It’s been a long time since I last took you on a stroll around Gibraltar, so here’s a new jaunt around this place we have made our home; it’s less of a walk and more is a drive though! It’s been inspired by a tongue in cheek gift Mr Postcard received for Christmas a few years ago… traffic islands or roundabouts are the subject matter today.
Apparently there is such a thing as a ‘Roundabout spotter’ so if there are any of you out there in cyberspace this one’s for you!
Gibraltar has a good few roundabouts considering it is a pretty small place. This is not a comprehensive catalogue of them all, but here are a few …
… beginning with the Sundial Roundabout.
This is the first Roundabout you will encounter if you arrive in Gibraltar by road. There is a mini (painted on the road) roundabout next to the airport, but this is the most northerly proper roundabout.
The sculpture in the centre forms a sundial and the points of the compass are marked out on the grass verge running around it (you can see N for North in the photo above). Also around the base are images of the symbols of the zodiac.
When Gibraltar enjoyed it’s most recent royal visit from the Earl & Countess of Wessex, back in 2012, planters were put on top of the compass letters and it looked beautifully colourful.
Our most southerly roundabout of note is this one next to to mosque at Europa Point.
From afar it looks like a natural planting arrangement with rocks and pebbles and a few plants. Up close though, you can see a flock of metal birds.
I have tried to find out what they are, but failed. They do look to me rather like Gibraltar’s native Barbary Partridges though.
It’s not just Gibraltar’s wildlife which is celebrated in traffic island form – it’s nautical history is too. An anchor takes centre stage at this roundabout on the junction with Queensway and Ragged Staff Road.
Some of our roundabouts are planted with tropical plants, there are a couple close to Morrisons supermarket- this is one of them.
The story of what happened to the civilian population of Gibraltar is marked by this beautiful statue of Evacuees returning home to the Rock after many years separated from their friends, families and their homes.
Gibraltar’s newest roundabout is this one on Queensway. Decorated with a sculpture in the shape of the Rock of Gibraltar with the shapes of figures cut out of it, it’s a monument to the women of Gibraltar.
As the sun moves around the Rock during the day, the figures cast by the sunlight move around and appear to be supporting the structure. It was unveiled officially on 6th December last year by the Chief Minister’s wife, Justine Picardo. The two women behind the work are architect; Ruth Massias Greenberg and artist & sculptor; Ermelinda Duarte.
How about a roundabout where you have a good chance of getting wet on a stormy day?
Built on top of the breakwater surrounding the new small boat marina, this road and its little roundabout offer a great vantage point for spotting cruise ships, and rather impressive yachts, like this one!
My absolute favourite traffic island has to be the one at the Trafalgar Interchange. When we first arrived in Gibraltar to live, it wasn’t particularly remarkable, but during our first few years here, a lot of work was done to smarten this area up and it’s just beautiful now.
The flower beds nearby are lush and well maintained and the shrubs on the island are neatly clipped. It makes me smile when I see it planted up with new bedding several times a year.
The whole area is a real green oasis, I love this lush corner of Gibraltar.
Look it’s even home for a special visitor at Christmas time!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this lighthearted look at what many people may consider to be mundane traffic islands, I fear I may have turned into a bit of a roundabout spotter myself!
Last Saturday morning, my alarm went off at 7 so that I could get up the hill to the start of the Med Steps 5 Challenge. After a couple of days with rain showers I was relieved to see that the forecast of cloudy but dry skies was correct.
It wasn’t long before the crowds of walkers and their supporters began to arrive. Just after 9am, the safety briefing began in readiness for the start of the event.
And at approximately 9:30, we were off and underway on lap one! It wasn’t too bad as we were carried along with the momentum of the crowd, although by the summit, the crowd had thinned out a bit.
There were a lot of tourists on the Upper Rock and the apes had come out to greet them, and us!
48 minutes for the first lap, not too bad.
The wildflowers are at their peak in the nature reserve at the moment, these poppies were my favourite.
2 laps done…
And here’s the proof!
Onwards and upwards…
Three laps in two and a half hours…
Time for a breather and a great view south towards the lighthouse.
Starting to slow up a bit… Almost a whole hour for lap number 4.
On the final lap and I was starting to flag, I couldn’t even focus the picture! Thank you Soreen for giving me the energy to finish (you can take the girl out of Manchester…).
The floor in parts of the walk was carpeted in a confetti of olive blossom. I was looking down a lot at this point, just trying to get one foot in front of the other…
I did it! I even managed 15 minutes faster than last year (I have no idea how I managed that with less training, unless the extra weight brought me down quicker 😉).
