Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Round Britain Quiz

Question: The owner of a goat well known to Val Doonican and the custodians of Top of the Form and Broadcasting House should put you in mind of a famous traveller who walked the Broken Road. Who is he, and what did he do in the war?

Answer: Val Doonican regularly sang the song "Paddy McGinty's Goat". Paddy Feeney hosted the BBC radio and TV schools quiz "Top of the Form". Paddy O'Connell hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme "Broadcasting House". This should put you in mind of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, also known as "Paddy". In 1933, at the age of 18, Leigh Fermor set off to walk across Europe. He later wrote about the first two parts of his journey in the highly regarded travel books, "A Time of Gifts" and "Between the Woods and the Water". In the recently published "The Broken Road: From the Iron Gates to Mount Athos" Artemis Cooper and Colin Thubron completed the trilogy, putting together early drafts and diary entries kept by Leigh Fermor.

In the war, together with fellow officers in the Special Operations Executive and members of the local Cretan Resistance, Leigh Fermor kidnapped the German Commander on the island, General Heinrich Kriepe. He then took him across the mountains to the south of the island from where he was transported by submarine to Egypt.

The story was later made into a film starring Dirk Bogarde, "Ill Met by Midnight".

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Message from Guy

The news that Kostas is going back to Greece and his blog is therefore going to be suspended, at least for now, was probably a surprise for most readers. There are a number of reasons why I this is happening.

First, although it has been fun writing the blog every day it has become a bit of a burden, especially as I have found myself getting increasingly tired after the chemotherapy sessions. I have also sometimes found it hard to come up with a new topic for the daily blog.

But there is another reason too. I have two projects that I am keen to work on and so I need to free up some time for them.

The first thing that I want to do is create a new blog that will enable me finally to provide follow up material for the book that I had published in 2000, Computing for Economists. This book is now well out of date of course. I have been asked on several occasions to update the book but for various reasons I didn't take this on. However I do feel that there is a place for a more current and relevant set of material for economics lecturers and students providing help in the use of technology in learning and teaching. But rather than providing this in a book form, which rapidly becomes out of date, I think a blog would be the ideal format. This way I can write up a bit at a time, gradually building up the content. I can also update any sections that need to be changed due to new developments, or where I have feedback from readers pointing out errors or omissions on my part. The blog will be called something like guyscfeupdates. I am considering using Wordpress rather than Google's blogger facility but I will decide on that only after some experimental work to see what looks best.

The other project that I want to work on is the novel that I always planned to write after I retired. The idea is to have an economist who helps to solve crimes. At the same time the book should be amusing and also provide some insight into key economic ideas.

Originally Mike Rowe was going to be the detective and Kostas his sidekick but the way the blog got written means that now Gus will be the detective and there will be a new Greek PhD student as his assistant. I am not going to rush the writing or publish the book until it is finished but I might send some of you samples to give me critical feedback at some stage.

This won't be the first economist as detective novel. Some of you may have come across Murder at the Margin by Marshall Jevons (1993) Princeton University Press ISBN 0-691-00098-0 I briefly referred to this book in my report in CHEER on the January 1995 ASSA meeting in Washington DC.

Marshall Jevons is actually the pen name of two economists, William L. Breit and Kenneth G. Elzinga, professors of economics at Trinity University, San Antonio and the University of Virginia, respectively. There was also a follow up book in 1998 called A Deadly Indifference and I have now found an even earlier book by these authors called The Fatal Equilibrium published in 1985.


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

What I am about to tell you will come as a bit of a surprise. This is going to be my last blog post for a while. For personal reasons I am having to go back to Greece and so I have handed in my notice to Mike Rowe. I won't leave officially until the end of December but I won't have time for any more regular blogging for a while. I shall however keep the blog account open so there may be the odd post from time to time keeping you up to date with my news.

The problem is that my mother is very ill after having suffered a stroke and my father is finding it difficult to cope. I have been lucky enough to secure a job at the University of Crete starting in January. Although my parents live in the Pelopponese I shall probably have to live in Crete but travel to see them on a regular basis.

Mike Rowe has been very understanding. He has told me that he is really sorry to see me leave but that he recognises the circumstances and that personal and family matters must come first. He has told me that I can spend the rest of the summer in Greece - I shall travel out on Sunday - and that he will try to arrange my teaching commitments for next term in blocks so that I can go back to Greece for a few days every now and then.

I have asked Jenny to come to Greece with me. Understandably she says that she can't give me an answer straight away on this. She needs time to think about it. But she has said that she will try to get some more time off before term begins to join me there for a week or two.

I am going to miss the USE and the UK a lot. As many people have told me I have become more like a Brit during my time in England.

To finish I would just like to thank all you loyal readers of this blog. I hope that you have found it interesting and even entertaining at times. It has given me the opportunity to sound off abut certain things going on here at the USE and at other HE institutions that annoy me. And it has been fun to tell you about some of the characters in the economics department and elsewhere at the USE.

Goodbye for now.


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

People have been asking me what I think about what has been going on in Malia in Crete. A British tourist was murdered there recently.

It seems that he was fatally stabbed in a fight between rival groups of young British holidaymakers.

Malia, and some other towns in Greece, have become party resorts for young tourists determined to have a wild time. This follows the pattern of development of some resorts in Spain.

Now the locals are concerned about the effects of this rowdy and sometimes violent behaviour. The mayor of Malia has set up a meeting for later this year with mayors from other Greek resorts of this type and the Tourism Ministry in Athens. It may be that they look to develop more limited special and isolated zones for these young visitors away from the town centres. That way they hope to keep the town centres free of drink-fuelled youngsters at night.

Part of the trouble is that the locals didn't really anticipate quite what would happen when they started responding to the demands for late night drinks and the effects that it would have on British youngsters. Greeks of the same age enjoy drinks too but tend not to look to get stupidly drunk, or aggressive and violent.

Another issue is the way that some tour reps encourage the young tourists to visit pubs and clubs from which they can get a commission. Often these places provide shots and other high alcohol drinks which remove the youngsters' inhibitions which leads to bad behaviour.

It has been reported that as many as 2000 young British tourists can now be found in Malia during the summer months. They are mostly teenagers straight out of school. They are unaware of Greek traditions and patterns of behaviour. I think we need to do more here in Britain to educate them about how crazy you should be when on holiday in a foreign country and where you should draw the line. Local doctors report frequent cases of injuries that these young people have suffered after drinking too much. And there is a big responsibility too on the tour operators who should think more carefully about the message they send out about these resorts.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Continuing our discussions in the cafe about TV and Internet sports services we turned our attention to the new Sun+ subscription deal.

The recently appointed new editor of the Sun, David Dinsmore, has introduced the new online subscription service priced at £2 per week with the attraction of a full range of Premier League football clips available behind the paywall. Sun readers will also be able to access the service on a more ad hoc basis by collecting tokens from the printed version of the newspaper.

There is much interest as to whether this latest attempt to extract revenue from an online newspaper will fare better than some earlier cases. For example in 2010 when the Times and Sunday Times placed its web version behind a paywall it is estimated that web traffic fell by over 90% and that there was a considerable loss of revenue from advertising. Other publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have moved much of their material behind paywalls, but they have also kept a certain amount of pages freely available too.

The Guardian has resisted the pressure to introduce a paywall but they have offered readers a full online subscription service which works out a lot cheaper than the cost of buying the printed version every day. They are clearly hoping that many readers will consider this a worthwhile deal. The Daily Mail has been very successful with its extended online services, focusing on celebrity stories. These have become particularly popular n the United Sates.

Dinsmore believes that the football clips will be particularly attractive to the 55% of Sun readers who are male.He puts some of the recent fall in sales of the Sun down to the increase in its cover price from 30p to 40p and he says that a £2 a week subscription will be a very attractive price.

Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis believes that the Sun needs about 300,000 subscribers to create a sufficient revenue stream to pay for the new service (Source: The Guardian, 1/8/2013). It will be interesting to see how quickly it can achieve these numbers.

Now we hear that Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, has purchased the Washington Post.It will be interesting to see what his plans are for the newspaper.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

As you know most of the department are extremely interested in sport, both on TV and at actual live venues such as St Marys' and Fratton Park. They also like visiting cricket grounds down here on the south coast at Southampton, Hove and Guildford. So there has been much discussion about the new BTSport offering which was launched on 1st August.

A few people heard a radio interview with Mark Watson from BT. He was very upbeat about the new package, describing it as a game changer. He said that over 500,000 customers had already signed up for the new service, including over 23 thousand during the month of July.

