The Soundtrack to my Life


The massive tower crane across the street hums incessantly. Rising and falling like a siren that whistles and screams, as the metal at the end of its cables clatters and scrapes along the roof of the monster block being built right in front of my windows.

They’ve already started tiling the lower floors. There’s the whine of the chaser they cut the tiles with, screaming like a demented banshee. Stopping and starting. Incessantly.

The workers shout at each other across the block. They’re directing the guy who has just brought a truck full of sand, and the high-up arm on the truck clatters and grinds its way up to one of the storeys, while workers shovel sand noisily into the bucket, the crunch of the shovel not lost, but providing a backdrop to the shouted instructions that seem never-ending.

There’s the persistent loud clippity-clopp of the machine that smooths the stone blocks before they’re laid. It’s left on all the time, in between the sharp wail and screech it makes when each block of stone is passed through it. Then the clippity-clopp returns, accompanied by the clanking of the large chisel used to pat the blocks in place on the cement.

Ah, the jackhammer down the street is at it again. The workers must have broken for lunch. It’s back now, full tilt. Easily the most horrendous noise in existence, vibrating my mind and thoughts with its jiggedy-jig, loud and head-shattering. They must have found some other two-storey house to knock down and transform into a charmless monolith of concrete. It will soon be followed by the horrendous clackity-clack of the earth digger. Those were horrible months, those were, just before the building started on the monstrosity across the way. What fun to look forward to.

One of the neighbours’ daughter’s boyfriend, in his souped up Escort Mark 2 has come to collect her again. The growl of the engine gives him away. It’s left on, of course, as he sits on the horn to call her out. The horn is a loud parp. Pressed twenty times (I counted) before her shrill voice, presumably from a window, tells him she’s coming.

They’re playing the radio full on in the block being built behind us. I know when the workers turn up at half past six in the morning. That’s when the radio is switched on. And it stays on till they leave around five in the afternoon. They must be ready to roof one of the floors. There’s an awful crashing of metal on stone. The net to be used? Possibly. They’re using an angle grinder, that drones, then screeches loudly as it cuts through the steel. Feels like a stiletto of sound, sharp and pointed, piercing my ear drums.

Ah, the neighbour’s daughter did not stay true to her promise to come down. It’s the parp-parp-parp of the Escort’s (undoubtedly customized) horn again. OK. Only fifteen times this time. Her shrill voice silences it. She screams at him. He shouts back, and swears to high heaven, and slams the door of the car. No, the doors. OK, he seems to be slamming doors instead of sitting on the horn, venting his frustration at her tardiness.

A rather large woman who drives a tiny Subaru and has five young kids (all packed into it whenever I see them) has just arrived. She has a voice that would shame the roar of a bull being taunted in Pampalona. And the kids, it seems, who whine and cry and scream and shout and argue loudly, can do no right. She bawls at them, and slams the doors of her Subaru (what is it with slamming doors in frustration in my street?). Good, they’re moving away, the roar of their interaction slowly fading and being drowned out now by the hum of the high-up arm, lifting up the bucket of sand as the scraping shovel perpares more for when it lands.

The sudden elevated growl of the Escort signals the arrival of the prodigal girlfriend, and for nearly a minute it masks the sound of the tower crane and the stone machine, though not the chaser and the angle grinder. Nor the jackhammer. Nothing masks the jackhammer.

They’re hammering next door, and drilling. Both sounds compete with each other, but the drilling actually wins. I get the impression of a meters high drill, twisting holes out of tiny walls. The whir is massive and drones for long minutes. It stops for seconds at a time, but then the hammering (must be more than one hammer… has to be…) takes over with gusto. Occassionaly there’s a symphony, the drill providing the wind and string instruments, and the hammer the percussion. The composer, though, must have been insane and produced a discordant overture to madness.

Oh, it’s the front door neighbour’s son. I had not seen him for the first few years I lived here. But I recognised him from his voice. A fog-horn of a voice, but with the edge of nails scraping on a blackboard. I have only ever heard him shouting and swearing at the top of his lungs. I’ve never heard him laugh, nor have I heard him speak softly (I very much doubt he can). He is shouting at his mother to open the door. He has rung the doorbell twice, and is now impatient to go in. Ah, he’s kicking the door now. And the voice again. Rasping like a bad actor’s in a horror movie. When once I caught a glimpse of him, his bulk fit right in with his voice. Most of it was round the tummy, true, but the chest from where the fog-horn emanated was wide and barrel-like, and might even, with training, turn up the decibels one day. I worry about earthquakes if that were to be the case. Good. She’s let him in. And he’s giving her a lashing of his tongue (it’s a rasping roar that reverberates and echoes till it fades in the innards of the house).

