Steam room sophistry

One of the consequences of being diagnosed as having cancer is the amazing amount of change that takes place in one’s life. I shall, no doubt, write about some of these changes in the fullness of time, but not just yet. I don’t yet fully understand them sufficiently to comment.

Rather than mull over the vast gamut of changes I have experienced in the past few weeks, since my diagnosis, this blog is dedicated to an entirely unexpected source of philosophical debate to which I had never, before, been exposed.

The unimaginable mind of the geriatric health spa regular.
It really has been an enlightening experience.

I, as part of my daily, get fit for surgery, regime, walk just over two miles to my local health spa, where I visit the gym, swimming pool, sauna and steam room. My consultant advises that one must be as fit, healthy and strong as possible, in order to successfully undertake my impending surgery. Mr Carter advised that I do as much as I can do to positively affect the outcome of his professional surgical interventions. Short of calling me a fat bassa, he advised that improved fitness and significant weight loss, on my part, may indeed be substantially beneficial to the recovery process. As it happens, I quite enjoy the exercise, both physically and mentally. One gets the time and space to ruminate over all sorts of things. This is not always a good thing for cancer patients, as frequently negative, unsubstantiated scenarios can infiltrate one’s thought processes. As you meander along the pathways, backpacked and strident, you rejoice having resurrected one’s 40 year old back catalogue on the, hitherto, under utilised iPod touch. Listening to “your music”, whilst walking is a simple pleasure, rediscovering past classics, too long ignored, as we breenge through life.

It is however on entering into the cloistered environs the health spa, that one gains a new and unanticipated perspective on all aspects of a new life form; that which is inhabited by elderly gentlemen of a certain vintage and sociological persuasion. Being new to this arena, (the health spa sauna and steam room), entering into this tiny enclosed space, protected only by my, usually only worn on holiday, sports shorts, was a daunting enough task. Unfamiliar with sauna room etiquette, I made my way as quickly and quietly as I could to to nearest wooden shelf; thereupon to perspire at at will. Perusing the tiny pine square, acclimatising to the searing heat and humidity, I became aware of the presence of my fellow saunatists. Each older than I, each sporting a substantial midriff and each either follicularly challenged and definitely eumelanin deficient. Wee, fat, grey, balding fellas, embroiled in earnest discussion, setting the world to right, from their respective perches, preaching from their own perceived perspectives. In deference to my elders, I assumed a spectator role, watching and listening intently as they outlined in animated, setting the world to right, fashion, all that was wrong with modern society.

Conversation ranged from Brexit to climate change, football to evolution, X Factor contestants to Trump, economic security to air travel, fossil fuels to failing education, all within seconds of each other, in the same conversation.
To me, it was bewildering and mesmerising. One chap professed himself as being well read; an avid reader and a current affairs officianado, as he regularly garners information from the remarkably insightful tome, The Sun “newspaper”. His credentials established, he set about righting all the world’s wrongs by proposing a radical solution to the world’s problems. Apparently all the world’s problems are due to there being too many of us, you and me, people. He, let’s call him Sam, if given control of the world for a couple of days, could remedy all our ills and have us all set fair.
Before revealing his panacea, Sam, outlined the basic problem. There are too many people.
You see, the animal kingdom has it right! Survival of the fittest. If you falter, tough. None of your molly coddling for him. If you fall by the wayside, why try to save you?You are just going to be an encumbrance there ever after, better to let you be picked off just as the weakest in the animal kingdom are.
Sam’s solution; simple. Exterminate half the world’s population. Less people to feed, less pollution, fewer jobs required, no need for more housing, everyone would have much more, so need to covet our neighbours’ anything, less conflict.
One or two observations were made by the other gentlemen, notably, on criterion for selection. Not to be put off Sam reckoned that it was possible to achieve his aim, given the right person in charge. Apparently, according to Sam, “Adolf Hitler, whatever else you want to say about him, was good at killing folk”.
By now, thinking that I had passed through the portals into another extreme dimension, I could not contain myself any further, blurting aloud, that having the ability to commit genocide and murder millions of people, may not be viewed by many as being a positive attribute.
Unfortunately, I may have misjudged my, captive audience. All four gentlemen appeared to concur that my intervention was unwelcome, given their respective body language. Maybe I was not wrong but my viewpoint had not been asked for by their group. My new, steam room acquaintances, individually but collectively, decided to relocate to the jacuzzi, whereupon they could proceed with their intellectual debate without recourse to unsolicited intervention from a clearly deranged newcomer.
Sam did, however, return the next day to initiate another discussion with me of a more prosaic nature; that of fostering positive, neighbourly relations and the drastic effect urbanisation was having upon our global environment. Sam was all for the trees. Having read about the miraculous effect of photosynthesis, trees harnessing the energy of the sun and moisture from the soil to turn harmful carbon dioxide into oxygen allowing all life forms to exist, helping to keep our planet safe and on less destructive equilibrium; Sam was an septuagenarian eco warrior!
Sam likes the trees, reveres them and reckons we should protect them as they protect us. I was of no mind to disagree with my learned acquaintance, as much of what he espoused I could concur with. I was not persuaded to recount more recent scientific studies into effects of photosynthesis and that of evapotranspiration as I believed it may have cooled Sam’s ardour unnecessarily. However, this is where age becomes a crucial determining factor. Sam, quite reasonably in many respects, blames the worries and ails of our world on us, humans.
Sam firmly believes this and returns to his previous theory of wholesale genocide being a solution to this ever developing situation. Global warming is a fact and it is not going away. People exacerbate the problem by emitting carbon dioxide gases; trees remedy this by harnessing the sun’s energy and the earth’s water to produce life giving oxygen. How can one argue with Sam’s logic?
The problem however, may be when one personalises this scientific theorem with Sam’s preferred genocidal solution of exterminating half the world’s population, thereby reducing carbon dioxide emission, and planting more trees. Obviously, one has to accept, in Sam’s world, the benefits of fewer humans using fewer resources, requiring less food and shelter, less land, meaning less requirement to go to war to secure the resources and land currently owned by others, as we would not have any need.
This is steam room sophistry at it’s most refined form.
There did appear to me, to be one recurring flaw, regarding who was to decide which humans would make the cut? My reservations were further justified when Sam continued on with his dialogue whilst conflating it with his own account of a little, local domestic disturbance.
It appears that Sam has a lovely, semi detached, house. He has a regular, smallish garden which he regularly tends and has cultivated some lovely greenery and shrubbery. He is also very fond of his two magnificent trees, planted 30 years ago when he first acquired the house. Therein lies the problem as apparently “her next door”, (she was never given a name), is not quite so fond of Sam’s stupendous forestry as they impinge upon her property somewhat and block out all sunlight to her own back yard and indeed caused her property to be so much in shade as to induce creeping debilitating dampness. Her neighbourly request to address the situation with some judicial pruning did not however sit well with Sam. One must remember Sam’s Orwellian belief that “ trees are good, people are bad”.
Rather than accede to her neighbourly request Sam explained thus, “Naw, I’ll no’ cut down any of my trees, what about we knock down your f*****g house and I can plant some more trees in it’s place”? “ That way everyone benefits “.
Sam, in no way thought he was being unreasonable. Indeed, as I had shared both a conversation and a sweat stained pine bench with him, he believed that I was in complete agreement with him in all matters discussed, up to and including his final solution.

I must say that when I purchased my over 60’s discounted, SLC Leisure centre card, I had no idea what I was signing up to.

One did not see that coming

Four weeks ago on Friday 13th October my consultant at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary informed me that I had pancreatic cancer. Prior to that day I had no idea that this may be the case. Now fours weeks later, having undertaken numerous medical tests, I now feel almost ready to discuss this monumental change in my life.
First the detail.
For the past four years, since I took unwell, just after Christmas 2013, I have been under observation by the medical staff of the Royal. I had collapsed, become jaundiced and was generally poorly. What was discovered after various tests was that I had a blocked bile duct. This meant that, instead of filtering out all the impurities in my system and dispensing with them as a normal well functioning bile duct might do, mines, being blocked, merely recycled the impurities back through my system, effectively poisoning me. Once established my consultant, Mr C, set about removing the blockage, with a nifty wee bit of internal laser surgery, and I was set fair to proceed as before, with the one proviso, that I returned annually to undergo an endoscopy, to monitor my internal workings.
This, in effect has saved my life.

Each year the results of my endoscopy have revealed a build up of low grade cell changes, in the area of my bile duct, pancreas and duodenum. As they were low grade and not cancerous, all the situation required was monitoring.
That was until this autumn.
This year’s results showed an unhealthy degradation in the cells to high level cancerous cell changes on the entrance to my pancreas. This is extremely serious as large scale invasive cancer in one’s pancreas is usually fatal, as the damage has been done long before being detected. In my case however, I, being monitored annually, had been fortunate in the extreme, as my cancer has been detected at an early stage, giving rise to optimism that a successful intervention could effect an elimination of my cancer.

