While waiting for the train this morning I was speaking to a recently retired neighbour who now lives most of the year on the Greek island of Skiathos.
‘They’re really in a bind now,’ he said.
‘I know,’ I said. ‘Poor things.’
He raised a sceptical eyebrow, then proceeded to explain that for a country where tax-dodging was endemic it was no surprise that the sky should finally have fallen on their heads. ‘I know of surgeons who for twenty or thirty years have filed the kind of returns that would do credit to a beggar,’ he said. ‘And they blame it all on the Turks.’ The Greeks, I seem to remember, blame everything on the Turks. ‘It all goes back to the Ottoman Empire,’ he went on, ‘to the caliphate, four hundred years ago, when it was a point of honour to pay the oppressor as little tax as possible.’
We agreed that a four-hundred-year old excuse wears a bit thin. A kind of fiscal Culloden, I suggested. ‘And what little tax they do get goes to pay their huge public sector,’ he continued. ‘If you work for the Greek government you retire on a fat pension at forty-seven, then go and get a job in the black economy. And you know what?’ His eyebrows went up further. ‘The chap who cooked the books so they could get into the Euro in the first place – they paid him a hundred and twenty nine million quid. They haven’t asked for that back, have they?’
Meanwhile, there’s a chatty small boy opposite me. He’s with his grandmother who is currently more interested in her newspaper than him, though if she’s come from Inverness she’s already had a couple of hours of him and, in all fairness, has probably earned a breather.
He points out of the window at a rape field, jabbing a stubby little finger at the glass. ‘Look Ganny, a ellow field. Ganny, it’s ellow. And there’s sheeps there.’
Right now, newspaper notwithstanding, she is his world, she is all he needs and as long as he can bask in her presence he is safe, content, complete.
Now we’re pulling into Kirkcaldy and he’s off again with his running commentary. ‘Ganny, this big Kircotty? We goin to Ebbla, aren’t we.’ A few minutes later and the line runs right down to the shore. ‘Ganny, is there sharks in there? I’m not likin sharks.’
He is free to devote his full attention to the world around him, and it strikes me how vividly, how intensely, how immediately, how imaginatively, he’s experiencing it. The acid-yellow rape flowers, the soggy-looking sheep, the passengers waiting on the station platform, the sullen waters of the Firth of Forth, all brim momentarily with meaning for him.
It reminds me that part of our task as writers is to bring the world alive in just such a way, so that we can recreate the mundane with meaning for our readers and leave them with a sense of a world, or even a tiny corner of a world, refreshed.