Snakes and ladders

As if handing down risibly nonsensical judgments and doing nothing about it were not enough, the courts of law, defenders and arbiters of our Constitution and dispensers of justice, have once again been knocked sideways by two scandals, quite unrelated this time, that have seriously undermined what remains of the standing and prestige these courts once enjoyed.

It is Mammon and not the Almighty who now rules the roost
- Kenneth Zammit Tabona

This is a very dangerous trend. If the courts lose credibility altogether then the very structures on which our society is built will come crashing down. Enough said about the cases themselves apart from the fact that it is obvious to us all that it is Mammon and not the Almighty who now rules the roost and all vestiges of professional integrity and moral backbone seem to be as remote as something in Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales.

What a tragedy!

So now we have an election date which is fixed. Franco Debono carried out his threat and, at the end of the legislature, threw (hopefully) his final Violet Elizabeth Bott style tantrum. Attempting to hijack Xarabank last Friday was the utter limit and I am nonplussed and disappointed that the Labour Party allowed itself to be used in this way. Can we not wait for the Phoney War to become a real one on January 7?

Although we were assured that we would have a Christmas season without being bothered by electioneering, within minutes of Lawrence Gonzi’s formal announcement, three people at a dinner party I was at, myself included, received an SMS urging us to attend a strategic meeting at a certain hotel to determine electoral strategies to re-elect a particular minister! As can be imagined we were all highly amused; so much for spending a peaceful politics-free Christmas.

The unseasonably cold weather coincided with the so called soft-opening of whatever the Government has seen fit to replace the once glorious Royal Opera House with. I was, of course, not asked despite my being one of the longest established music critics and writers in Malta, ergo I haven’t a clue what the soft opening consisted of. Maybe my turn will come for the hard opening!

Not being a glutton for punishment I had absolutely no intention of attending voluntarily despite the temporary roofing that was placed over what was described as a sea of pea-green seats; temporary roofing that had Facebook and his wife hooting in derision. It is a total waste of time and energy to even attempt explaining how what has resulted instead of the opera house site is an insult to culture and a waste of taxpayers’ money for I will probably be told to ‘sod off!’ by the minister concerned.

The opera house site will therefore remain roofless out of pique, with no particular function and draped in swathes of bubblewrap for most of the year. Ridiculous when one thinks that Bernard Plattner, who is Renzo Piano’s partner, roundly admitted in front of the whole of Malta that a much-needed closed and hermetically sealed auditorium for orchestral music with perfect acoustic was feasible on the opera house footprint but that Renzo Piano had had no brief.

When Malta has a philharmonic orchestra which, since its divorce from the Manoel Theatre in 1997, has had no fixed abode, the mind boggles at the sheer crassness of a decision to create this open-air ‘space’ of indeterminate function when, for 16 years, our orchestra has led a pathetically nomadic existence but, then, please remember that Minister Austin Gatt had told the late Fr Peter Serracino Inglott and all the 127 of us artists who had signed the letter protesting about this cockeyed decision that “as we live in a democratic country, what the Government says, goes”.

As they say, en Maltaise bien entendu, ‘x’jibqa’ fik?’ which roughly translated means that the stuffing will be knocked out of you.

In another life and in another era, my family were great aficionados of the horse races at the Marsa. Secure in our enclosure from having to rub shoulders with hoi polloi, unless we needed to consult the bookies, we proudly affixed the metal members’ badges to our binoculars with their multicoloured silken cords; the one with the largest bunch was obviously accorded the greatest respect.

One uncle was a steward and another was a starter while my mother and my aunts, duly hatted and gloved, were frequently selected to present trophies with the inevitable Hip Hip Hurrahs followed by tea and toast in the committee room. I loved my Sunday afternoons there and, in time, became quite an expert as I was frequently asked to accompany one of the track judges, a retired major whose eyesight had become a trifle dodgy, to verify whether the trotters were hooking or breaking and gaining.

I did, however, love flat races best. Riding on a horse as opposed to behind it in a sulkie bears no comparison. I still remember the great Derby winners of my time, Sailing Free and Waterloo Boy, whose graceful gallops to a glorious win never failed to thrill and exhilarate me.

It was the sheer unpredictability of who was going to win which made these particular races so special. I can still recall Major Stanley Clews’ voice on the tannoy “as they turn round canteen corner now and into the strait...” whereupon we all craned to see who was leading the frenetic rush to the finish line gripped by a surge of adrenaline, which makes horseracing one of the most exciting pastimes in history.

I would like the elections to be just like that; however, that would be wishful thinking. In today’s grim, utilitarian world we have been drawn into a maelstrom of nauseating backbiting and pettiness that makes one feel as if one is playing poisonous Snakes and slippery Ladders with our own lives and with our own futures, which, like a storm in a teacup, has consequences that are so much worse.


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