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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Dick Gaughan Concert, 26 November

Dick Gaughan was on magnificent form last night. One of the world's great singer-songwriters and guitarists, his passionate interpretations of a variety of powerful songs and lyrics gripped the audience, whatever the political persuasions of those who'd come to hear him.

We were lucky to see him in the intimate setting of a small Arts Centre. He could control a large stadium, not that he would want to.

I first discovered his music (the LP No More Forever) in the 1970s, in the Record Library of the Voice of Kenya, Nairobi. The next time was in Czechoslovakia, where I bought an imported East German LP (apparently some songs were considered  by the authorities "too political" to be included).

I particularly like the quality of his voice, his guitar style and his interpretations of Scottish ballads.

I had the chance to talk to him about his popularity in (former) Eastern Europe and the political situation before 1989, about his guitar tunings (DADGAD on acoustic), his influences (Doc Watson and Davy Graham in terms of guitar) and about travelling people (one of his grandmothers was a traveller).

An unforgettable concert. He makes people think about how they've spent their lives; about failed expectations. He's committed to his beliefs, and he's uncompromising. It can be uncomfortable. He remains a rebel who hasn't "sold out".

Explore his songs on YouTube:

"What you do with what you've got"

"Now Westlin' Winds"

"Bonnie Jeannie o' Bethelnie"

"Song for Ireland"

John Peel described him as "one of the five or six great voices of our time". He's up there with Dylan, but he's stayed closer to the Scottish, and Irish traveller, musical and protest traditions. Dick Gaughan's website. 

A Royal Visitor

Prince Charles visits Little Waitrose

Update, re Friday 3rd May 2013

The Prince of Wales will view an exhibition documenting the development of Poundbury over the past 20 years before joining a reception to meet local residents to celebrate Poundbury’s twentieth anniversary.

An article from The Lady, chosen for the exhibition.

Lawrence Durrell, 1912-2012: The Spoken Word (British Library)

This will be a fascinating audio release for the centenary.

A pity it doesn't include Durrell's recording of sections from Prospero's Cell.

It would be good if the BBC were also to issue a DVD with the TV interviews and documentaries about Durrell.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

John Vallins, Wessex Diaries

This is a book on my Christmas wish-list.

John Vallins, who writes a regular column for The Guardian, was my English teacher at school - an inspiring teacher. He made a real difference to the lives of many people.

Like Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, who introduces the book, I pay tribute to John Vallins' outstanding teaching.

More about the book.

Greek Embroidery

A good collection (online gallery) in The Greek Institute, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

From the introduction, Greek Island Embroidery, Pauline  Johnstone, 1961

Friday, 25 November 2011

Crow (recalling Ted Hughes); Carol Ann Duffy and Thomas Hardy

John Hubbard's talk in Bournemouth

An excellent lecture on Hardy and The Poetry of Unbelief by John Hubbard in Dorchester last night. I wonder what Hardy would have made of this song?

Tonight there's a reading by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, at Bridport Arts Centre, with music by John Sampson (Update: an excellent and entertaining evening. Carol Ann Duffy read poems old and new, including a number from The World's Wife (1999)- Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias, Mrs Faust and Mrs Darwin). I was hoping she would read Circe, which begins:

Fortunately, it was not dedicated to me!

The image of the crow on the beach (above) brought to mind another Poet Laureate's sequence of poems called CROW.

Some lines from three different Ted Hughes poems from that collection:

"Limpid and black-

Crow's eye-pupil, in the tower of its scorched fort."

"Crow had to start searching for something to eat."

"Crow spraddled head-down in the beach-garbage, guzzling a dropped ice-cream."

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Forever Young, Dylan at 70

Good video

Time for some Philhellenism! The Light of Greece (from Binyon to Fowles)

People are getting tired of all the negative journalistic comment. Greece is not a brand, and it doesn't need rebranding as such, but it deserves more balanced international press coverage. Without making allowances or excuses, it is as well to remind ourselves of what the country has offered (and suffered) in the last seventy years or so.

As a first reminder, here's the first verse of a poem by Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), from 1940.

The Lamp of Greece

Truth incorruptible lives on, though sight
Cloud, and the heart flinch, and the mind askance
Reject. Because she sought that radiance,
Unweariable lover of the light!
History's marvel, Hellas in despite
Of time and interposing circumstance
Still stands above the siege of ignorance,
Serene before the armies of the night.


In 1940 Binyon was appointed Byron Professor of English Literature at the University of Athens. He worked there until forced to leave, narrowly escaping before the German invasion of Greece in April 1941 (Wikipedia).

If Binyon saw Greece, or rather Hellas, as a source of radiant light, John Fowles could write of Byzantine Greece, only 11-12 years later, as a torturer of light.

