My first ever visit to Gibraltar was (unfortunately) quite brief, just a couple of days really which was the norm for warships heading out to the Far East. On arrival one of the first tasks was to ‘store ship’ which was a phrase used to take on stores that we (my department) had pre-ordered. Literally everything from frozen foods, fruit and veg, clothing, spare parts and nuts and bolts needed to be humped off the jetty onto the ship then ferreted down below to various storerooms and fridges.
The process of ‘store ship’ required ‘clear lower decks’ which meant that everyone got involved, formed lines and took part in getting the stores onboard by passing/throwing boxes, bags and containers from pallets on the quayside all the way down to the relevant store. The downside of this wonderful joint effort was that as soon as the stores were onboard and in the vicinity of the relevant storeroom everyone (apart from the stores department i.e me) could bugger off and go ashore. Needless to say it would be some time before I had checked off all of the orders and stowed away the goods by which time the crew were well on their way to being half cut in one of Gibraltar’s 365 pubs.
In some ways it was quite fortuitous for me that my ‘run ashore’ was delayed because I had no desire to go drinking; I wasn’t fond of the smell of booze or being in the company of drunks. When I finally did get ashore my first thought was the apes and to that end I jumped straight into a taxi.
On the way up the Rock to see the apes the driver pointed out things he felt I would find interesting as drivers do in the hope of receiving a tip. I had every intention of tipping him anyway but was very happy for him to educate me just the same. In pointing to Spain he said that Franco had closed the border back in 1972 but I wasn’t phased by that because I wasn’t into politics and had no desire to visit Spain. As we neared the apes he changed the subject telling me that Gibraltar’s rock apes were actually macaques and there were hundreds roaming wild. “If the apes ever leave the Rock then so will the British and so we have to take care of them” he said as we pulled up, “And watch your camera our they will take it”. At that point I realised with horror that I had forgotten my camera.
Since I wasn’t taking photos I sat on a wall to watch the troop and it wasn’t long before (what seemed to be) a family of apes came over to inspect me and see if I had anything worth pinching. When they decided I didn’t and that I was no particular threat they were happy just to carry on and do their thing. Some of the older adults sat observing the ships in the harbour while some nipped fleas out others’ fur. Younger apes played like children, wrestling with each other and play biting if there is such a thing. “It’s to do with them sorting out their pecking order” my driver informed me. I was fascinated and loved watching them. I wondered why people couldn’t take a leaf out of their book.
For a while my driver asked if there were other attractions I wanted to see but he eventually stopped asking as he realised I was totally happy sitting on a wall watching the apes and admiring the view of the harbour and the town below. He must have been bemused because it was quite late when we left the apes den after several hours and that I was happy to pay his (quite high) fare with a generous tip. When he dropped me off he shook my hand and with a big smile gave me his phone number in case I wanted to go back to see the apes. Forty two years later I still have the piece of paper with his phone number on it. More importantly I still have my wonderful memories of sitting alone for hours with the apes and feeling very privileged to do so; and I still think people could take a leaf out of their book and care more for each other.