“THE people are lovely and everything’s so cheap!” That’s what everybody used to say when they came back from a holiday in Greece.
If you were one of them, there’s never been a better time to book another break there and help them out by spending your money in their shops, bars, restaurants and hotels. The country you loved for its warm-hearted people and breathtakingly beautiful islands is in deep trouble.
Greece used to have the lowest suicide rate in Europe. Now it’s up by 35 per cent. This dramatic spike can be traced back to 2010 when harsh austerity measures were imposed on them by the Troika, the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund in a so-called “bail-out”. To call it financial aid is like comparing loan-sharking to charity work. The same folk who are quick to call the poor “lazy spongers” in our own country have quickly jumped on social media to stigmatise “the Greeks” in the same way. The fact is that the average Greek worker works longer hours than the average North American worker.
The trouble now is that there’s very little work to be had. One reason the Greeks just voted by a 60 per cent majority to turn down the deal they were being offered by the Troika is that the fresh austerity measures they were being asked to accept in return for another loan would have led to around 70 per cent unemployment.
It’s taken me a while to research the reasons for this financial meltdown but you probably won’t be surprised when you find out who’s to blame. First of all, look up at the top of the social pyramid. There you’ll find a tiny elite of Greek oligarchs who’ve never felt the need to pay any taxes. The money they owe every year adds up to 30 billion euros. They got away with this for a while because they habitually bribed the Tax Inspectorate.
Next, look at the global banking crisis which came about because the world’s biggest financial institutions were allowed to operate in an unregulated financial environment and took full advantage, lending trillions of dollars to debtors they knew would never be able to pay them back. One of those debtors was Greece.
The Greek people have voted to throw a spanner into the grinding, crushing gears of a financial system that has broken them but now deserves to be broken itself. In the meantime, if you could use a break from the relentless wind and rain in this country, head for Crete, or Rhodes or Corfu and give a little human sunshine back to the country that gave you such a warm, simple welcome the last time you visited.
Photos just up on Coldingham Loch’s fishing website this week show the drama that unfolded when a roe deer gave birth to a tiny, white-speckled fawn. The baby was too weak to get to its feet and one image clearly shows two crows moving in for the kill. The photographer was a fisherman who quickly motored his boat within casting distance of the bank and cast his lure repeatedly at the crows until Bambi found the energy to get up and be hustled to safety by her mum.
Stop all the clocks
This time last week I’m on the train to Glasgow when my phone goes. It’s Myrna from the nursing home. “Your mum’s breathing is laboured.” I start to panic. I won’t be able to turn back until we stop at Queen Street. My phone goes again. “Myrna?”. “Your mum’s breathing has stopped. I’m so sorry.” Tears prickle and sting but I breathe them back into my eyes and start phoning my brother and sisters. I say a wee prayer for my mum. I think how my dad will be when he hears the news. He lives in the nursing home too, in his own room. I mark the time and date in my mind; 8.20am, July 1, a warm summer day with slanting sun and cloud shadows racing across yellow and green fields.
Pat Farrell, my Mum, was one helluva woman. She looked like a Fifties film star. She was a nurse and the need to care for other people coursed through her veins.
She would have homeless people or ex-prisoners into her home for Christmas dinner. She was quick to spot anybody who was feeling sad or lonely and she’d home in on them and make them feel loved. If it was one of us making a “poor me” face, she’d say “Who stole your scone then?” Feeling sorry for yourself wasn’t allowed. “Think of the poor children in Africa.” She was a mickey-taker too. She was one of six so she learned how to tease and how to take a teasing. I once lost a Robert Burns singing contest because when I was practising at home, she would deliberately join in with the wrong words. When my big day arrived, naturally I sang the wrong words. When my dad was watching the football she would wind him up by saying “Who’s that man in the black suit?” She knew it was the referee but she thought it was funny when he got irritated. She’d keep a straight face and wink at me. She loved to get a reaction. If a shot went past the post or hit the bar she would let out a shriek just to get dad to pay attention to her.
The kitchen was a midden. My mum loved to cook and bake but in the pre-dishwasher era she wasn’t mad keen on washing up. There was always a pot of homemade lentil soup or Scotch broth on the go. On Thursdays we had liver which she cooked until it was the consistency of a school eraser. It was better than Dad’s carrot fritters but not by much. She taught me to make Dundee cake, shortbread and chocolate krispies but I never learned to make tablet the way she could, by the ton (although my son Olly told me she once made a batch of onion-flavoured tablet with him, much to their private amusement).
Mum’s selfless nature was inspired by her strong Catholic faith. This is what helped her cope with her own bi-
polar illness. She had great highs and profound lows. She had to spend long weeks and months in psychiatric institutions, kept going by visits from her “little Trojans” as she called us.
Through all of this, her smile was never far away. She wasn’t the best patient because she always wanted to be the nurse but all the staff and social workers who ever cared for her loved her almost as much as we did. If you’ve lost a mum or another loved one, you’ll know how we’re feeling right now. Suddenly lost, sad and bewildered, like the little children we once were. On special occasions we sometimes put a wee plastic tiara on mum’s head. It really suited her. She was the queen in our family.