The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (‘Only in Malta’ version)

We have clearly succeeded in overcoming our former ‘barbarity’, in at least some aspects of how we traditionally treat animals in this country. So why, oh why, do we always find the same sort of cultural evolution so utterly impossible… when it comes to our treatment of birds?

It might sound like a rather random thing to just suddenly pull out of a hat: but back in the early 1990s, I remember writing a parody of Edward Lear’s most famous (non-limerick) poem, along the above lines.

Sadly, however – or who knows? Maybe that should be ‘mercifully’ – I just can’t find any trace of the original version, all these years later. Oh, well: I guess you’ll just have to make do with the following rehash instead, which I recomposed from memory this morning (trust me, it’s pretty close to the original: warts, dodgy rhymes, and all.)

And so, with all that out of the way: here it is, in all its forgotten glory…



The Owl and the Pussy-Cat (‘Only in Malta’ version)


The Owl and the Pussy-Cat sailed to sea,

On a beautiful pea-coloured yacht.

They took with them ‘rizzi’, and lots of ‘pastizzi’,

(Not to eat, but to watch them all rot.)


Then they sailed away, for a year and a day,

To the land of the ‘bajtar tax-xewk’.

But there on the shore, a ‘kaccatur’ swore,

Amid rapid-repeat shotgun smoke.


The Owl looked up to the stars above,

As its body started to sway….

“Oh beautiful Pussy! Oh Pussy, my love!

I believe I have been blown away!

(Away, away, away, away…)

Yes, I think that I’ve been blown away!”


Said the Cat to the Owl, “You poor little Fowl,

And how nastily badly you bleed!

Never you worry! To shore will I hurry,

For a doctor is what we most need!”


So the Cat swam ashore (as the kaccatur swore),

And proceeded to look for some aid;

But crossing the street, it was turned to dead-meat,

By a speeding Daihatsu Charade…


The Owl now sits on a shelf in a bar,

Which it shares with a hawk and an eagle.

Forever they stare, across bleak empty air,

Above hunters (who drink Chivas Regal.)


The Cat, by the way, was scooped up the next day,

And stored in the fridge of Malata.

Its next surprise venue, was the Tourist Set Menu:

By the words, ‘Try our local Fenkata!’

(Ata, ata, ata, ata…)

By the words, ‘Try our local Fenkata!’





And, well, there you have it. Not exactly ‘Nobel Prize’ material, I am the first to admit; but then again, I’m not exactly showcasing its merit as a work of literature, am I?

No, indeed. If I reproduce it at all, it’s more because – like I said at the very beginning – this is something I wrote more than three decades ago: ‘way back in the 1990s’, no less. And from my own experience, that was at a time when the state of Malta’s environment in general (and animal welfare, in particular) was still stuck very firmly in the Stone Age.

Ah, but what specific elements did I actually single out for satirical treatment, all those years ago? Given that the Edward Lear original was ultimately about a ‘bird’, and a ‘cat’…. what does my own version tell us about how both those life-forms were generally regarded, and treated, back then?

Much more to the point: what does it tell us about how (if at all) that same antediluvian situation has actually changed, in the meantime? (To put that another way: if, for argument’s sake, I were to have composed that poem today, instead of in the 1990s… would the end result have been any different?)

Well, this brings me to the interesting part. When it comes to the fate of the Owl… the short answer would have to be: no, not all. With the possible exception of that reference to ‘Chivas Regal’ (Note: ‘Famous Grouse’ would have been far more appropriate… but it doesn’t exactly rhyme with ‘eagle’, does it?) there is, quite simply, nothing there that needs to be updated, to remain relevant in the 21st century.

Indeed, you could even argue that today’s hunting situation has deteriorated alarmingly, since then. Because back in the 1990s, there was at least an ‘excuse’, of sorts, for the sheer state of lawlessness that pervaded the countryside…. and it’s right there, in the word ‘lawlessness’.

There was, in fact, hardly anything that even existed to curb the excesses of hunters, at the time; and even less, that amounted to a ‘proper legal framework’ for the protection of wildlife in general.

