What happens when you travel off season
01.12.2008 - 05.12.2008 18 °C
As I peered down out of my tiny Easy Jet window I could see the vast mass of multicoloured freight containers, almost beautiful against the azure sea, but a lump formed in my throat. Now Malta’s Freeport, previously it was Kalafrana, a British Naval base and where 49 years ago, my parents struggled not only to bring me into this world, but keep me here.
Craning my neck I desperately scanned the area for some remaining evidence of A1 married quarters but all too quickly it was out of view and we were landing at Luqa airport.
I was met by a very pleasant chap with my hire car. Knowing that I was going to be travelling off the beaten track (Freeport is not considered much of a tourist destination) and Malta’s bus network necessitating a return to Valetta every time one wished to change direction, not to mention the impending foul weather, hiring a car appeared to be the best option. I was a little concerned re Lonely Planets warning of lunatic drivers and roads that had not been maintained since the building of Hagar Qim back in 3200 BC, but I figured if I can survive Johannesburg, this will be a breeze.
Those of you that have ever hired a car will know that you have to fill in a diagram with little crosses where current damage to the vehicle is noted. After practically obliterating my diagram with some very large crosses we surmised that if I bring the vehicle back with all four wheels it would be ok. I paid 4 Euros for a very crappy map and was pointed in the general direction of Sliema where I was staying. The hotel’s directions were ‘opposite Toni & Guy’. This was going to be fun. I peeled off several layers of British ‘bloody freezing weather’ attire, donned sunglasses and hit the road, revelling in the 20 degree sunshine.
Lonely Planet, for once, did not lie. Maltese drivers are crazy and the person in charge of road signs had an enormous sense of humour. The sign for Sliema appeared ten yards after the turn and I ended up in Valetta. Navigating the tiny streets of the islands capital in my miniature car I felt like I was a Maltese version of ‘The Italian Job’. I binned the map and figured that on an island with an area of just 122 square miles, I couldn’t exactly get lost. But I did, several times. Eventually, whilst sitting in a traffic jam I noticed ‘Toni & Guy’ and a very convenient parking space. ‘Well bugger me’ I thought, ‘what a stroke of luck!’
I was staying at the Balco Harmony Hostel having been upgraded from a dorm in the Symphony owing to lack of visitors. I was shown to my single room complete with Sky TV, fridge and en suite bathroom for the ridiculous price of 10 Euros a night by the owner. A quick change into something more befitting the glorious sunshine and I headed off to catch the bus for the first stop on my list, St Pauls Cathedral in Valetta where I was baptised. Having already driven around Valetta I once again believed Lonely Planets warning that there is absolutely and categorically nowhere to park. A journey on one of Malta’s antiquated buses was high on my list of priorities anyway.
I was not disappointed, a wonderfully shiny yellow bus circa 1950 chugged up, I paid my 50 cents and took a red vinyl seat amongst the local Maltesers. We arrived a short while later at Valetta’s main bus terminal where yellow buses from various eras lined up. I hoped that the new European coach style was not a sign of the times and they would hold on to the now famous classic.
A UNESCO world heritage site and claiming fame as being Europe’s tiniest capital, Valetta was just as charming as its buses with narrow streets where balconies almost touched those opposite, elegant facades and a history that leapt out at you at every turn. Passing Straight Street, the once notorious hang out of sailor loving ‘ladies’, I found St Pauls cathedral. Unlike Britain where church doors are firmly locked for fear of the meek attempting to claim their inheritance when the vicar is not looking, St Pauls, in all its splendour was open for me to freely walk around and read the memorials to those who lost their lives in the many battles fought over Malta. I was hoping to find someone to show me the register but the place was deserted. I resisted walking off with the font as a souvenir and headed over to Lower Barakka Gardens.
The views from both Lower and Upper Barakka Gardens over Grand Harbour are astounding, at the lower, on the site of an old gun turret, is a monument to the Siege of Malta and those that lost their lives in WWII. It was very sobering stood looking out to sea, wondering what it must have felt like being bombarded with nowhere to run. Even with its four lane carriageways and bustling suburbs, there is no escaping the minuteness of the island and I found it quite claustrophobic. Couple that with Mussolini’s bombers overhead and it’s a pretty terrifying thought. Thankfully a cat cleaning his medals with an air of ‘I couldn’t give a shit’ caught my attention and I was back in the 21st century, heading for the main street to do a bit of shopping. En route I passed the remains of what used to be the elaborate Royal Opera House before the aforementioned little git bombed it during WWII. It was now surrounded by boarding and I hear it is gong to be turned into yet another street café. The oldest theatre in Europe, the Manoel, however, has survived every onslaught since it was built in 1731.
