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Queue ferry, cue canopy - Michela Spiteri

Maybe it’s climate – a convenient enough explanation why queuing comes naturally to the British and not to us. The ability to form an orderly line and coolly wait your turn is probably much easier when temperatures are cool to start with. On the other hand, flare-ups are inevitable when you’re baking in the searing Mediterranean sun and it’s 38 plus degrees and rising. And I’m not just talking mercury here.    

One Friday morning, towards the end of August, I found myself in one of those interminable Gozo ferry queues. It wasn’t the legendary Santa Maria long weekend (I wouldn’t dare); neither was it a public holiday. It was an ordinary Friday morning and there was a cool northwesterly breeze blowing, which is probably why I didn’t balk at the idea of a long wait, even though my dog was panting at the back of my car, something that always makes me anxious. 

Anyway, I struck up a conversation with an equally anxious gentleman who ran his own private taxi-service. He was heading for Gozo with an American family he had picked up from St Julian’s some two to three hours earlier. There they were, perplexed, and I couldn’t help wondering what sort of first impression that queue – with no respite from the elements – was having on them. 

I have perfected a yin-yang balance when it comes to queuing for the ferry. I just don’t see the point in getting too flustered or irate. After all, it’s only a queue, and as queues go, it’s well managed and moves quite rapidly. OK, perhaps I would not be so philosophical about it were I constrained to commute every single day like some Gozitans. Think of all the time lost, never to be recovered. 

Having said that, I don’t really see how a tunnel would change matters significantly.  The ‘queueing’ now would simply be caused by other things: congestion, collisions and all manner of delays. Your travel time might be doubled, even tripled, and the time ‘saved’ at once negated.   But I am not here to talk about – or even diss – the idea of a Gozo tunnel. That I’m not immediately crazy about it is neither here nor there. Besides, I could probably just as easily nod in sympathetic agreement with those in favour. But somehow I’d still argue that it would spell the beginning of the end for Gozo, and that those currently rooting for it would eventually rue the day. Seismic change – even ruination – would be inevitable for Gozo.

This present government is perfectly capable of addressing the matter of the canopy. Money clearly is no longer an issue

The best architect is always nature. In the inscrutable order of Creation, there’s probably a very good reason why Malta and Gozo are not connected. Perhaps we should leave it that way. 

But there’s always more than one way to skin a cat or wait in a queue. And perhaps before resorting to extraordinary and irreversible measures, we should first experiment with ordinary ones. 

So before we build a bridge or a tunnel, let’s first build an awning or a canopy instead – some sort of structure to offer refuge from the blazing sun. And why not solar panels on top? 

You see, what drives people crazy about waiting for the ferry is not necessarily the wait. In my case – and I’m sure I speak for others – it’s the total absence of any reprieve from the sweltering heat. I simply refuse, point-blank, to sit in a stationary car for 45 minutes with the air-conditioner on overtime.

Yes, I could seek refuge inside the terminal… only if everyone did that there’d be insufficient seating and chaos everywhere. A canopy would make waiting a far more bearable and even positive experience. The environs of the ferry would be improved too. 

Actually, I’m staggered that there isn’t a canopy. It’s a situation that has been allowed to continue, unashamedly and unchecked, for too long. Yes, some things never change. In 2010, I wrote an article about a visit I paid to the Water Services Corporation, then in Luqa. My destination was ‘Customer Care’ – a department seeing thousands of people each week that failed to provide seating. In all fairness, this was pre-ARMS and prehistoric (or pretty close). People were simply treated like cattle. Here, follow my 2010 ramblings, paraphrased:   

“I had been warned that this was the sort of horrid place which offers absolutely no respite from crowds. What I hadn’t been told was that the place offered no respite to the crowds forced to wait their turn outside the building. And I literally mean outside, exposed to the elements, with nothing but the pavement to sit on. In 2010 where the government may soon know what our baby finger looks like, we are still being subjected to sub-standard 1980 conditions, to frequent power cuts which kill our appliances and our goldfish. We are still being met with slipshod hostile attitudes and a lackadaisical bureaucracy which is dangerously reminiscent of West Africa, even though we are paying water and electricity bills that compete with the best of the G8. If the WSC doesn’t have enough chairs to go round, and if a five-minute query means you need to take the day off, then something is very wrong indeed. The system is uncivilised, unfriendly and unacceptable.” 

Within a few months of writing the article, the situation improved. Of course I’d like to think that my article had something to do with it, but perhaps I flatter myself.    

This government is perfectly capable of addressing the matter of the canopy. Money clearly is no longer an issue, or an excuse. And while it’s at it, the government might wish to introduce a few bins in the vicinity and elsewhere. I’ve already dedicated an entire article to bins, but it seems to have fallen on deaf ears, despite this being a government that supposedly listens. 

michelaspiteri@gmail.com

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