Malta through Irish eyes
Paddy Cummins: It's a Long Way to Malta, Bridge Publishing, 2012, 173 pp.
Have you ever found yourself in Sliema or Buġibba gazing at elderly tourists sitting outside in the dead of winter, resolutely sipping lager or tea as the chilly wind whistles through their silvery hair... and wondered why?
What brings them here, year after year, for weeks and even months in winter, when the Maltese are wrapping up warm and spending cosy nights in front of the TV?
Well, in his new book It’s a Long Way to Malta, author Paddy Cummins will take you into the minds of the grey boomerang brigade, offering an explanation as to why they come back every year to spend the same weeks in the same hotels.
And along the way, he may instil somepride in Maltese readers as he shows whythe island captures the hearts of so manypeople like him.
Though most of the tourists he meets and mingles with are British, Cummins is a proud Irishman, and he likes to remind readers of this fact – often.
“When the name on your passport in Patrick, and the name on your back is Paddy, the whole world knows you’re an Irishman,” is the very first sentence of the book.
From that moment on there are numerous reminders that he’s an Irishman or a “Paddy”. But there’s nothing wrong with that per se; surely the whole world loves the Irish, doesit not?
I found Cummins’ written Irish brogue to be very pleasant; you can imagine him speaking the words off the page as he wanders contentedly around Malta and Gozo.
His book loosely documents a three-week stay in Malta last year at the Qawra hotel he’s been returning to for the past decade. His observations from last year’s visitare interspersed with anecdotes fromprevious trips.
It’s a travel book of sorts, with Cummins describing with almost child-like wonderment some of his favourite places, peppering his prose with historical details along the way. His admiration for Malta and all things Maltese – from the buildings, to religious faith, wartime courage and even the oft derided healthcare system – is evident in every chapter.
Like most Irishmen, Cummins relishes ‘a good tale’, and his book is sprinkled with charming, amusing little anecdotes; you can picture his green eyes (they have to be green, right?) twinkling with mischief as he wrote down some of his experiences.
Of course, he does not have the storytelling prowess of his literary heroes and fellow countrymen W.B. Yeats and Oscar Wilde; but hisstories are very sweet, engaging and often humorous in their own amiable little way.
By his own admission, Cummins is an enthusiastic people-watcher, happily observing the little idiosyncrasies of his fellow travellers and locals going about their business.
As a result, the book features an assortment of colourful characters, many of whom will seem familiar. There’s the overweight women rushing to the front of the buffet queue at his hotel; the chatty taxi driver with a penchant for speeding; the bubbly old tourists who enjoy a pint (or 10); the pleasant old man who stops for a chat and – that favourite stereotype of many – the timeless, grizzled bus driver who is fazed by nothing... not even a hole in the floor of his old yellow bus.
There are poignant moments too, aswhen Cummins describes how his younger brother finally took up his invitation to see Malta in 2008.
After a memorable week travelling the island together, Cummins’ brother bids him farewell at the airport, promising to return. Sadly he never got the chance – he died of cancer soon after.
It’s a Long Way to Malta is a long way from perfect – it would have benefited from better proofreading as there are several noticeable spelling mistakes, particularly with Maltese words, as well as some factual inaccuracies.
There’s also the occasional use of toilet humour that jars with the tone of the rest of the book and will not be to everyone’s taste.
But all in all, I found this to be an enjoyable journey around Malta with a very agreeable companion, to be sure.