Maltese Gemgem: Good Moaning Begins Here!

Wednesday, 30th July 2008

Wherever Maltese are found
The grievance culture follows;
We are wont to protest
As if there’s no tomorrow.
We complain when it’s sunny;
We object when it’s not
We find fault when it’s freezing
We grouse when it is hot.
We gripe in morns and evenings
We whinge day in and out
We bellyache in cities…
In our villages and towns
We moan about the neighbours,
Our relatives and friends
We chunter about in-laws,
And the law of the land.
We beef at the high prices
But we frown when things are cheap;
Standing in queues annoys us…
But the fast life makes us weep…
This poem, dated 1976, fell out from between the pages of The Complete Works of Geoffrey Chaucer when I was looking for a quote for another feature. I must have written it in a moment of boredom during an English Literature lesson, and then forgotten all about it.
I cringe at it amateurishness – in fact, I grumble, too – when I see how it fails to scan properly, but the message is clear. Then, as now, I never complied about “being born under an unlucky star”; I may not have what I want, but I want what I have.
Grumbling is a national pastime – however, it is an essential ingredient in the money-earning potential of my psycho friends (psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists). They tell me that sometimes, people complain simply because they do not want to be seen as doormats, or because they crave attention.
Because, really there is a psychological reason for grumbling. Whether it is disappointment at temperature of the tea you have been served at a bar, annoyance at having been wound up by a friend, or frustration at having been shoddily treated at a major shopping establishment where you had been a loyal customer, dissatisfaction is bound to manifest itself in letting of steam in the way of grumbling.
My kids tell me that if I didn’t have anything about which to complain, that is exactly about what I would be peevish; Sesame Street’s Grouch looks like Pollyanna when compared to me. But that is no skin off my nose. Really. But I have been vindicated.
According to my afore-mentioned psycho-friends, moaning is an essential part of life. Unless overdone into a full-blown persecution complex, it may actually be healthy to complain about something, anything – and it’s a moot point about whether it’s better than gossiping, too.
The British stiff upper lip mostly ensures that the person or institution being complained about is the last to know; but complaints about the weather are “fine”. Only rarely do they even consider complaining by “letting rip”.
But our Latin blood ensures that we Maltese are rather vociferous about complaining. Most complaints arise from the fact that we know we could carry out their jobs better than the Pope, the President and the Prime Minister and anyone else in authority.
There is also the fact that if people did things are way, life would be so much better for everyone. As Michael Winner succinctly put it, “co-operation is a lot of people doing what I say.” Why have I complained this week? let’s see… there was a host of different government departments all asking for the same documents to confirm the same thing; going to collect some photocopies that had to be ready the week before, but were not; a new pair of mules where the sole parted company with the shoe the minute my daughter climbed the steps of a bus; a new handbag that had a strap that was flaking off…
Complaining, done properly, brings results; but the chances are that when done aggressively, it alienates the person at whom the complaint is addressed, and makes him bend backwards to avoid fixing things for us. And most of us know better than to complain at eateries when another course is yet to follow.
We complain about he status quo, the slowness of the check-out girl at the supermarket; the footprints on our hitherto clean floor, the Health, Education, and Taxation systems; the amount of packaging we discard after shopping for a week; and we just know that things would be fine if everyone did things our way, simply because we cannot do everything ourselves (although it seems like that).
The book Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests by Julian Baggini, just out, mentions another type of complaint – the insincere, ‘boasting’ ones, which are part of a status symbol, rather than aimed at changing or at least improving anything. If you pay attention, you can hear people complaining about how their dress that cost €200, “apparently had the buttons stuck on with spittle..” and how difficult it was to get a table at a five-star restaurant, or how “tired” they feel because “in their social position they have to socialize nearly every night”. So the next time your friend says that it cost her €50 to do her fingernails and then she “got a fungus under three of them”, just smile coyly… and don’t remind her that where’s a blame, there’s a claim…”



