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Julian Manduca • 22 May 2005


Julian Manduca

by Saviour Balzan

John Lennon look-a-like specs welcomed you. A Tibetan flag hung from the wall. We were young but somehow he was always the reference point. From his flat at Triq il-Kuccard, we would debate on the future. He was a rebel, and we were onlookers. He was the idealist.
Bob Dylan music greeted you in his bedroom. And rows of vinyl stood by in attention. I still have an LP I borrowed from him – John Mayall. I love it dearly. I love it more now.
I got to know Julian Manduca back in the early eighties. We were tree huggers, he was the sort of high priest, a vegetarian too, and I tried that out – my experiment lasted six months. He was a great womaniser. I tried emulating him, but he had all the charm, I simply did not have it. He was politically super-correct. I tried to uphold that but along the years I infected idealism with compromise.
Long hours were spent together and when I had an idea that needed a realisation, I would turn to Julian. He was a protagonist, but he spurned the publicity. His sluggish Maltese was matched by his perfect English.
It was not only his musical tastes from Joy Division to The Smiths that inspired me but his great desire to change the world. He would lament about Malta but never gave up on it. He was a cosmopolitan in a small world. He had friends for different times and dates of the year. He was my font, my directory of people.
He was judgemental but not condescending. After a day of debating or protesting came to an end I tried to follow him through the night. Back then his hideout was the grotty bar Maltempu next to City of London. In the turbulent eighties it was bubbling with colourful folk.
The building assault that ate away at the Maltese and Gozitan countryside led us to form the Green movement. Two years later in 1985 he was instrumental in setting up the federation of environmental groups called Zghazagh ghall-Ambjent.
His interest on green matters went beyond the birds and flowers, and his concerns were human oriented.
After a beating by Labour thugs the federation disappeared but Malta’s first green organisation lived on with the help of Julian, who was meticulous, organised and precise. His background in an audit firm guaranteed this.
Julian had a unique skill – he would find the time to be 100 per cent dedicated to voluntary work, yet it would not stop him from having lovers, play and watch football, read real books, listen to music and organise a film club.
I envied his talent to live a full life. Every so often he would join his friends as part of the Xirka Xurbana and engage in a drinking spree.
In his lunch break he would visit the Zghazagh ghall-Ambjent offices in Valletta in his pristine three-piece suit, but in the evening he would be back to his trendy dark colours.
His flat in St Julian’s turned itself into the centre for logistical support for all protests, banners were designed, placards prepared and strategies mapped out.
The greatest achievement was the setting up of the Planning Authority which though now a monster in its own right was born out after our never-ending criticism of the corruption and absent town and country planning of the sixties, seventies and eighties.
With a new change of government in 1987, we suddenly realised that things would not change for the environment. And so from his flat at Triq il-Kuccard we welcomed the first meeting aimed at organising a new political party.
In between all this, he would continue to trigger spice in so many people’s life with his unending desire to organise social events and get people together.
He also found time to do the dirty work and keep the University Film Club alive as his closest colleague there suddenly passed away.
When I married, I remember his constant taunts about the pitfalls of marriage. Nevertheless he organised a party for my friends at his flat, a party which I remember I did not attend.
It was when I finally decided to leave Zghazagh ghall-Ambjent for Alternattiva Demokratika that Julian moved on and tackled the real environmental issues in the same organisation which he aligned to Friends of the Earth International. But for the launching of AD on that torrential evening on 6 October 1989, he was responsible for the catering that fed 1,400 people.
He was a walking reference point for all greens. The waste crisis, land use, MEPA, Hilton hotel, Ta’ Cenc, anti-nuclear, GMOs, organic farming and countless other campaigns which depended on his input.
He lifted the lid over the chemical time bomb at Maghtab, the waste nightmare and the issue of golf courses. Together we brought Greenpeace International to our shores.
He was stubborn, unrelenting, altruistic and once he zoomed on an issue there was no way he could be convinced to leave it.