Good lord, it’s Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up” blaring from the street. High. Incredibly high. Let’s see what my phone app says. Hmm… it’s fluctuating between 102 and 107 decibels. And I’m five floors up. Must be as high as a jet-engine where it’s coming from. But who…? A quick look out the window. A 1990’s BMW across the way with its front doors open. Its owner has a blue bucket and a chamois and sponge. He must have decided he wanted entertainment as he washed his car. Oh, he’s opened the back doors. Rick Astley’s heavenly voice gives me hell. I close all windows, my double glazing knocking ten or so decibels off the din.

But the jackhammer is magic. It’s jiggedy-jig seems to cut right through double glazing and creates a soundtrack to life.

My life…

Tkasbira lil Malta


With apologies to those non-Maltese who come across this. All Maltese will recognise the poem I am parodying here… a tribute to our island home from the 19th century. A sad updating of reality.



The Maltese (we) are a dirty race.

Here I’m using that word in its most basic lexical meaning. I’m talking about dirt, rubbish, trash… all that the Maltese leave behind them anywhere and everywhere they go. Untidiness is ingrained in our nature and, it seems, no amount of education can wean us of the urge to dump things wherever and whenever we please.

When a cigarette packet is empty, it is thrown out of an open car window onto the road. When a packet of crisps is eaten, it’s crumpled and dropped. Right there and then. As are cigarette stubs. Wrappers. Sticky, disgusting chewing gum.

Our streets are pig styes. And, yes, the local councils can do more by engaging sweepers to clean up the mess once in a while, but it really is not the Councils that are making the streets dirty, and giving our island the veneer of a third world country in the eyes of its residents and visitors.

No, it’s us. We are the culprits. The son who dropped that crisp bag probably saw his dad throw out that cigarette packet. The level of negative modelling in this is horrendous.

And those who throw out a cigarette pack are probably also to blame for the mattress dumped in a field, just beyond a scenic rubble wall. For the large, broken shelf resting against the facade of a house. Not the house of the one who threw out the shelf of course. No, logically not. NIMBY lives and is well, but anywhere outside the back yard is fair game.

And there really is no reason for this. There are few countries in which trash collection is as frequent as in ours. In which bulky items are collected by appointment by councils. And for free. We have no reason to litter. No reason to dump things where they shouldn’t be dumped. It’s actually more of a chore to do so than to abide by the laws of the land and use dustbins and the services provided for us.

Not that there are enough public dustbins, nor are they emptied and cleaned regularly and efficiently where they do exist, resulting in much more of a mess than if they hadn’t been used at all. But even where dustbins exist, they’re not used.

Why? Because that’s what we’ve always done. That’s what we’ve always been like. Because, in public, we are dirty by nature. Privately, however, we’re not dirty by any stretch of the imagination. Just check out our own homes (in the main). But when it comes to public spaces, we just don’t care enough to learn to hold onto what needs dumping till we find the right place to do so.

I also have the most intense, vehement hatred for those dog walkers who do not clean up after their pets poop. The street where I live in Msida and those surrounding it have become an obstacle course for residents. Circumnavigating turds has become an acquired skill, even while holding one’s breath as the stench of excrement radiates in the extensive summer heat.

And, to pre-empt the obvious comment, no, we’re not the only race that’s this dirty! There are others, sure, but are they the ones we want to emulate in this? Or those countries where even little side-roads are pristine in cleanliness? Or those in whose streets walking is a pleasure and not a chore?

I get very jealous when I’m in those countries whose citizens love their land enough to want it to be as clean as their own houses are. Because I know that even if local councils were to make much (MUCH) more of an effort than they are making at the moment, the streets in which we live will remain overwhelmed by trash thrown out by those who do not care.

I find it hard to believe that all the Maltese don’t care, but given the amount of rubbish that surrounds us, suffocating any pleasure there might be at who we are, I tend to believe that that is indeed the case.