Ten More Things Only Someone Approaching 60 Would Remember About Malta


1. Comics – each weekend, we would roll out of bed and fly to the stationer’s, first thing, to get our weekly dose of Beano or Dandy. The girly girls had Bunty, with a cut-out doll and her clothes on the back page. The position of the limbs and head was always slightly different, so clothes from one week would not fit the doll from another… I know!  There were also Mandy, Tina, Jinty, Diana, Judy, and others. The more studious teens bought Look and Learn, or, later, Knowledge (which had better paper, but was not as good). Then there were the absolute nerds, who bought the magazines that had the words of popular songs (English or Italian versions) and learned them all by heart. The more hip bought Jackie.




2. Hikes – The Great Outside was a magnet, when there were no electronic devices to hypnotise young minds. Packed lunches, frozen soft drinks that melted as one travelled, and fruits and nuts…all these made for parties on the move. The sedentary version of this was either a picnic, when it was held in the open air, or a Bottle Party, when it was held in someone’s residence. The adult version was a pot-luck lunch or supper. 


3. Penfriends – the more you had, the more bohemian and avant-garde you were considered.  And if you could say a couple of words that Dominik from Austria or Akio from Japan taught you, it was even better. For the boys, of course, if the girl was a looker it gave them a couple of extra Brownie points. Ditto for the girls if the boy was handsome. Of course, it n ever entered our minds that the photos could have been of someone else, and Photoshop had not been invented yet.


4. Platform shoes – they gave us extra height, but less inches of boys to choose from, especially since during teen years, boys tend to be shorter than their female peers. Twisted ankles (and sometimes broken legs) were par for the course. Some of these shoes were plug ugly, and some were simply adult Mary Janes. You could not wear platforms of more than one inch (measured by a ruler) for school.




5. Rediffusion – Those who grew up with 24/7 radio find it hard to believe that the olden days local version came packaged in a Bakelite or wooden box with a grille at the front. Transmissions began at 6.00am, and went on till 11.00pm – and in some households the set was never switched off. There were two switches A (local) and B (English-speaking). The clanging of bells on the latter, on a Sunday morning, signalled the Tom Meijer Happy Station Show, from Radio Nederland (Hilversum).




6. Retreats – these days they are known as live-ins.  Mostly single-sex, but, rarely, also “mixed”, these were held from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons at retreat houses (these days even hotels are used). The idea was to remove youth from the temptations afforded by Carnival (Halloween was not even an issue back then), or to orchestrate socialisation opportunities during school holidays and / or long weekends. The schedules consisted of Mass, group meetings, talks, meals, and free time, during which one could catch up on reading and correspondence, do crafts, meditate, or  talk with fellow ‘hermits’. 


7. Sweetmeat Cigarettes – These were either bubble-gum or sickly sweet sticks, or soft chocolate covered with edible rice paper. The tip was red, so one could pretend to be smoking “like an adult”. The preferred  bubble-gum, though, was Bubbly – a gob of lurid pink latex-like substance that could be blown into bubbles big enough to stick to the face and hair when they inevitably burst.   




8. The Chalet – this used to be an outdoor restaurant / dolceria / restaurant / cafeteria on the Sliema front, run by the Axisa family. It fell to wrack and ruin, and became the ultimate challenge for macho men, and some women, to show their bravado by leaping off the roof into the sea below. Many injuries were reported, and despite padlocks and gates having been installed, these days some people are chancing their luck, and their lives there, again. 




9. Thunderbirds – the originals were much better than the recent copies. The Tracy brothers marionettes, with the jerky movements, were named after Mercury Seven astronauts – Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Gordon Cooper, and Alan Shepard.  Lady Penelope operated from Creighton-Ward Mansion as British Agent for International Rescue. Stingray was the “marine” version of this series:  the more fascinating female interest was 19-year-old Marina, daughter of Aphony, ruler of Pacifica, the underwater shell city. She was rescued by Troy Tempest and Phones from the evil underwater Sea Lord Titan. 






