In this episode of the Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast I catch up with Gibraltar based blogger and founding editor of parenting e-magazine Mum on the Rock, Polly Lavarello.
After moving to Gibraltar from the UK, Polly set up her blog Polly Mixtures and soon found herself climbing the UK parenting blog charts as she documented her experiences of having her first child. A problematic pregnancy meant Polly had to be hospitalised in Cadiz, miles away from friends and family.
After her blog took off, Polly decided to turn her attention to the wider parenting community in Gibraltar and created Mum on the Rock. Now into it’s second year, the online magazine is a valuable resource for parents in Gibraltar. It offers a ‘What’s On’ diary for family friendly groups and events along with features written by locally based parents and grandparents.
You can also listen and subscribe to the Postcard from Gibraltar Podcast on iTunes. I would love it if you would also take the time to leave a review as that means more people will be able to find me in future. This Podcast is also available on the PodOmatic App for Android and iOS devices.
Wow where do I begin? The Gibraltar Literary Festival went by in a blur for me, I managed to get to a few more talks this year but really would have liked to get to even more. It’s a time when the atmosphere of the place changes, you can wander down Main Street and see Maureen Lipman walk past or be waiting to cross the road and Nicholas Parsons pulls up in a car nearby. You can see someone and say hello to them because you think you know them, then realise they are off the telly!
This year was the fourth annual Gibunco Gibraltar International Literary Festival (to give it it’s full title) and for the first time it ran over four days instead of three. The Festival takes the form of a series of talks, conversations and lectures given by published authors with a few posh ‘dos’ and meals in-between. Here are my highlights…
On Thursday morning I attended my first talk given by Dr Sally Bayley on the subject of diaries. With the title of The Private Life of the Diary, it was billed as “an interactive lecture on the nature and art of diary writing”. It was based on her book: The Private Life of the Diary : From Pepys to Tweets and was utterly fascinating. The diarists covered ranged from Samuel Pepys to Virginia Woolf, Anne Frank to Gibraltar’s own Miss World; Kaiane Aldorino.
I have written an article all about this event for the Gibraltar based online parenting magazine Mum on the Rock . If you would like to read the article, please click on this link.
Making the most of my time while the Little Postcards were in school, I treated myself to a second talk on Thursday. This time it was about works of literature in which the Rock of Gibraltar had featured, from Spanish and North African chroniclers in the Middle Ages to more recently, John Le Carre and Stieg Larsson.
This talk was introduced by Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo who had taken time out between reshuffling his cabinet that morning and heading to Parliament later in the afternoon. In his introduction he talked about the Convent (the Governor of Gibraltar’s residence) which was the venue for the event, and said it was a “place of stories, nuns and soldiers in equal measure, masters and servants, colonialism and emancipation”. Mr Picardo expanded, saying Gibraltar “is a place where legends have been created – where stories have been spun and stories are still being written”.
After such a big build up, the stage was set for Boyd Tonkin, a writer, broadcaster and Chairman of the Man Booker Prize judging panel. He took us way back into the Middle Ages reading excerpts of ancient literature from North Africa and Spain, then on to writers who have found inspiration here on the Rock including Samuel Taylor Coleridge who visited en route to Malta in 1894 and wrote that it’s “a most interesting place” where you can “sit astride the summit” of the Rock. James Joyce’s Ulysses featured heavily throughout his talk along with the character Molly Bloom whose statue can be found in the Alameda Gardens (you may remember I yarnbombed her earlier this year 😉 )
He went on to reference Gibraltar’s role in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, a series which I enjoyed immensely. I remember reading the final book The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest when we lived for a while in Queensway Quay and read to my amazement that one of the central characters, Lisbeth Salander, had visited the marina to see her solicitor. I couldn’t believe that the heroine of the book I was so immersed in should come to visit the place where I was living at that moment.
Tonkin read this excerpt from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest:
At 7:00 she left the hotel and set out to buy mangos and apples. She took a taxi to the Peak and walked over to the apes. She was so early that few tourists had yet appeared, and she was practically alone with the animals.