Look, five stamps, one for each lap of the challenge. Phew, I’m glad that’s over, anyone fancy joining me next year?
Time to collapse…
If you would like to hear some of the atmosphere of the day, why not give my latest podcast a listen here?
So, the time has almost come, it’s nearly time to lace up those trainers, slap on the suncream and hope for the best… it’s Med Steps 5 Challenge time!
The beautiful rugged pathway which leads walkers (and very fit runners) from Jews Gate to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar will become purgatory for those of us who, for some strange reason, thought it would be a good idea to do it 5 times!
Last year I completed the climb 5 times with a couple of friends (after agreeing it would be fun) over a slightly boozy Christmas meal. Well, I’m not sure ‘fun’ is the word I’d use. It was flipping hard work, it was hot too, but the atmosphere of the event was amazing and the sense of achievement was something else.
It was by far toughest physical challenge I’ve ever faced (aside from childbirth). I am not a sporty or athletic person by any shade of the imagination, but after 4 and a half months of training I was thrilled to be able to cross the finish line in 4 hours and 40 minutes along side my training buddies.
We managed to raise a considerable amount of money too for the wonderful Cancer Relief Centre here in Gibraltar. The Centre supports people undergoing cancer treatment with all sorts of complimentary care and services, it has a children’s playground and a new after school club for children affected by cancer, as well as advice for patients and listening ear.
I think I remember saying after it was all over that I was pleased I’d done it, but never again… so why am I preparing to turn up at the starting line again this time? I’m not sure to be honest! We did begin our training in January as a trio again but other commitments and life got in the way for my training partners from last year, so they will be cheering me on from the sidelines.
In fact, life has kind of got in the way for me too this year, I have only achieved 3 times round in my training schedule this year a couple of times and we managed 4 times in preparation for the last one. So I’m now going into this year’s event feeling a little bit of trepidation knowing exactly what’s in store for me.
I know I can do 5 times round with the right training behind me, but I’m a little underprepared this time. I also know that if it takes me over 5 hours it doesn’t matter, the most important thing is to try my best and show support to this incredibly worthy cause. Wish me luck!
If you would like to hear about the Med Steps 5 Challenge from one of the organisers, why not give my latest podcast a listen?
In the last month, one of Gibraltar’s historical buildings has had a colourful makeover. The British artist Ben Eine was brought over to repaint the northern facade of the Inces Hall as part of a new Government programme of urban renewal.
The previously shabby white exterior is now painted with the words ‘THATS ENTERTAINMENT’ in vibrant colours on a purple and blue striped background. Both the choice of venue for the art work the missing apostrophe from the statement have caused much heated debate on local social media.
Critics of the work disapproved of using a historically important building as a canvas for the art, while supporters welcomed a bright and cheerful talking point at the southern end of Main Street.
Whatever your views are on the Inces Hall painting, street art is nothing new in Gibraltar. One of the Rock’s most iconic streets is famed for it’s paint job.
Devil’s Gap Road was painted by the local community when Gibraltarians went to the polls in 1967 to vote on remaining British.
The 50th anniversary of the referendum result, which was overwhelmingly in favour of Gibraltar remaining British, will be celebrated this September. Among the events lined up will be a repainting of the steps.
Not far from the red, white and blue steps, one home owner leaves no doubt as to their national pride…
At the northern edge of Upper Town, there’s plenty more street art to be found.
The residents of Moorish Castle Estate got out their paint brushes to celebrate Gibraltar National Day back in 2012:
The area is currently undergoing renovations but there’s plenty community artwork still there for all to see.
Gibraltar seems to be dominating the news a lot these days, so for those of you who don’t know much about this Rock which we call our home, here’s a little ABC…
A is for Apes
Our furry friends who live (most of the time) at the top of the Rock are perhaps Gibraltar’s most famous inhabitants. They’re the only wild apes in mainland Europe and rumoured to be the reason why Gibraltar remains British – legend has it that if the apes were to leave, the UK would lose Gibraltar. (Winston Churchill reputedly imported some extra ones during World War II to make sure the Rock remained under the British flag). Legend also has it that they first arrived on the Rock via tunnels which link Gibraltar to northern Africa… not too sure about that one!
B is for border
Gibraltar has only one land border to the north of the territory and shares it with Spain. It is across this border (or Frontier as it’s also known) that thousands of Spanish residents travel to work in Gibraltar each day and also which Gibraltar residents cross to access Spain and rest of the European mainland.
