There was an episode of the classic TV comedy show Alan Partridge that featured the hapless TV host suggesting programme ideas to a BBC1 executive. Monkey Tennis, Inner City Sumo and Arm Wrestling with Chas and Dave were his creative gems. Well, how about this, Alan - Flirting in Malta?
Flirting in Malta sounds like the latest in the series of those horrible Sky Three programmes about drunken louts trying to mate on holiday, but it is an actual holiday idea.
That's the fusing of Malta; a quaint, conservative and staunchly Catholic little island in the Southern Mediterranean where the concept of feminism is not universally embraced, and flirting, the execution of which usually ends up in disappointment or an embarrassing infection.
I was trying my hardest to get my head around the whole concept as I found myself standing in the middle of a genteel Maltese street in broad daylight on a "flirting exercise". It was the third flirting exercise our group of mainly thirtysomething female journalists had undertaken in two hours and I was just at the point where the straw was about to break the camel's back (the straw being the flirting and me being the camel).
We were still reeling from the first exercise, where we were sent to ask a stranger for directions to a café in one of Malta's lovely squares (typically comprising churches, cobblestones, tourist kiosks and more churches). That's five single women, sent out alone in a country they are unfamiliar with to ask a random male stranger for directions to a café. One of our party came back fairly traumatised after she failed to shake off one man she'd approached and thought she was done for when he became her very own stalker.
Louise Scodie travelled to Gatwick with the Gatwick Express (www.gatwickexpress.com) and flew to Malta with easyJet (www.easyjet.co.uk) which offers returns from £103 in June. She stayed at the Fortina Spa Resort (www.fortinasparesort.com; 00 356 2346 2346) where spa bedrooms cost from £150 per person per night. Flirtology trips will be running in June and September. See www.flirtology.co.uk
If Jack the Ripper was alive and reading about the holiday today, I worry that he'd fly straight to Malta and lurk in the streets, waiting to slice the liver, heart and kidneys out of an unsuspecting flirter.
In exercise three, we were supposed to go up to a stranger in the street who we found attractive and compliment them. Two problems there: I didn't see anyone who fitted the bill, and I would never approach a man on the street anyway, which is obviously completely reasonable, especially given my cultural and religious background and the fact that, oh, I don't know, I have eyes and ears and a brain and standards and an acute wish not to get abducted.
Jean Smith, the "flirting coach", who runs seminars in London with names like "How to Attract, Approach, and Allure the one that you want", as well as flirting and walking tours of London, didn't like the fact that I refused to go up to any strangers. She didn't believe that I didn't find anyone attractive. She didn't seem to understand that we don't all process or do things in the same way.
As I, and the editor of Asian Woman agreed, all of this doesn't really work for ethnic minority chicks, especially if we want to meet someone Jewish (me) or Asian (her) - either way, the doctors and lawyers aren't hanging out in Malta.
Quite frankly, the way we meet and interact with potential partners has little to do with propositioning strangers in the street, or being dragged round horrible, horrible bars, which is what we suffered later on that evening.
We also sat through some flirting "seminars". Jean talked to us about "flirtology". Apparently, if you stick "ology" on the end of a word it
makes it credible. Well, it works for Scientology.
After each seminar we five journalists, having bonded with almost wartime-like spirit at the stupidity of it all, got together and agreed how daft it was.
Sometimes when we expressed disagreement with Jean and her PR person they got defensive and testy and repeated themselves instead of engaging in a proper dialogue. But, again, it works for Scientology.
If you happened to be sad and vulnerable and unhappy about being single, this would probably upset you even more.
It took me two days to recover from the trip. On a brighter note, Malta definitely has its charms. Aside from that strip of town with the horrible, horrible bars, it is quaint and sepia-coloured and sunny like an old postcard after you blow away the dust.
If you fancy a long weekend somewhere with sunshine, a slower pace of life and lots of English shops (Next, Dorothy Perkins, Topshop, M&S!), you might like to visit.
We were staying in the Fortina Spa Resort, a five-star hotel in Sliema and within walking distance of the shops (Next, Dorothy Perkins, etc, etc) and overlooking the sea.
The hotel has everything you need, including six restaurants and a gym, and the bar staff in particular are lots of fun, but there seemed to be something missing in the way of warmth or atmosphere.
Having said that, after four or five of the hotel's strawberry daiquiris (which, as every visitor to the Caribbean knows, are basically Slush Puppies for wrong 'uns), things did seem a little better.
My room had a massive bed and a big Jacuzzi. Luckily, the big Jacuzzi was behind my bed and on a mezzanine level, rather than next to the bed and on the same level, thereby circumnavigating the risk of rolling out of bed in the middle of the night (a particular risk after the daquiris) and drowning.
The bathroom had all sorts of equipment, including a steam shower with four heads and a Jacuzzi bath. They were great. I was less taken with the giant egg contraption purporting to be a detox machine. Being five foot tall and thus prone to getting trapped in equipment, I gave it a miss.
An inspiring highlight was our trip to Mdina, an ancient walled city at the highest point of Malta. Mdina is associated with the Knights of St John, a Christian organisation of well to do philanthropists who did things like build hospitals in Jerusalem for pilgrims. The Knights took over Mdina in 1530 and did a lovely job of looking after it, as it's still in fine nick today.
We took a meal in Ciapetti, a charming restaurant where you can get a really good feel for Maltese cuisine. Although the Maltese do have an alarming (and decidedly non-kosher) predilection for rabbit meat, there was veggie fare on offer. I had a mushroom risotto accompanied by a glass or two of Medina Chardonnay, a local wine produced by Malese vinery Delicata.
Over lunch, our tour guide told us more about the Knights of St John. Such was its prestige that the second sons of noble families from across Europe were sent to the Knighthood at 13 to start working their way up. Maria chuckled: "The Knights had to be celibate, although most of them had their bits on the side."
And that's without the aid of flirtology, by the way.