Mr C was extremely candid in his diagnosis on October 13th. It is a cancer at the opening to my pancreas. At this time he cannot tell how far, if at all, it has spread through my pancreas, without major, invasive surgery. The surgery, if undertaken, would involve a “massive, seven hour operation, in which, following an incision, just below my ribs, side to side across my abdomen, he would remove the infected part of my pancreas, part of my duodenum, my bile duct and my gall bladder. The lower part of my stomach may also possibly be removed. This part of the operation so far is the easiest. Following the extensive removals, the difficulty occurs in trying to join up the remaining pieces into a functioning, human, “plumbing”, system. For all the surgeon’s expertise, it is one’s physiology that not is the crucial factor. Will my body behave itself and effect as good a recovery to itself, as one could expect, following such major surgical trauma? As the doctor says, “that is largely down to luck”. All I could do was to prepare as well as I could and hope that my body was going to be as fit and healthy as possible to be able to withstand the impending massive surgery.

And so it was that I undertook the past four weeks preparations. You see, I had four weeks of tests and medical trials to take, in the hope that my results were good enough to suggest that I could withstand this level of surgical trauma and emerge from the other side with a positive outcome.

And so the last four weeks have been, from leaving Mr C’s consultation until now, an extraordinary experience. Exiting onto Alexandra Parade, in the drizzling rain, side by side with Shauna, my magnificent wife, I struggled to comprehend what I had just been told. Cancer, surgery, if you pass tests, complications, months of recovery, possible fatality! I think I eventually mumbled, evoking the spirit the football team I love, “I thought I was invincible”. Shauna remained speechless. We traveled home, free on our bus passes, silent. The next, sleep free, 48 hours as lengthy and torturous as one can imagine, each second feeling like an hour, as the long wait began. The long wait not knowing what was to happen next; the long wait with the multitude of unanswerable questions; the long wait of, if it is to be the worst possible outcome, what happens to the ones I love who are left behind?

Mr. C had explained that surgery would only take place under certain criteria. I had to prove fit and healthy enough to withstand it. There would need to be a reasonable expectation of success, so I would have to prove my fitness, my health, my positive attitude, have no underlying complications like heart failure or propensity to strokes, no high blood pressure or diabetes etc, etc. I was to undergo an array of pre operation testing to establish if I was a suitable candidate and, crucially, to see if the cancer had indeed spread elsewhere.

By the Sunday evening, one thing I had decided was that, even though the cards had been dealt, I was not about to give in and that whatever was to be, I was going to give it my best shot. I was going to do all that I could to defeat this. I was going to wrest back control of as much of my life as I could.

(In the next part I will try to explain some of the emotions involved. The massive boost one gets from the love and support one receives from family and friends. How you view every day occurrences in a slightly different way. The practical things that help and the ones that don’t and the way totally random things have a such an unexpected effect on you).

Santa Claus syndrome


, , , , ,

I have a grandson. He is four years old. He is a beautiful wee boy, full of love and life. A joy for all who come in contact with him; he is considerate and kind; inquisitive and intelligent. He has a vibrant personality and a vivid imagination that all his family like to encourage. Like all small children he loves Christmas time and eagerly awaits the arrival of the rotund, white bearded character from the north pole on that most magical of days, with all his attendant presents.

As a child he believes implicitly in the existence of Santa Claus and as adults, we indulge our children and become complicit in the deceit that is, the existence of this jovial, jolly character and his Christmas coterie. Indeed, I, go as far as creating personalised video messages from Santa to my beloved Grandson. He loves these films and answers Father Christmas back as some well seasoned actor plays out this festive fayre, questioning my grandson on his yuletide wishes and the behaviour required by him to enable these wishes to be granted.

It is a fantasy that is played out annually throughout the world and one the vast majority of us indulge in gladly as it produces such a welcome ambience, a lovely atmosphere, a loving and caring environment that families can enjoy. We play out respective roles celebrating Christmas, sharing gifts and familial love on that special day of days and one would never willfully question the role of Santa Claus in all of this. Certainly no-one would willfully disabuse our children of the concept of Santa or question his existence in their earshot.

Equally though, as adults, we know the truth of the matter and the annual charade that we play out, we do so in the knowledge that, although a total fantasy, the existence of Santa, though so real for the children, is an utterly fanciful piece of nonsense, no sentient adult could possibly believe. Indeed any adult professing a belief in Santa Claus would be liable for some sort of psychological assistance, maybe medication so ludicrous the concept. Any one adult insisting that other adults indulge their belief in the existence of Santa Claus would give rise to the possibility of institutionalisation. Believing in Santa would be one thing, trying to force others to accept your beliefs would be quite another.

In February 2012 a Scottish football club, Rangers entered Administration. It had run up millions of pounds worth of debt and owed several millions more pounds in social taxes to the UK government through their failure to pay their dues to the HMRC. Over the next few months it became apparent that they, Rangers were not going to be able to trade their way out of debt, nor reach a CVA, where creditors were paid a fraction of what they were owed. Consequently, in July 2012, Rangers were placed in liquidation. The club effectively died. The process of liquidation is irreversible, complicated and time-consuming but effectively Rangers no longer exist. Indeed in July 2012 it was widely reported nationwide and globally that the football club, Rangers had died. That is the fact of the matter. It is the fact of UK Company Law. It is not an opinion, it is a fact.

Now Rangers FC had a great many followers, supporters. These people were bereft, no club to support or follow,follow. They were emotionally drained. One can only imagine the huge, emotional turmoil those who had invested so heavily in the original Rangers football club felt at this time. A massive part of their heritage, their being, their history, their very existence had, in fact, been lost to them, Extinguished, Liquidated, gone, dead.

There had to be something to replace this massive, emotional void.

So it was that a Mr. Charles Green, set up a new club, called Sevco 5088 or Sevco Scotland, ( this a legal matter currently under review in the Scottish courts). This new club bought some of the assets of the old club, the stadium and training facilities but crucially not the playing staff, who could choose to TUPE over to the new club or find another club as the old club, Rangers, no longer existed, so could not fulfil their contractual agreements with the players. Therefore international footballers like Alan McGregor and Stephen Naismith found new clubs to play for and no transfer fees were required as their old club had died.

The new club, Sevco, were allowed into the fourth tier of Scottish football and began their journey with a visit to Brechin to play the local side. For some reason the new club were indulged by the Scottish football authorities as they changed their name to The Rangers, then Rangers International FC and so new narrative took shape. What if we all pretended that the old club had not indeed, died. What if we all refuse to accept that the old club had been subject to a winding up order and placed in Liquidation. What if we all pretend it was all just a bad dream and that the new Sevco club were indeed the same club as the old one. That could work, couldn’t it?

Well no, not really.

You see we all recognise the need for the supporters of the old Rangers club to have something that they can emotionally cling to. That is why Mr. Green started up his new club!
We can all see why the supporters of the old Rangers club want to see a team, any team, even fourth-rate bosman signings, playing in blue jerseys, running out at Ibrox. It is their emotional need. They want it to be so. So, so badly. We get that.

But just like all those young children whose emotional needs we indulge, like their belief in Father Christmas, for example, means they awake to a floorfull of gifts on Christmas morning, (presented by their parents), does not prove the existence of the rotund, bearded, sleigh riding philanthropist.

So the fact that eleven guys, dressed in blue, playing at Ibrox does not mean that Rangers still exist. They don’t. A new Rangers does exist. A Sevco Rangers. My gifts to my grandson do not prove Santa exists but I indulge my grandson and let him continue in his childlike innocence and belief systems. It would be cruel to do otherwise. He will learn soon enough; there is no necessity for me to disabuse him of his yuletide fantasy. He is a child and as such I respect his childlike outlook on life.

Now I am not alone in the whole Santa conspiracy. A great many adults do likewise. We all keep up the pretence, watch the movies, play out the whole festive period thing but as adults not one of us expects or demands of another adult that we believe in the ethereal entity that is Santa Claus. No that would be ridiculous! I cannot demand that you accept that Santa is real. You cannot demand that I accept that that is not real is indeed factual. It is not. We know this. We would not, even if we were to believe that Santa DID exist, expect any other rational adult to accept our viewpoint.

Not so with the same club zealots!
Not content with having established a new club to support, complete with all the attendant baggage of the old club, they want everyone else to accept their new narrative that the old club did not die. That it, in some way escaped Liquidation. That this new club, Sevco, founded in 2012, is in some way the same club, Rangers, that entered into Liquidation and died in the same year.
They want everyone to accept that Santa Claus is real.
It is their figment of their imagination but we have to accept it. Apparently!
Or else.

So why is this narrative so important to the new club? Why are they so keen to be seen as the same club as the disgraced former club, Rangers? Why are the supporters of the Scotland’s newest club so desperate to have every rational adult accept the fictional status of the new club?

The answer is, in my opinion, quite simple and borne out of the support’s ludicrous superiority complex. Their “we are the people” attitude and their need to lord it over an underclass.
The old Rangers team were very successful at collecting trophies, merited or otherwise, but since their demise and liquidation in 2012, they can gather no more. Unfortunately for them,in their absence, their greatest rivals, Celtic, continue to accumulate trophies year on year. In a very short amount of time, Celtic will overhaul their trophy haul and render their vacuous, triumphalist, most successful club in the world boast meaningless.
The truth however can no longer be hidden. The fact the so called worldwide global brand of old Rangers laid bare as the the nonsense that it is as the new Sevco Rangers club continue their journey through the lower leagues playing against the Cowdenbeaths and Stenhousemuirs of this world. The disgrace and ignominy of their self destruction and self inflicted descent into liquidation replacing the faux integrity and dignity so often championed as a haulmark of the old Rangers club. The 276 stiffed creditors replacing the mega casinos and floating pitches. The Bosman signings from English lower league sides like Accrington Stanley replacing the multi million pound signings like the Laudrups and Gascoignes.