She liked Gibraltar. It was her third visit to the strange rock that housed an absurdly densely populated English town on the Mediterranean. Gibraltar was a place that was not like anywhere else. The town had been isolated for decades, a colony that obstinately refused to be incorporated into Spain. The Spaniards protested the occupation, of course. (But Salander thought that the Spaniards should keep their mouths shut on that score so long as they occupied the enclave of Ceuta on Moroccan territory across the strait.) It was a place that was comically shielded from the rest of the world, consisting of a bizarre rock, about three quarters of a square mile of town and an airport that began and ended in the sea. The colony was so small that every square inch of it was used, and any expansion had to be over the sea. Even to get into the town visitors had to walk across the landing strip at the airport.
Gibraltar gave the concept of “compact living” a whole new meaning.
I’d say that’s a pretty accurate literary portrayal of Gibraltar!
Friday lunchtime meant a trip to the Sunborn to see the great Just a Minute panel show. I went last year and it was so good, I was keen to get to see it again. I was particularly excited to see Pam Ayres, someone I had grown up seeing on the telly and who I find very funny. She was scheduled to speak later in the day at a time I couldn’t make so was looking forward to seeing her in this.
Unfortunately she had been delayed on her way to Gibraltar and wasn’t able to attend. The BBC Radio 4 presenter Sue McGregor from Woman’s Hour and the Today programme filled in for her instead. She was very good replacement, but I was a little bit disappointed to miss Pam Ayres. A friend of mine got to see her solo talk later on and said she was brilliant and very funny.
Nicolas Parsons, who had celebrated his 93rd birthday recently was on sparkling form and the rest of the panel too. Alongside him and Sue McGregor was the author and comedian Tony Hawks, actress and writer Maureen Lipman and author Felix Francis. After a very funny hour long session which saw the panel discussing subjects like champagne, Casablanca and cruise ships, Nicholas Parsons pledged his intention to return to the festival again next year.
The talk named ‘The Gibraltar Book Club’ piqued my interest as I am a member of a book club and wondered how this would translate to an hour long chat with an audience rather than a cosy evening out with friends and maybe a bottle or two of wine ;-). This book club had three members, Sue MacGregor, Maureen Lipman and Tony Hawks, all of whom had chosen a book for the two other panellists to review.
Maureen Lipman went first with her choice; a selection of essays by the playwright JB Priestley called ‘Grumbling at Large’. She said she’d been drawn to this book in particular as a friend of hers had put the collection together and written the foreword. Saying that when we have such busy lives it’s nice to have something to read which you can pick up and put down easily, and a collection of essays can do just that as you can read some of them in a few minutes. Essay writing is a really good way of “finding your literary voice” she added. The rest of the panel agreed that it was a good book, Sue MacGregor even gave an anecdote of the time when she had met the author.
Next up was Tony Hawkes, his choice was Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. He decided to pick it because he’d been a regular visitor to the Daphne du Maurier Literary Festival and realised to his shame that he had never actually read any of her books. Despite the initial impression that this was a “woman’s book” he said he’d enjoyed it. He liked how the author “led you in” and changed the pace of the story from romance to a whodunit style of thriller.
Maureen Lipman said she’d read it as a young woman and loved it but when she reread it recently, she was disappointed by the “wet woman” in the role of narrator. Sue MacGregor in comparison loved it and enjoyed how the “characters leapt off the page”.
Finally, Sue MacGregor introduced her choice which was Naples ’44, by the travel writer and former intelligence officer Norman Lewis. A great fan of Naples herself, she told the audience that the book was written after Lewis had spent time in the city in 1944 as an intelligence officer. He recounted his experiences in a city where people were starving to death and desparately trying to survive.
Maureen Lipman described it as “fabulous” and “the best type of journalism”. Tony Hawks said Lewis was a “keen observer of everything” and “clearly a compassionate man” but he didn’t reveal much about himself. In summary, the panel said they’d enjoyed the chance to read something they otherwise wouldn’t have picked up, which is definitely one of the joys of book club for me.
During the festival there were a number of events especially for families, all of which were free. Last year I took the Little Postcards along to see Christopher Lloyd and his ‘Complete Plays of Shakespeare in 60 minutes‘ and they enjoyed it immensely. This time we went along to see his latest offering ‘The History of Britain in 60 Minutes‘.
Christopher is a very engaging speaker and manages to hold the young audience’s attention with a series of props he produces from his cloak (not in this picture). Again this time, his talk was great as he picked up on common themes throughout British history like architecture and maritime history. He has a way of making the historical figures come alive and was very well received by both the younger and older members of the audience.
Sunday afternoon was a real highlight for me, I had arranged to go with a few of my book club friends to see the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières.
