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Friday, 30 May 2014

Why is Greece the new destination and how have the Greeks, turned their country around?


The very north of Greece might well be ‘The Yardstick’ by which we can measure the veracity of living in a significantly indebted nation, because Greece has been enjoying a severe reality check of late, together with a boringly repetitious ticking off from the Germans.  

Perched in their ivory towers, most of the verbiage about Greece seems to have come from the many postprandial hacks who occupy their litter strewn desks, in and about the capitals of the world. These well distanced diagnosticians - who no doubt think Greece to be mainly about Diogenes, Euripides or even Feta Cheese - generally believe that a country can be described in terms of cartoon clichés from the past and perhaps the sound of smashing dinner plates - in some hardly remembered Greek restaurant in London’s Notting Hill Gate.  A country traditionally visited by seasoned travelers - other than those who visit for a two week hedonistic break in Mykonos - Greece seems to be turning a corner and getting back on course. Not only according to the all-knowing Brussels pundits, but also by Greeks themselves.
The pain started six years ago in Orestiada, the second city of Evros. Evros is also the name of the river that separates Greece from Turkey to the south and to the north, The Republic of Bulgaria.
As you travel south from the Bulgarian border on the E85 towards Orestiada, you can see the busy Turkish City of Edirne on your left hand side, across the River Evros, with its many Minarets. With four remarkable Ottoman Mosques and many sprawling historical buildings - pink and shining in the sun – it immediately confirms that the vital contrast between the two countries is immense. And it is here that the differences also begin to show and the story starts to open our eyes, to some sort of reality, far away from a cloying media dominated world.

Sunday in Edirne (their Monday) is lively and alive with activity everywhere. Amongst the many shops there are mountains of affordable well designed clothes stores, stuffed with all manner of electrical goods and kitchen ware, and with so many restaurants; it appears to be like a holiday town. It also seems that you can eat anything you like in Edirne, provided of course it is a Kebab!

By contrast, across the river in Orestiada it is practically dead, with rows of empty shops and very few people about, despite the fact that Sunday is traditionally a day for the many Greek Orthodox Churches, for people to promenade in the streets and for Greek café life to flourish. These days talk in Orestiada is generally about the price of logs and the almost doubling in price of heating oil from the previous year. The increase in VAT on food stuffs and the attendant hike in prices - generally unreasonably so – obviously leaves some unscrupulous food shops with a nice little earner and this too is also a major source of gossip. 
Stuck to the telly, Greeks are served up a daily diet of waffle – there are about ten TV stations to choose from – from a bunch of wind bags whose only wish is simply to be seen on the box. With impossible ideas and multiple choice alternatives; little of it makes any sense, under the present difficult circumstances.
 
 
Spike Milligan once said – apropos the then Irish question –that the best solution was to put a large post in the middle of Ireland, and to tow it out to sea. This now appears to be one of the ‘flat earth’ political alternatives these wind bags now suggest; but how I wish they would stop talking!
The historic philosophy behind the EEC, EC, and finally the EU now seems to have been blotted out by us all, and these days only appears to be about money and dodgy economics. Once it was all about war, domination and political intrigue, and of course the Germans. However, like the Bulgarians and to some extent the Romanians, the lure of EU money has always been a great imperative in the Balkans – along with being in NATO – and this was surely so for Greece in 1981, when it became the 10th member of the European Community.
Since then the whole ethos of ‘Poor little Greece’ has changed, and now we see a cabal of political elite – mostly devoid of shame – who have sucked the Greek banks dry, with a look of total innocence that completely baffles even me! Asked to define the difference between Bulgarians and Greeks, I was surprised to find more things in common than differences.
 