It is of course a triple play deal with broadband, telephone and digital TV bundled together.

However, when pressed by his interviewer, Watson admitted that the majority of those who had signed up for the service were existing BT broadband customers. The interviewer noted that BT had lost 7 million broadband customers since 2006. Was the new offer essentially a strategic investment designed to hold on to as many existing customers as possible rather than an attempt to attract new customers? Watson argued that broadband was still a growing market place and BT was looking to increase its market share.

The interviewer noted that BT had spent over £1 billion in acquiring football, rugby and other sports rights. But Sky subscribers would have free access to the new service, including the ESPN channels already on its system. Everyone in the cafe discussion agreed that no Sky subscriber would have any reason to switch to BT.

The interviewer asked Watson where he thought the service would be in three years time. Would they have acquired Champions League rights? Watson declined to answer this question but said that all BT services were regularly reviewed and that the company would respond appropriately to any new developments.

The advertising for the new service shows that there will be a regular programme hosted by Clare Balding. She is now rather ubiquitous. Is she spreading herself around too much?

Monday, 5 August 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus came back from a meeting at Surrey University with news of something that has all the staff there wondering about what their Vice Chancellor is up to.

Apparently he put forward plans a while ago to assess academics 'performance on the basis of how many of their students achieved at least an Upper Second Class mark on their modules.

The plan, initially released in June 2012, which included a foreward by the VC Sir Christopher Snowden, was only shelved after long discussions with the unions.

The university commented that "The intention of this target is not to inflate grades unjustifiably but to ensure that the levels of good degrees sit comfortably within subject benchmarks and against competitor institutions." They later said that staff were recommended to provide a normal distribution of marks.

Julie Hall, Vice Chair of the Staff and Educational Development Association at Surrey was quoted in the THE of 18th July as saying that any sort of grade target risked compromising academics' abilities to award marks impartially.

Gus said that he fully agreed with this comment. Indeed he criticised the notion that the distribution of marks on each module should be the same, let alone conforming to a normal distribution.

He said that he would expect a different pattern of marks on compulsory core modules such as intermediate microeconomics, maths, stats and econometrics that some students found challenging. Indeed it might even be the case that one found a bi-modal distribution. Conversely self-selected options that students really liked might give rise to a highly skewed distribution with a high percentage of Upper Seconds and Firsts.

The idea that the distribution of marks on any module should be normal is based on a misunderstandng of statistics. Where it might have some relevance is on a module with a very large number of students with lots of seminar groups where students had been allocated to the groups randomly. In that case the mean marks for the groups might start to approximate a normal distribution (according to the Central Limit Theorem). However in some universities instead of taking these marks as given, attempts may be made to adjust the marks to provide consistency across groups, on the basis that one has to correct for differences between the inputs from different seminar leaders.

Gus said that in his view it was appropriate for very wayward marks to be referred for further scrutiny but that formulaic references based on average marks or the percentage of marks above or below particular targets were statistical and educational nonsense.

What next, he wondered? League tables ranking lecturers by the average marks awarded?

Friday, 2 August 2013

Real Ale Train

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Last Saturday was Gus's birthday and Heather treated him to a ride on the Real Ale Train. This is a monthly fixture on the Watercress line which runs from Alresford to Alton in Hampshire. The train of ten coaches goes up and down the line several times while those on board can consume various real ales. Food is also available.

Jack and Richard were also invited and Heather was good enough to be the designated driver taking them all up to Alresford and back. It can't have been much fun for her as the three men gradually got sozzled.

The men really enjoyed the experience sampling a range of real ales, favourite of which they agreed was something called "Good Ol' Boy" which is brewed somewhere near Newbury. As well as the beer they all enjoyed a hot chicken curry.

The one disappointment of the evening was the fact that the carriages were pulled, not by a steam engine as they had expected, but by a diesel locomotive. They did see a steam train at Alresford station but for some reason it was not used.

Gus has posted on Facebook a few photos, including one showing Heather with the Station Master at Alton, a rather rotund gentleman who lives up to the image of the Fat Controller.

Gus said that he wanted to recommend the Real Ale Train to Mike for a departmental bonding session. We could hire a minivan and have a group booking. Heather had told him not to be so ridiculous. The idea was far too male oriented - departmental bonding experiences needed to be less sexist. Perhaps a visit to Marwell Zoo would be more suitable. However when Sian heard this she said she would much rather go on the Real Ale Train than visit a zoo. Bubbles also said she would like to go on the train.

So it now seems that we might organise another train ride at some point for a rather larger group of people, even if it is not an official departmental event. I had better ask Jenny if she wants to go.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Bank notes

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Another topic that has been the subject of cafe discussions is the decision by Mark Carney, the new Governor of the Bank of England, to replace Charles Darwin by Jane Austen on the £10 bank notes.

Of course this has largely been due to pressure brought about by the petition organised by Caroline Criado-Perez who subsequently became the victim of a Twitter based rape hate campaign by some sick and obnoxious men. There was much discussion in the cafe as to what can be done to stop these unpleasant uses of the social media. Should Twitter be doing more? Should the perpetrators be ignored, blocked, prosecuted or fought with humour and disdain? The consensus was that, except in extreme cases where actual bodily harm was threatened and the police should be involved, mockery was the best approach. But it must be hard for Caroline Criado-Perez, and the Labour MP Stella Creasy who has also been the target of these offensive individuals, to deal with the threats made to them.

To return to the matter of the bank notes some people wondered why the number of people appearing on bank notes could not just be increased. Why could we not add one more person to the set of people displayed on £5, £10 and £50 notes with at least one of those extra people being a woman? Well, of course, costs would rise. Designing and printing a wide variety of notes that are not easy to forge is a costly business. Richard wondered what the situation is for bank notes in other countries. Who appears on euros, Canadian dollars or Australian dollars for example? I made it a project to find out.

It turns out that the euro notes all feature places and maps rather than people. The Canadian notes have people on the front but only one is a woman - Queen Elisabeth II.

Australia does rather better. Notes have people on both the front and the back and in every case one of the images is of a woman. Of course Australia is not free of misogynistic tendencies as former Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently discovered.

I think what Caroline Criado-Perez was also getting at was the question of who should be making decisions of this sort. All too often it seemed to be a group of middle-aged white middle-class males to whom the question of fair female representation just did not occur.

So which women would you want to add to our bank notes if we could have more of them? I would have to vote for Ada Lovelace - but then I am a bit of a nerd!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Pay day loans

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

There has been quite a lot of the discussion in the cafe these last few days about pay day loans. As has been widely reported in the media the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has proposed that, rather than being outlawed, pay day loan companies such as Wonga should face competition from credit unions. He has promised that up to 15,000 churches could be used by credit unions as locations from which to operate.

Unfortunately for him the Archbishop then discovered that the Church of England Commissioners, who look after the church's pension fund and investments, has been indirectly putting money into Wonga through a US venture capital firm called Accel. In a way this doesn't matter as the extra publicity has keep the story going, and it is virtually impossible for any investment, however ethical, to be completely without indirect complications of this sort.

The discussion has several strands. First there is the question of whether pay day loan companies should be more tightly regulated, or even banned. Should the interest rate, which on an annualized rate is 5853% at Wonga,be capped?

In the cafe we all agreed that banning these companies would not be a good idea as they would likely just be replaced by less visible and more obnoxious loan sharks.

The question of an interest rate cap was more contentious. Mike Rowe and some others argued that any attempt to impose a cap would just distort the market. They went along with the Archbishop's view which is that the best way to approach the problem is to offer a viable competitive alternative. A few others though argued that the real problem was the automatic rollover of debts each month so that they became impossible to pay back. So their answer was not so much a cap on the interest rate as a limit on the number of months over which a debt could be accumulated. Mike said that unfortunately this would introduce an element of moral hazard. If a debtor knew that the debt would be frozen after a certain number of months then this would reduce, or maybe even remove completely, the incentive to pay it back before then.

This point led us on to discuss ethical rather than straight economic aspects of the situation. In some religions the idea of interest itself is considered unacceptable. As Giles Fraser in his Loose Canon column in the Guardian said, at one point Christians had declined to become money lenders themselves, leaving it to the Jews who they then persecuted for it.

As economists we recognise the need for interest payments on opportunity cost grounds. If a lender makes funds available for someone else to use then they are unable to use the money themselves. But why should interest rates reach such ridiculously high levels? "Normal" rates of 5% or even 10% seem to be acceptable but of course certain groups are more likely to default on the loan which means the lender will want an additional premium to cover this risk.

