Browsing under the Hot Sun


This article appears on today’s The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Don’t you just hate the saying “make hay while the sun shines”. I’ve just looked the proverb up on the net and discovered the original: “When the sunne shineth make hey” which is listed as proverbial advice in 1546 – which explains the Elizabethan (mark I) style. In fact, the gathering of hay requires as dry (read hot) a day as possible for the cutting and drying of the grass from which the hay is obtained. So in essence it’s either make hay while the sun shines or don’t make it at all.

The explanation relieved a bit of the bitterness that I hold against all sorts of work-oriented proverbs. It turns out that “make hay while the sun shines” is not grounded in some industrialist work ethic aimed at squeezing every last drop of energy from the working classes (the prime prize for general pain in the backside saying goes to “the early bird gets his worm”), nor does it originate from some religious inspiration as does the jovial Saint Jerome’s implication that the devil makes work for idle hands. (Dooth somme goode dedes that the devel, which is oure enemy, ne fynde yow nat unocupied – that’s Chaucer for you – I just love his reminder that the devil is our enemy). Nope, it turns out that “make hay while the sun shines” is actually a practical suggestion that can be paraphrased as “act while the conditions are favourable”.

So. it’s all right isn’t it? Well, yes. Now that we know that the main reason for working in excruciating heat conditions would be the inevitability of it all we should be generally relieved. The corollary of the proverb is as logical as the proverb itself – at least to me: unless there is an unavoidable explanation for working in the heat any work in the heat should be discouraged or banned outright. Q.E.D.

Almost five years in Luxembourg have come to mean that my idea of “hot” turns out to be more like “tepid” to the average islander. Getting off the plane on Thursday was like walking into an oven as every intake of air savaged my lungs while the process of perspiration went into hyperdrive. And it was still ten in the morning! I know, most of you will be thinking -“No *** Sherlock” – but I had astutely managed to avoid visiting home in the summer months in my previous visits … only now to be faced with the inevitable shock.

It puts things into perspective, this heat does. Like the fandango, cacucha and bolero currently being danced by the potential Editors of our Electoral Laws and ancillary democratic practices. As the temperature rose, so did our two main contendants begin to strut around each other like two peacocks competing for attention (won’t some colleagues be pleased with this avian allusion). Joseph inaugurated the fencing match with some suggestions for reform – with the notion of pairing becoming more of a “passata-sotto”. The PM parried and returned – yes we too want change – on our conditions of course and there’s no way we can ignore pairing.

As the common reader attempted to unravel the web of intricate points orginally thrown on the discussion table, Gonzi came up with a Hackerite (James Hacker – Yes Prime Minister) solution: let’s form a Parliamentary Committee (PC). the PC will discuss the democratic reforms – separately from other suggestions regarding the economic situations of the country and government measures related thereto (remember – act while the conditions are favourable).

That “democratic reforms” are on the agenda is a victory for the “significant other” of the electorate. The “objects of hate”, the “wasted voters”, the advocates of democratic change, can all claim a stake for having stubbornly shifted the subject towards the top of the political agenda. It is not time to lower the guard however. My biggest fear is that we may be about to take another fast track to yet another Great MLPN Concordat – based on the instinct of survival that leads the two parties to continue to consolidate the partisan political machine.

To be fair to Joseph he has stated that he prefers that the discussion is not limited to Parliament. Having said that a clarification of what is meant by “electoral reforms” would be a welcome precondition to the opening of the public debate. Hopefully we will not end up with an agreement that has as its prime aim the avoidance of the problem of “pairing” with yet another patching up clause reminiscent of the “compensation rule” destined to consolidate the principle of bipartisan governance. The ground must be laid for a sensitive discussion on more basic principles such as the basic quota for third party representation, and (within that context) acceptable definition of governing majority and the like.

A public constitutional discussion must include the population at large but must also include positive intervention from discussion fora that have hitherto been inactive or non-existent. I have in mind University Political departments, the law department, political NGO’s and think tanks. This is the time for action – particularly to keep the parties thinking openly and away from that mindset of partisan collusion that hides behind all the talk of “democratic process”. Let’s face it, the MLPN track record of constitutional amendments does not promise groundbreaking revolutions. Remember that politics makes strange bedfellows and the MLPN have proven time and again that in certain matters no bed is too small to be shared. You have been warned.

As a final clarification I feel obliged to state that this is not an appeal for change for change’s sake. The underlying reasoning behind a general reform is the improvement of the political qualities in our country. It is rooted in a firm belief that greater competition of ideas regulated by better quality control and proper thresholds that guarantee that only the serious and well-prepared can afford a slice of the cake will ensure an improvement in the day to day management of the country’s potential. Democracy is not so much about public funding of political parties as it is about parties letting go of the tentacles they have spread into just about every aspect of daily life. It is about transforming the new opiates of the people’s potential into catalysts for change that harness every bit of potential by encouraging new ideas, new blood and new vigour. Otherwise, plus ça change…

That’s the view from my Paceville flat. It’s in a quiet corner of the hamlet (yeah right, hamlet) but still a stone’s throw away from the hotbed of activity. This does not mean that I am spared the scenes of uncontrolled inebriation every now and then. Right beneath my apartment is an evening establishment that tends to host a number of teenagers who might, or might not, be of voting age on their quest to reach alcoholic karma. Only last night I walked back home from a visit to the parents (yep, cannot miss the good old home cooking once I am here) and while I fumbled for my keys, a young blonde (estimated age sixteen-ish) lurched out of the aforementioned establishment with running shoe in hand.