Under the Franco regime the border was closed between 1969 and 1985. Gibraltarians found themselves with lots of vacant jobs to be filled as the cross-border workers were no longer able to work here and resources like food and fuel had to be sourced via alternative means. During this period, the Rock’s relationship with Morocco flourished and resulted in the diverse community we now enjoy today.
C is for cable car
Gibraltar’s main tourist attraction is the Rock itself and there are a number of different ways of getting to the top, on foot and by car or taxi, but perhaps the most dramatic way (and certainly the fastest) is by cable car. It has been a feature on the Rock for decades and takes just six minutes from the base station to the summit.
D is for defence
Due to it’s strategic position geographically at the gateway to the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise that Gibraltar has been a key British military base. Though fewer service personnel are based here now than in it’s heyday, there is still a considerable Army, Navy and RAF presence on the Rock.
E is for Europa Point
At Gibraltar’s southern most tip, you can find Europa Point lighthouse, the only lighthouse to be operated by Trinity House which is outside of the British Isles. It’s been keeping watch over the Strait of Gibraltar for over 175 years. On a clear day, you can see across the Strait to north Africa and the Rif mountains of Morocco.
Europa Point is also home to Gibraltar’s largest mosque (the Ibrahim-al-Ibrahim Mosque) as well as the Roman Catholic Shrine of Our Lady of Europe.
F is for Festivals
In recent years Gibraltar’s cultural life has flourished with the creation of a number of festivals, the biggest of which is the Gibraltar Music Festival or GMF as it’s become known locally. 2017 will see the festival run for the first time by MTV. Other musical festivals include the Festival of Colours and the World Music Festival. In addition to music another large annual event is the Gibraltar Literary Festival.
G is for Governor & Government
Although key defence and strategic decisions about Gibraltar are made in Westminster, day to day affairs on the Rock are looked after by Government of Gibraltar.
We also have a Governor, who is the Queen’s representative here. Our current Governor, Lieutenant General Ed Davies, like all his predecessors lives in the official residence known as The Convent.
H is for history
Gibraltar is steeped in history, from cave men to the Phoenecians, Moorish invasions and the Great Siege. Gibraltar is filled with historic buildings and sites. There’s even a weekly historical reenactment.
I is for isthmus not an island
Despite popular misconception, Gibraltar is not an island. It is an isthmus of 5.8 square kilometres. If you are looking for a diverse and challenging 10k route to run, Gibraltar is the place for you, it’s exactly 10km all the way round on the main roads.
J is for Jebel Tariq
Gibraltar is regarded as one of the Pillars of Hercules, Jebel Musa across the Strait in Morocco being the other one. The name Gibraltar is believed to have come from it’s Moorish name of Jebel Tariq, meaning Tariq’s Mountain or Tariq’s Path. Tariq lead the Moorish Invasion of Andalusia.
K is for Kaiane
Irrespective of your views on beauty pageants, Kaiane Lopez (née Aldorino) achieved something remarkable for Gibraltar. In 2009, was crowned Miss World. She was a great ambassador for Gibraltar during her year-long reign and has continued to fly the flag for the Rock ever since. Yesterday she became the youngest ever Mayor of Gibraltar as well as being the first ever Miss World to take mayoral office.
L is for lifestyle
Gibraltar boasts a great climate, healthcare modeled on the NHS, schools which follow the UK system and a thriving community. Plus everything is within a short distance so activities/entertainment especially for children are more achievable than our experience in the UK. As an ‘incomer’ I’ve had a really positive experience living here and was welcomed by locals and expats alike.
M is for Mediterranean
The Eastern side of the Rock is lapped by the tides of the Mediterranean Sea and the three Mediterranean beaches we have on the Rock are hugely popular in summer (Gibraltar has other beaches on the Western side too).
N is for Neanderthal
The first Neaderthal skull ever to be found was discovered at Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar in 1848. The find, which is celebrated on Gibraltarian pound coins, has led to Gibraltar recently being granted UNESCO World Heritage status.
O is for ornithology
A hot spot for twitchers, Gibraltar is a haven for wildlife and, in particular, migratory birds. Volunteers from the British Trust for Ornithology travel to Gibraltar to study the migration of birds from the southern hemisphere where they have over wintered, up to northern Europe and Russia. Vultures, and eagles can often be spotted along with other smaller birds.
