Part 4 – Day Trips, Torrential Rain and Promenades or, There and Back Again
Monday morning and it was again a beautifully sunny start to the day. Fully refreshed by now, I went down to the hotel dining room once more for breakfast and ate a very hearty repast fit for a king, or should that be a giant? Anyhow it was, as always at the Hotel Santana, very enjoyable. All the other guests were there too and they were excitedly looking forward to the by-now-legendary convention tours.
With breakfast finished we all met up outside the hotel at the minibuses, which were to take us on our little post-convention adventures. We were due to go along to the War Museum – Malta for its size has a very war-oriented history, due to it being a very strategic point in the Mediterranean Sea. There we would meet up with some of the organisers who would be accompanying us for the day.
The trip along the coastal road is always a pleasant one and as folks chatted away we soon found ourselves outside the War Museum. It wasn’t long before we were joined outside the museum by the organisers, Mike Quinton, Fabio Agius, Chris Le Galle, Chris Muscat, and Joseph Bugeja. Shortly after we arrived I started to feel a headache coming on again, whilst we waited.
Inside the war museum the artefacts and the descriptions brought home the horrors of war. Whereas the year before we had visited the Armouries and seen all manner of intricately detailed, death dealing weaponry, this particular tour had a much more profound effect on some of the group, especially seeing the wartime poster of the two children in gas masks.
The pieces of torn metal, the bullet riddled pieces of equipment, the death certificates, the sheer size of the bombs and shells had an air of morbidity about them. Jon Haward found it especially depressing, probably due to the closeness of the years between the two world wars and the present. I have to admit my headache was getting worse and I followed Jon and the guys from Cyprus, Christopher Malapitan and Marios Constantinides out of the end of the museum, having seen all the displays so I could sit down for a while.
Outside the sun shone in an almost cloudless sky, so I shut my eyes hiding them behind my sunglasses. We sat outside in the shade for a while and then moved across the road to what would once have been a defence wall beyond which lay an inlet from the sea. On either side of this was the new and old architecture of Valletta.
It wasn’t too long before we were joined by the other members of the group; at which point we walked up the hill to where we came to a nice gardened area with sculptures, a water feature and the famous landmark, the Siege Bell War Memorial, which when it went off was LOUD! The bell was contained in a really magnificent Greek/Romanesque type structure and showed just how much heritage and beauty the UK has lost and continues to loose as the architect’s choose steel and glass and prefabrication over more organic looking buildings that are wonderful to look at.
Below us was the sea and a seaplane could almost be touched as it came in to land when we first arrived there. It was a lovely place, ideal for sitting for a while and just enjoying the sea air and great weather. A couple of the things I have always liked about my trips to Malta are both the historical references all over the island and the organisers knowledge of that history. They always explain all about it – keeping the trips relevant and interesting. They do an excellent job of promoting the islands.
We had some fun taking photographs of the place and each other in a variety of “normal” poses and others in heroic “comic book” styled poses and I feel I have to add here for posterity purposes that both Kate Brown and Emma Vieceli took rather a few photos of the posterior of one of the Greek-god-type sculptures. You can check out the evidence in the photos below. I think they said they wanted to get to the bottom of the artist’s integrity… or something along those lines. LOL.
My headache was getting worse and I mentioned this to Mike and arranged to get some tablets as we made our way from Valletta to our next port of call, The Inquisitor’s Palace sited in the heart of Vittoriosa. We made our way back to the minibuses passing as we did some really excellent architecture and some little fishing boats. As we began the walk down the hill to the minibuses Emma, finding out I had a headache gave me two tablets, which were a godsend, as shortly afterwards my headache was gone and we arrived in Birgu.
The bus rides are always full of chatting and laughter, especially during the tours and this was no exception. Folks were busy snapping photos of the surrounding countryside and buildings and we were all looking forward to something to eat.
First stop though was the Inquisitor’s Palace. Like most buildings in Malta it was very old and contained some fantastic artefacts. First of all we went up a beautiful stone staircase to where we were shown a room full of the paintings, portraits and crests of all the Inquisitors of the period. The ceiling was lined with painted crests and looked magnificent. We were shown around other rooms like the library, and bedrooms and then we were taken to where all the information was gained through ill gained deeds.