Is the real problem that the ordinary high street banks have just not been willing to make loans available to low income families? Decision processes have become too automatic and less personal. In the old days the local bank manager would know his customers and would help them to arrange a suitable pay back plan.

It will be interesting to know how this will develop. Will the government feel that it has to do something and intervene in some way? Or will credit unions operating from churches provide a competitive alternative to companies like Wonga?

MSc supervision

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Although it is now vacation time for the undergraduate students we still have the postgraduate MSc students here working on their dissertations, which means regular supervision duties.

In some cases this is quite straightforward as the students are enthusiastic and well-prepared. But in others the students find the whole thing rather daunting which also makes it hard work for the supervisor. They just don't seem to know how to go about the process of identifying a topic, formulating relevant hypotheses, collecting suitable data and applying appropriate tests. Even producing a literature review seems beyond them. This year two of the four students assigned to me appear to be in this category.

Both are Chinese and I have some sympathy with them. Neither had to write a dissertation or complete any independent research as part of their undergraduate degrees that they did in China. However they have both completed the Research Methods module here at USE which should have given them some idea about how to go about things.

In supervising dissertations it is always difficult to know exactly how much help to give the student. Really our job is to help them achieve their own chosen project, not to do any of the work for them. We have been provided with guidelines concerning how much help we should give and how often we should see them. However it appears that not all supervisors provide the same amount of assistance to students. You do hear students complaining that while some supervisors give very little help (and may not be that easy to get hold of) others are much more generous with their time and advice.

One problem for us supervisors is the students' choice of topic. It can be easier to supervise a student who has chosen a topic with which you are familiar. Unfortunately this can't always be the case, especially as a lot of our students seem to want to work on finance and banking topics and we are not all experts in that area.

So somehow I have to get these students going. My first meetings with them were quite difficult but we have tried to agree a timetable for completing the various stages of the work. Rather than have a clear formulation of the aims and objectives of their work for our next meeting in two week's time I have suggested that they prepare a draft literature review (and given them some guidance about what this will require). With any luck they will then be able to get a clearer idea about what to do in specifying an exact title and getting on with their investigation of it.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Lunchtime games

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

When I arrived at the cafe last Friday I found Gus and Bob engaged in a competitive word game. Each of them was calling out the name in turn of a pop group or band that was either a food or a drink.

Each of them had a list in front of them of the names they had come up with up to that point. Some were familiar to me - The Jam, Cream, Hot Chocolate, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Eyed Peas, Bucks Fizz. Others were obviously before my time or ones that never made it to Greece - Vanilla Fudge, Half Man Half Biscuit, Prefab Sprout.

Each of the competitors had a supporter - Sian for Bob and Jack for Gus. And when they came up with their next name they didn't just say it but yelled it out loud loud with a whoop and a high -five with their supporter. It was all very noisy and exuberant. Not what you might expect form two guys now both well into their sixties.

Not surprisingly this had attracted a crowd of onlookers who also cheered at each new name.

Richard was there acting as time-keeper and judge. Each competitor had a maximum time of one minute to come up with their next group name. I was told that the loser would be the first of them to fail to respond in time. Richard would also decide if a name was acceptable or not - for example he ruled out Def Leppard on the grounds that even if the spelling had been different humans don't eat leopards! Apparently competitors were able to try these unacceptable names as stalling devices pending Richard's ruling. Richard had with him his mobile phone so that he could check names on the Internet if necessary.

On this occasion it was eventually Gus who was the winner with Bob failing to get a new group name in time. There were cheers all round and then Richard explained to me what it was all about.

After lunch, as happens at the end of term on a Friday or at some other times in the vacation, Gus, Bob and the others go to the pub - the Ship where we go after staff seminars. The loser has to buy the drinks.

In the pub Gus told me that the tradition had originated from a time some years ago where Bob and he were trading names of footballers who had played for England. Other contests followed, initially still with a sporting theme - Test cricketers from around the world, tennis grand slam winners. Then they had moved on to musical topics - record titles containing girls' names, record titles containing place names, records featuring the saxophone. Gus and Bob now relied on Richard to choose the topic so that neither competitor could gain an advantage by preparing answers beforehand.

After a few drinks in the pub Bob remembered a few more suitable group names - but it was too late. I wonder what topic Richard will choose for them next time?

Friday, 26 July 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

I don’t know if I have mentioned him before but one of our less frequently seen members of department is Keith Heathfield. The reason we don’t see much of him is mainly because he doesn’t really play a role in teaching on our degrees. Nor does he do any research as far as I can see. In fact most of his time goes to giving lectures and seminars for the non-specialist introduction to economics module given to the students of accounting, business studies and hospitality management in the faculty. Another role that he has is as our key contact with our partner institution in Bulgaria and Keith is often over there for meetings or giving guest lectures.

Both these activities have led Keith to develop some wonderful online resources, including some sponsored by Hefce and supported by the Economics Network in Bristol. It all started a few years ago. Due to the large numbers of students who have to take the Introduction to Economics module Keith found that he had to give his double lecture twice each week – there just wasn’t enough room for all the students even in our biggest lecture theatre.

One of the problems that this caused was that most students preferred to attend one of the scheduled lectures, rather than the other which was on a Thursday evening. Despite each student being allocated to one lecture only it was difficult to stop them turning up at the other time.

Keith decided that he would get his lectures on video. This would not only have the advantage of taking the pressure off students to attend the lecture in person, but would also give students who had been at the lecture an opportunity to go over the material again afterwards at their own pace. In the actual lecture they could just listen to what Keith was saying without the need to jot down notes at the same time. Keith also decided to make these lectures available to the students in Bulgaria via the Internet.

Keith’s lectures proved very popular. He is a natural communicator and we found that even some students taking our own departmental courses had discovered them and were finding them useful. Encouraged by this Keith successfully applied for a grant from the university’s Learning and Teaching Fund to develop additional videos and supporting learning materials.

Keith put together a set of videos filmed on location to explain and illustrate various basic economic concepts such as supply and demand, price elasticity, marginal analysis, price discrimination and inflation. After these had been seen by people at the Economics Network they helped Keith to put together a bid to get money from Hefce to develop them further. He was also able to start on a second set of videos relating to introductory statistics for economists and other social scientists.

This wonderful material has now come to the attention of our famous and successful alumni Simon Smart. When he was down here recently for the Graduation prizes he had discussions with Keith and Mike Rowe about plans he has for Keith to develop a range of short clips on economics that he can use for a set of mobile phone apps that will be known as SmartEcon. He is willing to pay for Keith to work for him one day a week, giving the department money to employ part-time lecturers to take his seminars. Keith is very happy with the plan, especially as it appears that he has been promised a personal share of the profits from the apps. Maybe Learning and Teaching activities can provide a good supplementary income if you are good enough at them!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Royal baby

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

What is it about you British and the Royal family? When I got to my office yesterday morning Kylie the cleaner was there smiling with joy. "Oh, isn't it wonderful Kostas. Kate and William have had a lovely baby boy".

I said that I was very happy for them but wasn't a bit too much fuss being made about it. The BBC news had reporters at the hospital, outside Buckingham Palace and even in Kate's home village. It seemed to me that about eighty per cent of the 10 o'clock news the previous night had been devoted to the birth with all the other important news just squeezed in here and there. Even the Guardian was full of stuff about the birth.

Kylie said that I shouldn't be such a misery. The royal birth was a happy event, uplifting for everyone during these difficult economic times. Kate and William were a lovely couple. I said that I didn't disagree with that. It was just that the coverage was over the top and a helpful distraction for the government from their policies for the economy, the health service, education,and the hiving off to the public sector of most of the probation service. Kylie appeared not to take any of this in but carried on with her cleaning humming what sounded like "Happy Birthday".

As you might expect opinion in the cafe was not quite so enthusiastic, although the women behind the counter were all going on about it in happy voices. Some of my colleagues though took a different view. Gus turned up with a copy of the latest issue of Private Eye which had a simple front cover with the words "Woman Has Baby. Inside:Some other stuff".

Somebody mentioned that a recent poll had revealed that over 70% of the British population is in favour of the monarchy, with only 17% wanting the country to be a republic. Someone else said that this might be true while the Queen was alive but that it could easily change after that with Charles on the throne. It was well known that he has tried on a number of occasions to influence the government with his private letters that we have not been allowed to see. He most probably had already influenced some policies - there were hints that he had got a favourable outcome in relation to the tax status of his estates and had also influenced the development plans for the area around the Chelsea barracks.

