It was thirty years ago today….

I’m starting this new blog on an auspicious day.  It was thirty years ago today that I arrived in England to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.  Only the day before I had jacked in my job with the Maltese postal service and bought a one way ticket to Manchester.  It was the cheapest ticket I could get, called a hop-on in those days, and you had to queue up outside the airline’s office in Valletta to get one.  I’d camped outside the building for the night, just to make sure I got one.

Before going to the airport, I counted how much money I had.  £48 after I’d paid commission for the exchange to sterling and bought myself breakfast! And I had a job in London for four weeks, directing a trilogy of plays at the Moonshine Community Arts Centre in Harlesden, north London.  After that, who knows.  I had no plans!  Just an ambition to see my name in print.

My first home in London. It's still a dump today!

In those days Malta had yet to join the EU, so I was allowed  into the UK on a short term  visa, renewable every six months. I could only work as a writer/director, could not claim benefits, and had to report at the Home Office in Croydon to prove I was living off my stated metiere if I wanted to renew for a further six months.

My plane landed at Manchester airport in the small hours of the morning.  It was practically deserted, save for a few Mancunian tourists returning home from Maltese holiday resorts. The immigration officer was a smart blonde with a very kind face.

‘And what are you going to the do in the UK?’ she asked.

‘I’m going to be a writer.’

‘What are you going to write?’

‘Bestsellers,” I said.

She smiled, no doubt thinking: no chance!  ‘Where are you going to live?’

‘I’m staying with friends in London.’

‘How are you getting there?’

‘Someone told me there’s a shuttle.’

‘The shuttle’s quite expensive,’ she laughed.  ‘Why don’t you take the coach? It’s much cheaper.’

She closed the files on her desk. ‘I’m due a coffee break,’ she said.  ‘I’ll show you to the coach station.’

It was an act of kindness I still remember to this very day! People back home had told me I’d be put on the return flight home the moment I let on I was trying to work in the UK. And deep down inside, I guess I was hoping that would happen, so I could go back to the rock with my head held high.  Back home to my secure job at the ministry of postal services and telecommunications! Back to my friends, and back to writing in my spare time for pocket money.  That was the bit that I couldn’t stomach.  Back to writing in my spare time, doing another job I hated to earn a living!  I wanted  to be a proper writer, to compete with the big fish and see if I could go the distance.  I didn’t mind how far down the food chain I’d be, and I was willing to pay the price.

Shepherd's Bush Library was my refuge. It's now closed, like so many other public libraries around the UK. At least this one is going to be a theatre!

The next years were very tough ones.  I shared squats in London, rented rooms with broken windows and mattresses on the floor, subsisted on half-rotten fruit filched from rubbish bins outside corner shops, survived a racist attack on Shepherd’s Bush Green and had the door closed in my face more times than I had egg macmuffins in Macdonalds. But I never once thought about giving up!

The last thirty years have been an incredible journey.  I consider myself very lucky. Not many people break into publishing, let alone ones who were born in other countries.  I’ve made a lot of close friends in the UK, especially in Yorkshire where I live now, I’ve made myself a home, built myself a career in an industry I feel stupidly passionate about.  Even my nationality has changed. I’m now proud to be a Briton – it sounds much better than the ‘resident alien’ tag I had before getting a British passport.

I often wish I had asked that immigration officer in Manchester her name: I would dedicate a book to her. I guess she must be retired by now. Who knows, she might even be living in Malta. A lot of people from Manchester retire there.  Wherever you are, dear lady, I raise my breakfast cup to you.  Thirty years ago today you put a stamp in my passport that would change my life forever:  leave to stay for an indefinite period.  Thank you!



Filed under My story

23 responses to “It was thirty years ago today….

  1. An artist once told me that if you have a steady job and keep the thing you’re really passionate about as a hobby, you’ll never really commit to it. You have to take the plunge as you did.

  2. Autumn 1981, for Malta was a period of hope. You gave up on that ….. and you were proved right. Winter 1982 and the following years proved to be a disaster. Your years spent in London squats weren’t all that bad compared to what you would have experienced in Malta. Your talent would have been caged like a feline in a zoo. So congrats and happy anniversary ! 🙂

  3. And I raise my breakfast cup to you, Saviour.

  4. Mariuccia Dimech wrote: Loved reading that Saviour. Took me back! I think I actually came and saw the play with you at the Half Moon (?). Uncertain days, but full of wonder and anticipation!

    ps. May we, also, be angels for others in our lives! x

    • Yes, you did come and see the play, Mariuccia, They were times of anticipation indeed, fondly remembered. I think we went to the cinema together a few days later; someone gave us free tickets to see a preview of a Robert DeNiro film in Leicester Square. Can’t remember the title but he played a priest.

      • M

        Finally viewing your blog as it should be viewed…on a proper screen rather than on a mobile phone. It’s lovely in here Salv!
        I cannot remember going to the cinema that time, but I do remember going with you to the musical, Ipi Tombi! Have you still got the LP? A whole show and all I can remember is the bit where they dance and do percussion with empty coke cans stuck under their shoes. Marvellous!! Remember that?

        PS. Was that the play with someone coming out of a large transparent balloon representing birth/rebirth? I don’t know! It’s so long ago I can’t remember. (that was a dress rehearsal I think).

      • Hi M, all I remember in Ipi Tombi is that they did a dance infront of the Madonna, bare chested. And a couple of the dancers had a song with a clicking sound rather than words. The rebirth play was a one-act thing called Sunscreen.

  5. Jo Oakley I loved reading that, miss you xxxx
    36 minutes ago · Like

  6. Thanks Jo, I’ll see you soon.

  7. Francis Valletta said on fb: Prosit Saviour, good luck with your blog. I always remember two short stories you had recounted to me one day. One was about a bloke reading a story on a bus about a bloke reading a story on bus and slowly realising that he was in the same…

  8. Francis, I remember that story too, ha ha. The guy reads about a murder on a bus and he turns out to be the victim, I think.

  9. Came across this article …… ….. and couldn’t help forwarding it to you.

    Maybe that lady immigration officer should have gone a step further and changed your name to George Badpear. … 🙂 …. ?

  10. Thanks, Salv. This is classic!

  11. Vicki brown

    Very moving It takes strengh to follow your dreams x

  12. Elizabeth le Despencer on FB Fabulous! A great story of desire and hard work! Love it! Love you!

  13. What a neat blog, Mr. Pirotta! My children are big fans of your work, as you already know. 🙂

  14. Thanks for sharing Saviour the start of your 30 year adventure and I am sure that the next 30 year adventure will be fun and exciting and another amazing part of your life….health and happiness always….x

  15. emily beadle

    hi Saviour you came to my schoiol yesterday colburn comunitty primary school i thougt your story was reallly funny about your granny a house on the edge of a cliff how old is she exactly? you are such a good author
    i would but alll your books bye

    • Hi Emily, thanks for your kind comments. I really enjoyed visiting your school, and can’t wait to see the pics in the local paper. It’s so nice to see a new library being opened, and to be part of the celebrations.

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