the #1 spot by Wednesday morning.’

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President and First Lady Briggite Macron

There is a certain air of superiority in Europe, which I admire greatly. They do not fall for the vulgar and brash, or the bone crunching handshakes of Donald Trump, nor do they appreciate the fool he has made of himself, at the G7 Conference?

I suppose internally, the US either doesn’t see, or understand the amused contempt Europe has for America’s new jackass president. But then again, neither does Trump have much time for Europe. Why? Because he does not understand it, nor could he care less about it. Displaying a degree of ignorance, unprecedented in modern times, he reflects the post WW2 view of US servicemen in the UK, that – ‘They are overpaid, and over here!’

Living in Todays Balkans – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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For those of you who have been living in The Balkans for some time, much of what I am about to say may seem to be an oversimplification. But for many of us, who were here at the beginning –  on the cusp of post modern Communism – the bureaucracy has become far easier to cope with. The EU has stamped its mark on much of the time wasting and frustrating issues, which once beset a would be foreign resident, of Northern Greece or Bulgaria, so buying or renting a property, and living in this charming part of Europe, is no longer such a challenge –  The Editor

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT BULGARIA

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HOW TO GET THERE

The four main Bulgarian airports are in Sofia the capital, Plovdiv the provincial capital, together with the ports of Varna and Burgas. We are concentrating on the latter three which are within travelling distance of the Thracian region in South Eastern Bulgaria. Most of the cut price airlines fly to the Balkans and do good one way prices, as well as return tickets. Failing that you might be surprised at ticket prices from people like Hogg Robinson Group Jamadvice, if you cannot get on a particular flight. Here are some useful websites:

Ryan Air to Plovdiv –                    www.ryanair.com

Easy Jet to Sofia –                         www.easyjet.com

Wizz Air to Burgas –                     www.wizzair.com

Most of the national carriers are reducing their prices but not at short notice, and although Ticket and Travel Agents are a bit hit and miss, I have used the following.

HRG Jamadvice –                            www.jamadvice.eu

Carlson Wagonlit –                         www.carlsonwagonlit.net

INTERNAL FLIGHTS

You have a choice – take it or leave it – in Bulgaria, although in the summer there are some excursion flights to Burgas, Varna and Plovdiv. So unquestionably, Bulgaria Air is your best bet. Most internal flights take up to one hour:

Bulgarian Air                               www.air.bg/en

CAR HIRE

Avis                                               www.avis.bg

Auto Europe                                  www.autoeurope.eu

Hertz                                             www.hertz.bg

Europe Car                                    www.europcar.com

HOTELS

Svilengrad – And in the Thracian region generally.

Hotel Central –             http://www.bgtravelguide.com/en/show/hotel-central-891.html

Hotel Romantica –       http://www.hotelromantica.eu/   – flashy, but good restaurant

Elhovo

Hotel Diana                          http://bgstay.com/en-o-3121-family_hotel_diana

Burgas Area                         http://bgstay.com/map-bulgaria –  easy to navigate

Sofia

Art Hotel                            http://www.artehotelbg.com/en/index/

Niky Hotel                         http://www.hotel-niky.com/   (good Bulgarian cuisine)

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Plovdiv

Hebros Hotel –                     http://www.hebros-hotel.com/  (once a commie hangout)

Plovdiv Area –                     http://www.plovdivhotels.com/

MEDICAL

Medical treatment is unpredictable in Bulgaria, although most treatment is well intended. Visiting a doctor is not a big deal, but there may be a language difficulty. Many of the specialists speak English or German, but the majority of the general practitioners do not. They will know what your European Health Insurance Card is, and act accordingly, but it may be wise to take a Bulgarian speaker with you. If you are a foreign resident in Bulgaria, and pay your social security payments to the authorities, then you are eligible to receive treatment from all the local state health providers. You will be issued with a Pass Book, once you have confirmed full payment of your taxes. However, very little is on offer under those circumstances – other that A & E issues which are reasonable – so it is a good idea to pay for your treatment as you go, which is generally a very small amount. There are a number of Private Clinics around which offer basic medical treatment for a monthly fee, but they are quite useless for any serious complaints, and will consign you to the local A & E without compunction. So, you would be wise to insure against any serious conditions, there being some acceptable private hospitals in the urban areas of Bulgaria, particularly in Sofia and Plovdiv. For serious illness, a second opinion is always advisable, and always remember, Greece is just down the road!

LAWYERS & NOTARY’s

English speaking Lawyers are not rare in Bulgaria, but it is wise for you to pick a young solicitor from a well established firm. Many Bulgarians do their own legal work, because daily, they are awash with contracts and agreements, and have become used to their own familiar subjects. Property purchase, is quite a different matter, especially if you are buying an older house from a local. However, a Notary does hold sway in these matters, so it pays to go to a well established one who is used to being listened to, speaks English, and is well respected. Keep away from local experts, because they tend to be good at looking after their own interests first, and not yours.

BANKS

You can open an account at a bank in Bulgaria with ease. As long as your documents are in order – always bring your Birth Certificate with you – and there are no language difficulties. The Bank of Piraeus is to be found in most Bulgarian towns and cities, as is the Raiffeisen Bank, but most Bulgarian banks are well run these days, and there have been few incident’s of bank failure. It is really a matter of language and communication, for newbies, because thereafter you can manage your accounts electronically and in most European languages.

