My Random Road to Sofia 1 – PATRICK BRIGHAM LIVE



A lot of businessmen and women, have a tendency to brush over the past, and simply move on. Blaming politics or kismet for their success or failure, I was no exception to this rule when in 1993, I finally left London, and burned my bridges behind me. In my late 40s, I was leaving behind an England which had changed dramatically, and at the tail end of Thatcherism – with all its broken promises –once more I had endured a further fatal crash, in the UK property market.

It was not for the first time either, because the avuncular Ted Heath had also brought many property boys to their knees, in the mid 70s. With bank interest rates, cruising around 22.5%, by then owning property was only marginally better than having none at all. But I was younger then, and being full of energy, I simply started again from the beginning. But this time, it was the final straw.

By the mid 80s, I was also an established estate agent in Hammersmith, and covering quite a large area of West London, you would often see my ‘For Sale’ boards as far afield as West Kensington, Acton and Ealing. Regarded as a blight these days, then there were not so many estate agents in these parts of London, and so the ‘For Sale’ board was very good advertising.


This Was Patrick Brigham Estate Agent – short back and sides please

In 1985, they most certainly attracted a particular Bulgarian to my Studland Street office. He had seen a ‘Sold By’ notice, on one of my boards in South Kensington, and in an adjacent road to his ground floor apartment. Thinking on his feet, it was no surprise that he appeared in my office one sunny Saturday morning, because I had got a good price for this nearby flat, and he knew it.

His flat was awful, and without going through the semantics of estate agent speak, it was like comparing an apple with a dead ferret. The flat was so grubby, that – were I a less honest man – I would have recommended flooding it, and claiming on the insurance. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t sell his flat, the plaudits for that sale going to an agent in Shepherds Bush, who had managed to find a mug.

During that summer, and as regular as clockwork, this Bulgarian would visit my office every Saturday at precisely 10.30 am. Assuming it was in order to determine our sales progress, after a week or two it dawned on us that his visits were absolutely nothing to do with property at all, but to do with bacon sandwiches.

Saturday was a day for chatting, for handing out details, and arranging mortgages. John Bruce and I – he was my master mortgage lender from the Northern Rock Building Society – regularly received a considerable consignment of bacon sandwiches from the local café, and Kostas, the Cypriot proprietor, would turn up on the dot of 10.30am with a huge plate full of these English delicacies.


Pass the mustard

Whilst we politely went through his ‘do you mind if I have one of those’ charade, and the ‘you wouldn’t happen, by any chance, to have a cup of coffee handy,’ routine, our visitor would discuss this strange and practically unknown country called Bulgaria.

Our secretary thought that Bulgaria might be in South America, whilst others said that it was a Soviet Republic close to Afganistan; although they were unsure where even that was. Finally, the dreaded G word was mentioned, and by looking at a rather tatty school atlas, we were able to discover where Bulgaria actually was on the map; it was just above Greece, and situated on the Black Sea.

Although his apartment was sold, during the two week completion period, he continued to visit us on a Saturday, parking his smart left hand drive 70s Mercedes outside the office, complete with German registration. Yes, Bulgaria was a Communist country, and yes, he had left it in the 60s, and gone to live in the USA, before coming to London.  And so the story unfolded, and expanded with stories of professional saber fighting, of bit parts in Hollywood films, of being a student at the Lee Strasberg acting school, and finally, a regrettable divorce.


No Smoking Please

In the end, I got fed up with hearing about this strange and secret country, and simply said one Saturday, ‘why don’t you just show it to me?’ Which he arranged, and during Christmas and New Year in 1985, I got on a free flight to Sofia, in a rather aged Touplev 154, that reeked of kerosene, and – not for the first time – ended up in Bourgas.  But did it matter? No, because by then all of us in first class, were chain smoking Kent cigarettes, on our second free ½ bottle of Smirnoff vodka, and as happy as Larry!

My first experience of how Communist countries worked, was on that flight – as far as I can remember that is –when it became clear that all my fellow passengers were either Bulgarian embassy workers, security people, trade attache’s, or visiting government officials from Sofia.

The proletariat was consigned to the cramped second class seats at the rear of the plane, and we the elite, were allowed – for the duration of the flight at least – to eat, drink, and do what we liked. That was everyone’s ambition during Communism, and for whatever reason I happened to be amongst these returning diplomats – which was never made very clear –  it seemed then, that this West London estate agent was due to be a good friend with the comrades of Bulgaria.






The acceleration of the date when Bulgaria will take over the seat of the EU presidency from the second half of 2018 to 1st January 2018 will no doubt have sent the local state employees, brought up on a culture of ‘” if we really have to do something then let’s do it at the last minute” into an absolute frenzy. Work that could have been done a year or even two years ago is hastily being put together in an attempt to make the city and indeed the country look dynamic and spick and spam. If Bulgaria wants to show the EU exactly where and how (within reason) it has spent the EU coffers, then now is the time to do it; hopefully this will encourage more funds to follow suit.


In the midst of all this and hearing at first hand to some comments from current EU government officials, the good news is that all seem impressed with the smart new (ish) airport, the speed by which one can get to the city center compared with most European capitals and the breathtaking backdrop Vitosha Mountain provides. From a tourism perspective, this will also be a marvelous opportunity to showcase the tourism product and what the city and the country has to offer. However, niggles remain in the back of the mind.


