We got back from two weeks in Melleiha Bay last night, bought a takeaway curry and watched the first half of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. A movie we’ve seen many times, to be sure, but there was still something comforting about being in our own house and returning to an old family favourite. Part of that was due to the almost impossible task of purchasing DVDs in Malta, which has, let’s say, an old world attitude to a medium that we clearly take for granted in the UK.
For the first time when going away, we resolved to take our laptop with us, along with three DVD sets - The Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (The Boy’s current favourite), a new copy of Sean Ellis’s excellent little movie, Cashback, and Season One of The West Wing (bought for a tenner in one of those too-good-to-turn-down HMV offers). The plan was that we could supplement these discs with fresh purchases in Malta. Yeah, right. I’ve now seen POTC three more times, which whilst clueing me in on the labyrinthine intricacies of the plot, and means At World’s End now makes more sense, is most certainly three viewing times too many. I can quote chunks of it verbatim, and am still nowhere nearer to knowing whether Captain Jack Sparrow is a libertine nutter who makes it all up as he goes along, or possesses the most assiduous brain ever known to rum-soaked man. I really enjoyed Cashback, but it doesn’t bear too many repeat viewings. The West Wing was admittedly fantastic. I’ll be looking out for future box sets with relish.
My mistake was in believing that Malta is essentially like England i.e. I could march into any outlet that might sell DVDs and come away with a bargain. It isn’t. First, when I did find a DVD retailer, everything was so criminally over-priced compared to the UK that in good conscience I couldn’t part with my Lira. Take new release, Spider-Man 3, for example, which retailed at LM 15.99. Converted into British pounds and pence that’s £25.68 at the current rate, more than double what I would expect to pay over here (it’s available at Play.com for £11.99 at the time of writing). Not that I’d rush out and buy Sam Raimi’s overblown, over-busy epic under normal circumstances, naturally (and here’s why). As chance would have it, Spidey the Third is exactly what they were showing as the in-flight entertainment on our outward trip, and even in its edited form I wasn’t impressed with the cut of its gib. Getting back to DVD purchases in Malta, even a film that was released several months ago like Apocalypto was LM 9.96 (£15.99), which again seemed steep. At Play.com, you can own it for a fiver. I think I’ve seen the Blu-Ray edition retail for less than I would have paid for a meat and drink Region 2 copy in Valletta.
Maybe I’m being mean-fisted. Perhaps I’m so spoiled by low prices in Britain that the prospect of paying slightly more fills me with indignation. In any case, this situation led to multiple viewings of tat like Pirates, which we sometimes did on nights when we couldn’t face hitting the local bar that had cranked that evening’s Premiership football offering up to top volume. The alternative was unbearable, which was to snap up tourist-friendly DVDs that promised to show us parts of the islands we couldn’t have seen for ourselves. Unlike general release discs, the number of volumes that offered a history of Malta, aerial views of Malta and Gozo, some stuff on the Knights of St John, the Great Siege of 1565 and various other bits of business were everywhere, in almost every shop we came across, and none inspired me to put my hand in my pocket.
Tourism is of course rampant in Malta. We last visited in 2004, and even in the three years since then the little country seems more geared than ever to finding ways of making holiday makers part with their cash. Souvenir shops were on every corner, it seemed. We could have bought hanging glassware, gaudy jewellery, nik naks that give the crisps a bad name, through to the usual lowest common denominator Malta buses keyrings and ‘kiss me quick’ trinkets that force me to run in the opposite direction. There were more jewellers than food outlets, it seemed.
And in the thick of all this were the cheaply produced souvenir DVDs, horrible valueless discs that showed nothing you couldn’t get from jumping on the appropriate bus, or finding in your hire car. Talking of the latter, my advice to anyone thinking of hiring a car on Malta is this - don’t. True, you can reach more places from the convenience of a private vehicle, and wandering around the Silent City of Mdina in the evening when most of the day trippers had left was a genuine highlight for me. On the downside is (i) the attitude of other motorists, who appear to view cutting you up, tailgating and pulling out at junctions and roundabouts as rules of the road (ii) the state of Malta’s roads, which once you left the main thoroughfares transformed into pot-holed tracks (iii) the maps you can buy, which are more like guidelines to where things are generally, rather than detailed plans that describe the destinations of its outlined routes.
Despite the above moans, we had a good time, overcame the deficiencies of our hotel, and I rediscovered the joys of reading books when denied of the twin joys of an ever-present Internet connection (don’t expect wireless networks in Malta) and extensive set of DVDs. I do however wish I’d taken more discs away with me. Or do I? Also on the shortlist of things to pack was Season One of Supernatural, which would have led to unnecessary baggage weight. It’s rubbish.