Saturday, 30 October 2010

The booby trap

This time I’ve boobed terribly. I accepted to write about boobs while a woman on the opposite page is doing the same. (you can't see her piece here. but if you really think you need to leave a comment or email me and I'll send you her version) I’m going to make a complete boob of myself. Let’s get on with the titillating, I mean scintillating, subject of breasts, or lady lumps, that have been surgically re-created, re-aligned or re-adjusted.

The best thing about boobs, in my opinion, is their quirky, different nature, which makes them unique. Their bounce, their size and their shape, in their individual, distinct way, is what makes them so ‘perfect’. The imperfection is what renders them so attractive to me, so cute and adorable.

Today’s obsession with boob jobs is the most outrageous part of many modern women; and it is a right turn off. The more successful the operation, and the more exacting and finicky the re-aligning surgeon is, the more those mammaries lose their appeal and their complete malleability. The more women of all shapes and sizes and nationalities have these infernal boob jobs the less original these women, and their assets and attributes, are becoming.

Women now go to a specialised dentist for a new set of sparkling teeth; they have their buttocks and sides firmed up; they are then surgically topped with some fattening of lips and get an eye-lid changeover. If their face needs a few tuck-ins they do that too. Finally, the boobs are realigned to look ‘picture perfect’: picture-perfect for a catalogue of human Barbie dolls which all come out of a
production line with the same boobs, the same body, the same sultry lips which cry out ‘please don’t stop me or try me’.

All this surgery and enhancement which, besides costing an arm and a leg (or should that be a boob and a butt?), is carried out in the name of looking more beautiful and more seductive. Most women after all this hard work and pain, look like one of those inflatable dolls sold from those naughty sex-shops. Both doll and Barbie-lookalikes can be tragically punctured and can, most probably, end up deflated
and defeated.

Apart from the aesthetics of it all, I’d also have, for baby and me, sickening worries and thoughts of the newly realigned boobs tasting of horrid silicone: would make me feel instantly sick and intensely silly. There’s another big problem with boob jobs. I cannot imagine how a woman who was always sportingly, but aptly, known as “fried eggy”, comes to a gathering of friends and foes and has to confront them with a newly acquired pair of knock-out knockers. How does she explain the
new-found blooming?

At least, if men have an extension to their manhood, it won’t really show. Men’s private parts are usually truly private and are kept well hidden from view. So except for some quite intimate friends no one will ever find out the truth about those added inches of length or girth. While females usually want their boobs’ size decreased if they are huge, and vice-versa when they have them small. However, with men there is only one option in their mind when it comes to size change and that is definitely not reduction!

So what if boobs sag or look funny and not made in heaven? If they do life moves on; if we age, we wrinkle and we also lose some of our twinkle, but a few imperfections are more than normal. If God wanted us to be utterly and udderly perfect, He surely wouldn’t have given us a brain. If we were perfect I imagine we’d still have invented plastic surgery to change those perfect boobs into imperfect ones. And we would have been chucked out of Eden yet again.

This article first appeared in the October 2010 edition of TuneIn

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Chronicles of a misguided father

Let’s start at the very beginning goes the cute old ditty. And that’s what I am going to do because I like the sound of such a rule and because I quite like rules. I adore rules as long as they are of the kind imposed by me. I love breaking all rules and love telling others, especially the ones dearest to me, that they are not sticking to the rules. Makes me a big bigot I presume. And a touch of a dictator: a benign one but still a dictator.

An imposer of rules I used to be called by my sweet adorable children. Whatever I suggested, even the most enjoyable of parental suggestions, was usually accompanied by my rules. These suggestions would be greeted by disdainful derision and uncontrollable howls of laughter by the three brats, better known as my adored and adoring children. Then they would suggest a number: what’s this, they’d chorus ever so lovingly, is it rule number 29014? Yes I might be a dictator, benign or not, but I’m a bit of the useless dictator who never got his way. A misused dictator and an abused father. And this is going to be my diary of the abuse that happened to me and is still being inflicted upon me by my offspring, usually spiritedly supported by their ever faithful mother.

One of the best titles of books I read or read about is “My family and other animals”. I even tried going to Corfu, where the author of that book was brought up in. I tried going there for my honeymoon. But the story of my life with my long suffering wife is another story altogether so we won’t get into it here. Although if we had to start at the genesis of the story the marriage and maybe the honeymoon escapades and some of the goings-on would or should also feature here. But it will have to be another time. So you will be spared. And my wife, long suffering woman that she is, will be spared some blushes.

I always loved the hidden connotations of the “other animals” of the book about Corfu and the author’s childhood. I’m sure I could title my life with my fruit of my loins something like “My beasts and other children”. As I said they are cute and I adore them but I have suffered them and I think they have suffered a lot because of me and my antics.

This is going to be a view of my family from the eyes of a middle aged, nearly-old father and his relationship, stormy, choppy but always deeply loving one with his children.

I promised to start at the beginning and went on to do the exact opposite. I lost myself in my usual labyrinthine ways and methods. But I promise I’ll get there and all will be as clear as crystal. Pity the clichĂ© does not specify what sort of crystal. My crystal must be of some un-bohemian type: all murky, uncut and with absolutely no value.

The beginning: let’s stick to that. When we do anything in life we are expected to have deep knowledge and unless we are very experienced we are not allowed to handle much in life. Today you need certificates even to do the most menial of jobs. And this is a wonderful improvement in our society. Lawyers, to earn their keep and learn all about the vicissitudes of life, are starting at the very bottom of the rung of life and can be seen, fully suited and cuff-linked and tied up in some designer shoes, scraping the loos at the most prestigious law firm offices. That makes them humble and always ready to be forgiving and not ever, ever be greedy. But again I digress. Back to my central point.

