Thursday, 17 November 2011

Think Small: the art of the achievable

We’re always being urged to “Think Big”, to stretch our imaginations to see what is possible, to visualise what we want to (and can) become.

It’s stirring stuff. Just the sort of thing to get us fired up at a motivational talk and walk out of the door ready to take on the world and emerge as the ‘next big thing’.

Unfortunately, for most of us, that’s about as far as it goes. With every step we take out of that inspirational talk, that ultimate goal slips further and further from our grasp. The more we focus on those grand ambitions, the harder it gets to imagine achieving them. The chasm between where we are and where we want to be is just too huge. Gradually, the dream fades and we settle back into the status quo.

After all, what you can’t imagine, you can’t achieve.

That’s where “Think Small” has to come in. The road to every grand design is paved with a series of small steps. Small, manageable and - above all - achievable stages.

You might dream of a fulfilling, harmonious home life. One free of petty squabbles about who didn’t change the loo roll, or how you’re going to pay the next pile of bills to drop into your letterbox. Clicking your heels together, a la Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz', is not going to make it happen. Transforming the everyday kitchen sink melodramas that populate our mundane lives into an oasis of serenity and warmth seems like Mission Impossible (cue music and Tom Cruise dangling from the ceiling). You cannot imagine it as achievable, so you give up.

But hold on. Rewind. Let’s take another look. Break it down into a series of small stages and maybe we can imagine achieving that coveted dream of a happy home life. Make a conscious decision not to go nuclear every time you reach for the toilet tissue to find the last visitor to the littlest room has left a single ineffectual sheet hanging sadly off the holder. Instead, plan ahead and make sure there is always a back-up of two or three rolls within arm’s reach.

When you want your teen to make their bed/do their homework/clear the table, resist the urge to screech like a banshee on speed. Instead, remind them calmly but firmly to do their bit (just be prepared to say it several times, preferably not through gritted teeth). Credit them with the maturity to make a useful contribution to the household.

And when the latest demand for your hard-earned cash lands on the doormat, don’t turn on your Other Half shouting accusations of profligacy, citing those new killer heels or that latest gadget as evidence. No-one reacts well to a harpy, and playing the victim just invites more abuse. Instead, take a deep breath, sit down and work out the solution. Together.

The same small stuff thinking applies to the world of work. If you dream of achieving something great in your professional life, don’t make a mental leap straight to the ultimate prize. You must have the vision, for sure, but if you don’t plot the steps that will get you there, you are doomed to disappointment.

Steve Jobs may have been one of those rare human beings to make huge mental leaps to something extraordinary, but even he took Apple through a series of steps that led to the must-have latest gadget to reshape our world. Back in the mid-90s, the company was in disarray and looked doomed to failure. Step by step, it was revamped, a new corporate vision was imagined and a series of small achievable stages were made to make it one of the world’s best-known brands. According to reports, Jobs’ legacy includes a list of thousands more innovations, yet more goals to be achieved after his demise.

So, next time you look up at your Grand Design and take a gulp of self-doubt, just stop and take a deep breath. Re-imagine it, with a pathway of small achievable steps that will eventually take you where you want to be.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Kicking against the cliché

We all love a good stereotype, don’t we?

They serve as a kind of mental shorthand that save us the trouble of actually thinking or examining something before we make up our mind. They save time and effort, easily find supporters, and are an absolute Godsend for tabloid headline writers.

Trouble is, though there’s often a seed of truth in most stereotypes, the cliché rarely tells the whole story. Like a caricature, they simply zoom in on a single characteristic and magnify it so much that it eclipses every other feature.

I’ve been battling the clichéd ideas of many folk for years, especially since moving to Greece more than 20 years ago. I quickly revised my ideas about all Greeks being consistently loud, flamboyant and prone to smashing plates. And contrary to their expectations, many Greeks I met were surprised to learn I don’t like beer, am bored to distraction by football, couldn’t make a dainty cucumber sandwich to save my life, have never had a hangover, and – until the Family Tree fanatics uncover evidence to the contrary – I am not related to the Queen.

I do, however, like Marmite.

I am undeniably English in many ways. It’s a simple matter of fact. I’m me, I’m English, I’m happy with who I am but I have no reason to consider myself superior or inferior to anyone by virtue of my accident of birth.

I am not responsible for the highs and lows of my mother nation (Note the Greek friends: Blame Lord Elgin for the looted Marbles, not me!).

I have as much in common with David Cameron and the Milliband of Brothers as I do with a small furry creature from Outer Centauri.

Sad to say, elected representatives rarely mirror the lives and outlooks of the people who vote them in. They are almost always way more privileged than the hoi polloi they claim to represent. Many have never had a real job outside politics. Few have any real concept of the daily kitchen sink dramas that punctuate our mundane lives.

When I first arrived, Margaret Thatcher was still in residence at No.10 Downing Street (yes, I’ve been here THAT long) and the response of many when they learned where I’d arrived from was “Ah! Maggie Thatcher!” with varying degrees of admiration or disgust, depending on their political allegancies. Lord knows how much saliva I wasted trying in vain to explain just how NOT like the Iron Lady I was.

So, I have a vested interest in trying to smash clichés that inevitably raise their ugly heads.

Over the past few months, the Greeks have received a very, VERY bad press internationally. And this week, the actions of politicians have made them seem like Drama Queens of the worst kind.

But don’t fall into the cliché, I beg you. Contrary to the message perpetuated by headlines in publications like the Daily Mail, most Greeks are not lazy, dissolute, donkey jockeys who are good for nothing but a bit of local colour when you’re on your annual hols on one of their islands. Most are hard-working, highly educated, ambitious people who just want to pay their dues, raise their families and live a decent life.

Yes, there have been explosions of violence amid the mostly peaceful (if noisy) demonstrations outside Parliament. But can you honestly say they were more horrifying that the outbreaks of feral looting and destruction in London and other English cities this summer? Despite the high passions you see on show on your TV screens, statistically violent crime in Greece is (still) at much lower levels than in many other countries.

Yes, there is corruption and tax evasion. Isn’t there everywhere? Most Greeks DO pay their way – it’s the privileged few who have the influence and resources to wiggle their way out of their obligations that have landed the country in the current mess they’re in. Just think of the UK MPs’ expenses scandal – does that mean every Brit is a crook?

Yes, there has been endemic mismanagement of many elements of many aspects of Greek public life for years. But can you honestly say that everything where you live is run as it should be?

Yes, some Greeks are chancers who will take every chance to cheat the system or pull a fast one for financial gain. Have you forgotten good old Del Boy and his like, those lovable rogues that can be found on any British High Street?

