Gibraltar Literary Festival 2018

This time last week, the sixth Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival was underway and there was a palpable buzz about town. This has got to be my favourite event in the Gibraltar social calendar, when local and international speakers come to the Rock to speak about their books, their lives and so much more. To have an event like this, just a short bus ride or walk from my home is a luxury I treasure and I do my best to attend every year – this one is my fifth. Here’s my experiences from this year’s festival….

First thing last Thursday morning I made my way to the John Mackintosh Hall for a talk by local biologist, Dr Alex Menez. He’s written a book called Almost Homo Calpicus about Gibraltar 1, the Neanderthal skull which was found in Forbes Quarry in Gibraltar the nineteenth century. In his talk he detailed what happened to the skull after it’s first presentation to the Gibraltar Scientific Society back in 1848. This very famous and important fossil, which was actually discovered before the ‘Neanderthal skull’ in Germany, was not recognised as being different from a human skull in the early days.

It was thanks to the work of amateur scientists and archaeologists in the British military that early excavation work was carried out in Gibraltar. It was a chance meeting of one of these achaeologists and a visiting physician (who was aware of the Neanderthal discovery) which lead to the skull being identified as being from a different species. When it was taken to London for further investigations it was seen by a whole host of prominent figures including Charles Darwin, who described it as “the wonderful Gibraltar skull”.

Dr Menez said that he believes this skull was of much more importance than the one found in the Neander Valley, because this one has a face. He went on to say that it’s still a valuable fossil and catalyst as it still captivates people all these years later. The Gibraltar skull can be seen at the Natural History Museum in London, a replica is on display at the Gibraltar National Museum.

Dr Geraldine Finlayson from the Gibraltar National Museum (centre left) & Dr Alex Menez (centre right)

My second talk on Thursday was by local poet Giordano Durante at the Gibraltar Garrison Library…

Giordano Durante being introduced at the start of his talk

In a talk entitled “The poem I’ll never write” Giordano took us back to his childhood living in Upper Town and extolled the benefits of living alongside and going to school with families from all walks of life. He said he was educated with children who’s parents were accountants and doctors, and others who’s parents were tobacco smugglers. He said that unlike in the UK, where there’s an early segregation of children from different backgrounds, his upbringing in Upper Town granted him “entry into two worlds in a frictionless way”.

After leaving Gibraltar to study Philosphy in London, he returned to the Rock and found work as a prison officer for 3 years. Again, he said that he was able to mix with people from all echelons of society, something which has now been reflected in his poetry which focuses on “the harsh beauty” of characters living on the fringes of society. Now working as a journalist, Giordano pinpointed the moment he first felt compelled to write a poem; after catching the waft of bleach as he walked past Bishop Canilla House one day back in September 2016. The smell triggered something which led him to write the poem; Bishop Canilla House, which is the first in his collection of poems ‘West‘.

His collection is split into four sections focusing on Gibraltar, Spain, the UK and a miscellaneous section to end with – it draws from his own personal experiences and observations. Describing himself as a philosophical poet, he says he fights against clichés both in his journalism and writing saying “clichés are the enemy of original thinking and limit one’s view of the world”.

As for the poem he’ll never write? Well, it would be about Gibraltarian identity, “an epic Llanito poem” charting the rise from notoriety of a young Gibraltarian hoodlum or ‘vrada’ from his life of petty crime to a new found respectability as a lawyer who marries Miss Gibraltar. Giordano claims the process of writing the poem, committing the Llanito dialect to paper, would fall short of what he wants to convey. I for one, would love to read it if he ever finds the right words….

On Friday, I was transported to the Medieval world of Game of Thrones during a fascinating talk by Oxford University Fellow and Tutor of Medieval English Literature, Carolyne Larrington. Her book came about after a meeting with her publisher about another project. They found the conversation kept returning to her fascination with Game of Thrones, and her publisher suggested she should write a book about that as well. In fact, she described her binge reading of the George R.R. Martin stories as the “lost summer of 2012”.

