Do you remember, 20 years ago, a film called Daylight starring Sylvester Stallone? That’s the one with no ring boxing, no flying spit, no headbands and no M60 machine guns in it – Stallone is this taxi driver called Kit. But therein lies the trick: he’s only temping as taxi driver, and that’s because he’s just been kicked out (unjustly, of course) of his heroic post as an Emergency Medical Chief.
So in Daylight he’s driving his cab and about to enter the tunnel when Wham! Boom! Blast! there’s an explosion, all the entrances to the tunnel become blocked with rubble and there’s people trapped inside.
You know what comes next: Stallone goes in and for two whole hours, tries to lead the survivors – including a dog – out of the tunnel before they die. Meanwhile, water begins seeping in from the river above, and he has to do lots of climbing and scurrying and blasting to stop the leak. At some point, the dog died I think, as I remember my sobbing self and my friend the Nurse trying to console me by telling me it’s just a movie, obviously, as in real life it would be worse.
I have no recollection how they got out of the tunnel and how bludgeoned Stallone was by the end. And I don’t plan on watching it ever again because to this day I can still wince at the anxiety and desperation I felt knotting up in my stomach each time Stallone’s troupe faced a solid wall instead of daylight. In fact, thanks to that movie I developed and instant angst about tunnels. For a long time, for example, I’d drive round the whole of Malta to avoid the Santa Venera tunnels.
Now, it so happened that round about the time Daylight was released, France and the UK had been busy polishing the final touches of The Chunnel: the Strait of Dover Channel Tunnel which links Folkstone in Kent to Coquelles in Calais.
“Never,” I remember muttering to myself as I watched President Mitterrand and Queen Elizabeth break a bottle of champagne and a pot of tea, or whatever it is that they did to declare the tunnel open. How could I travel with any semblance of peace of mind, knowing that there were millions and millions of gallons of water on top of my head. What if there’s a leak? What if Stallone is not around? What then?
But as they say, never say never. It so happened that this week I was in the UK and I needed to go to Brussels and the only viable option was the Eurostar. I gulped once, twice, thrice and then bought the tickets from London St Pancras to Brussels-Midi.
Clearly the Channel Tunnel is deemed a prime terrorist target and therefore you’re welcomed with the worst sort of airline-like security and lots of rail-security people looking anxiously around like meerkats.
We boarded the train, it slid out of the station, started moving, then speeding, until it zoomed inside a dark tunnel. You may wonder how I felt, at that very moment when the train left the solid daylight and burrowed its way in the tunnel which was heaving with the weight of the very seabed on top of it. I, erm, fell asleep. I opened my eyes, to sunrays streaming in from the train window and signs of Bienvenue.
Two hours. That’s all it took to banish forever the movie-induced phobia from my subconscious. And that set me thinking. Earlier that week, we had met a Gozitan family in Heathrow. I’d complimented the mother on how well behaved her two children were on the early three-hour flight, seeing as they had probably been up since 6am.
“Oh, actually we’ve been up since 2am,” she said. What? They had to catch the 3.30am ferry as they wouldn’t risk a later one, in case of delays due to weather. It had never really occurred to me how long a Gozitan’s journey to the airport is.
As I looked outside the Eurostar train window I finally empathised with the plea for a tunnel from Gozo to Malta. They need this tunnel; if for nothing, to be enable them to wake up at a decent time when they need to go to the airport.
I always thought that a tunnel would kill the charm of Gozo. But that’s entirely from the perspective of a Maltese. Let’s face it, it’s not like just because there’s a connecting tunnel, all of us are going to pack up and go and live there. For someone like myself, who finds the thought of even driving to Mellieħa daunting, the tunnel will still be used for those occasional weekend trips.
For Gozitans it will make a whole lot of a difference – their commute to work in Malta would only take 15 more minutes than Mellieħa counterparts: no more waking up at the crack of dawn.
Let’s just make this tunnel as straight as possible shall we, so that from one end to the next, we’ll still be able to see the daylight.