There was no escaping the festive season and many of Valetta’s streets were adorned with Christmas lights and piped sappy music assaulted my ears. I managed to resist all tacky souvenirs apart from a little yellow T shirt with the words ‘Born to be Wild – Malta’ how apt I thought! Bypassing McDonalds I stopped at a bakery and stocked up on yummy pies and deep fried date filled pastries before catching an equally antiquated bus home. If only I could remember where ‘home’ was. Now dark, nothing looked familiar and all I could do was keep my eyes peeled for ‘Toni & Guy’ and get off at the next stop.
I snuggled down in my tiny room with my pies and a bottle of wine brought from home. The spinach pie was a little odd with the addition of processed peas and a ton of salt but tasty and filling all the same. Sky TV thoughtfully provided me with 392 channels (seriously!) broadcasting from far flung places such as Kazakhstan and Libya, but not Britain, or even Malta, apart from the news. My English speaking options were BBC news, CNN news and Al Jazeera….news. But at least it drowned out the noise from the communal kitchen. Each floor of the hostel had its rooms built around a central communal kitchen, the floors were marble and echoed every sound, including knives on plates and the irritating laughter of a couple of Japanese girls preparing their evening meal. I went to make some coffee and discreetly mentioned to them how much sound travels in this place. They apologised and promised to try not to be too noisy. Peace reigned and much needed sleep took over, lulled by the newscasters of Al Jazeera.
At 0745 the traffic was already heavy. My intention was to head down to Freeport via Paola but with an upside down map and the sadistic town planner I ended up on the road to Rabat. The wrong direction by about 45 degrees. No matter, I thought, the map shows that there are roads heading cross country, they are little white roads, the ones that the map legend lists as ‘Hah! You call that a road?’ but I had all faith in my little battered Hyundai, it had obviously been there before.
Passing Rabat I spot a sign for the Blue Grotto. Why not, just a small detour. The beautiful tarmac road led me down to a small seaside village where restaurant owners were busy painting windows and doors in preparation for next season’s tourists. But I could see no sign of the famous grotto. A fisherman with nothing better to do led me down to some cliffs where there were some interesting holes where the tide was trying to infiltrate the islands substructure. A couple of photos and 5 euros later he announced that I would get a better view from the car park at the top of the hill. Now you tell me. He was not wrong, there in all its glory being lashed by the blue waves was the famous arch. 62 photos later and I am back on my way, across country, getting lost in abandoned villages.
It appears that the Maltese all take their holidays at this time of year and it was quite eerie driving through deserted villages, shops all boarded up, window shutters tightly closed and the only sign of life being the cats that eyed me suspiciously. This must be the time of feline rule in rural Malta. Felix Regina. Wild catnip parties were probably in full swing behind each and every locked door, the ones on the streets, moggie bouncers.
After driving round in circles I eventually enlisted the help of the last remaining human. ‘You don’t want to go that way’ he exclaimed ‘road is terrible!’ ‘No, go back up this road, bear right, left at the windmill, second right, three times round the roundabout and take a quick left at the refugee camp’. Refugee camp? I discovered that the place where my father’s office used to be was now a semi permanent tented camp for Somalian refugees. The road was shite. It had never been tarmaced and resembled very rocky cat litter. Oh boy, those cats really have taken over!
Another thing I noticed whilst driving around the island was that inland Malta appears to be totally devoid of colour. The entire island is built with the same pale yellow stone and the occasional red dome or green palm tree struggles to break through the expanse of stale custard. The multi coloured freight containers of Freetown as they loomed into sight were a welcome relief.
There was no entry into Freetown and no need to, a maze of freight containers appeared to be all that was left of Kalafrana. I headed down to Burzibuggia, fondly referred to as Birzy Bugger by my parents (could this be why ‘bugger’ is my favourite expletive?), and parked up by the tiny deserted beach opposite the vast freight terminal. At least there appeared to be humans habituating the small town. I set off on Mothers instruction to find the chemist. ‘The’ chemist? Surely a town of this size would have more than one chemist, but I soon found one, all very new and shiny. I had my doubts. A group of women were nattering outside. I approached one and asked if she spoke English. ‘So I am told’ was the stern reply. Oops, hit a nerve methinks. I explained my story and she immediately softened. By some stroke of luck this was indeed the chemist that was instrumental to my survival and the old owner was still alive and now living in Sliema. The woman was quite upset that she was unable to supply me with his phone number but went on to inform me that she used to be a WREN and was also stationed at Kalafrana, a little reminiscing followed and I took some photos before heading back to the beach where I discovered that indeed there was another chemist.