Drawing parallels between the world of the Seven Kingdoms and actual historical fact, Carolyne explained where she believes Martin got the inspiration for the settings and events in his epic tale. The Hereford Cathedral Mappamundi (map of the world) is a possible inspiration for his map of the Seven Kingdoms, with the Mediterranean Sea a basis on which to model the Narrow Sea. Westeros, she believes has a very British feel with “European bits” (I always imagined Hadrian’s Wall when reading about the Wall) and that the Dothraki are very similar to the real life Mongols.

The social settings for the story are also, she says rooted in reality, with the northern way of doing things at Winterfell very similar to an Anglo Saxon English earldom and Kings Landing being more like a medieval court and city. It was fascinating to hear how many parallels there are between historical fact and this huge work of fiction. This was a hugely entertaining talk for anyone who has read Martin’s books or seen the HBO TV series.

Carolyne Larrington

And finally, my last Gibraltar Literary Festival experience this year was with TV actor, playwright and ‘cosy crime’ writer, Robert Daws. To date he has written four stories featuring police officers Detective Sergeant Tamara Sullivan and Chief Inspector Gus Broderick of the Royal Gibraltar Police. His first novella, The Rock was published back in 2012, and was followed by a full-length sequel; The Poisoned Rock in 2017. His third novel Killing Rock is due out early next year.

At his talk on Friday afternoon, he first of all treated his audience to a reading of a short story featuring DS Sullivan; Tunnel Vision, a ghostly tale set in the Dudley Ward tunnel – it was captivating. Robert went on to explain how he got into writing novels, after a screenplay he had written didn’t get made and he thought his plot would easily transfer location to Gibraltar. That screenplay evolved into his first novella, The Rock.

It was a family connection which first brought him to Gibraltar around 30 years ago, and he has been visiting every year since. It was his knowledge of the place, it’s streets and people which gave him the background to set his books here. Robert has been to the Gibraltar Literary Festival on several occasions before and this wasn’t his only talk, he gave another one on Saturday and also appeared in Just a Minute on Sunday.

Robert also spoke a little about his work as a screen and stage actor (on Poldark, The Royal and Outside Edge), recounting anecdotes about productions and colleagues with affable charm and wit. As the talk drew to a close, we were again treated to a reading, this time of an excerpt of his third, and soon to be published Sullivan and Broderick mystery; Killing Rock. I shall be looking out for that one when it hits the shops.

I was lucky enough to meet Robert before his talk (he has followed Postcard from Gibraltar for a while now – fancy that!) and he is a truly lovely man. (If you’re reading this Robert, thank you again for being so generous with your time).

So that is my experience of the Gibraltar Literary Festival 2018. It’s a brilliant event, with so many diverse speakers and topics to see – I just wish I’d had more time to see even more. I’m counting down the days until next year….

If you enjoyed reading this, you may like to read my previous blog posts about the Gibraltar Literary Festival:

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2017

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2016

So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2017

This time last week, ticket in hand, I lined up to have my bag searched before taking my seat in the Convent Ballroom. It was that magical time of the year again when (to me at least) the town centre is buzzing with excitement. Posh cars draw up to venues to deliver public figures to their talks and there’s the chance of bumping into Maureen Lipman or Kate Adie outside M&S. I am of course talking about the annual Gibraltar Literary Festival.

Now in it’s fifth edition, the organisers have said they sold over 3,000 tickets for the events. The whole festival ran over four days with daytime and evening functions. The fact that, as a mum with young children, I can get to some talks during school hours is just wonderful for me.

This year I was only able to attend a handful of talks due to other commitments, but it was still a great highlight to my month.

My first event was a fascinating talk by three members of the same family in the grand surroundings of the Convent. Clive, Geraldine and Stewart Finlayson have produced a coffee table book filled with stunning wildlife photos. Their book ‘Lost World : Secrets of a World Heritage Site’ was born out of the research work they have done in the Gotham’s Cave complex.

The network of caves and area of the Upper Rock Nature Reserve was the site of the first ever discovery of a Neanderthal Skull. In order to better understand the environment that the Gibraltar Neanderthals inhabited, the Finlaysons traveled around the globe to photograph and study creatures as diverse as from leopards to snowy owls, gannets to wolves. Many of the fossilised animal remains found in Gotham’s Cave are now no longer resident in the area due to climatic changes but they can be found elsewhere.