We are taught everything and given manuals about everything in life. But then when we create lives, or do a few things in association with some other agencies to beget life, we are just plunged into the deep end with no course in life-saving and much less in life-rearing. At least for marriage we are given a crash course at Kana. Even if we, or at least most of us who get married, should flunk our entrance exam to one of the biggest and most life-changing steps in our life that is marriage we usually still make it to get married. But unlike the rudimentary and barely elementary kana courses with children there is no learning at all. At least I never heard of any. And my wife and I never attended any course to teach us how to bring up our children.

Mind you even our children didn’t have it any better. With all their schooling and basic skills learning and boy-scouting and girl-guiding I know for a fact that my offspring were never taught how to cope with parents. If we were plunged into parenthood head first with no basic teaching at least we had some years of experience in life and we did see some other children and the way they were treated or maltreated by other parents. So we could look, learn and unlearn some basics. Children have no such skills and no experience but are faced with two incompetent, usually quite dysfunctional adults who are desperately trying to make ends meet and trying hard to cope with one child or a number of children who have complete dependence on them. I imagine there is no manual and no training course because it is so impossible to come up with any form of rules. So see I did mean it when I said we should start at the very beginning. Just as the twee Julie Andrews said in that silly dotty ditty that we start with the notes to learn about music likewise in life we should be given life skills about kid-rearing and parent-handling.

That I imagine is enough of a preamble. Let’s get to the basics now

After we settled in married life my wife and I decided to have children. Or rather it was always agreed that we’d have children to keep us contented and looked after for life. What happened in between or rather what is happening now to me and my offspring was never really thought out, discussed or planned in any way. Again we just did it as it came quite naturally. We made our way from one age to the next with no real design. We groped our way along quite merrily. There were no manuals or guides to lead us in our quests and hoped for conquests.

With children there are loads of problems that crop up from the day they are born. Even to the hospital to my first-born’s birth there was a bit of a hiccup. Well my hunger pangs and my calmness nearly caused a few problems. On the way to hospital I was scared, not about the actual birth or the suffering that my wife was going to go through, but that I’d be caught lacking in the proper calories-intake for my suffering body. So I stopped at some horrid place for sustenance. I bought a half a dozen cheesecakes and ate some in the next few seconds in the car and left the rest for after. I knew I was in for a night of waiting and my body, unless properly sustained and primed, can, with the attendant hunger pains, be a bad example of nerves and quashed hopes even in light of such stupendous sights of new daughters. Much after the birth I found out the real feelings my wife went through having to smell those cheesecakes and having to witness me wolfing them down. Now if I had a manual I’m sure I’d have been told to keep off the greasy great delicacies and not stuff my face in front of such delicate people as pregnant, practically popping mothers tend to be.

After the birth and a few other problems there are the obvious dilemmas: like when do you reveal to your children all that you don’t know about sex? What exactly do you tell them? What time do you let them stay out when their hormones start playing up? Do you tell your kids to be careful when doing what the birds and the bees do or do you lie brazenly and tell them you expect them to be as virginal and good as all good children should be; or do you let out that having a good time is quite ok even if a tad naughty? When can you ever say that naughty is, after all, quite nice? These are the obvious pitfalls which you go through in life with each and every child. It’s more or less a hit or miss situation and you just hope you are aiming right every time you hit out at the cute little angelic monsters. These problems we males have are common to all of us and we all suffer from this frightening lack of confidence when facing children. No matter how much we are trained we lack the finesse of the mothers to know it all. Mothers are surely given some specially bound manual, which is never shown to us males, which explains in plain language all mothers ever need to have explained on the how and wherefore of coping with all known and unknown situations which concern their offspring. I’ve heard it told that women have the maternal instinct while we males never had it in us. It’s a load of rubbish. It’s a manual which is kept hidden away in some female covert convent far away from all male prying eyes that makes all the difference.



Back to the problems of my life: the problems start at birth. I was incredibly proud when the first-born popped her head out of her mother. I had three children and each time I thanked God for his prowess at devising such a lovely procedure as birth. It is an incredibly wondrous piece of harmony and loving. And God’s greatest love was that in His infinite kindness and goodness He (or He/She?) gave the gift of giving birth solely and uniquely to womankind. Was very kind of Him to have saved man-kind a lot of useless suffering. And I would say man would have long ago given up on birthing of any kind if God had given the gift of giving birth to the male of the species.

So no manual for me when the baby was born. I remember an instruction from my mother to make sure something or other is done to the baby. Make her wail maybe? Sounds something my mother would have instructed me. Who knows? The mists of time have started dimming memory and there were too many strange things going on with no easy solution to them. All I knew was that I was ecstatic and hoped the baby was fine. After that we were left quite on our own. A few days after the birth off my wife trotted home to tend for baby and me. And then the kids started growing but that will be another episode of the intrepid adventures of a misguided father.

A shorter, edited(or is that butchered?) version of this article appeared in the October 2010 issue of M magazine

Sunday, 24 October 2010

What if, God forbid, we were atheists?

We live in the land of the fit and free. Thank God for that. Will we, in a fit of “let’s ape the Brits”, all start saying we are atheists now?

Ed Milliband, the new leader of the British Labour Party, has declared he is an atheist. Nick Clegg, the British Deputy Prime Minister also believes in no God (or in his case would that be god with an uncapitalised g?) leaving the God-believer David Cameron in quite a singular, or rather minority state. Obviously there is no connection to the politicos in our land. Most of our politicians, besides being honourable and unassailable, are exceptionally pious and believe fervently in God and His militant Church. In Malta, besides the holiness of the blues, we also have some religiously fervent reds. Even the greens do not usually dare say anything which could be interpreted as going against the Church or its teachings. The Maltese politicians nearly all avoid anything that might prove they are agnostic or, God forbid, atheist.

Back to the Brits and their new Leader of the Opposition with his “I’m an atheist” confession. I don’t much care for British politicians (who are nearly as inept as their footballers) as they all seem sleazy, slimy and sinister. But regarding the Labour Party’s leader’s beliefs or otherwise in a God-head do we care? Or rather should we, or the British people, really care? Shouldn’t such beliefs be personal and not be bandied about in public?