Yes, it was the torture chamber – dimly lit. Inside you could make out some of the instruments of torture that were used to get confessions and information on others. There a rack and some instrument for hanging the prisoners so they were suspended from the ceiling and there was even an Iron Maiden for good measure. I say that because although this was supposed to show an horrific method of getting prisoners to admit guilt, etc the tour guide was speaking about the whole affair as if nothing really happened in there, at least nothing bad.
He told us that it was not like the rest of the Spanish Inquisition and was, in his words, relatively cordial in its approach. No one was really tortured there the mere sight of the instruments of torture and death were most often enough to solve any further hassles with getting the said information.
He was actually smiling and quite excited about the whole thing as he guided us around the palace and even the organisers picked up this point and mentioned it to us all when we left. He was a very happy, jolly sort of chap and maybe that was what needed to be shown around, for what could have been a terribly depressing place to visit, given the circumstances in which the building was used.
We were allowed to take photographs and the sounds of digital cameras permeated the air as folks busily snapped away at the many things on display and then we passed through the little gift shop – it is always surprising that these kinds of places have gift shops – I wonder what those with real experience of the true use of the place would actually think of this fact?
Then we found ourselves once more in the street and eager for sustenance. Again walking through the streets to the waterside in Birgu we were surrounded by some wonderful old architecture. The sun was hidden at times behind some hazy clouds, but these were few and far between and it was quite hot still – or at least for a northern barbarian like myself that was indeed the case.
Eventually, having circumnavigated its winding streets, we found ourselves on the waterfront and our restaurant, which I think was called the Sottovento Ristoante, which is actually situated in the former Treasury of the Knights of St John in Vittoriosa. The actual building dates back to the 16th century and has recently been developed to become one of Malta's fast growing popular Marinas. . You could eat in, or outdoors and as it was quite late in the afternoon (around 2:30 p.m. or so) we decided on a couple of tables at the front wall of the restaurant itself next to the main doors.
Eagerly, everyone checked out the menus and what a great choice there was too. The food came and everyone tucked in, chatted and was happy. I had a great discussion along with Jon with one of the organisers, Tamara Fenech, who is also an art student. It proved to be informative for me, as to how the higher education system seems to work over there. It was also very informative for Tamara, who has since used quite a bit of what was said over the meal and used the experience to her advantage in her work – which is wonderful to hear.
The afternoon although, as I have said, was quite late in the day seemed to last longer than the rest of the day up to that point put together and it was a really enjoyable chilled out time that we spent together.
As the sun dipped below the horizon, however, it soon became time for us to make tracks and head back to the minibuses once more – because the main meal was yet to come and what a meal it would be too, but then I had already experienced this wonderful event already on the two previous years.
Jon, having some medical conditions, which make it hard for him to stand for long was feeling tired after being on his feet for so long, so Mike, Chris, Jon and myself strolled leisurely back to our ride to the hotel. The trip back was the usual one filled with lots of happy folks, who were just beginning to realise it was almost time to eat – again!
Back at the hotel I showered and changed and then headed back to the foyer to meet up with everyone else. Sean and I were busily promoting Chris Stellini’s wonderful cooking and everyone listening was licking his or her lips in anticipation of the coming feast.
The air of anticipation for the coming banquet par excellence could have been cut with a knife I tell you and yet, for all the promoting of the meal that Sean Azzopardi and I had done, we had could not really do Chris’ food the justice it really deserved.
We arrived in due course at the restaurant, Peperoncino’s. 2010 had been a wonderful evening and this year’s was no exception. It really is a magnificent way to end the convention on a high note, although that high note starts from the moment you land at Malta airport, prior to the start of the convention.
Now, usually I attend the meal in a shirt and jeans, but this year I opted for a black vest with a manga design on the front, whereas Mark Ellul who usually chooses a vest decided on the shirt option. It was the talking point at the start of the conversation with some of the organisers who had also noticed this.
We all found a place to sit, ordered our drinks and then the proceedings began.