The trophy haul of the old Rangers, the history of the old club, the kudos of the old club are coveted by the new club. The alternative, the truth is, that the new club have a 4 year history, with no trophies is not palatable to the supremacist them. Therefore they create their own alternative fantasy narrative. There own Santa Claus fairy tale. The trouble is they are trying to force everyone else into accepting their fanciful notion, treating us all like emotionally challenged unthinking toddlers.


At one time I had considered Morguuss a bit of a tart. He seemed to flit between people, never quite committing to anyone until one day I observed him more closely. He was not a fly by night flibbertyjibbit, randomly wandering amongst the denizens of Leros. No, Morguuss, having healed the unspoken enmity of the village’s two most powerful characters, Speros and Savos, can now be seen for what he is; the conduit of all that is good in people. You see, he connects disparate personalities. He recognises the good in people, highlights it for all to see and commands one to share their better points with their fellow men. Morguuss feels the humanity in people and introduces it to others, whether we like it or not. Of this I am certain. It is his role in life and why he settled in Vromolithos.

Now I am an early morning type of chap. I like to watch the sun rise out over my Eastern Aegean horizon; the large red orb emerging , pulsating as it turns night into spectacular light. Morguuss knows this so he regularly accompanies me on my early morning beach walk, contemplative repose on the rocks and my refreshing, rejuvenating, most probably, largely due to the previous evening’s over indulgences, curative swim. In return I offer Morguuss the only thing he requires, that is a scratch at that point on the base of his skull and behind the ears. It is the itch that Morguuss cannot scratch, but I can and must do it quite successfully as often throughout the day, Morguuss arrives and positions himself by my side and with a knowing look and a nod, we both know what must be done. He has other jobs that are fulfilled by an array of Vromolithos volunteers by I am his premier napper scratcher.

Morguuss introduces folk. Everyone knows Morguuss, for it his kingdom we visit. Even Speros and Savos vacate to Rhodes for the winter months. Morguuss remains, whereupon Savos’gardener, Milos, is allowed to tend to the needs of Morguuss. So with his role in things established and having witnessed my octopus catching debacle from the previous days, Morguuss decided it was time for me to meet with Andreas.

Andreas was an Ancient Greek of indeterminate age. He had spent his entire working life below decks on the large commercial vessels sailing out of Pireaus, Athens. He had sailed all over the world but seen little of it, such was his role within the ship’s crew. He had endured a very hard life, each blow etched on his tired and twisted body. A torso so contorted out of shape, the bell ringers part could have been written by Victor Hugo, for him. He had enormous, calloused, arthritic hands which crushed my comparatively, feeble fingers effortlessly as we embraced. He was powerfully strong still but wore the look of a man well accustomed to difficult times. Silver, spiky hair sprouted out of a head with a face that would have made Walter Brennan, Stumpy in Rio Grande, look devilishly handsome. He also spoke little English so we invented our own version of Makaton, signing for each other our parts of the conversation. Andreas had an inordinate but healthy regard for sex. Women’s body parts were discussed with relish by Andreas and his ability to convey which particular sexual activity he currently wanted to participate in, through the medium of mime was breathtaking. I was always grateful our meeting occurred in the very early hours on a deserted beach.

Anyway, that was not why, Morguuss introduced me to Andreas. No the real reason was, Andreas was the best Octopus fisherman, killer and tenderiser on the island and so as to not repeat my abject cephalopod encounter described earlier, Morguuss got Andreas to tutor me in this particular art form. Well it is not really an art, is more a demolition, an obliteration, a brutal act of strength and domination extended over a lengthy period. Tenderising an octopus is not for the weak or faint hearted for it is a truly exhausting experience. Once captured you would be forgiven for thinking the octopus is at your mercy. Not a chance; he can still take you down. For you must spend a large proportion of your allotted time on this earth to smashing the living daylights out the defenceless invertebrate by propelling it, at great speed, and unrelenting rapidity, against a rock. The hope for remission is slender, once set on this path the victor, you, must continuously slap the luminous, eight tentacled, mollusc into a flaccid, edible delicacy for an eon. It is a fearsome activity.

Andreas has had many years practicing this particular art. He is one of the island’s finest exponents of octopus tenderisation. His particular penchant for interspersing brutal bouts of bombardment with gentle, subtle rolling of the carcass over the rocks in the shallows set him apart. So it is he who Morguuss has summoned to educate me in these matters. Being Morguuss though, much much more is to be learned at the hands of the ancient Greek mariner. The course is set to marvel at the wealth of knowledge of this formally, uneducated, old man. From foraging in the fields and mountain tracks for all manner of fruit and veg to the seemingly never ending possibilities served up by the Aegean Sea. Andreas has the craft and Morguuss has delivered the pupil, me, to be tutored. It is what visiting foriegn lands is for.

Octopus, chargrilled with lemon juice and side salad, some bread and a decent Retzina, is a dish well worth seeking out.



Arrival of Morguuss


No one knew where he came from or how he got here but they remember the shock of seeing him shamble down the lane between the behemoths of the village, beach front properties, towards the sea. Head bowed and dishevelled he appeared half dead and broken; had he arrived to meet his end? The slight limp accentuated the decrepit appearance of this bag of bones, wrapped in his shabby black and white coat. He was a miserable sight to behold but  there was something there, drawing you towards him, almost hypnotic in it’s grasp of you. His eyes. It was his eyes, his mesmeric gaze? His eyes  were soulful, pleading, yet utterly demanding. On first impressions no one could have predicted that here, in this wretched cur, was to be the being that was to bind together the various fractious parties of the tiny Greek village.

Speros was first to respond. Well as he saw himself as the true Godfather of the village, it was his duty. He was head of an ancient Lerian family and ran a successful waterfront taverna and rented basic apartments. He led his extended family with a firm hand and had gained the respect of the island’s people. His family were pre eminent on the island with a long list mayors and other civil dignitaries to their name. His family were well regarded as they had fought and protected the islanders from the worst excesses of various invading armies, be it from Turkey, Italy, Germany or indeed the UK. Their heroism and valour, leadership and pragmatism had long since protected the Lerian people over the centuries. However World War Two of 1939 to 1945 had ushered in a different dynamic and not one that was to sit well with the Kastis family.

A visit to Speros’ was always enjoyable and respectful, if never spectacular, except for when local fishermen landed their catch at the small pier, Speros had strategically built by his beach front gate. From my apartment balcony I could watch as Michaelis or Frango or Dmitri tethered the small, hand built, wooden, fishing vessel and wander down to chat with them as they gutted and cleaned their fish. If Speros had bought the fish from their catch, then the venue for the evening meal was sorted.

Speros poured the poor dog some water, straight into a small indent in the concrete. A soft, rumbling sound emitted from the whelp, and so he was named, Morguuss. As the animal lapped the welcome drink his fretful gaze never left his benefactor, this pup had been driven here in desperation such was his fear of our inhumanity. Some stale crusts followed and so the seeds of the work of Modguuss were sown. For it it he that united the disassociated elements of the village of Vromolithos.

Two other things about Speros that are important. He was independently wealthy, comparatively, to other villagers and took his role as a leader of both his family and of the community very seriously. He did not however enjoy it and yearned to be free of it. For generations the Kastis family had fulfilled the role but Speros no longer wanted that burden. Reluctantly he continued with his adopted role mainly because  he had an unhealthy resentment of his beach front neighbour across the lane, Savos, whom he tolerated rather than befriended. The arrival  of Morguuss would change all this.

Savos, Savos Antrobec, second generation Greek of Russian extract had inherited his property from his father Nikita. No one knows the exact nature of how Nikita Antrobec came upon this property in post WW2 Leros but several people have offered their opinion. Suffice to say that, incomer, Nikita Antrobec was regarded with great scepticism, as was his acquisition of various plots of land on the island, some of which, like this one,  were situated in a stunning location. One which the very business minded Savos quickly capitalised upon by building a series of beach front apartments, from where I currently type. Obviously the nature of the initial procurement of the land irked Speros, but much more , much, much more, the single traffic bearing road through the village, the main artery for all provision was named after Nikita Antrobec and the beach, the very beach that fronted Speros’ taverna became known as Savos’ beach. The ancient Lerian family of Kastis had been usurped, in Speros’ eyes, by the post war, invasive nouveau riche, Antrobecs. This did not sit well with Speros and indeed with many of the island’s indigenous population.

Much is made of the perceived Greek reluctance to pay taxes. It is not my aim to defend or address this perception in any way. However, the traditional Lerian way is for the head of the family to maintain family land and indeed build homes for their daughters, so that in the event of marriage, the patriarch presented both his daughter and her home to the newlywed couple. Such houses were rarely completed with roofing until the last possible moment, as only on completion with a roof did one have to pay tax. Land ownership and prospective housing as a dowry for one’s daughter is a long held, noble Lerian family tradition. On joining the European Union, the Greek, and, most certainly the Lerian, way of life had to cope with a whole different raft of procedures alien to their being. Savos Antrobec acquiring prime land on the island was not welcomed universally on this tiny idyllic island.

