There are people who leave an indelible mark on the lives of others without indulging in any self-aggrandising publicity. One of them, although I did not know him personally, was Pawlu Curmi, il-Pampalun. His passing away at the age of 94 saddened thousands of people and not just within the Carnival community, with whom he was synonymous.
Artist and graphic designer Stiefnu De Battista recalls the days when he and his cousin Paul Chircop were young and used to go to Paul Curmi’s warehouse in Valletta, which was actually a church close to where his grandmother used to live: “Seeing a church from the outside and then an explosion of colours and floats inside was something that left a mark on me as a child, and that is where my love for Carnival started.”
Il-Pampalun was the face of Maltese Carnival. Known and loved in his hometown of Valletta, his passion and love for Carnival stole the hearts of Maltese and foreigners alike. Over a span of 68 years, Curmi nurtured the annual festival of fun and colour which was the joy of many children and adults alike. He did it out of love for the tradition, never seeking to make a penny out of it.
In 2017, Curmi told his wife that his greatest wish was to die in Carnival. Alas, his wish hasn’t been granted. But I am sure that he will be received by the Almighty in a Grotesque Carnival Float.
No government in the world can satisfy the wishes of all constituents. Resources are always scarce next to the many demands made on them. So, while one can appreciate that the completion of the Medical School next to the University Hub might not be the government’s top priority, surely a project that was announced in 2019 should now be pushed up the list.
According to what I gleaned from various newspaper reports, whenever the Ministry of Health is reminded of its 2019 announcement, it refers stakeholders to another Ministry, that responsible for Education. It has become a habit for ministries to shake off responsibility for something and blame the failure on another ministry, as if they are not part of the same government. John Citizen might conclude that the only time ministers talk to each other is when they meet at some reception.
It is true that the quality of medical schooling does not depend on a building, but the government itself frequently boasts about new secondary schools being a sign of the importance it is giving to education. So, the Malta Health Students Association is quite right to draw attention to this, particularly when professors and lecturers at the University draw attention to the excellent facilities available at the Bart Medical School in Gozo.
48 minutes’ work
When I was a youngster, I used to hear my dad describing somebody as “bagħal għax-xogħol”, meaning that the person in question would toil day and night to earn a pound. That seems to me like ages ago. Today, it is more likely to hear somebody refer to that proverbial “bagħal” as a “baħnan” who does not know how to enjoy himself/herself.
The world of work has certainly changed. Nowadays, we talk about the work-life balance, and psychologists lose no opportunity to remind us that happiness is not just about money but also about mental health. The issue has gained more traction since the Covid pandemic, when people discovered that they could work from home. Many, particularly in well-paid service occupations, are refusing to go back to work. I know of one bank which reduced its office footprint by half, spent thousands refurbishing the remaining half to make it attractive to employees, but still cannot get them back to the Office. I understand that most of the employees concerned have threatened to resign, rather than go back to the office!
This reluctance to go back to the traditional office regimen is somewhat linked to the idea that we should also ditch the 40-hour week. Some companies and countries have already experimented with a 35-hour week. The question whether employees have made up for their reduced hours by higher productivity is still a moot one. To the extent that they haven’t, the cost of labour will have gone up and exerted pressure on profit margins.
In any case, it is not that workers actually work a 40-hour week. The other day, a report by Eurofound revealed that employees in the EU work only 33 hours per week on average. Apparently, workers in France, Denmark, and Sweden work the fewest hours, while those in Estonia, Hungary, and Poland work the most. The figure in Malta is 33.8 hours.
So, we are working 48 minutes more on average than our European counterparts. That is equivalent to just over five days of extra work annually. One might ask whether it is time to add the five days to our tally of 40 days of annual leave and public holidays. That would make us the best in Europe, easily beating Denmark’s 38 days. Silly me!
Vishing and smishing
These are not two dirty words. The first one refers to the calls many of us have received from local numbers which are, in fact, calls from other countries by scammers looking out for victims. The second one concerns SMSs reaching us in the same way. We all know that those who engage in this activity are just out to get confidential information from us which they can then use to defraud us. Some even impersonate the Police, or else bank or government officials who are “just making sure that the confidential information we have about you is correct” .
The scams have multiplied many-fold and so have the victims. It is amazing that, in spite of the many appeals made by the Police, financial institutions, and others, there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of people who fall for these scams. Some people, mostly elderly or vulnerable persons, have lost considerable sums of money or even their lifetime savings.
It was, therefore welcome news that the Malta Communications Authority has started talking to the tech providers in Malta who operate international communications network interfaces, with a view to agreeing preventative measures which might mitigate scams. Hopefully, some way will be found to make life difficult for the scammers.