Despite our differences, there’s more that unites us than divides us.
So next time you see the bi-polar antics of Greece’s politicians or the anger of the crowds in Syntagma Square in front of Parliament, bear in mind the ordinary families that are just trying to make the best of things as their lives are dragged along in the wake of high drama.

All they really want is to sit down and relax in the company of people they love, and perhaps share a laugh over a cup of coffee.

As for me, well when it comes to beverages I DO fit the cliché.
When the going gets tough, I put the kettle on.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

May we live in interesting times (?)

Well, these certainly are interesting times, aren’t they?
At least, they are if you define “interesting” as “unpredictable, subject to wild mood swings, uncertain and teetering of the brink of an abyss” rather than “engaging and worthy of further study”.

I guess there’s a reason why the phrase is considered a curse rather than a blessing.

Turmoil has been a key characteristic of life in Greece for at least a year now. Crippling austerity is being imposed on the majority of simple hard-working, working and middle class people, who are understandably peeved when they see the country’s fat cats continuing to enjoy most of the privileges that have contributed to the dire state of the national economy. The overpowering mood of the country is one of frustration, disillusionment and powerlessness in the face of the overwhelming odds that are casting a huge black cloud over everything.

So, you might think that some would welcome Prime Minister George Papandreou's announcement of a referendum to ask the Greek people to vote on whether they want the austerity measures.

The same austerity measures that have been announced as non-negotiable and have already started to be implemented over the past months.

The measures that have cut salaries, raised taxes and put a stranglehold on the country’s commercial life.

If we were going to have a referendum, wouldn’t it have been a good idea to do so BEFORE the measures we’re to be asked about started raining down on the heads of common people? Or before extra funds were devoted to printing and sending out of demands for extra taxes to households around the country? Or before assuring our creditors that Greece is committed to the changes they demand to secure a bail-out?

If Angela Merkel and Nicola Sarkozy were gob-smacked by the Monday evening's bombshell, you should see how it hit us. The first reaction was disbelief and “What the ...?”.
Then, we started to think through the likely consequences of the shock announcement and we were left angry, bemused and utterly at a loss at what could possibly be gained from such action at this late stage in the game.

Personally, I wonder if the PM simply had a brain fart.

I’m no political Svengali but from where I’m sitting the PM's apparent attempt to throw responsibility for the fate of the country to its people – basically telling them “give me the mandate or on your own heads be it” – looks like political suicide.
Actually, it looks like a political suicide bombing - as it’s certainly set to take a lot of folk with him.

Maybe it’s all part of a complex conspiracy to destroy the Euro Zone or establish a New World Order? Who knows?

I do know is that these are the kind of interesting times I could do without.
I also know that I am powerless to do anything about it.

All I can do is hang on and grit my teeth, along with everyone else, as history takes us on a crazy ride with an unknown destination. And as the autumn evenings close in on us, I’ll be curling up on my sofa (as long as it’s still mine), wrapped in an old blanket, sipping my tea and thinking about what soup I can make from the dregs at the bottom of my fridge.

Some don’t have it so good.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The word-nerd's hit list

As I've said before, I'm a sucker for words.

Put in the right order, that can move mountains, melt the stoniest of hearts and even change the world. But that doesn't mean they can't be abused - and sad to tell, they often are.

My pet hates are the latest buzz words used by all and sundry, without caring if they're understood - even by the word criminal using them.

Some are old chestnuts, some of new offenders that taunt me through the airwaves (yes, even Auntie Beeb!). But every time I hear or read them they have my Inner Word-Nerd gnashing her teeth, spewing malodourous smoke out her ears and scrabbling around to find an Editor's extra sharp scalpel to cut them out of existence.

So here, for your delight and delectation, I present you (not in order of preference) with the Top Ten in my hit list:

Segway (verb):
These days a frequent visitor to places that really should know better (like Radio 4 recording studios), this isn't a word at all. It's a brand-name. And while the Marketing bods at the company that makes those peculiar-looking, eco-friendly contraptions for those too lazy to walk are probably thrilled about its use as a verb (to make a transition, change tack or direction), it's WRONG!. The correct word (which no-one but students of musicology knows, uses or understands) is segue, and it's not pronounced Segway.

Ring-fence (verb):
Another noun that's morphed into a verb, much abused and over-used recent times, largely by economist types on the news in these financially-frightened times. I understand what it means, but every time I think of it, a mental picture of a black and white Border Collie herding a pack of angst-ridden sheep into a pen leaps to mind.

-self (as suffix to personal pronouns):
Why does everyone on the box insist of adding this seemingly harmless ending bastardise the perfectly good you, me (OK, my), she, her, it, etc? You know the sort of thing: "There are several options open for yourself" or "They suggested they give myself a Ronseal spray tan". 90% of the time, it adds nothing. 100% of the time, when misused, it makes you sound like an idiot. Making words longer does not make you sound more educated, sunshine.

invaluable (adjective):
This is NOT the same as "valuable", any more than "infamous" is the same as "famous". It either means something is without or beyond value. Just sticking 'in' in front of an adjective either changes its meaning - or declares the user as a self-made moron.

Enough already! We get it! You mean 'all the time', 'constantly', 'day and night', 'round the clock'. For a start, you can bet your bottom dollar that the person using this would not be too thrilled to live up to his or her 'open all hours' blag if you call him at 5am on a Sunday morning. And secondly - Hello! The 80s are over, deary. Gordon Ghecko went to jail and is now a sad old man quaking behind his trust fund. All that Yuppie jargon is now just seriously uncool.

Outside the box:
The cliche is so overused that it's not only back in the box, it superglued to the bottom and has a five-inch nail driven through it to the ground beneath.

genuinely (usually at the start of a sentence spoken in an earnest Neil the Hippy whine):
This is just superfluous. It is not an alternative to "really". And if you use it for half your sentences, should we be suspicious of the other half as likely lies? If you're genuinely genuine, you genuinely don't need to say so!

sans- (poncey alternative to "without'):
OK, so you did French at school (who didn't?), but really is this necessary? It sounds like a straight steal from "Pseuds' Corner" in Private Eye a couple of decades ago, but these days it's everywhere. You can't move for people - usually women, it saddens me to say - who talk about being "sans make-up", "sans sunscreen", "sans shades" or what-not. Really, saying you're "sans knickers" doesn't make you sound classy and vaguely Gallic, though it might just announce that you're "sans a clue".

Let's say (presumably used just to boost word count):
Another pointless addition. I tell you what, instead of saying "Let's say" every other sentence, let's NOT say and just get on with it and say what you're saying. OK?

I'm not racist/sexist/bigoted, but...:
You know that whenever someone starts a sentence this way, they're going to follow it up with something so outrageously offensive that you have to strap your hand to the doorknob to stop it forming a first and thumping them in the mouth. If you're a bigot, please don't try and persuade me you're not immediately before proving you are. Honestly, I WILL work it out for myself.

