Gibraltar in my hands

As two unabridged copies of #RockHeart landed on my desk I flipped gently through a few of the pages and reflected back on the many solitary nights I had spent writing this chunky 330 page memoir. Finally forty years of memories and experiences of Gibraltar were not just tucked away in my head. In an almost surreal,  out of body experience I held ‘my’ Gibraltar I my hands.








For readers and supporters interested in obtaining a copy of RockHeart I’ll update progress as always here on my website. Kind regards Alan.

Welcome to RockHeart

A Welcome

Welcome to RockHeart – Memoirs of Gibraltar

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There’s a million reasons why I love Gibraltar. Her beauty, her history, her people, her apes; how could I not love her apes? Is such a thing even possible?

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Some of my reasons come directly from feelings, memories and emotions which began when I was a boy of about 9 listening to my Royal Naval cousin Paul telling me tales of his travels; he’d been all over the world but his stories about the Rock of Gibraltar fascinated me the most.

In the mind of a little boy the idea of a massive rock with apes on it was awesome – ‘…what…and people live there too?’
I knew then that I would join the Royal Navy and I would see the world, especially this Rock of Gibraltar with its apes.

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Other reasons connect to when I was a teenager in 1974 (serving in the Royal Navy) and saw the Rock for the very first time from a warship and then later when I was fortunate to live there with my family in the late seventies. Recently, in 2016, I realised an absolute dream and finally returned to the Rock after an absence of forty years and to say I was nervous doesn’t come close.

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I’m not the most skilled writer but for me that isn’t important; my memoirs tend to be a collection of anecdotes strung together over a theme and in this case over most of my lifetime. My aim is just to write my story and touch on some of those million reasons I love Gibraltar because when I write, I’m there.

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RockHeart is written in 3 Chapters (1) 1974 – (2) 1976/77/78 – (3) 2016. The link below will take you to Chapter 1 after which you can continue reading by pressing the ‘next post’ button. You can also revisit pages by clicking on the relevant link on the left hand side of the page.

I hope you enjoy reading my memories of Gibraltar as much as I have enjoyed writing them. Please feel free to comment or contact. Alan x

https://memoirsofgibraltar.com/2016/05/28/11-1974-i-screamed-with-delight-inside-i-was-going-to-gibraltar/

3:74 (2016) Goodbye #Gibraltar. And thank you x 


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It’s Christmas Day 2016 and its 6pm. It’s exactly the day and the time that I knew back in May I would be sitting down writing my final post for my RockHeart. I don’t know how I knew that, I just did.

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It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life to relive and recall my memories of Gibraltar and sometimes it’s also been the most emotional. Some people may even say at times I’ve been over emotional but I make no apology for that. As I’ve sat down almost daily to write there have been times when some issues have touched on a nerve and left me almost so buried in emotion its come out all over the page but for what it’s worth it was never contrived. If I’ve written emotionally it’s because I’ve felt it. But what has been even more rewarding than writing (for me) has been reading the comments made by readers which have very often kept me going at times when I very nearly stopped. Thank you so very much for that X 

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It was in 1964 (as a 9 year old little boy) that I first heard about the Rock that was Gibraltar; my cousin Paul was a Leading Seaman in the Royal Navy and he’d been there many times, it was his favourite place. I’d sit agog with eyes widening as he told me about how this massive great Rock sat on a lump of land only a few square miles in size and how its small community shared the place with wild apes! He’d go on to tell me about Singapore, Hong Kong and Bangkok but one way and another I’d bring him back to telling me the same stories over and over again about that big Rock with the wild apes on it.

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Today, in 2016, as I sat in the taxi taking me to the airport I thought of my cousin Paul as I looked out at the Rock; the mist had descended taking away it’s beautiful, sunny, warm image giving it an eerie look as if to cushion the fact that I had to leave – I could almost hear the Rock whisper ‘Why would you want to stay somewhere this miserable Alan?’ to which I thought ‘You should know better than to even think that let alone ask it’. I don’t make a habit of talking to rocks but in Gibraltar’s case I make an exception. 

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My own first visit to Gibraltar was in 1974 as a young Royal Navy sailor and I was totally smitten by it; it was everything Paul had said it would be and even more as well. As was tradition (back then) after leaving Gibraltar I sailed out to the Far East (just as Paul had) visiting Singapore, Hong Kong, Bangkok and many more places before finally calling back (once again) at Gibraltar en route back to UK and I loved it, I just loved it. On my travels around the world I’d been in serious danger on more than one occasion, very nearly being killed on two; but when I stepped ashore on the Rock I didn’t just feel safer and happier than anywhere in the world, I felt at home. 