BUILDERS

This is an open issue for expats, because once more, the story is about communication, and very few Bulgarian builders or architects can speak other languages. However, there are a number of ex-pat builders in Bulgaria who have learnt to cope with the Balkan mentality, and are able to carry out complicated renovation work. Many are on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn – have a look. 

TAX

According to a report made by KPMG the following link should bring you up to speed on the present Bulgarian tax rules. Until now the tax laws have remained constant and very generous, and with a country still in transition, it is fairly lax by most European standards.

http://www.kpmg.com/global/en/issuesandinsights/articlespublications/taxation-international-executives/bulgaria/pages/income-tax.aspx   (ctrl + click)

As part of the registration process it is wise to visit an Accountant who will steer a would-be property purchaser, in the right direction. Most documents and agreements in Bulgaria are littered with registration numbers – not only a passport or identity card information – but an EGN or National Security Number together with an internal visa identity number or ‘Certificate for Residence Permit,’ as it is known today. A good lawyer will put you on the right track with residence issues, and get you registered within reasonable time.

THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT GREECE

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HOW TO GET TO GREEK EVROS

Most of the cut price airlines fly to the Balkans these days and do good one way prices, as well as return tickets. Failing that you might be surprised at ticket prices from people like Hogg Robinson if you cannot get on to a particular flight. Here are some useful websites:

Ryan Air-                                           www.ryanair.com

Easy Jet-                                            www.easyjet.com

Monarch Airlines –                          www.monarch.co.uk

Aegean and Olympic Airways usually cost an arm and a leg on their international routes, but are excellent value for internal flights in and around the many Greek islands and destinations. Ticket and Travel Agents are a bit hit and miss, but we have successfully used the following on many occasions:

HRG Jamadvice –                            www.jamadvice.eu

Carlson Wagonlit –                         www.carlsonwagonlit.net

INTERNAL FLIGHTS

You have a choice – take it or leave it – in Greece, although during the summer there are some excursion flights to Alexandropoulis. So unquestionably, Aegean is your best bet. Internal flights take up to one hour to Alexandroupoli.

Aegean –                                           www.aegeanair.com

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CAR HIRE

Avis –                                                                  www.avis.gr

Auto Europe –                                                    www.autoeurope.eu

Hertz –                                                                www.hertz.gr

Europcar –                                                          www.europcar.com

Six T –                                                                  www.sixt.com

HOTELS

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Alexandroupolis

Erica Hotel –                         www.hotel-erika.gr/

Hili Hotel –                           www.hilihotel.gr

Tripadvisor –                         www.tripadvisor.com

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Orestiada 

Vienna Hotel –                    www.hotel-vienni.gr

Tripadvisor –                       www.tripasvisor.com

MEDICAL

Doctors are well trained in Greece – remember Hippocrates – and many have trained around the world in UK Germany and the US. To a visitor, the cost is very reasonable at between 30 – 50 Euros a visit and most good doctors speak the English or German language. They will know what your European Health Insurance Card is, and act accordingly. Medicines have to be paid for, over the counter, if you are visiting Greece. If you live here, you will need to register with the new Health Authority called EOPYY, which is the successor to IKA. Pensioners receive free medical attention if they are registered and can buy medicines for between 10 and 25 % of the cost. Teaching Hospitals are free to all as in most countries, but – and it is a big but – they are only good for specialist treatment and A & E.

LAWYERS & NOTARY’S

Most Greek lawyers speak English for prospective property purchasers. However, in Greece all legal matters come under the scrutiny of the Notary who acts as an independent arbiter on behalf of the State, Vendor and Purchaser. Without their agreement, papers cannot be accepted and contracts completed.

BANKS

A bank savings account may be opened quite easily through the presentation of a valid Passport or Identity Card and an IBAN number issued. Most Greek banks have English or German speaking staff and problems with communication are fairly small and rare. The popular bank for the whole of the Balkan area is the Bank of Piraeus, together with the National Bank of Greece, but there are plenty of other choices. You must ask your home bank to recommend their preference for a particular Greek bank, in order to facilitate a final purchase. All Greek banks have now been audited and approved by the Greek Government and the international community.

BUILDERS

Very few local builders speak English, but most Architects do speak other languages and are useful for house purchasers who need quality renovation works carried out, or even new build. However, in nearby Bulgaria there are also a number of ex-pat builders, who are able to offer their services to foreign purchasers in Evros. Things have moved on recently, and the free market views of the EU are finally being respected by the Greek Authorities, from the point of view of official work and purchase receipts.

TAX

According to a report made by KPMG the following link should bring you up to speed on the present Greek tax rules.

https://home.kpmg.com/gr/en/home/services/tax.html

Up until now the tax law has been rather mysterious, but with the latest EU regulations and new transparency, Greece’s membership of the EU is no longer a cloudy issue.  My only contribution to the debate is that – in common with most other EU countries – each house owner has to make an annual tax return and there are English or German speaking accountants in the bigger towns.

