Beach-boxing and the boathouse culture
Now we know that the world is still enjoying the Olympic Games thanks to a Maltese thinker, the next step in Maltese Olympic glory must be the introduction of beach-boxing as an Olympic sport. This is a new sport developed in Malta and is distinct from conventional boxing as Queensbury rules do not apply and anything goes – so long as it is played on the beach. And playing it is quite cheap, at €60 a bout.
This is the only consolation one can get from the recent Marsaxlokk fracas that would have probably not happened had Malta not joined the EU and instead opted for the ‘Switzerland in the Mediterranean’ option.
In 2002, Swiss voters approved replacing prison terms for some offences, including speeding, with fines based on one’s income.
A 53-year-old man learned that lesson after receiving a record-setting fine of over €300,000 for driving at 85 mph in a 50mph zone through the town of St Gallen. The judge felt that the accused had ignored elementary traffic rules with a powerful vehicle out of a pure desire for speed. However, he had to pay only half the fine, with the balance deferred as it could be forgiven for good behaviour.
According to a Swiss newspaper, the driver involved has an annual income of more than $820,000. Perhaps this Swiss system would have helped satisfy all the commentators on news portals who always cry for justice, whatever the circumstances.
In a more serious vein, there is something intriguing with the way the summer-residence culture has evolved in Malta. Those who could not afford a second home went for a boathouse, actually a ‘bowtħaws’ that does not translate into a house for a boat but a room near the sea where to live during the hot summer months. In fact, most of these so-called ‘boathouses’ are not accessible to boats. And it is not boats that use the tables, the hammocks and the television sets…
The crazy idea that everybody has a right for a ‘boathouse’ is one that has stuck and it is now extremely difficult to contradict. Now that building more boathouses has become more difficult and practically impossible, the culture has extended to converting beaches to temporary campsites. Local councils do their best to avoid these campsites from sprouting in new areas but every year somebody discovers some area near the sea where one can set up a tent and then invite friends to do likewise. And the culture persists.
Irrespective of the sometimes primitive conditions of these facilities and the lack of respect to public – and even private – ownership of the land that is occupied illegally, the occupants of boathouses and camps have become Malta’s summer squatters.
I remember talking to a Maltese architect who was studying planning and who was fascinated by the way land (belonging to the government) in the Armier area had been divided into plots with ‘roads’ that even have names.
Who decided on the plot size and the road width and how did they arrive at these parameters? Trial and error, experience or by considering all the nitty-gritty details of summer living?
No one really knows, but for the occupants, the system seems to work and now defending one’s ‘bowtħaws’ or their campsite has been elevated to the status of defending one’s castle.
Associations are formed, committees are elected and representatives facetiously discuss their so-called ‘rights’ with the authorities. Beyond the obvious illegality of the system, the boathouse culture seems to be here for keeps, in spite of the fact that a sizeable section of the population does not accept it and hollers at the abuse.
This is, of course, a cultural divide that has nothing to do with that other great divide in Malta – the political divide. In fact, one finds both Nationalist and Labour supporters among those with the boathouse culture. No wonder that recently a Mepa official was reported to have ‘explained’ that the boathouse issue is bigger than Mepa!
Plans for government building a ‘holiday village’ at Little Armier with existing ‘bowtħaws owners’ being given preferential leases (in gratitude for their allowing government the liberty of developing its own land) have been shelved. There is no economic viability in such madness and there are so many other projects where taxpayers’ money can be more prudently spent.
I understand the idea sprouted from some electoral promise that never made it to the official electoral programme and that was made to the Armier squatters. But such promises can never be squared with reality.
Meanwhile, every summer, a large section of the population move to their ‘bowtħaws’ – built illegally in a capricious squatting exercise or possibly legally as a genuine boathouse – or else to their newly found campsite, with the risk of some eruption when the heat is on.
Many keep on rightly complaining about the arrogance and the illegality of it all and do not realise they are challenging an established culture while both sides staunchly refuse to try to understand each other.