The phrase ‘time flies’ is a huge understatement. One second you’re running around the Chalet talking Beano with your friends, and suddenly you blink and you’re pushing 60 and everyone seems to be running around with one type of electrical gadget or another. But we’ll always have our memories of the good old days, and here are a few of the things we remember from our past:
Those who grew up with the radio available 24/7 find it hard to believe that old local version came packaged in a Bakelite or wooden box with a grille at the front. Transmissions began at 6.00am, and went on till 11.00pm – and in some households the set was never switched off.
There were two switches A (local) and B (English-speaking). The clanging of bells on the latter, on a Sunday morning, signalled the Tom Meijer Happy Station Show, from Radio Nederland (Hilversum).
2. Religious retreats
These days they’re known as live-ins. Mostly single-sex, but sometimes also “mixed”, these were held from Friday evenings to Sunday afternoons at retreat houses (unlike many these days, which are even hosted at hotels). The idea was to remove youth from the temptations afforded by Carnival (Halloween was not even an issue back then), or to orchestrate socialisation opportunities during school holidays and / or long weekends.
The schedules always consisted of Mass, group meetings, talks, meals, and free time, during which one could catch up on reading and correspondence, do crafts, meditate, or talk with fellow ‘hermits’.
3. Sweetmeat Cigarettes
These were either bubble-gum sickly sweet sticks, or soft chocolate covered with edible rice paper. The tip was red, so one could pretend to be smoking “like an adult”. The preferred bubble-gum flavour was always Bubbly – a gob of lurid pink latex-like substance that could be blown into bubbles big enough to stick to your face and hair when they inevitably burst.
Each weekend, we would roll out of bed and fly to the stationer’s to get our weekly dose of Beano or Dandy. The more ‘girly girls’ had Bunty, with a cut-out doll and her clothes on the back page. The position of the limbs and head was always slightly different, so clothes from one week would not fit the doll from another.
The more studious teens bought Look and Learn, or, later, Knowledge (which had better paper, but was not as interesting). Then there were the absolute nerds, who bought the magazines that had the words to all the popular songs (English or Italian versions) and learned them all by heart.
The more you had, the more bohemian and avant-garde you were considered. And if you could say a couple of words that Dominik from Austria or Akio from Japan taught you, it was even better. For the boys, of course, if the girl was a looker it gave them a couple of extra Brownie points. Ditto for the girls if the boy was handsome. Of course back then, it never crossed our minds that the photos could have been of someone else.
6. Platform shoes
They gave us extra height, but less inches of boys to choose from, especially since during teen years boys tend to be shorter than their female peers. Twisted ankles (and sometimes broken legs) were par for the course. Some of these shoes were as ugly as can be, while others were simply adult Mary Janes. Try as you might, you could never wear platforms of more than one inch (measured by an angry nun with a ruler) for school.
7. Winner Soft Drinks
These came in lemonade, orange / tangerine, and cola flavours, and were delivered in old wooden crates that often smelled of damp. Then there was Royal Crown Cola, and Kicks, which was was probably a cheap imitation of Kick, a drink that was marketed as “The hard-core, psycho, nitro drink in a can!”
Let’s be honest – the originals were much better than the recent copies. The Tracy brothers marionettes, with the jerky movements, were named after Mercury Seven astronauts – Scott Carpenter, John Glenn, Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Gordon Cooper, and Alan Shepard.
Lady Penelope operated from Creighton-Ward Mansion as British Agent for International Rescue. There was a ‘marine’ version of the show called Stingray which featured a much more fascinating female interest: 19-year-old Marina, the daughter of Aphony and ruler of Pacifica, the underwater shell city.
9. The Chalet
An outdoor restaurant / dolceria / restaurant / cafeteria on the Sliema front, that was run by the Axisa family. It fell to wrack and ruin, eventually becoming the ultimate challenge for macho men, and some women, to show their bravado by leaping off the roof into the sea below.
Many injuries were reported, and despite padlocks and gates having been installed, these days some people are chancing their luck, and their lives there, again. These days there’s almost nothing left of the original structure.