Danger Money…?

This morning’s weather is rather more benign than yesterday’s, with the wind coming from a more westerly direction and the sky a rich, deep blue once again. The white-caps still chase each other across the ocean, but they’re playful rather than malicious.

Damage from the wind seems most evident on the tree-lined esplanade, with leaves all over the place and numerous palm fronds littering the pavement. What could, however, look like a disaster area of flora, is anything but.  Street sweepers are out this morning, dicing with death on the roadside as traffic (Maltese drivers take no prisoners) hurtles past with scant regard for their seemingly vulnerable position.

Exiles Bay: the big clean up after the big blow.

Exiles Bay: the big clean up after the big blow.

While the big clean up goes on I ponder my fellow guests in this hotel.

I accept there’s no such thing as a perfect hotel, so I always book the best I can afford. I mean, you only get what you pay for, don’t you? You can ask for a balcony; you can ask for a sea view or any number of extras, but you can’t request no Eastern Europeans, can you?

I’m an easy going sort of person and, since I’ve been in Malta I’ve met and had pleasant conversations with Dutch, Germans, English and Italians. I’ve been on nodding terms with Japanese. As expected, there are zillions of Maltese here and I’ve had happy exchanges with all I’ve met. But then there are the others…

I never thought the rise of the European Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall would have such a down side but, between them, these two major events have brought upon Western Europe an onslaught of bullies, of uncouth louts, loud and large, whose main purpose in life is to make everyone else’s a misery. And that’s just the women.

Stepping out of the lift the other day I was forcibly shoved back inside by four matryoshka (babushka) dolls; in the restaurant where breakfast is a d.i.y. smorgasbord, I was trodden on by a hefty lump of tattooed beef while trying to spoon scrambled egg on to my plate.

The occupants of the next room are similar. They are large and noisy and were out on the town until the early hours, when they returned to the hotel shouting at each other, then slammed the room door and crashed – or trashed – furniture.

I did so enjoy helping my door to slam at 7.30am as I headed down for an early breakfast this morning. I hope they were not too drunk to sleep through it. There are some people it’s only right and proper to wish a murderously severe hangover upon.

 

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A Different Sort of Day

 

This morning was not so hot. When I left for Valletta a strengthening breeze from a more-or-less northerly direction, stirred up the sea and created white-caps, yet the sky remained mostly blue until about 11am, when things began to change. A wispy veil of stratus materialised out of nowhere and crept across the sky and, though the sun still shone through, the colour of the sea changed from sapphire to pale blue-grey. The jolly white-caps of the morning became something altogether more threatening.

IMG_0224By the time I returned from Valletta at 4pm the sun had gone and the spray from the waves as they crashed against the esplanade showered anyone foolish enough to get too close to the edge. Plumes of spray like horses’ manes streamed behind the incoming waves, now a dark green-grey colour, as they raced towards the breakwater and crashed over it and into the usually sheltered waters of the marina, setting tall yacht masts swaying in great arcs.

I once sailed from Malta to Syracuse (Sicily) in a storm. A whole lot of jolly good fun when you’re a child and all the adults around you are sick as dogs. Not so much fun, I suspect, for the “Star of Malta” insurers, for the deck cargo was washed clean overboard. I must ask cousin Charles if he remembers that journey, for he and Dorothy travelled with my parents and myself on that occasion, way back in 1954. 

This morning I spent a fruitful couple of hours in the Archaeological Museum in Republic Street. Malta’s history goes way back, with the inner core building in the stone temple complex at Hagar Qim dated conservatively at 10,000 years old. How do you get your head around such numbers?

 

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Visiting Charles

Cousin Charles and I go back a long way, to 1946 or thereabouts, and he is entirely responsible for my interest in aviation. In those early days my parents lived in Wallington, Surrey, close to what was then the airport for London, Croydon Airport. You will appreciate that Heathrow was barely on the drawing board at that time.

Being a curious sort of fellow, Charles took me by the hand and we explored the local park at Purley, in the middle of which stood a brick public toilet block. Its flat roof made a perfect viewing platform and, with no apparent effort, he climbed to the top, hauling me with him. I don’t know how long we stood up there watching the distant aircraft landing and taking off, because the passage of time doesn’t register with a small child, but I remember him looking at his watch and saying that my parents would be furious if we were late for lunch.