Secret Greek Island of Samothraki – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Do you long a for a vacation, which is a secret of the northern Greeks? Samothraki is beginning to open up to international tourists, and particularly to those who enjoy nature in its wilder forms. According to Homer, Samothrace was the island from which Poseidon watched the fall of Troy, and where Philip, the father of Alexander the Great, was born – The Ediitor

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Samothrace, a relatively small island in the North Aegean near Turkey, has made one major contribution to world culture—the magnificent sculpture of Nike that gave its image to the Rolls Royce radiator cap, and its name to the world’s largest sports shoe manufacturer. Nearly eleven feet tall, winged, headless, and armless, the statue is a masterpiece of Hellenistic sculpture, summing up all the accomplishments of the Greeks at the very historical moment that their power was beginning to wane.

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If you actually want to see Nike, however, you shouldn’t go to Samothrace; the sculpture has been in the Louvre since shortly after its 1863 discovery by French amateur archaeologist Charles Champoiseau. What should draw you to Samothrace is a chance to see a less commercialized Greek island that remains rich in natural wonders—one of the highest mountain ranges in the Aegean, with clear streams of cascading waterfalls and rock pools for swimming, a landscape that stays green through late summer, and a coastline of secluded sand and pebble beaches. And though the original Nike may be absent, her spirit lingers in the beautifully sited Sanctuary of the Great Gods where she was discovered, looking north over the ocean.

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The villages of Samothrace

Your first introduction to the island will be via the port town of Kamariotissa—a small but bustling village that consists mostly of a long narrow main street that runs along the harbour’s edge. Here you’ll find a string of cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs, broken only by the occasional shop offering souvenirs or beach essentials, a few banks with ATMs, the island’s only internet café, and most of its car and motorcycle rentals. Kamariotissa is, in summer, more or less non-stop traffic, and this is even more pronounced when the ferries arrive, disgorging scores of cars and motorbikes, along with hundreds of mostly Greek tourists looking to rent the same. There are hotels and apartments in town—most of right behind the main street—but unless you’re really attached to nightlife, you should seek lodgings elsewhere, along the north shore where Samothrace’s beauty lies.

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If you head out of town on the main road for about 14 km, you will come to Therma. Despite being a small cluster of hotels, rental apartments, and shops and restaurants catering to tourists, Therma is actually quite pretty due to the lush foliage that surrounds and runs through the middle of it. Because it lies within walking distance of several campgrounds, it’s also the alternative nightlife spot on the island—evenings find it thronged with waifish-looking Greek youth in dreadlocks and rumpled clothing. It’s conveniently located right above a pebble beach with a small harbour where tour boats depart for daily circuits of the island, and as the name suggests, Therma is the site of the island’s mineral springs, a business that attracts both the elderly and infirm and the young and New Age.

The island’s capital, Hora, is concealed in a natural amphitheatre in the mountain six kilometres above Kamariotissa—the better to hide it from pirates during the medieval period. It’s a small but charming town of narrow streets that twist their ways up and down along the hillside, and the central section offers a number of popular restaurants, Greek-style kafeneion with their tables spilling out onto the street, and trendy Western-styled cafés, many with beautiful views over the sea. It also hosts the island’s small hospital, a tiny but entrancing folklore museum, and the ruins of a fort.

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Beaches on Samothrace

Pachia Ammos (pictured), on the south shore about 15 km from Kamariotissa, is postcard-perfect—nestled between two arms of rock that extend into the sea, with dramatic cliffs rising above it. The beach offers 800 meters of sand and protected swimming, stretching from a well-developed south end (offering a beach bar, an excellent fish tavern, freshwater showers, and chaise lounges with sun umbrellas) to a quiet and undeveloped end on the north (offering peace and solitude). The beach is accessible by bus from Kamariotissa.

The second most popular beach is Kipos, a kilometre-long pebble beach that curves around the eastern tip of the island. Though it lacks Pachia Ammos’s sand, it does offer very comfortable sunbathing, crystal-clear water for snorkelling and diving, and an even stronger dose of peace and solitude (although there is a small food stand). Kipos lies about 18 km east of Therma on the north shore road, and also can be reached by bus.

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The stunning Vatos beach vies with Pachia Ammos for sand and scenery, but can only be reached by tour boat or several hours of hiking from Pachia Ammos. However, nearly the entire north shore of Samothrace functions as a beach. The road follows the sea closely, and there are innumerable quiet spots where visitors pull off and walk down to claim their own private pebble beach nestled in the curve of the shoreline.

Food and Fun on Samothrace

In addition to the nightlife of Kamariotissa, there are a few places that shouldn’t be missed. The hillside village of Profitas Ilias boasts four tavernas specializing in goat—all of them are good, but Vrachos, in the centre of town, is rightly acknowledged as the best. In the even smaller town of Ano Meries, a few kilometres off the north shore road near Kipos, is Kurdish, which serves a wide range of tasty Greek foods in a garden setting. The cozy To Stenaki in Hora makes wonderful crepes for those whose sweet tooth demands more than the fruit offered by most tavernas. Finally, be sure to try some of the fish tavernas located along the north shore like To Acholiadi.

