Wednesday, 28 December 2011

I blog therefore I am

How great it is to go partying and over-indulging in these days of festivities. Hurray for the birth of Christ—He who came to take the sins of the world and hated all materialism. And to celebrate His birth we feast till our guts need gutting even in these oh-so-austere days.

It was also most poignant of the Pope to attack materialism and ask all us Christians to try keeping Christmas holy and not materialistic. As one atheist said to a few other heathens: “Oh God how apt that the king of pomp and glory decries our materialistic ways while dressed to the nines in shining clothes and sitting on a shinier throne and holding a marvellously bejewelled mitre. ”Not sure what the Saviour would do when confronted with such mighty effrontery.

But I rail and rant like an old man. Oh bugger—I am an old man or well on the road to joining the old brigade, the damned geezers who are so so sweet but then forget all the reasons for being sweet. Does dementia still afflict you when you turn up at the pearly gates? If this is so then we and other assorted folk like serial sinners, divorcees, gay paraders and fundamentalist Catholics might scrape through the gates.

When grilled about our sins and fundamental beliefs by the St Peter brigade at heaven’s passport control we might plead forgetfulness when quizzed about our ways on earth. Senility be praised would be the everlasting mantra of the atheists’ union in heaven.

How sad am I to rant on these days of festive fun—and from ranting I went straight to mentioning dementia and dying. This must be the effect of too much food and some extra alcohol. And now that I am blogging I should get myself a less boring quest than just finding fault with all around me and find a few things to applaud.

OK: let’s get back to partying and the everlasting effects of fun. Well the only long lasting effects are on the flab compartment and on the serial killing of our brain cells through strangulation. While eating and imbibing myself into a sweet stupor a great friend of mine introduced me as Malta’s latest bugger. Merriment and surprise gripped his friend—the one I was being introduced to. I perspired profusely. I’ve been very interestingly introduced in my life but bugger really seemed over the top or, more aptly, the bottom. Thoughts of how awful I’m being with this blog raced through my mind—in those few nano-seconds where all is motionless and all is viewed from some high tower of knowledge in suspended animation I promised I must stop blogging if I am bugging people so much…or worse than bugging people.

And this friend who was doing the introducing was hardly a fiend: he is in fact one of my best friends and there was no humour or irony in his face or in his intention. We then cleared it all—the friend had introduced me as a “blogger” so we all sighed a great sigh of relief and you dear reader can suffer on, reading my pieces in this blog.
As one philosopher who came too early in life would have loved to have said, I blog therefore I am (a bugger).

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Frankly Alan your time as Dame is up

Merry Christmas everybody. Or hold on—merry Xmas everybody. I put in the X there in case a non-Christian double atheist is reading this blog and gets offended. I hoped I would be merry and frivolous, it being Christmas and all that. But I am usually frivolous so maybe this season of goodwill I can be serious?

Let me get something straight: I am serious, dead serious about me being frivolous. Most of what I say, whether it is against our country, against atheists or against the august traditions of our land like parliament and sacred panto, I usually say with tongue firmly up my cheek. I will for sensitive ears, and because I want this blog to be as child-friendly and panto-bashing as possible, refrain from adding which cheek I refer to here.

Here's my most important Christmas greeting: happy Christmas dear Dr Franco Debono MP, LLD, you have done a nation proud. You have managed, with no script from Brussels or from some commissar or other, to upstage a seasoned Dame like Alan Montanaro. He—Alan that is—can go and hide and maybe seek election in parliament to make us poor mortals laugh a bit. He can ask the kids who used to love him to vote for him, for now his role is no more. The elegant, the straight talking, the brave Franco has beaten you to your role.

Said Franco does a fantastic prima donna (super dame for those of us less proficient in Italian) act. While the world, the outer world, not the one we have here in little rock Malta, dithers on the verge of collapse, and while the Euro sags and falters and Greece sells its treasures and its children, the most honourable of our parliamentarians threatens and flails about and stamps his feet about some silliness. First he screamed because he missed his bus now he wants a ministry divided. Ok he might, if one reads deep into his ravings and rantings, make some important sense—but is this the way to conduct his battles? Truly I think not.

Dr Debono keeps on talking about the good of the country Frankly the only good this learned lawyer could do is give up his seat in parliament and take off, preferably to some nether region of Pluto or Pluto’s world in Orlando. He has said that Malta is far more important than Gonzi and the party. So he can spoil any party. Fine words Sir. And we, the people, bow our heads to you and your silly whims. Oh yes I imagine all the Nationalists who gave you their vote really want this to happen. And the ones who didn’t vote for you really love your antics and party trickery and treachery.
This beacon of light, in our darkened days of autocracy, really represents Malta’s clowns, I mean people.

At least when the die is cast and Gonzi calls an early election the people will hopefully rise to the occasion and boot him—not Gonzi but Franco-- and his silliness out to Italy or beyond. And then at least he will have a job secured for life as the protagonist at a panto which can run from January to December.

And so as they say in panto—be nice to each other. May all of you, enlightened or not, have a great time this Christmas and may your year be as light-hearted as possible.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Politically correct brigade

So the sun shines in other places of the universe. I thought it only did that in good old Malta. I thought we really are the centre of the universe and all the sun’s rays are ours. Could it be I’m wrong?

Where am I heading this morning? Will try to keep off an Arriva bus lest I miss my Christmas cracker or even miss Father Christmas for my annual treat. And when are the politically correct people going to force us to say Father or Mother Christmas? And can the fatties of the world unite against the stereotyping of jolly Claus?

I will keep off politics, this being the season of jollity and goodwill.
I’m sure our dear Prime Minister, what with his mavericks’ antics and stirring surprises, deserves a bit of a break. Hopefully, dear Santa won’t trapeze down Castille’s chimney to give him a piece of coal. Oh no, that sounds political and a cheap dig at the use of what fuel to keep our power station powering on.

Visions of the ghost of Banquo Dalli get mixed up in my mind with intoxicating Christmas spirits. Sargas be damned, I hear the Honourable Prime Minister mutter.
So I won’t bother you with politics or anything too heavy. Let’s talk humour. Or what seems to be strangely lacking even in the land of humour, of satire, of tolerance: good old Blighty variously and incongruously, to some like me, called Great Britain, United Kingdom and various other names.

Our old masters were, I thought, the masters of understanding and applauding, hyperbole and such stuff. But they – or some of them, at least – fail miserably. For the few who haven’t heard I am referring to Jeremy Clarkson’s need to apologise because he had the audacity to say, on BBC, that strikers should be shot and, if possible, in front of their own families.

Let’s get things straight here. I think Mr Clarkson is one big idiot who has an ego big enough to fill a few trains, planes and submarines; whose intolerance is visceral and whose ideas might be close to comical if they weren’t so tragic. But he is one of the planet’s funniest people who spews out garbage that is not just highly entertaining but unbelievably comical.

So you might hate Mr Clarkson or even his humour. And for that I believe you should be shot, on the spot in front of your friends, families, cats and, if you have them, multiple mistresses. But for pity’s sake let him say all he wants, warts and all, and let us – or those strangely politically correct Brits – leave him alone.

The politically correct brigade is frightening. Who, incidentally, fronts it and who, even worse, backs it to keep leading us into a humourless, dull reality where everything is right and proper?

The load of idiots who protested (and these too should be shot forthright) against Mr Clarkson’s base humour are just a load of people who lack tolerance besides, sadly, lacking humour.

In the season of jollity we all, I am sure, to a certain extent, believe in Santa or some form of him. If we do not exactly believe in his flying reindeer and silly elves and his big backside and his huge red cheeks that sweep down the chimney chute once a year, we all believe in some strange fairy tales. Some, for example, believe that the utilities bills will be magically swept away.

Methinks some have been drinking too much from some vat of hallucinating stuff. But what with VAT, and that strange long-forgotten CET, I might be lurking too close to berating politicians and I promised otherwise.

What I meant to say was that all life should be taken with a bit of a smile and a hyperbole might not be amiss. If one misses the hyperbole of Mr Clarkson and his ilk then God and Santa and a legion of other celestial beings need to join forces to help us put some cheer in our life… and to lessen our fear and gloom in this time of euro defaulting tales and terrible haircutting fears.

If Mr Clarkson’s humour manages to get us all to smile a bit let’s have loads and loads of it and, please, keep in mind that when he asks for execution he doesn’t mean it literally. Does one need to have a few more than two brain cells to know that he exaggerates for effect?

I am hardly ever going to try to claim I can even come close to his humour and his quality rants because if I do Mr Clarkson himself might get a whiff of what I said and give my wife, kids and the rest of the family the greatest satisfaction of all: I’ll be shot in front of them to their wild cheers and jubilation.

Merry Christmas and may your Christmas be filled with crackling better wit than mine.

This article first appeared in The Times on December 23, 2011

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Let’s nuke bureaucracy out of existence

I once read a short article in a local business magazine which pinpointed some salient problems in Malta: roads are bad, bureaucracy is frightening, cleanliness is somewhat lacking. These are the usual gripes we, the people, seem to come up with regularly. I nearly yawned myself to another article till I saw that the piece was an extract of an article that had appeared 40 years previously.

Instead of yawning I got terribly scared. So all we gripe about remains there in all its damning glory for years, decades and centuries? We gripe, we rant but nought changes?

Cleanliness is still sadly lacking—we have garbage strewn all over our lovely isle even on a Sunday. And the culprits are hardly the cleaners and the councils even if these both do an unbelievably shoddy job. The culprits are me and you—or, as we love to do when anything is wrong, we blame our neighbours or the immigrants because we, thank God, are spotless and never to blame.

Mind you I don’t really know how we can solve the problem of when the domestic garbage can be, or should be, taken out. Say I work during the day and the garbage man (why are garbage collectors always men?) comes at 12.30—what am I supposed to do: take a few hours off every day and come back to park my refuse at the right time? So we workers of the world have to suffer and assist in getting our island to look shabby, and give the dogs and cats who go round scavenging, a free lunch on our remains of the day.