There are more. I could go on and on (really, I could). But then you'd have to shoot me.

So, over to you.
What linguistic gems and abuse of English make YOUR teeth itch and braincells rage?

Friday, 30 September 2011

Dear So and So – The body and soul edition

Dear hormones,

We need to have a good old sit-down and have the dreaded ‘Where are we going?’ talk. You’ve been toying with me for long enough. A girl wants to know where she stands, you know.

It’s the uncertainty I can’t stand. And boy, are you sending me mixed messages!

Earlier this year, you stubbornly refused to make an appearance a couple of months, and then just turned up unannounced whenever the mood took you until you got the subtle message from my snarly looks and barking retorts and settled back into our good old routine.

One minute, I’m breaking out in zits that would make a teen testosterone machine flinch and the next I’m slapping enough salves, soothes and ointments to sink an oil slick onto a mysterious patch of reptilian skin that appeared on my jaw line.

And enough already with the Winnie the Pooh mood swings! While I love bouncy, manic Tigger and the melancholy philosophy of Eeyore in equal measure, I’d quite like to have a few days where I get to be level-headed Kanga, sensible Christopher Robin, or even eternally optimistic Winnie (though we can give needy Piglet a miss, if that’s OK with you).

I’m sick of being reduced to a soggy blubbering pile of tears… by a cereal ad.

I get the message. A change is coming. I’ll be 47 in a couple of months. But we’ve been fine as we are, haven’t we? Quite frankly, I don’t have time for an upheaval right now, so if you don’t
mind, can we just carry on as we were for a little while yet?

Go on. I’ll make it worth your while.

With love - or hate - or utter confusion,
Crazy-faced and sweat-bound of Athens.

Dear Boobs,

I love you guys. You are consistently ‘Best in Class’ in my bod.

OK, so you’ve grown (who hasn’t?), and maybe you’re not quite a firm and perky as you used to be, but you’re still luscious and reliable (and believe me, that’s a rare trick to pull off!).

I feel I need to reward you somehow, just to show you how much I appreciate you. But sadly now is not a time for satin and lace, so let’s just hang on in with the clean cotton old faithful undies for now, OK?

In appreciation,
Your loving owner.

Dear legs,

What is it with you and me? I know you’re strong, I know you’re dependable, but would it hurt you to make a little effort to look nice now and then?

Yours, in eager anticipation of smooth, toned calves,
Madame Thunder Thighs.

Dear brain,

You’re too hard on yourself, you know. I know you think you’re the one thing that keeps this whole shebang going (well, yes, actually you are) but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a wee break now and then.

It might even do you some good to switch off completely now and then – like when I'm desperately trying to get some shut-eye instead of staring into the darkness at 4am, or when we’re watching a Jennifer Aniston movie.

Really, your participation is not essential at times. Even Olympic athletes need a break now and then (and you’re no Math-lete, sunshine!).

Yawningly yours,

Dear psyche,

Now and again you just have to take the advice of some tried and tested comedy catch-phrases.

“Don’t panic!” would be a good one right now.

The end of the world is not nigh, yet. And there’s still stuff to be enjoyed and appreciated before you have to say “So long and thanks for all the fish”.

Oh, and something else…
….don't forget to breathe!

Desperately seeking serenity,
A very non-Ohm 40-something.

Dear Blogosphere,

You guys are awesome!

Whenever I start heading for meltdown, you’re there to listen to my silent screaming over the ether and to reach out with words of encouragement and optimism. I can almost feel the positive vibes flowing out of my laptop whenever I commit some of my angst to my blog.

This week, you came up trumps again. I had a moment where I flipped out, fearing the worst before it arrives at our doorstep. And yet, there you were, waiting to give me cyber cuddles and pats on the shoulder, boost my sagging ego and restore my default Pollyanna mode (without the annoying pigtails).

I've never met most of you, and probably never will, but I just want to reach my arms into the Internet and give you all a big, fat, grateful hug.

Thanks a zillion,

Dear So and So...

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Home: Much more than walls and a roof

Home is where the heart is. It’s where I hang my hat. It’s the people I love, not bricks and mortar.

All true…. BUT

When you are facing the very real possibility that the place you’ve scrimped, saved and sacrificed for may be wrenched from you, you can get seriously materialistic.

Our home is nice, but modest. It’s a two-bed flat with a spare room in a middle class suburb of Athens. It’s pleasant and airy and its décor reflects our characters and interests. And as a couple of educated professionals (though perhaps not quite Yuppies), we never thought that buying it 13 years ago was stretching beyond our means.

To get onto the Greek property ladder, we lived with my In-Laws for three years so we could save up the deposit (no 100% mortgages from Greek banks). So, when we finally moved in, it was with a feeling of excitement, satisfaction and belonging that we gradually furnished, painted and primped it to our taste.

We didn’t go for excesses. The house still has just one TV. Most of the furniture is from our friendly neighbourhood IKEA store. And most of the jobs in the place have been given the DIY treatment. Fancy brand-name clothes have been scorned, holidays not taken and left-overs have become a regular feature on our weekly family menu.

And yet, there is a real possibility that we might lose our home.

The Ovver Arf lost his job in February 2010, just as the Greek Economy was falling into a maelstrom leading to a black hole. Jobs are being cut, not created. My man swallowed his not inconsiderable Mediterranean male pride and tried to reconcile himself to swapping his Sales Director persona for an existence as a reluctant house husband – at least until he found another job.

At least I was still working, we told ourselves. Something will come up.

So far, it hasn’t. And as the Ovver Arf is now out of work for more than a year, he gets no welfare benefits from the State.

Meanwhile, our few savings and some help from generous family members helped us keep up with our mortgage payments for a while. But when your family income is slashed by more than half at a time when prices are rising and the Government imposes new taxes every day in a bid to appease the IMF and European Finance Ministers, the gap between ‘have’ and ‘need’ soon becomes a gaping chasm.

And now we face yet more ‘emergency taxes’ on my income and our home. The unemployed are not exempt, though the Church is.

With news of the Greek economy getting grimmer every day, we are facing the real possibility that we might lose our humble home. And that makes me want to sit tight, stroking the walls and hugging the furniture.

I’ve always been a home bunny, preferring to have friends round for a meal accompanied by a bottle of plonk and few laughs to a fancy night out at a swank nightclub. But now, I just want to stay snuggled up on our (slightly worn) sofa.

If the worst does come to the worse, we WILL manage somehow – even if it means moving back in with the In-Laws.
Our family will stay together.
Our heart will find a home with each other.