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Looking out of my taxi window the mist seemed to be getting worse by the minute and (crossing my fingers) just for a moment the thought crossed my mind that they might cancel my flight; but then as we crossed the runway that thought evaporated away as I spotted my aircraft sitting there waiting for me like some spider waiting for a fly to land on its net.

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It was when I returned to Gibraltar in 1976 to live on the Rock with my family (for two glorious years) this beautiful little Nation (that same one I was smitten with on first sight) began moving into my DNA. It was a time steeped in happy irreplaceable memories – some of which I’ve managed to recapture in these memoirs – and when I look back at that time I realise as a family we very nearly morphed into locals as it appeared we knew more Gibraltarians than service personnel.

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As I stepped out of the taxi at the airport I caught sight of my reflection in a window. Pausing a moment I thought about all of the really nice people I’d met during the past week who had taken the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome – many of whom have become firm friends (and who six months later I’m still in touch with). I thought about many other people too who I didn’t get the opportunity to literally meet but who had engaged with me on Twitter during the week and who still remain virtual friends via the Internet. Being received by total strangers in that way just gave me a wonderful sense of belonging that even at my age I totally love.

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Boarding my plane I turned at the top step to take a last look at ‘my’ beloved Gibraltar; even covered in mist it was still everything it had always been to me and everything I wanted it to be. Minutes later I was physically in the air with my body speeding at hundred of miles an hour towards the UK leaving my heart and soul behind on that beautiful mist covered Rock. But that’s okay. I’ll be back often to visit them – and I won’t be leaving it forty years before I do.

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Thank you Gibraltar X Bless you. Lots of love. Alan.

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3:73 (2016) Finally I was at the end of a week that had lasted 40 years.

If I was asked what I did after spending over an hour looking out at a panoramic view over Gibraltar from HM Queen Elizabeth’s viewing point on the North Face I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If I was asked what I ate for my supper on that my last evening in Gibraltar or even where I ate it I wouldn’t be able to tell you that either. 

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I have a vague recollection of walking back down through the (increasingly familiar) labyrinth that is Gibraltar’s lovely Old Town, occasionally pausing to sit down and reflect but other than that I couldn’t elaborate on anything else about my walk back because my mind had (now) switched to emotional mode. 

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My usual evening routine over the past week normally went something like: shower, change clothes, dinner out, nightcap, bed – and though I have no doubt that’s what I did, I don’t remember a bar of it. I don’t even remember going to sleep; in fact my first awareness since sitting in the Old Town labyrinth on Friday afternoon came late morning on Saturday when I found myself looking out over Commonwealth Park on an initially overcast morning which (by lunchtime) had morphed into a typically beautifully warm and gorgeous Gibraltar day.
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As I looked around me it was almost as though I was looking through a kaleidoscope at every photo of every memory and every experience I’d ever had in Gibraltar; it was as though I was looking at a 40-year calendar being flicked at speed from 1976 to 2016 and I was totally powerless to stop it.

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On one level (or another) I knew that our hotel keys had now been handed in, bags packed, flight tickets checked, transport to the airport confirmed and we were (in effect) in transit. The realisation my departure from Gibraltar was imminent filled me with dread, horror, grief and a feeling of loss that reminded me of being dragged kicking and screaming as a child out of my hometown Newcastle only to be raised in Nottingham because that’s where the work was for my foster dad. 

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(The plaque in Commonwealth Park)

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Aware that Carol was thoughtfully beginning to think ahead I internalised my feelings. “Alan you’ll need to try and get a nap on the plane because we don’t get into Birmingham till after 10pm and you have a four hour drive from the airport” she advised. I smiled and nodded in agreement. 

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A car horn sounded. It was the taxi for the airport.

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3:72 (2016) With less than a day left in front I tripped back 300 years.


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A glass is never half empty, it’s always (in my opinion anyway) half full; although quite a sensitive and emotional person, sometimes easily hurt (even at my age) I’m not irrational and I do have a very optimistic personality. No sooner had I thought that I had less than twenty-four hours left on my beloved Rock I immediately rethought that thought (if it’s possible to rethink a thought) rephrasing it in my head into “WOW I’ve got twenty-four hours on the ROCK!!!”. 

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On that fabulous note I continued on my walkabout (onwards and upwards) up the North Face – on a trek I’d never done before and so as well loving having had my rethink of ‘having been given a whole day on the Rock’ I was also loving that I was going off into unchartered waters – somewhere I’d never been before.