Fowles had been appointed as a teacher at a boarding school on the island of Spetsai. He was writing after the end of the Greek Civil War, and around the time that the Cyprus problem was becoming intensified. Does this poem mark, symbolically, the end of a brief new flowering of Philhellenism?


Purples on purples, faecal browns,
Neurotic greens and wombing blacks,
Crusted walls and cancerous cells:
And I stand in the narthex hating
Byzantium, inward Byzantium,
These vile Greek churches staling
Their landscapes like poisonous fungi,
Clusters of foul mycotic caps,
Enshriners of the worst of night.

I know Byzantium: Byzantium
Is anything that tortures light.

It's time to be more positive, although the last paragraph of the following article gives little cause for rejoicing.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Andreas Thomopoulos, Singer-Songwriter

I bought Andreas Thomopoulos' first two albums at the beginning of the 1970s, when he was living in the UK.

I couldn't find my favourite track on Youtube, "The New Spring" from "Songs of the Street", but here's another good song from that innovative album. It's called "Report to the Sad Lady".

Another track

It's high time "Songs of the Street" was made available again. We need a new spring.

Deadline for Signatures (Greece)

Deadlines usually help to focus the mind. Not in Greece...

The deadline approaches (Kathimerini)

In Greece (

No sixth dose? (To Vima)

A grassroots perspective (Keep Talking Greece blog). But this story I find hard to take seriously...

The inevitable U-turn? Not quite (Washington Post)

Samaras' letter (Reuters)

The EU ponders

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Britain in Europe

This topic never goes away!

I was involved in a number of conferences on this subject with European Union Cultural Institute counterparts in Sweden and Australia.

This book, Britain in Europe, Prospects for Change (Ashgate, 1999) was edited by Professor John Milfull, and was the outcome of one such conference.

The discussions also related to Britain's changing relationship with Australia. From John Milfull's paper, referring to an earlier conference held in 1997:

It was flattering to be called (in the Preface to the Book) a "model citizen of a New Europe". I wonder how many of us could talk about anyone in such terms these days!

One's enthusiasm waxes and wanes. There was a time when I thought a job in Brussels might be both stimulating and satisfying. Now I'm not so sure. It was left to other members of my family to find the answer.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Glyn Hughes, Memorial Service, Halifax

I regret that I couldn't be at the memorial service for Glyn Hughes today.

Glyn was a fine poet, novelist, painter and loyal friend.

     (The 1991 Christmas card is entitled "Figures entering Paradise"


I have been reading through his poetry and our extensive (30 year) correspondence.

He sent me a letter on February 5, 1981, after his December 1980 visit to Thessaloniki for a poetry reading.

We visited Petralona Cave. In his letter he wrote:

"I managed a poem about Petralona, after all- I'll never forget that experience, it was very wonderful. Altogether it was one of the best trips I've ever had to read poems anywhere...."

The poem was published in the New Statesman on 26.3.1982, and again in his collection "Dancing Out of the Dark Side" (Shoestring Press, 2005). I have several hand-typed versions of the poem, each with minor variations from the published version of Petralona Man, which begins with a note:

Antedating Cro-Magnon Man, he was discovered in a cave in northern Greece, in sight of Mount Olympus.

The poem finishes

The ice melted, earth turned green and bright.
As frightened as he'd been to enter, he came out
and saw across sea and plain
this same view of Mount Olympus,
its vast sunlit saddle a seat of the gods.

If I'd been able to make it to Halifax today, I would have offered to read that poem.

In the same letter of February 1981, he sent me a poem about the death of his mother. She had died while Glyn was in Salonica, but no one had known where to find him, in order to tell him.

"My scarf of fate's now long enough..."

One of Glyn's many great poems with a Greek theme or connection is Lemon Juice. The first verse is not included in the published version (in Dancing out of the Dark Side).

Some never know what their gifts were until the end,
their talents nor their good fortune either
until the end of life. But this I learned:
one small and precious skill I had
of extracting juices from a fruit....

In a different marriage now I show how to do it -
the table-fork moved like a pendulum
across each cheek sliced from a lemon
and the juice trailed over salad for its piquancy

leaving on my hands
a final, cleansing sting of bitterness.


The Glyn Hughes I knew was never a bitter man, although he may have had his regrets.

He wrote only a few blog postings. He did have a website. I was always glad to receive a letter, card, poem, water colour sketch or email.


A fine review in The Guardian Books of the Year, 26.11.2011, by Simon Armitage:

'Although most people knew him as a novelist and indeed a painter, Glyn Hughes had been quietly publishing poetry since the 60s. A Year in the Bull-Box (Arc Publications) is a poem-sequence detailing the turning of the seasons and the eternal processes of nature from the vantage point of a "bull-box" (that's a stone hut to you and me). It is also a meditation on mortality, written as Hughes succumbed to the cancer that was to take his life earlier this year. In those last twelve months he seemed to have found a grace and contentment that is both humbling and inspiring, and I don't ever remember being as moved by a book of poems.'