Some people joked with me saying that as a Greek I should be celebrating the birth as, after all, his great-grandfather the Duke of Edinburgh is a member of the Greek royal family. "More Schleswig-Holstein" was my reply!

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

A visit from Denise

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus mentioned last week that we would be getting a visit from Denise Cooper some time this week. Denise used to be a lecturer here at USE before I arrived. But she married Simon, an Australian researcher also working in the department at the time and about four years ago they moved to Australia where they are now both Professors. They now also have a young son, Evan, and Denise and Evan are over here in the UK for a couple of weeks to visit Denise's parents. Unfortunately Simon couldn't come with them due to work commitments, but Denise and Evan are having a fine old time in England visiting most of the London tourist spots like the Tower of London, the London Eye, London Zoo and Madame Tussauds.

But Denise also wanted to find time to come down to USE and see some of her old colleagues, especially Gus and Bob Bunn. And so it was that yesterday she and Evan arrived here for lunch in the cafe. Gus and Bob invited me to join them too.

Denise was really pleased to see Gus and Bob and they were soon reminiscing about the old days. Denise had started in the department as a young lecturer - her first lecturing job in fact. But she had steadily worked her way through successive promotions, even having a stint as one of the Associate Deans before the offer of high profile jobs in Melbourne had lured Simon and her down under. They were now very happy there, she said, especially now that they had young Evan.

The conversation moved on to other topics such as the REF and similar processes adopted in Australia and the low numbers of women professors in the profession. Understandably Evan showed signs of boredom and I accepted the role of baby minder so I missed much of the rest of the discussion. Evan is a delightful young lad and I read to him a bit from the book that he had with him. Then we went outside and threw a ball he had to each other until it was time for them to leave. There were hugs all round. It is good to know that colleagues who have moved on still value what the department gave them and the friendships they made.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Yesterday was Graduation Day for our students - undergraduates, and postgraduates including PhD students. The undergraduates have only recently completed their studies, taking final examinations in May. But the Masters students finished their taught courses last year, then worked on their dissertations until September. So, apart from the two of them who started PhDs with us we haven't seen them since September (or in some cases since before then) so it was nice to see them, and in some cases their parents too.

It is always great to see students on Graduation Day, dressed up in suits and posh dresses. Some of them are unrecognisable at first glance having spent most of their student days appearing before you in t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops. And it can be painfully funny watching the girls tottering along the cobbled streets in their high-heels .

This year it was very hot in the hall. I'm told that it was the hottest day of the year so far with temperatures outside reaching nearly 34 degrees. It seemed much hotter inside despite the air conditioning, but then we were also in suits and gowns. A couple of staff had to leave during the ceremony as they were feeling unwell.

Victor Crispin was there for his last ever Graduation Day. During his speech, which thankfully was shorter than usual, he talked about the fact that he would be retiring, and said that the university, like all the graduates, was well prepared for the future. That was his theme.

There was just one Honorary Degree awarded yesterday, to a member of the local NHS Trust who had also been involved in nurse training with the university, as well as a lot of local charity work. Well deserved I think. So no celeb sportsmen or entertainers this year!

After the ceremony we went for a buffet lunch and for the presentation of the prizes. It has been a bumper year again with more Firsts and Upper Seconds than ever before. Simon Smart was there to handover the newly renamed and now rather more generous award for the best final year performance. He also took the opportunity to chat to all the prize winning students as he is looking to offer jobs to some of them.

The university photographer seemed to take an age while taking pictures of all the prize winners. The room we were in seemed to have very ineffective air-conditioning and after several glasses of champagne I was getting very sleepy. So it was a relief to get outside even if it was hot and very still there too.

The Graduation Ceremony kind of marks the official end to the academic year, although we still have his year's Masters and PhD students to supervise through the summer. That reminds me, I must make some appointments with the Masters students I am supervising for next week or things will get behind schedule.

Monday, 22 July 2013


Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

For the last couple of weeks it has been very noticeable that not many British men have been in the cafe bar at morning coffee time. Some of them have been there at lunch time though, around 1.15. Of course some people are on leave as you would expect in late July. Others are working from home. But I have also discovered that some of my colleagues, although in the university, are having what they call "research meetings" in the Students' Union, where they have Sky TV on all day - more specifically tuned into the channel devoted to Ashes cricket. Gus said I should come and join them one day as the series has been really exciting so far, and having played in the Staff-Students cricket match I might find it interesting. So last Friday I did.

I found that as well as Gus, Jack, Richard, Tony and Bob Bunn, quite a few people that I recognised from other parts of the university were there - Dr Weasel for example. There were also a few women there who like cricket. I spotted Emily Willis from Computing and Barbara Briggs from Quality Assurance.

Gus explained to me the special significance of Ashes tests against the Australian cricket team - the "Aussies" - for England cricketers and supporters. It seems that back in 1882 a touring team from Australia had beaten an English cricket team here and the defeat had been taken so badly that the cricket stumps from the match had been burned and their ashes paced in an urn and presented to the Australians. When an English team next visited Australia the following year it was in the hope of winning and "regaining The Ashes". The teams now play each other for the trophy every few years. At present England hold the Ashes, and now seem well on course to retain them. For a number of years recently Australia had been the dominant team but nearly all their top players had retired and they are now in the process of rebuilding their team. England, meanwhile, have several world class batsmen and bowlers. Despite this the first test had been evenly balanced with each team having periods of dominance with the game tilting backwards and forwards between the two teams. In the end England had won with the Aussies only 14 runs short of the target they had been set for their second innings. In the second test England have been much more dominant, piling on the runs to provide Australia with a huge target to go after. And last night they managed to get Australia all out well short of their target to win the match and go 2-0 up in the series. Gus told me that only once in the history of test cricket has a team that was two-nil down in a five match series managed to come back to win, so England are well on their way to retaining the Ashes.

Gus told me that there had been quite a lot of debate during the first test match as to whether or not a batsman should "walk" if he knew that he had hit the ball which had then been caught by a fielder. Apparently one of the England batsmen, Stuart Broad, had clearly hit the ball which had then been caught. However he had stood his ground, and to everybody's amazement astonishingly the umpire had given the batsman "not out". He must have been the only person in the ground who had failed to see the clear deflection off Broad's bat. Broad went on to score quite a few runs and it could be argued that, given the eventual closeness of the scores, this was the crucial decision in the match.

The whole thing was complicated, I was told, by the effectiveness or otherwise use of the DRS (Digital Review System) by the Australians. Both sides have two opportunities per innings to contest an umpire's decision. The matter then gets referred to a third umpire in the stands who can make use of the digital technology - the Hawkeye pictures, the snickometer and microphones - to assess whether or not the ball hit the bat and carried to the catcher. They can also use the technology to look at leg before wicket decisions to see where the ball pitched, whether it hit the bat before the pad and whether or not it would hit the stumps. The problem for the Australians with the Broad catch was that they had already made use of their two DRS opportunities and so were unable to ask for this decision to be referred.

There was some disagreement amongst my colleagues as to whether or not Broad should have walked. Richard, Gus and Bob were "old school" and thought he should have gone. Richard said that the game of cricket had always been associated with fairness and high moral standards - there was even a saying "that's not cricket" which implied that someone was being dishonest or trying to cheat in some way.

Mike said that was rubbish. Cricketers had always tried to stretch the rules, with bowlers trying to rough up the ball to try to get it to swing for the fast bowlers or grip the pitch better for spinners. Or they might ask the umpire to change the ball in the hope that it might do something when they were getting no joy with the present one. Batsmen would intentionally waste time to try to stop the bowling side squeezing another over just before the lunch or tea break. And besides, if you employ a regulator (the umpire) it is right that you leave these decisions to him.

Gus said this was cheating, making analogies to exam sitting and coursework submission in our line of work. Would Mike argue that it is all right for students to try to cheat in exams and that it was up to invigilators to catch them? Or was it OK for students to plagiarise coursework with the onus placed on staff marking the work to spot the offenders? Don't we try to encourage our students to behave ethically in the hope that they will also take forward this attitude into their future career?

Mike said that you would be surprised how many students did try to cheat, weighing the risks of being caught against the potential gains from cheating - this was just economics - risk and return. Just as in business some students were good enough at what they did for there to be no incentive for them to cheat - the additional returns they might expect to get from cheating did not justify the risk and the losses they would face if caught.

Moving on to other things I got from the cricket were the really weird names they have for fielding positions and the funny little phrases that cricket commentators use.