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Your sightseeing should begin with a trip around the island.The boat “Samothraki” makes all-day trips that include a brief history and some remarkable views you can’t see otherwise, as well as swimming stops at several beaches and a cookout (the boat is associated with the Petrinos Kipos restaurant in Kamariotissa). After that introduction, you should pay a visit to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods. The earliest discoveries here date back before the Olympian deities to the earliest fertility goddesses of the Mediterranean, and the Sanctuary was the site of a mystery cult that continued well into the time of Christ (everyone from Odysseus to Philip of Macedon was said to be an initiate). In addition to the Sanctuary itself, which warrants several hours of hiking and contemplation, there’s a small museum with an exact replica of the Nike.

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Another destination should be the Fonias River, called “the killer” because of the massive floods that sweep down it every spring. A 30-minute walk along a boulder-strewn and tree-shaded path leads you to a lovely waterfall and swimming basin, and a second waterfall awaits another 30 minutes up the hillside, though this hike is a bit more treacherous due to the unstable path. For committed hikers, it is possible to make it to the top of the 1611-meter high Mount Fengari, the place from which the god Poseidon legendarily watched the Trojan War, but it’s not recommended without a guide from the Samothrace Hiking Club.

To relax from your exertions, try the sulfur springs of Therma—there is a commercial spa in town or you can walk up the road to the right of the spa to find two free locations. The first is enclosed and tends to attract younger people, while an outdoor bath overlooking the harbour is frequented by older people. To cap off the day’s activities, the island runs a steady schedule of free cultural entertainment in the three main villages, ranging from traditional dance groups, to contemporary musicians from Greece and Turkey; which lies only a few kilometres away. Schedules are hung in almost every café and hotel, but are unfortunately only in Greek, which means you’ll have to ask for a translation.

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Hotels on Samothrace

Kamariotissa offers a number of hotels; if you’re committed to staying near the action, your best bet is the Nike Beach Hotel Nike Beach Hotel at the north edge of town—it has sea views, wheelchair access, and is within walking distance of the fun. In the area of Palaiopolis, Samothraki Village offers accommodation with free Wi-Fi, a swimming pool and separate children’s pool overlooking the Thracian Sea. The port of Kamariotissa is 6 km away. The closest hotel to the Sanctuary of the Great Gods is the massive Hotel Kastro, with a swimming pool, restaurant, and special deals for hiking groups. Closer to Therma are the lovely Mariva Bungalows, sequestered a short walk from both the town and the sea in a grove of fruit trees, and a bit further along the coast is the crisp new Archontissa Resort, located directly on the water and offering small apartments with cooking facilities. Budget minded visitors should be comfortable in Therma at the Orpheaus Hotel or the Studios Lakastania, or any of the many smaller domatia that can be easily found along the north shore. The truly budget conscious should check out the extensive campgrounds, which are patronized by people of all ages.

Buy a Summer Beach Book

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Getting to Samothrace

Samothrace has no airport, and ferry connections to neighboring islands – usually only Limnos and Lesvos – vary widely depending on the season. The most dependable connections are with the mainland: there are several ferries per week from Kavala and four boats per day from Alexandroupoli, and in the peak season, there is also a faster Flying Dolphin. As with any Greek island, the schedules, shift unpredictably; your best bet is to work through a travel agent, or simply turn yourself over to the gods of chance in the knowledge that you will, somehow, be able to get there sooner or later.

Hahathakis Tours specialize in the North Aegean Islands of Greece, and their website is – www.greecetravel.com/hahathakis-tours

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Balkan Narcissism or PR – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Over lunch at The Russian Club in Sofia, I was once asked many years ago; by a now notable Bulgarian PR figure, what exactly the term public relations meant? After a little thought, I was able to answer- “I believe that if the general public like you, they will probably like your client too.”

Whether an individual or a large company, I believed then – in the early 1990s – that it made little difference, as long as you did not get involved in politics, because that is the cardinal rule!

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I still believe that the moment a PR consultant is seen sharing the platform with a political party, that party- almost by definition – should be a very successful one, necessary  in order to sustain a particular consultant’s lifelong career in public relations, and because we all know there are few guarantees to be found in modern politics.

PR is anodyne, and has to be available to everyone in the social spectrum. Inoffensive, inclusive, and able to communicate at all levels, successful PR should appeal to practically anyone, and this takes a very special expertise. So, why am I interested in the Balkans, apart from the name on the front of The Balkan News Magazine?

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The Balkans is made up of little countries, and as with most little people, everything is a big deal and has to be noticed. Likewise, in the Balkan political arena, there is a tendency to fiercely compete for the public eye. Often meaning that certain people take credit for things they haven’t done themselves, in order to be properly noticed, there is an inclination for these individuals to blow their own trumpet, to brag, and to present themselves as being far more important than they really are.

I have already said that the general public should ‘like’ a particular PR consultant, without prejudice, and as a matter of personal choice, but not in the Balkans. These days, the Balkan PR men like to strut their stuff in front of the media, and by proclaiming that they are now great public figures, they seem to glory in their own magnificence. Sound like someone you might know? Or even a political leader or two, and not to mention Donald Trump?