Our home has always been full of love and laughter, food and friends, and it’s become a regular haunt for our teenage son’s army of friends. It can be noisy and is often messy. But I’m proud of it. I love it. I don’t want to lose it.

So, if there is someone or something out there that can talk the Universe into giving us a break just big enough to keep it, I would really REALLY appreciate it.

[This post was inspired by The Gallery - for more home-inspired blogs, click below]

Friday, 16 September 2011

Back to school - (ish)

So this week, they’re finally back where they should be.
After THREE WHOLE MONTHS off (you hear that, Brit Mums who tear their hair out at the thought of 6 weeks of summer hols?), Greek schoolkids returned to their classrooms this week.
Well, sort of.

Sure, they’re turning up at the school gate at 8am and reporting for registration. But that’s about the size of it. Some lessons have started – the ManChild has had homework for Maths, Ancient Greek and Biology so far – but it’s without the benefit of text books.

Yes, dear reader, you heard me right.

For, as the Ministry of Education announced when the long Greek summer drew to a close, the school books are not ready to be distributed to pupils in September. And if what the school told our son this week is true, they won’t be until Christmas.

So, that means three months of lessons without text books then?
Alrighty. Cue a load of grinning kids. And an army of anxious adults.

The good news is that the material IS available on a CD which the kids have been given to upload to their computers. But even if every Greek household had a PC (they don’t), the success of this Plan B depends largely on the ability and willingness of the teaching staff to use virtual teaching materials.

I, for one, have my doubts.

Much as I revere and admire the best of the teaching profession (and I really do, believe me), the truth is that it contains at least as many lumps of coal as it does diamonds. And in Greece, many are conditioned to resist change no matter what.

Two years ago, amid much glorious fanfare, it was announced that all children entering their first year of Lower High School would be given a notebook PC, which would be loaded up with the teaching materials for the three years to see them through to the start of Upper High School. My son was one of those to benefit from this Brave New World initiative.

Great! You might say (as indeed, did I). Now, that’s progress.

Only it wasn’t. Most teachers spurned the online teaching material and just carried on doing what they’d always done. I think the only lesson my son used the virtual textbook for was…. (wait for it)….. History. Everything else was taught from the book, in the old school fashion - including Technology.

In the end, a year of High School students were given a free PC on which to play online games and up-date their FaceBook status. OK, as a result they’re all much more Internet-savvy – an essential for whatever future awaits them, I suppose – but not much cop in terms of schoolwork.

The following year, the programme was discontinued and no more notebooks were issued to the nation’s 12 & 13-year-olds.

OK, so the credit crunch and the agonising bite of the crisis probably would have put paid to it anyway. BUT even the kids who got their free notebooks haven’t seen the educational benefit – cos most teachers simply didn’t put it into action...
...and now it’s just a matter of time before the strikes start.

Things are better in the paid education sector – hardly surprising, when there’s a profit to be made. In Greece, like it or not, every family pays for at least part of their kids’ education, even if they attend State school, for the frontistirio (evening school) is as much a part of Greek life as ouzo and the Acropolis.

This week, after-hours English lessons started with a vengeance, rapidly draining parents’ pockets of hard-earned dosh to pay annual registration fees, monthly tutorage and the cost of the hugely over-priced text books (75 Euros for two books? Are you kidding me? One is less than a quarter-inch thick and a state curriculum tome of the same size would cost a tenth of the price. Gee, don’t you just love a monopoly?).

We also have to cough up for music lessons, any extra-curricular sports the ManChild will dive into - and now he’s asking about Spanish lessons.

So, yes, school’s in. But don’t worry. The kids are alright.

It’s the parents I worry about.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Mid-Life Lessons: Acting your age

You know how it is.

You're in your 'Fabulous Forties' (that Samantha from 'Sex and the City' has a LOT to answer for!), full of vim and vigour, comfortable in your own (slightly saggy) skin and as sure of yourself as you're ever likely to get...
...and then your offspring will trample all over your ego with a reality check.

They don't necessarily mean to, but they do it nonetheless.

That "you're middle-aged, woman!" wake-up call can come in a variety of forms - anything from a "Did they have electricity in the olden days, Mum?" to the sight of the rapidly sharpening features and sprouting whiskers on what was once your baby boy's oh-so-sweet and chubby face.

You try to take it in your stride - but the truth is it hurts as much as being whacked around the chops with a prize trout, fresh from the freezer.

It takes your breath away and squeezes a barely audible whimper between your thinning (and to date un-Botoxed) lips as you fight the urge not to burst into floods of hormonal tears.

No-one else may hear it, but it echoes loudly as it clatters around your psyche over and over and over again. "Admit defeat and start acting your age."

Now, this is where I have a bit of a problem.
At 46 and three-quarters, I can no longer claim to be in my mid-40s, so I suppose I should at least START to think about acting appropriately for an old dear hurtling headlong towards the Big 5-0, shouldn't I?

Thing is, I don't really know what exactly constitutes that 'appropriate behaviour'.

Should I burn my lived-in jeans and invest in a range of sensible trouser-suits in muted neutrals as prescribed by my "Colour Me Beautiful" consultant at Debenhams?

Do I have to choose between a sensible but severe bob, or a weekly set at the local salon?

Should I grimace like I've just sucked a lemon and shake my head sadly at loud music while longing for the soporific snooze of middle-of-the-road muzak as wallpaper for my ears?

Must I start looking askance and muttering under my breath about "The Youth of Today!" every time I see someone with a nose stud or a neck tattoo?

Do I have to (sob) surrender my beloved bare feet to the sweaty security of a pair of fluffy mule slippers?

Should I stop laughing at dirty jokes and start tutting at things that don't fit neatly into the little compartments I have arranged my mind into?

Do I have to hand in my preferred sci-fi and thriller reading and reach for the more suitable and escapist pages of the 21st century answer to Mills & Boon - or simply give up on books and start studying knitting patterns in "Woman's Own"?

(Maybe I should just do a Charlie Sheen and run screaming and whooping into the sunset, instead?)

OK, so maybe that's what it takes.
But if I do any of those things - with the possible exception of the last - I suspect I shall simply blink out of existence.
Mandi, as we know her, will cease to be.
I will be an ex-Mandi.

Throughout every stage of my life - from carefree childhood, through early adulthood, to responsible grown-up who-really-should-know-better-by-now - I have basically been the same. A little loud, a little quirky, tinged with a touch of 'bolshy', a little too exuberant for my own good at times, occasionally dancing to a totally different tune to everyone else. It's as if I've coloured myself in, in a hurry, without worrying too much about going over the lines, though the end result is reasonably pleasing (if you like that sort of thing) - in a kind of Jackson Pollockesque fashion.

So how, pray tell me, am I expected to change all that and suddenly 'act my age'?