Savos was a hard headed business man but when confronted by the disturbing condition of the new village inhabitant, Morguuss, one look into his eyes, and Savos pledged to underwrite all veterinary costs incurred in order to get this miserable cur, Morguuss, back fit, healthy and happy.

Morguuss, for his part, never favoured one or the other, no man could claim him, as he sauntered the lane dividing his two benefactors, gaining sustenance from both in equal measure and making both men garner a healthy respect for each other. He was set on a path that was to enrich this island’s community and their visiting guests in many a wonderful way. Morguuss was to become the vehicle, through which, we gained much, much more than we ever had any right to expect.

Two kilometres

One Mile Five Furlongs,
Hamilton Park/ Leros morning shop
Going Firm


Apologies in advance to all non horsey folk and those who did not frequent Hamilton Park races through the 60′s and 70′s.

The usual morning routine for ole Eurochamps is the trek, in search of daily provisions, from Vromolithos to Lakki and return. The track is not dissimilar to that at my beloved Hamilton Park racecourse. Starting at the 13 furlong marker one heads away from your ultimate destination, downhill towards the loop at the far end of the course. Number 67 appears to be carrying a wee bit overweight and has a serious decision to make I.e. does he go all out from the start, like the Peter Poston raider, Homefield, and just see if he can gallop the opposition into submission or bowl along patiently like a George Cadwaladr ridden fast finisher.

Settling down after the initial surge, as you approach the one mile one furlong start you reach Florances bakery, where you must purchase the first staple of a Lerian diet, the large baguette, none of your Mothers Pride plain sliced here, although a wee reference to an outsider or 33/1 shot as it was called in my house, would be appropriate. Swinging left on a tight rein you immediately have to angle yourself accurately in order to make the sweeping right turn, pausing briefly at the ATM at the mile start and onwards round the loop to the fruit and vegetable market.

A quick stop sees you emerge with the finest tomatoes one can buy, to accompany the bread for the obligatory lunchtime tomato open sandwich, washed down with freshly chilled nepo. The bonus is of course the peaches. Peaches so soft and sweet that it is impossible to eat one without thinking you are Castor Troy in Face Off. I like Nicholas Cage but not particularly in that Greek Captain Corelli’s Mandolin strangely enough. We crest a rise now as we swing right, back towards the long punishing hill back to Vromolithos. At the 4 furlong marker we are now faced with a crucial decision. No not should we strike out for home or hold up waiting to pounce in the last 100 yards as the ground levels and the winning post becomes visible.

No not that one, there are two major decisions that now need addressed. The amount of extra weight one can carry uphill for this last half mile and the crucial balance of getting the ratio of water to alcohol just right to maximise the best conditions for the rest of the day. I generally err on the side of caution, so 2 litres of wine and 2 litres of beer to 3 litres of water seems just about right.

This where all the hours of hard work and training come into play. 3 and a half punishing furlongs, straight uphill, weighed down by excessive baggage and expectation, ( can you imagine the hassle I would get from Mrs Eurochamps if I returned light in the wine bearing department? It would be like favourite backers in the last get out stakes where AJ Russell has held up the course specialist, Lineage, only to deliver the challenge too late and fail to reel in the leaders on the line). It is torturous, punishing work but on entering that final furlong you hear the roar of the crowd/ sea, you level out and are re-energised, you surge towards the winning post/ apartment and triumphantly complete your race. All that is required now is a long cool drink and a sponging down or for me a refreshing dip in the Aegean.

The Don and the Gift


, , ,

Sometimes you just feel like giving yourself a wee treat. It was like that last night. Mrs Eurochamps and I had decided to head across the island to Agia Marina, a lovely, little harbour village with a fishing fraternity and idyllic, quayside tavernas. It also has a sedate, cafe culture, square where locals sip their extra strong expressos and amuse themselves watching the tourists scuttle between tavernas, sampling pieces of Greek life but experiencing little. Loud Americans, off the visiting yachts, can be heard, (easily), ordering burgers and fries, eschewing any nod towards the local culture.

The square at Agia Marina is also where, by day, fishermen land their catch, meaning the freshest “fruit de la mer” should be on offer at the local tavernas; it certainly is at one inn in particular, Taverna Bratsera. It is here we are heading to meet Nikos, the owner of the restaurant, with whom we had made our acquaintance a few years back; a more decent and honest fellow you will struggle to find anywhere. His off square, taverna, sits away from the stiff, on shore, breezes and specialises in preparing the finest fish dishes on the island, as evidenced by the patronage of a largely local Greek clientele. We met, by chance, when my wife and I had wandered up a small side alley, drawn by the stunning architecture of an adjoining building. A traditional house, it was set square, with mustard coloured walls and magnificent, heavy, mahogany storm doors, adorned with huge brass knobs and knockers, (titter ye not), and 12 foot high shuttered windows. Home to a local worthy of a different age. Nikos recognised the distinctive, distinguished tone of my Scottish voice, having spent some time in Glasgow himself. We struck up an immediate rapport as we traded stories of riotous, Glaswegian, Hogmanay festivities and consequent, missed homeward bound journeys. In Nikos’ case not so much “that ship has sailed”, more a case of the Glasgow harbour master declaring Nikos and the ship’s crew as unfit to sail!

When I told him about my unfortunate motorcycle escapade through the town’s harbourside cafe in the late nineties our friendship was confirmed. He had been there, sipping his expresso with his friends when I, with Mrs Eurochamps on the pillion, had careered straight through the cafe’s patrons on an ill advised first and last attempt at moped riding. It was a true, did that really just happen? moment. Thankfully no-one was hurt but the incident is still clearly, if not, fondly, remembered among the Agia Marina residents who witnessed it.

Ok, what happened was. Well if you know the mechanics of mototbike riding you will be aware that on the handlebars you have the brakes and on the left column the clutch, while the trottle is on the right handpiece. Fairly straight forward stuff. The road from my apartment to Agia Marina takes you down a steep slope before taking a very sharp, left hand turn into the square and past the roadside cafes. This is all conducted at a very conservative pace, so as best to negotiate the difficult procedure safely.
As an inexperienced bike rider of maybe 30 minutes I had developed a quite fundamentally, potentially, fatal driving technique whereby as I braked into a left hand corner I pulled my left down to turn left but simultaneously pulled back on my raising, right hand causing me to throttle the bike at breakneck speed across the street rather than around the said corner. This resulted in two minor collisions, one with Tony’s wheelie bin, where I emerged a bit smelly but unscathed. The other with a baked clay wall as I practiced to perfect my technique before requesting my dearest to accompany me “on the road”. Mrs Eurochamps had not witnessed either mishap but did wonder about my dishevelled appearance and insisted I smarten up before consenting to joining me on the ill fated journey.

Prior to this Agia Marina corner I had just about managed to control the gentle curves of the Lerian roadways. Faced with the steep, downhill descent, into a 90 degree left hand turn into a crowded, cafe strewn square, I had absolutely no chance of controlling my bike through such a difficult manoeuvre, what with my inadvertent inability to resist throttling through a left turn procedure.
So it was that unable to make the turn at the right angle and speed my only recourse was to try to negotiate my way between the tables of the taverna, Mrs Eurochamps clinging onto me for dear life as normally, sedate, laid back, Greek men scrambled and dived for safety, scattering tables and chairs everywhere as the uncontrollable Eurochampsmobile careered on obliviously through the cafe to somehow miraculously exit the cafe unscathed at the far end. We then proceeded sedately onwards to next village Krithoni, then Lakki to return the bike to it’s owner a full 45 minutes into it’s two week hire.

Anyway, when in Nikos’ taverna I always let him choose the menu for the evening, which invariably ends up with a beautifully prepared fish. I do this as my experience of him is that he would never serve you anything that he was not 100% happy with. I trust him and he always repays my trust. On this occasion it was a chick pea mash, oven baked sardine and anchovies combo, Greek salad an an enormous chargrilled Sea Bass. Lovely. We sat in a small slipway outside the entrance, so to enjoy the breeze and the sights and sounds of the sea. We had one of those long but interrupted conversations,( Nikos having to attend to other customers, Danes and Americans who wish to dine indoors with the doors and windows closed). A middle aged gentleman, early sixties, longish , grey hair, sat across the entrance from us and nodded. He and Nikos traded some words in Greek and there was a discernible change in Nikos’ demeanour, not necessarily for the worse, but noticeable. The man smoked cigars and drank bottled wheat beer but had an aire about him.

Our meal was divine but my eye was drawn to the way not only Nikos but his young waiter, Arturo, (lovely young man who had suffered a terrible trauma to the right side of his skull), reacted when the man across the passage way spoke. Arturo seemed quite nervous in his presence. At one time leaving me mid sentence to attend him! It was then that I became aware that everyone who passed our way, young or old, male or female, stopped to exchange pleasantries with this man. He was clearly someone of stature within the local community. As is the custom here in Leros, one is offered a small liquor or sweet thing to end one’s meal while seeing to the bill. We were offered a small clear liquid in a tiny shot glass.