The beach was lovely, albeit it tiny, with white sand and clear blue water. ‘What the hell’ I thought,’ it has to be done’. Boots and socks removed, trousers rolled up, I dipped my toes into the freezing water and tried to imagine being a child again, on a family day out. Lonely Planet gives Burzibuggia a pretty poor write up, but I loved the place.
Driving along the coast I had a quick stop at Marsaxlokke, a pretty fishing village. Dozens of blue and yellow boats were in port with their owners making repairs whilst the seas were rough. There was a small market obviously geared towards tourists with tacky T towels, thimbles and over priced bad quality lace cloths. But there were no tourists!? Or so I thought. A coach load of loud mouthed holidaymakers in baggy shorts showing off white hairy knees pulled up. I think all of Malta’s tourists were on that coach. All 27 of them. I left.
I found a supermarket and stocked up on bread and cheese plus a few bottles of wine to take home, hoping it would be cheaper than buying at the airport. I was planning on heading back across country to Paola but took another wrong turn and ended up in a delightful town called Gudja…. I think. I stopped outside a building which was completely adorned with shells, pictures of saints intricately mapped out and painted in beautiful colours which were now showing the glorious signs of age. This was not in any of the guide books, I had found my own treasure! I still don’t know what the building was for, and naturally, there was no one around to ask. Not even a cat.
I found my way back to Paula with a picture in my mind given to me by my Mum of us all sat in the church square eating jam tarts and hoped that I would be able to find the flat that she had described to me where she and Dad had lived before I was born. But Paola had been completely swallowed by the ever expanding Valetta and I couldn’t even find somewhere to park, let alone sit in quiet reflection whilst munching delights from the bakery. So I did an about turn and headed back south, to Dingli Cliffs where, utilising my beloved new Swiss army knife I made myself a cheese sandwich, much healthier and less messy than a jam tart. The sea was calm and blue, below me the cliffs had been carved out into terraces where farmers grew the islands vegetables and it was wonderfully peaceful. I drove up the hill to the highest point in Malta and looked out at a tiny island. A small rock found its way into my bag to add to my collection of geological reminders of countries I have visited. I like the idea of Maltese rock rubbing shoulders with stones plucked from the depths of the Amazon in my little bowl of the world.
Next on my illogical zigzag tour of Malta was the far northwest corner and my first stop was the Red Tower. I got there just in time to see it being locked up so I never got to see the view from its roof, but it was indeed very red and driving further up the hill I was afforded a fabulous view across the cliffs to the empty nature reserve. Even the birds had taken a vacation, or been shot, the Maltese like to shoot things. Perhaps a mentality left over from years of fighting off invaders. If it flies overhead it must be an enemy and therefore must die. I hoped that if the gun toting Maltesers were still on holiday, the cats had not been practicing on the firing range. I planned on tying a white flag to the tail of my Easyjet plane, just in case.
At the top of the hill was what appeared to be a deserted Army camp and several of the ubiquitous stone look out posts that adorn the coastline. Not a cat in sight so I poked around the deserted buildings and crept up on the look out posts. An off course seagull soared up above. ‘In coming!!!’ I shouted, and hot footed it back to the car and back down the hill.
There are several bays and coves shown on my crappy map so I decide to investigate them all. Most were either dull or boring. Possibly the lack of sunshine, tourists and ice cream lessened their appeal. Anchor Bay on the other hand was positively bizarre. This is where they made the film ‘Popeye’ and the film set remains, its crooked, garish houses now a pleasure park for kids. The actual bay was the deepest turquoise I had ever seen, surely they had not coloured the sea in too? I decided not to shell out the 20 Euros or so to go in, instead admiring from the opposite cliffs.
In the furthermost corner, the map boasts ‘The White Tower’. I had seen the red, so may as well see the white one too. Passing a deserted and boarded up holiday park resembling an ancient Butlins on a wet British weekend I proceeded up the narrow, winding, decrepit driveway to the tower. Half way up is an oil barrel with a stern warning in dripping paint. ‘Private – NO ENTRY!’ Well I am buggered if I am going to attempt to turn around or indeed back up, so I put on an apologetic face and carry on. I find a crumbling abandoned building with dead mattresses in the garden. Obviously someone used to live here but got fed up with holidaymakers, fleeing the horrors of Butlins below, throwing themselves, Lemming style from their private piece of cliff.