For example I figured out that in the Staff-Student match I had been fielding at Square Leg. But I loved some of the other names of fielding positions - short leg, silly short leg, third man, long on. And there was much talk amongst the commentators about the "corridor of uncertainty" and the use of a "nightwatchman". Fascinating. I also love all the statistics that get quoted during the game - economy rates, runs per over, the speed the ball was bowled at, even the number of revolutions per minute of the spinners' deliveries.

We also talked a bit about the role of the captain - deciding who should bowl, where the fielders should be placed etc. Mike said that being a cricket captain was a bit like being Head of Department. Deciding with the selectors and Team Manager who should be in the squad was akin to the selection process for staff where you shared decision making with the Dean and VC. Then deciding who should teach certain courses, or who should be given more time for research, was like identifying roles for members of the team. The key thing was to get decisions made in the best interests of the team or department despite the individual preferences of the individuals in the group. At this point there were rueful smiles on the faces of my colleagues and me. I had better end it there!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Cyber attacks

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

We had an email yesterday from the IT department with new instructions about the use of university computers (especially laptops) outside the university.

Following concerns raised in various American universities reported in the New York Times we have been reminded about the possibility that sensitive research work, especially anything that might lead to patents or other valuable intellectual property, might be the target for hackers. Security against hackers has been tightened for the university network, we were told, but computers connected to the Internet off campus might be vulnerable.

The IT department said that they were following the advice issued by some American universities. Anybody visiting China to present a research conference paper should not take their own laptop with them since as soon as they were connected to the Internet everything would be copied, or some malicious code would be placed on the machine so that when it is brought back to the UK and connected to the network access to all the files on it will be achieved.

Academics visiting China should borrow a specially prepared laptop from the IT department and place only pdf files of their paper or presentation on it. On their return to the UK computer users should take this laptop back to the IT department for analysis and assessment.

Temporary email accounts would be provided to enable people to maintain contact while in China, so they should not use their usual university of gmail accounts. They should also borrow a university mobile phone rather than their own cell phone as these might also be hacked. On no account should they use Facebook or Twitter while in China.

This is probably not going to affect me as I don't expect to visit China in the near future and I don't really have any research projects that have potential IP spinoffs. But it will affect people elsewhere in the university, particularly in the science, engineering and creative industry faculties.

What with the NSA and GCHQ getting hold of our metadata and hackers trying to access our files the digital world has suddenly been found to be a much more difficult place to inhabit than we had thought.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

VC to retire

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Having used ten blog posts to tell you the story of Gus and Heather's adventures in Cephalonia I have been neglecting events at USE itself. The most important of these has been the announcement by the Vice Chancellor, Victor Crispin, that he is to retire at the end of the next academic year.

Crispin said that he has made this announcement a full academic year in advance to enable the Board of Governors to determine the best possible process for the appointment of his successor. The rumour is that the university will engage an external group to draw up an initial long list of about twelve candidates which, in discussions with the governors, will then be reduced to a shorter list for interview. Apparently this is the procedure that was adopted by one of our close neighbours and rivals when they appointed their new VC last year.

Everyone here at USE seems to agree that, although there have been times when we were unhappy with the VC - for example his decision earlier in the year to spend a lot of money on revamping the university's logo and mission statement - overall his twenty year tenure has been a very successful one. In terms of student numbers the university has virtually doubled in size. Recruitment is not a problem for us either with more and better qualified students applying for places here. USE has jumped up quite a few places in the various university league tables. Its research record has also improved, although we can't give a final judgment on this aspect of our work until the results of the Research Excellence Framework are announced. The university has become much closer to its local community with good links to the council and local businesses. It has also gone a long way to achieving its other aims, particularly in relation to its diversity and green targets. It has also established links with universities overseas, with recent partnerships with institutions in Eastern Europe, India and China to add to those that we already had with European countries and the United States. Most important of all in Crispin's achievements is the fact that USE is in a secure financial position. He leaves his successor a university in good health.

Crispin's early career was in what we now call Russell Group universities and when he first arrived here we wondered if he would be able to understand the kind of institution USE needs to be. But Crispin recognised its strengths and took steps to address its weaknesses. At every turn he was never too ambitious but neither were we allowed to be complacent. It will be interesting to see what kind of person the governors ask the headhunters to look for, and what kind of vision he or she has for the university over the next two decades.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 10

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

What happened to Gus and Heather in Cephalonia made the national as well as the local news back in the UK. However it was a few days before the story reached the British media and by that time Gus and Heather were back home. But there was no avoiding the publicity and soon reporters were outside their house looking for pictures and interviews.

The university, in the shape of the marketing department, contacted Gus and suggested that he should agree to appear on the local BBC and ITV news programmes. After all, they reminded him, it was entirely due to his quick thinking after Heather had been rescued that Maheras had been captured before he could flee Cephalonia. This reflected well on him, and by extension the university that employed him. Gus was initially reluctant, arguing that the whole affair was a private matter and nothing to do with the university. But the marketing people said that all the news reports had highlighted his position at USE and it would be helpful to the university to take advantage of the public interest in the story.

Gus was also reluctant to appear on TV because, unlike some of his colleagues, he had never done this before and he was worried that he wouldn't come over very well. Richard Gardener was always on the local news programmes, commenting on budget statements or big local business stories. But he had undergone special media training sessions and knew how to approach these appearances, whether they be in the studio or outside on the street somewhere.

However eventually Gus gave way. Mike Rowe put a bit of pressure on him saying that in the interview he could play up the economics department as well as the university. There were lots of potential students who lived in the area and might be considering attending one of the local universities. They might just be tipped towards USE and perhaps even economics if he gave a good performance. Gus doubted that these potential students would be watching the local news programmes but conceded that their parents probably would be.

And so it was that Gus appeared on both local TV news programmes on consecutive days last week. And it turned out that he is a natural, coming over very well, telling the story in a relaxed and concise way, and charming the women reporters who interviewed him. He has told me that he actually enjoyed the experience and would even consider going on again when the trial eventually comes to court. And Mike was delighted. The caption showing his name said "Dr Gus Johns, Department of Economics, USE". Although personally I wonder how many viewers would have noticed that.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 9

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus and Heather spent a happy few days visiting other parts of the island of Cephalonia. Starting in Sami they stayed at the Pericles Hotel. They visited the excavations of the ancient city with its theatre, aquaduct and tombs. They took a cruise around the neighbouring island of Ithaca. Of course Sami was a key location in the Captain Correli's Mandolin story and there are now quite a few Captain Correli themed restaurants and shops there.

Then they travelled up to Fiskado, the beautiful and picturesque harbour village at the northern tip of the island. Because it survived the devastating earthquake of 1953 it still has very attractive buildings. The harbour was full of expensive looking yachts, but there were also a few fishing boats providing excellent fish for the local tavernas and restaurants.

The last place Gus and Heather went to on their island tour was the village of Skala on the south-east of the island. Here there is a lovely "blue flag" beach which is shaded all the way along by pine trees. This is a very popular place in the summer with both locals and tourists. After that they returned to Lassi to relax for the last few days of their holiday.

The day before Gus and Heather were due to fly back to England they had a visit from the chief of police, Panos Manaitis. He had a lot to tell them. Some of the flight crew members from the charter company had been re-interviewed and one of them had finally broken down and admitted to being the courier. Exactly how he had been able to get the drugs into the UK at Gatwick airport was now being thoroughly investigated. Money had been put into a Swiss bank account for him which is why it had not been traced in the earlier investigation.

The company running the charter flight was very concerned that it had been used in the drug smuggling activities and was extremely relieved that this had now been stopped. The Chairman of the company had come over to Cephalonia and, as well as talking to the police, had also visited George and Rebecca. He had hoped to see Gus and Heather too, but because their exact whereabouts had not been known this had not been possible. He planned to get in touch with them when they were back in the UK and had promised that his company would provide free travel and accommodation for the couple when they had to return to Cephalonia for the trial. He had also told George and Rebecca that his company would pay for a big and prominent advertising hoarding for their taverna in the baggage reclaim area of the airport at Cephalonia, as well as printed leaflets with details of how to find the taverna. The company would make a goodwill donation of several thousand euro to George and Rebecca to help them complete the taverna restoration. Panos said this would be widely reported so it would actually be cheap publicity for the company. Never mind if George and Rebecca got the benefit.

"So, we will see you again sometime next year for the trial" said Panos. "You should also expect a visit at some point from the British police who are sharing the investigation with us. Thanks to God no harm came to you Heather. Kalo taxidi - have a safe journey home".