"I don't ever remember being as moved by a book of poems."

I concur.

The Cameron/Merkel Meeting

Read Bagehot's views

Carl Reuter, OBE, 1953-2011, Cultural Diplomat and Bluesman

I have just received the sad news of the death of Carl Reuter, OBE, who was my colleague in Thessaloniki in the 1980s.

He had been living happily on an Adriatic island, singing and playing the blues as Carl Reuter and The Harpoons.

Billy Boy Blues, In Memoriam

Radio Love

There's a lot more great music on YouTube: Carl Reuter and The Harpoons.

At the Zagreb Blues Festival

"King of the One Man Blues"

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Uncollected tax in Greece

Kathimerini report. According to EU calculations, it amounts to 60 billion Euros, 25% of GDP.

Other structural problems

Sweet Beaminster, far from Athens

Riots in Athens, 17 November, as expected. Kathimerini reports.

I was far away, on a peaceful walk in the English countryside (from Beaminster - Netherbury church - Stoke Abbott - Stoke Knapp farm – Chart Knolle - Gerrard's Hill - Beaminster).

"Sweet Be'mi'ster, that bist a-bound
By green an' woody hills all round,
Wi' hedges, reachen up between
A thousan' vields o' zummer green,
Where elems' lofty heads do drow
Their sheades vor hay-meakers below,
An' wilde hedge-flow'rs do charm the souls
0' maidens in their evenen strolls."

William Barnes.

These Lepiota look good, but they are probably poisonous!

Judgement Day!

"What you gonna do on Judgement Day?"

Modern jargon: 360 degree Summative Performance Evaluation Report

Judgement Day by Snooky Prior

Judgement Day by Eric Clapton

Burnin' Hell by John Lee Hooker

See also Tom Jones

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

ND - NO DEAL (Greece again)

Reuters reports on the refusal of ND and Samaras to sign the required pledge

From Eurointelligence:

Greek conservatives vowed to reject further austerity measures
Greece's conservatives vowed on Monday to reject any new austerity in return for the bailout, Reuters reports. Eurozone leaders and the European Commission are waiting for the conservative New Democracy and its two coalition partners -- the Socialists and the right-wing LAOS party – to sign pledges that they will do what is necessary to make a new €130bn rescue loan package work. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said he would not sign any pledge for new belt-tightening. His support for the three-day old government has been lukewarm. The LAOS party has also objected to any new wage or pension cuts. Opening a parliamentary debate that will culminate in a confidence vote on Wednesday, incoming premier Lucas Papademos urged the parties to commit to implementing the bailout's terms as agreed last month. Papademos said Greece had no choice but to remain inside the eurozone, telling lawmakers reforms were the only way to mitigate painful austerity measures.

Eurointelligence Update, 16 November:

The next loan tranche remains in doubt, as New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras continues to refuse to sign a letter that he supports the Greek adjustment programme. The European Commission yesterday reconfirmed its commitment not to release the next tranche of the loan until he gives a written assurance.

Has the EU backed down on this demand?

It's a confusing situation.

Here, for instance, is The Daily Telegraph today (17 November):

"In Greece, the leaders of two members of the three-party opposition refused to sign a pledge to implement the austerity measures agreed in Brussels last month. Without the signatures of Antonis Samaras and George Karatzaferis, the crucial €8bn (£6.8bn) tranche of aid to Athens will remain frozen."

Here's The New Athenian's view (John Psaropoulos)

Kathimerini, 17 November

Kathimerini, 18 November

Britain and the EU: Cameron speaks

More than most commentators, Bagehot understands what's going on.

But Cameron's Aussie accent?

CDU rebuke (not for the accent).


Kosmopolito makes good sense

Friendship, but different perspectives (18 November)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Greece- Property Tax Issues (and Illegal Structures)

Kathimerini reports on the shortfall in revenue

And on the related subject of legalising illegal structures...The Corfu Blog.

Kathimerini on illegal buildings (or buy your amnesty here)

Sky News reports

A letter published in Athens News, from a Corfu resident (6 November 2011):

Property illegalities

It would be very interesting if you would publish the list of fines owners will have to pay to sort out the illegalities concerning their properties.

Notwithstanding the fact that the engineers were given the instructions on how to proceed, everybody seems to be very confused and unable to give a precise answer to many questions asked by the owners. The general attitude of the majority of foreign owners is to want to leave Greece.

The new austerity law is killing some of the country’s biggest industries, ie tourism, and, consequently, construction. If one is asked to pay a ‘fine’ for the floor tiles one puts in a veranda, one can only assume that this is a joke!!