If a Royal heir in Britain were to voice such thoughts, then there could be some constitutional, religious or existential problem of nerve-raking scope. Not sure what sort of constitution would be consulted as there isn’t one in Britain to consult as far as I know. The heir to the throne in Britain, once crowned head of state, automatically becomes the head of the Church of England. Could the ultimate in ironies be that you can head the Church and not believe there is a God? Now wouldn’t that be cause for some real worry and talk of annus orribilis to quote one of the most quoted quips by Queen Beth the second. It’s like us Catholics getting a new Pope elected and instead of the usual Habemus Papam we’d hear habemus ateium from the Vatican balcony. Or whatever an atheist is called in the August Latin language. All mayhem would be flung upon us, dear, devout, foot soldiers of Catholicism.

I never quite care whether anyone believes in God or an afterlife. Or whether angels had a great big fight back in the long gone past when one batch sided with good and the other sided with evil and the bad angels were consigned to hell and had to look after all the tormenting of us humans and possible androids and aliens who sin in life and have to suffer hell-fire for ever and ever.

Do such beliefs change the way we look at life? I daresay not. Even if this could win me the opprobrium of all the bishops and archbishops of the Maltese Isles, I would still insist that whatever we believe in our hearts of hearts is not important as long as those beliefs do not hinder us from letting others have their own beliefs however wacky they might sound.

Back to modern-day UK and its politics. I don’t have a clue where Nick Clegg is going to take the country and to what monstrous levels he will consign it in his atheistic ways. All I do know is that he comes after two deeply religious men held sway in Britain. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair were God-fearing, good men who, it is claimed went to church regularly and prayed fervently. When Tony Blair was out of Downing Street he converted and became a very “devout” Catholic. When Blair was heading the government (with Brown as one of his most powerful ministers), he took Britain into a war in Iraq which has cost countless lives all for an unknown cause. The only palpable reason I ever found for waging that war was because the other God-fearer, George Bush, dictated it. Bush was another big believer in God, an out-and-out Texan. So these three God-believers piled on the lies to get themselves into a war against Iraq. Does God actually come into these equations? Did God or belief in Him stop them from waging a uselessly harsh and unwarranted war?

The good Catholics cite Bush’s abortion policy (of limiting its ease of use) as a God-inspired way of looking at life that has contributed to our well-being. The senseless deaths that have happened in Iraq and Afghanistan are hardly Christian. As someone once quipped: would the USA be in Iraq if Iraq’s main export was broccoli?

More than God being the source of all political decisions I fear the worst demon still dominating life and politics is money, greed and desire for more and more power. I don’t care a fig or a leaf if the minister, prime minister or next door neighbour believes in aliens and is God-fearing or is a humanist and an atheist. It is not what people believe in that moulds them but their public and private actions.

This article first appeared in the Malta Independent on Sunday on October 24 2010

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Another boring article about divorce

Breaking a promise must surely be a sin. I’m not sure if it’s mortal or venial and now I can't even ask the higher authorities of the church about such a delicate issue as local church dignitaries don’t seem to be in agreement. One high authority said something was a sin only to be contradicted by another. The latter actually went a step further and said that the former should never say when anything is sinful. Confused? Join me and a whole load of others in this confusing, convoluted saga called the divorce issue. Bring the tissues out to dry the tears caused by mirth, tragedy or simple exasperation. As the weather cools down the divorce issue strongly hots up. Jeffrey Pullicno Orlando cannily opened a can of wriggling worms in our midst.

As I have now broken the pledge I made to myself I might end up being condemned by the Pro Vigarju-Generali for breaking such a promise. I hope not because, after all, he only said it’s a sin if we vote in favour of divorce. Broken promises or writing in favour of divorce have not been sanctioned as sinful yet. As the same good monsignor succinctly put it, we can always sin and then confess and all will be ok with me and my conscience and the heavens above will sigh their celestial sigh of relief and I will be pardoned and be all good and ready for entry into heaven.

Now what can silly me add on to this debate? I’m far from an expert on divorce. The only real experts on divorce are the ones who have experienced it a few times. This sounds facetious but maybe there is a bit of truth in it. I have not heard too much about divorce from the ones who have either been divorced themselves or who are in need of divorce after their first marriage failed.

If only divorcees, or those seeking divorce, are allowed to have their say in the divorce issue one can then extend the argument, if one can extend such things, and state that the last people who can talk about marriage are priests, of the Catholic ilk, who have been barred from entering into sacred matrimony for a good few centuries. I don’t think priests know much about matrimony as they have never experienced it. This sounds like a good argument but it does lose a bit of its strength if one thinks of male gynaecologists or football coaches who have been flops at being footballers yet still turn into managerial wizards. As I have amply shown by now I am definitely no expert and my personal credentials are rather poor. I haven’t read or studied too many tomes on the subject and I have been happily married for over 30 years.

I’m not an expert but whatever it is I am in favour of divorce. If saying something like this is sinful I’m afraid I am now going to be in a state of non-grace till I go to confession. Then I will, I imagine, have to promise that I will never do it again: and we all know how good I am at keeping promises. All I want is for Malta to legislate in favour of divorce as soon as parliamentarily possible. Yes, referenda and divorce should be divorced even before conception. They just don’t go together. If we want to safeguard the sanctity, not of marriage, but of the minority, I just hope that divorce will be introduced. And, if you give the ultra-Catholic majority the power to stop the minority to take what is legitimately theirs then I am afraid they will vote against divorce. The great majority of Maltese people are Catholic so will stick to Catholic traditions and will most probably want those traditions to be upheld by everyone. Parliament, on the other hand, will hopefully rise above all this and pass legislation in favour of divorce and be ready to let the minority, small as it may be, to be able to go ahead and terminate their wedding vows.

Let’s reverse the scenario and imagine, that in the land of Grog, the majority of the inhabitants are non-Christian and according to their age-old religion no first-born child can get married. Now imagine the priests and leaders of Grog decide to pass a law prohibiting all the first-born of whatever religion from getting married. Won’t the Christian minority in Grog revolt at such revolting rules and laws? Won’t we, all Christians of the western world, join in condemning the people of Grog as being uncivilised brutes?