This hour long conversation between Louis and regular festival host, Paul Blezard was just wonderful. He read several of his poems, including one written in Spanish, and was questioned on whether he would consider rewriting the ending of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin as he was a bit dissatisfied with how it finished. “No!” was the reply to that, as it would make the book an awful lot longer! Louis also revealed that he’s being doing some research while in Gibraltar as the Rock will feature in his next book. I cannot wait to read that!
If you are still with me, thank you for reading this post – it’s been an lot longer than my usual ones! There was so much to see and experience at this year’s festival.
I couldn’t help noticing that a very large percentage of the audience at all the events I attended (apart from the children’s one) were around retirement age. Quite a few had travelled over to Gibraltar, specifically for the festival, from Spain and the UK. How lovely to be able to spend that much time listening to wonderful speakers and expanding your mind!
I loved my time at the festival, I was lucky enough to see more this year than on my previous two visits. The whole event is growing each year and while it attracts very welcome return visitors, it also brings fresh new speakers each time. Both Nicolas Parsons and Christopher Lloyd said at their talks they’d like to return to Gibraltar next year for the fifth edition, I wonder just who else will be coming to the Rock to entertain us next time?
Sunday Sevens is a weekly blog series created by Natalie at the Threads & Bobbins blog. It gives you a chance to reflect some of the things you’ve been doing in your week through a series of seven photographs. To find out more, or to join in, pop over to her blog for more information.
**Warning – this blog post contains a lot of Med Steps related things – apologies for the repetitive nature but it’s kind of consuming my world at bit at the moment!**
My Med Steps training update
Monday morning meant an early trip up the steps and boy was it worth it, the view was absolutely stunning from the top of the Rock. Look at Spain heading off into the distance!
Time didn’t allow me to train again on Tuesday or Wednesday but the weather would have stopped me so it’s probably for the best. We did the school run on Tuesday morning to a soundtrack of thunder, Wednesday was wet too.
Thursday was dry and bright and meant for the first time we managed…
4 times round…
I can’t quite believe that we managed it, that final (fourth) ascent was a killer. Just in case you haven’t heard, me and a couple of other crazy ladies are currently training to take part in the Med Steps 5 Challenge next month. That means we hope to climb the Med Steps five times in the one day – see, I did say crazy.
Why? I hear you say… Well here’s how it all came about:
My post-Christmas hangover cure…
My secret’s out, the reason why I’m doing the Med Steps 5 Challenge is because I agreed to do it while under the influence of Christmas spirit! ;-). My Med Steps journey so far featured in an article in our local e-magazine for parents Mum on the Rock. Do check out their website or the Postcard from Gibraltar Facebook page if you want to read it.
And now for something completely different:
In my watercolour class this week I decided to revisit my bird of paradise flowers from Easter. This photo was taken part way through, my teacher told me to loosen up my style and be a bit less detailed. I’ll put another layer of paint on top of this once it’s dry and see what happens next week.
This skirt’s a bit tricky, I’ve got lining, panels, a waistband and an invisible zip all going on at once -arghhhh! Deep breaths, slow and steady does it….
Twice this week I got stuck behind two buses having to negotiate the same very narrow stretch of road. I have no idea how they achieve this feat without coming a cropper. Do you think they ask the passengers to breathe in? I wouldn’t fancy attempting it!! Hats off to the very skillful drivers.
A quiet Saturday morning
This weekend has been very strange in our house. Our two eldest went away on Friday evening to a scout camp. We have spent the weekend with just one child in the house for the first time in over eight years. I was really looking forward to it but to be honest I’ve missed them and it felt really odd. Yes, it was nice not to have to intervene in sibling arguments and play referee on who’s turn it was to watch their choice on TV, but I’m not sure I liked it.
I’ve felt very uneasy the whole time like I should be busy doing something… So I had a quiet post-breakfast sit down at the window looking out over the Bay and doing a spot of crochet – it’s a green stegosaurus this time ;-). It’s my second attempt at this Simply Crochet magazine pattern, I think they’re so cute.
Thank you for stopping by, I hope you’ve had a good weekend.
“In Gibraltar, we pride ourselves that we all know each other. Yet, this is far from the truth. We know a public persona, or we know someone by reputation. We do not actually know much about the experiences, the thoughts and idiosyncrasies that make every person unique.” Julian Felice – organiser of Gib Talks
Today, the second ever Gib Talks took place in Gibraltar. It is a series of talks of 10 and 15 minutes in duration, in which, people can speak on subjects which are important to them and perhaps shed a different light on their personalities and interests. The event, which is run by the Gibraltar Cultural Services department, ran from 10am until 5pm and featured 18 different speakers.