A lifetime ago, before irate parents could call their favourite radio stations at the drop of a hat (more on this later) I worked as a Kindergarten Assistant.
Even back then, some of the children mocked their peers because whereas they “had a wardrobe bursting at the seams”, the latter “always wore the same clothes”.
Then came the decision that children, even at pre-school age, would wear uniforms. Ironically, the parents of the Clothes Show gang were the first ones to call the radio stations to complain about the “extra expense” they were going to be put through.
Alas, for some of them, the real reason was that their perfect little angels would not be able to preen any longer because they would look “the same as the others” as one of them succinctly put it in a rant outside the school gates. “Children are individuals!” she said “so why are they being treated as if they were in the Army? If they don’t wear their nice clothes to school, when can they wear them?”
Many people would remember the story with references to the Young Pioneer Movement, which has hitherto free-spirited children having to wear a uniform (like that of their teacher) and being given sweets sent by the “Great Leader” – after prayers to God delivered nothing.
The reason that I do not like uniforms is that most of them they tend to be drab… and some of them are also ugly, itchy, and badly-designed… such as summer shirts for girls that are so flimsy that a waistcoat made from the same fabric as the skirt, guaranteed to keep the heat in, has to be worn.
Or how about socks in school colours that do not have turned-over tops, such that they slide down the legs as the child walks?
There are schools that go for distinctive, expensive uniforms as a touch of class. For reasons of their own, they even forbid parents who are excellent seamstresses to sew their children’s’ blazers.
For others, the reason is more practical. It is much easier to do a headcount of children wearing a bright yellow polo-shirt during a school outing, than it would be had they been wearing white shirts…exactly like those of four other schools in the same place on a school outing.
Many children who watch television shows depicting foreign schools complain that their peers in the equivalent of Saved By the Bell, Fame, Beverly Hills 90210, Smallville and The O.C. can get away with, literally, everything. Making a uniform mandatory would probably make the series less interesting, since the clothing of the students in these shows reflects their characters, anyway.
They fail to realise that what is depicted on the screen is not ”the truth” – surely no self-respecting head of School would allow bare midriffs, spaghetti straps and painted-on cycling shorts, or other provocative clothing.
This is not a case of a Head of School ripping loose hems of skirts that are too short, or making students go to the toilets to remove tights worn underneath knee-socks to fight the cold if they were not “exactly” flesh-coloured.
Wearing a uniform is part of the praxis of religious orders, the armed forces, and other groups that want to present a depiction of “organisation” and “discipline” to the world. This is only a part of what school uniforms represent, however.
Some of us resent the fact that uniforms may only be bought from selected outlets or from the schools themselves – especially if they are not made of good-quality fabric and the only thing differentiating them from non-branded items is s logo that is sometimes just sewn on.
And yet, they solve the perennial what-shall-I-wear today problem, as well as indicating that a child is a part of a group with an innate sense of decorum and order.
It is a moot point whether a fail-safe dress code – no branded clothing, no jeans, no tracksuits, no visible cleavage, no stretch fabrics, covered shoulders, shorts up to the knees, no slogans of any kind (even religious ones) on t-shirts or sweater, no hoodies, no low-waisted trousers that expose underwear – would work.
It goes without saying that make-up, jewellery and piercings and non-sensible shoes will be forbidden, too.
There will always be that difference in how many different items of a type one has, and what quality they are, and whether they are new or obviously hand-me-downs. And there will always be students who assume that fashion shows and beauty contests are part and parcel of the educational system.
Ironically schools that boast they are progressive are all to ready allow children not to wear uniforms, just to prove their point, whereas the Malta Union of Teachers, in a memorandum to the political parties, has actually asked whether it is time to abolish them.
And then we have those who believe that the very wearing of a uniform is conducive to learning, because “a child in casual clothes is not in the right frame of mind to learn”. It is one less thing to worry about for school administrations. Alas, however, a uniform will not stop bullying.
One assumes that by the time the child is in tertiary education, his mind-set will be different.
At least, one hopes it will.

