Ye gods, but Gibraltar be a dump, doomed to dumpdom forever and beyond. “The dirtiest most detestable spot” as Byron found it on his Grand Tour in 1809, and today it still volunteers to enforce rigidly its standards downwards. It’s military purpose has long been overtaken by peace and prosperity - not to mention cruise missiles should p&p not be doing well enough - and its reinvention as an offshore tax dodge for spread betters and offshore gamblers is confounded by its seeking respectability within the Common Market. The scrubby old squaddy town is not quite sure what it is these days, and so has become a cross between Portsmouth without the finesse and the Cayman Islands without the financial probity. It’s all very well the property spivs trying to sell it as the new Hong Kong but someone forgot to tell the punters about the missing ingredient – the Hong Kong Chinese. And who do they use as architects? The place is one big construction site, and there is no harm in levelling the hideous old stale concrete army barrack blocks which blot about all over the Rock, but why – given a large plate of reclaimed land - put up mock Tudor tower blocks and 'eighties modernist office blocks? It thinks it wants to be Dubai, but is has just reinvented Fuengerola.
Still, it has its diversions. In a world of upward mobility, it is for a while worth observing somewhere so relentlessly downmarket, where the Star outsells the Sun, where pink nylon cardigans and light blue acrylic slippers are stretched around muffin tops and doughnuts, many of quite repellent and usually tatooed aspect, where soft porn calendars hang on the pub walls, where blowing bubble gum is a teenage fad from which one never evolves, where smoking is not only compulsory but completive – with extra points for chewing gum at the same time and double extras for spitting the gum onto the pavement as you exhale the fag smoke, where the horrible little microclimate is a relief from death by open-ended two-stroke scooters and if they somehow fail to score a direct hit there are always the pit bull terriers lying in wait in the shadow of their owners’ beer bellies; all this and also where the terrible thought arises that maybe, just maybe, there is some redemption in political correctness after all. Er, no, not actually, forget that bit.
The three immediate enthusiasms amongst the Gibraltarians would seem to be the collective hatred of anything and anyone Spanish, the corresponding jingoism for the pre-service industry Britain and the subsequent careful cultivation of the bloody-minded tree. Bloody mindedness here is a statement of identity where the perfection of placing imaginary obstacles in the way of anyone wanting anything doing has as many precious subtleties in its rules and variations as does Mornington Crescent.
First stop after mooring was to find another connection for the hose - the taps on Gibraltar’s quays being quite exceptional - and I drifted into the only chandler, the famously customer averse Sheppard’s, to buy same.
“Good morning, have you the marina tap to hose connection please?”
“Do they have them in the marina office?”
“Ah, so where do you think I could find one?”
“Don’t know mate.”
I eventually found one in British Home Stores of all places, which still maintains its pride of place amongst Gibraltarian shoppers (the smart set use the Marks and Spencer). In fact Gibraltar is a Tardis to the 'fifties, the 'fifties of bread fried in the morning and thin white sliced and margerined in the afternoon, with sauces red or brown to suit, of the conscription mentality and the subsequent perfection of skiving, and of chippiness ranging from dumb insolence to outright obstreperousness.
So, enthused by the purchase of the hose connector I left in search of the other priority, a spare boat key as I have already nearly lost our only one twice. Ah, there’s the Tourist Information Office, they’ll be able to help. A chubby young woman with heavy mascara, crimson lipstick and the inevitable gum in full chew, and wearing a crimson nylon cardigan – the air conditioning is maxxed and deafening – deigns to interrupt her study of a glossy celebrity magazine. “Yes?”
“Good morning, where can I have a key cut please?”
“This is Tourist Information.”
“Well, I'm a tourist and I would like some information, if that were possible.”
“We only give out tourist information, not general information.”
“Alright, so where can I find general information?”
An annoyed sigh, then “Citizen’s Advice Bureau, maybe?”
“Where would that be, as a tourist enquiry of course.”
“In Cadogan Street.”
“And the best way there?”
“It’s off Pelham Street.”
“Let me ask you this: you live here, am I right?’
A wary “Ri-ight.” She even slows down the chewing in her wariness.
“If you ever need a spare key, where do you go to get one cut?”
More cheerfully now, “Oh, that will be Barrett’s, just opposite BHS.” She looks at my British Homes Stores bag, “you know where BHS is then?”
“Just been there.”
“That’s it, right opposite. Why didn’t ya go there in the first place?” A shake and a tut and she returns to the intense study of OK Heat.
But all is not doom and gloom; yesterday the Governor and his wife, Lt Gen Sir Robert and Lady Fulton, Rob and Midge, came to visit the boat and welcome us to Gibraltar. How very witty and charming they are too. Over an evening beer I mentioned the only luxury not on board was a bath, and they were immediately gracious enough to invite us to bathe and take tea at his residence and the main place of government, The Convent, on Saturday afternoon. In turn I invited them to join us for dinner at our reciprocal Royal Gibraltar Yacht Club, which we hope will prove to be an oasis in this desert of sullen concrete and bolshy cussedness. Earlier I am going to Malaga airport to collect Gillian, and will now pass the blogging baton back to her. We hope to leave here in a few days for our old patch of coast around Marbella where we’ll be throwing a party or two on board, the delay being caused by waiting for TNT to deliver the new Duogen to replace the one eaten by the blinking whale – it was in Sevilla two days ago now it’s gone backwards to Madrid. Main thing is not to get too Gibraltared about it.