Gibraltar: Pillar of Hercules.


 I have been tricked. I thought Gibraltar was a rock, but discovered that in fact it is made of Swiss cheese, so presumably it’s a meteor made of the same stuff as the moon. Apparently there are 27 miles of tunnels through the rock, many of which were made with explosives. Finding, as I stood in a tunnel, that the Rock is riddled with holes and has withstood multiple explosions was not reassuring. Next time I visit them, I’ll take a personal airbag and an avalanche tracker in case the entire Rock implodes and I’m stranded, squashed and cross, in its innards.

Last week I was working in Gib at St Bernard’s Hospital which, since this is where the prescriptions come from, must be the pill-er of Gibraltarians society, although I believe that owing to Mediterranean diet that they take very few pills. More tomatoes and olives, longer lives. Determined to buy into this good health program, I brought home three tins of olives but decided against bringing back 3 kg of tomatoes as the airline might be suspicious of red liquid oozing out of my luggage.

On the flight over, the air stewardess decided to demonstrate her ability in two languages simultaneously. The safety spiel came out,  ‘In an emergency… elkfgjkdfuify… landing on water…eufihsfh…. explosion… efgkjsj… lifejacket… sdlfshfl…completely scuppered.’

Coming home was worse, as the air hostess gave the entire safety bit in English while demonstrating the exciting features of a lifejacket. After they had been put away, she then repeated it in Spanish, thus leaving it to a Spanish speaker’s imagination where the whistle, safety light or the re-inflation tube might be. Bobbing along the water, gradually sinking, watching the burning fuselage of the plane explode, one might be stressed enough to get them mixed up.  So you might attract a lot of attention, but drown as your lifejacket deflated; or be over-inflated but nobody could find you. It also means that should our plane have crashed, the English speakers would be fine and dandy, blowing on their little whistles, happily re-inflating their jackets, as the Spaniards sank silently without trace. The Armada revisited.

We chose to stay in Spain, walking across the border daily to the hospital. This system worked absolutely fine until the first morning when a bomb scare on the runway meant mucho delay. My husband was more worried about being late than blown up; clearly a man with a firm grasp of statistics and, luckily for me, a man well insured. We discovered several new terms on Gibraltar, including an Elderologist which appears to be someone who looks after oldies, not people from Eldorado.

Years ago my father, who died young, had worked in Gibraltar as a surgeon and a delightful Gibraltarian  lady told me that she knew many people who spoke of him kindly. What took me aback was not the shattering of a child’s view that a parent sets off in the morning in a work suit but actually spends all day reading, on the beach or shopping, but that she referred to him as Mr Gardiner. Being a surgeon, he was Mr not Dr, a tradition which dates back to the days when surgeons were all barbers and not medically qualified. By my father’s day this had thankfully changed entirely, thus neither my father nor his surgeon friends could cut hair. It seemed odd hearing him called Mr Gardiner as I had thought of him as a doctor and Gardiner and therefore Dr Gardiner, or perhaps, as he was known to the family as Fa, possibly Dr Fa. Mr? Nope.

 I discovered a fantastic clothes shop on Main Street stuffed with beautiful Italian silk and cotton drifty tops and trousers. They were completely fabulous, and entirely unsuitable for England, in equal measure. I felt that instead of saying ‘Oooh yummy, I’ll try that one’, I should be asking for some particularly shi-shi thermals or some uber-cool waterproofs. However, without a Wellington boot in sight and as each of the items were about 10 g each, I decided that neither customs nor the airport scales would care two hoots if I bought some stuff,  so cracked open the credit card. I was half right. Customs didn’t care. Ryanair pointed out that we were 2.5 kg over, so did we want to remove items or pay an excess baggage charge? Deciding against financial ruin, I removed five items, apparently at random, which made the bag exactly 20kg and not a gram over. Unfortunately, this overt display of psychic powers confirmed my husband’s suspicions that I am a witch. I’m fighting my corner womanfully , fiercely maintaining that I’m not, but if he continues to insist,  I’ll hex him.

Eating out was a joy. We found a restaurant on the beach, though perhaps it was not the perfect place to eat with somebody who doesn’t eat cold blooded animals, definitely including snakes and turtles. All the main courses were fish; the soup was cod; the rice dish, paella; the salad contained tuna. However, the view was spectacular so Adam decided to put his pesce-phobia to one side and have a crack at swallowing his pride and the fish with it. Unluckily, sea bass freshly cooked on the barbecue, presented on the bone with its head and tail still present, doesn’t count as beginner’s fish. It was downhill from ‘Where do I start?’

The name Gibraltar derives from Jabel Tariq, a general who lay siege to it in 771. It is deemed to be one of the pillars of Hercules on which was written non plus ultra, which means ‘nothing further beyond’ because it was believed that nothing existed beyond borders of the Mediterranean. However, after the discovery of the Americas, Charles V King of Spain had put on his coat of arms plus ultra or further beyond. In Gibraltar, Adam discovered that further beyond fish was a toilet. Unchained maladie.


About alisongardiner1

Writer of YA series of books. Broadcaster/podcaster Litopia After Dark.
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