It could be worse, I s'pose. I could throw myself into mid-life denial and try every trick in the book (and make a truckload of sacrifices my Inner Hedonist simply won't allow) to pull, cut, freeze, nip, paralyse, trim and sandblast evidence of the years away?

But I don't think so.
Sounds like WAY too much work for me - and, in its extreme, it smacks slightly of desperation.

So, you may ask, how do I plan to age gracefully?

Answer: I don't.

I'm planning on growing old thoroughly disgracefully.

I'm going to carry on wearing my scruffy old jeans (and not just inside the house).
I'm gonna keep my hair short, red and spiky (when the Gods of gel are on my side).
I'm going keep on reading books with rude words in them.

I'm gonna carry on singing VERY LOUDLY in the car, with the windows wound all the way down. Even when I have to stop at traffic lights.

I'm going keep on arguing loudly when someone offends my sense of right and wrong.

I may even continue to screech like a demented she-gorilla on speed at rock concerts - especially when it's the fruit of my own loins is up there on stage looking all moody and giving it his all on his white guitar.

I may even give him a big sweaty kiss when he comes off stage to show how proud I am of him.

After all, if there's an up-side to the march of the years, it's the fact that I've now earned the right to embarrass my teenager in public, haven't I?

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Write! said Fred

It's been way, way too long.

This summer, I gave myself permission for a small hiatus from blogging, but it ended up as an extended period of stagnation fueled by sweaty weather, general stress and strain, the joys of living as a multi-generational family in a smallish summer house (with just one TV - shock! horror!) and simply not enough hours in the day.

But you'll be pleased to hear (won't you?) that I'm about to kick-start myself back into action once and for all.

That resolution to climb back on the blogging wagon has made me stop and think why exactly I do it.
Is it vanity?
Is it therapy?
Is it delusion?

The truth probably lies slap in the middle of all three. But it's also something else. For me - even before the Internet was a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee's brain cells - writing always served a similar purpose to dreaming: a safety valve for my hopes and fears, and a way to empty out all the dross that gathers in my sub-conscious every day and try to make sense of it all.
And for a life-long on-and-off insomniac that can only be a good thing.

Whenever I have found myself facing a dilemma, standing helplessly in front of a tough decision, or utterly bewildered by the maelstrom of thoughts doing the fandango round my head, I turned to words.

Words were my friends, they helped me order those rampant thoughts and finally reach some kind of conclusion about what I want. They even helped me say a proper goodbye to my father, even though the 'plane I jumped on when I heard he'd collapsed didn't get me to his bedside in time to say it in person.

And when I've been unable to say out loud what I really feel in the midst of a blazing row, putting it down on paper, handing it over and then disappearing for an hour's walk usually does the job.

Blogging is just an extension of the same.
Yes, I want to be read, commented on, admired and adulated (hey, who doesn't?), but more than anything, it's a way of sharing myself with people, airing my cobwebby grey matter, and occasionally sourcing the wisdom of the (admittedly small) crowd of people who might read it.

Of course, not all those who read what I write are anonymous. Some of them are my nearest and dearest and - if I'm honest - that does sometimes inhibit me in what I write about. So there are some things I never have blogged about - and probably never will. But that's OK, isn't it?

I mostly blog to share my world with people I've never met, but wish I had or will some day.

Someone once said Twitter can make you love those you've never met - and it's true.
I've connected with some real diamonds out their in the good old Interwebby thing - some of whom I now truly consider my cyber soul sistahs (and bruvvers, of course, it just lacks the same pleasing alliteration).

I think I have built up a small but friendly group of readers and I hope I haven't alienated them with my recent radio silence.

The problem is that unlike your classic tortured artist toiling away in a garret, stress and emotional turmoil does not oil the cogs of my creative process. Oh no, it chucks a whole sackful of spanners into it.

This summer has been a tough one. Despite our best efforts and economy drives, money worries persist and anxiety about the future never goes away, no matter how brightly the sun sparkles on the Mediterranean waves.

We're trying to bring a little of the good old English "Stay calm and keep going" phlegm to the Greek reality we live in, but it takes a lot of effort - and sometimes that effort steals from my blogging reserves.

So, dear readers, I hope you'll forgive me.
But now that the school year is underway, I know that I 'must do better' and that's just what I plan to do.

Just watch this space...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Gallery: Like a duck to water

Growing up in England, water was everywhere - even where we didn't want it.

It was also at the heart of much of our childhood joy, the basic element of much of our play - and our occasional downfall when a puddle proved deeper than we thought or a lakeside footpath more slippery than it looked.

No sunny day in June was complete without an inpromptu water fight with the garden hose when you're supposed to be saving Dad's hydraengas and snapdragons from dehydration (the best part was putting your thumb over the end of the hose to produce and fine but powerful spray, then aim it skywards and delight in your own man-made shower surrounded by a million mini-rainbows).

Exploring the woods felt so much closer to a Famous Five adventure (Gawd bless dear old Enid Blyton - she hasn't aged well, as I found out when I started reading her to my young son) when there was a stream to ford, bridge or flop about in.

The 'drought' of 1976 was made more exciting (for us kids anyway) by the necessity of trundling down the street to fill up canisters, kettles and bowls with water from the stand-pipe manned by the neighbourhood jobs-worth.

And then there was the thrill of feeding the ducks.

Even on the rawest of winter days, we would gather together all those rock-hard discarded bread crusts and nag Mum or Dad until they agreed to take us to The Priory in Reigate or Tilgate Park near Crawley.

Once there, we would flap our arms like mad and make deranged noises at the local wildlife until they came waddling across the lake so we could chuck our dough-based missiles at them.

We'd been thoroughly briefed on how aggressive swans could be, thanks to Nannie's dire warnings ("They can put your eye out, or beat you to death with their wings"), so we tried our best not to aim the crusts at their stately noggins.

The same couldn't be said for the poor old coots and moorhens.

They didn't seem to mind, though. So long as they got their fair share of Mother's pride drenched in pondwater.

It was cheap, simple, outdoors and we loved it.
I wonder if today's youngsters get the joy from it that we did?

I hope so.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Dear So and So: The London's Burning edition

Dear Looters,

I took the weekend off from this ole Interwebby thing so it's only been in the past day or two that I realised what you have been up to.

Yesterday, I shook my head sadly, but hoped that it would all blow over soon.

Today, I realised I was over-optimistic.

You will note that I am not calling you rioters, and certainly not protestors. That is intentional.
What we've seen over the past three days is not rioting - it is pure and simple smash, grab and burn mob rule.
It's not driven by political outrage or social decay (though I'm not denying such things exist - they're just not the cause of your moronic behaviour).
We have seen our share of rioting here in Greece, especially this year, but the driving force has never been the urge to go on an anarchic, free spending spree.