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As I looked back at Moorish Castle I knew I would loved to have gone inside for a serious exploration but (because time was now very much against me) I also knew that I daren’t otherwise I’d have spent my whole day in there. I’ve always loved how they light the castle up to celebrate current events or to pay respects to nations undergoing tragedies; although the castle has a very well documented history it also remains very contemporarily relevant today.

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Accepting that some things must be left for another day I continued on and it wasn’t long before I came across the World War 2 Tunnels where I found the guide standing outside. 
“How long is your tour in the tunnels?” I asked. “At least an hour, more if you ask lots of questions” he replied. Knowing I would most certainly want to ask lots of questions I politely said that I would visit another time and although saddened that I couldn’t go in today it wasn’t something I wanted to rush. 

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(A rope swing I found in the middle of nowhere and sat down on for a ponder)

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What was beginning to transpire was that there’s a whole swathe of history on this part of the Rock that I had no idea about and although my memoir isn’t about that I was starting to become frustrated realising that the more I learned the less I knew. That thought only became more exacerbated when further on up the Rock I came across yet another tourist information attraction – The City Under Siege Exhibition.
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This amazing exhibition is situated in what is thought to be the very first building the British built on the Rock and depicts brilliantly what life was like for both the military and the local people in the early 1700s during the Great Siege. On display are several 3D models giving a realistic vision of the times and there is also a theatre show though sadly on my visit it was closed. One of the top attractions of this particular exhibition is some actual graffiti carved on the walls 300 years ago which is still readable today; the finest example of this was a drawing of a galleon by Sergeant Major Ince who was also accredited with being the architect of the Great Siege Tunnels. 

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Again, although I had little time to stay and study more (yet promised myself again I would be back) I began to realise that many of the names of places in Gibraltar were to honour her famous sons and daughters including the individual apartment blocks of what was once Edinburgh House and clearly Ince’s Hall; past industries were also remembered for example Lime Kiln Road.

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Knowing it would be years (if ever) that I got the chance to return to Gibraltar I looked over this beautiful little Nation from exactly the same spot as Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth 2 did in 1954, a year before I’d been born. Though very different people I’ve no doubt we both felt the same way.

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3:71 (2016) Back streets of #British #Gibraltar feel like home to me.

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It didn’t seem like five minutes since I’d left the Alameda and found myself having my evening meal with Carol, Sheila and Joe at (once again) Jury’s on Main Street – a place that over the course of a week we had all become extremely found of. The food and customer service were always excellent and of course we never forgot their honesty in looking after our expensive camera after we forgot to pick it up, leaving on the table. Sure enough there it was behind the bar waiting to be collected in the morning from a smiling member of staff.

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During dinner the conversation revolved around how much everyone was enjoying Gibraltar (which I loved) and with tomorrow being our last ‘full’ day how they would like to spend the morning shopping. Readers will know by now (as a people-watcher who would rather be parked on a bench) I’m not someone who particularly likes shopping but I nodded my approval thinking ‘yes there may be some trinkets I’d like to buy for the children’ – after which I could sit on a bench (people-watching) and wait for everyone else to finish 🙂 

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Knowing the shopping expedition would end with lunch (probably at the Gibraltar Arms) after which everyone would want to slob around the pool (panic-tanning) I knew exactly (looking up Moors Castle and the North face of the Rock) where my final afternoon would be spent. Seeing me gaze skywards Carol asked “Are you really going up there?” yet before I had the chance to answer she had already answered her own question in her head. “Mad as a box of frogs”, she conceded “I’ll wave to you from poolside”.

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Sure enough the following day (Friday 19 May 2016) after traipsing up and down Main Street carrying everyone else’s shopping bags we finally landed-and-lunched-out at the Gibraltar Arms where I viewed my sole purchase – which now resides on my fridge door (see above) and there are no prizes for guessing what it was. A little later (back at the Bristol) – after checking everyone was comfortably ensconced on their sun loungers with drinks and books to hand – I picked up my bottle of water and turned to wave adieu, which I did, absolutely honourably, totally unfazed by their snoring, then hit the road.

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The afternoon was warm. No it wasn’t, I’m lying. The afternoon was hot, baking hot and I knew the further I went up the Rock the more exposed to the heat I would become so I decided to make a plan. Even though I never stick to plans my plan would be to do things in stages (even though I never do things in stages). Having sorted all that out I set off down Main Street (with my bottle of water), turned right somewhere just before Casemates Square and swiftly found myself (where I’m always very much at home) smack-bang in the middle of that wonderful labyrinth called the back streets; a place that could well have been designed by David Bowie himself.