From failed cleanliness to politics is one short step. Politics some say is dirty. So I have often been told to keep away from it for fear of getting soiled. Keep neutral is another adage so that no one can say you’re unbalanced.

Let me keep the so called balance in politics by slamming both parties. No, not the festive parties that give you fun and food and everlasting fat, but the ones who run or pretend to run the country while managing to ruin everything—from our peace to our landscape.

The party in power is guilty of not reducing bureaucracy at all. The country might be an oasis of all things bright and nice compared to 25 years ago but it still needs a Kafka-esque imagination to understand how we manage to survive and thrive when faced with strange and silly bureaucracy. I could bore you to beyond a few afterlives if I give you shining examples. So I’ll leave it to you to fill in the blanks of how bureaucracy works in Malta. I’m afraid of forgetting to fill in some form in quintuplet if I try giving said examples.

The PL is Malta’s everlasting opposition and government in waiting. After all these years you’d imagine they could come out with enough solutions to all our gripes and worries—even the 40 or 400 year old ones should be easy fodder for them after all these years of observing and dying to serve the country and its folk. In their wonderfully executed 51 proposals document they say that the country has to reduce bureaucracy—hurray to that. And their solution? We have to lie and lie in wait to see and learn how they will do this greatest and latest of wand workings.

It’s great saying that all these great things have to happen but saying is not a solution, just a plain silly platitude. It’s like me saying I wish I have brains, hair, looks and writing capabilities. Saying it won’t get me anywhere. Wishing it will not wash away my defects and if I need to take any action to get hairy and brainy I’d better get myself an action plan to transplant a few brain cells and hair capsules.

So like the author of that article 40 years ago I have ranted and riled, most probably in vain, as we will be saying the same things in a hundred years’ time—if writing and reading will still happen. Unless we will be buried under a pile of garbage or useless forms.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Twit for twat

Blogging is for blockheads and tweeting is for twats. I promised myself –actually I promised my wife and children –not to be rude on the blogosphere. But that word—twat—was used by none less than the Prime Minister of that land of freedom and liberty and lovers of silliness, Britain. Sorry Great Britain. What are they great at? At being twats I imagine that lovely couple Sarkozy and Merkel muttering. What a duo, what a tandem. Could Carla-the ex-Bruni, ex nude model, ex-singer and now loving mother—be just a bit jealous? Can Merkel have some potent stuff to get the French president to love her dearly? Both, I imagine, order him around so all is well in the French court.

Back to Dave Cameron. He was quite a twat himself because he made fun of tweeting at a time when tweeting and all things twee make you look modern. And they—tweeting and blogging and facebooking—also help you capture a different audience and assist you in getting your message across. Mind you Cameron lately, with his pack of EU sceptic followers who should all be dumped into some septic tank, is turning out to be quite a horrific twat. Actually he always was but he did at least get rid of that horrid Gordon Brown. Does anyone still remember that bungling oaf? Only decent and human thing Brown did was give his resignation speech. It was so poignant and full of feeling. Like Alfred Sant –can we ever forget him?--both should have kept a low profile, advised and helped some stooge take over as prime minister and both would have been ideal—if somewhat frightening—powers behind the throne. L’eminence grise I think it is called in the French language—remember that language?

Maybe that is why Dave Cameron is so strongly opposed to getting the EU back on track. He worries that with the new love between mercurial Sarko and angelic Merky they could get hold of Europe and turn us into frog and kraut speakers. Oh that was another promise I made to whoever keeps track of promises—not to be too politically incorrect. If that happens might as well resign as human being and become fully German.

Watch this space for more blogging and questions a-begging stuff. Actually blogging is now outdated—the right thing is called something else. Trust me to start doing it when it is nearing its final repose. I’ll go learn something else to keep myself and all the uninitiated fully updated and informed.

And back in the days when hippies were cool and gay still denoted a state of merriment I’d have said I need to be and seem hip to keep up with today’s new technology.

Finally—all the ones who are offended by the above please forgive me. But go on and admit it to yourself: if you take offence at my spewed garbage you are truly twats.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Of Abe’s Slaves, Buses and Diverse Perspectives

So I made it - the editor didn’t ask me to resign, the article was published and I have actually been asked to write the next article in a series of light contributions for The Executive.

Either the piece I penned about management was funny or the editor is nicer than I ever imagined. And won’t show me the door. Mind you there were times I think I was shown the door and I just blurted out “how lovely the door is”. This, I imagine, is called managing to not let adversity affect you too badly. The worst scenario was when I was shown the door and I said “nice door but needs repainting and new hinges too.” This was when the exasperated shower of door showered me with poetic expletives before kicking me out.

Back to my brief to write a light article and preferably have it nice and polished. How light should “light” be? Does one get hold of the article and place it on scales? Let’s imagine we are organising a conference for high-powered gentry. How gentle on the palate does one go? Because as with everything else under the sun my light lunch might be the next man - or woman’s - gargantuan meal. So that’s another management theory which has been debunked. No theory fits all so whatever one theorises and however much one sweats to get theories into practice always be warned that what is a heavenly meal for you could be poison for your next door neighbour. Let’s ignore the fact that most probably it is poison even for you if you consider the calories it contains, calculate the fats and check the salt level.

In this vein Abraham Lincoln had it quite interestingly right not about food but about different perspectives. When he was sort of trying to rid the USA of slavery some slave-owning association contended that slavery was good. Lincoln said words to the effect that yes it is good but for whom? It surely wasn’t good for the poor old - and even more so the young - slaves. Change perspective, Abe seems to be implying, and all ideas and ideals can be overturned or overruled or thrown overboard.

Let’s get topical and get Arriva into the spotlight. Not that we need to do much more to these beleaguered engineers of our bussing present and probable future. No don’t worry this won’t be another excruciating essay on how Arriva, the minister or some backbencher stole the limelight and managed to get a Task Force in place that included our own Air Force to get the buses to their destination on time.

Let’s be more mundane than that. Perspective is all I was trying to prove - that if you look at a problem or a solution from one angle it can look completely different when seen askance or from a different direction. So what am I arriving at? Please excuse the “arrival” pun - I realise we have had an overdose of Arrivaderci word plays to last us a few eternities.

This proved another rule in management- what could have been(but wasn’t) a good pun/joke/ironical quip was lost and worse than lost because the reader has been overcome with loads of similar, or better but still-in-same-vein, jokes. Ennui kicks in if you overdose on anything good - or bad. Imagine I am given a great feast of a meal by the 200-star Michelin el Bulli man, at least when he was still plying his trade and feeding the moneyed few. After feeding me I repeat my thanks so many times that he is exasperated to the point of wanting to hit me. But his partner - who most probably is way too polite to be seen hitting anyone and in all probability is a much better chef - hears the commotion and comes over to placate us both. On his way he also gets hold of another plate-ful of bullion delicacies which he presents to me in all its glory. He - the nice guy –says “how nice of you to be so effusive in your congratulations. I have been touched and on behalf of el bulli himself have purposely come to offer you another dose of food from our kitchen.” It could be heaven’s own food but enough is enough. So, you see, like over-wrought jokes and over-wrought food over-wrought plans can come a cropper.

Back to Arriva: whatever the controversy the main silly thing that needs looking into in our investigation of different perspectives (think of Abe Lincoln’s quip about the slaves) is the tourists’ perspective. Many tourists said that we should be ashamed of ourselves - not for having the Arriva buses inflicted upon us. No, the tourists’ great gripe was that “hey, look how cute and quaint the old buses were - now they are efficient with well-dressed drivers but ever so boring and colourless.”

Two perspectives: one from a tourist’s point of view, the other the local one. The tourists, God bless their souls and their much-appreciated custom and accompanying coffer-filling, have time in easy supply. They want to go slow, enjoy the view even if it is a bit hampered by the chugging fumes of the old buses. We the locals need to get to our destination on time and hardly on some carcinogenic bus that makes walkers, cyclists, drivers and passengers fume.

So quaint, alas, is not always too engrossing when it involves a gross part of the equation and having to live with the fume monsters day in day out –unlike those lovely tourists who just come here for a few days. It’s not too much of a moot point that the Arriva
brigade doesn’t actually get passengers to destination on time. But that, as they say, is another story - best looked at from the parliamentarians’ new offices or the ministers’ big chauffeur-driven limos.

So theories and all else are subject to another rule - that one can’t measure all distances with the same ruler. This rule of course is also subject to review and to being dumped. So go on all you gurus out there - have a field day and send me theories that disprove my theory. Management is fun mainly because it is so diverse and so difficult to pigeonhole.

Final warning: I have said all this with tongue firmly stuck to cheek. So nothing should be taken literally in the article above: even the jibe on Arriva not being there on time and the story about Abe’s slaves might not be completely true.

This article first appeared in the November 2011 issue of The Executive

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Who do atheists worship?

Lately, I’ve been bombarded with messages from atheists. Ok, so maybe not bombarded but I’ve been seeing them, the believers in this new religion, atheism, becoming ever more prolific and vociferous.

Facebook, that new depository for all things secular, political and humanitarian, is full of this atheist and humanist theorising, so maybe the best thing would be to keep off the blogosphere and Facebook.

But, then, how would I find out what makes Franco Debono, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando and all the rest of the clowning mavericks tick? And how will I learn what tea they or their supporters drink?

Such existential thoughts are more than necessary for survival. So I keep reading and receiving messages, I trudge on and am assailed by humanists asking me to put God and his coterie of angels and other celestial beings aside or, better still, to dump them as fairy tales.

Atheists keep screaming and stamping their feet saying God – or god or gods – does not exist. And they prove it beyond reasonable doubt by quoting section and verse and rhyme. They will not be happy till the rest of us see the light. I presume this is called conversion of the masses to atheism by divine intervention.

What, I hear the whole of Malta ask, is wrong with that? Isn’t it their God-given right to say whatever they want and wherever they feel like saying it? Naturally, they can do it on mountaintops, in humanist pews and wherever. I really can’t find anything wrong with their shrieking and pontificating. As one of my most cherished mentors used to say with an ironical smirk on his face, to each his own.

