For new readers a link back to the start

Recently there have been quite a few new readers to RockHeart and so for convenience to them (and of course to regular readers I thought it would be useful to post a link back to the start of these memoirs (below) as (at present) they are chronologically back-to-front.

Behind the scenes I am editing the text and will soon begin painting some of the stories but meantime thank you for joining me here and I hope you enjoy reading; please feel free to comment/ask questions. Alan 🙂

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

4:1 (2017) My long road back on a different track to #Gibraltar

When I left Gibraltar in May 2016 I was really glad everyone (Carol, Sheila and Joe) had loved their holiday and that they all wanted to return again in 2017; however since returning to UK there have been events which have impacted on that hopeful plan.

*

Almost as soon as I arrived home (20/5/2016) I began writing RockHeart and though I was really happy to be finally conveying my passion for the Rock to paper (for the world to see) the process of doing it became more emotionally challenging (than I had expected) as time went on. 

*

Readers will know there were times I grieved the passing of my young parent days and found my reflections to be a mixture of both pleasure and pain; some of the photos of my children when they were little brought me immense happiness but also quite a powerful element of sadness that those days had permanently expired and could never be brought back. I’d wonder if I could have been a better daddy at the time had I not been so wrapped up in my work, my art and that selfishness that seems to consume young people and which (looking back) I think I had in bucket loads. My saving grace of course (as readers will know) is that my children thankfully don’t see things the way I do and all of them remain very close to me. Similarly to see images of Carol and me as a young couple with our whole lives in front looking as though we’d been airlifted out of a war zone and dropped into paradise took me back to yet more irreplaceable times but which (I guess) also had a tendency to remind me of how old I now was.

*

But past pains weren’t my only challenge. Quite heart-breaking events in the present day as I was writing RockHeart were too. On the 5 September 2016 I wrote and published post 3:1 (2016) and it was in that post I first mentioned our travelling companions Sheila and Joe who have been our closest friends for almost thirty years. The post tells how secretly I had asked them (and of course they said yes) if they would like to join us on our trip to Gibraltar (in celebration of our Ruby wedding anniversary) before I’d even said anything to Carol. 

Sadly, almost like some dreadfully cruel coincidence, Sheila suffered a major stroke on that very day I wrote about her (5/9/16) since which both Carol and I have commuted to Nottingham to offer whatever support we are able to offer. At 73 Sheila’s progress may be slow and limited, whether she will regain mobility or movement on her left side is very much open to question.

*

Quite often I’m on the phone to Joe to see how he is coping and although he does very well he (too) has his limitations since he is in his 80s. He gets very tired in the caring role even though professional carers also attend Sheila at home three times a day. 

On a recent solo trip to see Joe he shared with me that health professionals (noticing symptoms including the way he shuffle walks) suspect he may have early onset Parkinson’s. Joe said he had been to see our mutual friend and GP Chand and was awaiting tests that Chand had requested and the minute he said that I cast my mind back to July when I visited Chand who sadly was within days of passing away from pancreatic cancer yet one of the last things he said to me was ‘Give Joe my love’. I wondered whether Chand had seen Joes results though naturally because of confidentiality couldn’t discuss such things with me.

*

Since realising the extent of Sheila’s disability Carol has explored various options in Gibraltar that could cater for her needs but slowly (over the past four months) we’ve both come to realise it’s not practical for her to go and (being directly honest with me as she always is) said she didn’t feel able (emotionally) to go to Gib in 2017 without Sheila and Joe which I totally understand. Knowing how I feel about Gibraltar (even though she still knows nothing about my RockHeart memoirs) Carol asked me “Alan do you mind if we don’t go in 2017 but that we definitely go in 2018?”. 

“I waited forty years last time love, I think I can just about manage one this time” I replied, “And if we go on my birthday (4 May) I can do the MedSteps2018”.

*


*

The past weeks and months have been quite stressful emotionally but (that aside) they’ve also been something of a nightmare practically speaking in terms of my jobs – both of which are really only guaranteed short term. My favourite job (Youth Worker – 3-days a week) is guaranteed till 1 July but may be extended if we get the funding we’ve applied for. My other job (Parent Support. 2-days a week) looks like ending 1 April and so I’ve been exploring the job market on a more-or-less daily basis thinking about my various options going forward.

*

Readers of RockHeart will be aware I finished writing my memoirs on Christmas Day and then took the website down to edit it into chronological order on New Years Eve but because of the various stresses I’ve been under (above) and the complexity of the editing process I’ve needed to decide a ‘different path’ (which is why I’ve written this post). To try to describe the complexity of the editing process is not somewhere I want to go but suffice to say I very nearly accidentally deleted the entire website – and I don’t think there will ever be words to describe how that made me feel.

*

As I breeze into these last couple of paragraphs let me firstly apologise for this post being very lengthy of words and lacking in pictures; but if it’s any consolation to regular readers I hope I bring a positive message too in communicating with everyone and letting you know about my ‘different path’ which I suppose is two-fold. 

*

The first bit is that I’ll be leaving this original website online and developing new pages regularly as previously planned (GibNOW, Daily Diary etc) mainly because I was terrified at nearly losing all of the content but also because I know there are readers who enjoy dipping in to various posts when they have time. Behind the scenes I’m creating another (offline) platform with everything going over in chronological order and although that may take me some time at least it’s getting done and the original material is safe.

*

The second bit of my ‘different path’ I guess is that I won’t be able to visit Gibraltar in 2017 for the reasons above and although I find that hard I can at least say with confidence that I will be flying in on on my birthday on May 2018 (for longer than a week) and so I hope those folks who I have tea-dates arranged with are still up for it #forgetmenot 

*

Meanwhile welcome (back) to this new Chapter (4) – A different path to Gibraltar – which I’ll write regularly to keep folks up-to-date on how the new site is developing, how the book publishing is progressing and also to share my excitement as I build up to 2018. X Alan 🙂 

*

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


*

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.

*
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 

*

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.

*



*

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. 

*



*

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. 

*



*

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.

*

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.

*


*

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.

*

*

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.

*

*

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

*

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. 

*

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. 

*


*

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.
*



*

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.

*

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. 

*


(The plaque in Commonwealth Park)

*

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. 

*

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

*

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


*

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!!!”. 

*
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.

*


*


*

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.

*


*


*

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. 

*


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

*



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.
*

*

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. 

*


*



*

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.

*




*


*

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.

*

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

*

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.

*

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 🙂 

*

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”.

*


*

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.

*


*

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.

*


*

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.

*


*

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. 

*


*


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

*

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.

*

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


*

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. 

*


*

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. 

*


*

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.

*



*

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.

*


*

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.
*


*

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.

*



*


*

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.

*