Week 2 of Gibraltar Diary

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Sunday 23rd March 2008

When I wake up I see the strangest ship I have ever seen come sailing past. It looks like a photoshop joke but it is not. If you know what this is please drop me an email (later I learn from shipspotting.com that it is the crane transporter ZHEN HUA 6)

As we walk downstairs we see the back of a beautiful girl who appears to be walking naked through the reception area. Later we walk into a local photographer who has lots of pictures of her. It appears she was getting married rather unexpectedly and only booked the photographer an hour before the wedding. The dress has no back but has lots of front so that is all right then.

We decide to go up the rock in the cable car and walk down. The woman in the box says that it is 16 return but I explain that we want to walk down. She then says that singles will cost 13 but explains that we can have return tickets for 13 if we forgoe certain extras or something. By now there is a queue so we buy the returns for 13 rather than hold everybody up.

It is very high. When we arrive at the top there are apes as promised. I am about to ascend a spiral staircase when there is a piercing scream and an ape hits the top of the staircase some twenty feet up, coming from nowhere, drops down the outside under free fall and disappears. This all happens so fast that I have scarcely turned my head before it is all over. Nothing has prepared me for this but it makes me realise that if you are up against leopards then you need to be seriously quick. They would make brilliant footballers.

The more I think about the apes the more I am impressed. Most of the time they move slowly with great dignity and by and large ignore humans. Occasionally they face up to you in total silence and invariably if you look you will see a youngster behind them. Then just occasionally the terrifying burst of speed.

I am told they will steal bags and I have this vision of an ape going into a shop to buy some bananas with stolen money and being short changed by the shopkeeper. When this gets to court who is guilty of what? I decide that the shopkeeper will be found guilty of stealing from the ape's trustees who in this case are the Gibraltar Government and will be bound over. At the same time the ape's trustees, who are also the Gibraltar Government, will be injuncted to keep better control of the apes. The ape will be signed up by Leeds United and be featured in Heat Magazine.

We only see one old ape and he is looking very tired.

We walk down and it is very hot. We meet some Americans on the Royal Anglian Way who ask what the rest of the route is like and I explain that it is safe enough but there is one point where you have to jump across a six foot gap with a hundred foot drop. This is an exageration but it is a little precarious in places.

Later on we try to go to the Moorish Castle and the attendant, whose English is very poor, asks for our lift tickets and examines them with great concern . He has clearly never seen tickets like these but after a conference he and a colleague decide we are not allowed in. Paying, it seems, is not an option. This is understandable as the less money floating about the less likely it is to go missing but we are disappointed not to get in. When we reach the bottom our legs are like jelly.

We have a drink at the Elliott hotel where we chat to the doorman Jim who, it turns out, comes from Bury. He takes us up to see the Dining room which is small and expensive and the pool which is just small. I decide I prefer the Rock Hotel but the Elliott is better located if you don't want to walk. The walk up to the Rock Hotel is a killer but good exercise.

We go down to the docks to look at an interesting vessel with a helicopter landing pad on the back. It is the Rubicon Maverick and is available for hire but after some thought we decide to rent a flat instead. The bird in the photo is there by total chance. It is not a case of brilliant photography or photoshop.

We eat at La Caleta which is on the east side of the rock, right on the sea. An excellent meal with good service.

Monday 24th March 2008

A button reading 1571 on the phone system is flashing green. As it happens, I am involved with a company that writes and installs software for very clever phone systems but really I don't know anything about phones myself - that of course is the problem in Britain today, management who know nothing about the companies they run.

I press the button and the phone bleeps in an interesting manner but nothing happens. I ring reception who tell me to press *17 which I do. The phone gives me endless menus which tell me how to do every conceivable thing with messages. I could forward a message as an email or a text message. I could save it or delete it or set it to music or translate it into Serbo Croat. The only thing it refuses to tell me is how to listen to it. There are nine messages saved but I know that they are not for me but I am disappointed not to hear them. I think of the romances and dreams destroyed by this wretched artifact of electronics.