I started heading back via Mellieha, St Pauls and Salina Bays. All of which I am sure are lovely in the summer but now they were all but deserted with just the odd person dressed to ward off the chill wind which was now coming in from the sea. All was uneventful until I reached Sliema. Approaching from a different angle I got totally lost again. It was now dark which didn’t make it any easier. There was a lot of traffic and the place was buzzing, cafes and restaurants open, shop lights ablaze. So this is where everyone has gone! I found somewhere to pull up in order to check my map but discovered the interior light wasn’t working. Bugger. Finally luck struck again and I recognised a shop at the end of my road. The only parking space was several hundred metres from my hotel so I decided I would not venture back to Sliema for the evening, I was starving and desperate for a hot meal but I was sure I would find something within walking distance.
Wrong! I walked for miles and the only restaurant I found was closed. There was a small supermarket around the corner from the hotel so I bought myself some ham to go with my remaining bread and a pile of chocolate. There was a lot of noise emanating from the kitchen again, so I whacked up the TV, poured myself a glass of wine and fell into bed.
I didn’t get to leave any earlier on Wednesday and when I did I was accosted by a Maltese lady as I approached the car. In her broken English she explained that her mother was sick in hospital, there was no bus for ages and she was desperate to visit her. Now, is this woman a complete loony who intends to hijack me, rob me of all my personal belongings and sell me to the cats for a slave? Or is she genuine? I have to make an instant decision as she is pleading by the car door. If she is genuine, how does it look for a tourist obviously better off than her to just drive off leaving her at the mercy of the antiquated bus system? I concede and make sure she sits in the back, away from my precious camera and ham sandwich which I prepared last night.
We arrive at the hospital and she rushes in, bowing with thanks and asking God to bless me. I had made the right decision. Now, which way is it to Rabat? Bugger!
I take another wrong turn and end up in Mosta. No problem, I was wondering whether to visit the Mosta Dome anyway. The Dome is famous for receiving a direct hit by one of three bombs in 1942, two bounced off but the other one pierced the roof and rattled along the church floor without ever exploding. To the 300 parishioners receiving mass at the time, this was indeed a miracle.
Unfortunately when I arrived, mass was about to start and so it didn’t seem respectful to go in there and start flashing away with a camera. Not being particularly religious myself I decided not to join in the service either. However, I did get a quick look at the beautifully painted ceiling before leaving to get back on the road to Rabat.
Just outside Rabat is Ta’Qali Crafts Village, housed in an old WWII airfield site I read that this was a good place for arts and crafts, plenty of workshops with glass blowers, silversmiths, potteries etc. I was sure to get the Christmas presents I needed for friends and family back home. Lonely Planet warned to get there early before the tour buses arrived. I paid heed, completely ignoring the fact that there were only 27 tourists on the whole island and that the majority of inhabitants were on holiday. So guess what? Yes, damned place was not only deserted but most of it closed! All that was open was Bristow’s Pottery which was hosting a school outing (eeek!) a silversmith, and one of the glass shops. I went in to the silversmiths and was treated as though I was some crazy robber. The assistants looked positively scared when I entered, there was a bit of nudging while one of them was allocated the task of watching my every move. ‘Its filigree’ she stuttered while trying to smile sweetly when I turned to face the poor girl. ‘Really!’ I would never have guessed. I looked at everything, paying particular attention to the locks on glass cases and fiddled with my rucksack, just to give them something to talk about after I left and hopefully liven up an otherwise dull day.
So much for Christmas shopping, maybe I would be luckier in the main town of Rabat. I stopped off at the Mdina first, the ancient walled city that was once Malta’s capital. I was glad to be the only tourist around, it was wonderful walking around the old city walls, admiring the fabulous views and marvelling at the old buildings, some dating back to 1495. The sun was shining which made it all the better. Karrozzins, the horse drawn carriages, lined the road by the main gate, horses in full regalia with feathered headdresses. It was warm, quiet and peaceful and all was well in the world.
I walked down to Rabat, hoping I would find somewhere lovely for lunch but….Rabat was closed! Seriously, absolutely nothing was open, nothing. Bugger! Never mind, lovely sunny day, I shall go back down south and visit Hagar Qim, the megalithic temples dating back to 3000 BC, they sounded fascinating and I had missed them yesterday.