Mrs Eurochamps and I exchanged glances, for we knew what it was and that both were destined for only one palate. Before I moved to lift my first shot I heard, “do you know what it is”? In perfect English from across the passageway.
“Tsipouro”, I replied, ” made in the mountains of Crete from the residue of the grapes used to make wine”.
“Ah so you have tried this before, do you like it”?
“Yes, very much”, I replied and with that we were promptly invited to sit at The Don’s table.

He introduced himself as Nikita, as in Krushchev the former Soviet leader. Nikos joined us as we established understanding by singing the Elton John song of the same title. Nikos mistakenly thinking the party was about to ensue by going through a healthy reprise of early Beatles classics with attendant dance steps and head shaking. As Nikita educated me further about the history of Tsipouro and how one should drink it, (although a shot, it has to be sipped slowly, rather than I had rather vulgarly done, knocked it back in a oner), Nikos had been, unbeknown to me, dispatched to make a few phone calls.
It transpired that Nikita was indeed a very important person, though also a well thought of, benevolent one. Wealthy, though not rich was how he described himself but clearly a well traveled and intelligent man. Self taught, no formal schooling Nikita had traveled the world and was conversant in several languages. Soon we were joined by Christophe and Samos, both of whom had been on the voyage to Glasgow via Denmark, skippered by Nikita. Seemingly we were to enjoy the hospitality that they had enjoyed all those years ago in Glasgow.

Another four younger Lerians sat at a hastily convened table next to us as our party grew and food appeared in many forms, topped off by four of the biggest Sea Bass I have ever seen. One chap, a marine biologist, had just returned from a placement on Cumbrae on the Firth of Clyde, a ten minute ferry ride from my former home of Largs. We shared some stories but I must admit I enjoy his island more than he enjoyed mine.

Christophe was a smoker; he rolled his own using one of those wee silver boxes that somehow magically produces a cigarette if you input the required ingredients. This brought back some very old memories for my wife as her long since deceased father used to use a very similar instrument. She shared tales of her childhood, sat at the foot of her father as he prepared his own tabs, way back in the day. She inhaled the smell of Christophe’s tobacco box and waxed lyrically about childhood memories of fifty odd years ago.

We talked long into the night, as I was quizzed about Scottish independence and why we voted no, about English viewpoints on the same and about UK attitudes to the economic crisis enveloping Greece and Europe and the refugee situation. What struck me was how well rounded their points of view were and how they sought to see good and do good for each other. For example although these men face a tough financial future they still care deeply for the unfortunate refugees washed up upon their shores and provide their needs with whatever means they can.

Much Tsipouro was sipped and I had they pleasure of a wide ranging conversation with Savos. Savos, I have met before but he would not recall me for he is the skipper of the pleasure craft, the Barbarrossa than cruises the Aegean and provides conveyance to the mystical, white, island of Mastahari, upon which I was merely one of many tourists. He is also self taught, no formal education but speaks four different languages fluently and wants better for his family. His outlook is admirable and informed and he wants people like me to advocate for the Greek people to tell a story of Greek people not readily available in the British capitalist media. He is a lovely, hard working family man. Diminutive but strong, wiry and lithe with piercing azure eyes and sun bleached, long, blond hair. If Iggypop has a doppelgänger it is Savos. It is then that a perfect example of the lovely humanity of these people was to occur.

As we chatted and drank, debated and shared our plates, someone, young Arturo I think, had been dispatched on an errand. On his return he gave a package to Nikita and Christophe. Conversation ceased and tears flowed as they presented Mrs Eurochamps with a silver cigarette roller box, so best to remember her father by. These men had no need to do such a thing, it was just within their nature to show a kindness to visitor, having listened to her tale of yesteryear. They ask nothing in return, they are simply very, very nice human beings doing what they believe is the right thing to do.
I admire them so much.

ekharisto polee

The Gift

The Gift


Aegean Adventure 2015 Day one

Sunday June 21st

We arrive in the Greek island of Leros at 7.30am to be met with our first surprise. Tony Antonov, our friend from whom we rent our beachfront apartment is also on our flight from Athens. This is surprising as he usually avoids the capital city and shares dwellings in Rhodes and Vromolithos. After friendly greetings are exchanged, Tony explains his rare Athens visitation in staccato English and Hellenic shoulder shrug, thus, “girl’s father, cemetery, dead, 91, hmmm”.

Tony is a good man. About 5’8′, reasonably sturdy build but with a slightly Chaplinesque gait. He walks open palmed and noticeably splay footed like the rough end of a broom handle had been inserted in a most discomforting area of his posterior. He is a nice fellow, just not the most sociable of people, rather uncomfortable being with other human beings, a tad awkward. He is physically good for his age, twice daily bathing in the Aegean can do that for a man. He has, however, embarked upon a course that I find most difficult to understand, (at any time), never mind for a mid fifties balding man not normally given to fanciful, fashionable, flirtations for the folliclely challenged. He has started to colour his rapidly receding hairline, to pretty obvious and disastrous effect.

You see, to my mind, most people wouldn’t notice too much if one’s hair was receding somewhat and certainly could not care a jot if the odd stray grey hair began to pepper one’s naturally occurring hair colouring. Quite the opposite I would have thought. Nothing brings a man’s failings in the ole follicle department more sharply into focus than an ill advised Bobby Charlton comb over, or heaven forbid a woefully weaved syrup! Equally who in their right mind actually believes that chemically contrived colouring of one’s natural hair colouring could achieve anything other than to highlight the fact that you already felt desperately deficient in that particular area of grooming. No! It screams a whole host of issues, none of which are entirely sought after and wholesome. You’ll never hear anyone saying, e.g. “Oh there goes that Eurochamps chappie with his luxuriously tinted locks, doesn’t he look super confident and chic”.

Anyway, each to his own. I’m well known for my tact and diplomacy so no one would take account of my ramblings, not that I am pass remarkable or anything.

Day one in Leros traditionally ends with a meal with my friends the Iaonnis family at their taverna overlooking the beautiful bay of Vromolithos. I have been dining here since the mid nineties and whilst not the most delicate of cullinary fare, it does supply  authentic Greek cuisine, music and family values. Stamatis is the owner of the restaurant and combines running the family business with his wife Maria, with his true love of Greek music. Stamatis was formally one of Greece’s finest exponents of bazouki playing and there are few finer places to experience a traditional Greek evening than in the Paradisos when the mood takes Stamatis.

it has been a harsh winter for the Greeks, what with the economic crisis, Syrian refugees, austerity measures, EC belligerence and an uncommonly cold and windy climate. Times are hard for everyone, not least for Stamatis trying to maintain a family and family sustaining business based on seasonal trade. One morning Stamatis awoke to find his twenty foot high retaining wall lying, crumpled up on the beach below. Years of work, effort and savings washed into the ocean by an unforgiving maelstrom visited upon the undeserving. When I asked Stamatis how he felt about this personal disaster he was phlegmatic and opined, “these things happen. I will rebuild it in 4,5,6 years”.

Papa Manolis is the barbeque chef. A sprightly 81 year old, thankfully recovered from a hateful cancer. His open air barbeque grill is expertly attended and he quite simply makes the finest grilled octopus on the island. Eldest son, also Manolis, I have watched grow from a boy of 13 running errands, through obligatory waiting duties, to university study now into marriage and fatherhood. He has much to recommend him but in delivering forth generation baby, Anna, to the family dynasty he surpasses all previous achievement. Grandma Maria cooks in kitchen between shifts of doting on the child and showing visiting friends/customers the latest pictures of the child lying a few metres away in her crib.

Black sheep, younger, son, Yannis, has reformed from problem child, rebellious, bad boy through his teens to now be the owner of one of the trendiest, young people, in crowd venueS in the Dedocanese. I have no idea what his place is like and I’m not of a mind to bother to find out. What I do know is that Stamatis and Maria stuck by their boy as he had them, “fair heart roasted”, as my mum used to say. Never far from trouble throughout the noughties the naughtiest kid on the island is now one of the most successful.

Completing the family, the family is the appropriately named angel child, Angelica Anna. I have known this child almost from her conception. Her mother heavily pregnant on my earliest island visits. I have witnessed her grow, her Christening, her schooling, her first Holy Communion. She is now stunningly beautiful young lady. Lithe and nimble, jet black hair, dark eyes, olive skin, a princess. Her eyes sparkle, her skin glows, she exudes the love invested in her by her parents. She is pretty and bright. Confident but not overly so, as if she knows what lies ahead when Greek women change. Age conspires to broaden the beam somewhat. The elegance of youth giving way to the more maternal needs of Greek mother as she assumes the role of chief carer and homemaker of the family. Not every Greek will remain as gorgeous as our Georgious of Samaras.

What lies ahead for Angelica, like for many Greeks today, is an uncertain world where there will be many trials. People far removed from there lives will adjudicate and make decisions that will have a profound effect on the quality of lives they can afford to lead, without the care of what that will mean to those, “on the ground”. What Angelica and her fellow Greeks have on their side is unshakable belief in the sanctity of the family and that will help them survive, then thrive. Stamatis and his family are the epitome of that belief. Greek people are like Stamatis’ wall. It may take 4,5,6 years but they will return to their former glory.