That Thing Called Child Abuse


Only a few people would probably remember Victoria Adjo Climbié and Kyria Ishaq. And the furore over Baby P, which brought to light how, in Britain alone, “three children a week are dying of abuse or neglect at the hands of parents or guardians” has all but faded away. Thousands of stories remain untold, ironically, sometimes, because those who could do something about it do not even notice what is going on right under their noses, be they parents or educators.
Child abuse is not “just” about the stereotypical dirty old man in the playground, playing spider to the fly. It usually happens within the four walls of the family home, the very place where a child’s rights include being loved, nurtured, fed, and clothed, or, by extension, in those places where we mistakenly think our children are safe.
Children may suffer neglect as well as physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Typically, different types of abuse obtain in conjunction with one another more often than they exist alone. Sexually-abused children are often neglected and physically-abused children are also being emotionally abused.
There are times when, because of conflicting timetables, workload, illness or other commitments, we have to leave our children in the care of others.
Recent statistics indicate that, on average, there is at least one case of child abuse a day in Malta. Even if you would never plead guilty to abusing your child through neglect – because you work all God’s hours to give him everything (except, perhaps, the love he craves) – there are some red flags that may indicate that not all is well between your child and his alternative carers.
A child winces when you raise your hand to cover your mouth as you yawn. His demeanour changes at the sound of approaching footsteps.
He throws a tantrum when you mention a particular relative at whose house he will have to sleep over because you are going abroad on business…
Consider when a child who spends time in someone else’s care:
1. Appears constantly on edge, as if fearing what may happen.
2. Appears to have changed his eating and sleeping patterns.
3. Becomes aggressive, excessively withdrawn, compliant or passive.
4. Becomes tearful or throws tantrums at the least provocation.
5. Behaves in an over-the-top way in a given situation.
6. Behaves precociously, reverts to infantile habits, or self-harms.
7. Boasts, albeit in jest, that he has watched pornography.
8. Bullies children who are weaker or is cruel towards pets.
9. Develops medical problems (herpes, gum or teeth problems, dermatitis, etc).
10. Develops pruritus, a nervous tic, or repetitive behaviour.
11. Has an odd smell, or downright BO, when he returns from his visit.
12. Has bruises or other marks, explained away as falls, or bumps.
13. Has difficulty concentrating and occasionally daydreams.
14. Has not done his homework because he was not adequately supervised.
15. Is ambivalent when asked how he spent his time away from home.
16. Is in possession of gifts that he tries to conceal.
17. Now refuses to allow you to bathe him.
18. Rarely contributes comments during family discussions.
19. Refuses alternative carer(s), saying he is old enough to look after himself.
20. Says that so-and-so “allows” him to drink alcohol.
If sexual abuse is involved, there will be additional red flags, including a sudden, sophisticated or unusual sexual nous. A child, apart from having experiencing difficulty walking or sitting, may suddenly refuse to change for PE lessons in front of his peers, with a vehemence that may even cause his teachers to contact you.
Children may even run away from home or play truant from school. They may have nightmares or start wetting the bed. Appetite may be affected too; bulimia and anorexia may be a child’s subconscious effort to “cleanse” himself or become unattractive to his predator.
We strive to teach children that nobody may touch their “private body”, that they must respect authority figures and that they must avoid “tricky people”. Unfortunately, here “stranger danger” ceases to exist per se because sexual abuse, like other abuse, is usually carried out by people whom the child knows well. We, as parents, strive to give our kids all they could possibly need, and want, and more, ironically, perhaps, while someone else is ruining them physically, emotionally and mentally while we earn the money to be able to do so.
Victims of child abuse exist in a locked cage. They are told that they are bad children and, therefore, deserve to be abused instead of being sent to prison or to hell. They are threatened that the family will break up if they tell. Sometimes, they are asked whether they would rather the abuse happened to younger siblings.
Consider when an adult to whom you entrust your child:
1. Appears over-eager to look after him, even when it is not necessary.
2. Appears reluctant to hand over your child back when you call for him.
3. Appears to be depressed or admits being on medication.
4. Asks whether he may use physical punishment if your child misbehaves.
5. Bawls out, slaps, spanks or smacks your children as if they were his own.
6. Behaves irrationally, perhaps because of substance abuse.
7. Behaves possessively, alienating the child from other children.
8. Demands total devotion from your child, playing on his emotions.
9. Denies the existence of any problems or lies about them.
10. Either offers no explanation for your child’s injury or explains it away glibly.
11. Finds fault with whatever your child does or, conversely, praises him effusively.
12. Has a history of being abused as a child.
13. Insists that when children are inherently evil, they deserve punishment,
14. Insists that the child sorely tests one’s patience but that he adores him anyway.
15. Intimates that he is doing the child and the parent a favour by offering care.
16. Rarely, if ever, looks the child in the eye, except as what could be a “secret signal”.
17. Seeks out your child for care, attention and emotional needs rather than his partner.
18. Seems oblivious to the child’s needs, calling him a big baby and similar names.
19. Touches the child as one would touch an inanimate object.
20. Tries to bribe or steal the child’s affections from his parent(s).
This is a wake-up call; let’s not allow an obsession with materialism to place our children in jeopardy.
A pious fool is he who sees a child struggling in water and says: I’ll take off my tefillin and then save the child (Talmud Jerushalmi: Sota).

