‘Free beer all day… TOMORROW!’

After a summer dominated by complaints of Comino being overcrowded, flooded with deckchairs, and full of litter, minister Clayton Bartolo said “hings will be different…” Now, where-oh-where have I heard THAT one before?

It’s one of those traditions that seems that have gone the way of the dinosaurs, in recent years; but I remember a time when almost every self-respecting bar in Malta and Gozo would greet its patrons with an assortment of humorous (and not so humorous) ‘bar-joke signs’, appended all over the walls.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the jokes themselves always revolved around the central theme of ‘alcohol’ - either extolling, or encouraging, the copious consumption thereof - and I always thought that made a lot of sense, too… because in most cases, you had to be pretty damn plastered, to actually find any of them ‘funny’.

Weeding out the few that can be vaguely defined as ‘witty-ish’: for instance, “I only drink on days that start with a T: Tuesday, Thursday, Today, Tomorrow, Thaturday, Thunday, etc….”; or (because I’ve already mentioned the dinosaur extinction anyway): “Dinosaurs had no beer. How did that work out for them?”

… most of what remains would have to be filed under the ‘WARNING! Extreme Misogyny Alert!’ category. Things like: “Why did God create beer? So that ugly women can get laid!” (which, by the way, also answers another classic joke-question: “Why do these signs no longer exist? Because The Women’s Rights Foundation once ‘walked into a bar’…”)

But in any case: there is one particular sign that stands out more in my memory than others… partly, because it’s one of the very few that you still occasionally see, here and there (and not just in bars; I’ve seen the equivalent in corner-groceries, too).

Because this time, the joke revolves around more than just ‘copious consumption of alcohol’.

It also addresses the root-cause of so many people’s attraction towards (and eventually, addiction to) that substance to begin with: i.e., ‘the promise of fulfilment, eternally deferred.’

As for the wording, it will obviously vary from sign to sign: but it’s usually something like: ‘Free beer, all day… TOMORROW!”

The real reason I remember it so much, however, is that – in at least one instance I know of (I might be wrong, but I think it was either ‘Reno Bar’, or ‘The Hole In the Wall’: both in Sliema) - the barman actually took the trouble of scrawling a little extra text, in chalk, underneath:

“TODAY… YOU PAY!!!” (underlined several times).

And this leads me to believe that there must have been at least one individual - in that bar’s entire history of ‘copious alcohol consumption’ - who was drunk enough to not only take those words quite literally: but to actually show up the following morning, fully expecting to be served ‘free beers’ until closing time (as promised)…

God, what I’d have given to see the look on that barman’s face, at that precise moment (especially if it happened at Reno’s: neither Joe nor Willie, I suspect, would have been particularly amused…)

But enough with the digression. The point is that: no matter how blatant, or self-evident, the ‘joke’ may be… there will always be somebody out there who is gullible (or ‘intoxicated’) enough, to actually fall for it.

And this, in turn, might explain why the same ‘promise of fulfilment, eternally deferred’ has evolved beyond the status of mere bar-joke, in recent years: to become the Maltese government’s official response, to practically every single popular concern. (Or at least: every popular concern that also registers as a ‘potential vote-losing issue’, in the Labour Party’s internal polls…)

Let’s start with the, shall we say, ‘chaotic’ situation at Comino’s Blue Lagoon.

After a summer dominated by complaints of the island “being overcrowded, flooded with deckchairs, and full of litter” – and after at least two separate incidents, where Moviment Graffitti responded to government’s inaction by ‘taking the matter into its own hands’ – Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo eventually came out and said:

“Things will be different, especially by next summer; this means we will not have the same issues we had this summer…”

Hmmm. Now, where-oh-where have I heard THAT one before?

Apart from the fact that Bartolo’s entire approach to this issue, so far, seems IDENTICAL to that earlier promise of ‘Free Beer, Tomorrow!’ (though for accuracy’s sake, it would have to be ‘Free Pineapple Cocktails’, this time)… he also said those words on 26 August: i.e., when the Blue Lagoon itself was still experiencing, if not the ‘peak’, at least the ‘tail-end’ of this year’s annual tourist invasion.

In other words: the problem itself was still very much in full swing, at the time (so much so, that Bartolo was actually responding to the threat of even further civic action, should he continue to ignore it).

