Arriving back in Gibraltar after eight months in the Far East felt like coming home. As we berthed alongside I felt a huge sense of relief to be back where I felt safe and welcome after what had turned out to be a six months nightmare; life had hit me from all of those angles I wasn’t ready for from drink, sex (being come onto by both women and men), being beaten up, almost drowning, being locked up and being in very dangerous situations, all during the time I was grieving for my parents. With no real home left to go to in UK it wasn’t surprising I felt as though arriving back in Gibraltar was like coming home. In some ways I grieved the passing of my naivety, in others ways I gave thanks for my survival.
It was a paradox in a way. I’d looked forward so much to seeing some of the most exotic places in the world that Cousin Paul had told me about yet ended up seeing their under-bellies and so could no longer see the exotic; my eyes had been opened and I couldn’t close them again. In Thailand I was so moved by their Buddhism that I became Buddhist (and still remain so today) but I would have to have been blind not to be aware of the appalling poverty being shored up by their ‘in-your-face’ sex industry. In South Africa I found the apartheid shocking; while Nelson Mandela languished in jail on Robben Island for trying to stamp it out I was sickened to see that there was still pavements for white people and pavements for black.
Having virtually drank my way around half of the world the temptation to visit a few of those 365 Gibraltarian pubs (my shipmates had told me about) and drink myself ‘mortal’ was massive rather than walk the back streets or check out the apes; but although I was aware I had a serious drink problem I didn’t want that to interfere with my love of Gibraltar; worse still I didn’t want to end up drunk in a gutter there and have that forever in my memory. I walked the back streets.
During my brief second visit to the Rock the Chief gave me the maximum time off which in real terms was only a few hours but those few hours (he knew) were so cathartic. Wandering the back streets allowed me to touch base and to get back in touch with myself. I had an almost pathological need to walk and walk and walk to give myself time to think and reflect. Right now Gibraltar was the only place in the world I could do that; to walk those streets that I was becoming familiar with, where ordinary families lived and which reminded me of childhood days in Newcastle.
Parts of the Old Town were very challenging with their long sets of steep steps; they made me think how physically hard life must be on a daily basis for some of the older residents or young parents with babies. Yes I had problems but so did many other people who couldn’t do anything about their issues. Long after leaving the Royal Navy I would spend over 30 years in the Social Care profession, but that memoir is a long way off.
Later today my ship would sail for UK and on the way over the English Channel I would have a skin-full of ale along with my mess mates during what was known as a Channel-ex. In 19 months I would be back. With my family. To live. For two years. Thank God for Gibraltar.
END OF CHAPTER 1