Kate Denaux

UPDATE: Letter to Athens News 8 January 2012

Property tax
MY PROPERTY tax for 2011 as shown on my electricity bill is 432 euros, but my neighbour, who owns an identical property built at the same time as mine, is being charged 270 euros.

I queried this discrepancy and was told that a few years ago I registered my property with the local municipality - as required by the authorities for the land and property register - while my neighbour did not.

Therefore, he enjoys a cheaper charge due to his negligence.
Also, in discussions with admittedly a small circle of friends and acquaintances, I have counted twelve people who have confessed that the floor area as shown on their electricity bill is about half of the actual area. This means that not only are they paying less property tax than they should be, but that they also have been undercharged on their municipal tax possibly for many years.

Name withheld upon request

Sydney Morning Herald, on a reprieve for the worse-off: their electricity supply will not be cut.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Family photos for Remembrance Sunday, a Birthday and a Centenary

And in remembrance of a relative of my father's (not yet sure of precise relationship):


Service No:
Date of Death:
Cheshire Regiment

9th Bn.
Grave Reference
XXX. J. 28A.

Additional Information:

Son of George and Victoria Potts, of 98 Vicarage Rd., Adswood, Stockport, Cheshire.


The Saddest Song in the World; Ma Rainey, Grievin' Hearted Blues

My vote goes to Ma Rainey's "Grievin' Hearted Blues" (1927).

The sound reproduction is not great, but it's worth persevering.

Coming a close second, Henry Purcell's "When I am laid in earth" (Dido and Aeneas), sung here by Jessye Norman.

"When I am laid in earth, may my wrongs create
No trouble in thy breast,
Remember me, but ah! forget my fate".

Both singers were born in Georgia, USA, Ma Rainey in Columbus and Jessye Norman in Augusta.

Maybe Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind" should be my third vote. Ray Charles was born in Albany, Georgia.

(Other great singers  from Georgia include Little Richard, Clara Hudman (The Georgia Peach), and Otis Redding). Georgia Peach and The Harmonaires, great gospel song.

Let's have your votes for the saddest songs, please! Blues, Rebetiko, Fado,  Folk Song, Opera, what you will.

Ma Rainey beats all the songs on this list!

or this one

or this

Another list

Try Ma Rainey, "Dream Blues"

Greece: A Brand in Need of Renewal

Greece: new images needed; on restoring the brand.

And some timely suggestions for Greece's new rulers, from Diana at The Corfu Blog

The rebranding idea's catching on, update 15 November

Negative perceptions of the "brand"

One attempt to set the record straight

Down the Road a Piece

The Will Bradley Trio, with Freddie Slack on piano, recorded 1940! The original Down the Road a Piece. It rocks. Found a 78rpm in Bridport market yesterday.

Another great Freddie Slack classic, with Ella Mae Morse on vocals: The House of Blue Lights .

Did you know her father was British? Always said we played a role in the birth of rock 'n' roll! For that matter, Bill Haley's mother was British too. The big beat must be genetic.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Greek Songs are the Saddest

One of the first Greek songs I learnt in the '60s was "To Parapono (Oute ena efcharisto)", as sung by actress Jenny Karezi in the 1963 film "Ta Kokkina Fanaria" (The Red Lanterns). A Stavros Xarhakos composition, accompanied by acoustic guitar, I still find the lyric (written by Lefteris Papadopoulos) and Karezi's sensitive dramatic interpretation, unforgettable.

"You didn't even give me a thank-you".

Brussels Waiting for the Written Guarantees from Greece

To Vima reports: Brussels is waiting for the written guarantees from PASOK and New Democracy that the austerity measures will be implemented as agreed. No signatures, no cash.

It is not clear whether Mr. Samaras has put pen to paper. Oral commitments are apparently not acceptable to Brussels.


The Greeks still have their philotimo and sense of humour, at least: see The Haircut

Charlemagne (The Economist): Europe Against the People?

Misha Glenny in The Financial Times, November 7th: The real Greek tragedy- its rapacious oligarchs

"As the new Greek government struggles to convince Europe of its resolve to cut the country’s bloated public sector, it also has to decide whether to face down the real domestic threat to Greece’s stability: the network of oligarch families who control large parts of the Greek business, the financial sector, the media and, indeed, politicians.

Since Mr Papandreou became prime minister, his government has been trying to crack down on habitual tax evaders. He made clear in a speech to parliament on Friday how deep his concerns are regarding the more dubious activities of some of Greece’s banks. We can only hope that the Black Rock audit, ordered by the troika, will be suitably forensic in uncovering what has really been going on in the financial system".

Misha Glenny also points to the impact on the London property market, as wealthy Greeks snap up real estate.

The interim government will have a busy agenda. No wonder Brussels wants commitments in writing.