P is for port
Gibraltar has long been a stop off for seagoing travellers, from the Phoenicians who dropped anchor here before setting off into the Atlantic and up as far north as Cornwall. These days Gibraltar’s marine trade includes dry docks for maintenance, as well as bunkering services for ships which are mid voyage.
Q is for queues
We do spend quite a while in queues here in Gibraltar at times, especially if you choose the wrong moment to cross the runway – you can get stuck waiting for planes to land or take off.
We also have to queue to enter and leave Gibraltar at the border with Spain, which can at times be problematic. Thorough checks by the authorities across the border can mean long waits in rather uncomfortable conditions (like the height of summer) at it’s worst it can take several hours to cross.
R is for runway
Gibraltar Airport is famous for it’s stunning backdrop and for the fact that the main road to and from the Rock runs straight across it. It makes for an interesting commute to work for those who live over in Spain!
S is for St Michael’s Cave
The Rock of Gibraltar itself is full of holes, with natural caves and manmade tunnels carved through it. The largest and perhaps most dramatic of which is St Michael’s Cave which as well as being a popular tourist destination is also a venue for shows and concerts.
T is for tunnels
In order to get around the Rock we need to travel through a few tunnels. The World War II Tunnels (which include a war time hospital ward) and the Great Siege Tunnels are popular tourist attractions.
There are miles and miles of military tunnels excavated through the Rock most of which are out of bounds to the public. They are used for military exercises and there was even a plan during World War II for some military personnel to be bricked into a tunnel so they could spy on the enemy in case of an invasion.
U is for Upper Rock
The Upper Rock is a Nature Reserve, home to the Barbary Macaques and other native species like the Barbary partridge and national flowers like the Gibraltar Candytuft and Gibraltar Campion.
The Med Steps or Mediterranean Steps to give them their proper name, is a footpath and several sets of steps which lead from the southern tip of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve, at the Pillar of Hercules monument and round the Eastern side of the Upper Rock before emerging at the summit.
It’s a place of outstanding natural beauty and affords walkers stunning views across the Strait to Morocco, along the Mediterranean coast to Spain and onto the Costa del Sol on a clear day, and across the Bay of Gibraltar to Algeciras.
V is for visitors
Gibraltar is a very popular destination for cruise liners and coach tours. At peak times in the summer, the population of the Rock can almost be doubled for a day, when several large cruise ships arrive all at once. Those are the times when it’s wise to give Main Street a wide berth, especially if you have small children and pushhairs to steer through the crowds.
W is for weather
We are blessed with pretty mild winters (although there was some snow a few miles up the coast this winter) and long hot sunny summers. Thankfully because of our location surrounded on three sides by sea we don’t get such high temperatures as they do further up the coast or inland in Spain.
We can get a rather large cloud developing on the top of the Rock called the Levanter. It’s formed by the easterly wind and just sits above us creating humid conditions below. Some people refuse to have their hair done on Levanter days and it’s been blamed for meringues failing to rise and paint from drying properly.
X is for BreXit (sorry couldn’t think of anything beginning with X)
Well this is the main reason why everyone’s talking about Gibraltar at the moment isn’t it? 96% of the Gibraltar electorate voted to remain in Europe and no one knows what Brexit will mean for us all here on the Rock (or the UK for that matter).
Y is for Yanito or Llanito
Yanito or Llanito is the dialect which is spoken by Gibraltarians. Anyone wandering along Main Street will hear locals speaking a mixture of English and Spanish with a few Genoese or Maltese words thrown in too.
Z is for zebra crossings (post boxes and red telephone boxes)
We may live at the very south of Iberian Peninsular and we can see Africa from our windows but there are a lot of familiar British sights around Gibraltar. There are often tourists posing for photos by the phone boxes and and post boxes trying to catch a little of Britain in the Med.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this Gibraltar A to Z, if you only take one thing from it, can it please be that Gibraltar’s NOT an island? (I have read two articles today which described it as one) Thank you!
I wasn’t planning on going for a walk up the Med Steps this morning, but I’m so glad I did. It was beautiful and I also got the chance to climb up through the clouds again. You may remember I took a similar walk like this just under a year ago… A mini stroll in the mist.
The sun was shining as we set off from the western side of the rock but as we walked around to the eastern side it was a bit cloudy. You could still feel the sunshine beating down through the clouds though.
Looking up the sky immediately above us was so clear and bright!
As we climbed and looked out to sea it became obvious the clouds were actually forming a low blanket which the top of Gibraltar was just poking up out of.
From the summit you could just spy the northern tip poking out above the clouds.
Looking south towards Morocco, the clouds were creeping around from the Mediterranean and into the Strait of Gibraltar.