I don’t wish poker-faced nuns and wizened priests to ram religion and their frightening God down my throat.

I hate fundamentalist churchmen and the way they put God and his Son and his fellow followers into anything and everything we do and say, from morals to what I should buy. I love my God and his Son and his son’s mother to be super nice and full of the “hey-they-don’t-have-wine-let’s-give-them-wine” sort of godliness.

But I hate it just as much when atheists do practically the same thing and jabber on about their fundamentalist thoughts, making me fear that, if I do believe, I’m a hated heathen of atheism, the godless religion.

I don’t really care if Lou Bondì is a supporter of Inter, Lawrence Gonzi or God. All I care about is what he delivers. If what he delivers is watchable and good journalism who cares whether he drinks orange juice, kiwi juice or if he is a supporter of Dr Gonzi or not?

And if, in court, he kisses a Cross to symbolise someone who is tied to say the truth and nothing but, I couldn’t be bothered one bit at all.

After all, what in heaven’s name has atheism got to do with saying the truth? So when a criminal, a killer, a drug pusher or a lawyer kisses the Cross, do I have to conclude that just because he has kissed the image of Christ that person is a God-fearing person and, thus, saying nothing but the truth?

Horror of horrors. Should the court registrar or the Minister of Justice issue warrants for catechism teachers to check on the thoughts and feelings of all Cross-kissers, to wean out the liars, the non-believers and the ones who do not believe fully? Could agnostics –those who sit on the godly atheistic fence – kiss the Cross and be half believed?

As I said, I have no problem with any creed-mongers or cultists going on and on about their beliefs and stuff. Well, ok, they might drone me to sleep but we all can follow our dreams and dwell on our inner thoughts till kingdom come and even way beyond. But I tend to believe that one of the main grouses of atheists is how Catholics and followers of other religions brainwash everyone and their child.

So now it’s turning full circle. Now we have atheists, may their own god protect them, ramming it down my throat. Hey, they say continuously, we are non-believers, we are sure there is no god and we can prove it. Darwin and Freud and Godzilla proved it by some physical, maybe metaphysical, ways. For all I know they might be right.
For all I know Godzilla did give Elvis Presley a ride to Kansas and JFK is now living in harmony with John Lennon on the moon and with Marilyn Monroe as barman.

But I don’t really care what anyone believes as long as they do not harp on about it till I have to agree, especially when their stated motto in life is to get rid of brainwashers.

By some strange inverse proportion of some incredibly impossible-to-prove theory, the more atheists prove how right their theory is, the more God and His heavens and angels on their harps sound alluring and plausible.

This article first appeared in The Times, November 19, 2011

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The minister’s crystal ball

So Austin Gatt was in the news again and again. Before the girl from Uni called him a DIY guy he had looked straight into the future and told us what he saw. “There will be a true blue Prime Minister way down up to 2031,” said his crystal-clear ball.

His blue-tinged friends harrumphed and simply loved it. There might have been just a few but they sure felt fired by it. In one stroke, Dr Gatt managed to erase some of the blues the Nationalist supporters were feeling. Till his prophecy, everyone, including, I would say, the Prime Minister and his loving wife, was taking it for granted that the next election would be a walkover for the dreaded reds. Dr Gatt hardly pussyfooted away and his words galvanised even Lawrence Gonzi to believe in crystal balls and fairy tales: the Nationalist Party, it was now actually claimed, could win another election.

So let’s analyse the prophecy and the stark reality. Let’s look at the big picture and forget the details and the nitty-gritty of the situation.

Let me first be personal. My life is neatly, nicely, divided in two: red rule and blue rule. The greens or yellows hardly ever mattered. I don’t think I can really call it a proper game. Blues win by a landslide. If we weigh the historical facts together with our way of life, and, especially, the serenity we have enjoyed ever since the ship of state was entrusted to the PN, the blues win again. Hands down. No contest. They take first, second and third place.

Now I hear a red-eyed reader blurt angrily: Hey, but we are now new, we even have a new emblem. That’s all the Partit Laburista – oh, yes, to give them their full diabolical due they even changed their name – have come up with. They do keep calling for Dr Gatt’s head (well, to be even fairer, they keep asking for a number of heads. Robespierre and his gang would pale into insignificance if Joseph Muscat and his merry men had it their way with heads). Their reason for wanting Dr Gatt to resign is because he can’t drive a bus or get it to get anywhere on time.

The PL frontmen also seem to be screaming at the top of their voices because they were not invited to the Independence Day celebrations as if their life, or our future, depended on it. A bit rich and inane of them. History seems to tell us that when the reds ruled, the official date of reaching statehood was seemingly celebrated not with due fireworks or wreaths but with threats, stones and gas. And I imagine that independence is definitely more important than a few ships leaving Grand Harbour even if the day is somehow grandiloquently called Freedom Day. Maybe if we do give that day its so-called importance – as much as independence – the next time some Carnival cruise ships leave the port we should call that a great achievement and have it duly recorded and remembered with state banquets, anthem playing and a rigmarole of pretty petards and parades.

As far as new ideas go, the party dying to take over the reins of power seems as bereft and hollow as ever. I wish I could be more objective or more red-eyed and forgiving but every time I feel slightly tempted to see what Dr Muscat and his amazing rainbow troupe have lined up for us I am stumped. Not just because I’m hardly sure what they have on offer – please tell me, so that I can wake up to the possibility of a Labour victory without trepidation – but because every time I sit down to hear what the leader or his quasi-silent vices say, I go into a fearful, tearful frenzy.

The last thing I, or anyone who thinks the Mintoffian era was more of a dark age that engulfed our shores and souls than a golden age, want to ever hear is the clarion call of “Malta l-ewwel u qabel kollox” (Malta first and foremost). Even writing it grates. Dr Muscat actually said this, or words which, he diligently and vigorously explained, meant the same as those words uttered a few years back by Dom Mintoff to the reds’ delight. Every time I hear those words my heart misses a beat – or, rather, I hear the beating of the truncheons and the disgusting TV fare we had to endure back in that most golden of ages.

I’m not even sure I agree with the slogan anyway: it’s so xenophobic it makes my blood boil. Seeing our angelic Leader of the Opposition uttering it with an EU flag behind him drove home the irony rather too richly. And, even if not xenophobic, quoting a dinosaur who ravaged the country (even bringing down Dr Muscat’s predecessor’s government) is hardly good news to any blue-, yellow- or just bleary-eyed observer.

Unlike unelectable Alfred Sant, the young, energetic Dr Muscat seems to love getting into his fold anyone who was part of the Mintoff/Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici bandwagon. And Dr Muscat does not seem to be able to dissociate himself from the shameful time for democracy when his red idols ruled over us.

It might be cruel to harp on the past but while I will always think redemption is possible in anything I can’t ever think of employing a serial thief as a security officer with the gold held at the Central Bank – or whatever that august body has in its vaults. Even if the thief in question has spent a few long years behind bars or at Mount Carmel Hospital feeling sorry for himself and asking for forgiveness I still wouldn’t recommend him as a guardian of treasures. And I certainly wouldn’t employ, when their term of imprisonment is over, the defrocked, molester priests, as janitors at a school.

So the last thing that should be done by the PL is to get people like Alex Sceberras Trigona, Joe Grima and Karmenu Vella into the fold. They reek too much of the bad, red times. So, please, keep them as cosily wrapped in old, mothballed, Labour flags for as long as you possibly can. Otherwise, what is new Labour but old Labour in a suit instead of a big-buckled denim jacket. Even if Dr Sceberras Trigona is an affable nobleman, his policies, views and ways when the PL was in power were terrible. So, yes, I do forgive but I can hardly forget. And I do judge by the friends my future Prime Minister keeps.

So, I’m afraid the new Labour chant has hardly been a siren call to me. In fact, it’s more like a wake-up call to take stock and go with Dr Gatt’s silly prophecy and say that if one weighs things out properly the Nats with their vision and way of life – even if sometimes they sound and act like rats – deserve to be there till beyond 2031.

This article first appeared in The Times 30 October 2011

Monday, 31 October 2011

A passion for food, good taste, gardens and people

I have always been fascinated by nobility. It conjures up for me a world long gone of things done well, of dedication to the arts, of manners unsurpassed, all washed in tasteful delicacy. All this and all done with brio, pizzazz and commitment. I always thought this was part of a dream that today has faded and become an anachronistic icon of days gone by. Then I entered the world of Palazzo Parisio in Naxxar and realised that nobility in its pure form is still alive and possible.

I met Mme Christiane Ramsay Scicluna, Baroness of Tabria, to discuss the Palazzo, the reason for its re-emergence and her passion for food, gardens and people. I,uncouth and far from noble by birth, was daunted by all this. I was worried about how to address her, how to refer to her daughter and how to ask inquisitive questions to get some insightful comments about Malta and its hospitality business.

I made my way to my meeting with plebeian trepidation. The place is aflush with taste and everything around you is spotless and perfectly done. What if I banged the door and made a scene? Or dropped my archaic pencils which, I use to take notes, unlike the new, modern and devil-may-care young journalists who seem to be ever so confident and seemingly competent? I willed myself to silence and awaited the arrival of the Baroness …

What a complete revelation the meeting was. The Baroness is un- mistakably noble in her ways, in her way of talking and in her taste: but my worries about it being a daunting affair quickly disappeared and I realised I could relax, feel at home and hone in to my inquisitive questions. The Baroness Ramsay Scicluna hardly bites. She was daunted herself by my presence and how she was expected to answer my questions. Her comment at the end of the interview, surely one of the most interesting I have ever conducted, was “I do hope I didn’t sound like a dense blonde”. Actually she said all rather engagingly and I fear I cannot ever really convey its proper essence. But then come to think of it, all we spoke about was reflected in the opulence of the place and the impeccable service and food that is served in one of the most beautiful, and beautifully kept, cafes, gardens and palazzos in Malta. I could easily venture to say that it is one of my favourite places in Malta,if not the world.