UPDATE, 14 November: Samaras refuses to sign


Samaras also said he would not sign any letter pledging support for conditions on a 130 billion euro bailout as EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn has demanded.

"I don't sign such statements,» he said, adding that his word should be sufficient.

Rehn suggested last week that Samaras, former prime minister George Papandreou, new premier Lucas Papademos, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos and Bank of Greece governor Giorgos Provopoulos would have to sign the documents for Greece to receive its next loan instalment of 8 billion euros.

ND = No Deal??

Greek Ferries, Mainland-Islands

Stranded islanders, rising costs? Kathimerini reports

It would be helpful if all ferries had proper certificates of seaworthiness, for a start.

Islanders living on Paxos or the Diapontian islands, as well as visitors, would certainly appreciate that, and a regular, reliable service.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Bridport, an Open Book

Bridport Open Book Festival

Find out what's on the programme here


Bridport Literary Festival (still plenty going on, Nov 11, 12, 13 I think I might go to listen to Kwasi Kwarteng:

Kwasi Kwarteng
Ghosts of Empire
Britain's Legacies in the Modern World
Kwasi Kwarteng was born in London to Ghanaian parents. He was recently elected as the Member of Parliament for Spelthorne in Surrey. In this, his first book, THE GHOSTS OF EMPIRE, he gives a powerful new revision of the realities of the British Empire from its inception to its demise, questioning the nature of its glory and cataloguing both the inadequacies of its ideas and the short-termism of its actions. In conversation with David Prysor-Jones
Saturday 12 November 2:30pm
Tickets: £8.00
The Bull Hotel - Ballroom
Sponsored by: Tess Silkstone and Harold Carter

And don't forget Eype's Book 'n Author Festival.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Papademos Back In The Frame

About Lucas Papademos

Profile in Greek

Any minute now...

While we are waiting, an optimistic song to energise the new administration:

The Persuasions: Papa Oom Mow Mow

The Rivingtons' version

The Beach Boys' version

They're driving us all crazy!

Let's hope all the members of the coalition unity government learn to dance the same steps.


Interim Prime Minister agreed!


The swearing-in ceremony

Greece: The Way Forward

Some good sense in this thoughtful contribution to the debate about structural reform in Greece.

London Business School

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Greek Government...and more delays

Still no agreement about the next Prime Minister

Maybe tomorrow

Siga siga...

The New Athenian commented earlier.


New York Times

A Poem for Our Times (with thanks to William Blake, and Ian for the reminder)

Holy Thursday, from William Blake's Songs of Innocence

Hear it performed by Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky! Illustrated text.

'Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
The children walking two and two in red and blue and green:
Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
Till into the high dome of Paul's they like Thames waters flow.

O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

See also Ginsberg singing Blake's The Nurse's Song

Adrian Mitchell, Lullaby for William Blake

Blakehead, babyhead,
Your head is full of light.
You sucked the sun like a gobstopper.
Blakehead, babyhead,
High as a satellite on sunflower seeds,
First man-powered man to fly the Atlantic,
Inventor of the poem which kills itself,
The poem which gives birth to itself,
The human form, jazz, Jerusalem
And other luminous, luminous galaxies.
You out-spat your enemies.
You irradiated your friends.
Always naked, you shaven, shaking tyger-lamb,
Moon-man, moon-clown, moon-singer, moon-drinker,
You never killed anyone.
Blakehead, babyhead,
Accept this mug of crude red wine 
- I love you.

Go Greek

Thanks to Keep Talking Greece for posting this answer to Channel 4!

The video is not without humour.

Greek Government: Further Delays

Mr Samaras is not playing ball, it seems.

He won't sign on the dotted line.

He may wish to change policies...

Monday, 7 November 2011

George Papandreou

Barnaby Phillips says "farewell" in his Aljazeera blog

Personally, I'm sorry to see him step down.

I've only met him once, at a small dinner with friends in Stockholm, when he was visiting as Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs, but he impressed me then as a thoroughly decent and highly intelligent and principled man.

President Sarkozy apparently used other adjectives.

How will he judged? As a hero of 2011?

Radio Arvila assessment, May 2012: "The last autonomous Prime Minister of Greece"

Patience: Putting Time (and EU Politics) in Perspective

: Pi

Ammonite Haiku
I’ve a mind to meditate tonight,
So talk
Triassic ammonite!

And another?

Hellenic Haiku

It seems that I’m half-Hellenised,
Picking salad
From the same shared bowl.


Bip Bop Boom: a good place to escape!
and then: Chantilly Lace

Sunday, 6 November 2011

The New Athenian Update, and more

Thanks to John Psaropoulos for keeping us in the picture

Sympathy or Anger? BBC

Angry and ashamed, Nikos Konstantaras in The Observer, 6 November.

Coalition, Kathimerini

Greece's Phantom Pensioners

And I thought this story had been exaggerated by the foreign media...