Finally it occurred to me that the difference was that Bulgarians wanted to do things, but couldn’t, and that Greeks could, but didn’t want to! Maybe it is once more about that old stereotype bon mot; the one about a Greek going into a revolving door last, but managing to come out first! And this may well have been how Greeks defined themselves in 2008, but unfortunately the door has recently become a little stuck, and is in need of some WD 40.
In this part of Greece, Greek attitudes have changed dramatically since then and now in 2014, everyone is more than aware that the good old days are over and that Greece’s claim to being universally middle class has gone. No more easy loans – from an abnormally friendly and amenable bank manager – just blank looks and a firm demand for prompt payment, business is now consciously improving customer service and reducing hotel prices and property costs too.
So where does this leave our erstwhile or would be intrepid visitor to Greece? Is Greece getting better and why am I banging on about the northern part of Greece which is called Thrace or Thraki to the natives? The answer to that question is very simple, I live here.
 
Throughout modern history, the River Evros was always regarded as a secret place. It was next to Turkey after all – the Greeks old enemy – but it also teemed with the most spectacular flora and fauna. A naturalist’s paradise - and where you are more likely to see a Kestrel sitting on a gatepost, than a crow - Evros Region is full of wonders. It is also farming country and where you can find the fabulous Greek National Park near Tychero. Hard core Greek - Alexander the Great came from Greek Macedonia and his mother was born on the mystical island of Samothraki – this part of Eastern Thrace is hardly known by foreign travelers at all, but remains full of wonder.
 

When you arrive at the Aegean, Greece once more becomes the ubiquitous family holiday destination of yore. With its deserted beaches and its striking scenery – not forgetting the first rate campsites - the Thracian coast has a lot to offer its visitors at very reasonable prices. You can, if you wish, lie on a beach like a sardine in a tin - getting bronzed to the sound of rap music - but considering the many hundreds of kilometers of deserted sandy beaches on offer, many of us would rather not and of course, they are all free.
Greece also has a lot of little airports and the internal flight costs from Athens are very small, especially if you order your tickets in advance, and Thrace is no exception. With airports in Alexandropoulis, Kavala and Thessaloniki many are regularly visited by cut price carriers from different parts of Europe.
Finally, what is really good in Thrace are the Greek language skills. In Thrace, English and German is widely spoken, even in my little village corner shop, close to where I live and a place which is very easy to live in! 

Copyright © Patrick Brigham – May 2014 Rizia Evros Greece

A Journalists Life in The EU - 25 years in the wilderness of The Balkans


 
I have lived and worked in South Eastern Europe for 25 years and was for some time the chief editor of the first English Language news magazine in Sofia Bulgaria. As a journalist, I have written a number of articles for various periodicals, but these days I am mainly working as an author and write murder mystery novels, with a certain Balkan flavor.
 

Living in the Balkans, I have kept in touch with the politics and the indiscretions of most governments in this part of Europe and carried out many in depth interviews with various politicians including a memorable occasion with the last Bulgarian Communist Dictator Todor Zhivkov. According to him, I was the first Englishman to interview him since the death of the BBC journalist, Georgi Markov in 1978, on London Bridge – is there any wonder!
But recently there has been a certain reemergence of nostalgia for these enigmatic and once much hated characters, mainly by younger generations in the Balkans – who were either kept completely in the dark by their parents, or were totally disinterested after the political changes – and who now want to know more about their parents shady ex masters and the accurate modern history of not only their country, but the ex Communist world in general.

Living in Greece for seven years, amid their well publicized crisis, I have kept a close eye on the somewhat cloudy issues surrounding Greek finances and I personally enjoy the dubious privilege of helping to pay off Greek debts, by a surreptitious addition to my electricity account, which brooks no refusal to pay, or the threat of no electricity at all! The Byzantine approach to taxing Greeks – and foreigners as well – is a course study in devious government financing. In a country where everyone is accused of not paying their tax, believe me, the authorities have maintained a system of tax collection for years, which has allowed them many happy hours of sitting in blissful ignominy, whilst sipping the odd Tsipouro and a little Greek (Turkish?) coffee! 

 

I have also had firsthand knowledge of the Greek problems with illegal immigrants and the so called political asylum seekers. I live right next to the River Evros and know the reality, the deprivation and squalor these poor unfortunates have had to suffer in the hands of the Turkish traffickers. Overwhelmed in just about every conceivable way, the Greek authorities themselves have not always been as sympathetic as has been suggested in the past. Now the new security fence is in operation, few of these unfortunates cross over the northern reaches of the River Evros but the Frontex Police still maintains that – in one way or another – Greece accounts for about 70% of the illegal’s who make their way into the EU from the Middle East.
 

