by Kate MacDonald
My Father joined the Royal Navy when I was an infant, so to me, he was a stranger who appeared every two or three years with nice presents, stayed for a few weeks, then disappeared again. Later, there would be a baby sister, then another visit and another sister. In 1958, he was stationed in Malta at Fort St. Angelo. Rarely did a sailor get a shore-based position. Mum decided she would fly with three little daughters to be with him. Here was a woman who had never been out of Scotland or flown before. This was the bravest and best decision she ever made.
We left Scotland one dark and stormy night. We were going to a country mum said would bathe us in constant sunshine. The plane ride was amazing, but when we touched down it was again dark and there was torrential rain. My mum told me years later that the look I gave her spoke volumes.
We stayed in a hotel that night and when I pulled back the curtains the next morning, brilliant sunshine greeted me. I woke everyone up to witness this wonderful sight. Unfortunately, it was five am, we had not fallen asleep until three am, so I had to dodge slippers, shoes, small toys and even a packet of biscuits as I dived into a walk-in wardrobe for protection. The biscuits joined me, of course.
Dad had rented a lovely little house for us, and we soon settled in, but for me, what was missing was a pet. I asked if we could have one of the many dogs that roamed the tiny streets of Vittoriosa, but my Dad very wisely said no. Looking back, I understand why he wouldn’t want me to have a mangy, wild dog, but at the time I just thought he was mean.
I was beginning to question whether this man I barely knew was Dad material. What followed took him a long time to live down. My sisters and I had the top floor of the house and opposite us was our bathroom. Very early one morning, I was amazed and delighted to see a mouse (it was, in fact, a huge rat) running around the bottom of the bath. I woke up my little sisters telling them there was a surprise. We crept downstairs to the kitchen, got some bread and butter. We then crept back upstairs to feed our new pet.
Our giggling woke up Mum, who came grumbling upstairs to find out what we were up to. She poked her head into the bathroom and spotted the huge rat. The poor woman let out the loudest and longest scream I ever heard. This woke Dad, who was totally alarmed and came storming upstairs. He looked at the rat in the bath, then ran up the next flight of stairs and onto the roof terrace. He grabbed a shovel, leapt back downstairs, and whacked the rat. He scooped it up and took it out of the bathroom, out of our lives and into the dustbin! My sisters and I were inconsolable. We had witnessed what to us was a mindless act of violence against a harmless mouse. This man was a monster.
I know he felt very bad after he had a moment to calm down. He hadn’t had time to think about the effect his actions would have on three little girls. His main concern had been to get the dirty creature as far away from his family as fast as he could. He did try to redeem himself by buying me a Budgie later.
It was not a dog, but it did have a lovely tweet. It was a very clever bird. I taught it to push along a little ball with its beak. Dad made a tightrope that it could walk along. It tweeted “Pretty Boy” and wolf-whistled, too. One very hot day, I took it out on the veranda to get some air. It slipped through the railings and plummeted to the street below. I only found out then that dad had clipped it’s wings because he didn’t want it to fly away. That worked a little too well. That was another black mark and one more dead pet, poor dad.
Luckily, I got older, and dad slowly learned how to become a great dad. He taught me to swim, how to play marbles and crack crossword puzzles. We had a very special bond, both loners happy in the silences between us. That was bliss for both of us, as the three other members of our family could not find a silence they couldn’t fill.
That has jogged some memories. I knew Malta in the seventies when Mintoff held sway and the British Army was in the process of leaving. My father moved there to start a business building mobile units; we would visit for our hols. When the Airport was being developed, we would drive along the half-built runways to visit friends who had a restaurant in Marsaxlokk.
When Dad moved to a villa in Qrendi, the whole village would turn out to his barbecues. Great memories visiting TaQali Craft Village and the Popeye village (which was pretty basic back then).