Earlier this month, I began teaching myself Maltese. This is nothing to do with the Lighter Way to enjoy chocolate though rewarding myself with chocolate-coated honeycomb does help. No, it’s because this spring many of my Oxfordshire running friends were hurtling headlong towards the Reading half-marathon or the Vale of White Horse’s April alternative, and I decided that I would take the plunge and go further. Not in distance, of course – goodness me, no! Instead, I’m talking about taking a longer journey to the start line, and the event for which I plumped was, obviously, in Gozo. It sounds so much more glamorous however hot and sweaty it might leave you!
And so in preparation, I not only tightened the trainers every so often for a trot amongst the trees, I also set about learning the language.In his book The Blind Watchmaker, evolutionary Biologist Richard Dawkins, (who was one of my lecturers when I was first in Oxford) describes how a monkey could write Shakespeare on a typewriter if only he had long enough, as one of the many millions of permutations of letter orders would eventually be Hamlet. The Monkey who invented the Maltese language however, had a penchant for the letters x, I j and k. I don’t think he’d have even come up with Medieval English.
The Significant Other tuned into Maltese radio for an hour or two and was instantly striding around the house proclaiming ‘Jekk Joghgbok’ (Please!) and ‘Il wara nofs in-nhar it-tajjeb’ (Good afternoon) and making a general social commentary in Maltese on philosophy and politics (or so I believe) whilst I floundered in a syntactic riddle of conjugations, prepositions and participles and, after a week’s nose to the grindstone could count to three with a strong English accent. ‘One’ sounds like wee-head to the amusement of the children.
The other thing I did in preparation was some running. I had this wonderful idea that I would skip through a balmy Mediterranean climate, beneath golden sun and a blue sky, with my guidebook in one hand and my water-bottle in the other. A quick look at the topography of the event, however, and it was enough to send me screaming into the hills, which unfortunately summed up exactly what I had signed up for…. so don’t tell anyone, but it was a bit of a relief to suffer a knee injury on the mountain bike the week before and have to postpone until 2018.
The route of the Gozo half-marathon is all plunging valleys and hill-top villages and so it is never going to be a walk in the park. Google Gozo trail running however and, other than the adjective ‘gruelling’ which is still keeping me awake at night, you’ll find the promise of magnificent cliff tops and coastline views so although profiteroles and chocolate cake might do the trick better, let’s just hope these panoramas will be enough to keep me on course for next year. If not, however, half-way round I can always dig deep into my newly-acquired Maltese vocabulary. It’s most fortunate that Telefon and Taxi are two of the few words I have managed to remember!