When I see you running rampage, faces covered to fool the CCTV, destroying your own communities, attacking fire crews, journalists and innocent by-standers, smashing family businesses, burning cars, buses, shops and homes, and raiding big brand name stores for designer sports wear, high tech plasma TV screens and the latest must-have Smart Phones and apps, I'm sure the cause is nothing more than good old fashioned greed and an utter lack of respect for the society you live in.

There is so much in the world worth protesting about, and so many ways you can make your voices heard. If you're going to take to the streets, make it worthwhile, not just another example that perpetuates the negative stereotypes others have of you.

Do something positive - prove the nay-sayers wrong, for heaven's sake.

Don't give me the old "there is nothing for us" chestnut. There's plenty to keep you occupied. It's not my fault that you prefer mindless destruction and theft to joining in with a local arts group, sports team, community project or voluntary organisation. If you did, you might even realise that your worth much more in your own right than the latest must-have-at-any-price piece of designer tat.

You have betrayed yourselves, your families, your communities - any rightful grievance you may have is automatically wiped out by your behaviour. I hope that anyone who sees you parading around with your newly ill-gotten gains, will see you for the scum-sucker you really are and not the Big Man or Woman you so clearly are desperate to be.

Today, you have achieved something that's never be done before. You have made me ashamed to be English.

Just stop it, grow up and get real.

Yours, in sadness and disgust,
former Croydon Reporter.

Dear Riot Clean-uppers,

Thank goodness for you. You have restored my faith in humanity and made me proud to be English again. Your positive community-minded response to the horrors of the past few days is an inspiration to all and a true reflection of what really is the Best of Britain.

If I was in the UK, I'd join you in your efforts.
But as I'm not, all I can do is encourage others to follow you on , @riotcleanup and

Yours, in utmost admiration,
Transplanted in Athens.

Dear Davey-boy,

Such a shame you had to cut your hols short. Bloody typical, eh?
But at least we know that you found time to make your peace with the waitress who made your carry your own cappuccino to the table is that Italian cafe. That's alright then, eh? Man of the people and all that.

Oh well, never mind, after you've had your COBRA meetings (sounds like a plot for an action movie, doesn't it?), you might just have time to send the help down to Waitrose to stock up on the essentials before you leave on your next holiday later this month.

Yours, in sympathy,

Dear Boris,

Oh, I do love you for your unruly mop of butter-hued hair, your erudite wit and classical references, your claims that the English invented ping-pong, and those priceless shots of you in a helmet wobbling away on a Boris Bike, but we've missed you lately.

Where have you been?
Didn't you know that these past few days, more than ever, London has been absolutely "where it's at"?

Come home - there's much to be forgiven.

Yours, in bewilderment,

Dear Theresa,

Still think that cutting police numbers and slashing budgets is a good idea?
(Nice shoes, by the way).

Just wondering,
Your Girl Power sistah.

Dear So and So...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Surviving the strikes

Unless you’ve been living on the dark side of a small sub-planet in the quietest corner of Alpha Centauri, you can’t fail to have heard about Greece’s financial woes and the strikes in response to austerity measures being introduced. But, the country has not ground to a halt and residents and visitors alike can work around any disruption. In this latest of my Athens "Surviving" series, I give a few tips to visitors on how not to let the strikes ruin your stay...

So, you’ve made it to the city that gave birth to democracy more than 2,000 years ago. That in itself is a good start. It means that no air traffic controllers, port workers or other disgruntled group has conspired to prevent your arrival. Welcome!

Looking around, you may be a little surprised. The news headlines have prepared you for a city in uproar, pulsating with protestors and police, and a country crippled by constant strikes. Instead, the scents of souvlaki and jasmine on balconies are stronger than any residual whiff of tear gas. The trains, buses and trams are filled with Athenians on their way to work every morning. Folk in shops still smile and are as hospitable as ever.

Greek society has not imploded. Life goes on.

Industrial action and noisy protests have featured strongly on Greece’s political stage for months now. But strikes – be they for a few hours, a few days, or even weeks – have always been part of the way of life here. They’re as Greek as ouzo and summer sunshine. Even before the threat of radical changes and austerity measures in a bid to solve the country’s financial woes stirred up discontent, stoppages and downtown demos were a regular feature of city life.

Locals take it all in their stride, and use their wits to make a mere inconvenience from what some might consider a disaster. So, here are some tips on how to minimise the impact of any strikes during your visit.

Stay informed
A little bit of knowledge can save a whole day of heartache. Most strikes are announced in advance. In addition to TV and radio news, many Athenians rely on Greek-language websites like for regular updates, and reliable English information can also be found online. Check out or the English pages of Greek daily newspapers like
If you are staying at a hotel, just ask the front desk staff about any strikes that might disrupt your plans.

Avoid hot spots
The angry riots that have filled the world’s TV screens are the exception, not the rule, and are generally limited to a few key ignition points. The whole city is not in turmoil when BBC or CNN show protesters hurling stones and street furniture at riot police lined up in front of parliament. Just a few blocks away, it’s business as usual with people serenely sipping coffee and reading the paper in street cafes.
The main hot spot to avoid when outrage is in the air is Syntagma Square - the front yard of Greece’s Parliament, and where the ‘Indignados of Athens’ have gathered in mostly peaceful protest since late May. It has also been the scene of occasional clashes with police when a small minority gets physical.
Staff at your hotel should be able to give you an idea of what areas to avoid.

Plan B
Flexibility is key. When a strike scuppers your plans, consider the alternatives.
If you turn up at the Metro station to find the shutters rolled down, think about taking the bus or tram instead, as it is rare for the entire public transport network to be closed at the same time. The Athens Urban Transport Organisation (OASA) website – – has information in Greek and English.
If you do find yourself stuck in the centre, take to the streets. Athens is a city best seen by foot, and has a myriad of cafes and snack bars when you can stop to quench your thirst and consult your map. A day exploring the small back streets can reveal some delights that you would never discover on a planned tour.
If you arrive at Piraeus eager to board your ferry for a day on one of the islands in the Saronic Gulf, only to find they’re not operating, don’t despair. Just hop onto a tram heading along the coast road. You’ll get a stately ride in a classily-designed air-conditioned carriage, with charming views of Athens’ seaside suburbs, and you’re bound to find a beach worthy of your towel along the way.

But if you’re an adrenaline junkie who’s been lured to Athens by the scent of danger, just head for the nearest protest and start loudly expressing your views about lazy Greeks who want to carry on riding the gravy train at Europe’s expense.

That’s one sure-fire way to experience Greek passion first hand.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The seven ages of smell

Smell. It’s the poor relative of the five senses, yet perhaps the most evocative. Few of us think about it, but our lives would be so much poorer without it.

