Sorry, aside from the weak pun in that title, there's nothing much to laugh about in this one.
This is an interesting time to be cycling around Greece, if it's mostly a depressing time to be Greek. Most conversations with able English speakers, once they've gone past the pleasantries, dive into Greece's financial woes. And they are many. This isn't just a result of the financial crisis we've all suffered. Greece has additional problems on top of those.
When I came to Greece for the first time in 1997, there were hundreds of houses that had flat roofs and metal poles at each corner suggesting that a second or third floor was planned. I was told at that time that the reason for this was that you only had to pay tax on a house once it was finished. The owners had no intention of adding a third storey but, with the metal poles in place awaiting an imaginary floor, they could argue that tax wasn't due. This is only now being addressed.
'Peter calculated that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of his income now goes to the government'
But as well as obvious fixes, the tax situation has gone into overdrive. Peter calculated that between 70 per cent and 80 per cent of his income now goes to the government. Additional ad hoc payments are also regularly announced that all businesses have to pay, even ones that don't have many campers.
Eleni, the joyful woman from whom The Lovely Nina and I rented a flat in Athens for a few days, told a similar but more disturbing story. The political parties that had been in power for years, the ones that co-won the recent election, were utterly corrupt. Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos personally creamed off tens of millions in a dodgy submarine deal. He's now in prison. Other frauds abounded. The election alternatives were a communist party expressing an interest to escape the euro entirely or a neo-Nazi party offering their own unpleasant solution. The options don't seem great. But Eleni wasn't quite so forgiving of Joe Public's reluctance to pay his due. While the government made it easy to avoid tax, some also took the initiative and actively stole from the system, inventing relatives whose pensions they claimed. It's one thing to try to keep hold of as much of your hard-earned cash as you can; it's another to start stealing other people's money.
'The ones that can get out leave, and the ones that can't have to stay and help to clean up the mess'
Athens brings home the problem. It's a decade and a half since I was there. From my last visit, I didn't remember any beggars, or women with babies huddled in dirty corners, or old men passed out in the street. They're there now. Eleni highlighted another problem. Years ago, millions of immigrants got themselves smuggled into Greece in order to find work, of which there was plenty. Now there's no work. But these people have no papers and can't leave. And no one is helping them to leave, even though they want to. They're trapped in a country with no money and no ability to make money.
As taxes rise and austerity kicks in, people seek their own solutions. Peter looked to London, where he still has family. Eleni looked to Thailand for a fresh start. Both needed to sell up before they could escape. But both realised that no one wanted to buy their property.
What happens now? The ones that can get out leave, and the ones that can't have to stay and help to clean up the mess. The unemployed, the illegal immigrants, those with no resources become even more burdened, until the whole system collapses. Or do those that can help the situation stay to put things right, even though, in reality, they were barely responsible for the mess in the first place? Not everyone stole from the system, but the system stole from everyone with its government bungs and banking complacency. I know what seems like the right thing to do but, even in the land that gave us moral philosophy, I know what I would do.
In a week or so I will be saying goodbye to Greece. And perhaps not long afterwards, so will a lot of Greeks, but only if they can. And it's hard to blame them.