A wide range of people took to the stage from the world of politics (including the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo), broadcasters, artists and writers. There were talks on subjects as diverse as depression and dragon trees. Unfortunately for me, I was only able to attend the final hour or so of the event, but in that time I heard 3 brilliant talks so it was well worth me attending.
Each speaker was introduced by the event’s organiser, Julian Felice, a teacher and playwright (above). Their time was strictly monitored by an adjudicator in control of a large traffic light at the side of the stage which signalled when their time was up when it turned red.
The first speaker I heard was Tomasz Zakrzewicz on the topic “Life on bikes”. A passionate advocate for the use of bicycles for pleasure, exercise and commuting to work, Tomasz told the audience that there was much more to bikes than “just a piece of metal and two wheels”. Telling of the health benefits that cycling can bring like lowering blood pressure and stress relief, he said “I want to change the world a little bit” by getting more people out of cars and onto bikes. During the talk, Tomasz, who’s originally from Poland, apologised for his English saying he was still learning the language. I have to take my hat off to him for not only having the courage to stand on stage and speak publicly about a subject he’s clearly passionate about, but also to do it in a language he didn’t grow up speaking.
Next on the stage was Polly Lavarello (above) from Polly Mixtures a lifestyle and parenting blog and the founding editor of Mum on the Rock a parenting e-magazine. She told of her experience of arriving in Gibraltar with her then boyfriend, getting married and becoming an expectant mother. She felt that on her arrival here, there had been a dearth of information for people newly arrived on the Rock and that a central website with information about facilities and events locally would be a great addition to Gibraltar’s online community. However, it was her own experience of motherhood, which almost began 11 weeks early when her waters broke prematurely, which led her to seek help from the online community and eventually took her down the path of starting her own website; Mum on the Rock.
Polly says she wanted the site to be accessible to parents whenever they need it and for it to be dynamic and interactive, appealing to to new mums (and dads), parents of teens and grandparents. It was launched with the intention of having articles on a wide range of subjects including parenting, food, lifestyle, travel and health. Initially Polly approached people asking them to write for Mum on the Rock, once it went live though, she says she was overwhelmed with offers of help from people who wanted to get involved and contribute articles too. Polly says that since it’s launch in September last year, “47 different people have written for the website”and that while it’s for the community she “couldn’t do it without the support of the community”. In the coming months, Polly is looking forward to the arrival of her second child, and some exciting new developments for Mum on the Rock.
The final talk of the day was made by Fabian Vinet, a lawyer and former Government minister, and had the title ‘Eleven weeks too soon’. In his speech, Fabian told of his first life-changing experiences of fatherhood, when his baby son, James, was born eleven weeks early. From describing his frightening journey from Gibraltar to a special hospital in Malaga chasing two ambulances, one carrying his wife, the other containing an incubator in case their baby came en-route, to the birth of his son and visits to the large neonatal ward, the visibly emotional father moved the audience and there were sniffs all around.
He also shared his experience of the day when his son was due to have a second brain scan to check if the “something there” had got any worse or could be diagnosed. Being a Government minister at the time, he had to attend a meeting back in Gibraltar, so he left his wife and son in Malaga to drive back to the Rock, only to break down on the road out of the Spanish city. Whilst in the tow-truck heading to Gibraltar, he received a phone call from his wife to say that whatever had shown on the previous brain scan had now disappeared. The news resulted in him crying all the way back to Gibraltar making “the most eventful journey of the tow-truck driver’s career”.
Ending his speech, Mr Vinet showed a photograph of his, now 8 year old son, James along with his younger daughter Sophie (see above photo) and said he hoped that his story had been one of “hope” and that this being Valentine’s weekend, he impressed the importance of any future parents to be vigilant for the signs of a premature birth. He went on to say that perhaps his son hadn’t been born eleven weeks too soon after all, because the experience he and his wife had been through as new parents had changed them forever and perhaps he was born at just the right time.
Drawing the day’s event to a close, Julian Felice told the audience “Gib has talked and has had a lot to say”. Nominations are now open for anyone who would like to speak at next year’s event. I shall look forward to buying my ticket for that!