If the majority of Maltese are predominantly Catholic the church and the rest of the authorities should not be too worried. Just by introducing divorce we Maltese should be mega-sure that divorce will hardly be utilised. If we are the God-fearing men and women who are constantly worried about sinning that we are made out to be, most of us will surely not get divorced. If it’s a mortal sin to vote for divorce what category of sin will await all good God-fearing Catholics who eventually make use of the despicable and diabolical law of divorce? As Malta is one of the last vanguards of the old, traditional, conservative, Catholic Church we can rest assured that the divorce lawyers are not going to have much of a field day once Jeffrey’s law comes into force.

Let’s talk about sin a bit more. I will not enter into the intricacies of whether Mons Gouder should decide what is sinful or not. All my life I have thought that is what most priests and the church did quite vehemently: they constantly used to tell us what is sinful, shameful and what needs to be avoided for us to remain in a state of grace. Let’s leave that aside to let the two distinguished clerics have their own little sparring game.

I do believe that Mons Gouder was hardly breaking any electoral or political rule by telling the faithful what is right or wrong and what he wanted these same faithful to do if a vote is ever called. I feel it is quite acceptable for him to say it’s a sin to vote for divorce. The fact that he said that no one will be excommunicated was just up to him. He could, for all I know, even have said that he would arrange for the definite damnation of anyone voting in favour of divorce. He might have sounded ridiculous but since when are we going to decide what rules and regulations can be used by the church itself?

Will we next issue an injunction against the church because its priests wear what resemble women’s clothes?

Before Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando issued his mid-summer bombshell and got us all debating divorce hardly anyone mentioned it. Divorce was mentioned regularly by a vociferous lawyer who was also a “leader” of a so-called party which polled less than a few dozen votes in general elections and divorce was mentioned a few times by a think-tank headed by Mr Martin Scicluna. I’m not sure if the eminent lawyer is still going on about divorce but the last article penned by Scicluna and also echoed by Dr Joe Brincat is hardly the best pro-divorce pronouncement. Mr Scicluna’s and Dr Brincat’s main thesis is that Mons Anton Gouder’s views on divorce and sin are tantamount to illegal practices in a forthcoming election or referendum.

If the priests, nuns, churchmen and the pope want to defend their ideas and ideals and say that something is sinful then good luck to them. If the church feels that something is immoral, reprehensible and divinely wrong then I cannot understand how they can be barred from saying so. I might not agree with their ways of saying it and I might find their ideas grotesquely archaic but I will defend their right to say it in any strange way they desire. It’s interesting to see that the liberal brigade is, to a certain extent, being more illiberal, intolerant and sanctimonious than the church and the rest of the anti-divorce faction.

This article first appeared in the Malta Independent on Sunday on September 5 2010

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Our fateful feasts

Let me start with a confession. I don’t particularly like feasts and I hate with quite a bit of energy the useless noise, the just-noise no-colour fireworks produce. So you have been warned. If this article will cause you offence please admire my ugly mug next to the article, fire some swear-words at me, move on and ponder on some less annoying stuff.

The poor dead man from the Mosta fireworks factory hasn’t been buried long so I will honour his memory with as much mirthless solemnity as is possible to me. Laughing and smiling and accepting and expecting to be amused even in the most solemn of occasions has always been a fault of mine so again please be patient with me and accept my flippancy. Or move on. This flaw has shadowed me from infancy. I find fun and laughter even in the worst of occasions. I have always thought that even in funerals one should see and emphasise the first three letters of the word funeral.

But I, as is my wont, digress and jabber on. What’s with feasts and their mortal accompaniment -- the infamous murtali (petards)? That I don’t like them is not what I want to talk about. I can see why they are enjoyed: after all I did say I like fun so feasts should be my great big love. What I utterly detest are the useless noisy bangs that go on from morning till late at night with no thought or care of the sick, the infirm or those who do not like such fare. The colourful ones, I grudgingly admit, are fun. The kaxxa infernali, although quite diabolically insane in its proximity to houses, is lovely to see. But is all this fun, colour and religious mania worth all the human and material loss? In fact is the terrifying din we all heard on that fateful Friday the 13th when the Santa Marija fireworks factory blew up, worth it at all? And is it in any way connected to religion? Or is it connected to Our Lord Jesus Christ? Because I imagine the glorification of patron saints is, in some ways, intended to glorify Jesus Christ himself, otherwise it would be idolatry. So by simple deduction we should arrive at the great conclusion that Jesus Christ quite loves and admires feasts and fireworks.

My heart bleeds for all the men who have died or suffered some firework-related accident. Is there a strange correlation to a macho thing here? I’ve never heard of a female being involved in any firework-related accident. Is that pure chance or are only males interested in producing the fiery stuff? Or maybe women are more averse to taking risks? Other countries produce fireworks but we rarely hear of factories being blown off. Is it our heat? Is it our Mediterranean bravado? Maybe we in Malta produce our fireworks as a sign of respect for the panoply of saints and angels and the Holy Trinity; maybe in producing the fireworks we feel we have to be more daring in showing how devourt our religion is.

The latest in our string of national accidents in the fireworks field saw a known enthusiast and expert die. So the usual excuse that amateurs who dabble in explosive stuff were involved is not much of an excuse here. I fear that the full reason for the explosion that rocked the whole island will never be found. But even if it is found I doubt whether any action will be taken. We witnessed these accidents so often that we are becoming immune to them. We react in horror when a fireworks factory blows up but then after a few days or weeks we are back to normal. In fact although Mosta did cancel all outdoor festivities, none of the other villages thought of playing their own feast down. Maybe it would have been apt to play down their own feast as a sign of solidarity or respect?