My meal consisted of the complimentary Soup of the Day, which was lovely, a starter of Pasta with Lamb Ragout, which was beautiful, a main course of Veal Scallops with Marasala Sauce, which was gorgeous and a sweet of indescribable wonder. All of which was accompanied by wine, Cisk and then followed at the end of the meal with a coffee. MAGNIFICENT!!! I must give my kudos once more to Chris and his fellow chefs on their fantastic meals.
Most of the people speaking to me where complimenting the Worlds End graphic novel, which was wonderful for me. I would have loved to launch it at one of the previous conventions, but it just wasn’t to be. This year though was perfect – it had been a lot of work all throughout 2011, but it was worth it in the end to see the book finally in my hands and more importantly in the hands of fans and to hear their thoughts on it too.
The service at the restaurant was again fantastic and I have to add that you are made to feel part of a fun-filled family when you are there. It is certainly all smiles and laughs from all the staff.
Everyone enjoyed the meal, bar none and Chris received a great hail of well-deserved cheering as he re-entered the restaurant at the end of the meal.
He room was alive with an electric buzz both during and also after the meal and then we heard a sound, at first it was faint and then we realised it was a bell – Santa’s bell. It was so close to Christmas that Santa himself, hearing what a show the guys put on and how the meal at the end was superb, had managed to drop by and see what it was like for himself. He asked if I had been a good boy and I said I had tried my best. He must have thought so too, as I was pleased with my presents at Christmas.
I had meant to do something about thanking the guys in a more public way on both previous events, but once inside the restaurant I decided that I was determined this year with the successful and heart warming launch at their convention to show my thanks and appreciation and to thank them all on behalf of the other guests too.
I waited for a slight lull in proceedings and then stood at the back of the restaurant, so everyone could see and hear me. I then, off the top of my head, thanked them and went through the list of folks I had to thank, but unfortunately I missed out Tamara and one of my best mates there, Mark Ellul, until prompted, whereupon I rectified the situation, but my words had managed to touch on what is special about these guys as I saw a few teary eyes, something which probably lead to my missing the two folks there out in the first place. Anyhow, once again Tamara and Mark, sorry for that slight oversight you guys are the best!
A short time later a much better prepared Mike Quinton with speech in hand delivered his, starting with saying he had written a little speech, but didn’t know really how he could follow mine, which was obviously heartfelt (and yes, Mike it was, mate) which was a tremendous compliment for me.
After Mike had said his thanks I gave the organisers and guests their by-now customary Worlds End posters (created especially to commemorate the convention) and amidst a host of photo taking it was soon that time of evening once again. After three years the feeling has not changed, nor diminished. It is a nice warm feeling but one tinged with a little sadness, as we all say our goodbyes. Then once again it was time for the renowned last group photo of everyone there and that’s always a lot of fun, especially as we all know folks are trying to put on a brave face and hide a few tears maybe.
There was just time for a few more hugs and promises to stay in touch and then once more it was time to get aboard the minibuses for the last time and our trip back to the hotel. Folks were shouting to each other from inside and outside the buses and waving until we could no longer see each other and then we all sat back full of food and some great treasured memories.
We arrived back at the hotel and I agreed to meet up with Jon in the morning. I returned to my room, packed my stuff for the journey home the next evening, lay on the bed and promptly fell asleep.
Well, the morning came round, thankfully, and I joined Jon downstairs for breakfast. The sky outside was blue with a few wispy white clouds and some bigger ones far out to sea. After breakfast we placed our travel luggage into storage at the hotel and then we took a stroll down to the promenade once more, reprising our first morning in Malta.
Once again it was a lovely pleasant piece of time spent idly chatting about things. Jon was still speaking to me about how much Worlds End had impressed him and how he really admired what I had manage to achieve with such a book. He was continually singing the praises of the convention and its organisers throughout the time we spent in Malta and today was no exception, as once more he said just what a great time he had been made to have there.
He had now seen first hand just what a magnificent job the guys do of running the con. In his words he had just spent one of the best weeks of his life in Malta – a great accolade for the amount of time and Herculean effort they put into it.
