As a child, I thought Boxing Day was about a noble and violent sport. It was with considerable disappointment that I gradually realised that the day had less to do with fisticuffs on a black and white TV than boxing up presents for the ‘less wealthy’ and ‘social inferiors.’ My British in-laws do actually refer to the yearly thank-you tip they give the milkman as a ‘Christmas box’, so the term is still used, just, in some parts of Britain.
Nothing much remains in Malta of this very Anglo-Saxon tradition, despite years of colonisation. The day after Christmas is now about unwrapped presents, headache management and gentle anti-climax. While yesterday I was woken up by a child squealing at a bulging sock on his bed, this morning was met with black coffee and a quiet shower. It would all have been pretty stereotypical were it not for the fact that my wife had work to do.
As freelancers, we are the exception to the rule that dictates that most of Malta is on holiday till January 4th. So by 9.15, my son and I were blinking at a watery sun over the runway at the Old Luqa airport and my wife was starting her copy writing assignment for a flying school. We watched her climb into the Diamond DA40 behind the pilot, and waved, feeling like bit parts in a play.
It was then I realised that about forty years ago, I had spent an entire afternoon in the same location waiting with my father for a plane that never arrived. He had arranged for me to be taken up in a Vulcan, by an English pilot friend of his. And the day had ended in terrible disappointment, because the pilot forgot to show up and I spent my afternoon waiting outside the the Air Traffic Control building in Luqa, watching the planes take off instead. And my father kept biting his lip and looking at his watch. I was nine; more or less my son’s age now.
The memory now stirred was the cue for my own impromptu flight, fuelled by mental snapshots of RAF bombers and silver Camberras, when my father wore a uniform that gently smelt of engine oil and tobacco. I only stopped gabbling when I sensed my child fidget to hide his boredom.
So we went back to watching the clouds from our perch outside the old barracks. Until the little plane dropped out of the sky and the propeller stopped as suddenly as it had sprung into life.
“We should get up there more often,” said my wife as she climbed out over the wing. “You can see the pockets of green and space in Malta that are so difficult to find when you’re down here. Every contour, wied (valley) and inlet. Let’s go for a walk somewhere new tomorrow; not the seafronts.”
Boxing Day is a waiting room for the new year; a penny for your thoughts. And for floating above the clouds to find your personal space outside the box of this island.
Photo: Andrew Galea Debono