Unfortunately I would say the solution to this is a complete ban of fireworks of all type, colourful, noisy or whatever. Sorry dear tourist and dear Maltese lover of mayhem - that would be my draconian answer to this loss of life. As many among my friends and foes would say: thank God I am no law-giver. I know a total ban would meet with loads of protests. Besides the rapt onlookers and festa visitors there would be a plethora of protests from the Malta Tourism Authority, the firework manufacturers, the church, the band players’ union and a few other groups.

It might seem strange to think that just because fireworks are banned there would be no festa. But the main fun that feasts afford is the noise that reverberates all around the village square and which illuminates the sky with all sorts of colour. I doubt if the patron saint would want to get off her cosy niche if he/she is not greeted with fireworks once he/she comes out of the church. Can anyone imagine a feast which will not have the saint fĂȘted with some sort of colourful cacophony when he/she is being hauled in all his/her glory all around the village? The noise, the fun is needed and without it the feast as we have always known it would change drastically and it would be no more. And if it’s not a normal feast with frolicky fun the would-be revellers would not help much to make the feast a success. If the feast becomes just a deeply religious one, with just solemn services and serious rites and quiet observance of liturgy all organised in the patron saint’s memory, the attendance would fall dramatically. Would the church authorities love or tolerate such a change?

Feasts and fireworks make the village rock so even the local council loves festi. Feasts, after all, help the economic cycle. Bars and other shops love festi and the colour and noise because they sell so many more beers and all sorts of calorific colourful stuff. So besides the barmen and the brassy barmaids selling their wares and hotdogs, feasts help the beer importers, the beer manufacturers, the vintners of Malta and also ultimately the farmers who sell more grapes to the vintners who sell most of their stuff during the feasts. Feats of drinking prowess might not be organised around Malta too often but they sure seem to be held regularly every time a saint is honoured. So with every bang the Maltese economic cycle gets a really grand boost.

So my dream of a total ban will definitely never be attained. Malta needs feasts and therefore it needs fireworks to keep it going. Feasts and fireworks are ingrained in our psyche: some years ago we even had incoming and outgoing flights banned for a few hours to allow fireworks to be let off close to the airport. We also used to have an arterial road like the B’kara bypass closed off to traffic to let the village revellers get on with their noisy mirth to show off their love of some saint in heaven. Doesn’t this show our love of feasts and fireworks? Can anyone imagine closing Heathrow airport so that some English protestants can show their disdain of that horrid Catholic, Guy Fawkes?

If the ban is implemented we would have no fireworks festival in Grand Harbour. So we would lose another occasion to show off our bastions and cities.

I know that fireworks, however lethal, will never be banned. And although we keep saying we will legislate to make the manufacture of fireworks less dangerous all we ever do is talk, talk and then talk a bit more. Then finally after another period of soul-searching and gut-wrenching we end up passing some tough draconian measures that make us, on paper, the least likely to suffer any casualties in firework-related accidents. But such measures need enforcement and I’m not convinced we are the best enforcers of tough measures. So whatever happens and whatever is discussed and decided all will remain exactly the same with the same results and loss of lives or limbs.

Even if you love feasts and their din I cannot imagine anyone loving, or easily living with, the disasters that are regularly witnessed in the firework field. If faith is in any way involved in festive fireworks the horrid fate of so many enthusiasts should make us stop and think very hard. Is it all worthwhile to see so much effort and human life go up in useless but colourful smoke?