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Apparently, now is the time for such antics to thrive, and for the emergence of the expression, now called New Popularism.  In our daily diet of half truths, the virtually unprovable, and of course the totally deniable, we are allowed to tell the world how wonderful we are, to subscribe to a fundamental belief in narcissism, and to take as many selfies as we possibly can. So, what has happened to  old and well established values, like modesty,  moderation, and finally the truth?

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Well, if you were to mention the word modesty, in certain Balkan circles, they might say that you probably had much to be modest about. Plus the rider that they don’t have such qualms, because their faculties are in pristine order. There are even those who might also declare that they know absolutely everything there is to know about, well,  everything. Have you ever met someone who knows absolutely everything?

I have, and a rare Balkan character indeed, but easily superseded in number by those who are forced to tell you that they are very clever! But what is it that provokes this great surge of Balkan self congratulation? There are many different theories on the subject, but I think that it is caused by our good old friend, Inferiority Complex; although I am no expert on the subject, and just a humble observer!

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Food for Oil Program – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

It was 2004, and Kevin Irrawaddi Patel gazed despondently at the newspaper account of Saddam Hussein’s famous List of Largess, or Barrelgate as it had become known. Noticing how absurdly his name had been placed next to that of Mr. George Galloway – the ex New Labour MP – some Bulgarian professor, and half the government ministers of the Russian Federation, he was considerably baffled. As he stared at an account of the billions of barrels of crude oil Russia had received for the Iraqi Oil for Food Program, his own published score of one single barrel seemed woefully insignificant. Astonished at the vast amounts of crude oil given to these other individuals – and for enormously spurious reasons – he sat in his Peckham corner-shop, trying to make sense of this dramatic life changing event. For what was, after all, a seemingly casual event that had taken place two years previously, his somewhat dubious place in history, had now been assured. But what had actually happened?

It had been a wet Wednesday, in the autumn of 2002, and he remembered it well. Accustomed as he was to visits by all the nutters in Avondale Rise, it was no surprise to him to see a burly Arab looking man entering his shop, lugging a large metal barrel.

“What you got there mate,” said Kevin in his typical South London Bombay accent, whilst viewing the shiny barrel with some suspicion.

The man glared at him as if Kevin was a total tosser – “I’ve brought you some oil,” said the windswept and dripping man, as he took off his beret, and shook off the rain.

“Do you mind,” said Kevin, “You will make the floor wet!”

The dark haired man fixed him with an icy stare – “Well, where do you want it, then?” His gruff voice made it sound less like a question, and more like an order.

How odd, thought Kevin, he seems to be wearing some sort of uniform under his mackintosh – “If it is for the Greek chippy,” he said, pointing through the door, “It’s in the next street, you should ask for Stavros.”

But by now, the man’s demeanor had become even more threatening – “It’s not that kind of oil, you Indian git,” the stranger said.

His penetrating eyes now seemed more familiar to Kevin, and he instinctively backed into the Mars Bar and Twix rack, which was immediately behind him, causing three boxes of Smarties to simultaneously hit the floor. Bursting open as he mistakenly trod on them, the contents scattered, leaving the Smarties to rattle around the shop like multi colored ball bearings, as they went flying.

“You look like that Iraqi bloke Saddam, what’s-his-name,” Kevin’s face gleamed with nervous self-satisfaction, as he demonstrated his considerable knowledge of world events.

But the man showed not signs of response – “This is Iraqi Heavy,” the man said stiffly, “I have brought it to Peckham on the UN Food for Oil Program. So, don’t mess me about, or I will get really annoyed.”

Kevin searched his mind for some connection between the humdrum existence, he experienced, in the nether regions of Avonmore Rise, and this man’s last remark. Finally, his face lit up.

“Is that the cooking program on ITV with Marco Pierre White? You know, the chef who gets pissed in the kitchen, and finally thumps one of the waiters? Wicked.”

At this Saddam – whose age was estimated at between 35 and 140 years – and shouting with consummate rage, banged his fist on the counter.

“Listen to me, you Indian wally, I am extremely hungry. So stop pissing around will you, and give me some food, or I will go get some WMD, and give you a bit of really serious grief.”

Not wishing to aggravate this newly discovered Middle-Eastern nutter more than absolutely necessary, Kevin wisely did not ask the question, which now lay dormant on his lips.

Was WMD an acronym for something he had once heard on the news, or was it Magic Roundabout? Perhaps it stood for William Morris Designs, or even Waitrose Marketing Department; he was unsure. But, his silence probably saved his life.

“What’s that barrel worth, then mate?” Kevin’s mind raced as finally the fear of the moment gripped him. Realizing his imminent danger, his only thought was how he might get rid of this obviously deranged and obnoxious man. The Police were no good, and would probably turn up the following week, and granny Patel was deaf, so there was no point in shouting up the stairs. So he decided he had better comply with the nutters demands.

“Twenty five dollars US,” was the curt reply “Which does not include delivery, because this week it is on a free offer. So make up your mind quickly!”

Kevin didn’t know much about dollars, or even euros for that matter, and although the occasional rupee had passed hands in his shop, he doubted whether that nice Mr. Bush or any other American would ever visit Peckham.