We set off for Ronda via PC City in Los Barrios which is clearly a close relation of PC World in Old Trafford but dubbed in Spanish. On the way we pass a series of electric pylons - each one with a stork's nest on top. These are real storks not like the fibreglass herons you see on the Norfolk broads.

The road up is an endless series of tight bends and I long for something low and quick but the Citroen Grey Box is surprisingly good on corners and the fuel gauge never moves. After a while my girlfriend needs a loo and we stop at a cafe. She asks me what the Spanish for ladies is and I tell her after some thought that senorita is woman and so senora must be man. She comes back red faced after adventures she does not wish to discuss. Meanwhile I have been pondering what senor means and am beginning to conclude that my analysis may have been flawed.

Ronda is spectacular and full of cafes but we cannot stop as we are on a mission to explore. From Ronda we head at high speed for Cadiz where we eventually park next to a big botanical garden on the north side.

On the way out I discover a hole in my pocket and two coins each of two euros have disappeared. They were big and shiny and I already miss them. This puts a bit of a damper on things. We go into a cafe and point at pictures of food. The proprietor knows a couple of mugs when he sees them and for the next half hour an endless series of things we might have ordered but didn't, arrive. We eat quite a lot of it and head for home.

At the border we get through in about 15 minutes. Nobody is interested in our passports.

Tuesday 25th March 2008

My girlfriend has found the two missing coins on the floor of our room so they were not lost after all but merely resting in my underpants or maybe my socks. I am really pleased to see them and this seems like a good omen - the shiny euros that were lost have been found.

We make a cup of coffee but I cannot find any sugar - only what is clearly powdered milk. It turns out to be sugar.

On the way out of the hotel there are two people standing at the bus stop. We smile at each other and I say "Don't watch what happens next". What happens next is that we climb over the gate into the botanical gardens which is permanently locked and my camera drops into the cactus. I wait while my girlfriend retreaves it. The people at the bus stop look surprised - probably because there is a gate which is open about twenty yards away but we don't know that yet.

At 10.00am I am due to meet some very expensive accountants who are expecting money. I phone my contact and ask him what is the oldest excuse he has heard for not being able to hand over a cheque. "I've forgotten my cheque book" he replies. And so I have. I mention the two shiny coins but it seems they operate on a much grander scale than this.

The forgotten cheque book costs plenty as they now suggest a much larger figure than had been agreed as the first installment (the total remains the same - I think) and I arrange for my bank in Manchester to send cash via some kind of electronic system. Later I discover that as far as Lloyds TSB is concerned Gibraltar is just like any English branch with an English sort code. This makes transfers very easy and quick.

A charming young lady is detailed to take my girlfriend to exotic and out of the way places while we talk business. Later it turns out they have been to Marks & Spencer.

We all meet up and a whole swarm of accountants join us for lunch by the sea front. I start wondering what the collective noun for a group of accountants should be. I think of "an audit of accountants or maybe a sum" and later find to my amazement that Google is there before me. When I get the bill, I decide that "a cash of accountants" is the correct term.

During lunch we learn why there are so many roundabouts in La Linea just over the border. The EEC gives a grant to build them along with a couple of hundred meters of road so if you have a roundabout every two hundred meters you can build a road several miles long for free and that is what they did. I talk too much as usual but everybody seems happy and we all depart with full tummies.

I pop in to see the Nat West Bank who are very friendly and also a firm of solicitors upstairs to whom I have been recommended by my Manchester lawyer who thinks I am the bee's knees. This is because I always pay his bills the same day they arrive. They are less friendly and obviously think I have come to mend their toilet. Actually I could do this as I know all about sisterns and valves and frequently mend them when I visit people without them even realising they have a problem. On the other hand I could easily make your toilet overflow - I know where your ballcock lives.

Wednesday 26th March 2008

On waking I count the ships in the harbour. There are about twenty serious ships in sight - down from the thirty plus visible over the weekend. It seems they were mostly queing for fuel.