This article first appeared in the Malta Independent on Sunday on August 29 2010

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Spinning out of control

Some wit once came out with the maxim “publish and be damned”. Interesting thought that: I have to learn how to take on a toughened skin so that when I’m damned by people I won’t suffer much, and I won’t wish to go and hide.
Have I been assailed by the pro-divorce brigade for calling them slightly illiberal and maybe more fundamentalist than the church? Have the anti-divorce-forces, led by an erstwhile Mons. Anton Gouder, and fed brainwashed fodder by the Maltese fundamentalists decided to shut me up? Or has the Archbishop decreed that I’ll be damned for all time?
Nothing of the above scenarios has happened as far as I know. What I do know is that, since I started tapping away my Sunday homily, I’ve been accused of the last, lasting damnation. I have been asked, on various occasions, whether I’m going to contest the next general elections. Some didn’t ask: they accused me of harbouring these thoughts.
I know I should be eternally grateful for such feelings of others about me. Striving to join the elite of the land is quite enticing. At least in an ideal world this should be enticing. If people, especially some of the bigger guns of the island, think I am smart enough to contest, this should be a compliment. But it came closer to damning me. I don’t know if I should or shouldn’t put in a bias disclaimer which might end up damning me more than I have already been damned.
After much deliberation, held in democratic fashion at the upper chamber of my mind, I have decided to come clean: I declare most solemnly that I will not contest the national, the local or the parish elections.
So that is disclaimer one, which by the double-speak spinning of today’s surreal politics I presume will be understood that I intend to contest. This is all rubbish. I just assure all readers (the few who have remained, up to now, un-comatosed by my sermon) and especially the ones who asked me if entering politics interests me: I am not contesting.
This disclaimer needs another addendum which I had hoped would never be needed as I thought it would be obvious in my writing or would not be of any importance. Seeing that even writing about innocuous subjects like divorce, festas, football and gold (some of my previous Sunday homily subjects) can be termed arch-political in this country, I need to uncover another of my biases. I wear specs and have worn them ever since I was a little, young nerd. I still wear them now that I have developed into the old big nerd of today. The lenses of my specs have always been tinted (or as others would have it, tainted) blue. So I am biased in that department.
I would like to think that I made the choice of colour after a thorough examination of what there was on offer. Will the reds now boil me in green ooze? Does that mean I will contest with the blues? Not at all.
Or would I do what a renowned lawyer in Malta did? This lawyer once told an interviewer that he had been a die-hard nationalist all his life. The lawyer boasted he had even occupied some high places in the blues’ party. Once these naughty blues didn’t ask him to contest he turned tail, did a somersault, and changed parties because the reds asked him to contest. The reds also gave him the high, now hardly ever mentioned, post of business forum coordinator or some such stuff. That is a man of strong principles with no cares about his adulation of self. Insignificant me will never try emulating such high morals.
Why won’t I contest? Is it because I think all parliamentary members are dishonourable? Far from it: I think honour and prestige abound in the House of Representatives.
The powers that be need to be a bit more careful about what to print on their cars. There is a car, usually parked in Archbishop Street, with the words ‘HOR’ stamped on its side. I’ll grant it that the spelling isn’t spot on, but that word does, worryingly, sound like “whore”. And HOR on the side of said car, stands for House of Representatives. I kid you not. Might the House itself be the HOR of Babylon?
Back to why I won’t contest. My main reason is because I do not think I could get enough votes to beat Emmy Bezzina and Narcy Calamatta. Now these gentlemen are two erstwhile candidates of each and every election and hardly get a dozen votes each. The spectre of not being elected would not worry me. The fear of not even totting up a few hundred votes would send me into hiding for a long time. My shame would be palpable for years.
Back in the sixties, when the smaller parties were still a force to be reckoned with, a leading journalist had contested and garnered only 1 measly vote. Now imagine the same happens to me and I only get that solitary vote. Would that mean that I didn’t vote for myself to prove my impartiality and magnanimity? Would it mean that my wife, in her perspicacity, didn’t even vote for me? Oh the utter, uber, mega shame of it all.
It is remarkable how we come to confusing conclusions in Malta. I never thought writing a few articles would give me any notoriety. It’s not as if I was critical of anyone: I’ve hardly mentioned the honourable Doctors Gonzi and Muscat.
Someone thought that once I’m being critical of the roads and the driving then I must be super-critical of our present government. His reasoning was that as I was blue I must have turned traitor and joined the despicable greens. Or are they yellows here in Malta? Anyway what if I am critical of the government? Why are we so tied to a siege mentality where you can never have independent, intelligent, dull or dumb views which are not tainted by party politics? Why can’t we all (this includes me) grow up and laugh at ourselves and our politics, politicians and at our idea that we are the belly button of the world?
If anyone organises a jesters’ party, where the only electoral platform is fun, then count me in. I’m sure Narcy and Emmy would join too. We would have fun and never be serious. What a time we would have. We’d borrow the emblem of the Greens which is a smiling sun. Unlike the emblems of the other parties this emblem has fun in it. It’s quite a pity that the greens do not laugh more and are hardly like their symbol.
There used to be a time when there were some loose balls contesting the elections. There was the Partit tal-Iljun, Tal-Farfett and the inimitable Spiru Sant. All these added some colour to our drab, boring politicos who take everything and everyone way too seriously. These parties never got more than a handful of votes but who cared? They just wanted to have some fun and provide us with a touch of much-needed comic relief.
My articles were meant to be just a few jottings of a liberal, anti-fundamentalist. Nothing great, and certainly no idea of shaking the fundamentals of anyone’s fundament.
Come to think of it the articles were meant to attack this “us and them” attitude which is so pathetic and boring. I can’t believe I have ended up writing a whole article about why I write. I did what all politicians do and which they are always warned against: don’t defend yourself or people will end up thinking you have something to hide.
Now that I have made my little foray into the public arena I have to accept and live with the roaring lions. I had hoped the only roaring I’d ever hear would be of readers roaring with laughter. My spin has spun out of control.

This article first appeared in The Malta Independent on Sunday on September 26, 2010

Sunday, 15 August 2010

The guardians of the mind

As the old chestnut has it, silence is golden. And while commendable in most cases, in this case I find it condemnable that no one seems to have been talking more about what The Guardian said about Malta in a recent article.

Lately our fish bowl hit the news again. The Guardian had a terribly stupid article about us Maltese needing to be investigated, and expelled by the EU because of all our lapses in modernity (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/libertycentral/2010/aug/05/an-obscene-crackdown-on-maltese-culture). All the usual stuff is mentioned about illiberal us: divorce and abortion or lack of these, censorship and a whole array of stuff which we have lately been doing. Some months ago we hit the world news with all sorts of weird stuff. It was either a phallic, Smurfy (or would the Smurfs be better known in Malta by their Italian name, i Puffi?) blue monument needing to be dressed up for a papal visit, or some moronic judgement about dramatic blasphemy, or one of the myriad stories that only we in Malta can concoct.

That The Guardian talks about us is no great shakes. The Guardian, after all, is a newspaper which tries hard to be arch-liberal-leftie so it does go round the world vacuuming anything that might sound slightly anti-liberal. So they picked on us tiny Malta. And we either disregarded the article or like little goldfishes in our bowl pouted away and stamped our little fins and screamed that we were offended. How dare they look at us cute little things and insult us?

Do we really live in a goldfish bowl? I do think we Maltese are like little fishes in a bowl. We, like most fatted goldfish in their bowls, live a great life, we communicate grandly with all the rest of the fishes in the bowl, we are well fed, we keep the bowl relatively clean and we see the world from our bowl perspective. And we also think we communicate quite strongly with all the people out of the bowl. We might know we are small in size but we feel we are so cute that we think without us the world might stop breathing. Or some such horrid thing could happen to the EU or the world if deprived of us.

And when anyone says anything which we think is a bit critical of us we hit the ceiling. Not sure if gold fish hit any ceilings or, for that matter, if bowls have any ceilings. But we get ever so cross whenever anyone says anything untoward about us and Malta in general. Or else we disregard whatever is said in an act of defiance that smacks of someone who doesn’t think we should or could be criticised, even if we know they are right or that there might be a smidgeon of truth in what they say.

When those horrid foreigners were talking about us indiscriminately killing all the birds that flew above us we ended up getting annoyed. Even the best bird-lover got slightly miffed that Malta was boycotted by a few foreigners as a holiday destination because they thought we were callous in our destruction of all birds including the goldfinch. See even here we are faced with more golden stuff.

From our bowl we accused all foreigners of their own type of barbarity: abortion, bullfights, divorce and fox hunting were all bandied about and thrown at our detractors. Haven’t we, in fact, always been incredibly critical of adultery, abortion and, lord save us from such depravity, divorce? Haven’t we always said that countries that allow these terrible things are heathen and not civilized like ours? So if we are allowed to criticise and damn, can’t they?