We walked for about a mile and decided, after Jon had picked up a few bits and pieces to take home to family and friends, to buy an ice cream again and sit in the morning sun overlooking the sea.
By the time we had sat for what seemed like an age and discussed just about everything there was to discuss, some grey clouds had started to move in overhead. Ill prepared for the change in weather, dressed as we were in T-shirts, we set off back to the hotel. Our pace back was a little more brisk than we had used when going in the opposite direction I can tell you.
The rain was only very light, however, and by the time we were ready to walk up the street to the hotel from the promenade road it had stopped and the sun was once more showing itself to the world below. By the time we had walked about a hundred yards, or so there was hardly a sign that it had rained – not like back home in
Cimmeria Lancashire… LOL.
Arriving back at the hotel we decided to have a drink of Cisk and sit in the comfort of the foyer area on the soft leather sofas. Thomas Gosselin joined us and again we chatted away whiling away the afternoon, which was getting darker and darker as the storm clouds moved in. The heavens opened and I mean opened. The rain was torrential and the thunder and lightning very bright and very loud. The downpour bounced off the foyer’s skylight windows and from the door you see it hitting everywhere and bouncing back like ping-pong balls.
Jon took a photo of me holding my copy of Worlds End underneath the hotel Christmas tree and it felt right now with the change in the weather… it was certainly more reminiscent of being back in the UK. More guests joined us and soon Emma, Kate, Sonia, Sean, Steve and his wife and baby, Gary and Mhairi were all there. It was a last chance to do a bit of phone number and email address swapping with promises to keep in touch amongst all the new folks there.
Mike Quinton arrived and I received a text message – it was the most wonderful news and it felt fantastic, even better than the feelings I had had when I saw the books for the first time a few days earlier. It was from my daughter Joanne and I sent her a return text message and asked if I could share the information with the group. The message came back it was fine to do so, but I had to swear them all to secrecy – she asked me to ask the guys to not mention anything on FaceBook, etc about what they were about to hear.
I was near the reception desk and I asked the gang there to accompany me down to the others in the main area of the foyer. As we all stood underneath the Christmas tree I showed them the image I had just been sent – it was scan of my granddaughter to be – Phoebie. Huge cheers raised the roof, even above all the thunderous noise of the storm outside and I have to admit now to fighting back a few tears as I shared the news with all my comic friends.
After hugs, kisses and lots of congratulatory words it was time for Jon and I to leave with Mike for the airport. Due to the weather it was deemed better to all make our way together, rather than risk my being stuck because of the storm – as my flight was about three hours, or so later than Jon’s.
So our last farewells given and a final wave from folks the three of us braved the rain outside, which thankfully had turned to a soft drizzle and placed our luggage in Mike’s car. No sooner had we done so and got in ourselves than the heavens opened up once more leaving it to the top speed of the wipers to clear the way for Mike’s visibility to drive.
It may not rain too often in Malta, but when it does, boy is it frenzied!
It was a slow journey to the airport as the rain made it difficult to see out of the windscreen and the amount of it started to cause floods in places. Jon was beginning to think it may mean staying longer as the flights may not take off.
Once we arrived there I bought us all teas, coffees and cakes and then we proceeded to wait for Jon’s flight to be called. In no time at all Jon placed his bags through the check in desk and then a few hugs later we arranged to see each other in a couple of days time at my UK launch event back in the UK. A last wave off and then Mike and I returned to the airport café for more tea and coffee.
Mike brought me a whopping great sandwich back too, which was very kind of him and we sat together until my flight too was called reflecting all the while about MaltaComicCon 2011 and my plans for the books, including creating Worlds End Volume 2 - A Hard Reign's Gonna Fall. It was very kind of Mike to stay with me until it was time for me to go to the departure lounge, especially in view of the weather outside, but that’s just the kind of guys they are.
The time passed quickly, however and then it was time for more hugs and well wishing and a final wave and then I was on my way back home once more. I was only in the departure lounge for around half an hour at the most and I spent that time speaking to my lift back from the airport, Derek and contemplating what had just transpired in Malta. 2011 had been a whirlwind of an affair and now, just this side of Christmas I had launched my first ever graphic novel.