The temples are situated right on the southern coast on a cliff and as I approached the skies started to cloud over and a sharp breeze was blowing. There was some building works and renovations going on. I paid the whacking 4.80 euro entry fee to a disinterested girl in a portacabin and entered the site. Now I am sure if you are into archaeology and stuff, this place would indeed be fascinating. To me, it looked like a heap of boulders but with some semi interesting round windows still standing. The monster 20 tonne megalith was nowhere to be seen and there was no one to ask what had happened to it. Workmen were in the process of building a massive shelter in which to preserve this historic sight and the presence of enormous tubes of metal somewhat took the edge off it. The site is tiny and I had walked around it all in under five minutes. Determined to get my 4.80 worth, I went round again trying to feel something of how this place would have been over 5000 years ago, but I was cold and it just wasn’t happening for me. Perhaps it would be better at the other site of Mnajdra, a little further down the cliff. I set off down the narrow path, trying to shield myself from the biting wind. But bugger me, the damned sodding place was closed! Yes, closed! Works on the new shelters was in full swing, the place was surrounded by wire fencing with ‘Do not enter or we will throw you off the cliff’ signs. Doing my best Mutley impression I muttered and dratted all the way back to the car.
Disgruntled, cold, starving and still in need of somewhere to buy some Christmas presents I made my way back to my hotel with the intention of getting a bus into Valetta. For some crazy reason I then decided to walk. It was miles in the cold and as I discovered, there is a distinct lack of pedestrian crossings. Navigating ones way across four lane carriageways, dodging lunatic drivers is not my idea of jolly good fun and I cursed myself. Things were not much better in Valetta, I hate shopping at the best of times and I was getting no inspiration. Maybe some dinner would be a good idea and I strolled the streets looking for a suitable cosy restaurant. That was when the heavens opened. Every single drop of the threatened rain fell at that moment. Cold, tired, hungry and now sodden. It was also dark. I peered from under the wet hood of my jacket and saw the unmistakeable ‘M’ of McDonalds beckoning me in the distance. Normally I would never, ever eat at a fast food conglomerate whilst abroad, but in this instance I really couldn’t give a damn. I ordered a Big Mac, large fries, apple pie and monster coffee, sat myself at a tiny table and devoured the lot. I got a further drowning as I waited for the bus and arrived back at my hotel thoroughly bedraggled. My sister had thoughtfully packed a miniature whiskey in my case and I poured that into a steaming cup of coffee before adding an extra blanket to my bed and settling down for the night, hoping that the rasping in my throat was a result of Maltese dust and not the oncoming of yet another cold.
I had saved my last day for a trip to Gozo and I prayed that the howling wind and dark skies were not going to jeopardise my trip. I was relieved to see ferries arriving at the port. I duly bought my ticket and kept fingers crossed. Reminiscent of the cross channel ferries back home, cars are packed in and everyone heads upstairs to drink insipid coffee and eat luke warm sausage rolls. The sea was pretty rough but my coffee did not make any attempts to escape to the floor so I figured all was fine. We landed at Gozo’s main harbour, Mgarr about thirty minutes later. The sun was now breaking through and taken the chill off the wind, this was going to be a good day.
I made my way up to the capital, Victoria and easily found my way to a convenient car park next to the bus station. Gozo buses are a stark contrast to those in Malta, having a livery of a dull grey but still circa the year I was born, so pretty old but probably in better condition. My intention was to take a wander around the ancient citadel of Il-Kastell. After my usual walking around in circles in the wrong direction I finally came across the entrance. The Citadel was quite marvellous and of course, thoroughly deserted, from the walls are views stretching across Victoria to the harbour, across the green hills and beyond. I found an alarming array of cannons, some of which were pointed at each other from neighbouring turrets. I was not aware that Gozo was once at war with itself, or maybe the soldiers, bored with nothing to fire at turned on each other in a dangerous game of chicken. More likely of course is that King Felix himself overtook the city from within.
Gozo is not a large island, positively miniscule even by Maltese standards, but there was a lot I wanted to see in the short time I had there. That time was significantly reduced after a little chat with a chap selling grotty postcards at the Azure Window on the coast of Dwejra. ‘Boat still running was it?’ he queried after I admitted I had just arrived on the island. ‘Surprised at that with the sea so rough, and its getting worse, will they be going back?’, ‘Bloody hope so’ I replied. ‘Better take my number, you may be in need of some accommodation….postcard?’ No, I did not want a bloody postcard, I wanted to ensure that I could get back for my flight the next day. Don’t panic I thought, it will be fine, it’s always fine.
