Merry Mondays

Mondays are usually days of woe, where instead of appreciating a bright new day most people (me included) moan and groan about a number of things. We moan about having to wake up early to go back to work after the weekend. We groan about having to head back to our usual daily routine. We grumble about the morning traffic. We mumble about all the irritating, yet needful things we need to do, not to mention all those little tasks we still have pending from last week.

In other words, EVERYONE hates Mondays.

So, instead of moaning and groaning as usual, today I have decided to focus on the GOOD things I have to look forward to this week. This does not mean that there aren’t going to be tough days and things which I am NOT looking forward to at all… but I’d rather look on the bright side this morning, so, here are some things which I AM happily thinking about and looking forward to today, yes even though it is MONDAY lol:

  • The weather – today is dark, cloudy and rainy. My favorite weather. And yes it is cold and slows things down, but I love it. So there!
  • Mushroom soup – I cooked a big pot of my favorite soup yesterday, and it will be just perfect for this weather too!
  • Resolutions – As of today I will start going for a 30 – 40 minute walk everyday. In the rain you say? Well, YES! Believe it or not I enjoy it… I even sing ‘Singing in the Rain’ under my breath sometimes hehe
  • Pampering – My hairdressing salon has relocated to a 5-star hotel (with the same prices). I always love going there because I feel really pampered and I can’t wait to take a look at their new place
  • Chef’s life – Looking forward to baking a couple of new ‘experimental’ recipes this week. Love baking. It relaxes me for some reason.
  • Friendship – Will be celebrating a good friend’s birthday in a few days and can’t wait to meet up and share gossip with some of my oldest buddies. We always have such a laugh because unlike many others, they totally get my twisted sense of humor hehe
  • Love – Have also decided to take my other half to a trendy men’s store and buy him a serious tailored suit as a treat… which will be lots of fun because I have this soft spot for men in double breasted suits, not to mention three-piece suits, pinstriped get-ups etc, so I will be tickled pink while I get him to try all the suits I want, before choosing one to my liking… mmmm TASTY lol

In the end, there are no ‘little things’ and ‘big things’, there are things which make you happy, and things you have to go through even if they don’t. So, make every happy and special moment count… even if it’s a Monday! 🙂

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2018 Wrap-up!

I must admit, this year has been a real roller-coaster, with dizzy ups and crushing downs.

Cramming it all into a blogpost is impossible to say the least, so I won’t even try. Many things are personal too, meaning that I do not feel that a public blogpost is the place to share them.

What I have just realized, is that although it was a very tough year, I am infinitely grateful for it.

First of all because getting through all that, has left me a stronger and more resolute person than I was before. I know who I am, I know what I want, and I also know what is worth spending time on in this short and evanescent life, and what is not.

Secondly, I am grateful for my soulmate, who has stood by me, helped me, and showed me his love and devotion through thick and thin. Especially since, he himself, like me, was going through (and still is) a number of health issues as well, so we both helped each other and continue to do so. This, of course, could not but deepen and strengthen our relationship even more.

Thirdly – after facing chronic pain, the inability to walk, and also acute episodes of depression and anxiety, I am more aware of what people with unavoidable conditions have to suffer… at least in part. I am also more appreciative and grateful for life in general. For being able to enjoy it. And for now being able to experience each and every moment free of pain. To be fair, I still have relapses, my muscles are not healthy yet and I cannot do certain physical activities, however this should be temporary and even if it was not, compared to my past problems, it is a breath of fresh air for sure.

And last, but not the least, through illness, pain, financial issues, and material tribulations, I am very happy to say that this year I still managed to visit a total of six different countries! Travel is one of my passions, and being able to take a break and explore some of the most beautiful places in Europe sure kept me going throughout it all! During 2018, I traveled to Tuscany, France, Sicily, Ireland (these last two are two of my favorite places to visit and in fact I already have been there multiple times), the Czech Republic and Germany. There are big plans fermenting for 2019 too!

To conclude, life is not perfect, I am not perfect, and the world is not perfect, BUT prioritizing what is really important for us and appreciating every single thing we take for granted, is more important than we give credit for. I look forward to 2019 being a better year, mostly because I know that I will be facing it as a better and stronger person with clear goals, firm priorities and a bright smile 🙂

Where does Father Christmas come from?