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If I tried to explain what it was that I loved about the back streets of Gibraltar I’d be here all day; in fact (truth be told) I’d need to write a totally separate book (which now I think about it I might just do). Meantime though if I were to offer a brief (plausible) explanation – Gibraltar’s back streets are (first of all) very reminiscent of the streets in Geordieland where I was raised and so feel very safe and familiar to me. Secondly they are also oozing mystery which I love; so many times I’ve gone from knowing exactly where I am going to becoming totally lost up some dead end within seconds and (strange as it sounds) that’s something that fires my imagination – more so if I bump into someone I don’t know! Lastly (though very much not least) is the sense of belonging I feel from seeing Union Jack flags in house windows and steps patriotically painted in British colours from years gone by. I’m a British man out enjoying a stroll in a distant, small yet beautiful part of our British Nation.

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Slowly but surely as I navigated the back streets, got lost up a few alleys and had help from a fabulous group of teenage boys to guide me through a housing estate I finally managed to find my way up to Moorish Castle which I decided (as part of that plan I never had) would be my first Pitt Stop. 

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(A favourite view showing my old abode of Edinburgh House)

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As I looked down on a lovely panoramic view of Gibraltar the reality that within twenty-four hours I would finally have left this beautiful place and that my reality would be consigned to history hit me hard. Very hard.

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3:70 (2016) Silence and nature are sometimes all I want to hear.


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Within seconds of stepping off a bus (full of chattering people heading into town) I found myself in the magical silent world that is Alameda Botanical Gardens, such is the wonder of Gibraltar that you can do that. 

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In addition to the dozens of mini communities that make up her diverse population of 32000 human beings this beautiful little Nation also boasts dozens of mini Nirvanas including Commonwealth Park, the Upper Rock Wildlife Park, the Mediterranean Steps (and many more) all of which readers will know by now are among my favourite places to spend time. But of the fabulous outdoor spaces in Gibraltar there’s no question of my all time favourite place (and the one I take myself off to more often than not) – Alameda Botanical Gardens. 

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The sound of silence coupled with the sounds of nature in this gorgeous utopia are probably the first things that become apparent as you enter; there are rarely a lot of people about but those that are there tend to respect the peace and space of others leaving the audio space free for the bees to buzz and the water to trickle.

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The design and beauty of the Alameda is without question staggering and these gorgeous 15 acres only seem to have improved since being commissioned in 1816 even after a lull during the 1970s; a restoration in 1990s which included the adding of a zoo brought along new life and charm and a recent new indoor development continued the very well thought out progress of this wonderful resource.

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The basic concept behind the idea of creating the gardens was initially a recreational space for off duty servicemen and their families and a shady place of leisure and rest for local people away from the hot sun. Naturally times have changed over the past 100 years and it could be argued that the original aims may be less relevant today though still remain excellent motives.
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I imagine everyone has a very favourite place in this world and a very good reason for that place being their favourite place; for me I guess the Alameda is that place because of its very powerful emotional attachment resulting from spending hours and hours in there watching my children play. I walk all over the gardens, check out virtually every flower and shrub, smell every scent and most importantly ‘see’ those days-gone-by (in my minds eye) sometimes through tears when my children played in that old painted rowing boat.

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Conscious my visit to the gardens was my last visit possibly for years, or even worse still for ever (because I’m never complacent about the future) I sat down at a favourite bench and listened to the sound of water trickling and bees buzzing. Sometimes that’s all I want to hear.

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3:69 (2016) A bus ride from Europa to Alameda

Taking a bus ride in a country you don’t live in is the most organic of experiences because (for the duration of the journey) you’re sampling a new culture close up while sitting in a seat next to local people; whenever I’ve done it (in well over a dozen countries) I’ve loved it for the pure wonder and privilege of being able to share the lives (albeit briefly) of people from a different world to my own.

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I think my fascination with ‘people-watching’ (particularly from buses and trains) began back in the seventies when I would be returning to my ship after a period of home leave. Inevitably it would be night-time when I was travelling and I remember looking (enviously) out of the window into people’s front rooms at families as they all sat watching television, eating snacks, chatting, laughing and just being families. Further down the line I would see curtains being drawn and lights being switched off while I still had hundreds of miles and hours of travel in front with the sole prospect of arriving back at my ship an hour before I was due to start work having had no sleep all night.