And given that this problem could very easily have been solved – right there and then, with a snap of Clayton Bartolo’s fingers – by simply enforcing a few existing laws, regarding the exploitation of public spaces like The Blue Lagoon for commercial (including tourism) purposes…

… as well as, while I’m at it, by implementing the recommendations of the ‘Natura 2000 Management Plan For Comino’ - conducted by the Environment and Resources Authority, and published in 2016 - that (inter alia) called for “a tourism carrying capacity assessment of the Blue Lagoon”…

… beyond all that, there is absolutely nothing that Clayton Bartolo can possibly do, ‘by next summer’, that he couldn’t also have done four whole weeks ago, when he said those words; or even, for that matter, today (right this very instant, in fact).

But no. Never mind, for a moment, that the Blue Lagoon situation was allowed to remain every bit as ‘chaotic’, right down to the very last remaining minute of the summer season… the real issue is that Clayton Bartolo’s ‘solution’ is also, in itself, yet another classic example of ‘an eternally-deferred promise’.

Let’s look at it again, shall we? “Bartolo said discussions and works are ongoing to ensure that a holistic and sustainable plan for Comino is set up. ‘There are meetings with the committee, which is made up of a number of stakeholders to push forward this holistic plan for all of Comino,’ he said.”

Erm… hate to be the one to ask, but: by any chance, does the Tourism Minister mean a ‘holistic and sustainable plan for Comino’, of the kind that his own government had already commissioned, all the way back in 2016? And which – as far as any of us can tell - has been gathering dust in some filing cabinet, somewhere deep in the bowels of the Environment Ministry, ever since?

Because if so: the ‘solution’ that Clayton Bartolo is now promising to deliver ‘by next summer’, would be no different from the one his own government had already promised us, almost exactly six years ago (and which it has very clearly ‘failed to deliver’ in the meantime, anyway…)

So… is there any particular reason why we should believe the Tourism Minister, this time round: when he repeats the same old promises that his own government has already (quite frankly) BROKEN?

But wait: we’re still only talking about ‘the chaotic situation on Comino’, remember? We haven’t yet turned our gaze to the (equally chaotic) situation prevailing upon another nearby island: Gozo, to be precise… where overdevelopment has now reached such alarming (and, let’s face it, utterly hideous) proportions, that the Gozo Minister himself, no less, has finally been shaken out of his deep, deep slumber, to actually address popular concerns.

And what did Clint Camilleri say, exactly, about overdevelopment on the island for which he is politically responsible?

“’Development is being felt more acutely nowadays,’ he said, adding that a change of policy was needed to take account of streetscapes, design and building materials. He said a strategic document for Gozo was due to be published soon and would include several proposals related to planning. This could lead to a change in policy which, while not hurting property owners, would seek better planning…”

Please note, of course, the prevalence of the ‘future tense’ (here and there varying to ‘future-conditional’) in all that: ‘due to be published soon’… ‘would include several proposals’… ‘could lead to a change of policy… ‘would seek better planning’… ‘free beer will be served all day, tomorrow’, etc. etc.

For let’s face it: what is THAT, if not a direct regurgitation of the same old promise of ‘better planning and environmental regulations’ – not to mention a ‘holistic reform of Malta’s entire planning framework-legislation’ - that the Labour Party has been repeating, endlessly, ever since before the 2013 election… but which it has never even lifted a finger to actually deliver, in almost an entire decade?

And besides: what is even the point of promising ‘great future solutions’, when – aside from the fact that… well, there’s a natural limit to how often you can ‘fail to keep the same old promises’, you know – the issue we are talking about, in this particular context, is one which needs urgent attention… right now?

I mean: the Gozo Minister said it himself, didn’t he? “Development is being felt more acutely… NOWADAYS.” Got that, folks? Nowadays. The present tense… and not in some ‘glorious, distant future’, when the Labour government will have miraculously ‘solved’ all those problems anyway (presumably, by getting round to actually doing all the stuff, that it promised to do around 10 years ago or more)… but NOW. TODAY. (THIS VERY INSTANT, IN FACT…)

Which, I imagine, is probably the exact same thing that lone, drunk individual must have once told that barman, in a certain Sliema watering-hole, long long ago…

“I don’t give a damn if that sign says ‘tomorrow’, or not! Yesterday, you promised me ‘free beer’… and I want it: NOW!”