Today, on the other hand, there exists – on paper, anyway – an entire infrastructure that is supposed to ‘regulate’ this sector: including the Wild Birds Regulatory Unit; the Ornis Committee; the Administrative Law Enforcement section of the Police (which also doubles up as a ‘wildlife crimes unit’); and so on, and so forth, and so fifth.

Oh yes, it’s all there: in accordance with all the international treaties we signed, when joining the European Union (and, before that, the Council of Europe). And yet – as confirmed by news reports this very week – our actual treatment of birdlife remains every bit as ‘uncontrolled’, as it was when none of the above even existed to control it.

And if the ‘lawlessness’ excuse was so lame, at a time when the word itself could be taken literally… how much lamer are our excuses today: when the Law – always on paper – actually does provide all the necessary tools, to clamp down on all these relentless birdlife massacres, once and for all?

So if nothing else, my little poem does at least indicate that not very much at all has really changed, in our approach to hunting, in well over quarter of a century.

When it comes to the part about the ‘Pussy-Cat’, however… ooh, I don’t know. Even as I write this, it occurs to me that there is an entire generation out there – born in a later, more environmentally-conscious age – that probably doesn’t even get the ‘Fenkata’ reference at all.

Not, of course, in the sense that they don’t understand the implications – i.e., that poor Puss eventually got served up, as roadkill, under the guise of ‘traditional Maltese rabbit-stew’ – but because they themselves have no actual memory of a time when that perception really did exist, locally (enough for me to allude to it, so fully confident that all readers would immediately ‘know what I meant’…)

So, for the benefit of that particular generation – you know: the ones who were never actually warned, before attending a Fenkata, to “make sure they also serve the rabbit-head in the bowl!” – yes, actually. It was, admittedly, always much more of an ‘urban legend’, than a proven, documented fact…

… but let’s just say that there used to be rumours – however unfair, or malicious – along the lines that ‘certain restaurants’ would indeed occasionally serve up cat, masquerading as ‘rabbit’. (So much so, that if you bother delving into Maltese case-law, you might even find reference to a certain Fenkata-bar owner who once sued his own clients… for making ‘Meeow’ noises in his restaurant.)

And, having made that point… allow me a quick disclaimer (if nothing else, to spare myself from suffering a similar fate). By ‘certain restaurants’, I do NOT include the one named ‘Malata’ in St George’s Square, Valletta.

Leaving aside that it has changed ownership since then (probably, multiple times); and that, as far as I am aware, it never actually had that reputation, even in the old days… the only reason I chose that particular eatery (and not, say, any of the much likelier candidates) is… well, the same as with ‘Chivas Regal’, I suppose. The rhyme was just too inviting to resist…

But back to poor Pussy-Cat’s fate: which, with hindsight, is probably the only aspect of that poem that hasn’t really aged very well at all. For starters, quite a few people reading this may not even be aware that such ‘urban legends’ even existed, so recently, in this country. And besides: at a time when certain people take to Facebook, to complain about the fact that lobsters are ‘boiled alive’, etc… it would not surprise me in the slightest, if some of those same people react to this revelation with ‘shock’, ‘disgust’… possibly, even ‘disbelief’.

Nor can I realistically imagine that any restaurant, currently in operation, would even dream of trying to pull off the same stunt today. Not just because the practice is, in itself, so utterly barbaric… but also because the consequences, if caught, would simply be too cataclysmic to even imagine.

And this transformation is not even limited to the (admittedly extreme) example of ‘serving up cats as rabbits’, either. Just like the hunting scenario, there was never any serious legislation to safeguard animal welfare, back in the 1990s: with the result that our treatment of animals, at the time, was often quite simply APPALLING.

Today, however, it is a different story. Not only have we filled all those lacunae with entities such as the Commission for Animal Welfare; but there has also undeniably been a culture change, in recent years, whereby ‘cruelty to animals’ is no longer considered the ‘norm’… but rather, an exception to be condemned, and punished, accordingly.

In a nutshell: we have clearly succeeded in overcoming our former ‘barbarity’, in at least some aspects of how we traditionally treat animals in this country. So why, oh why, do we always find the same sort of cultural evolution so utterly impossible… when it comes to our treatment of birds?

Try as I might, I myself see no sense in it whatsoever. But then again: ‘The Owl And The Pussy-Cat’ was all along meant to be ‘nonsense’, wasn’t it?