Sofia Airport

Bulgaria is currently enjoying a boom in tourism, both during the winter and summer seasons. Allied to this, its rise in popularity as an ideal short weekend break destination has been nothing short of meteoric.  Great climate, decent inexpensive food and drink in a café society and good value modern hotels. So if Sofia is going to be flooded out with thousands – as we are led to believe – of EU bureaucrats and their hangers on, where do they stay? The answer will of course be in the city’s key business hotels such as the Hilton, the (soon to be) Intercontinental and the Grand Hotel; that being the case, what happens to the room rates? Will the hotel owners apply sound supply and demand logic and realize that demand for their higher standard properties exceeds supply and thus they can hike up their rates? By doing so will this frighten off “normal’’ visitors and indeed give the perception that Sofia is an expensive city. Indeed, the question also begs, will certain high profile restaurants also hike up their prices to milk the daily diems of the EU’s unaccountable masses?


Plenty of Confusion

Back to the hotels: Sofia has only a small number of higher end business hotels, the majority are mid and even lower level hotels, which despite being cheap, usually are new and offer excellent value for money. In theory, there should be enough of these to go round and to satisfy the traditional sources of demand on them from ‘normal’” people and in so doing leave the high end hotels to battle it out amongst themselves and to make hay whilst the sun is shining; at least midweek! The Euro masses tend to work short weeks at the best of time and therefore these same hotels should be empty Friday to Monday!


What About Us?

One hopes that the first six months of next year will indeed be seized upon by the city, the country and the people portray a positive image of the lands in which we reside. That hopefully will also mean the authorities ensure that first impressions count and that may well include getting rid of the dodgy taxis from the airport!

Mark Thomas, Managing Director of HRG Bulgaria



Matiano Rajoy & Caries Puigemont in better times – c/o The Irish Times

The Catalan cabinet is in prison in Madrid. Ex President, Caries Puigmont, took off on his toes to Brussels, and like a bad film, the whole charade of Catalan independence, is back where it belongs on the cutting room floor.

Accordingly, Carles Puigdemont was dismissed from office, the Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy dissolved the Parliament of Catalonia, and called a snap regional election for 21 December 2017. The following day, Rajoy conferred on Deputy Prime Minister Soraya Sáenz De Santamaría, the duties of President of the Generalitat of Catalonia, which is now run by central government.


A virtual history of Catalonia

But apart from obscure ideological or religious semantics, which quite escape me, or some obscure gene – lurking in the very being of each and every Catalonian – what is this ex President actually after, apart from notoriety? With a 40% voter turnout in the referendum – most Spanish Nationalists ignored it completely – Puigmont claimed a 90% victory, and then went ahead and declared unilateral independence.

Was the Catalonian President becoming the Nigel Farage of Spain, or a new version of the demagogic and blithely mendacious Boris Johnson? Begging the question of why Boris Johnson and his Brexiteer cohorts are not locked in The Scrubs – instead of annoying us all in The House of Commons – or, why our beloved Queen does not demand the same punishment, as her contemporary in Alice in Wonderland – I can only give you one answer; apathy! Because, on closer inspection, it all seems to be a little like Lewis Carol’s epic story.

puigdemont acn_1_630x630

Awaiting the Turnscrews Key

Nevertheless, Mr. Puigmont had ample opportunity to watch the badly timed and generally floored Brexit negotiations in Brussels. Embarrassed by David Davis’s hapless performance , and his largely hopeless task, you might think that copying such a damaging mess, was also a pronouncement for forthcoming Catalonian financial disaster too?

I mean, if the big boys like Great Britain can’t extract themselves from the EU, how on earth could Catalonia hope to survive? Firstly, by leaving Spain, and secondly, in loosing all the benefits which the EU provides for its members, federated or otherwise. It just seems to be a recipe for disaster.

The  renegade Ex President of Catalonia – who rather naively believed he would get the support of  the EU – is hiding in Brussels, and wondering what to do next. That doesn’t bother me, any more than it does Brussels. But, what was he thinking about, and what, if anything, has it got to do with freedom?


Queen Boudica?

I think that Puigmont is simply grandstanding. Short of any real reasons for political detachment from Spain, he is concentrating his efforts in Brussels, by accusing the Spanish government of  being unfair. Stating that he is being victimized, and that his tormentors are treating him just like a pedophile, he knowingly broke the Spanish law, which is something he was warned about from the very beginning.

The only argument he has promulgated is that the Catalan language and history, is no longer highlighted in the education system, and that any cultural differences in his region, are now being presented as Spanish.  Having got a few political activists out on the street, it seems that he has confused those subscribing to anti-establishment anarchism, with political realism. There will always be those who think that corruption is diminishing their lot in life, but is revolution always the answer?

You can hardly see the present Spanish government as tyrants, unless you have had a sangria too many, any more than Theresa May or even Margaret Thatcher, could be depicted as a kind of Boudica.The 21st December will show how absurd the wish for independence is, in the light of defecting banks, and businesses from Catalonia, and jobs being exported to other parts of Spain and the EU.

23334082_10156451317994749_590628347188974429_oTheresa May is still wondering why!

But isn’t that exactly what is happening in Great Britain today, with the suicidal mission of Brexit? I don’t know who the bigger fool is – Brexiteers ignoring Catalonia, or Puigdemont ignoring the Brexit – because, any fool would know that a catastrophe was waiting for them around the corner.

So, full marks to Prime Minister Mariano Rayoy, and nil points to the defectors. Lets hope these Catalonian politicians do not become victims of The Spanish Inquisition, because, they will not be garrotted in the town square – a fate that many traitors have had to face in the past – it is the 21St Century after all, but they might be poked with a cushion – ‘Monte Python forever’ – and suffer the indignity of a public trial.