No sex please, we’re Mintoffjani…

What is more important: that Mintoff’s own (unabridged) version of events is recorded for posterity… or that it remains at the level of mere gossip and hearsay forever?

I haven’t got round to reading the latest (unabridged) edition of Dom Mintoff’s memoirs yet… so I suppose it would be rather unfair of me to start this off by criticizing Mark Montebello’s efforts in putting it together.

But I’ll do it all the same, because... well, there are certain aspects of a book’s publication that can easily be criticized, even without having even so much as opened it.

Like, for instance… the title.

‘The Tail that Wagged the Dog’.

Huh? What? Come now, Fr Mark: this is not a manual on ‘How To Toilet-train Little Puppies’ we’re talking about here. You’ve just published those parts of Dom Mintoff’s autobiography that many of us didn’t even know existed… because his own family had objected (understandably enough, I suppose) to their inclusion in the ‘authorised’ version.

In Mintoff’s own words, that includes all the “romping sprees” in Birżebbuġa, where he (and others) would meet up with girls “some single, others married, to have sex under the aegis of Socialism”.  (Which, by the way, only vindicates what all his supporters have all along argued, about their beloved ‘Salvatur ta’ Malta’: i.e., that he was always… erm… ‘hard at work’, in defence of the national interest…)

It also candidly namedrops all the celebrities with whom he ‘may-or-may-not’ have had affairs, while living out his other life as a (rather successful, by the looks of it) globe-trotting philanderer in the 1970s and 1980s: Charlotte Rampling, Vanessa Redgrave, etc…

Oh, and the same book also apparently delves – in some detail, it would seem – into Mintoff’s many confirmed (and, for the most part, already well-known) infidelities with various local Labour ‘groupies’, over the long decades of his career… and whose names, of course, have all been changed to ‘protect their identities’ (more of which in a sec)…

But no matter: as Montebello himself surely knows, what makes this publication so significant, is not so much that it ‘reveals’ things we didn’t all already know (or at least, those of us who were born before, or up to, the early 1970s.)

For let’s face it: not only have we all ‘heard those stories before’… we’ve been practically brought up on them, since early childhood. The infamous ‘family affair’, for instance – easily the most incendiary episode, of the many highlighted in the book – that was rumoured to have brought at least two members of the Mintoff clan (Dom and Daniel, as I recall) to physical blows…

I remember that being the subject of much gossip, in suitably hushed tones, on the school playground (at least, when we weren’t too busy discussing the previous evening’s episode of ‘Colpo Grosso’: which should also give you a rough idea of just how long ago I’m talking about here…)

To the best of my knowledge, however: this is indeed the first time that this particular aspect of Dom Mintoff’s life has been elevated from the mere ‘anecdotal’… to be officially ‘chronicled’ in the annals of Maltese history (and by none other than the ‘horny old devil’ himself, too...)

All this, on its own, would already be a pretty big deal, from both a literary and historical perspective… even if Mintoff himself didn’t also write his memoirs as though they were intended for publication, not by ‘SKS Publications’… but by ‘Hustler Magazine’:

“We caressed, petted, kissed, embraced, pressed our bosoms, and like all healthy teenagers on the loose, satisfied all our cravings” […] “…the erotic impulse to undress her, grab her appealing flesh into my aching arms, and entwine my body with hers was stronger than I had known since leaving home…”

Bloody hell, I can almost hear the Joe Cocker soundtrack already: ‘You can leave your horseshoe belt-buckle on! Ba-Ba-BAA-Ba, BAA-Ba…!’

…. and… ooh, just as instantly, I almost wish I couldn’t. (Let’s just say there are certain things in life which – once seen – can never be ‘unseen’ again. Brrr….)

But where was I? Oh, yes, the title.

I mean: just look at the sheer waste of copywriting potential alone.  What we are dealing with here are the uncensored, previously unpublished sexual exploits of a man who (like it or not) also ‘sired’ this entire country, up to a point (some might even say ‘screwed it just as royally’; but let’s not go there…)

…and the best title they could possibly come up with was…..‘The Tail That Wagged The Dog?’

No, no, no, that won’t do at all.

If, for whatever reason, we must insist on using such hackneyed, cliched expressions to begin with (and in this case, one which has already given us the name of a Robert Deniro movie)… then the very least we could do is ‘tweak’  it a little, so that it actually acquires a little relevance to the subject-matter himself.

