Life here in Gibraltar has a certain rhythm to it, the longer you stay the more you realise that the same things happen every year. For some that might seem boring but for us as a family it gives us things to look forward to and back at as we work our way through the year. It’s six years ago this month that we packed our lives into boxes and headed off from our home in the north of England and arrived here in Gibraltar.
It wasn’t an easy thing to do with two small children, we had a house with a small (but perfectly formed) garden and lived a 60 minute drive from one set of grandparents and within half a day’s drive of the other set of grandparents. Although we usually saw the nearest family once a week we would also have regular trips for long weekends to visit the rest of our family further away. We never lived ‘out of each other’s pockets’ as it were, but the boys got to know their grandparents, aunts and uncles well and had good relationships with them. However, due to work commitments we chose to leave our family and friends behind, waved goodbye to our ‘forever home’ and for me, with a heavy heart, made the trip south to our new home in Gibraltar.
Thankfully, colleagues at my husband’s work were well prepared to welcome newcomers to the Rock as many of his company’s employees came from abroad. People helped us settle in, one colleague even picked up the keys to our rented apartment for us because the agent closed before we were due to arrive. He met us outside the front door, key in one hand and housewarming pot plant in the other. I soon discovered that when people live a long way from their oldest friends and family, newly made friendships soon accelerate into much deeper relationships and fill some, if not all, of the holes left behind in our old lives back home.
Gibraltar itself, or should I say, the Gibraltarian people also helped our transition into our new life. On the first day of school a local mum approached me to apologize that she hadn’t invited my son to her son’s party as she hadn’t expected a new child in the class in September. The next day my eldest came home with an invitation to his first Gibraltarian birthday party. The two boys went onto become fast friends. Also at school, after a couple of weeks, my son’s teacher called me aside saying, “now we have your child settled into school, what can I do to help you and your husband?”. What an amazingly kind thing to ask.
Aside from the people we met during our early days here, two other things stood out to me; the weather (doh how obvious) and the social calendar. There were mornings when I’d wake up with the ache of homesickness, wondering whether we’d done the right thing moving countries, missing my family at home and counting down the days until our next trip back to England. But how can you stay down in the dumps when you wake up to this outside your window?
The hectic social calendar here also meant a week didn’t go by without at least one public event happening so there was always something in the diary for us to do as a family in an evening or at the weekend. Due to the small size of the Gibraltar population, such events usually meant bumping into people we knew, either from the school gates or through my husband’s work. One of the first I remember going to was the annual charity cardboard boat race.
Each year a group of brave (read foolhardy) souls create ‘boats’ (I use the term loosely) out of corrugated cardboard. There are very strict rules governing the methods used to stick them together and make them watertight. Nothing which could endanger marine life (like staples, nail or tar) can be used. The competitors (a minimum of 2 per ‘boat’) have to paddle from one side of Ocean Village marina to the other, go around a buoy and make the return journey.
Today, Ocean Village again played host to the charity cardboard boat race. Despite the grey and humid levanter conditions, loads of people turned out to support the intrepid crews.
There were two boats entered into the children’s race including this pirate ship which sadly lost it’s Jolly Roger early in the race. Both children’s teams completed the race and did far better than some of their adult counterparts!
A couple of entries sank early on but the majority of crews made it all the way around the course. The green one below lost a man overboard halfway round, so he swam along behind pushing and steering when he could!
The real stars of the show were the crew of this boat decked out in the Gibraltar flag and red and white balloons. Despite being submerged in water above their middles, the crew valiantly rowed on around the course and finished the race with the water up to their chins!
It really was good fun to watch, and was a useful reminder of how far we have come since our first August here in Gibraltar. We are now a family of five, with three children happily immersed into life on the Rock. My husband and I have a great circle of friends and I’m involved in a few groups here which keeps me busy and hopefully in some small way helps others out too. Today I even had one child asking if we could enter a boat next year. I won’t be committing to that I don’t think, but for now, at least, I’m pleased to say that Gibraltar is my home.