At least I am no longer able to be shamed into handing out baksheesh to certain of these poor unfortunates who have been duped by a Greek taxi driver into taking the scenic route to the nearest Police Station!

If what I have said is of interest, you can find out more about me on my website www.patrickbrigham.co.uk where you will find further evidence of my continued existence and so I look forward to hearing your comments in due course. 
Patrick Brigham

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

SMASHWORDS - An Interview with Patrick Brigham

                             

What book marketing techniques have been most effective for you?
Just about everything is, or has been tried and tested. Firstly, I have a good publicist in Authors PR that seems to understand the geometry of the internet far better than me. But secondly, I still have the usual outlets including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn Goodreads Amazon and of course Google Blogger, which I try to keep up to date on a weekly basis. However, my blog is not exclusively about me or my writing, has published articles interviews and stories from the past, together with present day comments concerning the state of the world which surrounds my books and their genre, which is Murder Mystery.

Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
I grew up in the Home Counties in England on a farm in Berkshire UK. As a solitary child, it was there that I learned to amuse myself and consequently I used my imagination to invent a world which could captivate and entertain me. Most of my relatives were distant as people - both geographically and personally - and so as a little boy I roamed the gardens and orchards of my country home, together with my dog Polly and my cat Tommy, on an adventure which was finally interrupted by reality, when it was time to go to school.

When did you first start writing?
I have always written, from the time that my first essay was read in class at school, to this very moment. The problem as I saw it in the past, was the subject matter! One day in my late teens, I was busy trying to describe my allegedly full and exciting social life, when it occurred to me that the people I was describing were so two dimensional, that they were practically a waste of paper and ink. You see, nothing important had really happened in my life by then, only the symptoms, the growing pains and the realization, that there was more to life than watching people. I had to go out into the world and find my true path, in order to be me. Was this a successful journey? Well, you tell me.

What's the story behind your latest book?
I like to write about subject matters which are important and largely overlooked by people, who want to live an uncomplicated life. But the reality facing our society is often hard to disguise and so I surround the subject matter with murder, mystery and political intrigue.
My last book, Judas Goat - The Kennet Narrow Boat Mystery, is about international arms dealing, money laundering, mystery and murder. It is also about the character of our erstwhile detective, Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, who manages to unravel a particularly gruesome murder; one which carry's him into the remnants of the Cold War, and Communism.
My newest book - awaiting publication - is about child abduction, people trafficking, organ harvesting and illegal immigration, but is also once more about DCI Michael Lambert, now working for Europol the European FBI.
In search of a little English girl abducted in Italy, An Angel over Rimini, once more takes the reader into another world, one of people trafficking and the murky waters which Al Qaeda also inhabits in order to get into Europe. A story which exposes police incompetence and racial prejudice, it also describes the hidden horrors of illegal immigration. But there is also romance in the air for Michael Lambert.

What motivated you to become an indie author?
Speed and control of my work, and the knowledge that my words can be in front of a lot people, in just a moment.

How has Smashwords contributed to your success?
I think it would be true to say that it is in the process of helping me to meet a greater audience - particularly in the US where eBooks are more popular than in Europe - which will I hope, become faithful followers of DCI Michael Lambert, as he continues to thoughtfully solve the many criminal cases which confront him in Europe.

What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
A good cook always knows when the meal is a great success, by the silence. The writer shares the same process. The silence I perceive when a reader is finally at one with the author - in some tranquil and private place known only to them - is my greatest joy. Don't get me wrong, I like selling books too, but a good book review by a reader, confirming that my stories are well received and entertaining, is the most heartening part of our private conspiracy!

What do your fans mean to you?
They mean everything and more.

What are you working on next?
I am working on this! To be a successful writer these days, involves a lot of hard work. Not only must we control our writing, editing, proof reading and cover design, but we have to promote and get heavily involved with the media. That is my reality.