The sea was battering the rocks and I dodged waves to get a good view of the beautiful and incredible archway. I clambered up onto the cliff face until warning notices advised me to approach no further, I did not wish to be responsible for the collapse of the famous tourist attraction, nor plunge into the raging seas below so I turned back, skipping around pools and wondering at the strange urchin type shells litterering the beach, embedded into the rocks. Malta’s 27 tourists had obviously followed me, a coach had pulled up and its occupants were busy donning coats to protect themselves from the howling wind. Soon the beach was overtaken with day trippers all straining to see the window without being swept into the angry waves or getting their feet wet. It was time to leave.
A quick whizz around Gharb, then I sat in awe of the monstrous Basilica of Ta’Pinu, Malta’s national shrine to the Virgin Mary built after the holy sweet mother of Jesus herself had a chat with one of the locals in 1883. Took them 37 years to get around to building it mind you, had to wait for a few more miracles first. It was a toss up between a cattery and a ridiculously huge and expensive church. They chose the latter, the consequences of which are only now beginning to show.
The sea had taken over the beach at Xlendi, and the road, and the car park, and several shops and restaurants. My urgency to get round and out increased tenfold and I headed back towards Victoria. The tourist coach was ahead of me, attempting to negotiate the narrow streets and hairpin bends just south of the capital before coming to an abrupt stop outside an unassuming little shop front. This must be something worth visiting I figured, so I decided to join them. The shop opened out into a cavernous souvenir seekers heaven, they sold everything from exquisite lace to hand knitted woollies to coffee spoons. I was like a child in a sweetie shop and did all my Christmas shopping in one go. Next door was a lovely little jeweller’s where the assistant, in between practically begging me to buy just about everything, informed me that ‘Of course the ferry will be running back to Malta, we had major storms last week and the ferry still ran’. Phew! I bought a bracelet and threw in a fridge magnet out of gratitude. Another little store across the road was selling Gozo cheese, a vast array of jams, chutneys, sweets and …tobacco. A little Golden Virginia sprinkled on your goat’s cheese canapé? Yeuch! But I bought some anyway, you have to don’t you. Tobacco in a little plastic tub, purveyed by a cheese shop.
With the pressure now off I took a slow drive along to Ramla Bay. Included in the Daily Telegraphs list of the world’s best beaches and thoroughly hyped up by Lonely Planets author of the Gozo section I could barely contain my excitement. For sure it looked stunning driving down the hill past lush green valleys, the blue waves gently lapping onto the red sand in the distance, but my excitement soon waned. Yes, it was lovely, very pretty, but world class? I think not. I am sure it looked better for being devoid of sun worshiping tourists and the statue of the Virgin Mary that had been plonked onto the middle of the beach looked positively serene. Maybe she was on holiday too, taking time out from chatting with peasants, performing miracles and grizzling in various churches around the world. I took a wander along the shore in a vain search for seashells amongst the washed up debris before having a coffee from my treasured flask outside the closed café. In all my travels I have never had so much use for one single item as I have from that flask. Must have been a visitation from the Virgin Mary ‘Take a flask, forget the petrol filled magic match thingy and the pop up battery operated lamp, just take the bloody flask…and your wind proof lighter’. Cheers Mary, God bless you old gal. As I departed I looked back to see her looking down in disdain at a couple who had stripped off to go skinny dipping in the icy waters.
Returning to Mgarr Harbour I could see that the sea was now like a mill pond, calm and sparkling in the sunlight, but many must have decided to stay as I had the boat virtually to myself. I sat on the top deck and basked in the sunshine, we set off and I took a stroll to the back of the boat (sorry Dad, stern!) to take some photos of the harbour, but the back door was open and I could not see. The back door was open! Holy shit! Two men were casually coiling fat ropes, seemingly oblivious of our impending doom. I ran around in demented circles, ‘Oi!’ I wanted to shout, ‘the effing door’s open!!!’, but no words would come out. I had visions of the headlines ‘One of Malta’s 28 tourists drowned in freak Zeebrugge like incident, a previously unheard of terrorist group calling themselves the Freedom for Urban Cats Klan claiming responsibility’.
‘Oh sweet mother of Jesus, I know you are on holiday and I am an atheist and all that but…DO something!’ I swear she winked and whispered ‘Just kidding’ as the door slowly lowered.