Keeping Up Appearances

 

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It was a toss-up whether I would call this blog what I did, or “Are You Being Served?” or “Delusions of Adequacy”, with apologies to Walter Kerr, for all three titles would fit equally well.

A friend of mine called me a while ago – she’s ecstatic about “how fun” the new waterpark at Buġibba is.

Frankly, I spent most of my childhood there, so I fail to see what could be more attractive than a mix of sun and sea in equal combinations. But then- I speak as an old fuddy-duddy who has rarely felt the “need” to take my children to the playground and never to the erstwhile only water-fun park, for entertainment.

On spec, I knew that some of my childhood summer friends, and other people would have something – a lot  – to say about it, so I set about contacting them and asked a couple of non-leading questions about the project.

Thinking back at how soon the ice-skating rink had to close for lack of patrons, it is obvious that projects of a certain magnitude will not be undertaken by the private sector – ah, but this is “state money”, and so we can “afford” it.  Especially since it’s not a year-round operation which, in itself, leads one to think that “all that money” is being spent for a fraction of the time it could feasibly be enjoyed. So why is the place dotted with lamp-posts?

It was eye-opening, to say the least, that this was one of the projects that not “all” the PN supporters praised, and “all” PL supporters criticised.  Arguments were based more on how much technology affects today’s child, and how environmentally sound this idea was.

The word is that there will be another water-park ‘in the South’ – this, then perpetrates the idea that unless anything the North (or thereabouts) gets, and the South does not, there is a Great Divide and also a wealth of ammunition for Parliamentarians representing the South to use in Parliament.

Mind you, if I were MP for the South I would grumble that “our” park was not inaugurated first – but that’s my stock-in-trade Maltese gemgem.

When I was a child, we were expected to create our own entertainment; it must have been good for me not to have access to a television set through summer, and to be able to enjoy the sea from March to November. The sea had no opening and closing hours – we sometimes actually managed a swim before 8.00am Mass, too.

Some insisted that it makes sense for the park to close early – because otherwise the children would have to change their clothes to avoid getting a chill. Really? Is there no such thing as a changing room where the adults could towel down their child in privacy before setting off for home “tired but happy” as we used to end out English essays about “a day at the beach”?

Today’s children need to be entertained with “something” –water is not just the sea’ – but it comes in a bucket that tips over or a cannon-type hose that may be aimed. Similarly, television is no longer ‘enough’ – they need an interactive screen and merchandising and possibly sugar-laden edible tat with the picture of their favourite characters plastered over the packets.

The few times I went to a romp-around with children in my care, I always got a migraine because of the smell of the equipment.

Frankly, I am alarmed at the fact that fresh water is being used for this project – how often is it going to be tested for pathogens?  We have it on record that The water coming out of the features will be gathered (sic), filtered and sanitised through UV sterilisation and with chlorine; which means, of course, that it will taste just like the water in certain swimming pools, and annoy some of the children.

Sea water, given the close proximity of the bay, might have been a cheaper option; but with the heat, the water would evaporate, leaving a thin coating of salt over the equipment once the pumps are shut down for the night. Salt would also damage the equipment.

Incidentally, will the water be cooled?  We all know how soon water-play has to stop if it’s done in the open air, because the water becomes too warm for comfort.

Children have their priorities – they would rather visit the Ta’ Qali or Play Mobil parks than do the Magro Brothers factory tour. Most adults would prefer the latter. Parents can set their mind at rest that their children are playing with water kindly provided by the Nanny State – and whereas they can slip, they cannot drown.

Businesses in the area might enjoy the influx of people – but then again, they might eventually realise that a parent who brings a child to the water-fun park might also have the foresight to bring along a packed lunch.

The argument that these state-provided amenities are free, and carer especially to those on the poverty line, pales into insignificance when you consider that the family (read at least one parent and one child) have to travel to  get to wherever the park is, unless it is within walking distance.

Some of my interviewees lauded these initiatives because they keep children away from social sites and associated ‘dangers’; so here we see the assumption that in Maltese families, discipline has flown out of the window. It’s just not logical to say that it is this type of entertainment that will keep children from becoming morbidly obese.

Just for the record, when my children were still young, I used to ask them which treat they preferred – going out (for a picnic, to the playground, etc.) or playing with water in the yard. Inevitably, they chose the latter.

I was reminded, again and again, that schemes like this water-fun park mushroom when an election is in the offing. I was told I ought to be thankful that this park was not built on land reclaimed from the sea, as has been done elsewhere, namely in the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, the Netherlands and South Korea. This, it was emphasised, would have [spoilt] the whole Maltese ecosystem, since we are a small country and it is not the correct choice for us.

Some of the conversations I had, such as the above, bordered on the surreal, and proved that in Malta, everything has the potential to be turned into a political hash-up.

Incidentally, will provision be made for children with mobility problems, or other disabilities, to enjoy these amenities with an adult helper?

 

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