Like, for instance: ‘The Tail that Wagged… the DOM!’

There, much better already. And all I did was change one, measly little letter…

All the same, however: it still doesn’t convey very much about the contents themselves. It still doesn’t quite prepare the unsuspecting reader, for what might well be an entirely unexpected – and possibly, quite startling – encounter with the pornographic.

So how about giving us at least a hint in the title? ‘Fifty Shades of Dom’, for instance… or ‘The Perit Always Rings Twice’…. or ‘Last Tango in Delimara’… or (if you want to also include other aspects of Mintoff’s history, while also referencing a suitable film-title): how about, ‘Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About [Dom Mintoff’s Sex Life]… But Were Too Afraid [Of Getting Beaten Up By Labour Thugs] to Ask’…?

There: a little too long, perhaps… but no less perfectly true…

But in any case: that, for what it’s worth, is the extent of my criticism (of a book that I am, in actual fact, rather looking forward to reading…)

Oh, but wait: let me just add one more. On what grounds, exactly, was a decision clearly taken to protect only some people’s identities… but not others?

At a glance, the answer seems to be: because some of those people are still alive; and most – if not all – of them have living relatives who would be ‘negatively affected’ by the publicity.

And that, of course, is all perfectly fine.

But… well, what about Charlotte Rampling and Vanessa Redgrave, then (seeing as I’ve mentioned those two already)? They’re both ‘still alive’ too, you know.

And not all the ‘unprotected names’ belonged to distant celebrities from a forgotten age, either. Unlike the ‘Ramplings and the Redgraves’, some of the other (named) protagonists do still have deep-rooted connections here…

If you ask me, however, the real problem once again boils down to a classic case of wasted potential. Do I even need to spell it out? The fact that Vanessa Redgrave (for instance) is ‘still alive’, also means that it is still perfectly possible to contact her – presumably, through an agent – and ask her a couple of questions that might conceivably settle the entire matter, once and for all.

Like, for instance: ‘So tell us, Vanessa: is it true that you once had an affair with a former Maltese Prime Minister named Dom Mintoff? And if so: how big, exactly, was his… erm… influence on your future career…?”

Hmm. Ok, maybe it wasn’t such a brilliant idea, after all. There is, I suppose, a limit to how far you can politely enquire, into the private sex-lives of others…

But… well, that’s the whole point right there, isn’t it? It is, in fact, the very reason why the Mintoff estate was… let’s say, ‘less than enthusiastic’ about those parts of his memoirs actually being published in the first place. And it’s also why some people out there are also criticising the book for more than just the choice of title alone….

… perhaps because they feel that it is somehow ‘distasteful’ to dig up sex-scandals that have been dead-and-buried for decades (it’s a little bit like prying through your grand-parents’ bedroom drawers… some people get all ‘icky’ about that sort of thing, you know…)

… or perhaps it’s also because they fear that, if we are going to pry this far into the past indiscretions of ALL Malta’s former political grandees… it could well be the equivalent of pressing the Big Red Button, that triggers a whole new (and interminable) Nuclear War of equally scandalous, equally incendiary ‘blasts from the past’, fired off from either side…

Well, I can understand both those concerns, to be perfectly frank… but (and this is the one reason why I consider this side of Mintoff’s personality to even be remotely worth exploring at all)… the truly astonishing thing is that, all this is very evidently the way that Mintoff himself wanted to be remembered, after his death…

Or – as he himself might have seen it, at the grand old age he actually wrote those memoirs: after losing the one, final battle he knew he couldn’t possibly win; when staring at a final defeat, which (probably for the first time in his long career) he knew he couldn’t possibly filibuster his way out of…

Ah, but is that the way his staunchest admirers want to remember their precious ‘Saviour’ themselves? And what, ultimately, is more important: that Mintoff’s own (unabridged) version of events is recorded for posterity… or that it remains at the level of mere gossip and hearsay forever: only to eventually die out altogether, along with the last generation that remembered it?

Clearly, it must be the former… even if just to finally answer the one question that I’m sure every has been ‘afraid to ask’ for generations.

We all knew he was a horny old devil, yes, but… did he do it ‘Dommy-Style’…?