The Baroness had a dream of turning this piece of family heritage into a place where people congregate to admire the art, the architecture and eat, drink and enjoy good company. And this has become a reality; so far from being a dense blonde the lady is someone who should be heard, admired and her advice followed.

One of the questions I ask her is why she came back to Malta after living it up grandly in Paris, Rome and London, besides other even more far-flung and exotic places. “Oh”, she says “I always loved Malta, and always felt I belong here. Malta is a real attraction and everyone feels welcome. While living in Rome my Italian husband came to Malta to look after my business concerns. He came and was struck by Malta’s essence which mesmerised him and still does to this day. He loves Malta and would not change it for anything. I wanted to give back to the people the gem my grandfather built. It was sad that such a place built with such meticulous care and adorned with such art was lying there hardly visited or known. Then I came to Malta too and driven by love of heritage, art and food turned it into what it is today. We cater for the morning and afternoon crowd, the lunch and evening crowd and we also have banquets, idyllic weddings and visitors coming from all over the world to see and admire the garden and its beauty."

The Baroness is passion personified. But while other passionate ladies sometimes frighten you, this one makes you want to hear more. We talk about her life and how it imbued her with a passion for food, living well and an undying love to share with as many people as possible all the good things she has and knows. Nobles of olde might
have been aloof while loving the populace and doing good deeds, but the Baroness has managed, together with her daughter Justine, to create something of inestimable charm.

I ask the Baroness if she fears competition, especially if more places of heritage like Palazzo Parisio are opened to the public and also offer good fare. She laughs her ever-so-infectious-laugh and says in her flamboyant English peppered with just a hint of Italian: “But of course not. I love competition. It would be a great step if historical places are turned into a visitor’s dream with good food and impeccable service. Malta is a real treasure trove and we have a lot to offer but I hate it when we turn our beautiful places into just more unattractive places which meet just the com- mon denominator of what attracts people. Food and service have to be a passion and without passion there is just blandness. For blandness there are lots of destinations available; we need to hone in on our offering and make our land and our heritage and food memorable. At first it might seem an impossible dream but in the
end visitors and locals will prefer the place that offers that special some- thing, that little extra that will make an unforgettable experience. Yes,”she says,“please let’s open up the palaces, the palazzos, the gardens and let’s attract an ever-growing number of people to our shores who have a love for anything that is beautiful and has taste."

When the Baroness decided to open the palazzo she thought it would be a great idea to get people to visit the place and give them some coffee and cake and some soup and delicious ftira. At first it was just she and a friend: she’d bake the cakes herself and either she or her friend would conduct the tour of the palace. Quite a far cry from what is happening now when she employs an average of twelve in the kitchen, although she proudly says she is still very much hands-on and is seen serving herself if the need arises and is also known to give a hand in the kitchen if demand is overwhelming.

To start with, the coffee shop was called the Marquis’s Coffee Shop. But Justine hit on a most intelligent name for branding the whole enterprise: the Luna brand was suggested and loved by all. Luna, moon in Italian, is the end part of the family name, Scicluna, and sounds ever so sophisticated.

It has a beautifully sonorous sound and evokes lush gardens, lazy evenings and glorious days waiting for the moon to add its soft sparkle. The Luna café, the Luna collection and the Luna di Sera make up the three main branches available at
the palazzo: the café is open every day till late afternoon serving coffees, drinks, cakes and other good food and snacks; the shop is open most days and has a varied collection of beautiful clothes and bijoux and other classy gift items; while the Luna di Sera is the restaurant which feeds people in a way to satisfy their imagination with moonlit sensations.

Mentioning Justine, the Baroness’s main partner in the enterprise, fills her with even more passion and a loving and doting sparkle. She says “We do everything in tandem. We have unbelievably similar tastes and ideas and we truly hit it off beautifully. We think similarly and love everything like twins except that I’m so much older than her. But she never feels the age difference, or at least she
never tells me. We love going away together and looking at new ideas for the shop and for the café and restaurant. In fact our big problem is that as we both are so hands-on and involved in the daily running of the Luna enterprise, we cannot go away as often as we wish. But we still manage to regularly attend fairs and see what is happening beyond our shores to get inspired and to get different things for our Luna collection. We have a very capable team looking after the various parts of the enterprise, so when we are away all goes on like clockwork.”

To the two women who run the Palazzo, impeccable service is of the essence and both will do everything possible to look after each client. Both are too passion- ate about their enterprise and will not stop to think that if a certain napkin is too expensive they should forgo it; to them if they think the client deserves that napkin he/she should have it. Maybe they lack the cunning business acumen that people who care only about the bottom line have. Without insist- ing on that napkin and by bowing to the dictates of the bottom line, the Palazzo Parisio would be just another place where one can have a decent cake and good coffee but which would lack that special ingredient that makes it that much more special and personal.

Besides the special care for even such a tiny detail as a napkin and its colour (“if it needs to be pink let it be pink at whatever cost” could be the motto of the baroness) the palazzo has a renowned adherence to standards. High standards are not easy to attain; but they are even harder to maintain. This is what has driven the Baroness and her daughter to such heights. They do not just train their staff and practise standards themselves:they make sure everyone is of a like mind when handling clients. This is where the Baroness loses a bit of her twinkly smile: she really hates saying anything critical of anything Maltese. So only after my pushing does she relent and admit that in Malta we have lost a bit of our verve for putting passion in our waiting. According to the Baroness being a waitress or a waiter is a real art and can be ever so fulfilling. “Unfortunately” she says, “we now think that serving people is rather an insult to our being. I beg to differ and feel that the real waiters can make a grand life out of it. There are various waiters who did just that and are proud to have done just waiting all their life. But one needs to have passion and love; one can be not servile but of service to people who love waiters, who have a commanding presence and find fulfillment in their job."

After she tells me this I look out for grumpy waiters at the Palazzo and find none and look even harder for some sour waitress. Again my search is futile. I am surrounded by beautifully groomed waitresses and very personable waiters dressed in comfortable and impeccable clothes. And the feeling is far from starched formality. It is of a colonial tropical land, of a place where time stood still a few years back, say 1930, where every- thing was just right and life wasn’t rushed at all.
When I quiz the Baroness further about the waiters and waitresses, she admits she is blessed with good ones who love being trained and of service. “It’s true what I have here is the pick and they follow our regimen beau- tifully. But all around in various other places out there, the level of service is not too inviting.” She is dying to say more but stops short in case she offends anyone with her admonishing words.

I ask the Baroness what influ- ences her most in her taste for anything which is to be shared at the palazzo and also in her food. Of course the main influence is Italian, but anything Mediterranean is a great influence. She says that “after all the world has, at last, realised that the Mediterranean diet is the healthiest. I always loved Italian food – this came from my mother – and because I lived
so long in Rome where I started a “scuola di cucina” back when such ideas were hardly fashionable.”

She taught many non-Italians who were living in Italy with their new-found husbands or partners. Obviously this was a grand test; everyone knows how exigent Italians are when it comes to their food and if the food is not as “la mamma” cooks it there could be trouble brewing. But the Baroness saw to that and must have helped keep the peace for quite a few couples with her love of food which she imparted to these foreigners.
Food for the Baroness is also a grand love affair with what is traditional. She does accept all the new ways and waves. But to her, simple traditional Maltese food is important to remain being served just as it was presented by our mothers and grandmothers. Giving new flings to Maltese fare could kill what we created back in the olden days. Her idea is that we do not need to revisit Maltese food: dish it out purely and simply as we always loved it and let us not feel awkward or inferior because of our food. It was and remains good so let’s be proud of it.

After all the new, the innovative, is already turning into the old and unwanted. The return to basics, the love of anything done just as it has been done for years is returning and taking over. “And thank God for that,” says a bemused but resolute Baroness.

All the passion the Baroness instills in her staff and people around her can be seen and felt. There is a lovely buzz at the palazzo; everything is beautifully set and in place but everyone enjoys the food and atmosphere. Smiles and happy people are bywords for the Luna experience. I ask her one last tantalising question about the guests who have visited the palazzo in days gone by. Her eyes glint merrily at this question: she smiles. “Back in time when this place was the residence of my ancestors, people like Marconi came and visited. Today we also have great personalities visiting. Brad Pitt was a real gentleman and had no airs at all. Others
who visited were Rex, the dog hero in an Italian TV series, who was loved and truly loveable, and Tom Jones was another welcome guest. Other stars who came and were hooked include Dominic Cooper who starred in Mamma Mia, the charming James Blunt, and William Hurt.” But the real highlight these last few years for the Baroness was Oprah Winfrey. The two hit it off tremendously and hugged and kissed and waved to each other when they parted. Oprah in fact told the baroness “you have done real wonders here and for us.”

These visitors were treated like royalty maybe because they are special. But I observed all the guests who were there while I was being treated grandly. The baroness had a dream and made it a reality.It would be grand if more people like her are let loose in the hospitality field, where all men and women wish to be treated as grandly as they are at the Palazzo Parisio.

It takes two to tandem

They are two inseparable and successful women tied, it would seem, at the hip. They exude charm, elegance and wonderful Italianate garrulousness and joie de vivre. They act as if a few months of age separate them and nothing can come between them. But just like the cats that populate the gardens they are unbelievably individual, clear-headed and can also be just a tad catty to each other.

The main story tells it all about the Baroness Scicluna Ramsay and her fondness for anything which is even remotely connected to style. It also delves into the Palazzo
and how it has been restored for everyone to appreciate what it was meant to do—live and have people live by it and live appreciating its ornate, maybe (to some) overdone, glory. Here we meet the less effu- sive, more rational, more reflective daughter of the duo. Justine, Juju to her mummy, is less dramatic than her mother but just like her mother is simply fascinating. And her story and the way she raves about Malta and its heritage would melt even the coldest person on earth.

