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Category Archives: Malta 2013

Gate 13

After an additional day in Malta, I was ready to go home. But several twists of fate meant that home wasn’t quite ready for me.

The flight to Manchester was scheduled for 1230, but at check in passengers were told that it had been delayed – perhaps by an hour or so. Not a problem. However, once through security it emerged that our plane hadn’t actually taken off from Manchester, some three hours away.

Flight delays are bad enough. But flight delays without any access to electronic communication to rearrange things back home create a whole new set of challenges. I soon made friends with an older couple who were equipped with a laptop. He stared blankly at the screen, wondering why the airport’s free wifi wouldn’t connect. I went to the information desk to try to find an Internet cafe. No such facilities exist these days, since everyone has a smart phone, right?

“I’ve heard it’s snow. But how come Thomson could take off and EasyJet couldn’t?” ranted a grumpy Northern woman. “I’m NEVER flying with them again.” I rather wished she hadn’t in the first place. Her friend helpfully added “Look at the boarding card – Gate 13. What does THAT tell you?”

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Eventually, special pleading got me a few minutes access to the VIP lounge. Yet being online got me no closer to finding out where our plane was or when it might be arriving. After several hours, EasyJet provided vouchers for lunch – a whopping €4.50 – slightly less than the cost of a sandwich and a drink.

The clock was slowly ticking. If we didn’t land in Manchester by 7.30pm, I couldn’t get a train home to Nottingham that night, given that once back, I’d also have to call out a locksmith. Eventually, the plane landed. It looked like we might just make it.

And we would have, had it not been for the painfully slow refuelling process, and the age it took to bring on passengers with mobility problems via the comical cherry picker. Then the multi lingual computer broke down. And without the obligatory safety announcement in Maltese, we couldn’t take off. I hate reinforcing stereotypes, but our cabin crew of Ryan and Dan looked barely old enough to have their own passports, yet probably legal enough to be Joint Members of the Mile High Club. Sadly there was no additional opening for newcomers. Guffaw.

All of which added an extra hour, which was just enough to mean landing 30 minutes after my own deadline. The flight itself was made worse by a new on board service called The Old Scouser In Row 4. In Row 3 I was treated to various extras, including having my seat continually grabbed and jostled each time she moved, a running commentary on how she wasn’t hanging around train stations at one in the morning and – almost every time I just about managed to doze off – a loud conversation with an equally animated woman in Row 2. It was like a West End Farce at 30,000 feet, involving a meaningless dialogue between a slim version of Miranda Hart and Merseyside’s answer to Julie Walters.

Predictably, Manchester was enjoying a heavy rain shower when we landed – three minutes before my last train was due to leave. I resigned myself to a night in a hotel, finishing off my final cans of Maltese beer.

A great holiday, a nightmare and an adventure all in one. I can’t wait to get out of this country again.

 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Malta 2013

 

It WILL Be Fine

“So, can we just laugh and point at you now?”

I’ve learned a number of things over these past few days, including the fact that Phil is not always the most tactful of people. He speaks his mind. A bit like me. Which is why I didn’t mind too much when he came out with this quote.

After all, I was the one who’d just left his backpack on the airport bus. Complete with his tickets, passport, iPad and house keys.

With the countdown on to check in, I made some hurried enquiries. First, the Arriva bus desk, where there was a very nice man who promised to call control – who would in turn call all of the drivers on the X2 bus route. They found nothing.

I also wrestled with the possibility that I’d somehow simultaneously picked up and dropped said backpack when moving my heavier case off the bus by the departures entrance. But I hadn’t.

For the first time in my life, I prayed that the airport police would have found my bag and be surrounding it, threatening to explode it as a suspicious package. But they hadn’t.

So, with no way of boarding the plane – or indeed gaining entry back into the UK, I bode farewell to the crew and headed to the police station. The officer behind the desk was more than helpful, and went about filing a report which said my bag had been both “lost” and “stolen”, which was technically true. One by one, his colleagues came in for their tea break, filling the small office with loud conversation – probably centred on the idiot standing in front of them.

The British High Commission - on the highest floor

The British High Commission – on the highest floor

From there is was a trip by expensive taxi to the British High Commission, which by good fortune was just around the bay in Gzira where we’d been staying. Predictably, the building was just by the Yacht Club and the Royal Polo Club – in avast, modernist building shared by several European countries. I felt rather special – and rather British – as I took the glass lift to the top floor to explain my woes.

The middle aged lady was very lovely, but the exact stereotype of how you’d expect a member of Her Majesty’s Consular Staff to behave.

“You lost all of your documents? Oh, how TERRIBLE. That really is horrific. Now, fill out this form why I disappear for fifteen minutes for no apparent reason.”

En route to the Consulate I’d expected Chesterfield sofas, warm tea and chandeliers. Instead I got an interview room which made me feel like the criminal. 45 painful minutes later – and 120 Euro lighter, I emerged with several receipts and instructions to return later for my Emergency Passport.

I then checked into the hotel connected to our apartments. The receptionist was a bit surprised to see me. Then the messy business of trying to lock or locate the stolen iPad and arranging for someone to unlock my apartment doors back home. Of course I keep spare keys. In my bedroom drawer.