To the north, on the western side, the airport runway and part of town had been hidden from view as the misty cloud swept around and into the Bay.
We headed back down the Rock after our exertions in the cool shade feeling proud of ourselves for having achieved our goal. Within an hour the two cloudy arms had joined across the Bay and were encircling us in a giant cloudy hug.
I drove into town to find myself severely underdressed (the T shirt was a bad idea!) and shrouded in cloud…. Can you believe these two photos (above and below) were taken just 10 minutes apart?!
I’m pleased to report that the cloud has now burned off and we are basking in bright sunshine and blue skies!
Ahhh that’s better!
How many seasons in one morning?! The weather and the micro climates around the Rock are part of the fun of living here. It’s not just the apes, British Bobbies and red phone boxes that make Gibraltar unique.
From being encouraged to draw a stick man version of myself by an artist who’s exhibited at the Royal Academy to laughing at anecdotes from the former Chief Minister of Gibraltar and being moved and inspired by the courage of an amazing young woman, my morning spent at this year’s Gib Talks event didn’t disappoint. The day-long event features speakers from all walks of life talking on subjects as diverse as the origin of Gibraltar’s name to becoming the first Gibraltarian to compete at the Olympic games.
Last year I had my first experience of Gib Talks, I called in for a short time to hear a friend of mine speak and found myself not wanting to leave. Ahead of this year’s event, I was able to catch up with the organiser Julian Felice when he took part in the Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast Episode 002 : Gib Talks, in it he described some of talks we would be able to hear, but that preview was nothing like actually being there yourself.
One of the joys of Gib Talks is that you don’t need to commit to the whole day, you can dip in and out just coming for the talks which interest you or as was my situation, just coming for the time you are able to fit in around the family. As a consquence I managed to see most of the morning’s session and was so glad that I did. Here’s my take on what I heard (it’s a bit long so feel free to dip in and out of it too!):
Samantha Barrass – My secret life as an amateur thespian and theatre impresario
The first talk of the day I saw was given by Samantha Barrass, the mother of three is CEO of the Gibraltar Financial Services Commission but it was her passion for acting and, as she put it, “non-professional theatre” which formed the subject for her talk. Samantha recalled her first experience of acting in a production of Snow White at the age of 10. She’d moved to New Zealand as a child and it was there that she’d been given the role of the wicked queen in her school production; a role which she joked had been a “forerunner for her role in financial services”.
While on the stage there had been a technical fault which meant that her magic mirror failed to reply when she asked it “who is the fairest of them all”. Her ability to stay in character and act out a “queenly strop” until the fault was rectified earned her a complement from her favourite teacher that “only a real actress could do that”. The comment sealed her fate and her love affair with the stage.
Samantha described how her love for acting and theatre had continued beyond school and despite considering going to stage school, she had pursued a career in finance while continuing as an amateur actress in her spare time. After a move to London, and the birth of her three children, she became involved in a non-professional theatre in Bromley and ultimately became chair, a role which was to see her merge her skills from her professional life and her hobby together.
Describing the theatre as “my third place” in addition to home life and work life, Samantha says she has made many friends through her hobby and that it is something which people can do at any age and with not much money. She ended by saying she is “pleased to be in Gibraltar where I have a very responsible job and I can also fit in some acting around it”.
Samantha Barrass won Best Actress at the 2016 Gibraltar Drama Festival.
Tito Vallejo – Naming the Rock
Next up was well-known local historian and all round personality Tito Vallejo. In his introduction to Tito’s talk, organiser Julian Felice joked that “If you have a pulse and you live in Gibraltar, you probably know this speaker!”
Tito began by saying “We all know how the Rock got it’s name” inferring that if you Google it, you will see that ‘Gibraltar’ is derived from ‘Jebel Tarik’ or Tarik’s Mountain after the Moor who first conquered it. That, however, is not the case according to Tito; first known as ‘Kalph’ the Phoenecian word for rock, then ‘Calpari’ or ‘hollow’ by the Romans and later ‘Calpe’ a name we recognise from insignias and local names today.
The Phoenecians were traders and set up camp nearby in the Bay of Gibraltar 4000 years ago, they were responsible for creating the Pillars of Hercules, or the Pillars of Melcartes as they called them. They also told everyone of the ‘abyss’ which lay beyond the pillars in an attempt to dissuade anyone else from venturing out of the Mediterranean and relying on their imports including tin from the south coast of England.