And so it is that Gus and Heather travelled safely back home and can now reflect on what was an unexpected and distressing experience. But, Gus told me, they did enjoy most of their time on the island of Cephalonia and would warmly recommend it as a holiday destination for British tourists

Monday, 15 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 8

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

It was now Thursday evening and Gus and Heather said that they just wanted to get back to Lassi for a quiet night on their own. Rebecca wanted to cook a celebratory meal but Heather said maybe they could do that some time later in the week Just now she was tired and she wanted to get home for a good sleep. Knowing how much Rebecca liked to talk she feared that it would be another long night at the taverna if they didn't get away soon.

The policeman asked for details of where they were staying in Lassi, saying that someone would come round the next day to get a full statement from them. Rebecca insisted on getting food for Gus and Heather to take back with them saying that they probably wouldn't want to go out anywhere to eat and they wouldn't have much in as they had planned to be away from the apartment for a few days on their trip around the island.

So it was that Gus and Heather returned to Lassi with a veritable feast of bread, cheese, olives, spinach pie and a bottle of the local rose wine. This they consumed together before at last getting to bed and some much needed sleep.

At about midday the next day there was a knock at the door and they found a young policewoman standing outside. "Mr and Mrs Johns?" she asked. "May I come in and get your statement please?" "Yes, of course" said Gus. "Would you like some coffee or a cold drink? We can sit outside on the patio. It is quite cool and shaded at this time of the day."

After Gus and Heather had given and signed their statements Gus asked the policewoman if there had been any further developments. Had Maheras admitted what he had been doing? Did they know yet who had been helping him on the charter flight? Had the British policeman been killed on the flight?

The policewoman said that she had no information on any of these points but that her boss would be in touch with them about things. She warned them that at some point there would be a trial and the two of them would have to come back to Cephalonia to give evidence. Gus said that he had anticipated this. Did she have any idea about when this might be? Probably quite a while, was the answer. Almost certainly not for a number of months. The judicial system in Greece moves rather slowly.

Gus asked if it would be all right for them to take their planned tour around the island. If possible they would like to begin it the next day with a visit to Sami and then on to Fiskado. The policewoman said that would probably be OK but perhaps they should check first with her boss. She gave them his direct line telephone number at the police station. She told them to ask for Nikos Moraitis.

So after she had left and they had enjoyed a light lunch Gus called Moraitis at the police station. Moraitis said that it was quite OK for them to take the tour. There was nothing much more that he needed from them just at the moment but that he would need to see them before they left the island as they would have to make arrangements about coming back to Cephalonia to give evidence at the trial when it eventually took place. Gus asked when that might be. "Probably not until next year" said Moraitis. "If possible we would like to identify the charter plane contact so we can put it all together properly. Maheras won't tell us who it is but I think it is time to question all the crew again. Once they know we have Maheras in custody they might be a bit more nervous."

"By the way, Maheras is adamant that he had nothing to do with the death of the British policeman. In fact he says that he didn't even know that the policeman was coming to the island until after his death and with all the questioning of the passengers and crew after that. And the reason that he made contact with Rebecca was to try to find out if she knew anything about what was going on and how much the authorities knew about his activities. He thought you might be another investigator which is why he tried to frighten you off by kidnapping Heather."

The two of them talked a little while longer but with no new points being made the conversation came to a natural end. Gus put down the phone and he and Heather got round to planning their island tour.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 7

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

It seemed that Gus had only been asleep for a short while when he became aware of a tremendous commotion outside. Then, suddenly into the room burst George, his brother and Heather.

Gus jumped up from the bed immediately and embraced Heather. "How are you my love? Did they treat you OK? How did George and his brother find you and get you here?" He was full of questions.

"Let's go into the other room and sit down quietly so we can fill you in" said George. "We had a few ideas about where Maheras might have taken Heather and luckily our second hunch was correct."

When they were sitting comfortably in the main room George continued with the story. He said that after they had been watching the place for a few minutes they caught sight of Heather through the window, together with the two fishermen from the cafe. There was no sign of Maheras himself.

Then they got lucky. One of the fishermen came outside for a smoke and they were able to overpower him. After a while the other fisherman must have wondered where his friend had got to and he came out for a look. And so it was that we were able to capture him too".

Heather took up the story. "I couldn't believe that George had managed not only to find me but to rescue me too".

In the background the policeman was not happy. "You shouldn't have taken this on yourselves. You should have contacted the police. It is our job to deal with this kind of thing."

"With respect" said George "Time was of the essence. And you didn't manage to stop the kidnapping in the first place. All is well now. Heather is safe and we have the two fishermen tied up in the car outside ready for you to question them."

"What car?" asked Rebecca. "You left here on your motorbike. How did you get everyone back here?".

George explained that they had used the fishermen's car. Not Maheras' Mercedes but a beat up old Fiat. But it was good enough to get everyone back to the taverna. George's brother had driven the car with the two prisoners in the back and Heather next to him in the front. George had followed on his motorbike.

Suddenly Gus had a thought. "Do you think that Maheras mght know that Heather has escaped? Maybe he was in regular contact with his two fisherman friends and will be concerned if he can't get hold of them." And then another thought struck him. "What if he tries to leave the island? Perhaps he will try to get away on one of his fishing boats."

"Yes, we had better cover that possibility" said the policeman, immediately getting on his phone. He contacted his officers at the police station and told them t get down to the harbour to check as soon as possible. Then he said to George "Bring the prisoners in. Let's see what they have to say for themselves." But they would say nothing. They exchanged glances as questions were asked but refused to say anything at all.

A little while later the policeman's phone rang. Yes, it had been just as well that the police had gone to the harbour as they had got there just in time to apprehend Maheras. He and the man from the cafe were attempting to leave on one of the boats but the police had managed to stop them and take the into custody. The game was up.

"This calls for a celebration" said George. "Wine, beer, ouzo or brandy?"

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 6

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Once George had left Gus prepared coffee for Rebecca and himself. He was trying to remain calm but he felt powerless. Who was this mysterious Panos Maheras and what was he up to? Smuggling, the police seemed to think. Drugs or people perhaps. Obviously it was something big enough for him to be worried that he was under investigation and to kidnap Heather. Why did Maheras think that Gus might be an investigator?

"Have you taken anyone else to the fishermen's café?" he asked Rebecca. "Why, no" she replied. "As I have told you I have very little contact with other people being stuck up at the taverna most of the time. You and Heather are the only people I have taken. George refused to come with me when I asked him."

"How did you find out about the place?" asked Gus. "That's a funny thing" replied Rebecca. "I was in the market one day buying a few vegetables when Panos suddenly appeared next to me and engaged me in conversation. He was very friendly and seemed really interested in our taverna restoration project when I told him about it". So that's how he knows where you live, thought Gus.

"And just before we parted company he told me about the café and suggested that I dropped in sometime. A little over a week after that I decided to try it. I enjoyed it there and have been back maybe a dozen times since." But always on your own, thought Gus. So Maheras must have wondered who these people were who suddenly turned up with her this time. Perhaps he didn't buy the story that Heather and I had just stumbled upon Rebecca and her taverna.

"What did Maheras talk to you about when you saw him in the café?" asked Gus. "Oh, nothing much, I told him a lot about the taverna restoration project .And how I came to be there - the dead man on the plane and the police interrogation."

Interesting, thought Gus. Could there be some link to the charter plane service and the smuggling? What if the fishermen were picking up drugs when they were out on their boats, bringing it back to shore for the fat man somehow to get it to the UK via the charter flight. And was Maheras somehow concerned that the police or a private investigator was on to him?

Before they could finish their coffees and Gus could follow this line of thought any further there was a knock at the door and the policeman who they had seen earlier asked if he could come in "Any news?" asked Gus hopefully. "No, not yet I'm afraid. But I thought it was only fair that I came to see you and acquaint you with a bit more background on what has been going on."

He then told them that Maheras had been under investigation for some time, As Gus had guessed they thought that he was smuggling drugs - somehow transported from Turkey to Albania - then picked up at sea in Maheras' fishing boats and then take surreptitiously to the UK, possibly on the charter flight. A policeman from London had been sent out to investigate but had died of a heart attack on the plane on his way out.

The doctors had looked for more sinister causes of death but could find nothing. “Oh my God” said Rebecca. “You don’t think that I had anything to do with this do you?” “No” replied the policeman. “You were new to the service. Whoever is involved – if this is the way that it works – is someone who has been working on the flight for some time. We have been investigating them all to see if they have suddenly come into a lot of money – including the pilots as well as the cabin crew. But we haven’t found anything. And none of them emerged as suspicious when we questioned them.