Just a whiff of tomato plants immediately transports me back to the greenhouses of my English childhood, where the glass panes entrapped the giddy scent of the vines and their rapidly ripening red fruits. The scent of fresh sawdust and wet mortar whips me down a wormhole to days spent playing around one of the building sites where my master-builder Grandad and his gang were hard at work. And the sweet smell of baby shampoo takes me back to the first days of my teenage son’s life, when I used to love to sniff the freshly-washed blonde fluff on his head after his evening bath.

I really only started to appreciate my sense of smell when I quit smoking five years ago. Along with the frayed nerves and flu-like symptoms of the first month of withdrawal from the devil weed, I noticed something much nicer…

It was as if the tiny hairs and receptors in my nostrils had been plunged into the deep freeze for a couple of decades, only to be slowly awoken in the ‘bain Marie’ of my newly smoke-free status. Within the first fortnight, I knew the minute I walked into the house that we had left an overnight mosquito-repellent tablet plugged in all day. I became an aroma junkie, obsessively breathing in the scent of fruit and veg at the grocers before selecting them – and summarily rejecting anything that smelt of nothing. I was even caught on a couple of occasions sniffing close friends and family.

The stages of most lives can be characterised by distinctive scents. So here are my seven ages of smell:

Fresh-mown grass, bicycle chain grease, mud after a downpour, Dad’s aftershave, Sunday roasts, the cloud of hairspray and perfume at Mum’s dressing table, allergy cream, a sponge cake cooling in the kitchen, the delicate aroma of Nana’s rouge and lipstick when I gave her a kiss, orange squash lollies from the cavernous freezer, Matey bubble bath, the earthy scent of a cuddle with Grandad after a day in the garden, freshly-baked shortbread, the summer stink that wafted across the fields when farmers sprayed with fertilizer, pencil shavings, blood, Dettol and apples.

“Charlie” perfume, Indian ink, the chemical sharp edge of Sun-In hair lightener, greasy lipsticks left on the windowsill, wet schoolbooks, stale cigarette smoke on friends’ clothes, joss sticks, that ‘old man’ smell that refused to leave the army coats we bought from charity shops, second-hand books, Juicy Fruit chewing gum, dried watercolours, a new sketchpad, stinky hair-removing cream and far too much deodorant.

Single adulthood:
Carbon paper, alcohol, the first whiff of a lit cigarette, hot metal and ink from a printing press, paper dust, the marigold-reminiscent scent of petrol, facemasks, hair mousse, my first culinary experiments with soy sauce or oregano, garlic bread, wet hair, the summer reminder of that bottle of milk that spilled in my first car, vodka & orange and “Rive Gauche”.

Married life:
Scented candles, pretentious dinner party menus, newsprint in bed, ground coffee, the musky scent at the nape of his neck, red wine, sausages burning on the barby, his aftershave, fry-up breakfasts on Sunday mornings, someone else’s sweat, the comforting scent of his favourite t-shirt (the one you wear to bed when he’s away) and his & hers “Bulgari”.

The unbeatable aroma of a new-born’s tummy, heavy nappies, washing powder, regurgitated milk, Sudocream, boiling water to sterilize bottles and dummies, that unmistakable “I’m cooking up something in my nappy” scent wafting from the cot (usually accompanied by a knowing grin), infant’s hair, Johnson’s baby powder, Dettol, burps and pureed carrot.

Middle age:
Home baked bread, the whiff of over-heated electric cables, anti-acid tablets, moisturising cream, herbal tea, jam, eye gel for those pesky bags, tiger balm, saffron rice, damp laundry under a hot iron, foot lotion, the smell of fellow passengers on public transport and lavender plants.

Who knows? It’s yet to come… ...but I supect it will include scents from all the previous ages. Not least Dettol, old books, favourite t-shirts, baby powder, moisturizing cream and anti-acid. But hopefully there will also be the scents of newborn grandchildren, fresh baked shortbread and tea too.

Tea, after all, is the scent for all ages.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Dear So and So: The working from home edition

Dear Greek countryside,

Whoever said you were quiet and peaceful? Well, whoever it was, they were wrong.

Isn’t enough that I was rudely awoken by the rattling cry of a hooligan magpie and the sclatter of battling cats outside my bedroom door at 6 this morning?

But I’m an optimist and try to be philosophical about things, so I got up, grabbed my laptop and headed for the balcony to make an early start on work, surrounded by your early morning bounty.

All was well…. ‘til I settled down with my cup of Greek coffee (the type you have to sip slowly over a couple of hours if you don’t want a choking mouthful of coffee grounds) and starting reading my first emails. Serenity reigned (due in part to assorted family members we share this country hide-away with still snoozing gently) and I was ready for my morning productivity surge.

But then, just as I started going through with the latest magazine proof with a proverbial nit-comb, all hell broke loose!

The local cicadas woke up, en masse, with a sudden onslaught of synchronised chirping from the pine trees all around. We’re not talking a gentle chirruping here, we’re talking high octane, high decibel rhythmic waves of noise. Though weird looking, cicadas are harmless and strangely wonderful – especially when you learn the story of their life – but boy do they make a racket! They must be the metal heads of the insect world.

And if that wasn’t enough, the panic-stricken wood doves then decided to join in the cacophony. We’re not talking the gentle cooing that punctuated the more idyllic summer days of my English childhood – these are pigeons with attitude. Their cry is an aggressive reminder of their presence, probably tinged with the angst about Greece’s uncertain future that’s infected us all.

And another thing, how’s a girl to concentrate of the finer details of document when there’s the sight of a pine-covered hillside rolling down to the sea to distract her?

But you know me. I’m a trooper and I’ll battle through, despite your attempts to lure me away from my Protestant Work Ethic.

Until, at least, our date on the beach at the end of the day.

In eager anticipation – cos you know I love ya!

Dearest Mother-in-Law,

Thanks so much for the cup of coffee. I appreciate it, I really do.

But please understand that when I'm trying to work, I can’t sit and chat about the latest exploits of Kyria Mina’s daughter’s next-door-neighbour or the intricacies of the best pasta flora recipe.

I know you’re pleased to see me after so many days. I’m delighted that we get on just fine, but please try to understand that although I am physically in front of you on your balcony, in every other sense I am somewhere else.

The last thing I need when I’m trying to argue my case with a colleague in Singapore is you faffing around trying to straighten my collar and making disapproving faces at my shameless bare feet.

With love,
Your (mostly) dutiful but slightly off-centre English Daughter-in-Law.

Dear Battling Neighbours,

You really need to chill out.
Don't you know that so much anger is bad for you?

