Week 1 of Gibraltar Diary

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Tuesday 18th March 2008

[This is the first day of this blog. All good things have to start somewhere and this is where it starts.]

We drive to London from Manchester as I have to be in the High Court the next day for an ongoing saga. We get to Corley services and walk over the bridge to Starbucks which is just closing but the girl lets us in. To my surprise they heat up a panini and we have a coffee and go on our way feeling a lot better.

In London we drive directly to Haagen Dazs in Leicester Square and park with great difficulty. When we finally get there they are closed for refurbishment. This is the last place in the UK where you can buy coffee flavoured Haagen Dazs and I am deeply upset. Do these people not realise the distress they are causing?

Wednesday 19th March 2008

When I get to the High Courts of Justice in the Strand at 10.00am there are hoards of photographers at the door but they are not waiting for me, they are waiting for the McCanns.

Outside the Court my lawyers turn up and it is the usual chaos and confusion. There is a 19 page document full of figures which I refuse to read. They are short of some numbers and I phone my secretary who gets the figures we need. I wonder what would have happened if she had been out or could not find the file.

Finally the Court opens and we all file in by which time it is midday. Counsel for the Plaintiff opens and asks His Lordship if he has read the papers.

His Lordship is honest enough to admit he has not (mind you, if you can't trust judges to tell the truth, who can you trust) so we adjourn for lunch until 1.30pm.

At 1.40pm we kick off again and now my QC takes over and we see what you get for an enormous fee. He actually understands all these numbers on the 19 page document and nobody else does which helps us enormously.

In due course the plaintiff takes the stand and tries her best but my QC has dug a big hole for her and she walks right into it. This is despite me waving my clutch of papers at her as a warning. Quite why I am warning her of the hole I do not know but I do. She does not see me waving but the judge does and tells me to stop. Actually I do not hear the judge say this as I am a bit deaf but my solicitor does or claims to, so I stop.

In due course I take the stand still holding my sheets of paper. Counsel for the plaintiff objects to the papers as they have not been included in the evidence and this is evidently a bad thing. She tries to shake me but I am on firm ground and reiterate verbally the contents of the papers which constitute the hole into which the plaintiff has fallen.

After a while the fire alarm goes off and we all file out into the grounds and wait around discussing the antics of Heather Mills who the previous day has poured a jug of water over Fiona Shackleton. After about half an hour we go back into court and I resume the stand but they have finished with me.

There is more toing and froing but in due course His Lordship declares us the winner on points and we all go home. Going home for us entails driving back to Manchester and we decide to stop half way for a bite to eat.

The Tom Tom tells us to drive down a very unlikely looking road which gradually narrows until we are driving along a narrow strip of concrete through an industrial wasteland. Unlike the people on Weymouth beach (see Saturday 5th April 2008) I have faith and suddenly we emerge into Frankie and Benny's car park to much rejoicing. Some people in the car thought we were lost and doomed but I never doubted - well, not much anyway.

It appears there is a queue of people who have arrived via the dual carriageway which runs conveniently past the front door and the fact that we have arrived via extraordinary means counts for nothing so we have to wait.

Normally I don't do waiting but there is a very pretty girl in the bar with considerable cleavage and my girlfriend helpfully positions herself so I can have a good view. I try to take a photo using my girlfriend as a blind but the girl's friend obscure the view. My girlfriend finds all this hilarious and keeps puffing her own chest out and giggling to the point where I fear we will be thrown out.

Thursday 20th March 2008

I work frantically from 8.00am until 6.00pm as tomorrow we are off on a new adventure. At 6.30pm we set off for London yet again. The success of our off motorway eating the previous day encourages us to try the same again and I confidently turn off the M40 at Warwick to the two Little Chefs that I know are three miles down the road. Only they aren't. They have been closed.

We drive back to the Holiday Inn and park outside the Porridge Pot which seems promising. We wait at reception. After a while a girl in black walks past but ignores us. Eventually I ring them up from my mobile and explain that we are at reception awaiting service. The same girl who had ignored us comes back with a big smile which quickly fades as I give her some helpful hints on how to run a restaurant.