The Shower of Gold (November 5; and a message for Greece)

While the world waits for news from Greece, it seems we all wait for showers of gold to fall from the skies.

An item from Athens News

Who can interpret the calligraphy sky-scroll?

Thursday, 3 November 2011

China's Got Talent, UK Auditions, Nina-Maria on China Central TV

China's Got Talent. Nina-Maria reports on the UK auditions.

The Absurd Greek Referendum Question

Do you want to stay in the Eurozone, Yes or No?

In the Greek context, isn't this a bit like asking "Does a cat like cream?"

No supplementary questions about accepting the membership rules, the austerity programme, the rescue plan or the need for fairer and more efficient tax collection?

It sounds like a question designed to secure an 80% Yes vote (probably under pressure from Chancellor Merkel and President Sarkozy). Yet the Greek Finance Minister says that the question of Eurozone participation cannot depend on a referendum.

"Greece's place in the euro is a historical conquest by the Greek people that cannot be placed in question... this cannot be made dependent on a referendum," he said in a statement after returning from G20 talks in Cannes.

(The Sun Herald)

If the question is really going to be formulated in such a fatuous and simplistic way, then it is hardly the democratic issue it is claimed to be. Some might be forgiven for thinking that the Opposition New Democracy is fair to make this comment (

New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras said on Wednesday that his party does not question Greece being part of the euro but did want the austerity program attached to the loans Athens receives from the eurozone to be overhauled.

John Psaropoulos (The New Athenian) has also just commented

And now, the BBC

All in all, a typical exercise in EU democracy. He, or she, who frames the question also frames the outcome. But who's being framed?


Charlemagne (The Economist)

Wall Street Journal blog (Hitchhiker's Guide to Greek Politics)

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Lawrence Durrell Centenary: Durrell and Corfu

2012 will be quite a year for Corfu, with the Edward Lear Bicentenary and the Lawrence Durrell Centenary.

Try to be in Corfu for May and June!

Lawrence Durrell and Corfu: A Centenary Appraisal

20–27 June 2012

As part of the international celebrations of the centenary of the birth of Lawrence Durrell (1912–1990), THE DURRELL SCHOOL OF CORFU will host a one-week seminar Wednesday 20 – Tuesday 27 June 2012, in the Durrell School premises at 11 Filellinon Street, in the historic centre of Corfu Town. The Moderator of this seminar will be Richard Pine, founder of the Durrell School (and now Director Emeritus), and author of Lawrence Durrell: The Mindscape.

There will be three parallel elements:

(1) A specific focus on the topic of ‘Lawrence Durrell in Corfu’: this will concentrate on the biographical details of Lawrence Durrell in the years 1935-39, including the recent DSC/ILDS-published Autumn Gleanings: Corfu Memoirs and Poems by Theodore Stephanides and the biography of Nancy Myers-Durrell-Hodgkin by her daughter Joanna Hodgkin-Hines, Amateurs in Eden (to be published by Virago in early 2012), as well as the established biographies by Ian MacNiven and Gordon Bowker, and Brewster Chamberlin’s Chronology. The defining experience of Corfu in the life of Gerald Durrell will also be celebrated with particular reference to his portrayal of Lawrence in The Corfu Trilogy.

This topic will address the work achieved by Durrell in the years 1935-39, including the composition of two novels, Panic Spring and The Black Book, and his memoir, Prospero’s Cell, which was compiled from notes assembled during the Corfu years. Additionally, the crucial evidence that Durrell mapped out his life’s work as a novelist while living in Corfu will be assessed.

Included in this part of the seminar will be a study session at Kalami, where Durrell and his wife Nancy lived for most of their years in Corfu. Visits to one or more of the villas where Durrell and his wife lived occasionally with the rest of his family will be arranged if possible.

(2) On a more general level, the seminar will also attempt an assessment of Lawrence Durrell as a writer under the headings: novels, poetry, drama, travel writing. One hundred years after his birth, and over twenty years after his death, what is the basis of his literary reputation? Is he likely to be remembered principally for The Alexandria Quartet, or are his other novels (particularly Tunc/Nunquam and The Avignon Quintet) also candidates for inclusion in his permanent canon?

(3) Lawrence Durrell and his Literary Contexts: this element of the seminar will provide an opportunity for participants to discuss Durrell’s work in the period 1935-65 in the context of other writers such as Olivia Manning, Kate O'Brien, Stratis Tsirkas, George Seferis, Anais Nin and Henry Miller.

The programme will include launches of three books: James Nichols’s The Stronger Sex: The Fictional Women of Lawrence Durrell (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011), Joanna Hines’s Amateurs in Eden (Virago, 2012), and Eve Patten’s Imperial Refugee: Olivia Manning’s Fictions of War (Cork University Press, 2012).