Later, the Moors staged an invasion of the land of the Vandals, which is now known as Andalusia. Their first port of call was Gibraltar. The leader of the invasion, Tariq landed in Gibraltar in 711 and burned all of his ships, telling his men “we win this land or we will drown in the sea as cowards”. Tito explained that here is “where the myth starts”; the Tarik in Djebel (or Jebel) Tarik does not stand for the man Tariq, but is the Moorish word for ‘path’ meaning the beginning of the path through Andalusia which the Moorish invaders took.
Tito was vehement in his defence of this claim saying that every place the Moors conquered was named for a reason and not after a person, as that would go against the Islamic religious teaching against idolatry. Hence the Alhambra is named after the red colour of the stone, Tarifa is named after the end of the world as it was at the edge of the ‘abyss’ and if you passed there you had to pay a toll or ‘tariff’ and Gibraltar was the start of the ‘path’ through Andalusia.
According to Tito it was the Spanish who coined the name Gibraltar.
Manar Ben Tahayekt – Living with a disability
I get looked down to and this annoys me because it’s like “Hello, I am a smart person you know”.
Described in her introduction as “truly inspiring” and a young woman who “faced every challenge head on” Manar Ben Tahayekt took to the stage and soon had the auditorium captivated. Manar, who was born with cerebral palsy, moved to Gibraltar at the age of 4, after her parents decided she would be better off living here than in her native Morocco. As she wasn’t a Gibraltar citizen, she was home schooled until the age of 11.
She said of her childhood, that it wasn’t easy and that she “started school late but came a long way” gaining 2 GCSEs, one in English, and the other in Spanish. She went on to say that “something I have learned is to never give up”. Despite the difficulties she has faced, Manar now works for the Department of Education and is studying for further qualifications.
Then Manar stunned the audience by asking the awkward question “How many of you said to yourself la pobre” when they saw she was going to speak. She went on to say “I can say poor thing in Arabic too and it irritates me. I wonder when these people will get the hint?…I get looked down on and it’s like ‘Hello I am a smart person you know'”.
Manar explained that although she is disabled, it doesn’t stop her being independent and “just doing what any normal 23 year old does, like falling in love, partying and travelling”. Last year saw her complete her Duke of Edinburgh Silver Award and after much training she conquered the Med Steps.
Finishing her talk, Manar asked the audience to “look beyond the disability” the next time they see a disabled person “and look for their ability”. She was given a standing ovation for her inspirational, and at times deeply moving speech. What a remarkable young woman.
Henry & Priscilla Sacramento – Making it work
For the first time ever, a couple was invited to take to the Gib Talks stage at the same time this year. Compere Julian Felice introduced them saying “the UK has Posh and Becks, the USA Barack and Michelle, Gibraltar and Morocco has ‘HenPris'”.
Retired Police Officer, and charity worker Henry stood with his arm around his wife throughout their talk about their relationship and their dream of buying a property in their beloved Morocco. Priscilla, a retired special needs teacher and dressmaker who made dresses for Miss Gibraltar contestants, took turns with her husband as they told the audience about their marriage, saying that rather than being described as a “golden couple”, they should be “a platinum one” on account of the colour of their hair.
The Sacramentos have been married for almost 30 years, or rather “29 years and 46 days” according to Henry. The recipe for such a long and happy partnership was “positive attitude and respect”. They told the interesting story of how they had fallen in love with a house in Morocco which they wanted to buy but had missed out on the purchase only to be able to buy it years later as Henry came up for retirement. They believe that their positive attitude had lead to them being able to fulfil their dreams.
Karl Ullger – To what extent can you learn to be creative?
Karl Ullger, described by fellow teacher Julian Felice as an “Artist, teacher, colleague and friend” is the second Gibraltarian artist to be invited to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art (the first being Gustavo Bacarisas). He also featured in last year’s Sky Arts Landscape Artist competition getting through from a field of 600 applicants.
Beforehand, we were all given a piece of paper and a pencil, which we were told we would be required to use during Karl’s talk – but more on that later…
“Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality” however “being imaginative does not mean you are creative” said Karl. He gave the examples of things which evolve over time with creativity like the gramophone, which eventually led to record players, the Walkman and the iPhone and “chalk drawings on a cave wall” which then evolved to the ink well, pencil, pen and ultimately an ink free stylus for drawing on a tablet.
Karl said that by using experimentation and breaking from the norm, things don’t always turn out right but don’t give up and keep trying. He told us of the time he went for a jog down by the dockyard and spotted a piece of metal lying in a bus stop. He said he “liked the look of the rust” so he took it back with him to his workshop.