Anyway, according to the newspapers – of which he had hundreds for sale, but rarely read – Mr. Bush probably thought that Peckham was a suburb of Peking, and Iraq an island off the coast of Cuba. Nevertheless, it was obvious he would have to give this man something, or he would never go away.

“Well,” said Kevin, “ I have thought about it very carefully, sir, and I am prepared to give you a bag of cheese and onion crisps, some frozen sausage rolls, a box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and a sack of King Edwards. But, that’s the best I can do for you I am afraid!”

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George Galloway – ex new Labour MP

Saddam glared at him and spluttered “What? You bastard! Last night I got the full monty for my other barrel, at the Star Of India in Westbourne Grove, and they gave me extra chutney as well. So you had better watch it, you insignificant Indian twat!”

Furious, Saddam grabbed the cheese and onion crisps, the frozen sausage rolls, the spuds, and the box of Cadbury’s chocolate fingers, and stormed out of the shop. As he did so, he slammed the door so hard, that everything in the shop wobbled, leaving Kevin baffled and perplexed. Contemplating what to do with the shiny barrel of oil, which now stood next to the counter, his problem seemed insurmountable.

It was February 2004, and the barrel continued to sit unmoved, in the corner of the shop, but it was now used to support a rack displaying assorted dog food. Fido, the Finest Food for your Pet, it announced, with a further big sign saying Special Offer. The sign on the barrel simply said Iraqi Oil for Sale, and nothing else. But, alas, nobody was much interested in either commodity, because, there were very few dogs living in Avonmore Road, and the nearest oil refinery was in Depford. After he had reported the incident to the local community watch, a number of days passed before the visits began.

First to appear was a funny sort of policeman, with a red nose, a plumy accent, and wearing a scruffy green Barbour jacket. He demanded to know the whole story from Kevin, or else he would have to go down to the local Police Station for a thorough grilling. So Kevin blurted out the whole story, confirming even the most insignificant details.

“Yes, I think that must have been him after all,” the red nosed man said, leaving a business card stating that he worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. After him, it was the press.

Next to appear was a reporter from the Peckham Gazette, who entered the shop with some apprehension, knowing some of the basic truths behind the Food for Oil report. But his interest was of a local nature, and it was Kevin who was now in the limelight!

“What did he look like Kev?” Sidney Nodes knew how to keep his reading public entertained.

“He was some geezer, but a bit of a Muppet, really,” Kevins mind casually harped back to his strange encounter. “He kept going on about extra chutney at the Star Of India, for some reason, and something about WMD, whatever that is?”

Having heard the food for oil deal Kevin had been forced to comply with, Sidney Nodes asked for a bag of cheese and onion crisps, in order somehow to feel closer to this bizarre incident, and – foregoing the Cadbury’s chocolate fingers – a packet of Silk Cut cigarettes.

Lighting his first smoke of the day, Sidney Nodes mused – “Evan that nice Mr. Bush and Tony Blair don’t seem to know much about WMD either, according to the telly!”

The next day, the headlines in the Peckham Gazette announced – ‘Saddam Demands Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers.’

Sidney Nodes knew that it was not very accurate, but that was the general condition of journalism at the time. The dailies didn’t say much either, being too busy Blair- bashing, so Kevin Irrawaddi Patel finally sank back, once more, into obscurity.

Sidney Nodes wrote one more follow up story, for the Peckham Gazette, when Kevin Patel decided to change his image a bit, by renaming his shop. His new sign now proclaimed that it was now called, The Patel Emporium – Purveyors of Fine Food & Wines to World Leaders.

That weekend, a Sidney Nodes newspaper headline announced – ‘Patel Emporium Peckham, runs out of cheese and onion crisps,’ and quite frankly, Kevin Patel has never really looked back!

Anarchist or Liberal? – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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I have often wondered how to describe my political leanings, but I suppose, much of what I think is due to what I am. The trouble is, I no longer believe that anyone can successfully govern our lives with any political certainty, and I view the various manifesto’s and promises, as a surfeit of half baked optimistic claptrap. Maybe, that is the hippy in me talking, but, on the other hand….”  The Editor

Listening to the British Prime Minister today, it seems that everything in her garden is rosy, whilst opposition leader Jeremy Corbyne, in his manifesto speech, believes that nationalization and a return to the past, should unquestionably cause the trains to run on time, and make all our lives considerably better. Well, there are no clear winners there, and reluctantly I would put both their racing odds as 10 to1, and expect both horses to come in completely knackered, at 4.30 in the afternoon!

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I suppose any well organized housewife manages to to work with some sort of budget for the usual household expenses, plus a little put aside for emergencies. Countries are a bit like that, because more or less they cannot always rely on a running overdraft – to plug their unpredictable finances – nor can they rely on their better half, to come up with the extra dosh when the gas bill arrives. Administration finance has to rely on either selling government bonds, or taxing its citizens.

This is when the problems begin, and  the past aggressively intercedes, where it really does not belong. Almost at once, it becomes the politics of those who have, versus those who have not – which then collide – and where old animosities begin to get in the way. But it also describes a kind of blindness, and an ignorance of post modern British history, and the blighted landscapes of the once industrialized nation it supposedly represents.