The policeman went on to say that they had spotted Maheras making contact with Rebecca and had been tailing her when she went to the café. That is why he had been up so early and in his office that morning. He was disappointed that the two young policemen who were supposed to be keeping an eye on things had failed to stop the kidnapping.

Gus wondered if he should tell the policeman what George and his brother were up to but decided to keep quiet for the time being as he was unsure how Rebecca might react.

“So what is the next move?” he asked. “Do we just wait here and hope for good news? Do you have any idea where Maheras might be hiding Heather?”

The policeman replied that there were a few leads that they were following up. Gus suddenly remembered the note that Maheras had left and went to fetch it to show to the policeman. What should he do, he asked, should he take a reply to the café?

The policeman said that, yes, this might be the right thing to do as it might cause Maheras to make contact again. He might even go to the café to get your answer in which case the police would be able to pick up his trail. "I think you should take your reply to the café now and then come back here to get some sleep. I shall stay here to coordinate things so if I get any news while you are sleeping I will wake you up to tell you immediately".

And so it was that Gus delivered his reply to the café and then returned to the taverna to get some sleep. Rebecca had made up a bed for him in the guest room. To his surprise, despite his real concern for what Heather was going through he was very tired and almost immediately fell asleep.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 5

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The holiday for Gus and Heather on the Greek island of Cephalonia had turned from a relaxing experience into a nightmare. Heather had been kidnapped - snatched and pulled into a car just after she, Gus and their new friend Rebecca had come out of a fishermen's cafe in Argostoli.

The police had told Gus to go back with Rebecca to her taverna and to wait there for news. Understandably Gus was distraught with worry, but Rebecca was hysterical and it forced him to try to remain calm and get her back home. When they got there they immediately came across a note pushed under the front door. This is what it said. "Dr Johns. Your wife is safe and well but will be held with us until you can assure us that you will leave the island without any further investigation of our activities. Leave a note to that effect in the cafe. Do not contact the police."

"What can this mean?" asked Gus. It was clear that the note must be from the fat man in the white jacket. What investigation does he think I am doing? I only met him for about twenty minutes in the cafe.

Rebecca said that she had no idea. But it did seem that the fat man must be involved. She said his name was Panos Maheras. And she said that she was even more worried for Heather as we had already contacted the police.

Gus asked Rebecca what Maheras did for a living as it was obvious that he was not a fisherman. This seemed to surprise Rebecca. She said that she didn't know. Maybe he just owned some of the boats but didn't actually go fishing himself?

Gus said that there must be something serious going on in order to justify the kidnapping. Maheras was obviously worried that he was the subject of some kind of investigation. He had something going on - probably criminal - that he didn't want to be known about.

Just then there was the sound of a motorbike outside and they guessed that George had returned. He rushed into the room and first ran across to Rebecca, hugging and kissing her. "Sorry about last night" he said. Then he turned to Gus and said how sorry he was to hear the news about Heather's kidnapping. Gus asked how George seemed already to know what had happened. George said that his family up in the mountains regularly monitored police communications - don't ask why - and as soon as he had been told what had happened he had hurried back to the taverna to see them. George said that his brother knew a bit about this Maheras character - it seems that he is also well known to the police and has been the subject of investigations for some time. It sounds like they think he is involved in some kind of smuggling activities.

Anyway, George said that he would be off again now to join his brother to look at some of the places that Maheras might have taken Heather. He went upstairs and came down carrying a gun. This started Rebecca off again. "Oh George, do be careful. These people sound dangerous. It might be better to leave everything to the police".

A cynical smile appeared on George's face. He kissed Rebecca and was soon back on his motorbike to rejoin his brother.

More tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 4

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Gus and Heather are on holiday on the Greek island of Cephalonia. After a few days relaxing in their resort of Lassi they rented a car to visit other parts of the island. On the Wednesday night they decided to venture east of Lassi and then up into the mountains in search of a taverna. Here they came across George (a local Greek) and his English girlfriend Rebecca who were restoring an old taverna. They were invited in and the four of them enjoyed a long night of eating, drinking and talking before George and Rebecca got into an argument and George stormed off into the mountains on his motorbike.

Later Rebecca suggested that they should go her favourite beach to see the sun rise, and then go a fisherman's cafe in Argostoli for breakfast.

The breakfast cafe didn't look much from the outside and inside consisted of just a few formica tables with old fashioned Greek chairs. There were three people sitting at one of the tables. Two looked very much like fishermen - lean and very brown skinned. But the third individual was rather different, a fattish pale skinned man in his early fifties, wearing a white jacket. As we entered he greeted Rebecca with a smile and continued sipping his Greek coffee.

Rebecca told us to sit at one of the other tables and she would order our breakfast. She walked to the side of the room where there was a serving hatch and called out "Kalimera". After a few minutes a man appeared. He too was brown and lean and wore a rather dirty white t-shirt and jeans. Rebecca ordered three traditional Greek breakfasts and then went over to sit with Gus and Heather. Heather asked what a traditional Greek breakfast consisted of. Rebecca said that it would be some dried bread called paximadi, olives and feta cheese. You would normally get a herbal tea to go with it but Rebecca said that we would have a Greek coffee instead. She hoped that was OK.

Before the breakfast arrived the man in the white jacket got up from his table and went over to where Rebecca and the others were sitting. "Aren't you going to introduce me to your friends?" he asked.

Rebecca made the introductions saying that Gus and Heather were on holiday and had stumbled across the taverna the previous night. The fat man asked Gus what he did for a living. When Gus told him the man said "Welcome to Cephalonia Professor. We respect educators here". After a bit more small talk the Greek breakfasts arrived and the fat man got up from the table, signalled to his two colleagues and all three left the cafe.

When they had finished their breakfasts Rebecca, Gus and Heather left the cafe and headed back to where they had parked the car. But before they had gone very far up the road a car came racing down the road, mounting the pavement near them causing Heather to stumble and fall. "My God" said Rebecca. "That looked deliberate." They started to walk more quickly but before they had gone very far the car came racing after them again. As it got close to them it slowed down, the back door opened and someone snatched Heather and pulled her inside. The door slammed and the car sped away. "We had better call the police" said Gus, who was clearly very worried. Rebecca burst into tears and said " I know where the police station is, I have been there many times, but it probably won't be open yet"

However to their surprise there was a policeman there already on duty. He recognised Rebecca from the time she had been interviewed about the dead man on the plane. He took down all the details, asking for a description of the car. Unfortunately all they could say was that it was white and possibly a Mercedes. The policeman said that they should go back to the taverna and wait for news. Maybe there would be a ransom note. He wondered whether the group had been specifically targeted or whether it was just a random snatch. Only time woud tell. He told Gus not to be worried. This kind of thing was very rare on Cephalonia and they would do all they could to bring it to an early and happy conclusion. Needless to say Gus was not reassured but tried to remain calm as Rebecca was close to hysterical. It probably helped him get through the crisis having to cope with her.

To be continued.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 3

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

The story so far. Gus and Heather have been on holiday to the Greek island of Cephalonia. After spending a few days relaxing in and around the resort of Lassi they had rented a car to visit other places on the island. Having taken delivery of the car on the Wednesday afternoon they had decided to investigate tavernas further to the east of Lassi that evening. After travelling for about half an hour they took a left turn up into the mountains. Here they came across what seemed to be a taverna in an old style building. It turned out that the couple who owned the building were a Greek man called George and his English girlfriend Rebecca. They were still working on restoring the building to its former glory but Rebecca invited them in and they were soon sharing food, drink and conversation with her and George. The evening started well and Rebecca told Gus and Heather how she came to be on Cephalonia, how she and George had met and their plans for the taverna.

As the wine flowed it became obvious that Gus couldn't drive back to Lassi that night and Rebecca had persuaded them to stay the night - and the drinks turned from wine to spirits.

Rebecca talked a lot and at some point became rather argumentative. She and George had words and George stormed out and disappeared up the mountain road on his motorbike. Rebecca broke down in tears.

Heather tried to calm Rebecca and Gus volunteered to make everyone a coffee. It became clear to Gus and Heather that there were problems between George and Rebecca, probably due to the slow progress being made on the taverna.

Gradually Rebecca calmed down and told Gus and Heather of her fear that the taverna project would never succeed. George was a perfectionist and his work on the taverna, although wonderful, was taking too long. If they didn't open the taverna soon and start to get in some income they would run out of money. On top of that Rebecca was worried that the taverna, although a beautiful building, was too far off the beaten track to attract sufficient customers to make it pay. Gus attempted to reassure Rebecca saying that as it was such an unusual place, so long as there was good publicity about it amongst tourists, and the food was good (and having tasted Rebecca's cooking he was sure it would be) then people would make the effort to seek out the taverna.