We set off to see the "100 ton gun" which is very impressive and costs 1 entry fee. I suggest to the man that they should fire it every week. During the Indian Mutiny the British used to fire the ring leaders out of cannons (hence the usage "he was fired") and I suggest they could do the same with the riders of buzz bikes who whine endlessly round town in the evenings. He thinks I am joking.

On thinking about it I conclude that they may well have had to starve some of the victims for a week or so before they would fit in the cannon and this is clear proof that obesity does not always shorten your life. I resolve to eat more in future. Just to be on the safe side.

On the way back it is baking hot and on the building sites men are working hard. They all wear big woolly sweaters and padded jackets buttoned to the neck.

In the evening we walk down town but it is very quiet.

Thursday 27th March 2008

When we get up I find that the toilet will not flush as there is no water coming from the sistern. I start to mend it but have no tools so give up. I flush it by filling the waste paper basket with water. I explain to my girlfriend that the toilet is not working properly and she should use the wastepaper basket. Later I discover from reception that all the toilets are out of order because the main water supply is not working properly.

We set off for Malaga. On the way we call in at McDonalds and have a bag of chips between us. The toilets have strange markings and as usual we are confused.

Apart from that everything goes so smoothly that we are hours early. When we return the car the girl points us to a lift but when we get there, there is a man standing outside it whose job it is to send us back as the lift is not working properly. Clearly this is an EEC job creation exercise.

When we arrive at the terminal I ask at the information booth where the toilets are and the girl behind the counter hisses out an answer. At the Ritazza coffee shop the girl is equally rude. Shortly afterwards a Manchester United supporter comes screaming through the airport yelling that he is going to smash somebody. Suddenly I am ashamed to be British and understand why the staff are so rude. I resolve to wear Rupert Bear trousers or maybe lederhosen next time we come.

We arrive at Luton where the man from NCP who looks after long term car parking is also extremely rude. "Did you book?" he bellows. I have no idea what he is talking about and explain that we are leaving not arriving. He continues to bellow that he needs to know if we had booked before parking the car as it must be obvious to any idiot that there is no way he could know. This strikes me as extraordinary as any normal person would assume that if you book something then the people with whom you booked it would know but evidently NCP just take your word for it.

So, if you read this NCP, we do have a choice. We do not have to park in your car parks and next time we won't and that is another 90 you will not see.

The long drive home is uneventful but very long.

Friday 28th March 2008

The beautiful grandfather clock in my hall has stopped and I feel a pang of guilt and wonder if it is worth winding it up if I am going away but decide that standards must be maintained. The weather is vile - cold and very windy and wet. Busy all morning with cheap accountants.

I drive into Manchester and decide to park in Kendalls car park. If there is one thing I am proud of it is my ability to park in tight spaces and there is one such space available. Like a master surgeon making a sweeping cut I drive straight in at high speed. Suddenly there is a loud bang and the car shoots up at the front offside. I have hit the edge of the concrete ramp. I reverse and try again and this time I am beautifully parked. At this point I realise that the man next to me will not be able to get in his car. Far more importantly I discover that I cannot get out of my car. Undaunted I drive out but by now there are so many cars trying to leave that I cannot manouver properly and have to make a 17 point turn and drive back into the space in reverse. Now we can both get in and out.

I go for lunch with my bank manager who pays. I suddenly have to rush off as I have to see the Manchester branch of the expensive accountants. When I leave the lift I can just make some out distant figures across the acres of marble. After a few minutes I arrive at the desk and a pretty girl quickly hides me round the back which is understandable as my clothes are saying "I am somewhat impecunious, please do not charge me very much". On the other hand the marble is saying "We are shit hot and this is going to cost you a packet, matey"

After the meeting the man I am seeing says that he feels he has known me for years. I take this as a compliment but later realise that maybe there is a different interpretation.

Saturday 29th March 2008

We recover from our journey

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