10. Winner Soft Drinks – These came in lemonade, orange / tangerine, and cola flavours, and were delivered in old wooden crates that often smelled of damp. The logo was a horseshoe, under which there was a horse’s head.  We also had Royal Crown Cola, and Kicks, which was, I suppose, a cheap imitation of Kick, which in turn was marketed as “The hard-core, psycho, nitro drink in a can!” We had Mirinda (which means admirable or wonderful in Esperanto), Teem, and Rodeo.





Ten Things Only Someone Approaching 60 Would Remember About Malta


 1. Borma Forn – not quite a home oven, not quite a Dutch oven, not quite a Bundt pan with a lid… This was the ideal pot to use over the spiritiera. Prepare it in the morning, and by the time the family sits down to lunch they’d have a delicious meal of gooey melted onions, carrots, chicken, and boulangère potatoes, peppered with fennel seeds, that would be crunchy on the top but melty at the bottom. Of course you could use it on the hob too, and inside the oven, without the lid, it made deliciously moist cakes. Some handles were removable – those that were not left a nasty smell in the air when heated.


2. Buses in Glorious Technicolor – the illiterate and confused, but not the colour-blind, didn’t have problems deciding whether they ought to make a dash for the bus that would just be leaving its berth. You didn’t have to ask the driver of a three-numbered vehicle whether it passed through Triq iż-Żinżel, because it either did… or didn’t. Commuters to or from Żabbar would feel especially lucky if they chanced a bus the driver of which was a member of Taż-Żiffa family… their family nickname was self-explanatory.



 3. Cinemas – these were not the huge, air-conditioned mega-halls of today. They were crummy places, smelling of stale cigarette smoke, and some of the seats would have been vandalised. It was not unusual to see cockroaches roaming the aisles when the lights were turned on – or even feel them on your skin when you were snacking. In an effort to drum up audiences, the distributors set contests (“Which of the characters died in Towering Inferno?” Easy: write the names, and cross them off as they perish…), or gave printed slips of pink paper that doubled as free tickets, in the hope that the recipients would take a paying guest along.   

4. London vs. Oxford – Before Matsec (and Abacus) fouled up the system, one could (almost) decide for which set of examinations to sit when it came to ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels. One could also sit for language exams in Form IV, to get them over and done with and, at least theoretically, be able to concentrate on Biology and Geography and kindred topics. This practice was stopped when students were accused of skipping lessons or acting the fool when they did attend. Moreover, some schools insisted that students sit for language exams again, in form V, so as to have a “full set” of results… and students rarely defied the Head of School, who would obviously be contact when said student would be seeking a jo

 5. Manual Typewriters – touch-typing lessons enabled some whiz-kids to reach speeds of 60 words or more per minute. Sometimes, however, the keys got stuck, and messed up the proceedings. Ribbons needed to be changed – a messy affair if you were all thumbs. Electric typewriters made things somewhat easier – but (expensive) ribbons came in tamper-proof, closed cassettes and could not be reused. So-called golf-ball electric typewriters had the letters on a removable ball (different fonts were available); they were prone to malfunctions and did not last long on the market. Some of us passed the time making pictures and portraits using punctuation marks and letters, for which there were manuals.


6. Pop Idols – Marc Bolan, David Cassidy, Donny Osmond… all these were pinups, and crushes, mostly for the girls, coming after the Beatles and before the Boy Bands. Some of us could not be bothered with these ‘boys’. So we fan-girled Adam Ant, or Elton John, or Bryan Ferry. Posters were available in Jackie magazine (which got its name from Jacqueline Wilson, author of the Tracy Beaker and related series).


7. Stork – I knew with all my being that it was not butter, because it left a cloying taste in my mouth, despite the tagline “togħma ta’ krema, togħma ta’ Stork”. Stork was – and still is – a household name. Whipping it up with an equal quantity of salted butter made it almost palatable.