Erik the Viking


Kalimera my friends, I hope you are well.
May I firstly blame my good friend Marc, a taxi driver from Swansea, for part of what follows, as he enquired about the possibility that some of what I whitter on about in my musings here, may be chemically enhanced. They do not but it does serve to address the issue given that my favourite Scandinavian couple, since Henrik and Magdalena, have arrived on the island.

I have no truck with drugs, never have, never been my thing. Indeed I recall in the early 70′s Life long friend, Brendan and myself wandering down Almada Street in Hamilton when we were accosted outside the County bar by a wannabe refugee from Woodstock, a bag of pills in hand, asking if we “want to score some acid, man”. We nearly kacked ourselves and ran away faster than a Sevconian from an outstanding debt, that’s how Rock and Roll we were. No I never quite got what the whole drug taking lark was about. I’m not saying that I was a saint and untainted in any way. Just that drugs never held any attraction for myself. I was far happier with the ole Gallagher brothers classic, Cigarettes and Alcohol.

Check out this video on YouTube:

No, but drugs can be difficult to avoid and at some very strange and interesting times. Today though I had intended addressing the fact that my sojourn, takes place in the home of democracy, my beloved Greece. Now I know that ancient Tribes in India had a sort of democratic republic like Sanbghas and Ginas and some Sumerian epic tales allude to a form of democracy in Mesopotamia, but it is largely conceded that 6 th century BC Greece invented the concept of democracy, one man, one vote and therefore the proliferation of all forms political outlooks thereafter, although that fault, the myriad of alternate theories and beliefs, cannot be, laid at the door of our Greek friends. No, we must accept responsibility for what we do and say. It stands to reason that if all men are equal then all men have the right to their views, even those who have opinions diametrically opposite to those of our own. It can at times be tiresome but one must allow everyone the right to express their views no matter how odious they may appear to us.

In a former life I was political. Attended conferences, wrote motions, made impassioned speeches, you know the sort of thing. I recall being inadvertently involved in a drug induced soirée due to my political views. Nothing sinister and it all ended well but serious hash smoking was the order of the day. At this time I had penned a motion, equal pay for young, job sharing teachers, mainly child bearing females, who to many people’s eyes were being discriminated against for being mainly young, child bearing females. I wanted to right this wrong.

I strode purposefully to the podium ready to deliver the oration of the generation. To be fair, my impassioned speech gained resounding applause throughout the conference hall.  Surely gaining the votes of the conference delegates to pass the motion would be a mere bagatelle. Much to my amazement, when the votes were counted, this motion of mine, this setting to rights the wrongs befalling my poor, young, female, fellow teachers was defeated. I was distraught. How could this be? Surely there must be some mistake! How can one be so duped or deluded as to believe that I had conquered the conference with my impassioned pleas and unimpeachable logic?

I recall the entire Fife delegation congratulating me on my performance. I asked if they voted for my motion, they replied, no. You see in an almost Pyhonesque scenario, my second ers and consequent speakers in support of my motion were the People’s Front of Judea, while the Fife delegation were the Judean People’s Front. Everyone agreed with motion only they could allow themselves to concur with the opposition. They were Trotskyist instead of Marxist – Leninists. The concrete Marxist dogma could never align itself with the abstract Trot viewpoint. To do such a thing would inevitably lead to the exploitation of the masses in a bourgeois Imperalist Capitalist state. I only wanted to get some young lassies a pay rise FFS.

Anyway they Peoples Front of Judea were having a party that evening and I was invited. This dear reader is when the requirements of detailed research is vitally important. I did not know that the PFJ were all serious dope heads and that I was assumed to be, nay would be expected to be Splifftastic. This was major league Reeferville. Whacky Baccy central, chillaxe to the max. I don’t even smoke! Someone lobbed me a dod of brown stuff, about an inch cubed, slightly bigger than an Oxo cube and expected me to “skin up”. I didn’t have a clue and was considering my options on how to best extricate myself from this increasingly farcical situation when a loud rap and even louder voices were heard from the other side of the hotel room door. Panic ensued, it was a raid, careers were  about to be shattered, life would never be the same again. “Eat it”, I was ordered.  “What the Oxo cube”? “Yes the fucking dope man, just fucking eat it”. As I considered my options, Brian the gentle, mandolin playing music teacher from Barrhead, removed the offending cube from my, by now feverishly, trembling fingers and swalloed the lot whole, in one fell swoop.

Turns out it wasn’t a raid at all, just a jolly jape by the Judean jokester, ultra left social subjects dominie from East Dumbartonshire. Oh how we laughed. The consequences for Brian from Barrhead would last a few more days however, but they are for a completely different story. Later.

So what has this to do with anything to do with Greece. My favourite Viking playmate has arrived. Erik the Viking is a seventies throwback who would have been quite at home in Toketown. I myself am not. But each to his own. If my reading of Marx and Engels gave me anything by way of the concepts enshrined in their musings on Dialectical Materialism put simply would be the the only constant is change. If you have the power and strength to make something happen, you may. However it won’t necessarily make it right and it won’t make it work.

Erik hails from a town north east of Helsinki. He is an office worker. He has long shoulder length hair, wears khaki coloured shorts and vest. Always. He loves Grateful Dead and the Doors. He is stuck in a time warp, but an eminently pleasant one. Undoubtedly chemically enhanced euphoria is an essential part of his being. I really,really like him. He says little, grunts Indecipherablely and drinks heavily. Large beers. I only have small beer as in this heat it warms too quickly. Erik’s beer never gets warm.

Eric’s partner is Angela, a petite primary school teacher with a very serious WOW factor. She is a perfectly formed Scandinavian blonde. Even in this heat she loves running. She is extremely fit and often displays her assets. Her Lycra clad curves flow gracefully, she glides as she floats across the sand. She only wears gossamer thin bikinis and does that head tilting thing swinging her beautifully coiffed hair around her shoulders. WOW. There are worse sights one would gaze upon from the comfort of your sun lounger. WOW.

Now I also love the word WOW. It is palindromic and can be taken to mean Wow in a good way or wow in a not so pleasant way. You may have noted I have not mentioned Angela’s facial features. Lets just be kind and say WOW I understand why Erik is so fond of hallucinogenic drugs.




The Ethereal Entity


, , ,

In the mid nineties, as a forty something young man, his real football playing, (reasonable standard Saturday afternoon) days were ebbing away. His role within the team had regressed/progressed from mainstay centre forward through player coach to coach, to, in extremis; pull on the substitute strip as required, to coach. Personal circumstances and job location changes necessitated alterations to his rourine, meaning one’s coaching days were numbered and he had to pass on the reins of his team to another.  His football playing was now restricted to Sunday League soccer and over 35s matches, releasing him to indulge, to a far greater extent, in his passion for watching his beloved Celtic play football in the magnificence that is Paradise.

My initial vantage point, (for it is I to whom , I refer above), at Celtic Park was from the lower Lisbon Lions but, having coached various teams team from the sidelines, I was naturally drawn to the Lower North Stand, for that side on view, all the while coveting a position behind Martin, Tony then Gordon in the South stand lower. Having an interest in coaching is not a desire that recedes quickly or easily, so I would find myself entering Paradise a good hour before kick off just to watch the players warm up and go through their training drills. A chance to glean any nuances that, were I to return to coaching, I could impact on my fledgling footballers.

I never did return to coaching but two things did arise out of this matchday experience. The first was my propensity to arrive very early to the Celtic Park environs, thereby obtaining the additional bonus of securing excellent parking just down Springfield Road. Such is the advantage of my parking position is that I can have Bournesouprecipe home within 20 minutes of the final whistle, wherein he can deliver his CQN match report at his leisure. (There will be more of BSR later, for he is a most important player in this tale). The second consequence of this habit forming behaviour of mine was that I got to see, close up and personal some the greatest, non Celtic, footballers ever to grace our hallowed turf.

On European nights I would scurry down to the front of the North Stand, there to witness the preliminaries of our continental guests, quite a collection of whom, one would rightly regard as world class, galacticos, supplemented by an array or European class luminaries. From this vantage point I witnessed the stars of Lippi’s Juventus, Mourinho’s Porto and Rafa’s Valencia through to Magath’s Stuttgart and Houllier’s Liverpool.  Ottmar Hitzfeld’s Bayern and Le Guen’s Lyon were forerunners to the might of Rijkaard’s Barcelona and Ancelotti’s Meelan.

These, dear reader, were heady days. As a spectating coach I originally was thrilled at the sight of such talents as Dugarry and Laslandes, Van der Vaart and Van der Meyde, only for them to be replaced by burgeoning talents of Carvalho, Postiga, Deco and Alenichev and the wonder of Del Piero and a young Trezeguet playing in front of reknowned stars in Buffon, Davids, Nedved and Thuram. How could we, Celtic compete against this measure of talent? In the Seville season we saw such as Kleb, Kuranyi, Gerrard, Smicer, Hamaan and Owen warm to their tasks before being banished to their respective homes defeated by the magnificent O’Neill, Seville squad.

