This is a story set in Malta and Europe in the near future. In the form of a letter from a mother to her daughter Maddy, it shows a family trying to navigate the crisis in the region caused by a rapidly warming climate.

See previous chapters in the story and read a note by the story's author.

We stayed with Anselmo for nearly four years. 

The first couple of years were relatively good. Prolonged drought further south meant that olive yields had already suffered in Malta, North Africa and Greece – increased irrigation could not always cope with the effects of prolonged drought, and temperature peaks sometimes above 45°C. But up there near Rome the drought had been a little less cruel; when we got there the trees were not quite as stressed as the ones we had left behind in Malta.

Yet after a first season where we harvested a comparatively bumper crop, the following years saw us hit by a weather double whammy that led to crop failure in two successive seasons.

First we were smashed by an ice storm that felt like it came straight from the Arctic (figure of speech – the Arctic that year twice saw 30°C plus temperatures). For three nights in a row the temperature went as low as -8°C, unheard of in the region before then. Despite our frantic efforts to lay down blankets and tarps over the trees, and even light small fires between some of them, around a quarter of the region’s olive trees died that year, and we didn’t do much better.

It became clear to us that we would have to move on

Even the trees that did survive dropped all of their leaves and buds, meaning that we lost the entire year’s crop; there are few things as soul-destroying as watching otherwise healthy, decades-old or even century-old olive trees just wither away and die.

If that wasn’t enough, the following year was almost completely dry; dry, that is, until we were hit by ‘once in a lifetime’ floods. (Terms like ‘once in a lifetime’ just don’t work anymore as applied to the weather – it seems like we see floods like that every few years now).

The rain came down for two solid weeks; it was as if the weather system was stuck right above us and simply wouldn’t move on. In the second week the rain fell not in drops but in solid sheets, like some vengeful god was pouring vast buckets of water all over the land. Some hillside fields were carried away in the deluge; in others the soils failed to fully drain over the following weeks as the weather remained wet, retaining too much moisture for the drought-adapted olives.

Many trees that had survived the previous year’s great freeze started to rot from the roots up. 

For a second year in a row, not only had the olive crop failed, but hundreds of precious trees had been permanently lost. This time it was clear that the farm wouldn’t be able to look to olives as a reliable main source of income in the future.

*       *       *

This was about the end of our third year there. Mum and I had moved into the main house with Anselmo by now, while Tom stayed in the cottage with a few seasonal workers who came and went. 

Anselmo wasn’t doing too well; the series of crises had really spooked him, pushed him over the edge in some ways. He became increasingly anxious, at times confused, physically frailer and more erratic in his behaviour. He became quieter, more closed in on himself, but might then suddenly lash out without warning at whoever was in front of him.

He veered from thanking us, sometimes tearfully, for helping him keep his farm going to, on one occasion, angrily blaming us for the death of his beloved olive trees. 

We began to suspect some sort of dementia. 

In his more lucid periods, we agreed with him that we would have to move away from an almost total reliance on olive cultivation and concentrate on a much wider variety of seasonal fruit and veg. 

In a sense we had seen it before – a similar process had already started to play out on Dad’s farm in Malta in the years before we left.

We started to grow a little bit of everything, trying to make sure we would not be over-reliant on any one crop. As an approach it was never going to make Anselmo rich, but it should have ensured that there was always some food on the table, with a small surplus we could use to trade for other needs.

It might have worked too, but everything changed very suddenly when Anselmo’s daughter and her husband turned up out of the blue. 

She came back to find a near-ruined farm. Photo: Shutterstock.comShe came back to find a near-ruined farm. Photo:

We had known they existed, because he had mentioned her a couple of times. We had even suggested he contact her after one of his confused episodes, but as far as we could see he never really showed an interest in doing so.

Tom and I simply returned from the fields one evening to find them sitting with Anselmo in the main room of the cottage, Mum awkwardly preparing a meal in the kitchen. 

A pursed-lipped woman with hard-bitten nails, Nicoletta was shocked to see how her father had aged, and seemed horrified to hear what the once thriving olive groves had yielded in the two previous years. 

Both she and her husband had lost their jobs near Turin – after years of creaking under a mountain of debt and corruption, Italy had finally defaulted on its international borrowings, despite a failed bailout attempt by the EU. The north saw a wave of factory closures and job losses in ’33 and ’34, as the economy finally crashed as spectacularly as it had long been threatening to do. 

Many of the newly jobless joined the stream of dispossessed humanity already trying to make its way north towards Germany and Scandinavia, but Nicoletta had obviously decided to come back to the family farm to try and make a go of it.

I guess I can understand how she must have felt. She came back to find a near-ruined farm, her father looking significantly older and in poor health, and strangers living with him in his house. A more generous soul might have tried to find out more before rushing to judgement, but Nicoletta immediately decided that we were responsible for the disturbing changes she was seeing. Or she just wanted us out.

There were a couple of unpleasant scenes where she accused Mum of exploiting Anselmo and of stealing from him. Anselmo seemed to retreat further into himself, actually putting his hands over his ears in distress when things got heated. 

She told us to leave within a couple of days of arriving, but it had already become clear to us that we would have to move on. 

Part ten of We are not angry enough will appear on Monday, January 31. See previous chapters in the story and read a note by the story's author.

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