8. The Mangiadischi – as the name indicates, this piece of equipment ‘ate’ 45 r.p.m. discs (it did not take long playing records).  It also ate up batteries, because since it was portable, and depended on them for power, playing discs non-stop made sure of that.  Then there were cassette-recorders, with which we complied tapes from songs played on the radio. Disc jockeys made sure of ruining the game through platter-chatter over the music.

9. The Seaview Hotel, Buġibba – this belonged to the Jesuits. Retreats were held there, as in Mount Saint Joseph and Manresa House (Gozo) these days. Sunday Mass was celebrated for the summer population. But the advent of the half-naked, bucket-and-spade brigade tourists meant it could no longer function as a place of rest and peace and quiet, so it was put on the market.

10. Youth Centres etc. – Parents tended to be stricter then, than they are now. Sleep-overs were few and far between. So their offspring joined the Parish Youth Club, the Guides / Scouts, Catholic Action, or the Legion of Mary… on the age-old principle of needs must when the Devil drives.  Belonging to an authentic association gave them access to both legitimate outings and ‘genuine’ alibis. It did no harm that sometimes, one met potential wives or husbands during activities held by the said group(s), either. 



5 x 10 Ways to say Ħamallu






Everyone and his uncle is bandying the word ‘bogan’ about, these days. It’s starting to lose its lustre – if it ever had any. So let’s get more imaginative.


1. Billingsgate / Oyster wife


Unlike fishwives in fishing villages such as Cullercoats and Newhaven, who were celebrated for their beauty and diligence, the ones of Billingsgate took snuff and smoked pipes, drank gin and swore like sailors.


2. Chav / chavster     


A chava is a lass in Spanish – but she has nothing to do with a chav, who usually wears branded (usually imitation) clothing, with or without bling. Lance Manley, in his book Stab Proof Scarecrows by, said it was the acronym for council housed and violent, but lexicographer Eric Partridge gives its date of origin as c. 1860. The word probably comes from the Romani chavi, child.



3. Redneck / rabble / scum / undesirables


People use the term redneck when they really mean Trailer Trash at worst, or cracker / hillbilly at best (in a manner of speaking). Originally, the term was used to describe farmers, whose bodies were protected by work clothes, but whose necks turned red from the sun.   


4. WAG


These are the wives and girlfriends of professional athletes, but generally speaking, of football players. They are not usually known for being shrinking violets. WAGs past and present include Alessandria Merz; Carly Zucker; Carrie Underwood; Ciara; Gabriella Lenzi; Gisele Bündchen; Hilary Duff; Irina Shayk; Keshia Chante; Khloe Kardashian; Kim Sears;  La La Anthony; Lena Gercke; Lisa Roughead; Margaret Natsuki; Michaela Henderson-Thynne; Natalia Velez; Nawal Ayoub; Nicole Scherzinger; Sam Cooke; Sarah Brandner; Shakira; Vanessa Perroncel; Victoria Beckham; Xisca Perello; Yolanthe Cabau.


5. Peasants / Plebian / Philistine / Proletariat


A little alliteration never harmed anyone. Romans were either high-class patricians, or lower-class plebeians, just one step above from the populace (the commoners). The plebs tended to be nouveau-riche – more money than manners.




It does not stop here.  If you want to insult anyone about his lack of nous and savoir faire, kindly select a term from the following:


Barbarian /  Bourgeoisie / Commoner / Hoi polloi /  Low-class  /  Lowlife / Riffraff / Rude / Uncouth / Uncultured / Untutored / Yob.


Death Watch




I had written two posts mentioning suicide.

I had hoped never to write another one.

But the recent sorry excuse for reportage – a pathetic hotchpotch of biased comments with concerted, subtle, yet vicious splotches of slut-shaming and vindictive, malicious comments and misinformation following articles, allowed to stand by newspaper editors who ought to know better,  has put paid to that hope.