Who are your favorite authors?
I am a very eclectic reader and favorite means, 'at the time.' I love John Le Carre because of his Cold War dialog, and Robert Ludlum for his action and intrigue. I love Laurie lee because he is the most descriptive writer I know, and understands the passage of time and its value. When I was younger I liked JD Salinger, Saul Beloff and Philip Roth. Nowadays, in common with many writers, I read recommendations from the web. I like Dan Brown, Alan Bennett, Ian McEwan and many of the mystery writers who have now migrated into film or TV, such as Colin Dexter and PD James.

What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Appetite.

When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I like classic cars, cooking, modern jazz and playing the piano.

How do you discover the ebooks you read?
Recommendation via the web.

Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
No, thank God!

What is your writing process?
I have a daily routine which revolves round my computer and my environment. Each day is much the same for me in Greece - there are few distractions and I have a nice home and wife - and so an early start, punctuated by the usual interruptions, is followed by a siesta. That seems to work for me.

Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
Mr Bun the Baker. Very little!

How do you approach cover design?
Very carefully. It is important that you like the cover as well as your publisher. The cover designers rarely read any books and so they generally rely on the story synopsis, if they get that far. So, it pays to keep and eye on the cover - you cant judge a book by its cover? - most people do.

What do you read for pleasure?
Murder Mystery!

Describe your desk
Tidy.
 
              
Published 2014-05-21.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Hellenic Observatory on Security, Border Security and Ιllegal Ιmmigration

 
One of the most important aspects of EU security is finding members of Al Qaeda. They regularly follow the same traditional smuggling routes over the River Evros and the Greek islands, as other illegal immigrants have frequently done in the past. Greece recons that 90% of European illegal immigration, comes across the Greek and Bulgarian borders from Turkey, so this is no longer an economic or geopolitical issue, but a front line security problem too.

In my new book 'An Angel over Rimini,' I explore the routes taken through Greece and Bulgaria by these illegal migrants in order to discover the whereabouts of a little English girl, who has been abducted in Italy.
 
Greece and Bulgaria have been lumbered with the task of stopping all sorts of illegal immigrants, terrorists and the victims of people trafficking, with only a small financial inducement from Brussels and no noticeable support directly from the UK. Since a border fence and various electronic gadgets have been installed, including CCTV cameras, the traffic through the border area via Turkey has decreased significantly and the Frontex Immigration Police have scored many successes. But Greece and Bulgaria still have to house these desperate people and do so with limited resources.
 
As two of the poorest nations in Europe they are expected to house an ever increasing population of illegal immigrants on a limited budget. Since the great majority of them are destined for Northern Europe and in particular Great Britain, it would be nice to see some positive interest coming from the British Government, instead of a media diet, of people winging about job losses and Islamic colonization.
 
Perhaps a visit to the region by a senior British Cabinet Minister would be a good start to solving this burgeoning problem which has recently been clouded, by the wittering of certain members of UKIP and their startling ongoing misinformation program.
 
 


Saturday, 10 May 2014

The Jewel in the Crown - WW1: India 65 years on and counting.


by Patrick Brigham

                 ‘Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently, at God’s great Judgment Seat.’
Rudyard Kipling - The Ballad of East & West. 

 

Sixty-five years on, and the great continent of India no longer has that taste of colonialism lingering in the palette, except for those very few who can still remember, and then most likely their palette is residing in a glass of water beside their bed.
As we recount the events of WW1, a bloodbath which involved far too many virtually ignored, unremarked and brave colonial soldiers - many from the then Indian sub-continent - the TV is resounding with nostalgia while great emphasis is put on the Western forces - Australians, South Africans, Canadians and new Zealanders - who died during the Great War. The hero's of the Verdun and other horrific WW1 battle scenes, are always presented as being white and European, although this is far from the truth.
 