We drive to the nearby Hilton but they demand 2 for parking before they will tell us whether they serve food.

The Tom Tom suggests the Pizza Express three miles away and we set off. After a couple of miles we suddenly find an oasis of cheap petrol and restaurants and the car is a cheerful and happy place to be. We fill up with petrol and then try to work out how to get to the Frankie and Benny's car park which is just opposite.

This is a different F & B to last night and we get there after a couple of circuits of the estate and go to reception and wait. And wait. The happiness is fading. I decide that if I were the dragon in Shrek I would give them the benefit of a few million BTUs irrespective of the consequences for global warming.

Finally a girl arrives and her smile quickly fades too as I dispense more helpful advice for those thinking of running a restaurant. My girlfriend advises against eating the soup in case the staff have spat in it - she has been in catering and knows about these things. I decide to avoid the chocolate fudge cake for similar reasons.

While we wait (and wait) for service I explain to my girlfriend that if I had a restaurant the staff would all be fitted with electric probes which would punish bad service with electric shocks of increasing severity. She thinks it may be difficult to get staff but I have already anticipated this and explain that they would also be rewarded for good service - possibly by means of vibration.

Friday 21st March 2008

We get to Luton airport and park in the long term car park. There is a gale blowing and the chill factor would give even Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes pause for thought. I walk to the nearby pick up point and work out that if we stand to the side of the shelter we will be out of the wind. Eventually my girlfriend arrives carrying the heavy luggage and points out that it would be even better inside the shelter. I try to counter this argument but cannot.

Eventually the bus arrives and we get to the terminal. Now it is time for some serious queing. After ten minutes we find we are in the wrong queue but it makes no difference as everybody who wants to leave Britain is already there. Eventually we check in and then we wait interminably to get through security where I am searched from head to toe as I have set off the metal detector.

Then we queue at Gates 17 and 18 for a long time as there is a problem with the incoming aircraft. By now my will to resist is shattered and when the Easy Jet guard finally assigns us to queue number three we shuffle meekly forward. Our only hope now is that when we arrive at the showers they will have run out of Zyklon B.

Finally we arrive at Malaga at about 11.00pm and go to Record Car Rental where we are due to pick up a MPV whatever that is. The girl explains in very rapid and very poor English where the car is - something about a lift and level minus 2 and bay 56. I don't pay much attention. I mean, how big can a car hire depot be? The answer turns out to be about 1,000 X 200 ft on five floors. Enough for 10,000 cars.

We find a lift. No problem. But it only goes to level minus one. No level minus two. We try level two and sure enough there are some Record Car Rental cars there but no bay 56. Down we go and ask the guard. He points to the distant horizon. Eventually we find a huge contingent of Brits who have been hunting for level minus two for some days.

We set off in a vast caravan across the desert of concrete and find yet another lift that also does not go to level minus two. We battle on and eventually one of the survivors finds the correct lift and the word is passed on down from one person to the next "they have found the lift and we are all saved".

Saturday 22nd March 2008

The MPV turns out to be a grey box made by Citroen. We drive off and notice that we have virtually no fuel. And no Euros either. By luck we reach a garage and pull up to the pump. Just as the attendant is about to put in twenty euros worth of diesel my girlfriend suddenly says "We don't have any euros, only English pounds".

In the two years I have known her this is the dumbest thing she has ever done, by far. If the credit card had not worked the garage would have had the problem, as it is, we now have the problem. Furious, I go to the booth where a variety of attendants spend twenty minutes trying to coax money out of my credit card on a variety of machines. Eventually we hit the jackpot and we are on our way. The atmosphere in the car is sub zero.

Our Tom Tom is doing brilliant work but suddenly we come to a toll booth. My girlfriend redeems herself by noticing a credit card gate off from the main toll booths. We start to go through and amazingly the machine and my credit card get on extremely well. So well, in fact, that they want to chat for a while but eventually we are through.

In due course we arrive at a point where we can see a huge rock all lit up that is clearly Gibraltar. To get in is tricky but we finally work out that you must stay on the right hand side and head off down a long road to nowhere that suddenly turns round and goes back to where it came from. Then we turn right and we have arrived.