The lengths that the authors went to, to actually capture these beautiful creatures in their natural habitats is quite something. The stories they told of being on the lookout for lions in the Savannah while their guide changed not one, but four wheels on their safari truck or lying in snow in sub-zero temperatures for hours to capture a picture of a snowy owl were inspiring.

The Garrison Library was the venue for my next talk, a conversation with Patrick Gale (above right). The novelist spoke about his childhood, growing up in Wandsworth Prison, where his father was Governor and early career as a piano playing singing waiter in Convent Garden (he had taken the cabaret job in an attempt to gain an Equity card so he could become an actor). It was during down times during his overnight waiting shifts that he began to write and subsequently published his first two novels on the same day.

Since his early night shift writing, he has written prolifically with novels, short stories and TV screenplays to his name. Perhaps the most famous of these is ‘Man in the Orange Shirt’, which featured in the Gay Britannia season on BBC 2.

Patrick’s conversation with Chief Fiction Reviewer at the Sunday Times, Peter Kemp, was funny and at times very touching as he discussed his own sexuality and that of his great grandfather, whom his latest novel ‘A place called Winter’ is based on. Patrick came across as a very generous writer, and was keen to encourage anyone thinking of having a go at writing a novel to be brave and do it.

The John Mackintosh Hall was the location of my last Gibraltar Literary Festival event, Just Laugh a Minute, with veteran broadcaster Nicholas Parsons.

Despite being in his nineties, the entertainer showed no sign of slowing down and was keen to prove that despite his legs not working as well as they used to, his brain is still in good working order. He spoke for an hour (without any notes) reminiscing about his childhood and his first forays into entertainment by impersonating his prep school master which earned him a caning.

His account of his apprenticeship in the Clyde dockyards brought many laughs as he described the communal toilet arrangements. He then went on to recount his first job on wartime BBC radio, broadcasting from a disused cinema in north Wales and his brief career in the Merchant Navy which was cut short (just 5 days in) due to ill health.

Now a Gibraltar Literary Festival regular, Nicolas Parsons was great fun to listen to, and sounded like he could keep going for hours, had he been allowed. He put his good memory down to the fact he is dyslexic, saying he instinctively uses his memory to get by.

I would’ve loved to have gone to see Kate Adie speak, as one of my heroines growing up, I think her talk would have been fascinating. Sadly I left it too late to book my tickets and the event had already sold out. I have a couple of her books though to read, so I shall content myself with that.

One of the big successes of this year’s festival was the launch of a new book all about Gibraltar:

The What on Earth Wall Book ‘The Story of Gibraltar’ which charts the history of the Rock from prehistory to present day sold in excess of 900 copies. That makes it’s author, Christopher Lloyd, the most successful author in the Festival’s history.

Yet again, I had a great Gibraltar Literary Festival this year. I feel so lucky that just a few minutes from my home I can go and see authors, journalists and other public figures speak about their work. Many of whom have succeeded against the odds and their stories inspire us all to never give up.

If you fancy reading my posts from previous Gibraltar Literary Festivals, you can find them here:

Gibraltar Literary Festival 2016

So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015

2017 Weekly photo challenge (week 10) Floor

So this week the prompt for the weekly photo challenge I’m taking part in is ‘Floor’. I had this image in my head of a beautiful Victorian tiled floor when I looked ahead to this several weeks ago, or perhaps some beautiful Moorish tiles. Only problem was I didn’t have a photo of either. 

I remembered back to my visit to Sacred Heart Church in Gibraltar’s Upper Town (the ceiling there was my photo for week 1 of this challenge). 

Outside the front entrance to this beautiful church is a rather nice geometric tiled patio…

Another historic building in Gibraltar with a rather nice floor is the Garrison Library.

In the upstairs rooms you visit on the official tour around the building, you get to see some really beautiful examples of wooden parquet flooring with gorgeous patterns inlaid around the edges.

As there are book shelves and furniture covering a lot of the floors you can only see some parts in doorways.

The star detail in this window reveal is really lovely, wouldn’t you agree?

