The Year End Stock Take


“I just don’t get you,” she says.

“You have everything a man your age could desire. And yet you behave like life is elsewhere. Can’t you just be comfortable in your own skin? It’s year end. Take stock. The promised land is actually here, outside your door, on this tiny island”.

He takes a sip of Glenfiddich, closes his eyes and curls his toes. The malt whisky kindles the coldest parts. Limestone makes the house shiver.

The nation turns its back on the Aladdin paraffin heater. Some take to bed with an old green hot water bottle.

Recycle. Solar panels are no longer space-like. The island’s version of space mountain smoulders toxic waste. What little land is left turns green this time of the year. The environmentally-friendly, the unleaded, a compost heap. The eroding national Heritage.

A nation obsessed with colour. “Do you think God could be black”, asks the nine year-old Johnnie? What if Pope Benedict had Afro hair instead of neatly-combed silver?

A quick guide to starting a cult. Get a suit, rattle a cane, get patriotic, write hate mail in the Times, rally bored kids on street corners, scare parents into believing their safe way of life is under threat.

Shame we’re not born colour-blind.

Rebirth. The bulldozers finally move on to the Jumbo Lido. Grandad takes off his dentures. Jenny stares at a plastic teacup. It’s separation (not divorce), IVF (in a London clinic), a new child born to parents with no hope of help in Catholic Malta.

There’s no such thing as new news. Road deaths, hospital beds, fuel hikes, bird ‘flu, public deficit, a vaccination for all your ills. Wipers battle with the rain, Qormi floods again, a new pot hole opens in the middle of a new road built to meticulous EU standards. The Maltese football team draws two games on the trot. Croatians cause collateral damage. A fireworks factory explodes, rubble walls tumble. Hunters with big boats and sniffer dogs. Nodding Dogs. Public Sector Chairmen. Swings and roundabouts. Check who’s in, who’s out, yesterday’s breakfast, today’s toast.

Politicians jostle for attention on the usual side shows. Never mind the airport taxes, says the Prime Minister. Other nations need to get away for a holiday. Here, you drive to Golden Bay and see a perfect orange sunset in winter for free.

Terror TV never had it so good. An earthquake in Pakistan, a landslide in Guatemala, a bombing in Amman. Weekly beheadings, regular suicide bombings, a red double-decker explodes on daytime TV in Tavistock Square. On the crowded London Tube, a space is made around Ahmed and his ghetto blaster. Newspapers. Shields. Al Qaeda is recruiting in a shopping complex near you.

Embrace the new economy. The rich get richer, the poor get poorer, the rest compile spreadsheets on residual income. The young read the signs and learn to vote with their feet. Greed. Property hikes. Fish Farms. Big Fish. Small Fish. Jason gets fired on Christmas Eve on the last day of probation. Posturing. Heads of Government occasionally lose their head. Two kids take 30 seconds to remove four hub caps and leg it to a waiting Range Rover.

The comeback kids are back. Madonna has a new dance routine, Britney has a new baby, Kate Bush has a new CD, Bowie has a heart attack. Grown men weep over a football match in Istanbul. George Best is finally home and dry.

Welcome to digital convergence. A twelve year-old has a Webcam, the new Fascists have a website, Lisa wants the flip top Motorola for her birthday. Pod casts, pod pants, downloads, Bluetooth. The mother of all toothaches.

We can talk on Skype or Gtalk, chat on MSN, share pictures on Flickr, upload content via RSS.

How can you be so lonely, how can you be so disconnected?

It’s that Christmas feeling. Every village has a church spire, every skyline has a crane, every village hall has crib. The Three Wise Men go electric. There’s business for all, for the good and the bad, from the fenek bar to the lounge bar of the five star. The party girl mixes her drinks and throws up on his lap. The quiet guy lands a punch on his boss’s nose. She scratches her name on the bonnet of a gum-metal GTI. Scuffles. Group hugs. A stolen kiss in the car-park. Old friends embrace under the Christmas lights and laugh about the new wrinkles. Christmas carols in the rain. Marathon telethons. Red eyes. There is enough food left to feed a starving village. Cats attack garbage bags. Lightning rips the sky into two white sectors.

Pantomimes, balloons and loud loneliness.

Enjoy the silence.

Dad is too old to dance the funky chicken. Tom closes his eyes to keep out the rain and dreams of a kite and running and running.

Resolutions. For weight-loss, hair-gain, delivery from all forms of nicotine and alcohol addiction. Delivery from betrayals, love lost and found, tears in a cul de sac, the unbearable desire to feel eighteen again for one last time.

Longing. Adults long to be kids, teenagers long to be adults, children long for presents and a hug from Santa.

This is not a mid-life crisis, is it?

A hug still costs nothing.

In Andy’s wish list, Malta has a freeway that stretches far out into the horizon, and is available for anybody with a sense of adventure. As long as you walk with your hands in your pocket.

The smell of salty sea air.


Then the bells in Siggiewi suddenly find their voice. In the house across the garden, the countdown’s started, the champagne is flowing, grown men sing in drunken voice.

She is looking at him, waiting.

“I am ready”, he says. “Let’s go to what’s next”.

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