Back on the ground I knew I wanted to be ‘up there’. That’s the exact point at which my own fascination with flight began. See, it’s all your fault, Charles.

Charles keeping busy

Charles keeping busy

Now we’re both getting on a bit – Charles slightly more so than myself – it seems hard to fathom how swiftly the years have flown. His lovely wife of 64 years, Dorothy, died earlier this year and, though he keeps busy (very busy), there’s no denying her loss has taken its toll.

I visited him yesterday at his home in Birkirkara, and we talked about events, both recent and not so recent. I’d been fortunate to attend his mother’s (my favourite aunt’s) 100th birthday a few years ago. An amazing lady who, when handed a microphone, could still sing football songs, she passed away just a few months later. I might be biased, but these great people played such an important role in my early life that I feel a huge sadness that they’re no longer around. It’s also a bit lonely now.

 

 

 

 

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A Day in Paradise

I walked past the Auberge to the Upper Barracca Gardens, avoiding, as far as possible, the crocodiles of tourists from the two MSC liners currently tied up in the harbour.  Grand Harbour holds such a fascination for me and the best view is definitely from this place. On such a perfect day the 27C temperature was quite bearable, even for me. The breeze fooled me though, and the sun burnt my nose.

Tall arches casting surprisingly adequate shadows

Tall arches casting surprisingly adequate shadows

The tall arches cast enough shadow on some of the bench seats and, from time to time, it was rather nice to ‘take the shade’.

The harbour is unusual in that it’s not only busy but beautiful, too. There’s always something going on. Two tugs motor across the harbour at a fine rate of knots and several of the island’s old kaijiks, now motorised, take tourists for cruises on the incredibly blue waters of the harbour.

With the approach of noon, announcements are made that the noon salute is imminent, and onlookers crowd the balcony overlooking the battery to watch this event. A soldier marches smartly out from beneath to prepare one of the cannons and, after much poking and loading of charges, on the strike of twelve, fires the cannon, which envelopes itself and its immediate surrounds in thick smoke. A very impressive spectacle and one not easy to photograph without flinching!

Preparing the cannon...

Preparing the cannon…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready.... steady...

Ready…. steady…

Fire!

Fire!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stepping Out

As I sit at the laptop writing this I really long for an Air New Zealand bean bag. Who ever decided to introduce such a clever idea should have been rewarded with a knighthood at least. Instead of the sometimes strange, sometimes awkward, occasionally downright uncomfortable footrests airlines build into their passenger seats, ANZ provide a purple bean bag. It’s lightweight, has no sharp corners to bang ankles or stub toes on, and you can kick and shove it into the perfect shape and position for you. I need one here, now.

With clean clothes I ventured forth on public transport to Valletta. My first shock was to see youngsters (of both sexes) offering up their seats on the crowded bus to ladies – and men – of advancing years. This wasn’t an occasional thing, it was 100% across the board. How refreshing!

The second shock was the awfulness of the modernisation of Kingsgate, now called something else, the entrance to Valletta. The grand archway has gone, and the stalls of fresh Maltese bread which used to be set up in the shade of that vast archway are now on the outside of the city entrance. And the crisp, crusted loaves now sweat inside their plastic wrappings. I know it’s a health and hygiene thing, but for centuries the Maltese have been eating crusty bread so why impose this leathery stuff on them now?

Columns at the site of the new Opera House. I'm sure someone must like this strange, stark rebuild.

Columns at the site of the new Opera House. I’m sure someone must like this strange, stark rebuild.

The third shock was the Opera House. This was bombed in (I think) 1942 and the ruins had remained, a stark reminder of man’s ability to smash the playthings of others, for some seventy-odd years, quite untouched. Now it is sort of half rebuilt, yet not. It has a couple of new pillars which stick up like posts hastily driven into the ground for no particular reason. On the floor are tiers of bright green plastic chairs, impossibly garish. Tell me this is not how it will always be. Tell me this is a half-way measure, a fill-in until proper rebuilding can be completed. Please…

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