Said running shoe was being used (don’t ask me) as a recipient for the sudden, irrevocable regurgitation of any alcohol that had previously been imbibed. I was as surprised as I was impressed. Impressed by the incredible aim said blonde had when spewing exorcist like quantities of projectile into the tiny shoehole held at arms length. Surprised at this sudden turn of events at an early hour of the evening (10 pm). Before I could offer assistance to the maiden in not-so-distress, she was surrounded by a flock of ‘friends’ who suggested various forms of solutions. The traditional “phone your mother” was brought up a number of times – read let’s get rid of this mess and lump it on the fawning mum.

Eventually “sit on the floor” won the day – only until drunken blonde decided to do a runner sans shoes and proceeded to “moon” the street exposing tanga adorned buttocks (or should I say buttock adorned tanga)? The roars of approval of the male (?) portion of the crowd were peppered with various thuds as the blonde’s body ping ponged from car to car until it came to a resounding stop against a wall and she slumped to a sitting position – apparently exhausted after her performance. Female friends whipped out a camera and took the customary photos that will in all probability wind up on Facebook much to blonde’s chagrin. Eventually the situation “calmed” and the sobering up process started.

This is not a story that is meant to shock. It’s all in an evening’s work in Paceville, and not just there. It’s the same story from Bratislava to Dublin to Luxembourg. The youth still believe in the joys of alcohol and there will always be a theatre of entertainment. I was half brought up in Paceville (the other half of the breeding took place in quiet, undeveloped Marsalforn) and developed a very thick skin to this sort of scene. I will leave the moral debate about educating on the “joys” of alcohol to the specialists currently embroiled in silly debates about the names of drinks. Funny we worry about “Cocaine” and no one wonders where the name “Coke” originally came from – copyright reserved of course.

As I said, the alcohol debate is for other people – and not Kinnie converts like myself. I am more than bothered however by the general state of Paceville every morning. At six am the streets are a mess. The fact that most eateries continue to provide their fare to the consumer till dawn without being forced to clean up the mess engendered by the various wrappings does not help. The easy way out for a Paceville establishment is to have a take-away – little seating place and cheaper prices for consumables that are consumed in the street – with the leftovers scattered all over the place. Yes, the difference between Luxembourg, Bratislava, Dublin and Paceville is that Paceville residents are the only residents to wake up to a disgusting view. Urban planners for entertainment spots should not be so hard to find. What we lack is goodwill and insight. Paceville too is part of the economy – I do not agree with abolitionists but I have a bone to pick with all this laissez-fairism.

Summertime is book reading time and here’s two paperbacks I would strongly recommend. The first is Ben Elton’s “Blind Faith” – a must read 1984 style book that uncovers the concerns of the new internet based value culture. The second is the controversial “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens. Ignore the sensationalist title and focus on the subtitle “How Religion Poisons Everything”. It’s an interesting point of view and the author’s style allows for the classification of “easy reading” – although I am not sure Saint Jerome would approve. I’ve chosen John Fowles’ “The Magus” for my beach reading – a long postponed appointment with a classic.


Summer may be the time to relax but that does not count for everyone. No matter how hard the times are for us there still is no excuse for complacency and indifference – for immigrants in the news read “persons” not “numbers” – just a reminder.

Log Off
Time to switch off. As most bloggers and readers are doing at the moment. Net browsing is low thanks to the heat – even J’accuse is on a slow at the moment. I am off to the beach to work on the tan (conscientously of course) and get rid of the Luxembourg induced paleness. What’s the saying again? … trop de travail et aucun jeu rendent Jacques ennuyeux. Yep… you’ve guessed it – all work and no play…

Jacques blogs daily (well almost while on holiday) on Comment is free.


One response to “Browsing under the Hot Sun

  1. danny attard

    And the people rose like one screaming : we stand for square for the liberalisation of the transport service. Keep at it Gatt do not give in!

    Give in to what? here we are still only talking about a few more hearses on the road. A service that I realise is dead cheap (cheap pun). Lm50 for collecting the corpse, taking it to a church, waiting for the church function to end, and drive to wherever. Now if the whole total benefits of a free market in hearses were to actally materialise, the maximum one-time savings our heirs can hope to make will not exceed Lm10. Not a good enough reason for a summer revolution i would think.

    So in all this rumpus and gogattgo we are still not (bold and caps 🙂 talking about a better bus service.

    Where are the plans for a better bus service pleasee?

    danny (in his boxer shorts 🙂

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