What strikes me most is that she calls her mother, “mummy”; I was sure it would be mama or maman. It’s true that both mummy and Juju were educated in just-so English boarding schools but their attitude and their style is definitely conti- nental, if not exactly Italian. But mummy it is: must be the way the mother, and her Italian husband, decided to bring up Justine.

This is Justine in her own words: “My parents were very strict. I had an impossible curfew and because I was always a goody two-shoes I simply followed whatever I was told. Even when I grew up I was the sensible one and would always be the one to drive all my friends home. I obeyed dutifully and it’s only now that I have moved out of the house and I am working in tandem with my mother that I’ve come out of my shell and make my own decisions. In fact today mummy asks for my advice and leans on me more and more; I hardly feel dependent on her. It does feel liberating and both my parents enjoy the relationship as it has developed. I still don’t stamp my feet as many youngsters seem to do nowadays but I do have a mind of my own and a very clear vision of what I am and what I want to achieve.”

But how strict could a doting father and mother be I ask. “Oh they were strict,” she assures me. “In fact when I was young all I wanted to do was follow in my father’s footsteps and become a singer, a dancer or an actress. But my father would have none of it. Or rather he expected me to go into something less dramatic and traumatic. He thought—still thinks in fact—that I am a softie and with the way show business has become today he really thought I’d suffer.” Her father was a renowned dancer and choreographer who regularly appeared in top RAI TV and other television channel shows.

He worked with all the leading directors, amongst them Antonello Falqui, maybe Italy’s most successful producers of TV. That was the golden time of Italian show business and her father partnered such household names as Mina, Ornella Vanoni and the Gemelle Kessler, the statuesque twins who were most probably every Maltese and Italian male’s dream. But those were different times and most of the people involved then were gentlemen of the old hide.

Thanks to her father guiding her in the right direction, she went into hospitality and luckily for Malta created this chic place with her mother. She went to a Swiss hotel school and then moved to the Cavalieri Hilton, a leading hotel in Rome where she met, according to her, one of the best GMs in the world. Hans Fritz is still a dear friend, and also a mentor of the mother-and-daughter tandem, and hardly a day passes when he isn’t mentioned. From there, after absorbing a lot of interesting ways and means in hospitality and style, Justine moved to the Bulgari hotel in Milan, a small but important hotel which saw most celebrities in its rooms. Then she went into fashion retail, still in Milan.

She loved visiting Malta and knew she would always be connected to this island which she loved dearly and which offered her her roots. But at the time she never dreamt of coming here for good: Milan, Rome, London or Paris sounded rather more compelling.
“When mummy opened her café I used to come on holiday to Malta and end up helping with the sandwiches and the salads in the kitchen,” she admits with that gorgeous twinkle in her eye.

Then the place seemed to have conquered her: why not go and turn the place, together with her mother, into a real success story? So Justine packed her bags, came here and started a partnership with her mother that has definitely set standards. She explains it all as “it felt like magic actually. The place, the ambience, the country just envelope you. I was won over and realised this is what I have always wanted to do, what I was born to do. I love it and I love being with people and assisting when we are short-staffed or inundated.”

Justine’s enthusiasm is electrifying, but in a subtle, enticing way. She
is like her mother: very precise, effusive about detail, but not stuffy at all. Her style is relaxed, soft and flirty in a good-natured, loving way—not vampy at all. And I ask just before leaving: what is the main difference between her and her mother?

“Oh I am like my father: calm, reflective and can tolerate nearly anything. I am a bit like a sponge that absorbs any negativity that arises. I adore my mother and get on with her tremendously but we are very different. We complement each other really well. If there is one thing I feel a bit bad about it is that all my life I have been very responsible, too responsible, and maybe I need to learn how to let
my hair down a bit.”

I have always loved the Palazzo but after going there to meet mummy and Justine I am now even more mesmerised. When Justine finally lets her hair down I imagine all that will happen is that the brilliantly-attired in-white personnel might also sport a little luna (moon) on their uniforms.

This article first appeared in MHRA magazine October 2011

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Management, manpower and manholes

My editor at The Executive asked me to write something about management. The brief was manifestly short but effective enough. He said “let it have humour, let it be brief”.

Sounded manageable enough. Or not? My initial reaction was to work on it as asked, then on second thoughts, while fretting at the command, I thought of sending him just a briefer-than-his-brief article. Not sure if that would have tickled him pink. But the cheeky article was going to be entitled “Management”; the whole article was going to say “management”. Yes I think that would have been the most humorous thing to write about this subject. To be honest I find anything that is written seriously about management to be unbelievably baffling and full of unwitting but effective humour. Humour by non-design, which I imagine is the best managed humour.

Ask anyone who runs a business to explain in plain English the fundamentals of management and he/she/it will look at you vaguely and worryingly. The gurus of the management world might trail off a few mantras and all manner of expositions but the man in the high or low street or in top positions will be stumped. By the way do we now still run businesses? With recessions rampant and all-pervading crises and highfaluting defaulters I doubt if anyone does any running. It’s more like walking, or propping your business on its surely but sorely disintegrating crutches.

Regarding my editor’s article request I then reflected further and stopped my brief, scantily researched article from being sent. I love my job as contributor to The Executive and I find the editor more than affable and greatly on the ball. So why get myself fried or fired? That could be called something like management by firing squad; or hara-kiri for a two-word article. And I find this magazine quite a great shake. “I shot myself in the left foot and right by not submitting proper copy to editor” could be the title of the article had I been fired or told bluntly to desist from writing for this publication.

So no I was more than resolved not to follow that terrible path to ignominy and perfidy and extinction or exile from The Executive. The ex-writer of The Executive hardly sounds good on any CV especially in these tough-to-manage times.

So I now have the daunting task of still not getting myself fired: the task ahead is simple enough. I must, by all means available, manage to convince the management of The Executive that I can manage an article about management: and the article must make people laugh, snigger or smile instead of read, ponder and understand next to naught.

Consider this: this is the first of a series of articles which are going to be penned by me (unless I manage to fall onto my own spiral of mis-managed failure) and not by some other upstart who writes like me or better than me. If another contributor is given the same brief as me I promise I will muster enough strength and organise enough pickets and will manage to pick and settle fights with all and sundry rivals. I will also make it my own mantra-turned-into-tangibility to knock off by gun, musket, cannon, hemp, fingers, toes, claws or whatever instrument is at hand (even hand grenades could come in handy) to murder in the most vile way any intruder who happens to be able to write anything about management.

That must have been the longest, least instructive, hardly inspired, most entangled piece of introduction in the history of management and writing. Let me now most intelligently discuss “management”.

I do not know why this happens but whenever there is a word that could cause some trouble, there in it, in full force and fully frontally, lies “man”. Take man out of management and all you end up with is “age” and a few other letters. Why oh why do women not complain that men have to manage while women dictate and run everything smoothly? Men run everything down from economies to stock exchanges and have done so ever since a naked Eve baked an apple pie and managed singlehandedly to get part of the apple stuck in man’s throat and all humanity to have to toil, trouble and work and discuss and formulate best management practices.

Some wit in medieval times must have said: if woman was meant to be a dishwasher, man must have been inventive enough to devise a machine to wash those soiled dishes. Man invented, or marketed heavily, the dishwasher circa the same age that woman rebelled, burned her bra, became equal to man and did manage to get most men to cooperate and wash, rinse, dry or at least stack dishes. I have no clue who said the pithy words about dish-washing: if I had management skills I’d get my inexistent but obviously sex-neutered secretary to check out who the sage (or sages) was but as I lack these rudimentary skills I will further desist from asking or from doing it myself. Google be damned.

Here we now have a few important management cases which are worth noting. In medieval times if you were a woman and you complained even internally to yourself about your husband you would be tried or lashed or disembowelled. Even if the husband had tied you to his manor fence, the chances were that an ecclesiastical judge would magically sprout next to you, untie you and take you by the nose straight into your own fiery cauldron of bubbling newt legs and batty bat’s tongues.

Now if said wife was sadly cast to her sizzling perdition and if said (and sadder) husband could not find any other woman to wed, his manor would soon turn into a terribly mismanaged one. Without his wife to manage the children, the servants and slaves and the adjacent farm with its various chicks, capons and pheasants and other pleasantly feathered friends, the entire manor would soon end up in a state of utter chaos. Job losses would follow and then famine. Slaves and workers would revolt and the man would end up penniless and chased by creditors and his ex-employees. Management lesson: assets are not to be tied uselessly when they can be more productive. Mini lesson: do not get any outsiders like the ecclesiastical judge to interfere in your affairs. Consultants might be good but if they give bad advice the effect can be lethal.

Thankfully years later woman (now look at that word: even what we call the female sex has a man or a male lurking maniacally in it)) took control of her life, freed herself of the chains of slavery and fought to be on equal footing with her spouse. All of a sudden we had two managers for the manor and ended up with all manner of madness. Thank heavens the erring judge who cast errant women into boiling pots was also discarded and so life without torture by religious zealots became easier for everyone to manage.

As one famed consultant guru really quipped : “Most of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to get their work done.” That’s Peter F. Drucker talking so I imagine we could accept it as a bit more authoritative than my words.

Now after showing off my knowledge of management savants, and what they said, I think I have said enough about management and will send this to my editor. In his patience and his charity I truly trust. Either that or this poor article will end up going down the drain: down the terrible manhole that manages all human effluvia and detritus.

This article first appeared in The Executive magazine

Monday, 17 October 2011

The sunflower: a powerful symbol for Hospice Malta

“A nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members."
Mahatma Gandhi

In today’s world we are constantly bombarded with various messages − from text messages to emails and from television broadcasts to products and services that are lauded for their super-efficiency and usefulness. In this increasingly instant society we are faced with choice, colour and diversity in everything, and so our time to reflect and take reasoned decisions is sometimes sidetracked, resulting in rash unqualified ones.

We are making choices all the time and whoever thinks the media or the surroundings do not affect our choices is either an idealist or a dreamer. We choose what size of TV we want to make us happier, which toothpaste makes our teeth brightest and which mode of transport suits us most.