- We shoot forward in time and it is suddenly the 17th August 1947. Now we see sepia films showing the final salutes of men and women - often in rather baggy and dated military uniforms - who wonder if leaving India is the right thing to do, and worry about what life has in store for them, back in a war torn Britain that is also trying to re-emerge into an equally uncertain future, together with the rest of a decimated Europe - 
 
For over three hundred years Britain had been the policeman of India, what was soon to become the State of Pakistan and ultimately, an emerging Bangladesh. Did the politicians of the day eulogize over the brave and ignominiously forgotten Indian soldiers, who fought for a foreign country thirty years before? We shall never know it was all too long ago!
Most of us see the post war years in rather theatrical terms, and in the shires and the home counties of England - in the 50's and 60's - one often came across slightly dotty relatives who talked about their time in India as the best time of their life. Surrounded by the reminders of years spent on the equator - the pith helmets, the Indian swords and engraved matchlocks - the many sided tables inlaid with ivory and mother of pearl. Then there were the photographs of ferocious looking Colonels - their foot on the head of an equally ferocious looking but dead tiger - as a child, I was introduced to cold curry, tales of the Berkshire Regiment and Uncle John.
And, back then in the sometimes jaded reality of back street Brighton, in a world of seaside boarding houses - the subject of plays by Terrence Rattigan or John Osborne - the fifties and sixties seemed to be populated by hopeless people; old majors or retired district commissioners, all of whom found it difficult to adapt to their new home environment. Dear old Col. Hillary Hook couldn't even boil a kettle.
Often born to parents who had lived all their lives in India - there had been families who'd lived and survived for generations in India – some lives were only interdispersed with the odd visit to an English public school, a university, or perhaps to Sandhurst. And then, it was back to India in some colonial capacity.
In their mind India came to be as much theirs as the indigenous population, because British blood had been spilt on the ground of their chosen home. It was as simple as that. But they were also obnoxious, they were snobs, they were xenophobic and they were unquestionably spoilt by their Indian hosts; but never the less they were also severely misunderstood.
Emanating from the newly found and emerging middle classes of the early nineteenth century, the sons and daughters of successful traders and manufacturers, they had often been precluded from aristocratic society an their British homeland - trade was a nasty word up until the 1950's - and India proved to be and acceptable alternative.
Surrounded by the trappings of wealth, the Maharajas paid lip service to their so called protectors but they also indulged in the imported social snobbery by Anglicizing their views and often adopting the public school and elitist attitudes of their colonial cousins, into the bargain. Eton, Harrow and smart Indian Regiments were all the rage and a kind of effete Indian aristocracy emerged on the racecourses of Ascot and Epsom and the polo-grounds of Hurlingham and Sandringham; but not for long and forward in time once more we now know why.
The sepia film only shows the lines of people, and not their thoughts. Tears and smiles must have mingled with nostalgia and although some were sorry that they were leaving, others were not. Gandhi’s salt march had done the trick, Mountbatten had handed India back with as much dignity as he could muster and India was left to denude its own reality, and make the railways run on time. Back in the UK sports masters were called Major this, the school bursar was called Colonel that, and the grounds man was called Sergeant something or other too. This was when I first went to school.
As I write in the present day, and as my recollections fade of aging aunts and uncles - of small ivory elephants in glass cases - the aroma and sounds of India still linger in the photograph album, the nameless dogs sitting on the veranda of some relatives forgotten bungalow. And, although the shadow of a much loved past still lingers behind the glossy brochure of a now modern and thriving India, I am afraid that what I remember really doesn’t matter anymore.
Today the talk is of computer technology, and the highly connected nuclear tests, none of which are approved by the great powers. Rockets that wobble on their launching pads and die with disappointed looks, from ambitious Indian faces. Young people, once the scourge of immigration officers at Dover, are now the invited guests of a burgeoning electronics industry; short of manpower. No longer destined for the sweat shops of Huddersfield or Leeds, nor selling assorted silks from a market stall in Brick Lane or Southall, but a new well educated middle class, destined for the wine bars of Dover Street and trendy Covent Garden.
The India of today simultaneously seethes with the extremes of poverty and great wealth, with - one must admit - an occasional European demeanour. Gone are the cliches of the past; the Star of India Restaurant and the Bombay Brasserie, are now in the Michelin Guide, pandering to the spoilt and overpaid, the trenchermen of an over colestralized London; those who have completely forgotten, how it all began. And how do the Indians feel about their past? Well, they seem to have forgotten about it too!