He is round. He is jolly. He is dressed in red and has a long, white beard.

Christmas is a time of joy and celebration and one of its most famous icons is the toy-making, present-giver Father Christmas, or Santa Claus. Ho-ho-ing away cheerily, he drives his sleigh through the skies to bring toys to good children, all over the world. He clambers down their chimneys and eats offerings of cookies and milk, before leaving the presents in the prepared socks.

Or so the story goes.

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But where did Santa Claus really come from?

This mythical figure exists in several other countries and is called by many different names. Papa Noel in Spain, Saxta Baba in Azerbaijan, Dyado Koleda in Bulgaria, Babbo Natale in Italy, and Daidí na Nollagin Ireland, to name but a few.

In England, the earliest personification of Father Christmas does not present him as a giver of toys or as a lover of children. An old Carol addresses him as ‘Nowell’ and ‘Sir Christmas’, the personification of the season who encourages people to eat, drink and make merry and who has nothing at all to do with toys and presents.

The specific depiction of Father Christmas as a merry old man emerged in the early 17th century, when the rise of Puritanism led to an increase in the condemnation of all excess – including eating, drinking and feasting. In 1866, Thomas Nast, a cartoon artist, made a montage entitled ‘Santa Clause his Works’, and for the first time, established ‘Santa’ as a maker of toys. At the time, Father Christmas, began to emerge as a kind, jolly old gentleman, giving to the poor and the needy.

Eventually, he was associated with Saint Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra. The legend surrounding Saint Nicholas, or in Dutch, Sinter Klaas (who became Santa Claus to the Americans) states that he was a shy man who wanted to give money to the poor without being seen. Once, he tried throwing money from a roof, and the money accidentally landed in a sock which a girl had left to dry by the fireplace. This is where the tradition of leaving a sock for Father Xmas to fill came from and why he is said to come down from the chimney.

However, we need to go further back in time than that. Father Xmas was originally part of an old English midwinter festival and he was usually dressed in green, a sign of the returning spring. He was, literally, the personification of the season and he was known as ‘Old Man Winter’.

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The Ghost of Christmas Present in Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843) is based on Old Man Winter. He is described as a large man with a red beard and a fur-lined green cloak. Images of Santa Claus dressed in red only started to appear on Christmas greeting cards late in Victorian times.

The Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore entry on Father Christmas considers him to be a pre-Reformation and medieval Yule-tide visitor, who is entirely separate from St Nicholas and Sinter Klaas, only being combined with his legend (and thus becoming associated with giving presents to children) in the 1870s.

In truth, the origins of Santa Claus can be traced back to the 600s, when the Saxons who invaded and settled in Britain had the custom of giving human characteristics to the weather elements, welcoming the characters of King or Lord Frost, Lord Snow, etc. to their homes in the hope that the elements would look kindly on them. Actors dressed in cloaks and ivy would represent the season and feast amidst the revellers.

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The Vikings also brought with them legends of their god Odin, who was the father of all the other Norse gods. He is said to have worn a disguise during the feast of Yule (that is, the Winter solstice which takes place on 21st December, the longest night of the year). He mingled with his subjects dressed in a hooded cloak, giving him the chance to listen to his people and see if they were happy or not. He was portrayed as a sage with a long white beard.

Even further back than the occupation of Britain by the Saxons, there was the pagan Celtic worship of the Winter Holly King, who prevailed during the winter months and who provided for and protected his people during the coldest months of the year.

Be he Father Christmas, Sinter Klaast, Saint Nicholas, Odin, or the Holly King, what’s for sure is that the legend of Old Man Winter has prevailed throughout the ages, not only as the personification of Winter, but as a way of bringing families and friends closer together in a time when, although the weather is harsh and life is tough, everyone still goes on feasting and making merry with loved ones.

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N.B This article was written by me and originally published on Eve magazine.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart

“ I love you crookedly because my heart’s been unhinged from birth. The doctors gave me strict instructions not to fall in love: my fragile clockwork heart would never survive. But when you gave me a dose of love so powerful – far beyond my wildest dreams – that I felt able to confront anything for you, I decided to put my life in your hands.” 
― Mathias Malzieu, La Mécanique du cœur

‘The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart’, a metaphorical, sweet, and disturbing little book translated into English from French, is a Tim Burtonesque fable of the rarest kind. I purchased the book at the well-known historical bookshop Shakespeare and Co in Paris. Attracted by Benjamin Lacombe’s art on the cover (check some of it out here) I couldn’t not give it a go, and boy am I happy that I did!

