This comfy sofa of an old man you see before you, spending his nights curled up on the sofa with hubby and our rambunctious rabbit Rupert Everett, has not always lived a lifestyle so gentle as easy. The fast lane is one I am only too familiar with, in many different ways, but mainly while driving. There is one truth about my youth which definitely seems to have changed slightly due to age, and that is my love of speed. So maybe it is a good thing I live in a country with the slowest traffic I have ever experienced.
I got a motorbike the minute I was sixteen, the legal age at that time in the UK, and then passed my car driving test less than four weeks after my seventeenth birthday. Again, the legal age at the time for holding a driving license at the time in the UK. My need to hit the open road, free to roam wherever I wanted, no-one telling me where to go, no destination in mind. Just an open road with the windows down and music blaring, (although always remembering to lower it when driving back through a town or village. My mother raised a good boy, bless her), was all I needed to fill my heart with joy.
I refuse to discuss the poor the state of driving in Malta like a moaning old Brit. Despite the fact that driving here often fills my heart with sadness now. It is so easy to be judgemental, and besides, I know many of you will agree that the subject is just too depressing. Although I have to say, certain, definitely not all of the road improvements seem to be working, for now. No, I want to talk about how to make driving fun for all, which is as it should be! As a technical advancement, it is incredible. So much so that, out of the current five hundred thousand people living in Malta, there are just under four hundred cars registered between you all. That is love if ever I saw it.
I see the love of cars wherever I go on this island. Cars in the UK are sadly replaced with great alacrity. So many of my friends comment on how wonderful it is to see so many old cars on the roads here in such incredible condition. I feel forever grateful to be part of that club, as I became the guardian of a beautiful vintage BMW when my father-in-law sadly passed away several years ago. I get stopped and asked about it constantly, by young and old. I’m doing my best to look after it for the next family member who will one day experience the thrill of gently idling through the streets of Gozo sat inside its splendour.
I think if we gave the same care and consideration to other car users and not just the cars we drive, Malta would be a completely different country to drive in. Imagine if someone was so careful of you damaging their prized possession that they actually used their indicator (it’s usually on, or near the steering wheel for those of you who are perplexed), so that you can slow down and anticipate their next move while following them on a roundabout. And then, crazy as it sounds, imagine extending that to when they pulled out of a driving space? Or reversed into one? See where I am going here. A country full of chilled out, slowed down divers listening to Goldfrapp and taking life as easy as it comes.
Now this will be a stretch for some of you, I know, but bear with me. Summon all your powers of visualisation and just try and picture somebody waving, or simply acknowledging you with a smile every time you slowed down to let them out of a slip lane to find themselves in front of you. Truly marvellous, no? Their smile would automatically engage yours, (someone really clever once told me that, was not going to argue). Then, like a yawn, but a positive version, your smile will infect the person sitting beside you at the traffic lights gawping through your windows to see what you look like. Amazing no, how quickly we could spread joy and happiness. And so simple. As a child, I smiled and waved at passers-by in cars all the time. Sometimes I still do. Do it tonight, just once on your way home. What is the worst that could happen? Go on, please. Amuse me. You never know, they may have read this article too!
This is the only part where I must sound slightly ‘preachy’ and if so, your forgiveness is asked for in advance. I only bring this subject up, as somebody once told me they were never taught this during driving lessons in Malta, and I was left flabbergasted. This small and easy trick will make every driver’s life happier and smoother as they navigate the mean streets of Sliema. When two very slowly moving lanes, (not static) are heading in the same direction into one lane, the rule is called ‘zipping’. One car from each lane enters the moving lane at a time. No waiting for ten cars to pass before someone is kind enough with their big smile listening to Kylie Minogue to finally let you out and both lanes keep moving, leaving every driver knowing that they are nearer their destination, with a big smile on their face. In the eleven years I have been driving on this island I think I’ve been ‘zipped’ twice, so to speak. I am starting a ‘zipping up’ campaign right now! Who is in?
I know we are all busy, even in these strange times, but simple tricks like leaving much more time than is needed for a journey can make a huge difference to our stress levels. And if smartphones are your thing, you can catch up on local gossip, or news as I hear some people like to call it. For me, a withered old paperback is a constant companion. I was thirty minutes early for an appointment the other day due to (overly) careful planning, and the least traffic I have seen on the roads here since a large football match was being played on the television. I cannot tell you how pleased I was to find out that the aged old Herman got to foxtrot with the most beautiful girl at the dance before my appointment. The anticipation was killing me. It literally made my day. No lack of indication or a non-waving thank you were getting rid of that particular smile I can tell you. It is easier to drive calmly in this country than you could possibly imagine, believe me. It might just require a bit of practice. Oh, and if you see me driving my old car anywhere in Malta, please wave and/or say hi. I promise you it will make my day.