As I sat there waiting for the plane and having told Margaret I was about to leave for home I planned my next step, the UK launch. On board the Thomson jet I met a lovely couple and showed them my copy of the book when they asked what I had been doing in Malta. The journey always goes quickly when time is spent speaking with other passengers and this trip was no exception, although the week’s event had, by this time, started to catch up with me and I slept for about an hour of it.
I met Derek at the airport arrivals area, just after midnight and once in the car he and I and his dog, Sasha, who had come along for the ride, made our way back to my home. The trip back saw me repeating, as I would for several days, if not weeks all that had happened on my very successful and enjoyable trip.
In no time at all we arrived at my house and I was greeted by Margaret with a kiss and Bentley Bogtrotter with a woof and then, yes you guessed it I saw myself repeating it all again. I made some cups of tea and coffee and Derek spent about half an hour with us before he too decided it was time to call it a day. I thanked him once again as he was leaving and waved him off. His trips to the airport with me had book ended the trip wonderfully for me.
After he had gone I unpacked and then took a shower to refresh after the trip. Then after a little light supper and another cup of tea it was time for bed.
The next morning would see me very busy indeed prior to my UK launch in two days time. There was a still lot to do – last minute plans and things to check, people to speak to. And then I was asleep. Well, after all, it was about three in the morning by this time.
People are often asking me about the kind of and the amount of superlatives I use when writing these MaltaComicCon Blogs. Well, in answer to everyone’s enquiries, there simply aren’t enough of them that are descriptively sufficient to give a true perspective picture of the events in my humble opinion.
So, with that in mind, if you are lucky enough to be invited along there at some point – please snatch off their hands with the invitation attached, you will be so glad you did. And if you aren’t one of the lucky ones, but would love to go along and maybe attach it to a part holiday – again, please do so. You too will be in for such a pleasant surprise.
I know the guys are planning another convention as you read this little Blog, because I have heard that Joseph Bugeja is presently working on this year’s metallic mascot for the logo and some of the other guys are in planning sessions, so stay tuned and I will be plugging the Mighty Marching MaltaComicCon as soon I am given the go ahead.
Coming up here on the Blog will be a quick look back at 2011, a look forward for what’s in store for the rest of 2012, a review, or two and all the latest updates on Worlds End – Volume 2 - A Hard Reign’s Gonna Fall plus a few unexpected goodies.
And now, without further ado, the last of the photos of MaltaComicCon3:
The look on Jon's face on the second photo sums up the feel of the conventions - contentment.
I would just like to add is my heartfelt thanks to all of the organisers, Mike, Chris and his wife Joanna, Fabio, Mark and Elaine, Chris Muscat ( for making sure my books got there), Joseph, Samantha, Tamara, Chris S (the worlds greatest chef) Susan, Gorg, Laurence, Jeanelle, Bernard, Dean, Daniela, Inez, Maria, Frank, Brian, my number one Maltese fan - Kimberley and all my other Maltese friends - too many to mention - a fact of which I am proud to say!
I would also like to say thanks to Jon for sharing both the Malta launch and the UK one too (more in my next Blog) and all the other guests, including, David, Sean, Thomas, Emma, Kate, Sonia, Gary, Mhairi, Renee and Mike G, Chris de, Chris, Aurelio, Chris T, Taylor, Marco, Lucio and his wife and anyone else I may have neglected to add here, sorry.
I would also like to thank all the pupils and staff of the Maltese schools I was lucky enough to share my worlds and art with, all the staff at the Hotel Santana, the staff of the St. James Cavalier, the staff at Peperoncino's and all the other lovely restaurant's, take aways and bars who served us, along with Topsy and the guys that ferried us around the beautiful island.
Last, but not least, I would like to say thanks to my chauffeur, Derek for getting me to and from the airport on time and more and my wife, Margaret whose support means I can continue to create. And Congratulations to Joanne and Toby on their wonderful news about their baby-in-waiting, Phoebie.
You all helped to make this not just a wonderful convention experience, but also a very memorable launch for the first of my graphic novels - memories, which will stay with me forever - thanks to you all!
Until next time, have fun!
April 23rd 2012