Malta Diary: A summer of heat waves and turbulence – but the show goes on – for mad dogs and Englishmen?
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Albert Fenech writes about how this has developed into a turbulent summer, exacerbated further by sweltering heat waves, short-tempered Mediterranean temperaments and highly marked by erratic driving as impatience in massive traffic jams translates into bouts of spontaneous road rage – and of course a number of quite horrific road accidents.
I am not a scientist and I am not a psychologist but I need no scientific data and need no analytical skills to conclude that hot weather causes some people that are normally sane to lose their rationale and their sang froid (of which we, Mediterranean islanders, have a very restricted supply of anyway), and give vent to unbridled anger.
Just the other day, on my way to my office at 05.15 in the early morning (the best time before the sun rises), I walked by two roadside vegetable vendors (accompanied by their wives who help them out on the stall) going at it hammer and tongs because one judged the other had set up his stall in too close proximity. The language was appalling and the threats horrific. We passers by simply ignored them – after all this is par for the course.
Just as in nearby Sicily and Italy and most of the Mediterranean and Central Europe, the mercury during July and most of this August has been nudging the 40 degrees mark, the Malta Met Office interpreting this to mean that in the early afternoons the effect is that of 45 degrees Celsius. Those who work outdoors i.e. builders have been advised to ooze in sun protection cream and to stop working between 11 am and 4 pm.
Set all these factors into densely populated islands, massive road traffic and the peak time for the tourism influx and Malta and Gozo have simply been sweltering through this summer. The high-pressure heat has also caused record levels of electricity consumption with air conditioners, fans, ‘fridges and deep freezers working overtime night and day.
There have also been battles on a number of fronts. A solution to ease off the heat used by many is to head for the beaches, preferably sandy beaches, and these have become the major battle fronts. Over the years beach concessions to operators have been dished out left, right and centre, enabling them to plant sunbeds, umbrellas, tables and all sorts of stuff on the sands and rocks.
Most of these concessions are based on the strict premise they are only to be erected when actually hired.
However, like the proverbial tourist inclination of going down to the hotel pool as early as possible to plant towels on the choicest sun beds and shades and thus have them “reserved” for when they actually turn up, the operators have slowly but surely over the years been totally encroaching beaches, erecting their stuff not as per hire but as per encroached occupation.
The upshot is that those not wanting to hire because they have their own stuff to erect have all been pushed aside because the whole of the bay front has been occupied and operators are not the easiest of people to argue with.
The outcry has been one of popular revolt, plaguing the hitherto indifferent authorities over the years to take the plunge and take action. Beaches have been raided at random and truckloads of sunbeds and umbrellas have been taken away and stiff fines imposed on the operators. In one particular instance the operator challenged the authorities and set up all his wares again the next day. This time all were carted away, his kiosk closed and a fine of €5,000 imposed.
Another infestation has been that of mobile caravans parked on rocks and beach areas, providing an illegal ‘summer residence’ for their owners, much to the chagrin of other bathers and in many cases resulting in verbal abuse and fisticuffs.
Thankfully, the authorities have acted on these too.
Meanwhile, life must go on and this is the peak, the height of the festa season with scores of parishes throughout Malta and Gozo bombarding the islands with fireworks, street decorations, processions and street band marches thronged by thousands of people because our festas are our festas and cannot be otherwise.
Alcohol flows freely and pique and rivalry abound because each fireworks display, each procession, each street band march must be superior to the rival ones.
And so, life goes on with thousands of barbecues every weekend, clubbing, rock and band concerts, and, as I wrote in a previous Malta Diary, trying to cram 24 hours into a few hours of hectic activity.
However, as far as I am concerned and certainly in my book, only mad dogs and Englishmen venture out into the mid-day sun …. and in sweltering times like these, there is no place like home!