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Take a good look at the above picture – a picture that tells not one story, but many. Why, you may well ask? This is a remnant of my boyhood at a time when this kerosene lamp was my television, laptop, play station, mobile with its apps and everything else you can think of that nowadays humanity cannot do without and without which life would now be unthinkable.
Of course, I am going back a good 68 or 69 years, a few years after the end of WWII. Yes, we did have electricity that flickered incessantly and often power-outaged; ramshackle vehicles were on the roads and life in general was early to rise and early to bed and be thankful you could fill your stomach with goodies.
On dark and stormy nights when the wind howled outside and rain spattered window panes, the oil lamps were switched on, invariably in front of a cluster of holy pictures as veneration, and our evening entertainment would be the reciting of the Holy Rosary. This would be followed by a series of haunting stories about ghosts and apparitions, the heat of the burning fires of hell and how good one had to be to climb the road to heaven.
That was winter’s evening entertainment, very much as that of summer except that all this would took place outside the home on the doorstep where neighbours would gather and exchange their stories.
Life in general went by at a pedantic pace. If one lived in a remote area the number of road vehicles seen in a day could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Priests and nuns were to be seen everywhere and many women in maidenhood donned the head-covering ‘ghonella’ which has been very much related to the Malta of the past. Yes, we had cinemas and perhaps once or twice a year our parents would take us to view ‘the talkies’ and one of the earliest I remember featured the loveable Groucho Marx and his brothers selling “putsi, putsi ice-cream”.
Shops were few and far between because street vendors with a horse-and-cart or a mule-and-cart daily toured the streets selling bread, vegetables, general groceries and fish, as well as kitchen and household wares, kerosene (essential for lamps and cooking stoves) and blocks of ice to be placed in metal lined wooden boxes (no ‘fridges then!). Goatherds brought their goats to your doorstep and milked them.
In harbour areas, Royal Navy sailors dominated and while on shore leave plastered themselves with alcohol and were suitable cash victims for the “bar maids” that thronged around them.
I compare all this to my now six-year-old grandson Gabriel who on waking every morning switches on the television tuned to a cartoon network, promptly switches on his play station and fiddles around for hours in a game called “Fortune”, an array of devastating characters, half-human, half-robotic who stride the streets smashing cars and buildings, climbing impossible skyscrapers and generally setting fire to everything.
He programmes our mobiles and dictates our television viewing.
Try to tell him about our “old days” and he will show indifference and yawn and after a few minutes tell you to shut it because he wants to carry on with his game and you are wasting his time. His preoccupation is when will he be getting his own first mobile ‘ phone?
In my day, the boys aspired to doing well at school and growing up to become maybe a teacher or a clerk and for the better-heeled a doctor or a lawyer – but above all, a priest, or otherwise a good father with a wife and a bevy of children. For the girls, schooling was a side issue and a stepping stone to becoming a nun in a convent or otherwise a good housewife and therefore cooking, laundering and cleaning were the essentials and not school work.
Gabriel’s ambitions are to travel in outer space to tour the planets.
Were my days the good old days? Whatever they were, they are lost and gone forever.
NB: Some pictures attributable to photographer Guido Stilon, Bay Radio and ‘The Times of Malta’.
“Where there is sweetness there is also bitterness”
A different version of all that glitters is not gold.