Now I too am very Maltese and I admit to living in my own bowl of bigotry. I also admit I get incredibly offended when visitors laugh at the state of our misshapen streetscape or the state of our driving or the complete lack of such oddities as road-signs and road-markings. But don’t we need to learn how to accept such criticism? After all we did have a police contingent descending on a hapless shop-owner who thought it would be quite savvy to have undraped, anatomically correct dummies in his shop window. Some thought this incident was funny, some thought the police action was even more effective marketing. But worryingly some seriously thought that these nude mannequins could deprave us innocent dwellers of Malta (or is that the fishbowl?). Could anyone really defend such police actions or not expect the foreign press, which sorely needs copy to fill space, to talk about these antics of ours? Just as the shopkeeper’s nudes were unreal, this incident made our life on the island sound like an unreal, surrealistic dream with touches of Alice’s Wonderland.

While it is all good and proper and arch-catholic to defend the sanctity of marriage according to our Papal viewpoint, we should let the other goldfish get on with their heathen ways of getting divorced and getting married again if that is what they want. I presume no one will force all Catholic goldfish couples to divorce. Some of those goldfish living in Malta still want to do what, to some of us, might be reprehensible. With abortion we do claim the moral right of saying another creature is suffering but with divorce it is the consensual decision of two people; their children are not going to suffer anything more earth-shattering than what a normal legal separation would have wrought in their lives. After all, to defend children born in wedlock no one has called for the immediate revocation of all virtual or legal separations.

So let’s not kick the bowl and break it, but let’s live a life where we can let others breathe in their own way, even if to some of us such living seems heathen or diabolical. Now isn’t that a golden rule?

This article first appeared in The Independent on Sunday on August 15 2010

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Is the silly season ever over?

Are the recent court judgements concerning a fancy comment on Facebook and the more recent one concerning the play Stitching as well as other worrying incidents all unrelated? Or is the good doctor MP less barmy than he sounds and really wants us to become part of Iran? Victor I Xuereb asks a silly question

We are approaching the silly season so the newspapers can all stop chasing racy stories and juicy gossip because nothing happens during these coming months. Even the World Cup, once a conveyor of great stories about Italy or England didn’t afford any oil to our news-pool as the big teams that Maltese people traditionally support got booted out quite unceremoniously at an early stage. So the carcading was slim and flimsy. The commissioner of police, together with most residents on the Sliema front, breathed deeply and serenely.

But I can’t understand why the silly season starts in summer. Silly seasons might be all about stories not happening but in Malta we seem to have a terribly silly season all year round. We don’t lack stories although we hardly have too many scoops being chased on the Malta rock. Most of the juicy gossip goes unreported and our paparazzi, if they actually exist, don’t seem to be around at all.

Madly silly stuff happens all the time in Malta but we hardly bat any eyelid. This year has been a really silly one: we had a judge passing one of the most retrograde judgements for free speech, an MP from the progressive camp calling for Iran-like intolerance, an MP from the conservatives calling for divorce, the editor of a little known publication arraigned for a silly sexy story; and a young man’s silly dalliance on Facebook ended up with him receiving a suspended prison sentence.

Yes this is Malta in 2010. Now I admit to being slightly liberal and also, according to some acquaintances, a bit barmy myself. But where is this country going? We do have free speech enshrined in the constitution and I know we will not ever get close to suffering the regular onslaught on our basic rights as happened in the 70s and 80s under the bad old socialists. But isn’t it worrying the way things have progressed lately? The eminent judge in his 115-page judgement on the case regarding the play Stitching had some erudite words uttered in sensible style. And the judge judged it right to ban the said play. How utterly sad for us all living in Malta.

If the judge is to be followed properly we have to make very sure that all plays, songs, books and all that silliness that goes on at naughty Nadur during carnival are cleared of all offending material. As someone rightly said elsewhere even Shakespeare’s oeuvre could be censored; there are instances where the actor has to swear quite openly besides indulging in all sorts of strange censorable stuff. Are we going back to the 60s’ style of censorship where the books of James Joyce were banned? I doubt whether anyone reading Joyce will be corrupted. And you have to be quite persevering to read Joyce for the porn. But if quoted out of context, porn it becomes in the eyes of the beholder especially if the beholder wears the same lenses as the eminent judge. In Ulysses, by the way, there are a few blasphemies too so that’s another reason to place James Joyce on the banned book list.

Will we be re-living the horrors we unleashed on authors who lived here some 50 years ago? The story goes that Desmond Morris was told that he could not have his own book delivered to him because it had fallen foul of the local censorship board. The book was banned because it would or could corrupt the supple minds of Malta’s population. Now it was bad enough people in Malta were deemed so corruptible that they could not read The Naked Ape. If he actually wrote it could he have ended up more corrupted? Will we now stop Billy Connolly (who lives, it is reported, in Gozo) from receiving his own stand-up comedy shows because in them he swears and takes the name of God in vain? And also, alas, makes fun of the Catholic religion? Will we next have him pilloried and maybe stoned? Maybe we are all stoned out of our silly senses and we cannot grasp the fact that the world has moved on and that this censorship business is just wrong and is depriving us of a right to judge for ourselves what we should read, see or hear. When that silly young man cracked a silly joke on Facebook about the Pope did anyone think the silly man could end up with a suspended prison sentence?

Censorship stinks in whichever way it is applied. It is an affliction. I once heard a prominent Maltese bookseller being interviewed. He said that he thought he had never had a book stopped by the censors. I was greatly impressed; this was a few years ago and I thought we really had made the grade. Then he let out that the purchasing department is very careful and only orders books which they know will not fall foul of the censors. This is even worse than censorship: auto-censorship. Doing things the way the establishment wants us to do them: that is when we censor ourselves out of thinking, out of creating, out of being individuals.