There is no queue and we go through customs very quickly. Gibraltar seems a little grim and Napoleonic down by the sea. This is hardly surprising as it was really just a huge fortress designed to keep foreigners in their place. Now it has little strategic value but in its day it was a critical location as it dominated the entrance and exit from the Mediterranean.

The Tom Tom knows where the Rock Hotel is and suddenly announces that we have arrived. All we can see is bushes and rock, no hotel. There is a road that says "No Entry" so we go on further and find another road that just says "Private Road". No mention of a hotel.

We drive back and find a big block called Rock Gardens. This is not it either. Eventually we drive up the Private Road and there is the hotel. We unload and I am tempted to give some advice on the running of hotels but refrain. The hotel is beautiful with huge and elegant reception rooms and two excellent new lifts.

I had not realised from photos and guide books just how steep the lower areas are and did not understand how the Rock Hotel which is right inland could have a sea view. The explanation is simply that it is very high up indeed. There are no serious buildings above it.

At 5.00am we are woken by the sound of frantic screams and groans of sexual ecstasy from right outside our window. I am not really conscious yet but even I know that this is hardly likely in a place that prides itself on being so English and there must be another explanation.

There is. All this racket is coming from two seagulls on the flat roof just below us. I go out onto the balcony and yell "Bugger off!" at the top of my voice. They take no notice. Clearly there is a language problem here and I start to go back inside for my Spanish Phrase Book but languidly firstly one, then several seconds later the other, they depart.

Later I spot them several times in the vicinity. At least if they weren't the same gulls they were close enough to be picked out in an Identity Parade - grey and white with yellow beaks and acting very suspiciously.

I discover from reception that although English newspapers are generally available that does not apply over holidays because customs is closed.

In the afternoon we are shown round a lot of flats by a nice man. He mentions that some of the blocks are a bit run down because they are fourteen years old. I ask him if the same will happen to the brand new block in which he hopes to sell us a flat "Of course" he says "why lie?"

We go for a walk down Main Street which is permanently closed to traffic. It is a bit tawdry in places, exhibiting the worst aspects of Indian and British culture by way of duty free emporiums and pubs but to judge Gibraltar from Main Street is a bit unfair - rather like judging London by Oxford Street. None of the main Street shops sell milk or food. For that you must go to Morrison's or one of the very small and expensive little shops further from the centre.

We go into a cafe called Latinos in Casemates Square but it is disappointing. The cakes are clearly not home made as claimed and are served with artificial cream. As Gordon Ramsay would say "Why the fuck are you serving this shit? How much extra do you think real cream would fucking cost? About 5p is the fucking answer. So why do you serve this fucking shit and piss off all your customers?" I would never dream of using language like that but I can see Gordon's point.

We vote with our feet and decide that we will never go back. For the sake of a few pence they have lost the 20 per week that they could have had from us if their cakes were really home made and served with real cream. This reminds me of Ken Dodd "I went out of my mind ten years ago - I'd never go back"

We return via the new bowling alley and ice rink. I gaze at the ice sadly. I am a good skater but had a fearful accident on ice a couple of years ago at Queensway in London and dare not skate again.

We walk past the cable car and a couple of taxi touts, one of whom asks if we want to go on the Rock Tour. Rather shortly I explain that what we actually want is a pint of milk and to my surprise he points us to a convenience store in the corner. This only sells UHT milk in purple cartons and when I ask for fresh milk the man behind the till explains that there are no cows in Gibraltar. I am about to comment on the lack of oil wells and abundance of cheap petrol (65p per litre - diesel is 55p) but think better of it. We have decided to be nice to everybody whatever the provocation as this is really just a village and the shop keeper's brother-in-law is probably the Chief Constable or Royal Keeper of the Apes or possibly both.

In the evening we have a magnificent meal in the Rock Hotel where we are waited on by various waiters in dinner jackets. My girlfriend likes sweet white wine but I find that by pouring in both glasses of complimentary dry sherry I can drink it. Two hours later we are fast asleep.

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