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that some murders and suicides that happen locally get more column space and extensive audio-visual media coverage than others. As a corollary, there is a national discussion by self-styled experts about whys and wherefores.

The media relies on the fact that its audience laps up inaccurate, oversimplified and potentially dangerous, sensationalised reports. I was perturbed at the words and out-of-context sound-bites dug out from statements.

In other sections of the press, we are told that bullying leads to suicide. However, nowhere have I seen it stated that mental manipulation, whether or not it is Gaslighting, may lead to a similar end for the victim. Neither have I seen links to helplines, except once, just in case copycat suicides are in the offing.

I am told that ‘journalists’, whatever that term means these days, have to stuck to fact and not offer opinion – that is the domain of bloggers and / or  opinionated bitches like myself, and, apparently,  the people who regularly trawl the virtual news-sites to leave their insidious,  warped points of view for our delectation.

It is not easy to ‘know everything’ about something that happens. And yet, multifaceted issues are fed to us in drips and drabs, in a seemingly logical manner, in a bid to sway our judgements and mould our conclusions to match the agendas of those who have something to hide.

At this point, I have to ask many, many questions.  If you knew your friend was shoplifting or doing drugs, or riding his motorcycle hell for leather without a crash helmet, would you shop him? Or would you not want to get involved, lest you be tarred with the same brush by ‘ignorant adults’?

If you assume it’s just a phase, or that it is not your business… would you, then, hide the fact that he was having sex with minor?  If you thought he was a megalomaniac, or  sociopath, psychopath, or any other kind of –path, whether or not he had a history of underlying mental illness would you seek help, or would you cover for him because “that is what friends do”, while secretly envying his stud-luck with the girls?

Because of course, there is only one thing worse for a girl than to be called a slut – and that’s to be called a prude. Still, alas, when a man and a child have sex, the man gets high-fives, but the girl loses respectability. Even when he, shudder, shock horror, expresses trepidation that he will be branded a paedophile.

If, on the other hand, someone told you that all of the above could precipitate a death because the person involved fell into an “at-risk category”…would you change your mind?   Or would you shrug and say “shit happens?” ignoring the fact that the warning signs were there all the time?

If you had an acquaintance who always seemed sad, would you approach her? Now let’s take this point farther. If you had a friend who self-harmed because she was lonely, and felt excluded, would you ‘do something about it’, or would you assume she was showing off, or worse, that she was ‘in good hands’ because someone else had her back.  Is it really possible for just one person to have anybody’s back, in these circumstances? Nobody in a position to do so has yet explained that suicide is not an automatic response to feelings of rejection, depression, anxiety, despair, and isolation.

The non-sheep of us have been hauled over the coals for pointing out that you do not fall from a height without breaking a limb or four; that you do not even consider the possibility of a suicide attempt failing; that you do not keep a kid out at night of you know she is listed as missing; that sexts of minors constitute child pornography; that a person’s Facebook wall is not usually removed by anyone except himself… and this cannot be done when you do not have access to it.

I chided a journalist for treating the death of Lisa Marie so flippantly and histrionically, and asked him whether he would have extracted the same quotes from a social site, had she been his little sister. He did not reply.

As part of the research for this article, I clicked a random photograph on “See who’s here” on Ask.fm. Just for the record, there is no need to have an account with the site, to do this. The very first, and only, ‘conversation’ I saw was “il-hara kemm nobodok / mur aqbez / omgzz / suwisajd”.

Is it possible that this kind of activity is ‘fun’? Healthy, and psychologically sound, it certainly is not.

Gossip feeds the voracious appetitive of idle minds; note the hullaballoo about L’Wren and Peaches Geldof, which may not, after all, have been a suicide but due to an extreme diet.

This spawns the disgusting phenomenon of writing schlock – in error-riddled English – to attract audiences.