Until I was 15, my national anthem was “God save the Queen”, and my passport was British. Malta was a colony of Great Britain for 200+ years. Yeah, the Brits could be stiff, arrogant, and a general pain in the ass. BUT they gave us the best education in the world when subjects like Math, English, Literature, and writing in impeccable cursive mattered. When passing as many GCE (General Certificate of Education equivalent to a High School Diploma but 100% harder) subjects also mattered. The GCE was given to Secondary School leaving students by Oxford, London, and Cambridge Universities. Students could choose one university or sit for exams from all. Competition was high. Finding a good job either on Malta or abroad meant getting the best GCE results
So, I will let you on my little secret. I still have a soft spot for Britain, especially the Queen. The Queen personifies everything a woman should be. Strong, determined, assertive, but also caring and loving. Throughout her 70-year-old reign, this woman endured failed economies, dorky Prime Ministers, and often dorkier relatives. But forward she literally marched with courage and a stiff upper lip that she learned from her mother, father, and grandparents. The Queen was raised to be strong.
Eventually, the British Empire disintegrated into a Commonwealth which meant very little to anyone. Symbolic in nature, it combined the yearnings of an era when young Royals travelled, waved, and smiled at people they often had very little interest in. Colonies were strategic or resource assets. When in the late 20th century, colonies started getting antsy and wanting independence, British Parliament and the Crown were simultaneously nervous and relieved. Basically, Britain could not afford the colonies any longer. However, Malta was not so easy to let go because of its historic strategic presence in the Mediterranean, especially post WWII and during the Cold War.
Post WWII Malta headquartered the Allied Forces Southern Europe Command for many years. Former NATO headquarters are still visible in Floriana, and now open to the public, one can appreciate the role Malta played in the Empire and in NATO. After Malta’s Independence, NATO re-organized and eventually moved to Naples, Italy. But the British influence remains strong on a small island barely the size of the town I currently live in Germany. An island historically rich and amazingly diverse. Barely 60 miles off the shore of Sicily and 180 miles north of Libya, Malta remains an island with the best natural harbor and the best shipyards in the world.
Malta’s British heritage is imbedded in the island and its inhabitants. English is the second official language, we drive “on the wrong side of the road”, we serve British food, we have a shitload of pubs, we have the largest Manchester United fan base outside the UK, and we enjoy British holiday traditions. The Maltese incongruently eat, drink, drive, and celebrate like Brits. One can go for a full English breakfast in the morning, a Maltese meal of pasta and Mediterranean fish for lunch, a Guinness in the evening, and a fusion of chips and Maltese entrees for dinner. Cuisine influenced by Italy, north Africa, and Britain makes eating in Malta a culinary experience.
But nothing says Britain more than at Christmas time, when Maltese homes are filled with aromas of mince pies, Christmas cakes, Christmas puddings, trifles, and perfectly roasted potatoes. Christmas dinner may start with baked macaroni, but followed by a roast bird of some kind, roast potatoes, and occasionally Yorkshire pudding. Desert is a toss between Christmas Cake, trifle, or a beautiful Mediterranean almond cake. A compellation of tastes, traditions, and heritage very few places on earth can boast about. You can take the Brits out of Malta but not Malta out of Britain.
Coming to my point: like the millions around the world, I watch all Royal weddings and find myself standing when “God save the Queen” is being played. So here I now sit watching the 70th Jubilee of the Queen with a box of tissues because I intrinsically feel the joy of these celebrations as if I was still a colonial. I tell my American and German friends as they raise their eyebrows questioning my emotional state, that for a chunk of my youth “she was my Queen you know”. That says it all. She was my Queen and this weekend I feel that she is still my Queen. The woman in the picture who adorned all our classrooms, government offices, and often our homes those many years ago is still part of my life. I can still sing “God save the Queen” in harmony with the best of them just as I remember singing it in primary school every morning.
I am a mish mosh of allegiances and emotions. Holding two passports, one Maltese/EU, and one US, I appreciate my past as a British subject. The British with their often-insufferable stiff upper lip taught us discipline in our lives and our establishments. With a smug we secretly enjoyed passing more GCE subjects than they did. Most Maltese students sat for 8-11 subjects the majority from Oxford University, and passed them effortlessly. We competed with British students and the rest of the Commonwealth at the same June time frame. We had to write in ink pens when ink often melted on our papers in the Maltese summer heat No student names were allowed on our often-three-hour long papers, just our student numbers. The universities were oblivious as to the location or nationality of the student. We were all graded as British. But its this effort and competitive spirit that instilled in us the urge to do well in school and our lives. A concept our current politicians and school reformists seem to miss entirely today.
The colonial in me will continue to watch the celebrations and secretly wish I was in London with the throngs waving flags and singing “God save the Queen” or some other patriotic ditty I may remember from childhood. I want to party hearty and enjoy 70 years of an incredible female who didn’t need a movement to make a difference, or activists to tell her how to determine her destiny.
At 26, Elizabeth took on her role as monarch with strength, fortitude, grace, and very little drama. Elizabeth knew her responsibilities just as she also knew that her life would change forever. She reigned with poise and an intrinsic deep sense of duty she learned from her father. Attributes which future princesses like Sarah Ferguson, Diana Spencer, and Meghan Merkel seem to lack or have lacked in their world of ego centric expectations and entitlement. Queen Elizabeth never doubted her role or her position in life. She embraced it through an unconditional love of family, country, and empire. The Queen always knew her “place” constitutionally and morally.
As Queen Elizabeth, Lilibeth, (fondly referred to by her father), slowly fades into her much deserved royal sunset, we nervously ponder on the future of the monarchy and Britain without her. Her image on currency and official photos morphed with age, but her spirit as a monarch remained young. As we celebrate her 70th year as a monarch, we inadvertently celebrate our own youth, heritage, and traditions. Memories of the British forces on the island, their parades, royal visits, and pomp and circumstance are still fresh and etched in my mind. Yes, Your Majesty, you were and for the next few days, still are My Queen. God save the Queen.
I know this was written several months ago, but this is a lovely and timely tribute to an amazing woman.