Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Unspeakable in Pursuit Of The Unelectable? By Patrick Brigham

Carefully mincing up Oscar Wilds reference to the British landed gentry with the tragicomic hero from from Victor Hugo’s tale - The Hunchback of Notre Dame - might seem far fetched to some, but it goes a long way to demonstrate how comedy, and performers in general, can influence the thinking of a gullible and largely parochial middle class electorate.

From the unlikely invasion by the Turks – Quasi is in fact one of them – to the constant exaggeration about the enormous cost of being in the EU, one man stands out from the rest. As the joker in the Brexit pack of cards - and as we are now forced to accept the result of this democratic debacle - will most European Unionists finally see him for what he is; a really bad joke?

But despite his absurd lies - exaggeration, and misinformation - what was it that made perfectly well adjusted, and generally responsible Little England voters to succumb to his absurd banter, his jokes, half truths, innuendo and pseudo-economic gibberish? What’s more, how did he manage to get Little England, to pass on all this rubbish - to obviously willing recipients - as a well known fact?

Going through past Facebook pages, I notice that many of the firmest supporters of Brexit chose Boris, perhaps because they saw him in terms of being an upper class clown. Nigel Farage, on the other hand, with his Essex boy diction and his constant reminders to us all that he was in the frame because of his hard work and business acumen, did not quite do the trick with Little England. And, where is he now?

I recognise this, because - living in a virtually constant series of Midsomer Murders, Miss Marples or Morse –incumbents in Little England couldn’t possibly pretend to see themselves in the world of Eastenders or Coronation Street. No, their hero had to be quite posh; and not to put a too finer point on it, someone like our Boris, and someone, who could never conceivably tell a lie.

And what about Quasimodo himself; as he swung amongst the gargoyles of Notre Dame, shouting out, ‘I wish I was beautiful like you.’ As he clambered amongst the hideous grimacing Gothic statues, was he dreaming of the lovely Esmeralda, or did he wonder why it was that life had dealt him such a rotten hand of cards? Was, that it?

This time, Quasi has not fallen from the high tower of Notre Dame, and is no longer lying dead at the feet of the conniving Captain Phoebus De Chateaupers. Quasi has landed on his feet and is now the most senior Foreign and Commonwealth Office mandarin in the land, Brexits very own poster boy, and the British Foreign Minister.

I think that Prime Minister Theresa May has got a great sense of humour, I mean, where else could you put a joker like Boris, and where else could a comic genius like him, tell his jokes but on the world stage? I hope that he is half as funny as he has been in the past and that with a face like The Man in The Moon, he manages to continue to make us all laugh, but somehow I doubt it.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Greece: More a Way of Life – By Patrick Brigham

I live in Greece, because it is easy. Having spent the best part of 20 years living in Bulgaria, and navigating my way through all the painful changes, I was looking for some peace and quiet, an opportunity to collect my thoughts, and time to write my books.

Living in the very north of Greece, I was also close enough to keep in touch with Sofia; only a few minutes away from the City or Edirne in Turkey, and near enough to Svilengrad in Bulgaria, if I found the need to visit Billa or Penny Choice. So with sufficient local distractions to occupy my mind, and enough variety - in order to entertain any visiting guests that might appear on the scene - I have spent my last eight years in Greece.

The other day on Facebook, an Englishman living in the Yambal area, said – ‘I don’t know why you live in Greece, because property is so much cheaper here in Bulgaria,’ and he was right! But, the cost of housing is surely not the only consideration, nor the price of beer or the odd sausage. And, why should an English expat living in Bulgaria, assume that I might wish to live in Bulgaria in the first place? The thought, probably never crossed his mind.

The Bulgaria I went to in the early 90s, was not the Bulgaria of today, and living in the capital was quite different from living in the provinces. Then, Plovdiv was a much nicer place to be and Varna had just as much to offer as Sofia. But Sofia was the capital, was allegedly where it all happened, and undoubtedly considered the place to be.

In those days, Sofia was teeming with foreigners – of various ilks – but many of them had been sent there, either as a punishment, or, as a last resort; because Bulgaria was generally considered by global business, to be an ex Communist basket case.

Big firms often dispatched very young and enthusiastic, ground breaking wannabe’s to Bulgaria. These young entrepreneurs talked a lot about renting spacious – but largely non existent offices - and usually ended up in a one bed flat, their dreams of instant success, drowned in a plethora of incomprehensible bureaucracy. Although, many found comfort in the arms of an amorous secretary, or ‘paid for’ girlfriend, as they were better known, many were disillusioned and soon went home.

But there were quite a few oldies too, who - given one last opportunity to unscramble their blighted careers – ended up in the same situation as their younger counterparts, but with the added excitement of a divorce in their country of origin. Although it is hard to put a specific figure on this statistic, it must have been running at a good 70%.