Our story begins on a cold dark wintry night (of course it does), when an unkown woman gives birth to a very pale baby, delivered by ‘Dr Madeline’ also known as ‘the witch’ in a gothic house set on top of King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. Because yes, this dark gothic tale is set in 19th century Scotland (and we even bump into Jack the Ripper at one point)! The baby is sickly, his heart is weak, and our steampunkish doctor decides to link the hardly-beating heart with a cuckoo-clock set right into the boy’s chest.

Three rules must always be kept:
1. Never touch the hands of the heart-clock
2. Keep your temper under control
3 Whatever else you do, never ever fall in love

Needless to say that during the course of his life, Jack breaks all three rules.

By the way, did I mention there is also an animated version of the book? And it is AMAZING. Yes, this is what happens when the author, Mathias Malzieu, is the leading singer of a French rock band – Dionysus. They created the music for the animated movie themselves of course. You can find some clips on Youtube (both in the original French version and translated to English). 

Oh yes, this book was a real discovery. Thank you Paris. Thank you Shakespeare and Co. Thank you Benjamin Lacombe. And most of all thank you so much Mathias Malzieu!

P.S If you loved Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s ‘The Little Prince’, this book is right up your street.

Personal rating – 5 on 5 Stars!

Sageuk and Splash Splash Love (A Review)

Being a Sageuk fan can wreak havoc with one’s moods. 

Sageuk are Korean historical period dramas, which are usually quiet lengthy, agonizing, emotional roller-coasters, not to mention confusing since they usually only relate to actual historical facts as much as American T.V series usually do… meaning not much.

Apart from loving Korean historical dramas, I actually also adore watching any Asian historical T.V series, therefore even Japanese and Chinese ones. Lately I have watched two very good, but also very long and sad Chinese dramas. These were ‘Three Lives, Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms’ (also known as Eternal Love, or To the Sky Kingdom) which consists of 58 episodes, and ‘Empresses in the Palace (also known as The Legend of Zhen Huan), consisting of 76 episodes, all of them around an hour long per episode.

Craving a break from so much history, I watched ‘The Beauty Inside’ after these (the review can be found here), which is a modern Korean drama. Unfortunately for me, although all of these dramas were VERY good, they were also quiet heavy, meaning that I ended up using rolls and rolls of tissue paper to stem my flow of tears hehe.

So, what to watch when you are still in the mood for historical drama, but want one which is light-hearted and SHORT? Enter – ‘Splash Splash Love’!

This gender-bender time-travel Joseon love story is cute, funny, and historically incorrect. Perfect for those who look forward to two hours of entertainment. It is in fact, only 2 hours long.

Without giving any spoilers, the plot of this South Korean drama follows high school studen Danbi, who is stressed because she is about to take her final examinations. Danbi falls into a rain puddle and is transported to the Joseon era, where the King and all his officials are praying for an end to a 3-year drought. Confusion ensues as Danbi disguises herself as a eunuch and realizes that in medieval Joseon, her very low level of mathematical knowledge is considered to be pure genius. She befriends the king… and well… I’d better not divulge the rest.

Of course, being a fan of Sageuk, some things did jar a bit. For example at one point both the King and the Queen simply run away from the Palace, with no guards or retinue, and spend the night outside (separately) without anyone knowing where they went. A day after, they return to the Palace, and no one even mentions it, as though nothing has happened. Anyone who watches historical Asian drama knows that Royalty NEVER went outside the Palace unsupervised and alone, especially the Queen! How could both the King and Queen just disappear for over 24 hours without anyone noticing?? Surreal lol

However I wasn’t watching this particular drama because I wanted historical accuracy was I? So, I tried to ignore all that, since it was precisely what I needed a break from. 

By the way, if you liked ‘Love in the Moonlight’, you will love this one too!

