It was coming up lunchtime by the time I reluctantly left Alameda Gardens; I didn’t really want to leave the place because it was just so opposite to anything I’d experienced in my life. I loved it. My home town Newcastle was cobbled streets, outside netties and bone yards on the Tyne, hardly the beauty of a botanical garden. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a botanical garden. And now I’d found one I wanted to move in. Having said that being a Geordie is a massive part of my identity and so naturally I am very much connected to Newcastle. I guess if there’s a Ying and a Yang inside us all mine are Gibraltar and Newcastle.
Just opposite the Trafalgar Cemetery there’s a statue of Nelson standing keeping an eye on the Cemetery gate; two of the men who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar are buried there but it wouldn’t be until my visit in 2016 that I would actually go into the cemetery and find their graves. They were Captain Thomas Norman who died in the Naval Hospital on 6 December 1805 and Lieutenant William Forster who died 21 October 1805. I wondered if the Naval Hospital building then was the same one that my daughter would be born in 172 years later? Probably not.
Being ex-Naval I see something very respectful about a senior officer looking out for those serving under him and in a weird sort of way that still seemed to be the case (to me) even though all three are dead, purely on account of where Nelson’s statue has been placed. The road junction outside the Cemetery is far more developed now with a couple of pedestrian crossings to help walkers avoid what seems to be a lot more traffic in Gibraltar; but in 1974 I just crossed the road, walked down the hill and went through the archway at Ragged Staff Gates.
Walking along the quayside is something I’ve always loved to do and as a boy in Newcastle I spent a lot of time watching the ships come and go up and down the River Tyne. Looking over at the dockyard I could see my ship HMS Scylla berthed and it was quite surreal to think I would be on her and sailing off to tour the Far East in a few hours time. All the more reason, I thought, to keep walking in the other direction and make the most of my remaining free time on the Rock.
Although it felt familiar the quayside wasn’t especially memorable so much as it was functional, a place where ships berthed alongside and took on stores. I couldn’t have known then that in a few years time I would be living and working in Gibraltar and part of my role would involve me working on this quayside storing visiting war ships.
That quayside may well not have been memorable in 1974 but that was not the case 42 years later when I returned in 2016. It was totally unrecognisable to me following the major development of a beautiful Small Boats Marina, a number of apartment sky-rises and a host of restaurants; indeed I checked out a couple of the eateries and they were excellent, particularly the Waterfront. Come to that I checked quite a few out in the town too and all of them were excellent and catered as you would expect them too. I must admit I went back to Jurys on Main Street more than once and found a lovely little Moroccan restaurant called Marrakech up behind the Gibraltar Art Gallery. With apologies (just jumping a few years ahead here) if I had one disappointment at all it would be that St Michael’s Cabin now no longer serves meals in the evening and has evolved into a day time snack bar but then that’s a story for Chapter 2.
A few shipmates had said that Irish Town was somewhere I should go to eat as there were loads of cafes and restaurants there although I decided to keep an open mind in case they were setting me up; last time I took their advice as a naïve youngster in Flensburg I ended up in a red light area to their hilarious delight although I’m in no way suggesting Irish Town boasts those services. I’m not altogether quite sure how I got there from down on the quayside but I think I asked for directions; when I got into the area I immediately recognised being back at the Piazza and I think it was then that I realised how small Gibraltar actually was (which delighted me).
Back in 1974 people said there were 25000 people living in Gibraltar which I thought was a lot for a small Nation of 2.6 square miles. Since then I’ve naturally researched to find the correct figure (out of curiosity) and it turns out there was more than that, it appears there was 29000; today there is 32000. On my first visit I wondered where on earth so many people lived but on my visit in 2016 I didn’t need to ask; I think the sky-rises are breeding as they did in Hong Kong. I did walk around the sky-rises but actually preferred the back streets. But I can see why Morrisons opened a store here; my days back in the seventies it was either Liptons or the NAAFI.