Unfortunately status features in all we do and choose, even if, like the idealist mentioned above, we might think we always take proper, unbiased decisions in our choices of consumer and non-consumer needs.

Faced with this barrage of messages and competing brands a commercial or non- commercial enterprise has to think hard and evaluate how to position itself and how to brand itself in a market which is saturated with all these competing and varied messages and messengers.

Commercial brands which have the power of purchasing marketing and public relations space always have an advantage over the less visible, non-commercial entities which try hard to give a service and be as visible as possible.

When Hospice Malta decided to undertake a rebranding exercise these thoughts were kept firmly in mind. The task was not a simple one.

Hospice Malta, or the Malta Hospice Movement as it was known, contacted Defined Branding to help lead the way in the strategy and design of its new identity. Defined Branding, led by Jody Fiteni and a dedicated team of creative designers delved deep into what was needed both from an aesthetic and a functional perspective.
Hospice Malta was not an unknown entity. On the contrary, in the palliative care sphere, it was not only respected but known to be the only group offering the noble service of looking after the terminally ill (persons suffering from terminal cancer, motor neurone disease, end-stage respiratory and heart disease)while providing support to their families, friends and colleagues.

Those people who used this service over the years are always full of praise for the hospice and what it offers. This made the job of rebranding that much easier because the “product” was visible, innovative and highly respected. Therefore market penetration was already happening.

In this distressing scenario where the eventual death of a close family member is involved it is never easy to think of the service offered as being a marketable product. But unfortunately, while being a sad fact of life, it is also a reality that this is what has to be done as otherwise brand awareness already established by the commendable service offered risks being diluted or, if not nurtured properly, lost.

The rebranding exercisestarted off with the visual change of the brand identity. The old logo, while depicting a visually attractive sunflower, was limited in what could be done to it in the graphic manipulation needed for proper depiction of the brand identity. Defined Branding’s design team zoomed in on the effectiveness of the old logo and retained its main element, the sunflower.

The whole ethos behind the brand identity is centred around the sunflower. The sunflower depicts compassion (the sunflower seeds). The seed grid at the centre of the sunflower represents the patients and is surrounded by (palliative) care and respectful dignity as represented by the petals. Compassion presents itself as an opportunity to truly care for fellow human beings.

The sunflower petals show the dignity that is strongly recommended by all involved in palliative care. As in all flowering plants, the bright yellow petals of the flower attract pollinating insects which fertilise and help to create the seeding head. Sunflowers face and follow the sun across the sky, transferring solar energy to the seeds.

The sunflower leaves stand for human care: most plants need solar energy which they photosynthesise into energy for growth. For Hospice Malta these would be the caring hands of the people who are part of the organisation.

The name was changed to the easier to remember and simpler “Hospice Malta”. The new name keeps the most important parts of the old one but reflects more care and softness. It is shorter, more easily remembered and more striking; it also lends itself ideally to make it more modern with a simple addition of .org on the url web address for universal access on

The 3-word tagline encompasses the spirit of the brand. Again care and understanding of what the organisation stands for was used to give Hospice Malta the most meaningful words which explain in short but directly what Hospice stands for: care, compassion, dignity. These words best reflect the core values and the whole spirit of the organisation. These three words also complement the sunflower logo’s 3 components of leaves, petals and seed grid.

The main beneficiaries of the hospice work are people who are suffering and who see their close family suffer. But as the sunflower depicted in the brand identity shows, the care that is offered by Hospice Malta makes life for the sufferers a bit brighter and also sows the seeds for more care for more people.

The rebranding exercise in the evolution of Hospice Malta, which is always in need of volunteers and donations as the services offered which are all free have to be maintained and expanded.

Like the sunflower, and the miracle it perpetuates by its own re-energising, Hospice Malta gives hope and dignity where little or none exist. The need for Hospice to retain and expand its visibility and evolve core services is crucial for its future and for that of patients and their loved ones.

More information about Hospice Malta can be found at For more information about their branding please log on to

This article first appeared in The Sunday Times on October 16, 2011

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Of tattoos, piercings and old age

One of the worst things to happen to Adam, Eve and their progeny, which I imagine includes me, was when God decreed that we should suffer old age. If Eve had resisted that silly apple, man and woman would not have toiled, we – the male of the species – would have no Adam’s apple stuck in our throat, we wouldn’t have had to buy clothes (and get them to match and fit) and we wouldn’t have felt cold or hot and sticky. If only Eve had preferred the now proverbial kiwis.

Now I don’t wish to rage against old age at all. After all, I’m practically there – just five short years from the ID that grants me cheap tickets to opera and bus rides and free ferrying to and from Gozo. Oh the excitement of it all: plying up and down the Malta-Gozo channel all for free. Seeing all those harried eye surgeons trying desperately to jump queues would give me good fun.

Then, after the magical ID card that proves beyond all doubt that I am an old git, I might get, a few years later, a kind of pension. Then again only God knows if I will. Are those things guaranteed? Or could it be that if we keep bailing out the Greeks and the other naughty members of the eurozone with loads and loads of euro dosh, the Finance Minister of Malta might have to say: Forgive me, we don’t have any more euros to dish out? But, the Finance Minister will say: You can always go and overnight for free at the dazzling Acropolis, which might then have become a Finnish hotel. So, hopefully, by the time I’m still sane and hale enough I might be pensioned off by the state to do nothing after a lifetime of toil, trouble and dishing out taxes. And after a lifetime of longing to do nothing while being paid, I will yearn to do something useful to keep busy. Are we descendants of Adam ever happy or are we damned to eternal grumbling because of that silly fruit?

Maybe by the time I retire, Tonio Fenech, or whoever might be the next financial supremo (or supreme fiasco), will have found a way of getting the Gozo ferries to carry all old-age pensioners not just to Mġarr but also to the port of Athens. Mind you, if I’m even luckier I could get myself elected to Parliament and so be assured of some super anti-inflation pension. I will share the distinction with fellow parliamentarians of having done nothing before I retire to continue doing nothing and being paid handsomely ever after.

My gripe initially was against old age: grr, it grates so much. I should hardly complain: I’m old, it’s true, but I feel young and get others to regularly laugh at me while others are young, feel old and never ever laugh. It’s not how old you are they say but how old you feel. But a sure sign of old age is when I, who try to think of myself as hip (that word surely proves I’m old) and liberal and open to new ideas, act and sound as old and conservative as the Cabinet of ministers. My liberal credentials are all an illusion actually when I think how I gape and gawk and rant about some new fad or an old fad that takes off once again in a bigger way than ever. Can anyone explain what is great and lovely when you turn your body into an art gallery and into an installation piece with tattoos and piercings and stuff dangling from every nook and cranny of your body?

Hating tattoos and piercings must now place me with the detested guys who are part of the establishment. Ok, I plead guilty as charged. But let’s try examining the situation gravely, objectively and with an open mind. Anyone who disfigures, in any way, his/her body should be shot. Well, if not shot, subjected to something drastic to teach them a lesson as indelible as their tattoos. I referred to their tattooed bodies as an art gallery but most is horrid art, cheap rubbishy stuff, like a lot of the art in art galleries today.

So what is my proof that my take on tattoos is right? Let’s imagine a scenario in 30 years’ time. London looters are at it again. The scene is exactly the same as a few weeks ago: looting, setting fire and causing undue mayhem on all that is still fine and standing in 2041. The Prime Minister of England is in some foreign resort sunning himself – or by that time mooning himself as no one will then be allowed to expose himself or herself to any malicious sun’s rays. Camera pans onto the British Prime Minister: it could be the lack of proper lighting but the Prime Minister is seen covered in tattoos and piercings.

Could a Prime Minister full of tattoos and piercings be taken seriously? Would he be able to whizz back to England, sort out the rioters and be back on his holiday in less than 24 hours?

Even a football coach covered in tattoos would not command any respect. I mean can you imagine a heavily tattooed Fabio Capello shouting out his commands? Or can the respect that all Arsenal fans have for Arsene Wenger be still apparent if he had a nose ring?

Now zoom back home but imagine the tattoo generational change had happened a few years ago. We’d have our Prime Minister with a tiny tattoo (not his style to be too liberal) on his forehead saying: “Kate’s”. Now wouldn’t that be cute and homely?
Or what about Joseph Muscat’s body? His would surely be fuller than Lawrence Gonzi’s. He’d have his tattoos scattered all over him in multi-coloured garish and gayish style to resemble an amazing rainbow coat.

Then, all over his body, he’d have huge letters spelling: I LOVE… with various names tattooed: Luni, Dotty, Sue Ellen, Julian, Juliet, Jules, Fredu, Karmenu, Ġuża and anything that nearly rhymes with Michelle, JPO and Prim.

Do I need to say more? Can we trust these people if besides politicians they were also tattooed? So is it just my old, creaking creeping age that is the culprit or are tattoos and piercings just plain wrong?