Weeks later, while cleaning his brushes, some of the acid he was using splattered on the sheet of metal and he liked the effect it made. That piece of discarded waste metal later became a piece of art work with a painting of Sacred Heart Church and the Upper Town of Gibraltar on it and it stood beside him on the easel on the stage.
As a teacher, Karl was well qualified to explain that all children can be artists but as we grow older we develop inhibitions and other qualities which restrict our creativity. He went on to say that the left side of the brain which favours logical thought is what powers professions like accountants, and lawyers and the that right side is creative and is stronger in professions like artists, musicians and chefs.
That doesn’t mean that you have to be just one thing or the other though, as Karl gave examples of great men through history who had great creative and logical minds; Einstein, Da Vinci and Michelangelo. He gave us all a method to “keep yourself intact – brain gyms”. An example of a brain gym is when you doodle while speaking to someone on the phone.
Here’s where the paper and pencil comes in…
Karl then asked us to take our pencils and paper and get creative. He asked us to draw a house, with windows and a door and a path. To add some weather to the picture and then draw a sketch of ourselves. He then grilled the audience as to what we had added to our picture, did it have a roof or chimney? Were there curtains in the windows? Were we pictured inside or outside the house? Did we have a big head? Were there flowers in the garden? All of which would reveal a meaning behind the picture we had just drawn.
We were invited to either speak to him after the talk as he was willing to give feedback on the meaning of our drawing or we could send him our picture online. So I did and here’s what he had to say…
Apart from the bit which says I take care over my appearance (I normally look like I have been dragged through a hedge backwards) it is actually very accurate. The point of all this? Karl said that these basic and very quick sketches were to prove that all the audience members can be creative even if many think they can’t.
Sean Vincent Acris – Pride, not Prejudice
Introduced as the reigning Mr Gibraltar after being crowned in September 2016, Sean Vincent Acris has used the time since to work with charities and causes through his new role. He began his talk with a series of shocking quotes on Islamophobia, violence towards women and sexual inequality made by current world leaders. He described himself as a “firm believer in equality for all and a proud Gibraltarian”. He said that the democracy we enjoy here in Gibraltar, the diversity we represent and issues like the rights of women to vote and for cultures to be accepted shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Sean also spoke of the recent change in the law in Gibraltar for gay couples to be married and explained it had been an issue he had campaigned for in the past and he was thrilled to be able to attend the first gay wedding on the Rock in December last year. Sean said he knew some people in the audience may not agree with the new law and asked that they wouldn’t “just tolerate it but understand”.
He then took us back in time to his childhood here in Gibraltar, explaining that he had attended a first school and became good friends with another boy he referred to as ‘Michael’. They had been best friends and enjoyed lots of fun times together. When the time came for them to move up to middle school, although nervous about what lay ahead, Sean had felt lucky that ‘Michael’ would be going to the same school and that they would be together.
However their friendship changed and Michael became distant and was almost a stranger by the end of their first year at middle school. Sean said he was labelled as “different” called “queer and spat at”. He believed “there must be something wrong with me”. He continued; “Today I am happy and proud as well as being Gibraltarian I am also gay”.
Sean impressed the importance of education to eliminate phobias of people who are regarded as different saying “In the world we live in today, there’s a change of mood in where we’re going with Brexit and the new President Trump… the freedoms we enjoy today are not guaranteed forever”.
Georgina Cassar – From Rock to rings: My Olympic journey
Setting the scene for Georgina Cassar’s talk, Julian Felice described London in 2012. “The world gathered for the greatest sporting event” among them were two Gibraltarians, one was a hockey umpire, the other a rhythmic gymnast. She was Georgina and she would become the first Gibraltarian Olympian.
Georgina walked on stage in her Team GB uniform and began her talk telling us how she had followed her older sister into ballet and had done that for several years before deciding to try gymnastics. It was at the age of 13 that her coach had suggested she opt for rhythmic gymnastics rather than the more traditional type she’d been learning to that point. It was unheard of for a gymnast “to start so late and still make the Olympic team” said Georgina, however she was to prove the critics wrong.
First of all making the team going to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi in 2010, Georgina said that she began to focus on the Olympics two years later. However the road to London was not a smooth one for her and she doubted she would “make the trials let alone make the Olympics”.
The journey to the trials in Swindon meant flying to the UK but bad weather led to flights being cancelled and she just managed to catch the last train to the venue only to be told that the trials were cancelled because poeople hadn’t been able to travel due to the poor weather. Georgina was indignant “We had come all the way from Gibraltar!” The judges agreed to test her the following day and she did well enough to qualify.