Personal rating – 3 on 5 stars

The Beauty Inside – A Review

Would you have fallen in love with your significant other if s/he had had another face? Would you be able to love someone with a physical disability? How about someone who, though not visually impaired, was still not able to differentiate faces? Is one’s identity tied to one’s face and appearance?

If you had another face, would you be a totally different person inside as well?

These are all questions the audience cannot help but ask itself, while watching ‘The Beauty Inside’. This very good Korean drama in fact, tells the story of two people whose very difficult situations color their lives in multiple ways.

Han Se-gye is a well-known actress, yet for some mysterious reason, when she is 20 years old something happens to her and she starts to transform into someone else for a week every month. Each time, she transforms into someone different. It could be an old man, a child, an older woman on a wheelchair. Age, race, gender, physical abilities – all change without warning, causing her to break down both mentally and physically.

On the other hand, there is Seo Do-jae, a man who suffers from Prosopagnosia due to having broken his cranium in an accident. Prosopagnosia, also called ‘face blindness’ really does exist, and is a cognitive disorder caused by acute brain damage, whereby a person looses the ability to recognize people’s faces, including one’s own in the mirror. After his accident, Seo Do-jae spends years learning how to recognize people using other individual clues instead. The way they walk, the way they dress, their voice, their scent… no wonder he is the only one who can actually recognize Han Se-gye, even when she wears a different face…

This K-drama is very different from any others I’ve watched, not only because of its very interesting take on mental and physical health and disability, but also because although it is a love story, the focus is not on the dating game itself, but rather highlights the fact that before one can really love and accept others, one must first of all learn to love and accept one’s self.

The supporting cast of characters is pretty impressive too. There are many funny and endearing moments, and also many sad ones. Prepare your tissues!

This T.V series is made up of 16 episodes, all of which are approximately an hour long. If you don’t mind watching them with subs (since obviously, the language is Korean), you can find all of the episodes online for free on various websites.

My personal rating is 5 on 5 stars.

There is also a movie with the same name, with basically the same story-line but different actors.

Enjoy!

Interview?

If someone asked you to give a short interview on a T.V channel, and talk for ten minutes about a book of your choice – which book would you choose?

Currently I’m reading a terribly predictable short novel by James Herbert called ‘Lair’. One of those horror+soft porn mish-mashes which leave absolutely no room for surprise, and whose pedantic prose tends to drive me away from the pleasure of reading, straight into the waiting arms of yet another Korean drama (yes, I’m a K-drama fan). Which further leads to the prolonging of the torture of reading said novel.

Incidentally, the plot revolves around a group of man-eating gigantic mutant rats, led by a two-headed overweight monstrosity living underground… people get killed and eaten while our main character, a lonely rat-catcher with no seeming past or ties of any kind, begs the powers that be to take action, but instead gets mired in tedious bureaucracy while innocent farmers and children in the surrounding countryside get bitten, mauled, gnawed upon, and turned into pulp.

Not the sort of thing one talks about during an interview with one of the organizers of the Malta International Book-fair on an educational channel – viewed by children and families, and espousing a wholesome and ‘respectable’ attitude.

So, which book to choose? One of the Classics? How about Pride and Prejudice? Shall I wax lyrical on how mamas ‘used to’ fish around for the richest bachelor for their ‘tender damsels’ in need of husbands? Used to… yeah right.

How about Jane Eyre? Ugly, poor, unwanted girl leaves school and travels to a beautiful mansion with gothic undertones, to work as the governess of a perfect doll of a French girl with an attractive, rich, single uncle who’s VERY interested in the main character… hmm the theme of P&P seems to be hidden in this one, but still present.

Something more modern then… George R.R Martin’s book series A Song of Ice and Fire – most commonly known as Game of Thrones? Nah – that one’s been reviewed, blogged, vlogged and analysed ad nauseum.

Umm.. shall I give the interview a feminist flavor with Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and preach against racism, rape and domestic abuse? Hmm might open a can of worms with that one.

How about trying to impress and mentioning Nobel Prize winner for literature Orham Pamuk and his My Name is Red? Better not = I tried reading that one and to be honest the style of writing did not ring my bell, so I did not even finish it *cringe*…

Rowling? Auster? D.H Lawrence? Wilde?