Maybe the judge had the law to back his findings. Well if the law is silly, dump the law before more harm is unleashed on this sweet but sometimes silly land.

Article published on 18 July 2010 in the Malta Independent on Sunday

Sunday, 13 June 2010

It’s a numbers game

Of football feats and festive feasts: We Maltese divide ourselves in joy and non-joy according to what others go through and the World Cup gives us the opportunity for outrageous fun at other’s expense. A football commentary by Victor I Xuereb

Whether you like football or not, in pubs, schools, exam halls or during foreplay all the talk will be about the playing of football. And the ultimate joy is in winning the coveted World Cup. All that lovely wording about the joy being in participating is a load of crap.

It is all done in the name of a ball and it’s done all over the world. Even if only 32 countries take part, the whole world is mobilised. All discussions of heat waves or climate change are stopped; wars lose their urgency and the eternal squabbling about our power station cools down for a month of feuding football. The perennial discussion of whether the government party won the game of who voted yes and who voted no and whose goal was disallowed or allowed gets taken over by what England did and what Italy didn’t do. The whole world talks about the World Cup, while here in Malta the only thing that interests us is the progress, or lack, of Italy and England. The rest is rubbish.

What’s interesting from a Maltese perspective is that we do things so differently. Well we are a rock of an island and we are small enough to be dispensed with by most cartographers. When I was young and the Internet, Google maps and such were still unheard of sci-fi stuff, I always prayed when looking at maps or atlases that Malta would feature. Alas, it hardly did or did so with a tiny dot. But even if it was a dot I was ecstatic. I shouted with glee: we actually exist. Atlases have been taken over by Google and other inventions but we are still a tiny dot and our football prowess has not advanced and that is why we just love other countries’ football so religiously. And we still have our dottiness in the way we look at things.

Go over to Italy and the way they look at football. When their country plays football all Italy stops, or practically the whole of Italy. When the Italian team plays, all Italians unite as one: they shout at the ref for robbing them of victory if they lose and they all bemoan their iella or bad fortune. No Italian rejoices when Italy loses even if they knew the footballers chosen were old, over the top, close to useless and surely were meant to lose. They might pelt them with tomatoes, but they all cry that the best team in the world was robbed of victory. And no one honks his horn in celebratory madness. They all take a double doze of camomile, get into bed early and hope to doze off till the next World Cup. If Italy wins, they all rejoice and they all go out to celebrate their victory in real style with horns, firecrackers and flags. Whatever the outcome, all Italy unites in frenzied victory or in camomile-infused sleepish sheepish failure.

What do we do here on the rock of Malta? Our natives rave loony whatever happens. We rock so much that we are completely unlike the natives of England and Italy who are the two most followed sides in Malta. If Italy wins, half of Malta’s is out in the streets celebrating, honking and making merry till the next World Cup. If Honduras beats Italy, all Malta will seem to have been taken over by a Honduran majority. Flags of Honduras, blurred photos of dark skinned footballers and chants of “Honduras rock” will reverberate all over the island.

So see why we are different on this rock? All England wails when they lose; all Italy wails when whacked by Honduras. We divide ourselves in joy and non-joy according to what others go through. Look at our feasts. Imagine there is a village with two churches and two patron saints: one dedicated to St Peter, the other to St George. Hopefully, I am not straying close to slandering anyone or any town. I know not of any village or town or city in Malta where these two saints are revered in the same place. If there is I beg whosoever’s pardon beforehand and I will accept my punishment at the pillory with Christian fortitude.

If the said village had Peter and George as their patron saints I would accept that the rivalry in that village was acceptable. Maybe not too religious and definitely with not much finesse, but our revelry and our real character are hardly the epitome of finesse and style.

We like our fun outrageous; we like our victories swamped in glory and pomp. We are hardly the gentle losers the Brits wanted us to be; we wallow in pain and sorrow when we lose and we wallow in gloating glee when we beat anyone. Especially in football. We are great louts and although on the whole we are not at all violent we do rub the proverbial salt deep into the losers’ wounds. And this is also true of our feasts. We are happy that our murtali (fireworks) are the loudest, happy that we have the best band this side of Dixie and we definitely feel our street decorations are tops. We also love our good saint who sits or stands in awe of all this adulation of him and in his revered memory. But the real fun is in the thinking that our St Peter is better looking than St George, that the St Peter murtali are more deafening, that the St Peter band outplays the St George’s one by a few dozen decibels. Oh yes it is the gloating side of it that gives us our best feeling of fun.

Now I might agree that this makes some celestial sense. It could easily be that in heaven Saints Peter and George are rivals. Maybe St Peter, being top man and holding the keys, has the keys to heaven’s stables too. But what hits me hard is the fact that some rivalries are made up of two Our Ladies, both representations of the self-same mother of God. The festa fanatics also fight about whose features are better depicted and whose church is best.

Which brings me back to The Cup. After a load of games and after a load of sufferings and cat calls and misses and bliss, The Cup is won by one team, one country, one group of men. Because they win The Cup these men are hailed for the next four years as kings of the world.

For a month there is discussion in every nook and cranny of the planet; sufis in India and Trappist monks are known to have changed their lifestyle for that month. Sufis eat all they see and Trappists open their trap and talk endlessly about goals scored and open goals missed. Talk is all about the refs who should be shot and shots that were so close that it is still discussed whether they did in fact go in and the ref, the 4th and 5th official and most of the world were soundly asleep and missed the goal. Players are abused, players are glorified and stadia are flocked to like cathedrals in medieval times.

There lies, the modern football pilgrims say, a stadium and in this stadium our team will play. When they deliver, the players are deified and glorified and paid homage. But once the gods don’t deliver the coveted cup, the worshippers go berserk and vilify those same gods. Yes, if religion is the opium of the people, football is their pot that drives normal sensible men, women and children wild and potty. So as with everything we do here in Malta we go wild in style; whether it is politics, feasts, viewing the Eurovision song contest or football, we do it with incredible style and gusto. We sure rock.

This article first appeared in the Malta Independent on Sunday June 13 2010