In addition to the excursions mentioned in (1) above, there will also be an optional day trip to Butrint, Albania, a spectacular archaeological site in a beautiful setting, and one of the major archaeological sites of the Adriatic region.

Other official celebrations for the centenary

The Cradle of Democracy: Greek Debt and the Referendum


Athens News

BBC Report

BBC Report 2


Robert Peston (closer to the mark)

Gavin Hewitt

New York Times on the IMF Reports

An Australian friend sent me this extract from a fairly hostile article in The Australian:
Register online to read it all.
The tsunami of cheap credit that rolled across the planet between 2002 
and 2007 wasn't just money; it was temptation. It offered entire 
societies the chance to reveal aspects of their characters they could 
not normally afford to indulge. Entire countries were told: "The lights 
are out, you can do whatever you want to do and no one will ever know." 
What they wanted to do with money in the dark varied. Americans wanted 
to own homes far larger than they could afford. Icelanders wanted to 
stop fishing and become investment bankers. The Germans wanted to be 
even more German; the Irish wanted to stop being Irish. No response was 
as peculiar as the Greeks', however.

For most of the 1980s and 1990s, Greek interest rates ran 10 per cent 
higher than Germany's, as Greeks were regarded as far less likely to 
repay a loan. There was no consumer credit in Greece: Greeks didn't have 
credit cards. They didn't usually have mortgages, either.

Of course, they wanted to be treated by the financial markets like a 
properly functioning northern European country. In the late 1990s they 
saw their chance: get rid of their currency and adopt the euro. To do 
that, they needed to prove they were capable of good European 
citizenship - that they would not, in the end, run up debts that other 
countries in the euro area would be forced to repay. In particular they 
needed to show budget deficits under 3 per cent of their gross domestic 
product (GDP) and inflation running at roughly German levels. To hit the 
targets, the government moved all sorts of expenses (pensions, defence) 
off the books, froze prices for electricity, water and other state 
utilities and cut excise taxes on petrol, alcohol and tobacco.

In 2001, Greece entered the European Monetary Union, swapped the drachma 
for the euro and acquired for its debt an implicit European (read: 
German) guarantee. Greeks could now borrow funds long-term at roughly 
the same rate as Germans. To remain in the eurozone, they were meant, in 
theory, to maintain budget deficits below 3 per cent of GDP; in 
practice, all they had to do was cook the books.

Here entered Goldman Sachs, which engaged in a series of apparently 
legal but nonetheless repellent deals designed to hide the Greek 
government's true level of indebtedness. For these trades Goldman Sachs 
- which, in effect, handed Greece a $1 billion loan - carved out a 
reported $300 million in fees.

The machine that enabled Greece to borrow and spend at will was 
analogous to the machine created to launder the credit of the American 
sub-prime borrower - and the role of US investment bankers in the 
machine was the same. The investment bankers also taught Greek officials 
how to securitise future receipts from the national lottery, highway 
tolls, airport landing fees and even funds from the EU. Any future 
stream of income that could be identified was sold for cash and spent.

As anyone with a brain must have known, the Greeks would be able to 
disguise their true financial state for only as long as (a) lenders 
assumed that a loan to Greece was as good as guaranteed by the EU (read: 
Germany) and (b) no one outside Greece paid much attention. Inside 
Greece there was no whistleblowing, as basically everyone was in on the 

As it turned out, what the Greeks wanted to do, once the lights went out 
and they were alone in the dark with a pile of borrowed money, was turn 
their government into a piñata stuffed with fantastic sums and give as 
many citizens as possible a whack at it.

In the past 12 years the Greek public sector wage bill has doubled in 
real terms - and that doesn't take into account the bribes collected by 
public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the 
average private-sector job. The national railway has annual revenues of 
$137 million but an annual wage bill of $550 million and $400 million in 
other costs.

On October 4, 2009, the Greek government fell. The new government found 
so much less money in the coffers than it had expected that it decided 
there was no choice but to come clean. The new prime minister, George 
Papandreou, announced that Greece's budget deficits had been badly 
understated - and that it was going to take some time to nail down the 

Pension funds and global bond funds and other sorts who buy Greek bonds, 
having seen several big American and British banks go belly-up, and 
knowing the fragile state of a lot of European banks, panicked. In came 
the International Monetary Fund to examine the Greek books more closely; 
out went whatever tiny shred of credibility the Greeks had left. "How in 
hell is it possible for a member of the euro area to say the deficit was 
3 per cent of GDP when it was really 15 per cent?" a senior IMF official 

That's more or less what I asked when I went to see the new Greek 
minister of finance, George Papaconstantinou, whose job it was to sort 
out this fantastic mess. Papaconstantinou attended New York University 
and the London School of Economics in the 1980s and then spent 10 years 
working in Paris for the OECD. Like many people at the top of the new 
Greek government, he came across less as Greek than as Anglo - indeed, 
almost American.

