Saturday, January 23, 2010

Malta: Children of Empire

When Germans visit Malta do they still dive-bomb in from the sky? That's what I was thinking as we landed at Luqa (probably not helped by the massive turbulence). This was, after all, Britain's "unsinkable aircraft carrier" through the early years of World War Two, the most heavily bombed nation in the war. I may be the product of a GCSE History syllabus but the island is the child of a far older one: virtually every major civilisation swept through Malta, ending with the British, who stayed from the Treaty of Paris in 1814 until independence in 1964 (though the troops stayed on for another fifteen years).

If Sicily had been conquered by the English this is how it might have looked. Red telephone boxes, Mothercare and Next, signs with Today's London newspapers on sale here, English spoken everywhere, and as many HSBC branches as you'll find in Hong Kong.

The plane landed at 7.45. By eight I'd passed through customs, withdrawn money and was sitting on a rickety, bright yellow British Leyland bus for Valletta. We bounced up and down. Outside was a blur of dark buildings, lit windows and gears struggling against the onset of time. You had to pull a cord above the window when you wanted to be let down - I would've written stop only we never technically did - and I would later be slightly disconcerted by the sight of one man crossing himself after boarding.

It had started raining lightly by the time I changed buses at Floriana. The stops were arranged by number in a circle around a fountain. Dance music played from the radio on a modern, single-decker bus. The only light was directly above the driver.


Garry Nixon said...

I've only been to Malta once. Weird, in an interesting way. Mind you, it was a five day holiday in the midst of a twenty week stint in alcohol free Libya, so I was very drunk most of the time.

Myeral said...

It's what's always put me off the place, that Englishness. A bit like Gib. Why go somewhere far away (I reasoned) if you're going to be herded out of the pub at half past ten and then sit down to a nice fry-up in the morning complaining about the heat?

However, reading your other posts, I can see that Malta is a little more other-worldly than I thought.

Michael said...

If you book, let me know - I'm lodging an immediate claim with the Maltese Tourist Board.