This article first appeared in The Times October 6, 2011

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Queuing up for a couple of cucumbers

What’s happening to Malta? Keep the silly season here or we shall all die of a serious problem: the problem of taking ourselves way too seriously. And if all culprits of this malaise are to be shot I’d have to arrange a firing squad for myself. I promised myself I’d write about humour or the lack of it on this sweet land of ours and what do I do? I have already, in my intro, mentioned the words serious, problem, death and malaise. Google the article and you’d be forgiven to think that I’m Nostradamus prophesying some illness-induced universal doom.
But then, joking and firing of guns and missiles apart, we do take things seriously, don’t we? Maybe we’ve forgotten (have we as a nation started suffering from short-term memory loss?) that we took a few centuries to discuss when the divorce referendum was to be held.
Then a few more parliamentary sessions that dragged on till kingdom come to discuss the proper wording and then we debated the result and the resultant tussle with the conscience of some and the resultant passage of a law that I would have thought should have been on our statute books for long decades. But it is a land of strange deeds indeed.
Now we have gone into the sexual peccadilloes of Cyrus Engerer, the deputy mayor of Sliema, and his lover or former lover. And also his new-found love for Labour and new-found hatred for his old love, the Nationalists. I just hope he does not have impure pictures of his old political love. There’s love and perfidy in the air, so all is fun and frolic.
Cyrus is a politician, besides being other things, which he is more than free to be, lest I be accused of homophobia or some other phobia. But if he did send those photos of his ex-lover to friends, foes and other countrymen then the man is not a trustworthy lover. If a man cannot be trusted in love can he be trusted to keep our roads in Sliema nice and tidy?
But there is more hidden humour and layers of unbelievable fun. Besides the gutter sniggering of silly macho men whose horrid homophobia would scare the pants off any Commissioner of Police of the politically correct, the Cyrus saga seems to have been scripted by some creative comedian the likes of which Hollywood, Bollywood or even Eileen Montesin have never even dreamt about.
Let’s see some of the dramatis personae involved. No, let’s first ask the Stitching guy, who had a play banned because he was way too forward, to come along and get this dramatised. The censors would have a field day banning it. Too lurid for our immature minds, they would all cry in unison. Said drama would have us all at last in stitches and, maybe, we would realise we do take things, even petty things, too seriously.
Back to the cast in this long-drawn-out saga. We have a dad interrogated by the police for allegedly smoking pot; a Cyrus-lover who dumps Cyrus then forgives Cyrus but doesn’t really and who then dumps his lawyers as they are too Labour for him. We have the Labour Party leader who progressively accepts Cyrus into his rainbow fold. We have a high-ranking government official who is also godfather of Cyrus and who phones the Police Commissioner to touch base and, finally, we have a Saviour who remembers three years after the occurrence that said godfather of Cyrus used to visit him in the dead of night to give him juicy tidbits and tittle-tattle to use and publicise in his newspaper. In our Saviour we hardly trust.
If some of these plots and sub-plots were dreamt up by that silly scriptwriter mentioned above he or she would surely have been dragged to court accused of being high on pot. “The plot,” the magistrate would pronounce from his podium, “is way too silly. Console yourself in tears and resign your position this very instant!”
While all this madness was actually happening in Malta and not in some silly and inebriated mind, other stories were unfolding. A man who went on hunger strike hit the news. Again, the Labour camp jumped into the fray.
Camp, unfortunately, could be an opportune word to drag into the discussion, what with Cyrus and the gay porn star being so much in the limelight. But, then again, with Labour dying to show its rainbow credentials maybe it does want to be associated with the world of camp and maybe (just maybe) even drag and drag queens and such lurid stuff. Maybe besides the usual mayhem on Mayday, when Labour leaders all join hands bedecked in flowery wear, maybe they will now also dress in drag. Not sure if we can ask Lawrence Gonzi and his erstwhile ministers to do the same. I think their strong conscience will prick them and stop them.
So where was I? Oh yes, porn in the land. The hunger striker wanted to oust poor, beleaguered Austin Gatt. The Prime Minister, always great at saving, salvaging and solving, visited the striker who immediately ate two kiwis and Dr Gatt sighed a great sigh of relief. Not sure if it was coincidental but some Arriva routes were changed just after the man on hunger strike conceded to eat the prime kiwis.
Now the porn star-turned-human-rights-activist has embraced Dr Gonzi and his ways to the utter exasperation of Joseph Muscat.
The Labour camp was stunned: they were sure that the porn industry was all agog and behind them and their modern new ways of doing politics under one great umbrella. Now the gutter industry, or at least one of its most visible exponents in Malta, has been bought for a couple of kiwis. At least in his infinite knowledge, Dr Gonzi supplied him with kiwis.
Only divine intervention would have saved the day for the scriptwriter of our never-ending farce if he had offered the man a cucumber and a couple of figs.

This article first appeared in The Times August 27, 2011

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Santa Maria, Malta's top public holiday

Santa Maria, on 15 August is the day for you if you love festas, food, colour and joyous noise all meshed up in a panoply of fireworks and revelry. However, those not so festa friendly, may say ‘save us from Santa Maria’!

Malta is always colourful but in summer we do go ballistic especially in commemoration of village and town patron saints. Seeing the revelry that goes on during the festa band marches, it’s hard to remember that these feasts are to commemorate people who probably led an austere or merit-worthy life of good deeds.

For a glorious day of feasts nothing beats August 15. In Malta and Gozo the day is known as Santa Maria (or Santa Marija, its Maltese spelling); it’s also a public holiday. There are seven localities which hold a festa that day. Celebrations are held in style and with pizzazz in piazzas. The day is in commemoration of the ascension of Our Lady, mother of Christ. Besides the fireworks and colourful stuff, you also get a variety of food, drink and festive marches with people having endless fun. Our Lady’s entry into heaven is commemorated so grandly here on earth that she might feel a bit let down with what happens up in the heavens above.

Maltese love noise and we also adore making merry for whatever reason, be it the World Cup or the build-up to a general election. It’s not always clear whether the cause or saint being officially commemorated is really the reason for the fun which sees people cavorting in a semi- or fully-drunken stupor. But who cares why we celebrate. We do and we love seeing visitors joining in the fun.

Santa Marija is however also celebrated solemnly (religiously and in good taste in churches throughout Malta) and with gusto in these localities whose parishes honour her: Attard, Mosta, Mqabba, Qrendi, Gudja, Ghaxaq, and Victoria, Gozo (for a full list of Parish Feasts in August, click here).

I must warn you about Gozo on the eve of Santa Maria. A horde of Malta residents heads to Gozo around the 15 August as the week around Santa Marija see most firms shutdown for a summer recess. Ferry trips to and from the sister isle can be a bit more time consuming. If you are going up, remember to take a lot of water and sun protection as you’ll get dehydrated out on the scorching Tarmac at the Cirkewwa ferry terminal as you can wait up to an hour with no shade! Ah, what we do for a holiday! Perhaps it’s best to stay in those airy, cool churches and celebrate the feast that way!

This article first appeared in Malta Inside Out August 2011

Photo: Leslie Vella

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Libyan crisis: a personal view

While business is important nothing is as harrowing as human loss

After the quick ouster of Ben Ali from Tunisia and Mubarak from Egypt some thought or hoped that Gaddafi would be hounded out of Libya in a few days or weeks. The scenario imagined was that the swift transition would then hopefully lead to a type of democratic government; after a few months or years of reconstruction all would have turned rosy and business-like in Libya and also in the neighbouring lands. Dreams obviously are hardly the usual currency used in these times and situations. And the dream of a resurgent, free Libya has sadly turned into a veritable nightmare with its attendant loss of lives and material.

The Libyan crisis has gone on for quite a while and for a long time did not seem to abate or find any solution. Only lately, and after incessant attacks by Nato and some other allies and a seeming draining of the inestimable riches of the old regime, does it seem probable that the fall of Gaddafi is imminent. The rebels, even if assisted by some pounding from the air by NATO and other allies, did not seem to have made much headway against the forces of Gaddafi. Deaths, strategic rape and maiming by the Gaddafi troops, coupled with inefficient and ineffectual rebel forces had contributed to the long-drawn-out stalemate. Gaddafi, his inner and extended family and his cohorts of business associates and backers, desperately tried to keep their hold on Libya and take back the parts of the country they had lost to the rebels. In the meantime people were dying and getting injured.
It is quite amazing that after 40 odd years of subduing and subjugating suffering, the Libyan people, following on the lead of neighbouring populations, rose and seemed to be heading to the same quick results. Gaddafi seemed lost and in a panic – notably when, for some strange PR or morale effect, he first spoke to the nation under a clown’s umbrella after descending from a battered car. Even Saif el islam, his heir apparent, seemed cornered and promised in a bizarre way even “more” democracies and liberties. Now he has once again promised free elections. This promise, coupled with his father’s infamous threat to go from house to house and seek, hound and kill the rebels, seemed to indicate that even in the Gaddafi household not all was rosy and united.

