We decided to give Gibraltar at least a week. We wanted to find out if there were jobs to be had for winter and if there was space at a marina for six or more months. But more than that, we wanted to give ourselves time to get a flavour of the place, get a feel for it, find out if it is the sort of place we would like to live for half a year.
On Sunday evening we arrived in Queensway Quay marina. Our friends on Mallemok were denied access and told there was no space for a boat of her size. But there was a space right across the pontoon from us that was perfect for a 43 foot boat, and that space remained empty for our entire stay. Mallemok was also turned away from Ocean Village marina and eventually our weary friends stayed for three nights at the marina in La Linea, on the Spanish side of the border.
The first thing to strike me was the size of Queensway Quay. Having long associated Gibraltar with yachting, I had expected big expansive marinas. But this was tiny and cramped. The marina is situated in a basin, surrounded by tall apartment buildings on all four sides, with only a very narrow channel to the sea. From our pontoon we walked through a row of expensive restaurants and bars and I felt decidedly grubby even in my best clothes compared to the exceedingly well-groomed clientele. Those of you who know me know that glamour is not my thing!!
Once out of the marina, we walked along streets with military names, recalling historic and current British military interests. The entire territory is a bizarre microcosm of distilled Englishness – more English than England, more English than British. It felt odd to us to have sailed all this way to end up in ‘England’ again – but an England without our family and friends, and an England that’s very noisy and overcrowded.
We shopped at Morrisons, thrilled to be able to buy our favourite brands of tea, cheese and butter. We bought pasta in bulk, stocked up on porridge, Robinson’s squash and other favourites that are difficult or impossible to buy in Spain.
The Main Street boasts Marks and Spencer, Next, Monsoon, and a few other British high street shops, but it is dominated by British pubs, souvenir shops, and liquor stores selling tax-free alcohol. The girls and I spent a few hours one day in the public library. It was incredibly old fashioned. I loved it! It reminded me of libraries when I was a child. The children’s section didn’t have the stacks of picture books and soft toys that I’ve grown used to in the past few years. Instead it has rows of Enid Blyton, Charles Dickens and Roald Dahl, and slightly simplified versions of books like Arabian Nights and Moby Dick. Even books published in the last decade were bound in such a way to look like they came straight from 1978. And this was a silent library – verbal exuberance was not tolerated. I miss libraries like that!
We visited Ocean Village marina with a view to staying there for winter. While it was bigger and less claustrophobic than Queensway Quay, it is situated within a hideous cathedral of consumerism – a purpose-built fake beach-front sort of place, filled with shops, bars, restaurants, and a leviathan floating hotel and casino that takes up about a quarter of the space in the marina. In this entire complex I couldn’t find anywhere where one might sit down or relax for free. To sit, you had to consume – in one of the many bars or cafes or restaurants. I couldn’t imagine spending a whole winter here with the girls. As it turned out, the manager of the marina wouldn’t know until November whether we could have a winter berth, and we didn’t relish the prospect of drifting around from marina to marina for the next six weeks on the off-chance that we might have a berth.
It seems there are plenty of jobs around. I visited a recruitment agency and was given some positive advice and guidance, and Julian wandered the streets looking at ‘Staff wanted’ signs in bars and restaurants, and in dolphin-watching and ‘seafari’ boat trip companies.
One morning our friends from Mallemok called to visit and together we all took a cable car to the top of the Rock to see the Barbary Macaques that live there. The children were delighted to spend time together. Sylte carried Katie on the back of his bike (to her great delight) and all four played together like old friends. The boys speak a little English, but what they lack in ability they more than make up for in confidence, and can make themselves understood very easily.
230 macaques live on the rock – Europe’s only ape population (ourselves excluded). We had a great time exploring the Rock. Julian had a close encounter with one macaque who stole someone’s bag. Julian decided to be the hero and rescue the bag, but the ape had other ideas. He hissed at Julian and bared his teeth, and Julian yelled at him and waved his arms, all in front of a growing and amused crowd. It was like Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Finally an employee of the Rock came along and lured the ape away with food, and we did likewise with Julian!
The apes are notorious for stealing food, trying to open backpacks, and rushing to the sound of a rustling plastic bag. At one point an ape snuck up behind Julian and tried to open his backpack, while it was on Julian’s back! We thought we’d found a quiet, ape free corner to have a snack – as all the children were hungry and thirsty and nagging us for something to eat. But no sooner had we got the food out than an ape came along and tried to grab it, as I furiously tried to stuff everything back inside my bag, including a half-eaten chocolate muffin and a half-eaten nectarine, making for an interesting mess to clean out later! Finally, as we were about to leave, standing waiting for the cable car to take us down the mountain, the children were each given a sweet. Sylte and Mats gobbled theirs down quickly, but my girls were slow to take the wrappers off. An ape came along and took Lily’s sweet from her hand, unwrapped it, and ate it! His companion went for Katie’s, but I quickly grabbed it. Having no pockets, but wanting to hide it from the greedy ape, I quickly stuffed it down the back of my leggings!! Desperate times call for desperate measures. I didn’t tell Katie where it had been when I eventually gave it back to her!
In the end we only spent four days in Gibraltar. We’d seen enough. It is an incredibly interesting place (Julian and I had already visited eight years ago), with a fascinating history, a very interesting way of life where Britain and Spain rub shoulders, and where wild macaques wander the city! But we decided it wasn’t for us for the long term. I found it far too claustrophobic and noisy, and we both found it too weirdly English. The only other city I have found to be so claustrophobic and noisy is Hong Kong, which I visited for five days in 1996.
We could have found work, and some would say it is irresponsible and foolhardy to turn down the opportunity to earn some money and refill the coffers. But then, some people think this whole endeavour is irresponsible. We’ll figure out a way. It just won’t be in Gibraltar.