By now it was the early hours of Thursday morning and Rebecca said that she knew what they could do do to cheer themselves up. They should go to a lovely beach that she liked and watch the sun rise and paddle in the sea. Then they should go to a little cafe that she had discovered in Argostoli where the fisherman went for their breakfast after returning from their nightly fishing trips. There they could have an authentic Cephalonian breakfast.

And so it was that they went to Rebecca's favourite beach and watched the sun come up as they paddled in the water. Gus had never seen a Greek sunrise before, although he had watched plenty of sunsets. As Rebecca had promised it made them all feel good. In his head Gus had heard George Harrison singing "Here Comes the Sun" - a record that always gave him a positive feeling.

Then they drove into Argostoli to find the fisherman's cafe for breakfast.

To be continued.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia 2

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Having spent the first few days of their holiday in Cephalonia relaxing in and around Lassi and Argostoli Gus and Heather rented a car with the intention of visiting other parts of the island. So that they could start early on the Thursday morning they arranged to take delivery of their car on Wednesday afternoon.

As evening approached on Wednesday Gus suggested to Heather that, instead of having dinner in Lassi or Argosoli, they should use the car to find a taverna somewhere the other side of Lassi following the road to the east. And so it was that their adventure began,

They didn't stop at the first few tavernas that they passed, but after they had been travelling for about half an hour Gus noticed a road on the left, going up into the mountains. He took it. After about five more minutes they saw before them an old style building which had obviously survived the earthquake, all lit up and freshly painted. Although there was no sign it looked like a taverna with a number of tables arranged around the front of the building. Gus said "Let's stop here" and parked the car on the road just past the building. As they walked back towards the entrance a young Greek man in his late thirties came towards them. "Sorry" he said. "We are not open". He explained that he and his girlfriend had managed to buy the place a year before and were still in the process of restoring it. They might just be able to open later in the summer but more likely it would take until 2014 before it was ready.

As they were talking a woman's voice called out from within the building. "Is that English people you are talking to George? Bring them in and we can have a drink and a talk, It is so long since I have seen anyone from home." And at that point the woman appeared, all smiles and with open arms to welcome them.

“Hello” she said. “I’m Rebecca. George and I are behind in our work on this place but it is wonderful to see someone from home out here. Not many British tourists take this road and I am beginning to wonder if we might have made a mistake in putting all out money into this project. But, as you can see, George is a wonderful carpenter and woodworker and he is doing a brilliant job in restoring this place to its full glory”.

So it was that Gus and Heather went into Rebecca and George’s place and the long evening and night began.

Rebecca prepared a Greek salad and a few other meze items. George plied them with the local rose wine. Rebecca told them the story of how she and George had met. She had been a member of the cabin crew for one of the charter airlines that flew to Cephalonia from the UK. But on her very first flight she had been freaked out by what happened. After landing in Cephalonia when all the passengers had left she noticed that there was still a man right at the back of the aircraft. At first she assumed he was sleeping, but when she got closer she found that he was dead. Presumably at some point in the flight he had suffered a heart attack. Nobody had noticed, not even those sitting next to him; or if they had realised they decided to ignore the situation in case it delayed them getting off the plane.

After a few more flights Rebecca had decided that she couldn’t do the job. She kept thinking that she would come across another dead person. Of course there was also an inquiry into what had happened. This required her to stay in Argostoli for several days to talk to the local Greek police and various other government officials. Having spent a few days being interviewed and giving statements she decided to quit the job and stay on the island and look for work.

Rebecca told how she had managed to get a job as a waitress in a waterfront taverna in Argostoli and it was here that she had met George. He had come in to eat with some of his friends and she had served them. Right from the start there had been an attraction and it wasn’t too long before the two became friends and then lovers. Heather told me that she wasn’t surprised as George was a very good looking man with a twinkly smile, and Rebecca was an attractive blonde – they made a handsome couple.

As Rebecca’s story went on George had been refilling Gus and Heather’s glasses with the rose wine. Suddenly realising how much he had already drunk Gus tried to stop the next refill and said that they really must be leaving. “Nonsense” said Rebecca, “We have only just started to enjoy ourselves. You can stay here tonight. Let’s get something stronger to drink. Do you prefer ouzo or Metaxa?”.

And so it was that Gus and Heather stayed on with George and Rebecca, drinking and talking late into the night and early morning. Later things became a bit difficult as Rebecca and George started to niggle each other, eventually getting into a full blown argument about whether Jesus was the Messiah or just another Jew. It was at this point that Gus and Heather realised that Rebecca was Jewish. By now she was having a bit of a rant and George stormed off. A few minutes later they heard him power up his motorbike and disappear up the road into the mountains. So there they were, left with Rebecca who was now in tears. But I shall leave it there. The rest of the story must wait for another day.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Adventures in Cephalonia

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Gus and Heather had a bit of an adventure, including a few scary moments, during their recent holiday on the Greek island of Cephalonia. I have now had a chance to get all the details from Gus and over a few blog posts I will pass on the story to you.

Today's episode relates what happened during the first few days of the holiday. During this time nothing much untoward occured. But stand by for later posts which cover the more eventful part of their trip.

As I just said everything started out quite normally. Gus and Heather flew from Gatwick to Cephalonia on a charter flight organised by their holiday company. On arrival they were taken to their studio apartment in the resort of Lassi which is just outside the island's capital Argostoli. They had been there before, in fact, back in the 1980s - well before the filming of Captain Correli's Mandolin, the movie based on Louis de Bernieres' novel which had brought Cephalonia to the attention of many people who had not previously heard of the place. They found Lassi to be a bit more developed and busier than they remembered, but still a nice place to unwind and relax on the beach.

Their plan was to spend the first few days just chilling out in Lassi itself and walking down the hill to Argostoli for dinner in the evening. Then they would hire a car for a few days so they could visit other parts of the island.

Gus said that Argostoli isn't the prettiest Greek town that you have ever visited. The reason is that in 1953 the island suffered a devastating earthquake which destroyed almost all the houses except those in the far north of the island around Fiskardo. The new houses put up in the fifties and sixties lack architectural charm. But the town is a pleasant enough place to be on a summer's evening, walking along the promenade and looking across to Lixouri on the peninsula opposite. Then, after a nice meal, you can have an invigorating walk back up the hill to Lassi. In the open area between the two places almost every street light has bats circling around the light. One downside of Cephalonia is the mosquitoes, although Gus says they are not too bad early in the summer season.

Anyway, the first few days of the holiday were pretty tranquil and uneventful for Gus and Heather and they got themselves into a nice relaxed mood. They hired a car for three days ready for a leisurely trip around the island. But, as you will discover, this isn't quite how it turned out.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

What we did in Kent

Hello. My name is Kostas Economides and I am a lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University of the South of England (USE for short). Well, actually that is not true really as the names of individuals and institutions in this blog have been changed to protect the innocent - and the guilty!

Our trip to Kent focused on three main places: Maidstone, Faversham and Canterbury, although we did stop for coffee in the Pantiles at Tunbridge Wells on our way on the first day and returned by way of Hastings.

Our first night was in Maidstone. Jenny told me that William Golding had taught at the Grammar School here, and that he had also met his future wife while working at the school. She does like to track the literary connections to the places we visit. We did a bit of shopping in the shopping mall and in the evening we went to see a performance of Miss Saigon by teenagers from the local Valley Park School at the Hazlitt Theatre. The kids did really well.

The next day we moved on to Faversham, a charming market town. Apparently Crispin (St Crispin of the famous Henry V speech) fled persecution in Gaul and lived and worked for a while in the town (another literary gem from Jenny). She told me that the town’s information leaflet also says that Shakespeare and his actors had performed in Faversham on several occasions.

Faversham also boasts the oldest brewery in the country, Shepherd Neame, and we were able to visit it during the afternoon, including tasting the various ales that are made there. Excellent!

Next day we were off to Canterbury. Of course we went to the cathedral and also various places connected with Chaucer and the Canterbury Tales. We also met up with a friend of mine who works at the University of Kent for a few drinks. We ruminated on the problems facing Greece, economic and political. Not a happy conversation, although my friend told me that tourism numbers are up this year.

On the way back we took the coastal route so we could pass through Hastings and Battle. I seem to be getting more familiar with British history and literature than most Greeks. I’m told that 1066 is a date that every schoolchild knows. Just like 1966 for every England football fan!