Still, things ould have been a lot worse. One thing I’d not packed was my wallet, meaning an extra day in Malta and more time to relax.

You can all laugh and point now.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2013 in Malta 2013, Travel Stuff

 

Blimey – it’s only Peter Andre!

Saturday – and just a few hours before the big event. But first, a visit to Mdina, a beautiful hilltop location known as The Silent City.

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Which would be lovely, were the silence not broken by a herd of German schoolchildren and the light construction taking place next to the gate.

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Still, we didn’t let it spoil things. Those walls are so thick they drown out the noise of the builders, and are probably more than adequate to accommodate several children wrapped in thick concrete.

For legal reasons, I should point out that this didn’t happen. Instead, we opted for some more Cake Porn on a rooftop cafe, commanding some more great views.

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The streets of Mdina are apparently curved because, historically, you couldn’t shoot an arrow around a corner. Today, arrows are still banned – as far as I know – though no everyone’s convinced.

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Now, more perceptive readers will notice that so far today, there’s been no Euro Geekiness. But that all changed in the evening when we were transported in a posh Merc to a windswept tent by the national stadium. Our driver had clearly misunderstood the meaning of “hands free” since for much of the journey at least one of his hands was nowhere near the steering wheel. Outside the tent, thing looks bleak, but inside, Phil’s come up trumps with ringside seats. I can’t wait for Giant Haystacks to appear.

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Our actual view – eek Geek

At this point, I’m slightly concerned that, being on the front row might mean regular panning camera shots of me on Maltese TV looking variously confused, bored or falling asleep. But happily, most of the audience shots are done from overhead. Plus, my Motley Crew’s stoic refusal to dance, clap or show any emotion whatsoever puts paid to this Director’s plans. Although I later discovered that we apparently featured quite a bit on the live webstream of the show. Fortunately, this is mostly viewed only by other Euro Geeks, comparing one country’s scoring system with another. But more of that later. The only thing we can get vaguely excited by is our recreation of the Mdina City Walls using cans of lovely beer.

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At the start of the show we have a marching band and some dancers. Think Seaside Special circa 1982 and you get the picture.

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Then, after what already seems like an eternity, the hosts announce that Peter Andre is in the audience. And they’re not fibbing either.

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Gordon and Elaine rattle through the 16 songs on show tonight, which may sound like an endurance test. But I’m thankful we weren’t here last night for the semi final, which consisted of 24 songs and four ours of hell. We watched some of it on TV, closing three bars in the process. After various performance by Alicia Keys, Boyzone and Alison Moyet clones, the predictable voting process throws up an unpredictable winner in Gianluca Bezzina.

If you can’t make that link work, just download Hey Soul Sister by Train.

Come on, you know him? He’s the one that looks a bit like Any Mediterranean Man in A British Soap. And he’s quite pleased to win. Although he nearly didn’t.

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A few minutes before the result was announced, sounds of tutting and multi lingual arguments sweep across the front two rows. A key Geek website has named a woman called Amber as the winner – before the results have been announced. Like many things online these days, it turns out to be untrue. Someone’s written a “ready to go” article and pressed the publish button. A case of premature ejaculation but without the porn of your choice to help things along.

The proceedings finally end at midnight. But there’s more to come, as John manages to blag our way into the after show party, at which there are absolutely no drunken homosexuals present.

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And John even gets to interview Gian

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After that, we did some more drinking, including with Gordon and Elaine – the hosts of the show. I’ve not been this excited since meeting Bob Holness on the Blockbusters set.

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Posted by on February 3, 2013 in Malta 2013, Travel Stuff

 

A home away from home

“That seat you’re in there. That’s where Oliver Reed had his last drink before he died.”

It’s exactly the sort of tall story which I love telling American tourists in Ye Olde Trip To Jerusalem in Nottingham. Anything mythical will do really. Robin Hood, Princess Diana – it all works.

But back to Valletta. And the seat that Phil is in really is where Ollie had his last drink. Appropriately, it’s a place called “The Pub” and is also frequented by members of the Royal Navy when they’re in town. They’ve even created a shrine to the great old drunk.

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The ferry across from Sliema gives you a great view of the city walls, ideally situated to defend it from invaders.

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Whilst I’m attempting to take some pictures of the cathedral, Phil and Franko are assembled with John by a tourist information sign. But they’re not trying to find the past, but the present. Just when I though the Geek Factor couldn’t get any higher, John cross references some information on his smart phone with a tiny container from behind the sign.

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This is a sport known as geocaching, where participants seek out small metallic receptacles containing a long strip of paper – the log – which is signed and neatly packed back in for the next person to find.

It’s all to easy to get colonial about Malta. They drive on the left, all the signs are in English and they have shops which may soon no longer be seen on the British High Street.

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Poor old Nipper. But enough moping about. Phil is instantly impressed by the Panini sticker shop

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There’s also a “wholesale” sweet shop. I’ll have a hundred kilos of cola bottles please

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Sadly, I’m told that I’m not allowed to do my Cher impression on the cannons

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It really has been a perfect day. Right down to the woman on the ferry who cheerfully said : “Right then, little man, let’s go and do some bouncing.” Before I could summon up the words “barking”, “up” and “wrong tree” I realised she had a small child with her. Now then, who needs a nice pair of slacks?