The Garrison Library is a gorgeous old building with truly lovely floors.

Why is it that when I think of a good floor it’s always in an old building? Can we not make gorgeous doors anymore? 
This weekend, I visited a friend who lives in an older property in town and literally walked over this beautiful floor to get to her apartment. Now this is the kind of tiled floor I had in my mind when I started looking out for nice floors…

I’m joining with Wild Daffodil and Nana Cathy for this weekly photo challenge throughout 2017. If you fancy joining in, pop over to their blogs to find out how to get started.

Sunday Sevens #55 30.10.16

Remembering Trafalgar


Last Sunday saw not only the climax of the Gibraltar Literary Festival but also the annual service of remembrance for the Battle of Trafalgar. Each year, on the Sunday nearest to Trafalgar Day (21st October) the Royal Navy hold a service in the Trafalgar Cemetery. Just a few of those who lost their lives are buried here, but wreaths are laid on those graves. The service is quite a spectacle with sailors in ceremonial uniform lining the paths of the cemetery. 

Wildlife

The lovely Shazza at Sunshine & Celandines has been posting some beautiful wildlife photos on her blog throughout October. She lives in Clitheroe in Lancashire, a beautiful market town on the edge of the Trough of Bowland. The area is believed to have inspired JRR Tolkein’s Shire in the Lord of the Rings (his son was at the Stoneyhurst boarding school there and he was a regular visitor). We were lucky enough to live in Clitheroe briefly and I fell in love with the place – it’s truly beautiful.

I fancied having a go at taking some autumn wildlife photos too but circumstances have prevented me from getting out on a walk up to the top of the Rock. This stunning praying mantis was having a rest on the wall outside the Garrison Library this week though, so Shazza, this one’s for you 🙂

Dressmaking class


At last sewing has begun on my princess-line top at my dressmaking class. By the time I’d cut the fabric, made a mistake, had to get some more, and cut out the lining, I only had time for a bit of tacking on the first seam. Slowly but surely… I hope to get there eventually! 

Multi-tasking

You know those weeks when there just aren’t enough hours in the day? I’ve had one of those. The above picture was taken post hospital appointment (nothing serious just a check up) I found myself with half an hour spare so did a quick trip to Morrisons (unexpected hence the crappy plastic bags) and even had time to make some notes for something else while I waited for my lift home. I’d call that a multi-tasking win.

The wheels fell off


After the previous photo the wheels kind of fell off my week. The Littlest Postcard was struck down with the same chesty cough, bad throat, fever etc which Middle Postcard had last week. All plans went out of the window, having my poorly little companion by my side all day meant putting in a few late nights as that was the only time I had child free to concentrate. 

As a consequence, there are no photos for this part of the week. Ironing, hemming long school trousers for post mid-term winter uniform, sewing on yet more name tags and other general monotony aren’t the most inspiring things so here’s a view of Parson’s Lodge and the Bay from our place.

Sixty million trebles blanket heads to the UK


This week, I waved goodbye to my sixty million trebles blanket. My friend Marisa of Mariwish on Instagram took it back to England to be joined with lots and lots of others for a world record attempt yarnbombing in London. The yarnbombing will then be split into blankets to help charities both in the UK and Syria. Each of the sixty million treble stitches represents one of the sixty million displaced people in the world and it’s hoped that the project will help raise awareness about the plight of these people. 

Search for #sixtymilliontrebles on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to find out more about this great awareness raising project.

Hooray it’s a holiday!


And relax… thank goodness it’s mid-term! We’ve run away up the coast to escape for a little while. 

Whatever you’re up to this week, have a good one!

Sunday Sevens is a weekly blog series created by Nat at Threads & Bobbins.

So many books, so little time… Gibraltar Literary Festival 2015

 The past four days has seen Gibraltar at the centre of the literary universe (well sort of) as it hosted the 3rd Gibraltar International Literary Festival. This was only my second experience of the event as, I’m ashamed to admit, the first one passed me by. Last year though, I was determined to get a bit of the action and I was lucky enough to meet two of my literary heroines, Kate Mosse and Joanne Harris. I am still star-struck to this day. Kate Mosse borrowed a pen from Joanne Harris to sign my copy of The Taxidermist’s Daughter at the end of a very long queue! (It’s a great atmospheric read by the way).