The qualification meant that she had to move to England mid way through her AS Levels. As a 17 year old that was a big deal, but she chose to take a year out of education in order to train. She still had to qualify and there were 13 girls on the rhythmic gymnastic team at that point, which had to be whittled down to 7.
“It was eat, train, sleep, repeat for 9 months” says Georgina, she suffered homesickness and managed to wangle a flying trip back to Gibraltar during training to celebrate her 18th birthday in return for agreeing to wear her contact lenses when she competed (she had competed without her glasses or lenses at the Commonwealth Games).
Georgina explained that the team was self funded and although she had some sponsorship from the Kusuma Trust in Gibraltar, they still needed to find more funding and put on multiple displays and even packed bags in Morrisons.
When it came to the crunch Olympic qualification took place over three days. On the first day the team’s ball routine exceeded the score required to qualify. On day two a knot in one of display ribbons meant that they missed out on the score needed by 0.02 marks. They believed that they had a third day to make up the deficit but they were told that it was the end of their dream and they had failed to qualify.
That evening their coach took them out for a commiseration vodka and lemonade and even gave them a square of chocolate each before going out to perform the next day. They were determined to prove their governing body wrong and did their best performance ever and scored 2 points more than was required to qualify. A court case followed and the rhythmic gymnastic team triumphed against British Gymnastics.
In celebration, the seven-strong team took a week off and ate and drank as much as they wanted. On their return to the gym their coach made them stand on the scales. Between them, they had gained enough weight for a whole other team member; 60kg. Their coach wasn’t happy! Georgina described a harsh “ten hours plus” training programme to lose the excess weight and get ready for the Games with a “minimal diet” with limited fluids.
The hard work and deprivation paid off though, on the day of the contest Georgina said she “woke up excited… we were the first [rhythmic gymnastic] team from GB to make the games … I was the first Olympian from Gibraltar”. She described life in the Olympic Village, sitting down for meals with the likes of Mo Farrah and Sir Chris Hoy and being escorted by officials to speak to GBC.
It was on the parade around London after the Olympics though which made her most proud. Falling on September 10th, Gibraltar National Day, she was able to wave the Gibraltar Flag from the top of the open topped bus as it passed Gibraltar House.
A hip operation in 2014 meant that she can no longer compete, but she is grateful for the experience and all the opportunities in media and sport which have come her way since. Her parting message was that “everything happens for a reason and every choice you make along the way… creates our own fate”.
Sir Peter Caruana QC
Gibraltar’s second longest serving Chief Minister, and the first Knight of the Realm to grace the Gib Talks stage brought the morning session to an end. Sir Peter Caruana chose today to make his second public appearance since his retirement from public life in 2011.
He began by humourously stating that the British system of politics meant that the change over of power was a “sharp execution”. The first clue that things had changed on that fateful night in November 2011 was that the man who had chauffeur driven him to the John Macintosh Hall for the election count on the previous evening “was no longer holding the door open for you and is doing it for someone else and you’re walking home”. He described his immediate situation after losing the election as “having nothing to do and nowhere to go but interfere with the domestic arrangements at home”.
The former Chief Minister’s talk was peppered with anecdotes of his political life from having dinner with Margaret Thatcher who told him “two professions end in tears, boxing and political leaders” and holding a political surgery with a lady from Glacis estate complaining about her boiler while taking a call from the Foreign Secretary at the same time, “this is what being Chief Minister of Gibraltar is all about” he added.
He mentioned being asked at a dinner at Lancaster House following the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton, if it wasn’t “all looking a bit North Korea in Gibraltar” suggesting that perhaps the time had come for a change at the top. Sir Peter said that political office was “a temporary job” and “losing to the will of the people was as important as winning”, although in 2011 he “lost by not very much…which meant you didn’t think I was the worst Chief Minister”.
“There are few professions where you can retire early and try something new… you made the decision for us” was his way of alluding to his change of professions back into legal life after his long political sojourn. One lesson he had for the audience was not to bear grudges, “if you do, they don’t know – it just burns you up”. “So many political leaders find it hard to make it to the wings… I slipped back into obscurity and open my mouth only when invited to do so” he said.
So what did I take from my morning spent at Gib Talks 2017? To be positive, keep trying and never give up, look beyond first impressions to see people’s ability and don’t hold a grudge! Valuable life lessons for anyone I think.