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