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. 

 

 

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