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Posted by on February 1, 2013 in Malta 2013, Travel Stuff

 

A Room With THE View

On the way to Malta, we flew over the alps. Here they are.

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You know that feeling when you’ve read a few “mixed” reviews about a place before you arrive? Well, I’d not read a thing about the Bay View Apartments in Gzira. And I’ll admit that I was just a bit apprehensive when the hotel receptionist guided us out of the main building and into a small entrance next to a fried chicken shop. To be honest, it was like being back home.

Except home doesn’t have a view like this.

20130131-131231.jpgHello Malta. You’re looking lovely.

Phil has pulled this one of, and in splendid style. NewsMutt himself is very impressed.

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Now it’s often the case that rooms with this kind of view inevitably have some drawbacks. But I can’t envisage any problems whatsoever by having the extraction fan from the local fried chicken shop being next to the bathroom window. After a few local beers of an evening, it might be the perfect hangover cure. And handy for brunch too.

Or we could just stay in an admire the view. Which is rather nice.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Malta 2013, Travel Stuff

 

Manchester : Service With A Frown

Jasper Carrott used to do a great comedy routine about East Midlands Airport, berating its basic facilities. He’d joke that the aircraft were so old they were launched by bungee. These days, East Midlands is owned by the same group as Manchester Airport, our departure point. And at 4am, it’s grim up north.

The morning starts with a heavy downpour, accompanied by a shuttle bus driver with a suitably miserable approach to the job in hand. He allows a family of passengers to get on board, before telling them that their cases need to go in the back. This means them getting off the bus and the rest of us waiting in the rain until all was safely stowed.

I use the term “shuttle bus” loosely. In the gloom of the winding Airport perimeter road, the transfer vehicle resembled something you might be put in by the riot squad. Inside the terminal we wander aimlessly to the check in hall – on the impossibly high Level 12. The breakfast bar is staffed by a collection of employees who achieved varying levels of failure at charm school. A queue soon forms of people waiting 20 minutes for a bacon buttie and a pint of Fosters.

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Bap, sir?

But one of the great things about airports is the opportunity to do some people watching, and people listening – trying to decipher which language different groups might be speaking in, and working out which of the various flights they might be on.

Today’s exercise is made more challenging when people are using words and phrases not in common usage by normal people. And it’s not too long before I’m at a compete loss as to what John and Phil are talking about.

“Veronica wanted me to do two summaries of the semi finalists – but I told her she could stuff that.”

“Yeah – who does she think she is? Does she even realise the difficulties with HTML?”

This is deep geek stuff. A conversation, apparently, about the secret world of Eurovision web sites, of which there are many. A dozen names of Maltese performers are brought into the ever more impossible array of Stuff Your Brain Shouldn’t Be Able To Deal With At 5am. To John and Phil, it’s just another game of Departure Lounge Foreplay.

“Klinssman’s a fool. How many more times is he going to enter? He always come last!”

Incidentally, I’ll be copyrighting some of these ideas for Airport Games and selling them to Channel 5, compete with a money making app. Big Brother’s got nothing on this material, and we’ve not even taken off.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in Malta 2013, Travel Stuff

 

It WILL Be Fine

For me, one of the joys of travel is getting off the tourist trail and sampling some local life. Mixing with ordinary folk, learning about their culture and finding out what makes them tick. The great thing about Malta is that it’s a small place, so that shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Well, that might be the case if it weren’t for the fact that my choice of companions for this trip have little interest in anything to do with the place – except for who’ll be representing the country in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

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How do you make a Maltese cross? #obviouspunchline

Now I’m the first to admit that I have something of a soft spot for Eurovision. Who doesn’t? The pinnacle of my interest and involvement was covering the 1998 final in Birmingham, where I became the first person to announce on commercial radio that an Israeli trans-sexual had won the contest – and was called an “asshole” by Katrina, of the Waves fame, after trying to track her down for an interview.

In preparing for this trip, the motto of my Motley Crew – John, Franko and Phil – has been “It WILL be fine”, which to me, as a relative outsider, suggests that it probably won’t be. These guys have travelled to the furthest corners of Europe, not only attending the Grand Final (that’s the actual Eurovision Song Content to you and me), but the national finals of other countries too. Some have sat on the voting juries. They know every performer, every statistic and own larger anoraks than mine. That’s saying something.

Like many great ideas, the holiday began life in a pub. After several beers, I could think of no better place to seek a bit of winter sun than Malta – taking in the local Euro Song final. As someone else once said, what could possibly go wrong?

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My Lovely Horse – setting the standard

And for the first time in many years, I’ve done virtually no research for this holiday. Somebody else has booked the apartment, someone knows exactly how the ticketing system works, and somebody else has checked out the nearest bar. So although I’ll secretly be loving every minute, I’ll also be charting some of the highlights on the blog in the coming days.

And sniggering as much as possible.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2013 in Malta 2013