The Festival brings with it a real buzz to the town and there’s always the chance you may bump into someone famous in the street, on Thursday while waiting to meet my son from school, Maureen Lipman walked past and Nicholas Parsons got out of a car in front of us.

I think the reason why I find the Literary Festival so energising and magical is that not only does it all take place within the small sphere that makes up my day-to-day life here in Gibraltar, but these clever individuals come all this way to speak to us about their work and do it in our everyday venues which my sons have done school plays and sung concerts in! Imagine if a big literary name came and gave a talk in your local village hall or church, it just doesn’t happen – except for here that is.

My first talk this year was at the Garrison Library and was given by William Chislett. Entitled ‘The Curiosos Impertinentes: 19th and 20th-century British Travellers in Spain’ Chislett looked back at accounts by eight British writers who travelled at length in Spain and documented their experiences. The term ‘curiosos impertinentes’ translates in this instance to mean the ‘annoyingly curious’ and comes from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote. The writers in question ranged from Richard Ford who travelled across the country in the 1830s on horseback wearing a lambskin coat and with two layers of brown paper lining his hat during the summer (presumably to protect it from his sweat) to Michael Jacobs, who died last year, and relied on public transport to traverse the nation as he couldn’t drive and felt it was a better way of meeting real Spaniards than travelling everywhere by car.

The well received talk covered Spain’s clichéd representation as a land of conquistadors, flamenco, and bull fights before touching on more subtle aspects of the Spanish character like the sense of belonging to one’s village, town or city of birth, ahead of a sense of national identity and the national obsession with food, which according to one author was beyond that of the French or Italians. It was interesting to note that in some cases the observations and paintings recorded by the early British travel writers are the earliest documents available on certain parts of Spain, particularly within the rural centre.


(Photo courtesy of  gibraltar-stamps.com)

Friday morning saw the launch of  a commemorative set of stamps to mark the 800th Anniversary of the Magna Carta. Minister for Business and Employment, Neil Costa officially launched the stamps as an introduction to Dr Dan Jones’ talk on Magna Carta – The Making and Legacy of the Great Charter.

With a backdrop of the beautiful King’s Chapel, Dr Dan Jones’ conversation with Paul Blezard was highly entertaining and really brought to life what happened 800 years ago. His insight into the character of the “warlord and despot” King John was at times highly amusing and put a human narrative into the story rather just being a staid history lesson. He told how the Magna Carta was created in an attempt to halt a civil war (which it did, but only for two months) and that the King made promises ‘to his faithful subjects and free men’ which are still of legal importance today. Dr Jones spoke of how the ideas within the Magna Carta have “transcended the Middle Ages” and are believed to have formed the thinking behind the United States’ Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence.

In February this year, all four known remaining 13th Century copies of the Magna Carta were brought together for the first time, and Dan Jones was invited to see them. He explained how each one was very different as they were written on vellum (animal skin) and as animals come in different shapes it leads to different sized and shaped pieces of vellum. Also the styles of writing differ due to the use of different scribes and some are in much better condition than others. There could though, still be more copies out there just waiting to be discovered in library archives.

Dan Jones also discussed his newest book; Realm Divided – A Year in the Life of Plantagenet England which looks at what was going on six months before and after the Magna Carta was drawn up at Runnymede. Among the events he mentioned was the siege of Rochester Castle when King John broke through the castle walls by having his soldiers mine underground and fill the tunnel with wooden struts smeared with pig fat before setting fire to it and collapsing the walls above. He asked us to imagine what it must have been like for the desperately hungry people stuck inside, who had been without fresh food or water for weeks, to smell the roasting pig fat burning below them!

Last year, a number of my friends (who are also Mums) spoke very highly of Christopher Lloyd and his What on Earth? wallbooks. This year was his third visit to the Gibraltar Literary Festival and this time he brought his newest books The What on Earth? Wallbook Timeline of Shakespeare and The Magna Carta Chronicle. The presentation I went to, along with my offspring, was The Complete Plays of William Shakespeare in 60 minutes… at the John Mackintosh Hall. The festival shows which are directed at children are offered free of charge and I can certainly say that the one we experienced was fantastic.