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The fossilized coal pit and steel towns of Wales, the West Midlands, or the North East; the ghostly reminders of a once thriving industrial economy and proud manufacturing industry, now sit side by side with the picturesque remains of a long forgotten industrial revolution. Today, row upon row of coal pit and steel workers’ houses still remain, their inhabitants once gainfully employed in the grime and heat of the pit face or at the furnace, who now roam the streets – bewildered and obscured – all yesterdays men and women. But, what about them?

We are all told that lower taxes will encourage business to expand in these blighted areas, that it will create jobs for the unemployed, or unemployable, and opportunities for all those forced to remain in these long forgotten communities. But, is it true? Once a part of our industrial folk law; of lovers meeting at the factory gates, and passion by the old canal, what has happened to the British working man and woman, and what about their real future?

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Reinvented by sneering technocrats in suits, and turned into tedious statistics, it isn’t long before vague promises are made, for a new and enlightened Great Britain; to be closely followed by the Wiley knowing smirks of politicians. Whereupon, as if by some self endowed right, the platitudes and clichés tumble out of their expressionless faces. Embellished and engendered by glib, and well practiced tongue’s, and designed for an otherwise disillusioned and lost electorate, they say – “Why not vote Conservative, we are well organized, and care about the unemployed,” which is, unfortunately, not really true!

There are two countries in Britain, the have and have not’s. It has always been so, mainly with one bunch sneering at the other, and there was never a really  inclusive society. But, there were huge changes when the European Union had its hand on the tiller. Rarely do we hear what these changes were, and what they did for the ordinary people in the UK, but it will be the basis of a future article from me.

Brexit is not about ordinary people, but about an elite whose thoughts are mainly absorbed with cash and more cash, whose power has been restored during the referendum by guile and errors of truth, and for which you should expect very little thanks in return. Let us hope there will shortly be a factory opening near you, and a job to match their promises. Oh, and don’t forget the 8th June election – you still have time to think – it is not over yet!

When Irish Eyes are Smiling – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Michel Barnier Chief EU Brexit Negociator & Guess Who?

This is probably the most cogent and descriptive photograph taken during Michel Barnier’s epic address to the Dublin parliament. It makes it clear that, however well intentioned he may be, the ghosts from the recent past are ever present in the Irish Republic, and still mean business.

To put himself in this position, was a remarkable piece of EU chutzpah, and by claiming that the EU would stand behind the Republic of Ireland, during these Brexit negotiations, was to hit the very weak spot that Theresa May and David Davis were hoping to sidestep. Putting the Irish position at the forefront of the proposed Brexit pull out, was not an idle threat, but a very real EU spanner in the works for the British Government to contend with.

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Ireland, protected by the huge and powerful EU, sent a strong message to a waffling and incoherent British Government in London. With their absurd claims of getting a better deal, and hiding behind the usual smokescreen of establishment figures, political nonentities, and grinning Brexit opportunists, this has, once more, put the whole question of Irish reunification back on the table.

While the Brexiteers were regaling the British public with their wild and flippant rhetoric – claiming all sorts of wonderful changes, most of which will fade away over the next two years or be denied altogether – did any of them actually consider the possibility of a breakup of the United Kingdom, and that it might encourage parts of the UK to take a positive step towards a federated Europe?

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Banksie in Action

Did these entitled politico’s actually believe, that there would never be a downside to their vote inducing antics? And, did it ever occur to them that – prompted by purely economic reasons – that even the most disenfranchised in the North of Ireland might prefer Irish unification, rather than some half baked, unworkable, retrogressive customs and passport control checkpoint, on the border between the two – soon to be –  separated parts of Ireland.

One persons democracy, might well be another’s Bedlam. So, it follows that – other than Little England, and Wales – Britains immediate EU neighbour of EIRE, was also none too pleased. With English voters incipient madness, and Scotland and Northern Ireland not wanting out of the EU – by some a significant margin of votes – once more, the Brits completely misread the Irish position. Nor did the EU administration itself, and for that matter, neither did other current EU members – or even potential EU members in turn – begin to understand the UK position.

So, despite all the handshakes and photo opportunities, clearly Messers May and Davis, PLC, are in for a hard time. But what is happening from inside the UK itself, and how is the media coping with the burgeoning Brexit storm?

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No love lost there

I am so lucky to live in Greece, to view world events through a clear pane of glass, and not through the prism of the British press, because right wing views are beginning to distort the Brexit debate altogether. It now appears, that many of the right of centre groups are beginning to view any Brexit decent as a form of national betrayal. It further seems that a particular category of Middle English, and middle class extremists, are attempting to motivate dissenters from the middle ground, to get behind the Tories in the forthcoming June 8th Election, and calling them traitors if they do not!

Although there is little doubt that Theresa May will enjoy a landslide victory, as I sit this quiet Sunday in the birthplace of democracy, I do wonder how far right is right? As I cling to the arms of my front row seat, watching the boxers weigh in before the fight, I can’t help noticing how right wing politicians in Europe, have recently done rather badly in certain elections, and that the victors remain unashamedly pro Europe and the EU.

