Malta in 2010: where skinny-dipping gets you a prison sentence

Published: August 12, 2010 at 2:14pm

Thomas Eakins - Art students bathing in 1883

Thomas Eakins - Art students bathing in 1883

Is it just my imagination or have the police progressively gone nuts?

As an agent of the state, whoever takes the decisions in the force is turning life in Malta into something of an oxymoron: Saudi attitudes in the European Union.

Or something that is worse, because it takes place in the free world: American fascist black-and-white thinking, where in one state you get life with no parole for spitting at a policeman because of a law designed to protect police officers from diseases caught through having urine and blood maliciously thrown at them.

It might be just my imagination, too, but the situation is actually worse now than it was two decades ago, when if the police found two students skinny-dipping at 5am in an area lively with students partying, they would tell them to put their clothes on, give them a bit of a ticking-off, send them on their way and then chuckle about it.

Now they arrest them.

Now the police are shocked by such behaviour – skinny-dipping, dear heavens – and say so in court as they encourage the magistrate to hand down a stiff sentence and give the skinny-dippers a criminal record. Where exactly have these police officers grown up – in deepest, darkest Siggiewi, where their wildest summer night out was at the parish youth club?

They haul them down to the station, they book them, and they haul them up to court. Once in court, the students get a one-month prison sentence suspended for a year (it’s not getting any better at the law courts, either, it seems).

Think about it, and I mean really think about it, in all its implications. Is this good or bad? It’s bad. It’s verging on extremism. Skinny-dipping at night after too many drinks is part of human history, one of the more harmless parts. Nobody is hurt or harmed.

Everyone who is out at 5am is likely to have seen somebody else’s family jewels before and is unlikely to be impressed. People skinny-dipped when I and my friends were 20, they skinny-dipped when our parents’ generation were 20, and they definitely skinny-dipped when our grandparents were that age because ‘trunks’ were a luxury and if young men wanted to swim at night they just stripped off and jumped into Grand Harbour and bully for them.

Ah, but not in EU Malta in 2010. Oh no, of course not. The powers-that-be in the police force, keen to interpret the letter of the law (while contradicting its spirit) so as to have themselves ‘covered’ – what in English idiom are known as ‘jobsworths’ – have decided that any young people caught skinny-dipping at night in the dark in St George’s Bay should be ground on the wheels of justice and given a criminal record.

What a waste of everyone’s time – and how bloody awful for those of us who live here and who feel that the noose of ‘velyews’ totalitarianism is tightening round our necks. We voted for EU membership to be done with this rot and instead we discover that it’s slowly becoming worse as the Joan of Arcs in the police force, the law courts and god-knows-where-else make certain that those damned European infidels and their ‘velyews’ don’t sully our traditional and proper Maltese way of life.

It’s sickening. You’d think that Officer Plod had never seen a penis before, not even his own. You’d think that penis was flapping out of the pants of a 60-year-old pervert flashing at kiddies in the playground, the way he went on about it. Now being young and having a harmless laugh is against the law. Skinny-dipping? You majtezwel be caught injecting heroin.

Two Spanish boys –at 19 and 20, you can hardly call them men – were caught by the police cavorting naked in the water near Paceville at 5.20am, the magistrate was told. Don’t you just love that 5.20am? Picture the scene: the police see the boys emerging laughing and starkers onto the beach just before dawn. (“Dawk gejSSSSS, x’inhuma, Joe?”). They crunch their way across the sand – imported from Jordon some years ago, as it happens – and take their particulars. No, not those particulars.

They read them the riot act. One of them looks at his watch and notes down the time: 5.20am. They arrest them and take them down to the station at Spinola, where some sluggish officer is eating a sandwich and spitting food as he talks. The Spanish boys wonder where, in heaven’s name, they have come on holiday: Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Libya? Texas? Europeans are supposed to have an enlightened attitude towards these things, but down here at the rump of civilisation, Malta’s insecure and uncertain Europeans haven’t evolved that far yet.

The boys get taken to court, their holiday is ruined, and they are given a prison sentence and fined €100. And it’s all because they shed their pants and jumped into the water after too much vodka in the dark.

The prosecuting officer told the magistrate that there is a “huge problem” at St George’s Bay, especially at night, when “foreigners get drunk and swim naked.” That officer should be careful and not give too much publicity to this sort of excitement, or the next thing he knows, he and his colleagues will find themselves coping with the armies of (Maltese) masturbators who used to colonise the bushes at Ghajn Tuffieha before the beach was managed under contract and they were swept away.

I guess he wasn’t around in the Sliema fort area when I was that age and even younger: foreigners weren’t just getting drunk and swimming naked, but plenty of Maltese joined in too because there was precious little else to do. Maltese boys spent the winter months longing for summer so that they could swim naked with Swedish girls. That would be in – let me see, now – 1980? That’s right, and there was much more than skinny-dipping going on.

There was – whisper the word – sex on the beach. Before it became a cocktail, it actually happened. Nobody ever got arrested. The police were too busy elsewhere, beating people up and disposing of their bodies. Now they’re bored and spend their time picking up skinny-dippers and student editors and those who write rude stories. What a country, honestly.

Oh, and did you read that brief news item in last Sunday’s newspapers? A man is being prosecuted for making a coarse gesture at a 16-year-old girl who lives on his street. No, I couldn’t believe it, either. He has been charged with defilement and is being put through the criminal courts because when he walked past her he grabbed his crotch.

He didn’t unzip his fly and take his thingie out. He didn’t grab her crotch. He put his hand on his trouser-crotch and made that gesture which Johnny Hammels all over the Roman Catholic world make at those they despise.

You see it in films. You see it on the street. But in Malta in the year 2010, you now get arrested for doing it. Please bring back the days when the inspector down at the station used to simply have a word, and then only if he thought it necessary, and send everyone back home.

It isn’t my imagination. The police have gone nuts. They have discretion, and they should ruddy well use it. A person is totally unfit for his post if he is in a senior position and insists on behaving like a jobsworth desk clerk, too frightened to use discretion, to take a decision and to be answerable for it.

A man grabs his crotch with his trousers still on? Go on then, let’s play safe and jam up the law courts. Two skinny-dippers? Can’t have that: let’s jam up the law courts some more. And while we’re doing it, let’s turn life in Malta into somewhere Adrian Vassallo would love to be.

This article is published in The Malta Independent today.