Diplomats were a little different, and suffering from an incredible siege mentality – due no doubt to exaggerated or faulty secret intelligence – many fearfully confined themselves to their embassy residences. With occasional visits to diplomatic receptions - where oft repeated mantras were exchanged, and copious amounts of alcoholic beverages were consumed - few realized that the sum of Bulgarian intelligence - and most of their national secrets too - could easily be discovered, during an afternoon visit to the Penge Reference Library.

Thirty years have now passed since the political changes, and on the surface, almost everything has improved; but the Bulgarian mentality has not. So, with respect to my Facebook critic, I am pleased to say that these days I live in a kinder country, and without wishing to put too many Bulgarian noses out of joint; a far more civilized place.

Greek people are polite, well educated, and are sophisticated to the unexpected point, that almost everyone speaks English in my village supermarket. My doctor was brought up with the Brits in Cyprus, my lawyer speaks perfect English and I enjoy a good chat with my dentist – before and after, but not during treatment – all of whom face the same financial dilemmas - as all Greeks do - now they are living under the iron fist of Brussels. Everyone is affected by austerity, me included, but they deal with their problems with grace and dignity, which is only to be admired. Also, by the way, another great thing about the Greeks is that they don’t always want something!

In my book, Herodotus: The Gnome of Sofia, and to some extent Judas Goat: The Kennet Narrow Boat Mystery, I explore many of the early defects of post Communist Bulgarian life in the capital Sofia, and the almost colonial snobbery and self importance of the many expats. The absurd antics of the British Ambassador, Sir Arthur Cumberpot - in Herodotus: The Gnome of Sofia - his dreadful wife, Lady Annabel, and the attitude of a largely dysfunctional embassy staff, take us into the realm of murder and cold war deception.

As does DCI Mike Lamberts police investigations in Judas Goat: The Kennet Narrow Boat Mystery, who finds smug, damning prejudice, and contempt, everywhere he looks; although love does find a way in the end!

Monday, 18 July 2016

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and His Coat of Many Colours - By Patrick Brigham

Don’t push your luck Recep

At present, it is hard to think of the Turkish President in glowing terms, mainly because his power stems from street violence, and the many vociferous supporters who gladly undertake his dirty work. To understand why this is, is probably to understand Turkey itself - to some extent its postmodern history - and its formation in the hands of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Although it is clear that Erdogan is a man of the people, it is also hard not to notice his ambiguous stance on Islam, his political gambles, his ruthless pursuit of power, and finally, his unique brand of demagoguery. Claiming to maintain the principles of Ataturks Turkey, it may be that he has quite a different venue in mind.

No matter how many portraits we may see of Ataturk, hanging in Turkish government offices, within the shops and bazaars or even modern shopping malls, it is clear that Atatuk’s latter day successor, is hell bent on reversing many of the principles of a secular society, replacing it with an Islamic state, and finally, his own brand of dictatorship.

Erdogan likes to be listened to a lot, and famous for his interminable speeches, there is no doubt in my mind, that he was directly responsible for a dose of food poisoning I suffered - together with a guest - when we visited the town or Edirne, and a well known restaurant, during the 2015 local authority elections.

Contrary to Turkish Presidential rules, and loudly broadcasting over the local tannoy system, Erdogan regaled the people of Turkey, with his unique brand of political impartiality. This unending political rant – in his trademark loud and monotonous voice - was so absorbing, that the restaurant staff managed to poison the only customers they had that afternoon, or, more accurately, two bloody foreigners interrupting the political debate.

Emanating from relatively humble beginnings, Erdogan is the sum of his many myths, and likes to be seen as a man from the streets. Yet he is building the largest palace in the western world, on the site of the Ataturk Forest and Zoo in the capital, Ankara. Cause for the people of Ankara to demonstrate in the streets, their intransigence was finally stemmed, by Erdogans good old standby; a dose of police brutality.

Sounding more like Saddam Husein, than a man wishing to join the European Union - and its many ‘almost’ federated states- it is hard to see this ever happening, in my view, within the next hundred years or so. And what about visa free travel to the EU for all Turks? Well, the jury is still out on that point, and many European politicians are now regretting, trying to play the Turkish President at his own game.So what has happened in the recent past?

Erdogan has shot down a Russian bomber, which has upset his nemesis Vladimir Putin and although Putin is his secret role model, he has managed to close the door to the largest vegetable market in Eastern Europe, and his own burgeoning Turkish tourist industry.

He has agreed to let the USA fly their missions to Syria and Iraq from Turkey, whilst bombing the hell out of the Kurds as a trade off, and blaming the Kurds for almost everything, including ISIS bombs and terrorist attacks.

In the event of a Turkish Army uprising, "intended to encourage a carefully considered regimen of secularism," although he has managed to put down this recent so called coup d’etat, he is now advocating a return to capital punishment, whilst arresting half the Turkish judiciary, detaining a couple of Turkish armies, and accusing them of all of being traitorous. If he is right, the hangman will be pleased! So where does this ex footballer, - myth maker, ex jailbird and professional loudmouth - stand right now?

