Jessica Abrahams’s article ‘London’s old buses are driving Maltese round the bend’, which recently appeared in The Guardian, was a succinct, accurate look at the transport situation here in Malta, now that London’s discards and castaway bendy buses have suddenly turned up on our doorsteps – quite literally I’d say, especially in the limits of Marsascala.
Apart from making for an entertaining read, I found myself marvelling at how beautifully Abrahams managed to hone in and capture the essence of how completely wrong, ungainly and utterly alien these monstrous buses are to our “narrow streets, winding hills and medieval cities”, causing them to stick out like sore thumbs “with the grace of a rhino stuck in a Wendy house”.
If you think Londoners are always complaining about public transport, you should try catching a bus in Malta. Travel problems have become so bad that a man went on hunger strike over modified bus routes this summer, a situation that was only diffused when the prime minister paid a personal visit to the aggrieved and convinced him to eat two kiwi fruits. Last month hundreds of disgruntled commuters marched through the streets in protest about the new system.
And now, to add more spice to the situation, British transport company Arriva has shipped its bendy buses over to the island.
The exact same buses, in fact, to which Boris Johnson bid a “final but not fond farewell” when they were removed from London on Friday because they couldn’t navigate the city’s narrow streets.
Itchy wasn’t immediately convinced by Copita’s more-bar-than-restaurant vibe. Even early on a Tuesday evening the place was a little unpleasantly noisy, filled with trendy City-types perched on tall bar stools at inconveniently small tables. It’s self-consciously ‘authentic’, we thought, with its terracotta bowls and untranslated Spanish menu that forces you to surreptitiously google the dishes on your phone in order to avoid looking ignorant in front of your fellow diners.
It was with some reservation, then, that we clambered gracelessly onto our bar stools to peruse the menu. Faced with a page of tapas dishes we didn’t recognise – Copita is not a tortilla kind of place – we quickly ordered a bottle of house white. This was the first pleasant surprise of the evening. At £18 it’s not the cheapest drink we’ve ever had but it was delicious and got the meal off to a good start.
It’s getting colder and darker; Winter has officially begun and we know what’s at the top of your mind: Hot chocolate. Big delicious cups of the stuff. With cream. Itchy has done the hard work for you and sampled a disgusting quantity of hot chocolates around London to sift out the weak, powdery ones and bring you only the finest, thickest, creamiest of them all. You’re welcome.
La Maison du Chocolat, 46 Piccadilly, W1J ODS
Shooting straight to the top of our list is this classy Mayfair establishment. A few pounds (it’s best not to think about how many exactly) will buy you a cup of what appears to be pure melted chocolate and a seat in the sumptuous surroundings. A tad on the pricey side but definitely worth it.
A group of disaffected Catholics in Malta have been forced to resort to civil law after they were unable to terminate their membership of the Church earlier this year. They join a string of organisations set up in recent years to push for the right to formally defect from the Catholicism.
Not In Our Name was founded earlier this year as a response to the abysmal behaviour of the Maltese Church during the referendum campaign to introduce divorce, which included refusing absolution to parishioners intending to vote for divorce and pressurising the elderly and vulnerable to vote against it.
On Saturday, the Maltese people go to the ballot box to decide whether or not their country should make divorce legal.
Malta and the Philippines are the only two countries left in the world where divorce remains unavailable, with the exception of Vatican City. Marriage laws have been a politically contentious issue in the island nation for decades. While it is currently not possible for Maltese courts to dissolve a marriage, divorces obtained by citizens overseas are legally recognised, which is not the case in the Philippines. Those unable to seek a divorce elsewhere have two alternatives. Legal separation enables the division of shared property but partners cannot remarry. Annulment allows for this possibility but then the couple’s own marriage is considered to have never existed. They need to show that it was invalid from the start.
Many of you will remember Section 28, the controversial amendment that banned local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. Scotland repealed the amendment in 2000, three years before the rest of the UK.
In 2006, the Church of Scotland became the first major denomination in the UK to ‘bless’ gay unions, voting that this was a matter of conscience for individual ministers. This is in stark contrast to the Church of England, which has consistently reaffirmed that clergymen are banned from blessing same-sex unions, although individual cases have taken place unofficially.
I was surprised to learn last week that the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) has finally been granted permission to lay a wreath at the Stone of Remembrance during this year’s November 11th ceremonies.
Firstly, I was surprised at the news that this makes Scotland the first nation in the UK to allow a secular organisation to take part in national remembrance day events. In a country where less than 50% of people believe in a God, this seems far overdue. The HSS say they want to represent the servicemen and women of the war who did not have religious faith, but I hope they will also be laying the wreath on behalf of all the non-religious people in the UK who wish to remember those who gave their lives without referring to a God.
Part of The Guardian’s series, “Can we choose what we believe?”
Are we responsible for what we believe? Do we have a choice in the matter? This is not just a philosophical question but one that has considerable relevance to modern life.
At every point throughout history we have treated people as if they choose to believe. The Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of its hapless victims assumed that they could have avoided their heresies. The Chinese government treats Falun Gong practitioners as if they freely flout the law. More controversially, if US authorities end up executing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, they will imply that he chose to believe he was on a mission from God and that he could have chosen to believe otherwise – and this raises issues about the alleged use of indoctrination in the spreading of extremism and the training of suicide bombers.