Well, fretting is pointless. I’m too shy to appear on T.V anyways so I’m telling the guy no. Thanks very much but no. I’m not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight. Quite the opposite actually. So, panic-mode averted and introvert mode reinstated.

So much for that hehe.

Making Noise

The day before yesterday was the 17th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy. I spent most of the day seeing, and then ignoring, related posts of people remembering where they were that day, what they were doing, who they lost. It has become a yearly thing now. I said I was ignoring the posts after a while, not due to a sense of annoyance or to diminish people’s grief – the thing is that so many countries experienced so many such tragedies over time, that highlighting only one of them starts to feel kind of obnoxious after a while.

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Let me explain – yes 9/11 was monstrous. It was mostly monstrous not because people died (though that was awful of course) but because it was a willful act of hate and destruction, aimed at one country, but resonating throughout humanity. Unfortunately, throughout human history, there have been many others like it, such as the Holocaust, the repeated terrorist attacks in France, the terrorist attacks in the UK, in Brussels, and in many other places, many of which left people dead and injured, not just physically, but also emotionally and physically. They left whole countries scarred, a whole people in fear and loathing for their fellow man. 

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All of these events were serious and should not be forgotten. Ever. And yet, it seems like no matter how many atrocities take place, no matter how much humanity is shown the cruel face of its darkest side, no matter how many times we stumble, we get up again, brush our knees from the dust and the blood, and move on again towards the light. Or we try to anyways.

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Thing is, sometimes it seems to me as though the 9/11 tragedy is given much more prominence than all the others. Why? Is it more important? Is that because it happened in the US? Because it was the sign of something which the other tragedies lack? Because we felt it more? Or is it… because the US simply made more of a fuss about it? I say this in a good way, because such tragedies SHOULD be made a fuss of. No, we should not remain silent and take it. We should not forget or let ‘bygones be bygones’. So, why are some tragedies less talked about than others?

In this world, no one stands up and listens to you unless you make yourself heard. No one will take their time to pay attention to you unless you attract their attention and tell them that you have something important to communicate. No one will take notice, if you don’t make noise, if you don’t scream, yell, cry, shriek, and make a ruckus. No one will give something importance, if you yourself don’t show that it is important to you.

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And so, yes, write, talk, scream, make a fuss, throw a tantrum. Some things are worth making a scene about.

The Realities of Chronic Back-pain

I realize it’s going to be a bad day as soon as I wake up and try to get out of bed in the morning. A lacerating band of pain envelops my lower back as I make the movement one usually associates with getting up – bending at the waist and lifting the body’s upper trunk. I can’t do it. I have to roll on my right side, the less painful side, in order to get to the edge of the bed, and helped by the pull of gravity, slowly crawl upright.

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Then comes the next ‘step’, I push my legs off the bed, reach a sitting position at the edge of it, put my legs on the floor, and wince and groan until I’m standing upright.

It is 5.45am. I have 30 minutes to take off my clothes, shower, put on my make up, and walk down to my boyfriend’s car, in order for him to give me a lift to work.

I know I won’t be showering today. Each gesture which normally takes one second to make, will, today, take at least a minute. Preparing myself and arriving in time will be just impossible.

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I skip my shower, and start dressing slowly. The clothes I am going to wear today are already hung on the outside of the wardrobe. All I have to do is walk up to them. Slowly.

After shuffling with my back bent forwards, since I cannot stand upright anymore, I realize I am limping. It’s the pinched nerve in my leg acting up again. Figures.

I take down my clothes and realize that I can’t bend my leg to put on my skirt, so I sit down slowly on the bed again and jiggle it around until it’s around my hips. It would have been easier had I worn a dress, but I didn’t know the pain would be so bad yesterday, when I chose which clothes to wear. Walking back to the wardrobe, opening it, and taking down a dress, is too much of a hassle and would take even more time. I can hear my boyfriend finishing his breakfast, and I know he’ll shower and be ready in 5 minutes, so I know I won’t make it.

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Obviously, I have no time for breakfast. Then again, to be fair, I never do. Work starts at 6.45am and there’s only so much I can manage before that.