Saif el islam Gaddafi, the son with the influential friends from the west and a loved champion of opening up Libya to more humane western-friendly methods, seemed to imply that in return for remaining in power the Gaddafis would shower the population with ‘more’ liberties. He said this while emphasising that the population is not exactly the most intelligent or deserving: but it doesn’t really matter as, he further implied, we Gaddafis have plenty of liberties in our sack to dish out. It is one of those bizarre stories that show up these tin-pot dictators, even if savvy-sounding and highly educated in the west, for what they really are: to them dishing out a few “liberties” would solve the problem. When the reality was, and unfortunately has, remained that what the population, or a vast majority of it, wants, first of all, is the immediate removal of the regime in toto, and the hope of a better way of life afterwards. Sadly when you have been suffering for over 40 years, any respite is good, so although there might be strange hands lurking behind the rebels, the ones who matter most –the people−want just that: the ouster of the tyrant and basic rights to live happily without constant worries and to have all the western attributes of free press, proper justice and the possibility of running your business or enterprise without interference.
That was the common dream but the nightmare scenario goes on and people go on dying. Unconfirmed and unconfirmable statistics talk of 10,000 dead amongst the rebels. The country which has one of the world’s most lucrative oil supplies is in a paralytic state and all this has contributed to more jitters in the world and plenty of worrying on our shores especially regarding the immigration influx, business and tourism angles.
It is only fair and right to worry and shed tears about the troubles we, as a nation, are facing. But it would be rather more humane and even proper decency to be more concerned with the shed blood and tears of the peoples of Libya. Even if one does not go into the merits or demerits of who is right and who is wrong, we all appreciate that there has been a horrid loss of lives. After living for so long in a country where basic human rights, which we in Malta and in the west take for granted, were denied, they asked for their own share of a better life and all they got was a barrage of tank and sniper fire. So even if the crisis in Libya comes off the centre stage of media attention, we should all keep in mind that all our suffering or potential suffering is a non-starter when compared to what the Libyan people had and have to endure.
We rightly worry about the consequences of the business backlash we are suffering in Malta; we also talk about the effects on the employment of people who were working in Libya; we talk of the potential harm to our tourism sector with bookings being cancelled because of our proximity to the war; we talk of the business ventures of Maltese companies which invested heavily in Libya; we talk of companies which have Libyan co-ownership and which therefore have an inflow of capital suspended because of sanctions; we talk of the very real onslaught of immigrants who are coming to our land and whom we cannot accommodate properly. All this is most blatantly and worryingly true but all pales into insignificance when we think of the dead and maimed and the grieving family members of the dead. All this should be kept in its proper perspective if we are to keep alive our humanitarian viewpoint.
When some of the comments regarding “our” suffering are taken into consideration it does seem that the racist slur on us is valid. We are not seen to commiserate in our feelings towards the Libyans because we, as a nation, seem to look at them with distaste. Would this apparent coolness of ours be the same if all this human suffering was happening in Britain, Spain or Italy? Only a hundred kilometers divide us from Libya and most Maltese people sound and look more like them than the vast number of Europeans to our North. And yet we do not seem to empathise enough. Malta definitely has a headache which has grown to a worrying degree because of the neighbouring troubles. But do we keep in mind that the neighbour, especially some of its people, has a terrible and, most probably, a malignant tumour? Our headache will take a few days to pass unless we speed up the recovery by popping a few pills into our system. Libya’s condition and the condition of its inhabitants is more worrying and could last long years of suffering and surgery. The country as a country we knew till a few months ago could die and out of it a warring or worrying two countries could be born. And we dare worry about us?
But although we should give more time and thought to the Libyan plight it is not right to sit back and do nothing. After all it is a terrible headache we have. And so to work and to proper work we should go. Is there anything that can be done in these circumstances and if the authorities, the nation in general and the institutions are doing anything, are they doing enough?
The Labour Party in opposition had called on Government to hold a parliamentary debate on the subject with a view to assisting the companies most at risk and most likely to have problems, with special emphasis on employment. The motion presented by the Labour Party talked of discussing the “real situation” of Maltese investment and investors in Libya. Real as opposed to fictitious? The Maltese Parliament seemed to be lost in simple semantics and long drawn out discussions regarding divorce or, to be more precise, the exact dating and wording of the divorce referendum. Now we will be going on and on about the proper wording of the divorce bill both before and after it is promulgated.
Offering assistance to companies stuck in the Libyan quagmire might seem right at first sight but can government intervene in this way and help companies which invested in a country which had a high risk factor? Further reading of the proposed Labour motion in Parliament which, it seems, will remain collecting various mothballs and whatever happens to undiscussed motions, reveals that the opposition are proposing that government assists the companies affected by the Libyan crisis without adding new tax burdens on the Maltese and Gozitan taxpayers. I doubt whether there exist too many options to assist these companies without a dip into the government’s coffers but maybe that is why government should accept to discuss the motion. It would be interesting to hear what the opposition’s ideas are to help the companies in distress without any money flowing out.
Government had pledged to give all stricken companies a longer timeframe to pay off their tax dues. This was a positive step. But if government does assist these companies materially this could give out the wrong message. In the future, if companies invest in countries with risky economies which usually give tantalising returns, they will do so with more confidence knowing full well that if that country falters the government would be there to bail them out.
A comparison was made with the way government acted when the 2008 recession to end all recessions hit or was soon to hit Malta. Then the government had rightly made calculated and opportune undertakings with some manufacturing companies which were most hit by the economic meltdown. What government offered these companies was help to give them enough oxygen to keep their employee levels and to generate more business. The turnaround of the world’s economies then found these companies even stronger so thanks to government assistance the employment levels of Malta were kept intact and this contributed to the economic turnaround of the whole of Malta. But no single market or line of markets was singled out.
No one has yet said what the investment level of Maltese companies in Libya is. And few have actually terminated any employment of staff stationed in Libya. Neither has the investment of Libyan companies in Malta been quantified. The estimated number of Maltese personnel working in Libya was at the time of the start of the hostilities given as 500. One of the few statistics that was announced by government was the number of companies that applied for assistance to Malta Enterprise. The number was 70 but no more details were announced of size of investment or of the assistance sought. Whatever the quantifiable numbers are, the ripple effects of all this is enormous. Besides the direct involvement and suffering of Maltese companies with huge investments in Libya and all the employees affected there are a vast number of effects the Libyan problem has and will have on the Maltese islands’ economy. Schools, accommodation rental, services rendered to people working in Libya, flights of expats who had a base in Malta but worked in Libya.
Just as Government is giving extended timeframes to these companies to settle their tax dues, maybe some assistance could be offered by associations like the Chamber of Commerce to make a case to places like the Freeport and the bonded stores to charge less for storage of merchandise which was destined for Libya. Right now the stock in these warehouses is not worth anything, as Libya and Libyan companies are not in a state to accept any commercial purchases. If Government owes anything to these companies maybe some form of expedited payment could be introduced to assist them in their cash flow plight.
All this and more creative thinking on the part of all the stakeholders needs to be done immediately so that the companies and the people who are suffering the indirect consequences of the problem in Libya will not carry on doing so unduly. Business of course will eventually stabilise. Countries ravaged by bitter civil wars, like Spain back in the thirties, have managed to somehow resolve their problems and suffering. Libya will be back on its feet, hopefully soon, although at the moment this seems rather unlikely. Hopefully the little assistance, whether moral or financial, offered to the companies caught in this Libyan crisis, will keep them buoyant and successful in other markets.
Government and the opposition were uncharacteristically united in how to tackle the Libyan crisis when it came to UN resolutions and any military action. They opted not to join any military strikes and hardly condemned the Gaddafi regime and when they did condemn it was always done to make sure it wasn’t too blatant. Except for one or two oblique comments, the Prime Minister, Dr Gonzi, hardly came out in favour of the rebels. The Labour party did even less. Was all this done most to ensure our investments remain intact? It also made us sound as the lovers of double speak, saying little as vaguely and in as contradictory a way as possible. There have been comments by our Minister of Foreign Affairs which could never be fully understood even by an expert in official verbiage.
By not taking sides we are trying to guarantee doing business with both sides. This could be more of a millstone for the Maltese nation and its investments than a good move. We have been acting like the perpetual indecisive people who prefer sitting on the fence and never taking sides. We dilly dally, hoping not to antagonise anyone when in actual fact we annoy both sides in the Libyan conflict as well as all the countries which are waging attacks on Libya. The fact that it has been a complete disaster does not mean we were right. Malta never condemned the attacks on Libya; it just said we are neutral and cannot be a part of a military campaign. Neutrality is an anachronism that should be binned as soon as possible. Neutral from whom? This neutrality stance was adopted when the world was divided in two superpower blocs intent on building unbelievable stockpiles of nuclear warheads and other war-like strategies and stratagems. As a concept it sounds more like a neutering of us even in the face of UN actions. Have the Maltese politicians forgotten that Bush (the older, less bellicose one) and Gorbachev ironically met in Malta and since then the cold war and all its attendant miseries have ended? And just because Germany did the same and did not offer to assist in the attacks on Libya does not mean it, or the decision, is right. The German fear of being tainted again with war and blood seems to have gone deep into their psyche and made them incapable of taking proper, decisive steps in military matters. It seemed strange and rang hollow that the biggest and the smallest nation in the EU washed their hands of any assistance in the military strikes in Libya.
This does not mean that the military action in Libya has been successful. It has been a disaster of a scale that even the old rat Gaddafi, who should be cowering and seeking refuge in some strange pariah state, has withstood it all for way too long. He will never regain his former ludicrously pompous glory and cannot hope to regain all his former bullying stands even if he miraculously still clings on to power by playing a game of chess. Ironically the USA, the former bully in any intervention, even when not sanctioned by the UN, wasnot bellicose enough and tried hard to be a jolly non-aggressive policeman.. Although a bungler and a bully, if George Bush (the younger) was in power he would have sent in his troops even faster than the UN could have called for a meeting. This might have compounded the problem but at least Gaddafi would have quaked and shook and could have fled even before the troops were sent. Instead all Gaddafi heard were some whimpers from the UN and the rest of the Western allies. France and Britain tried hard to act tough but alone, without the USA, they are a toothless couple.
Whatever our economic investment and whatever our status as special neighbour to Libya, we should have denounced the Gaddafi regime as corrupt, violent, anti-democratic and ruthless in its attacks against its own people. And we should have stated most strongly that we oppose the Gaddafi regime even if we might lose his support if he is to ever take over the whole country. It has always been a very strange country, with Gaddafi and his children holding a terrible grip on it. Strangely, the Gaddafis who seem mainly in charge ─ Muammar and Saif ─ both hold no official post and in fact the father once actually asked in his half-jocular half-ominous way what he was to resign from if he was not in charge and held no official post. So although they are de facto in charge they have no position. Having said all this, everyone – Gaddafis included−knows they were very much in charge and have unleashed long anti-democratic powers over their countrymen since Gaddafi took over way back in 1969.

Economies suffer, companies crash, and terrible consequences like unemployment and relative deprivation could seem not just earth-shattering but also the worst scenarios. All this however pales into insignificance when compared to blood, death and human suffering.
As a tail-end to this insight into the Libya situation I would like to quote a story highlighting how wrong articles can be. Please bear with me if the contents you are reading will prove to be completely wrong, unprophetic or wholly out of date. A few months ago the Economist had the following comment: “One of the obvious difficulties with lead times in the magazine industry is the way events can overtake stories. This is problem enough with a weekly publication such as The Economist, but the results can look even more bizarre in a monthly. Thus in an article in its April issue titled ‘The 15 best places to see right now’, Conde Nast traveller told readers to head to Libya. It said ‘With Syria being called the new Morocco and Beirut the new Provinectown, travelers with an eye for antiquity are moving on to Libya.’ The magazine went to press on February 15th, the same day as thousands of Libyans held a rally to protest against the arrest of a well-known human-rights campaigner. In an online version of the article the editor points out the unsuitability of the recommendation.”
How apt to keep this in mind when reading this appraisal and realising that if I am off the mark in some or all of my comments think of the time it takes for articles to be written, processed, checked and ultimately published.

This article first appeared in The Executive