Post Seville European nights, brought even greater talents to Paradise to test themselves against Celtic building an impressive reputation as a serious European force, particularly within the hallowed ground of Celtic Park. First the French and the German talents, augmented by the odd Brazilian arrived. So we had fabulous midfield of Malouda, Juninho Perambuco, Essien, Dhorasoo and Diarra eclipsed by Celtic before the Teutonic talents of Khan, Ballack, Schweinsteiger, supported by Pizarro, Lizarazu, Makaay and Santa Cruz were typically efficient.

Thereafter we witnessed the cognoscenti. Not only were these football superstars, in a truly world sense, but they also came to appreciate the magical aura that pervades Paradise on these European nights. The Dutch Barca of Cocu, Davids, Kluivert and Overmars were enthralled and enhanced by the discerning, magical talents of Iniesta, Xavi, Ronaldinho and Puyol. Not satisfied with that visit in March 2004, which had seen them vanquished 1-0, the Blaugrana returned revengeful in the winter of 2004, having replenished their magnificent squad with the additions of Deco, Guily, Eto’o, Messi and our very own King of Kings, Henke. It was during that earlier visit of 2004 however that I knew that I must gain that coveted seat in the South stand. As the rest of the Barcelona Illuminati were put through their paces pre match, the eye was drawn to the lone figure of Ronaldinho going through his own inimitable warm up of tricks and flicks, the ball constantly twirling and spiralling around his body, under his complete and consummate control. This display lasted for what seemed like an eternity as Ronaldinho performed, showcasing all his awesome ability within a few metres of those, lucky enough to be present, in the South Stand at 7.00pm on March 11th 2004. I had to; just had to, gain a seat in the Main stand.

On December 7th 2004, Carlo Ancelotti brought his, eventual beaten finalists, A.C. Milan, to Celtic Park on Champions League duty. I recall wondering aloud, “How can we, (Celtic,) cope with them”? The talent evident within the Milan ranks was spectacular. This was a seemingly endless array of true world class footballers. There was Cafu, Nesta and Maldini stretching, as Pirlo, Seedorf, Kaka, Rui Costa and Ambrosini effortlessly passed intricately between each other. Hernan Crespo and Andrei Shevchenko gleefully blasted ball after ball into the Lisbon Lions stand rigging.

Once season 2004/2005 was completed, the planets aligned or the football gods conspired, something mystical occurred, I’m not sure what but Celtic FC, finally acceded to my yearly requests for relocation to the South Stand upper when they offered me my current seat in ES2, just to the right of the Press pack. From this position a new predilection was to form in the EC67 psyche, one that was to have profound effects, on not only himself, but also on a great many Celtic supporting associates. By coincidence others factors were also emerging from their early gestation periods to lead to an amalgamation of loosely connected events that conspired to produce a very interesting phenomenon.

<The new Eurochamps vantage point offered a completely new set of circumstances. When in the North Stand one would arrive at the turnstiles, enter the stadium and head to the pitch side. In the South Stand a whole new series of opportunity offered themselves. Before one got to the stadium you had to traverse Kerrydale Street, pass the old school and head up past the queueing crowds outside the ticket office towards the imposing Celtic Park main entrance. People did not merely pass on into their allotted positions within the confines. They stopped, conversed, people watched, created an ambience. On arrival at Kerrydale Street, one can often discern a distinct atmosphere, something in the air; a feeling. You could detect a positive or, indeed a negative vibe, just from being there.

This was different.

Once inside the ground, The stadium experience from ES2 offers a glimpse into the world of celebrity. The player’s lounge is immediately behind you, often populated with injured or suspended Celts eager to support their team mates. To the left of the player’s lounge is the Sky Studio, while to my immediate left is the press area. This area is a joy to behold when the hoops score, as the collective noun for a group of MSM churnalists, is surely a scowl, such are the contorted visages of the assembled hacks when good fortune favours the bhoys. Further to the left is the Director’s box, wherein one can espy any visiting dignitary, while all around are sat Celtic staff of various note. I have often pondered, before their promotion to the coaching squads, why I had a better seat for watching the game than Danny McGrain and big John Kennedy. With the staff of visiting squads dotted around the area ES2 there is always something to keep one occupied throughout the Paradise experience.

There is however an unfortunate downside to this as ole Eurochamps predilection for celebrity spotting has been transferred outwith the stadium to all surrounding areas and has indeed become a bit of a preoccupation as he casts his gaze far and wide , scanning the vista, ravenous for any glimpse of passing celebrity, no matter how fleeting the view or how lowly cast, the fame of the “personality” may be. I will admit to certain days of, having witnessed the great and good, exit the school gates, to walk the gauntlet to the promised land of the front door, thrusting myself forward, there to view, up close and personal, such luminaries as Kevin Bridges, Billy Connolly, Dermott Desmond, even the magnificent Sutton and Larsson emerging from the school gates. Brian Quinn, big Pete himself, Caesar, Tommy Boyd and countless others have exited through those same gates as they make their way into Paradise.

In an altogether different place Celtic supporters of various hues were developing their own Celtic experience. A young Paul Brennan was creating a global phenomena in the guise of Celtic Quick News, an internet blog that, for the first time ever, IMO, offered discerning Celtic supporters the chance to debate all manner of things Celtic and be offered well-considered, cogent, free thinking reflection on our position within Scottish football. This, in itself, was a terrific development. A totally brilliant innovative addition to the whole Celtic experience. However, it did not stop there. From this remarkable starting point a whole slew of Brother Walfrid, worthy initiatives erupted. CQNers developed an online persona. They developed various offshoots, the Friday night quizers, the Pablophanque music mob, the magnificent Kano foundation, the Fleagle horsey guys just to mention just a few.

The blog blossomed. The notion of what it meant to be Celtic supporters was beginning to be crystallised. The realisation of the Celtic family and what that meant began to grow. Largely because of Paul Brennan creating CelticQuickNews. We grew in many ways. The mobilisation of support to bring a stricken friend home from Australia captured many hearts, rightfully so. Later would come the Wee Oscar appeals, Mary’s Meals and The Ben Nevis huddles. In another development a group of CQNers headed by Taggsy, BlantyreKev and Johnnybhoy had created the CQN Golf Charity Day. Sannabhoy had created the Kano Foundation and others had realised the value in putting our community to good use, in a multitude of ways, to help others less fortunate than ourselves. All had a similar resolve, all selfless, all well intentioned.

I have been fortunate to meet many CQNers through attending some of these events. For example it came to pass that The Battered Bunnet, saddled with me as a golf partner at Aberdour, introduced me to the creator of CQN, Paul. Already barely able to able to contain my admiration I was introduced to Paul’s dad Martin, a beautiful man. My introduction to the CQNers , previously only known through the blog names, continued throughout the evenings, and subsequent mornings at the Cedar Inn. BlantyreKev, Taggsy, Johnybhoy, Curly or Lurcy, Rubicon, DougC, even BRTH and Burnley78.  All made my acquaintance, before over breakfast, I encountered the colossus, that is DontbrakkbackinAnger. Having read this man’s comments over the years of lurking on the blog, I was afraid to approach such an insightful heavyweight in conversation, as I was so in awe of his intellect. Breakfast with DBBIA was an inspiring experience for me, as was  our subsequent car journey back to Glasgow. The journey only lasted about 90 minutes but was replete with continuous conversation over a vast array of subjects with never an awkward pause to despoil the journey. Some of the most selfless men you could imagine, Gordon J,  BJMac, Sannabhoy and Oldtim were all present as one by one the names on the blog had faces added to their moniker.

These were true Celtic men, part of a movement, part of a family. One was proud to be accepted as one of them, no less so today than away back then.

Paul has indeed facilitated a truly brilliant, creative phenomenon in Celticquicknews.

Celtic people had begun to make connections. All of a sudden we knew the people behind the names on the blog. That’s Sannabhoy that runs the Kano Foundation. Who would ever have imagined that the massive contribution of BlantyreKev came from such a diminutive frame? BJMac is a genuinely charming fellow and Rubicon just exudes quality. Forgive me if I , inadvertently omit stellar CQNers but, the greatest gift CQN afforded me was the opportunity to reconnect with Bournesouprecipe. Best man at his wedding, I, being a total plonker, had somehow managed to lose touch with the man who had been my friend since 1968. Recognising BSR’s literary and comedic writing style, through CQN, I managed to re establish our friendship, so now we attend all Celtic matches together.

I like to get to the game early, Bournesouprecipe likes to arrive one minute before kick off. Something had to give. As I do the driving BSR has had to change his match day experience to arrive early, so as to indulge my, now established pre match celebrity watch.

I recall seeing the big cars, with the blacked out windows, entering the security guarded gates of the old school. Who was in these vehicles? Who exited these school yard walls? On a good day you may see injured squad players ambling through the crowds, happy to stop to be photographed with the fans. One day, Jim McInally was standing next to BSR and I, when along came the world-class Danny McGrain for a chat, (to Jim, not us). Not long had elapsed before an excited middle-aged man approached ex Celt McInally with his mobile phone, “sorry mate, any chance you can take a photie of Danny an me? Ta mate”. Oblivious to the identity of the celebrity snapper, the delighted souvenir hunter departed leaving Mr McInally to good humouredly ponder that there are ex Celtic players and there are ex Celtic legends. Soon friends, made at the various CQN events, would arrive to quiz me over my latest sightings, gently ribbing me of my hero worshipdom. I once made the mistake of stating that I had seen Dean Park, much to my ribald associates’ delight. ( no offence Dean). Oh how they laughed when I incorrectly identified a passing Rock star as the lead singer of The Verve, when indeed it was Glasgow’s own Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream. I didn’t even know the name of The Verve guy as I gesticulated excitedly in his general direction.