Done with my clothes, I shuffle to my dressing table, bend forwards slowly and painfully, open the first drawer, and reach for my eyeliner and mascara. Obviously, they have rolled at the back of the drawer again. And I can’t reach any further. Because it hurts. Fortunately I live with my boyfriend whose help is invaluable in these kinds of crises.

While he showers and changes, I manage to put on some make-up. Now all that’s left is to walk down four flights of stairs towards the door, walk to the car, and bend down to get in and sit down.

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It is 6.15am. And I am already trembling with exhaustion.

P.S That was some hours ago. I feel even worse now. I had no painkillers in my handbag at work, so one of my colleagues very nicely offered to go and buy some for me at the pharmacy across the street, since I couldn’t even walk that far…

Yes today is a bad day. Not all days are this bad. One can, at least, hold on to that.

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The Scent of Desperation

It’s funny how people tend to change their tune, depending on what they think will portray them in the best possible light. In the Maltese language, there is the very expressive word ‘pinnur’. On the surface, this word translates as ‘wind-vane’, however what it actually represents when one takes it into specific contexts, is this kind of behavior – when an individual first says one thing, but then when circumstances change, acts as though his past behavior never happened, and takes the exact opposite stance.

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Without delving into the obvious example of politics, let me take another one.

I’ve never actually understood why many people think that being single is something shameful, as though the single person has something lacking just because s/he has not found a partner s/he likes yet. Unfortunately however, this mentality has pervaded our society so much, that people with low self-esteem tend to believe it hook, line and sinker, which is why many tend to fall into depression after long periods of singleness.

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These low self-esteem singletons generally try to cope with this socially induced stigma by using a number of self-convincing ideas, for example maintaining that ‘being single is much better than being in a relationship’, or (in the case of women) saying that ‘men lie anyways, so why bother’, or (in the case of men) saying that ‘most women just want your money’. There are many who take the stance of ‘why would I want to live my life having to coordinate everything with another person and find a middle ground when, being single, I can do whatever the heck I want?’ Thing is some people are HONESTLY happy being single, others however, say such things as some sort of sop to try to convince themselves of their happiness in view of their enroaching desperation. If you are not happy, why not just say so and try to find a way to improve your life, yourself, or your attitude? Why hide it as though it was something to be ashamed of?

So, how does one tell the difference between people who are honestly happy being single and those who are just trying to lie to themselves? Here is where the ‘pinnur’ ideology comes into play. Just take a look at what happens to the ‘desperados’ when they actually DO manage to find a partner. Suddenly, there are photos of them strangling their partner in a ‘you wont escape’ hold all over social media. We are told again and again of how happy they are now that they have found ‘true love’. We are barraged by memes of how beautiful it is to be in a relationship. 

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Gone are the OTHER memes saying ‘single is best’. Gone is the argument that it is better not to have to compromise, or that being single means you don’t get dragged by your boyfriend and his friends to watch footy games even though you hate it (someone told this to me once, then she got a boyfriend and started suddenly ‘loving’ football). Suddenly the proud ‘I’ becomes a gushingly repeated ‘we’, as the individual tries to find every possible excuse to show the world that he or she now has a PARTNER and is no longer the loser s/he was before.

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Of course, probably no one thought they were a loser because they were single, except, obviously, themselves.

So, this is the definition of ‘pinnur’. Of course, there are different levels of desperation, usually depending on the individual’s age (older people, especially women, start getting depressed when they realize they are approaching non-child-bearing age and are still far from getting married), income (especially if people need another person’s wage to purchase/rent a home and leave the nest), etc. Many people, at least many of those I’ve encountered, also seem to have a ‘life-plan’ which includes getting married by the age of 30 and having at least 2 children by the age of 35. So, obviously arriving at the age of 28 without having a stable relationship starts ringing emergency bells, since one would then have to grab the first person remotely viable and rush him or her into marriage before the ‘deadline’, in order to complete said plan.

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Having known so many people with this mind-set, from work colleagues, to family members, acquaintances and even neighbors, I wonder. Are the ‘life-plan’ and ‘pinnur’ kind of behavior more prevalent in the Mediterranean or Maltese mind-set, or are they just prevalent in those individuals with low self-esteem and a mulish way of following society’s norms, irrelevantly of their country? Either way, it’s sad that society ends up influencing weaker willed people in this manner. Then again, it’s nothing new is it?