There is no question about who his supporters are, many of whom have been enjoying the rewards of a Turkish economic revival, but they also view the EU as their natural marketplace, or even the poor Brexited UK! However, even demagogues can’t manipulate the entire western world, and when the US starts to have second thoughts about Erdogans place in Europe, as Turkey begins to look like just another blighted Middle Eastern state, what will our man of the people do then?


Friday, 8 July 2016

Whitehall Whitwash or Downright Lies? – By Patrick Brigham

We can all start to wonder- now the Brexit is over and the Sir John Chilcot report is back in the public eye - what has happened to the truth? For years, we have all been fed so many different versions of the truth, that few of us preserve our belief and respect for our leaders. Over the years, they have continually sought to mislead us, and to cloud important national issues, with good old propaganda, and practiced spin doctoring.

Patrick Brigham

Distorting the truth - or even abandoning it altogether - an unacceptable level of mendacity, has crept up on us all, especially when we unwittingly start to repeat the lies - by turning apocryphal statements into probable truths - and finally, into acceptable propaganda. With Brexit – now the main purveyors of ‘porky-pies,’ are out of the race for the job of Prime Minister – we seem to forget, that these very same players, who created Brexit in the first place, are now absent without leave, and, no doubt, gloating over the successful destruction of years of patient and painful negotiations in Europe. But, at the same time, have we all become too soft, and what was Bulgaria like, in their post Communist period, prior to accession into the EU, and how was the truth handled then?

In the second full edition of the Sofia Western News, published in March 1996, the front page attempted to answer the question of, ‘Why The Banks Go Bust.’ At a time when the country was being abused by the Zhan Vidinov regime - and all was not well with the banking structure - there were quite a few lies floating about, from a largely ex-Communist government, and the truth was never encouraged.

Every newspaper was owned or sponsored by a political party – of which there were many – or so called big business, which was a euphemism for the ex Communist groups which had attempted to emulate the antics of the Yelsin administration in the Russian Federation. The fact that Bulgaria had been regarded for years by the Russians as little more than an irritation, didn’t stop the Bulgarian authorities, at the time, from fondly imagining that they were greatly more important than they really were, and not just a bunch of swaggering fools.

In its humble way, The Sofia Western News was a valiant attempt by me, to somehow bring together the Bulgarian and the foreign communities, to promote some kind of mutual understanding, which was something totally missing from the largely inward looking, and self serving diplomatic missions of the day. However, the March 1996 edition of the SWN, was to teach me a good lesson, because, although the foreign community in Sofia seemed almost indifferent to my attempts to bring the two communities together, the Bulgarian authorities were apparently not!

It seemed that my front page had offended quite a number of advertisers, who may – or may not – have been what they seemed! Oddly, the first to withdraw their advertising was British Airways, who, although managed by a young Englishman, was governed by a rather stern Bulgarian lady with solid connections to the old Communist regime. Others followed, but somehow most foreign companies were very loyal, and since the SWN was virtually a broadsheet, we managed to survive. Then of course, there were various visits by officers of ‘The Ministry of the Interior,’ together with a number of invitations to attend official interviews!

First and foremost, they were apparently very concerned about my personal right to be in Bulgaria. This was something which seemed to hang over me until 2007, which was when Bulgarian EU accession took place. So for fifteen years – with the enthusiastic intervention of various officers from within the ranks of ‘The Ministry of The Interior’– I found myself attending the infamous Maria Louisa police station in Sofia, to undergo interviews – officially, and often unofficially - in order for them to get a clear picture of my activities.

For them, I was obviously being sponsored by some sort of clandestine organization; after all, the other newspapers were suspect, as were the TV and radio channels. My office was inspected twice, by a man in a mackintosh, as well as my office lease and associated business documents. Funny clicks were heard on the telephones – which were analog at the time – and extra squeaks were heard over my now historical fax machine. My theory was that they had run out of fax paper! But, why am I telling you this?

I am trying to explain to you, what Communism was like. Forget the fall of the Berlin wall, and the theatricality of newly discovered Eastern European democracy. Because, six years after the so called changes, the Bulgarian authorities were still using Communist tactics to control people. Why? Because the same people were in control from before, and they liked to frighten people.

Reading the 1996 front page of the SWN, it seems very tame these days – almost a joke – but in those days, people were not supposed to know the truth, because, all there was to read, watch or listen to, was propaganda. Anybody who spoke out, was dealt with, and anybody who stepped out of line was punished. I was not so different from most other people, at the time, but what of the Brexit, and where may it lead you?

The question is, has Bulgaria changed enough, or is it still tied down by outdated control mechanisms and almost Byzantine bureaucracy? Will they confound you with obscure rules and will you be frustrated, when they send you away for some even more obscure reason, and waste everyone’s time? Will the gremlins of the past, re-emerge and make your life just a little less boring, or will you continue to live in Bulgaria in peace? I have always managed to see the specter of a Bolshevik hiding behind the smiles of the Bulgarians, because they were very good at messing people about!

Something for A Quiet Time- by Patrick Brigham

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