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A few weeks ago, I was in Athens for a holiday. As any good tourist in Greece does, I visited the Acropolis, enjoyed some delicious moussaka and spent two lazy days on the beach, basking in the sunshine. It was, however, impossible to ignore the financial tensions currently gripping the country.

On two separate days during our visit, we were confronted by strike action.

When we first arrived, we saw that strike action was already proposed for the 5th October, and so we did have a little bit of warning. It turned out that it was a transport strike, which put the rest of Athens at a complete standstill. All of the main tourist attractions were closed, including the Acropolis (as we found out when we walked to the top of the hill), the Ancient Agora and National Gardens. Luckily, we did find some things tdo amuse ourselves with, even if the day didn’t run quite as initially planned. Indeed, when we got to the Acropolis, we met with a Japanese TV crew who were there to talk to some tourists about the inconvenience caused by the strikes.

The second strike occurred when we were on the coast in Glyfada on the 10th October, when we were forced to get a taxi to the airport rather than a bus as initially planned, as the transport industry was refusing to work again.

Student protest posters at the university

Our hotel in central Athens was not in the nicest area of Athens, being away from the main Plaka area. Aside from the graffiti that was pretty much everywhere, prostitution was rife. I didn’t notice it at first, but after seeing the same women in the same place day after day, it was pretty obvious what they were there for. We even saw some of the women joking with the police, but another being taken into a police station. In Greece, prostitution is actually legal, all brothels must have permits and the women must carry a medical card that is updated every two weeks. Nevertheless, Greece does have a problem with women being illegally trafficked into the country and being pushed into prostitution, and a rise in HIV is being linked to prostitution and drugs. 

Drug abuse was also noticeable in the area we stayed in. We saw what could only be a drug deal taking place in a car parked at the edge of the road, one man sitting at a bus stop staring into space and another woman on a doorstep, a box of chips at her side and a souvlaki with a few bites taken out of it still in her hand; she had fallen asleep eating. One man stood in the metro station, bent over double. Even in the more touristy areas, people slept on the streets.

The truth is that while bus and tram drivers went on strike, there are people with serious problems that the government simply cannot afford to help. There are even reports of people purposely injecting themselves with needles used by people with HIV as a way of getting the added benefits associated with being infected with the disease.

While in the nicer areas Athens, surrounded with nice shops and restaurants, it was easy to forget about the protests. All that was reported on the news stations was of the strikes themselves, but even the British press have got tired of that story. But out in the open, just around the corner from my hotel was the real, human impact of the financial crisis. And it’s much worse than I ever expected it to be.

The fact is that Greece is a European country but some of its people are suffering in a way people in a European country should not. Their government has made some truly diabolical errors with their finances, but ultimately, it is always the normal person that suffers most. There is no real answer to the problem, and we can only hope that they can pull themselves out of the mire before even more people end up on the streets or addicted to drugs.


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Yesterday, I mentioned how Facebook may have been appealing less to the idea of friendship.

Then, suddenly, there was the announcement of Facebook Timeline and everything went crazy.

Facebook Timeline is still in the beta stages at the moment, but will become standard on the social networking site by the end of this month. I was able to change my profile to see what it would look like. Here it is:

When I first set it as my profile, it made me panic. My status updates were no longer as chronological as I would like. Instead, they seemed randomly spaced across two columns. But then, suddenly, I realised what was so amazing about it.

On the right hand side of the above photo, you can just about make out where it says ‘Now’ down to ‘Born’. If you click on ‘Born’ on my profile now, it takes you right down to a picture of when I was cute and surrounded by teddy bears. (For some reason, it also says my brother is older, even though when you click on 1992 it clearly shows that he was in fact born in 1992 and is therefore not older than me.)

But those buttons, dating from today to the day I was born is what is instantly wonderful about this new Facebook Profile. In the last hour, I have been scrolling through the years I have been on Facebook, reading statuses I forgot I made, wall posts I probably would never have read again otherwise and seeing photos that, although in folders all over my computer, I hadn’t seen in a long time. My Facebook Profile does tell you about my life.

I had to add a few things. My holiday in December 2009 to the Caribbean seemed not to exist, and my holiday to Edinburgh was not visible. A few clicks, and they appeared.

With Timeline you can choose what is visible and what isn’t. I have always said that I had nothing to hide on my Facebook, but some statuses were too uninteresting to keep visible forever. Equally, some important parts of my life were missing.

But, nagging in the back of my mind was one word: privacy, privacy, privacy. I wanted it back.

I did notice that as I created new little posts, the bottom of each one was automatically set to ‘public’. As I said yesterday, my Facebook is a very private creature, accessible only to friends and family. I did not want the details of my birth and graduation from high school open to the whole world. (Okay, the whole world would never care enough about me to read my profile, but it’s the principle that matters).

There is one important setting with the new Facebook that anyone similar to me must, must click. If you go to your privacy settings, there is an option that says: “Limit the Audience for Past Posts.” This changes all of your public posts to friends only. A big relief for people who don’t want to be accessed by the whole world.

A story caught my attention yesterday. A woman used baby photos from another woman’s Facebook to convince her ex that they had had a baby together. First off – creepy. But it does remind you that Facebook is on the internet, and the internet is a public domain.

Imagine walking into town and seeing a huge billboard filled with photos of you. It would be unnerving. Leaving your Facebook Timeline (it is not a Wall anymore) public is the same thing. Anyone can see it.

The new Timeline is wonderful. I loved reading my old messages, seeing all the things people wrote to me on my birthday and viewing all my old photographs. But nothing was automatically private. And I hated that.

In a week’s time, everyone will experience the new Facebook Timeline. Just be sure to take a look at your privacy settings when it does emerge.

By the way – the cover photo (the large photo) is public. There is no way to change this. So, be choosy over your cover photo.

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