I've been listening to your screeched exchanges of "Go to hell", "Get out of my face", and much worse since the early hours - and I'm pretty sure that all the houses within a square kilometre know that you are definitely not the best of pals.

But please, can't you just put your border disputes and screaming matches to one side, and simply enjoy being here?

Don't make me come down there, alright?
You may not know this, but hell hath no fury like a middle-aged Englishwoman whose peace has been shattered by someone else's all-too-public arguments.

The "Anglida nyfi ths Kyrias Renas".

Dear kids,

I really don’t have time for this, you know. You’re old enough to work things out for yourselves and I really shouldn’t have to play referee to your cousinly squabbles.

And for the last time, switch off the ******* Play Station and get outside to get some fresh air!

Your loving mother and auntie.

Dear seaside,

If I called you a beach, I hope you won’t be offended.

I know I haven’t been round to see you enough – it’s been WAY too long. But I’ll be there soon. Just save a spot in the shade for me to hide my pallid, puffed-up bod after a much-deserved dip in the briny.


Dear Boss,

I know I'm not at the office today, but believe me I'm hard at work. In fact I bet I sent my first email before you had your breakfast. Honest!

Your humble servant - remotely but nonetheless professionally.

Dear So and So...

Friday, 1 July 2011

Dear So and So: The Greek Edition

Dear World,

I know your TV screens and newspapers have been full of images of violent clashes in Athens as the Greek Parliament voted on austerity measures, but please don't write the country off.
It's true that the current mess is the direct result of mismanagement and corruption (and even the following of some seriously dodgy advice from certain non-Greek financial giants) by a series of Governments stretching back over decades, but the people are hurting, they're angry and they're supremely frustrated.
Yes, the public sector has been bloated for years.
Yes, many of those with the means have avoided paying their dues to the State, and more than a few public officials have accepted envelopes stuffed with cash to turn a blind eye.

many of the peaceful protestors in Syntagma Square (those who demonstrated without incident for weeks before a few trouble-makers turned things toxic with stone-throwing and Molotov cocktails, and before the police responded with tear-gas and baton bashing) are hurting like never before. Many are wage-slaves in the private sector, so have not benefited from the public sector cash cow and have never had the opportunity to cheat the tax man - even if they were inclined to do so. They're hard-working people who are trying to give their children a better life. With record unemployment, hikes in taxes, closures of schools and many of the young people who manage to find work earning a paltry minimum monthly wage of 740 Euros before deductions, that dream seems unlikely now for thousands of working and middle class families.

They know things had to change - they've known it for years now. But successive Governments have failed to grasp the nettle and make the changes that could have averted the disaster (primarily because it would have been political suicide). But that doesn't mean that they can stand by and see their hard-earned lives whittled away while those with power and influence continue to enjoy their (undeclared) swimming pools or sailing their yachts around the jet set's favourite summer spots.
It's hard to understand why you have to eat lentils three times a week, instead of having a Sunday roast, when you know those responsible are entertaining cronies at some of the best (and most exclusive) seafood restaurants in the Eastern Mediterranean.
It's hard to be philosophical when we all know that self-proclaimed men or women 'of the people' in Parliament have luxury villas and send their precious offspring to expensive private schools while you wonder if you will be able to afford new shoes for little Yianni's ever-growing feet when school starts again in September.

Of course Greek people are frustrated and angry. Wouldn't you be?

And remember, the rioters you've seen on your TV screens represent just a tiny fraction of a percentage of the people that live, work and pay taxes in this (still) lovely country. Most are just focusing on work (or trying to find it) to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and some semblance of hope for the future for their children.

Despite the current troubles and woes Greece is going through, it remains a wonderful country with a great deal to offer: warm friendly people (honestly), amazing natural beauty, fantastic food, incomparable culture and history, a great climate.

But don't take my word for it - come and see for yourself (just avoid Syntagma Square for a while).


Dear People of Greece,

Hold on, hang on, never give up. I know it seems like the whole world is against Greece right now, but things can get better. I may be a 'xeni' (foreigner) but I've been living, working and paying taxes here since 1989 (more years than some of you have been alive), I'm married to a Greek, have a child at a Greek state school and am facing the same problems as many of you.

Now is the time to unite, to really work together, and to finally show those in power how it should be done. There is still so much great about this country - let's start showing the world the shiny side of the coin (whether it's a Euro or a Drachma, who knows?) and not just the filthy, smoke-stained side.

Greece still has so much to offer the world, not least the vision, passion, drive and warmth of its people. Let's show THAT side to the world.


Dear Greek MPs,

OK, so you voted for the austerity measures. You probably feel there was no other option. Fine, OK.

But now, more than ever, it is time for you to finally start leading by example and to jump off the gravy train once and for all. The people out there in the streets around Syntagma (and millions more desperately trying to balance their household budgets around the country) are sick of you all. It doesn't matter whether you're left, right or central, whether you're blue, green, red, or sky-blue pink, most people blame you. You're the ones that have allowed the state system to fall into unforgivable disarray whilst milking the benefits of your power and influence.
Little wonder some of you have been the target of yoghurt pots.

Now is the time to really show the country that you deserve to be in your privileged position. And if you do not step up and prove your worth, you will never be forgiven. Even if it means taking steps that could end your political career, surely it's worth it if you really mean it when you say you have "the good of the country" at heart.

And in the name of all things you hold dear, slash through the choking red tape that stands in the way of innovative Greek entrepreneurs easily starting new enterprises without having to circumvent the system! New growth can only happen if seeds are sown.

As an-EU citizen who has not, and does not plan to, changed my citizenship, I cannot vote for any of you in Parliament, but as someone who has been honestly paying my dues to the state for more than two decades, I think I have some right to speak out.

Come on, sort out this mess. It's now or never.

Yours in desperate (and maybe deluded?) hope,
Angry of Aghia Paraskevi.

Dear IMF/EU/assorted rating agencies,

Enough already. Even convicted criminals are given the chance to redeem themselves after they've served their time. Give Greece a break, for goodness sake!

It's a country with an ambitious, highly-educated and fundamentally up-beat people. Given the chance, they can move the world in a positive way. But your constant undermining of the country means that the only earth-moving Greece is likely to do is the worst possible kind.

I think it's about time to stop punishing the 'upstart' Greeks who aspire to something more than the cliched image of a sun-baked fisherman mending his nets by hand or a black-clad granny sorting beans on her doorstep, isn't it?

One of the little people.

Dear Husband,

I know everything looks bleak now, but we WILL get through this. And no matter what, I shall always be at your side - holding your hand, feeling your pain, laughing at your jokes, sharing your dreams and - yes - nagging you to do the things that have to be done.

I'm not going anywhere, sunshine. Σ'αγαπώ.

Always yours,

Dear So and So...