"The second day on the job I had to call a meeting to look at the 
budget," he said. "I gathered everyone from the general accounting 
office, and we started, like, this discovery process." Each day they 
discovered some incredible omission. A pension debt of a billion dollars 
every year somehow remained off the government's books. Everyone 
pretended it did not exist, even though the government paid it. The hole 
in the pension plan for the self-employed was not the $400 million they 
had assumed but $1.5 billion; and so on.

"At the end of each day I would say, 'OK, guys, is this all?' And they 
would say, 'Yeah.' The next morning there would be this little hand 
rising in the back of the room: 'Actually, minister, there's this other 
100 million to 200 million euro [$137m-$274m] gap.'"

By the final day of discovery, after the last little hand had gone up, a 
previously projected deficit of roughly $9.6 billion was actually more 
than $40 billion. The IMF's question - how is this possible? - is easily 
answered: until then, no one had bothered to add it all up. As he 
finished his story, he stressed that this wasn't a simple matter of the 
government lying. "This wasn't all due to misreporting. In 2009, tax 
collection disintegrated, because it was an election year."


He smiled. "The first thing a government does in an election year is 
pull the tax collectors off the streets."

"You're kidding."

Now he was laughing at me. I'm clearly naive.

The evening after I met the minister of finance, I went for coffee with 
a tax collector. He took it for granted I knew that the only Greeks who 
paid their taxes were those who could not avoid doing so: salaried 
employees of corporations, who had their taxes withheld from their pay. 
The vast army of self-employed workers - the biggest in Europe, from 
doctors to the guys who ran the newspaper kiosks - cheated. "It's become 
a cultural trait," he said. "The Greek people never learnt to pay their 
taxes. And they never did because no one is punished."

Greece's tax-collecting system, it turned out, mimicked that of an 
advanced economy - and employed a huge number of tax collectors - but it 
was rigged to enable an entire society to cheat on its taxes. The Greek 
state was not just corrupt but also corrupting. Once you saw how it 
worked you could understand a phenomenon that otherwise made no sense at 
all: the difficulty Greek people have in saying a kind word about one 
another. Everyone is pretty sure everyone is cheating on his taxes, or 
bribing politicians, or taking bribes, or lying about the value of his 
property to avoid taxes. And this total absence of faith in one another 
is self-reinforcing. The epidemic of lying and cheating and stealing 
makes civic life impossible; and the collapse of civic life only 
encourages more lying, cheating and stealing.

The structure of the Greek economy is collectivist, but the country, in 
spirit, is the opposite of a collective. Its real structure is: every 
man for himself. Into this system investors poured hundreds of billions 
of dollars. And the credit boom pushed the country over the edge into 
total moral collapse.

Just now the global financial system is consumed by the question of 
whether the Greeks will default on their debts. At times it seems as if 
it is the only question that matters, for if Greece walks away from $400 
billion in debt, then the European banks that lent the money will go 
down, and other countries flirting with bankruptcy might easily follow.

But there's a second, more interesting, question: even if it is 
technically possible for these people to repay their debts, live within 
their means and return to good standing inside the EU, do they have the 
inner resource to do it? Or have they so lost their ability to feel 
connected to anything outside their small worlds that they would rather 
just shed the obligations?

On the face of it, defaulting on their debts and walking away would seem 
a mad act: all Greek banks would instantly go bankrupt, the country 
would be unable to pay for the many necessities it imports (oil, for 
instance) and the government would be punished for many years with much 
higher interest rates, if and when it was allowed to borrow again.

But, as I said, the place does not behave as a collective; it behaves as 
a collection of isolated particles, each of which has grown accustomed 
to pursuing its own interest at the expense of the common good. There's 
no question that the government is resolved at least to try to recreate 
Greek civic life. The only question is: can such a thing, once lost, 
ever be recreated?

This northern summer, when I returned to Dallas to see Kyle Bass, Greek 
credit default swaps were up from the 11 basis points he had paid to 
2300. Ireland and Portugal had required massive bailouts; and Spain and 
Italy had gone from being viewed as essentially riskless to nations on 
the brink of financial collapse. On top of it all, the Japanese ministry 
of finance was about to send a delegation to America to seek someone, 
anyone, willing to buy half a trillion dollars' worth of 10-year 
Japanese government bonds.

"This is a scenario in which no one alive has ever invested before," 
Bass said. "Our biggest positions now are Japan and France. If and when 
the dominoes fall, the worst, by far, is France. I just hope the US 
doesn't collapse first. All my money is bet that it won't. That's my 
biggest fear - that I'm wrong about the chronology of events. But I'm 
convinced what the ultimate outcome is."