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The views from the bus window between Europa to Alameda were a wonderful contrast of the familiar with the none familiar; as we winded our way through a variety of mini communities I thrived on looking up a different set of back streets at ordinary people doing ordinary things. I vaguely think the route took us past (what was once) the Royal Naval Hospital which is now (I’m reliably told by reader MG – thank you) a hospital for patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia and then eventually down the hill to Alameda Gardens where I alighted.

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As I rapidly close in on the end of my memoirs (having only four more posts to write) part of me is really sad that my ‘hour a day in Gibraltar’ is about to come to an abrupt end; but another part of me is very proud to have been able to recall and capture so many wonderful memories of a place I hold so dear in my heart.

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3:68 (2016) #Gibraltar lighthouse holds iconic status for me.


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Coming out of the tunnel the very first thing I saw was the lighthouse which for me (as well as being yet another fabulous place to visit) holds an almost iconic status. As with all mariners, seafarers and sailors lighthouses are key to keeping safe particularly when traversing dark and stormy seas and I know only too well from experience how terrifying some voyages can be. While on patrol during the Icelandic Cod War (1973) the weather was so bad I was absolutely convinced I was a gonner so much so I was praying it would be quick. 

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Recently on Remembrance Sunday I was standing with other ex-forces colleagues at Cardigan Cenotaph when a local man sang the Naval Prayer and even all these years after leaving the RN it still brought the hairs up on the back of my neck.
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Looking around Europa Point reinforced my belief that Gibraltar was made up of dozens and dozens of mini communities and after walking out of the tunnel I had the feeling that I’d just arrived at yet another. My memories of Europa are very sketchy (as I don’t think we visited often); as well as thinking it was quite bleak I also had a vague recollection that the road continued right around the Rock (past Catalan Bay). How wrong was I? The road didn’t continue on around the Rock and bleak it was not a word I would use to describe it.
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Although the lighthouse was very much the focal point and star prize for me (for reasons already explained) the whole area had been much developed since my last visit forty years ago. Clearly some things were still there from years gone by (for example the gun) but there were also some other really nice recent developments including a cafe, children’s playground and – Gibraltar University (and wow I didn’t expect that). It’s testimony to the fact I didn’t go there that often (when I lived in Gibraltar) that I had no idea there was such a fabulous mosque there – unless that too had been built since 1978?
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I don’t know how long I spent at Europa Point but what I do know is I probably walked every square yard including right down to the University door and several lengths of the lighthouse promenade. I was lost in a moment that I didn’t want to end but knew it had to because I still needed to visit the Alameda Gardens one last time too; to miss that was unthinkable. And just at the point I was ready to go a bus turned up and I thought ‘Why not?’.

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3:67 (2016) Searing memories of a life-changing catalyst were overpowering.


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Somewhere in the area of Camp Bay or Nuffield Pool was a tunnel that we used to walk through all the way to Catalan Bay and though I know it’s no longer open to pedestrians it’s often bugged me that I never remembered where it was. Perhaps that quest can go on my bucket list for when I return to the Rock. Having said that it didn’t stop me loving soaking up the familiarity of things that I did recognise and as I neared Nuffield Pool I instantly spotted a very familiar waterfall on the opposite side of the road. When I look at the photo above of that waterfall (taken by me in May 2016) and then see the same waterfall in the photo below (taken by Carol in 1976) I get an immense sense of gratitude that there are still things about Gibraltar that have never changed. 

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(With my daughter Tracey, Nuffield Pool 1976).

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Previously in my memoirs I wrote about Nuffield Pool and Europa Point and it was in that post (see 2:22) that the photo above first appeared alongside the story behind it. Rather than me repeat myself by writing about Nuffield Pool again please do look back (at 2:22) if you missed those anecdotes and would like to read them although it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge that one of the stories in that post was a life-changing catalyst.
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(Walking past Nuffield Pool)

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With time now very much against me I was keen to press on towards Europa Point but even as I walked passed Nuffield Pool I couldn’t take my eyes off it; searing memories of a fateful swimming gala filled my mind reminding me of how vulnerable I felt at that time, in that very pool, just fifty yards away from me. 
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As I entered the tunnel which would finally take me to Europa it was with trepidation which didn’t improve as I ended up in the dark and the damp. Walking through the tunnel I wrestled with frightening thoughts of how my life could well have ended up very differently had it not been for the massive support of Carol and my girls; finally, as the tough recollections began fading away I gave thanks for the life I had been truly blessed with and very soon after literally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

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