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 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!