Pizza The Action

And so it came to pass that Boss Guy and his Buddies met up for a bite to eat at a fast food joint.
It was par for the course that they would order whatever junk food was on the menu – it was a boys’ night out after all… but the jury is still out on whether it was a wine and pizza party or whether they ordered Buds, as would have befitted the occasion – for lack of evidence (which some would call proof).
Right? Well, actually – wrong, on several counts.
As with the Giaconda, (and the “Hitler” You Tube clip) The Last Supper is one of the most used and abused works of art in the advertising world.
The advertising team of New York Best followed suit and had Jesus and his Apostles depicted wolfing down pizza, hamburgers, and such like… in an effort to garner publicity for their diner. That, they did… and alas, not all of it was the sycophantic adulation they had hoped for.
“Original!” cried some. When it was pointed out that this plagiarism was the nth one, the wannabe back-slappers claimed it was the first time they had seen it – which does not say much for their assumed worldliness.
Be that as it may… most people would know that the Last Supper was, in effect a Pesach meal. Therefore, leavened bread would have been anathema… and that means, pizza dough and hamburger baps would never have featured in the meal. Also… it would be later, much later, that tomatoes would be discovered in America – so pizza sauce and ketchup would not have been available, either.
But of course, that is not the point at all.
Anyone who believes that The Last Supper was when the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist was insulted was highly offended at this levity. “Grow up – its 2017!” is an argument that does not hold water… but it is the one that is bandied about when someone is not ‘modern enough for someone else’s liking.
Inevitably, there were those who dragged the incidents leading to Je Suis Charlie disaster into the fray – but, again, that had nothing to do with it. Predictably, too, some sought to haul (literally and figuratively) paedophilic clergy into it – rather as if this abominable plague is a prerogative of the Catholic Church – but let’s not digress.
It is a pity that some people do not know how to stick to an argument – “Was this offensive?” but seek to gain brownie points by going off at the tangent that best meets their needs (and sentiments) at the moment.
It is, I repeat, not a question of censorship. It is not a question of a niminy-piminy religious attitude. It is not a question of being a wet blanket and not recognising brilliant art when one sees it.
I find it ironic that the people who want “ethics” rather than “comparative religions” (let alone catechism / religion) to be taught in the classroom, found this depiction “beautiful” and “artistic” and “fantastic”…. When they really ought to have been protesting that the more than life-size mugs of ‘religious figures’ had been plastered across a wall for all to see (and enjoy?).
They ought to have been griping about the fact that this was an affront to their secular sensibilities. After all, who wants to see something “preposterous” (wise choice of word, that) day in, day out.
However, and this is a big however, this is where I draw the line.
Just because I don’t like something, or somewhere, (or someone) it does not mean that I can willy-nilly destroy, vandalise, (or kill) that thing, place (or person) to “set things right”. This is the stuff totalitarian regimes and kangaroo courts are made of.
I have said elsewhere that I would be the first one to smash car windows if I saw infants or pets inside, and no signs of ventilation (“I left the AC on,” is not an excuse if the glass is hot.) I have asked people (politely) to stop blaspheming in public. I have gently chided others who might not have known they were breaking the littering law by grinding cigarette butts into the ground, and leaving them there.

But I will never, ever, condone actions such as the vandal one perpetrated by those who high-handedly, and mistakenly, thought they were heroes defending their version of the Catholic Religion… and at the same time, consider some humans less worthy of living, than others.

At this point, I can only sort of quote – Oh (Religious) Liberty, what crimes are committed in thy name.