Presented by a man who is clearly passionate about his work and in front of the colourful backdrop of his Shakespeare wallbook, the audience of reception aged children through to grandparents were enthralled.

From early in his presentation, Christopher Lloyd had the audience participation cracked, picking out children (and amazingly remembering their names) to help illustrate his points and bring the stories of Shakespeare’s 38 plays to life. He talked about themes which run through the stories they tell like ghosts and death, love, doubt and fear.

When he donned his trademark ‘coat of many pockets’ he engaged the young members of the audience by getting them to guess the emotions connected to the colours and find out what symbolic item lay inside; a rose to symbolise love (pink pocket), a magician’s wand to symbolise magic (black pocket) and confetti to symbolise happiness (yellow pocket).

After collecting an ensemble cast of willing actors (adults and children) he put on a couple of performances, a potted version of Macbeth and another of Much Ado about Nothing. A rather stunned couple of middle school-aged pupils got married in Much Ado and a suitably attired trio of witches in pointy hats got to cast the famous spell of “Double, double, toil and trouble/ Fire burn and cauldron bubble” from the Scottish play.

I can now see what my friends were talking about when they raved about Christopher Lloyd’s previous performances at the festival. He was funny, engaging and brought the things he was talking about to life, whether it was the Big Bang, the extinction of the dinosaurs or Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream being turned into a donkey. I do hope he returns to next year’s festival as personally I’d like to see him again, never mind the kids!

The climax of my Gibraltar Literary Festival experience was a special edition of the BBC Radio 4 panel show ‘Just a minute’. It was held at lunchtime today (Sunday) onboard the Sunborn Yacht Hotel in Ocean Village. Despite being the ripe old age of 92 years old, the show’s chair for the past 48 years, Nicholas Parsons, held court brilliantly and was ably assisted with the stopwatch and whistle by his wife Annie.

The panel of Dame Esther Rantzen, novelist Felix Francis (son of the late Dick Francis) and comedians Marcus Brigstocke and Miles Jupp (who’s best known in our house as Archie the Inventor on Balamory) were welcomed by a sell-out audience packed into the Aurora Ballroom on the yacht. (Many apologies for the grainy quality of these photos but the lighting wasn’t particularly conducive for a phone camera!).

The show was kicked off by Marcus Brigstocke who was given 60 seconds to talk about the subject of Gibraltar without hesitation, repetition or deviation. He began a humourous monologue about being able to buy a bottle Advocaat on Main Street for £8 before being interrupted by Miles Jupp. During the performance, which lasted for well over an hour, the starting subjects were diverse (cricketing phrases in everyday use, Hallowe’en and conkers) although somehow the topic of Gibraltar, and it’s resident barbary apes made frequent appearances, much to the delight of the crowd.

On the subject of  Literary Festivals, Brigstocke commented that “they are ten a penny” and allowed “bookworms to come together and pretend they’re ok with social interaction” which was much appreciated by the audience.

Felix Francis’s background was obviously taken into consideration when he was asked to speak about the subject of Thoroughbreds. This was hilariously turned around by Marcus Brigstocke who changed the meaning completely to ‘thorough breads’ and talked about toasted Hovis rather than racehorses. Also Miles Jupp’s account of school conker matches brought howls of laughter from the crowd.

Esther Rantzen won over the audience with her witty and very sharp knowledge of grammar and found every excuse to interrupt the other contestants on account of their misuse of the English language.

During the second half of the performance (it was separated into 2 ‘shows’) Marcus Brigstocke took a slightly more risqué approach on the subject of Getting up in the morning, much to the delight of the sell-out crowd. The topic in question was touched on again several times by other panellists and each time brought titters and howls of laughter. Nicholas Parsons described the comments as “suggestive naughtiness” and was grateful for the fact this edition of the show wasn’t being recorded to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

On the subject of the ‘real’ Just a Minute shows, Parsons said it was probably the least edited show on radio, as you can’t edit something that’s timed and commented that he’s “incredibly proud of the fact he’s part of such a show”. Today’s performance was testament to the fact it’s a great format and with such witty contestants it’s no wonder it’s clocked up 1,200 recorded shows over 48 years.