Perhaps it is time for these inward looking and self congratulating British right wing extremists, to stop thinking of Ireland as a vegetable patch, or a cheap labour market for navvy’s, and to wonder why it is that half the banks in the City of London are likely to relocate to Dublin, where the Celtic Tigre – with its legendary  computer skills – is ready to pounce!

Brexit Horsetrading & Truth – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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The Hills Are Alive

The gullible British public sometimes confuses common sense with patriotism. They invest their total support in politicians, who are there at the negotiating table – not because they are far sighted pragmatists – but because they misled the voters in the first place.

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Prime Minister Theresa May

Somehow, with comic book credulity, the Brexiteers managed to dumb down the whole process in the media, and with their absurd claims, managed to suspend voters disbelief. Within the UK establishment, but mainly within England itself, Brexiteers could now be looking at a fragmented nation. Causing the UK to form into federated states – with an independent Scotland, and a unified Ireland on the horizon – these ardent politicos could easily reverse history, and back Great Britain into the Little England parking place.

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Jean-Claud Junker & Michel Bernier

Now, these political peacocks; claiming to be able to get the best deal for Britain, are up against the horse traders of Europe, and these horse traders are not mugs either.

Absurdly, British politicians disguise their success in the referendum by describing it as democracy, when it might just as easily be described as deceit. But now that the Brexit cards have been dealt, we will be able to discover the true winners and losers in this game of European Poker, and finally determine who the ‘Jokers’ are in the pack. Lets see what the General Election does, because, it might not make the slightest difference?

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Chief Brexit Negotiator David Davis

I don’t know what British diplomats  are saying to Theresa May, other than being as obsequious and comforting as possible.  And we can all sing the Danny Kay song, The Kings New Clothes – “The King is in the altogether, he’s altogether as naked as the day that he was born, La La.”

This will be no help to a floundering David Davis, as he tries to quip his way through the choking poison ivy of EU laws and legislation, with his nemesis Michel Bernier; his boss Jean-Cloud Junker standing close behind in the foliage. Because, affable though they might seem on the surface, behind them are twenty-seven EU countries, all with different venues, and some of whom may be far more vindictive than the British Government might imagine.

Theresa May holds a cabinet meeting at Chequers

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I think that many countries in the EU are looking for a fight, and are dying to humiliate the Brits in any way possible. Especially now, since they have put a starting figure of 100 Billion Euro, as the price of divorce, which rather like a large electricity bill, has left most Brexiteers spluttering in indignation.

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As to Theresa May being a tough lady, even Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher had her misgivings during her administration. Ultimately brought down – in her latter days – by the ‘toadies’ she surrounded herself with, British Prime Minister,Theresa May, is starting off with similar toadies! So heaven knows how they will behave during the Brexit talks, and how many revolts will occur, as the peacock chicks preen themselves for greater office?

Effrosyni’s Fabulous Food Blog – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE

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Today, I’m pleased to share a traditional Corfu recipe. Bourtheto is a delicious, spicy meal that you can make with white fish fillet (like cod or perch) but it’s particularly delicious with whole scorpion fish – Skorpios, in Greek.  The yumminess in the meal is in the simplicity of the ingredients, the tang of the lemon juice being the jewel in the crown!

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I can’t possibly share this recipe without first mentioning my late great-aunt Rini Tsatsanis from Messonghi, Corfu. When I was little I used to stay in her house on the village beach for a few days at a time and she’d make this meal so spicy I’d take one bite and dive for my tumbler to quench the burn in my throat with a few gulps of water! Still, I enjoyed it every time. Aunt Rini’s Bourtheto, was legendary in the family!
And now, here’s the recipe, which has evolved into the family over time:
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
4 medium-sized fish fillets
1/2 passata (tomato puree) carton
1 medium beef tomato, skinned and chopped
(or 4-5 cherry tomatoes, whole)
1 red onion, chopped
Chilly powder
Fresh lemon juice (½ medium lemon)
Chopped parsley
Extra virgin olive oil
Preparation
Fry the onion in the oil for a minute to soften. Add the tomato, passata, salt, pepper, chilly powder, and a little hot water and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the fish (if using fillet, it must be defrosted and washed). Add hot water, if needed, to half-cover the fish. Simmer uncovered for 10-15 minutes. Check occasionally to make sure fish is covered with the sauce. Turn over gently if using whole fish, or spoon sauce from the pan over the fish every now and then to make sure it’s covered fully and staying moist.
Taste to check fish is done, add salt if needed. When sauce has thickened, add chopped parsley and lemon juice and move the pan gently in your hands to spread the lemon juice and the sauce evenly. Cover, switch off heat and leave it on the ring for another minute, then serve immediately with fries, fresh bread and a salad.
Note: Optionally, you can throw in a few capers with the lemon juice. Also, you can use cayenne or paprika instead of chilly powder for a mild version. It’s equally mouth-watering!
Kali Orexi!

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Corfu lovers read The Ebb

 

Do you enjoy Greek food? My romance, The Ebb, is set in 1980s Corfu and brims over with tastes and smells of delicious Greek dishes. Check it out on my website: http://bit.ly/1OX1diK