Yet, Julian had no qualms about standing up to be counted. Before the election of 1992 that had landed Alternattiva Demokratika with 4,000 plus votes but no seat, Julian joined 14 volunteers and chained himself for the night at Castille to call for electoral reform.
He had no compunction about being counted with the ‘opposition’ and labelled a libertarian and a Green.
His outspoken views on international affairs, morality, drug decriminalisation, the church and politics endeared him as ‘a radical’. But unlike others he never wavered.
Finally he decided to leave his job with an audit firm and start a University course. At University he immersed himself once again in controversy, involving himself in the local newspaper there and writing as any radical student would do.
Julian was more than liberal, he was progressive. Yet, he did not feel politics was his way of life.
Graduating in communications, we met once again in the start up of The People, a tabloid doomed to failure for its extravagant spending spree. I had left politics but he had remained active in the green movement.
The People was a short-lived experience, and he moved on to teach English and run a Third World goods firm called Aw Tribu. As an English tutor he met Irene Christ and we all said that it was once again one of Julian’s love affairs. This time it was different. Something had changed in Julian.
Constant pestering from me led him to finally accept a senior post at MaltaToday. And for years he was more than a colleague. I knew I could depend on him. He was consistent, dedicated and mature. He co-ordinated the subbing, the culture, sports pages and provided biting news stories.
He was a first class pain in the arse for politicians, commercial entities and established institutions. And when I did something wrong he would walk up to my room and tell me straight in the face what he thought.
When he decided to investigate the Price Club I was faced with long rude telephone calls. But he was right in tackling this financial scandal.
He was despised by parts of the establishment for his irreverence. Yet I know it is cheek and disrespect that makes a fine journalist.
Though journalism was his profession, it was increasingly clear that his devotion for Irene’s work was a priority. He learnt German and masterminded the preparations behind their new theatrical company, Actinghouse Productions. Their productions brought colour and spice to lovers in the theatre.
In the long editorial meetings he would remind us that the meeting was taking far too long and that he needed time to finish his articles. Julian’s work ethic was indescribable. He would be the first staff member in the office and work endlessly at his computer, always complaining that it was too slow. He would take his break at the same time every day – on occasions he would buy fresh cheeselets from the grocer and take them to the snack bar to have them prepare a salad for him.
Julian felt uneasy with the mediocrity and hypocrisy around him. He spoke his mind but it did not mean that he disliked anyone.
In the last weeks, I know he had many plans for Irene and himself – they had recently moved into a charming townhouse in Valletta and had dreams about their life together and their theatre group.
Hours before he died, I walked up to him and rested my hands on his shoulders and said: “Kollox sew, Jul?” – and he replied – “Yes, but tomorrow I will be late because I have to accompany Irene for a hospital appointment.”
I told him that he should take the day off. Days before he had visited the dentist to have his wisdom tooth removed. And he returned to work – I told him he was being silly.
But Tuesday turned out to be the last time I saw him. On this day he sent his last email at 5.49pm with his story list to me. He rushed down the stairs, shouted his usual ciao in his nasal and affectionate voice to a colleague and rushed down to catch the bus home.
Julian is not replaceable. His special outlook to life, his understanding of environmental issues, his dreams for the theatrical company, his ability to blend with different social groups, his energy, his beliefs and his commitment to Irene were matchless.
His funeral was dignified and respected his wishes as someone who strongly believed in a secular society. He was spiritual but not religious. His greatest love was Irene. His life was the world.
At MaltaToday we owe it to him to keep his determination alive. And I will miss him dearly as a beloved friend and a colleague.
He would be very surprised to know that someone he indicted of being a Maltese macho could not hold his tears back.

Julian Manduca, born 2 July, 1958, died 17 May, 2005. He leaves to mourn his wife Irene, brothers Philip, Victor and Simon, sister Sarah, Anna Manduca, family and friends.

Contact Saviour Balzan

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