Looking back over the festival this year, it’s been great fun for me and I’ve only been to four events. There was such a diverse range of talks to chose from and I was spoiled for choice on what to attend, it was family commitments and timings which stopped me going to more. Well done to the organisers, the festival really does appear to be going from strength to strength and I can’t wait to see what the Gibraltar International Literary Festival 2016 has to offer. Thank you, it’s been a blast.

Gibraltar Garrison Library

The Gibraltar Garrison Library is an impressive colonial building in the centre of town opposite the Elliott Hotel. It’s a building I pass almost daily during the week and one I have been meaning to pay a visit to for years but just hadn’t got round to it. The Gibraltar Literary Festival begins tomorrow and the place to get tickets is here (if you don’t take the online option), so a couple of weeks back when I ventured in to make my ticket purchases it reminded me of my intention to visit it properly. So while my parents were over, before the midterm holiday, a tour around the Garrison Library was a lovely way to spend a morning.

  
The tour began in the ‘Gibraltar Room’ (above) which, as the name suggests, holds all the books pertaining to Gibraltar.

The Garrison Library is a beautiful building (as the photos illustrate) and steeped in history. It was founded in 1793 by Colonel Drinkwater after the Great Siege of Gibraltar. During  the siege it became obvious to him that there was a dearth of decent reading material. So in an attempt to keep officers attentions away from the unseemly pursuits of women and drink, the library was established.

  
Reading rooms were initially set up at a different location and work began on the construction of the current building in 1800. The materials used were locally sourced, exceptionally strong cork oak flooring was used which looks as good today as when it was laid and the fireplaces were designed to burn coke which could be found in the Campo area across the border in Spain.

Some books were purchased when the library first opened but most of the collection of up to 50,000 volumes and artifacts were gifted to the library by officers from their own private collections as they headed home or onto their next posting. A considerable section though, was ‘acquired’ by the navy when they seized ships and passed on any books found onboard. For this reason there is a sizable Napoleonic Collection (all in French) taken from French ships.

These photos show the edition of the Gibraltar Chronicle (our local newspaper) reporting on  the Battle of Trafalgar and, as you can see (on the right hand side of the photos) shows the article in both English and French as the editor of the Chronicle was a Frenchman.

This impressive staircase leads upstairs to the upper reading room, which is now used for public events like Government press conferences and lectures by visiting academics. The portrait in this room is of Colonel Drinkwater the founder of the library.

Among the many volumes on its shelves are first editions of novels, major works of science and religion of the time and even Ghengis Khan’s Autobiography! There is every edition of the Gibraltar Chronicle since 1800 to the present day. Some of the books, due to their age, are in a pretty fragile condition. The library relies on a team of volunteers to support the staff in the care and recording of the books.

Also on the top floor of the building is a ballroom (a strange room to find in a library don’t you think?). The rules governing the library meant that only men were allowed in, so in order to get around this, and allow ladies to join the officers when they held balls and parties in the ballroom, they built a special stair and rear balcony so that the female guests could join, them avoiding the main entrance and staircase.

I’m not sure how easy it would have been to negotiate that metal spiral staircase in a big ballgown and dainty shoes, it was clearly designed by a man!

A telescope sits before a window at the front of the ballroom so that officers could keep an eye out at sea and make sure no funny business was going on in the bay while they were enjoying their R&R. It’s hard to imagine there used to be a sea view from the window as today the development of the town and harbour area (not to mention the trees) rather obscure any view of the sea from here today.


The flooring up here in the ballroom is particularly beautiful, especially in the window recesses and door thresholds.

   
 
To the rear of the library lies a tranquil garden.

   

It would be a lovely peaceful place to just come and sit. Unfortunately for us it was a little damp on the day we visited so it wasn’t quite the weather for such lazing about, but hopefully I’ll get the chance to take advantage of the garden at some point in the future.

  

If you ever find yourself in these parts I would highly recommend a visit to the Garrison Library, the guided tours are free and begin at 11am each Friday.