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