However there is a point to all this celebrity spotting nonsense. My desire for tenuous celebrity association meant that several of my CQN friends always knew where BSR and I could be found, should they wish to find us. As chance would have it Celtic FC were in the process of honouring three of our club’s greatest “celebrities” or legends, in the form of erecting statues in their honour. Brother Walfrid, Jock Stein and Jimmy Johnstone stand proudly in front of our magnificent stadium. Many Celtic supporters made the journey up Kerrydale Street just to gaze upon the triumvirate and have their pictures taken beside these three men embedded in Celtic history and folklore. It is a connection seen time and again. People of like-mindedness communing at a place of terrific resonance in their lives. A place where one feels all the warmth and comfort of being part of something unique and special. Part of the family, the Celtic family.

As a group, however, we are not immune to the odd irreverence or general pisstake. So as we gathered in 2011 before our three sculptured heroes, speculation grew as to who would be the fourth person to be exalted and immortalised in stone or bronze. Various half serious suggestions soon gave way to the more ridiculous, personal preferences and soon our very own CQN blogosphere stars were nominated as genuine possible recipients of this magnificent accolade. Your own personal statue outside Paradise. Bournesouprecipe was, of course, nominated for his humourous contributions to the blog but was quickly dismissed as he himself felt that the pressure to perform and be funny, at all times, would be too great a burden to bear. Paul was an obvious choice but our leader’s humility would ultimately preclude him from accepting the award. BRTH was also nominated but then it was pointed out that the upkeep of his monument would be too onerous to maintain. This of course, refers to the fact that any statue of BRTH could not be considered lifelike or realistic unless there was a constant diatribe emitting from it and we felt sure that the technology did not exist to replicate the verbosity of the original.

Finally agreement was reached on the name of the CQNer most likely to be honoured for time in memorial at the gates of Celtic Park. The man who dissects life’s complicated issues and reduces them to manageable, easy to understand statements,so best for the readers of the great CQN blog to make sense of. The man who succinctly encapsulates all that goes on in Planet Football in Scotland and explains to us less knowledgable folk in words of few syllables. The man of spectacular footwear and haute couture. Magnificent haberdashery and timeless elegance and a pretty nifty golfer into the bargain. The unbelievably gifted Battered Bunnet.

There was however one tiny,but possibly, insurmountable problem; the Glasgow weather! The Battered Bunnet is not a man to be rained upon, never mind hail hail, wind and snow. How would we cope? How would he cope? How best to keep his fags dry? I have, dear friends to confess that it was I who solved this latest conundrum. Were we to erect a statue celebrating the magnificence of The Bunnet, ( I, possibly erroneously, consider myself close enough to him to allow me to refer to him thus), then we must also protect and preserve the monument. We must provide shelter for The Battered Bunnet statue in the form of a Gazebo.

One may note that at no time has the precise location of the statue of our esteemed friend, TBB, or indeed of the protective, Gazebo, been mentioned. The exact nature of the Gazebo has also hitherto been omitted. There is a reason for that and it will be revealed in Part Two of The Ethereal Entity. Suffice to say that since big Jock’s statue was unveiled in 2011, when like-minded friends arrange to meet, they simply agree to convene at the Gazebo.

em>EC67So it came to pass that in 2011, into the CQN lexicon, came, the Gazebo. People arranged to meet there before games. This Ethereal Entity, this figment of a few fertile imaginations, this indescribable creation, known only to exist within the minds of some fairly unstable characters, took hold. People blithely referred to it as a real entity, something concrete,( not literally, obviously one would not wish for a soulless concrete Gazebo. That would just be ridiculous), as if it were a real thing. Not once was the actual existence of the Gazebo questioned. Normally intelligent, sane CQNers would attest to the existence of this invisible construct in conversation.

Debate raged as to the social structure contained within the non-existent feature. Was there a bar, was it a licenced premises? If so, who obtained the licence? Would the Gazebo be governed by local or national statute? Was it profit-making and if so, how best would we share in the good fortune? Obviously we decided that any profit derived from Gazebo activity would be directed towards nominated charities, in line with Brother Walfrid’s ethos.

There was the heated debate about whether or not smoking would be allowed within the dimensions of the cerebral construct that was the Gazebo. The anarchic  wing of Gazebonian regulars felt that as there was no formal constitution governing the institution of the Gazebo, then members were at liberty to suspend the societal norms, dictated to us, by an increasingly authoritarian government, whereby we could create our own socialist commune where one was free to indulge in the inhalation of whatever noxious chemicals one wished, should you wish to do so. It says much for the persuasive powers of The Battered Bunnet, that he being the only smoker in the group, managed to gain the majority vote on allowing visitors to the Gazebo to smoke as and when they pleased.

We agonised over the effect the weather would have on our construct. Bournesouprecipe was set the task of Gazebo security. Were the forecast, (not a Jobo report on weather conditions), indicating particularly high winds, then a team was sent to Paradise to ensure that our structure remained in place, such became it’s prevalence in one’s hearts and minds. I do recall that on one occasion adherence to Gazebo duty had been slack, requiring a crack team of abseiling kayakers to retrieve elements of said edifice from the banks of the Clyde, not far from the ole whisky bond.

With the importance of the Gazebo to our Celtic support growing, the responsibility for its upkeep, became an increasingly important issue. Maintenance was required to ensure the greatest Gazebo experience for those wishing to visit. So it was that an impromptu timetabling exercise took hold. Myself and Bournesouprecipe usually opened up the Gazebo a good hour before kick off. BJMac was always an early entrant, usually with a swathe of youngsters ,  from out in the sticks, eager to be introduced to the Celtic way. BJMac often had to leave early to make his way his place in the stands, there to unfurl the Kano Foundation banner, but rarely before introducing us to yet another stellar name from the blog, or a friend from across the seas.

The naming of members of our unique Celtic family is an interesting concept in its own right. Gazebonians were not merely known by their Christian names, given upon their birth. No we named and categorised by our birthright. Therefore, Brian was BJMac, Carluke, “shamrock”, North Stand and I was, Eurochamps, Alex, ML3. South Stand upper. As the Gazebo community grew so did one’s required skills of recall.

The Gazebo has always had an Open to All, policy, whereby each and every member of the Celtic family enjoyed equal status and warmth of welcome. Therefore as the great BJMac departed maybe the DougC family would arrive or the O’Donnells, off the east coast. Some people just assumed responsibility. So it was that Goldstar10 became our very own ticket master, organising the group for away days. More importantly, the group shared responsibility for specialised ticketing, e.g. If one had visiting family they could rest assured that a ticket would be secured for the appropriate area of the ground. Some times old aquaintances would wander past, before stopping to enquire, “are you guys on CQN, ( usually a bit of a give away, each of us sporting our CQN badges), is this the Gazebo”? So it was that the Gazebo grew as like-minded people. I met MickTT for the first time, at the Gazebo as he gave me brief for a ticketless friend of mine from  London, who had travelled up midweek for some European tie. Auldheid and BRTH  wandered through to tell us of the latest updates re matters of import like resolution 12. Many CQNers pass through but always last to leave is the Tabtastic Battered Bunnet assuaging that last nicotine hit til the very last moment.

Many have enquired as to the exact location of the Gazebo. There is a straightforward answer to that logistical query but not necessarily the correct one. For the Gazebo is a movable feast not least on away days and celebrations when it can be found, by Hampden in the No.10 hotel, in Fife at Aberdour on golf days, in the Kerrydale Suite at CQN events, on all corners of Celtic Park where bucketeers converge and many more locations.

Now this may be a watershed moment for some but to take the following paragraph literally is really missing the point. The Location of the Gazebo originates from the top left of Kerrydale Street, at the edge of the old carpark, diagonally equidistant from the entrance to the old,ticket office, the pedestrian exit from the old school and the central gap in the rails for entrance to main door to Paradise. The fact that this location was deemed perfect for anyone with a penchant for celebrity watching is entirely incidental. It is/was an excellent spot to  meet like-minded individuals. Now that the magnificent modernisation of the East end of Glasgow has provided us with the entrance to our great stadium we deserve, we are situated at the top of the Celtic Way. However to accept this last paragraph as gospel would be an error.

For this is the point. The Gazebo is not a physical construct of wood or bricks and mortar. It is a cerebral construct bourne in the hearts and minds of the people of the Celtic Family. It is the embodiment of men, women and children who hold the same values that Brother Walfrid espoused, that Paul67 through his blog continues to champion, that Sannabhoy and the Kano Foundation daily replenish. It is that spirit that glows within the very soul of our Celtic family. The willingness to hope and help, the compassion and comfort we afford each other, even just the hand offered and the smile reciprocated. The Gazebo is located wherever and whenever people of the Celtic family congregate. It is the kindred spirit that binds us together as only one who feels it would know and it sets us apart as an ethereal entity, as one in Celtic, with the commonality of goal that will preserve us, come what may.