Week 6 of Gibraltar Diary

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Sunday 20th April 2008

We wake to a bright room and I assume this is caused by bright sunshine but soon discover that it is actually caused by thin curtains.

We decide to solve the eating problem and lack of internet by driving up to the Rock Hotel which has both. While there I will plead for post which was sent to us from the UK about ten days ago and still has not arrived.

Here are some popular Gibraltar sentiments together with my experiences:

"There are lots of local shops"
There are. And this reminds me of why people actually like to shop at national chains. As a man interviewed in China said "I want to buy my chicken while it is still alive and kill it myself. Otherwise, how do I know that it did not die of a disease?" This is an extreme position but illustrates the point. Others interviewed said that they trusted Western brands like Tesco whereas local shops often sold counterfeit products that did not work. Here are a pair of tweezers I bought in a reputable looking local chemists in Gibraltar.

"Alcohol is very cheap"
It is but it does not seem to cause any problems of behaviour.

"The post from the UK takes 4 or 5 days"
Well right now it takes two weeks because of confusion caused by the handover from BA to Monarch, or something but no doubt it will settle down.

"You can get English food in the shops"
True, but it is not as cheap as a Tesco Hypermarket in the UK. The only real place to buy English food is in Morrisons which is excellent but expensive as they have no competition.

"You can get UK papers at 10.00am every morning"
True but The Times costs £1.80 and has no supplements. Over the holidays there are no papers.

"Electronic goods are very cheap"
I think they are cheaper over the web. Plus there are no real specialist shops. Everybody sells cameras but there is no real photographic shop.

"There are lots of restaurants in Gibraltar"
Very true and in my experience they are extremely good and very cheap.

"It is cheaper in Spain"
Probably but the Euro has strengthened so there is less difference. If you do not speak Spanish then it is simpler to shop in Gibraltar. Having said that, we go to PC City in Los Barrios.

"Everybody drives like maniacs"
Not true. Everybody is very polite and they all stop for pedestrians. The buzz bikes are annoying, though.

"It is just like England"
True but without the yobs and grafiti and crime. My only real complaint is complacency in areas where there is little competition, as per my rant earlier

"It is very quiet at the weekend as everybody goes to Spain"
True. Most people who work in Gibraltar live in Spain and the shops are mostly closed on Sunday so Main Street is a desert.

I try out the new camera taking pictures of boats but it is very overcast and the best shot I get is accidental. Whether it is a flying penguin or just showing off I am not sure.

At 5.30pm we actually manage to be in the cinema as the film starts, unlike our last attempt where I fell asleep. Unfortunately, it is the wrong film. The film we want to see starts at 9.00pm. Fortunately the lady on the box office is sympathetic and assures us we can try again at 9.00pm. We resolve to try harder in future.

Surprisingly, we actually manage to see the right film - Step up 2: The Streets. The story is as naff as you would expect but the dancing is incredible. Since then I have been trying to spin round on my head with my arms outstretched but it is surprisingly difficult and ruins my hat.

Monday 21st April 2008

The sun is shining!

I pop into GIBTEL in Europort which is just down the road from our new flat to get phone and internet connection. Am stunned to find their prices are out of sight but sign up anyway as I have to start somewhere. During the day it turns out that Sapphire have already installed an internet connection in our flat and I breathe a sigh of relief but not for long. Here are the prices so far:

Company 512 Kb/s 1 Mb/s 2 Mb/s 4 Mb/s Comments
GIBTEL £24 pcm £54 pcm £94 pcm    
Sapphire £22 pcm     £192 pcm  
CTS £14.95 pcm £XX pcm £XX pcm £XX pcm You may be out of range

After GIBTEL we decide to go and fetch a parcel that the post office are unable to deliver, presumably because of its weight (it weighs 100 grams or less than 4 ounces). It appears there is a choice of places to pick it up from but as we approach Main Street my girlfriend detects a possible flaw in my logic. "How can the package be in five places at once ?" she asks. I ponder this question but cannot think of a convincing reply.

Eventually we track down its most likely location. I hand the notification to a man who goes off to a back office and returns with the package. Instead of handing it to me he puts it on a shelf whereupon another man in a uniform immediately picks it up and reads out my name and asks who the package is for. I reply that it is for me and it is solemnly handed over. I walk out looking for TV cameras but there are none that I can see.

We go for a snack in the Little Rock cafe in Casemates Square which serves excellent food and has a nice area to sit down outside. The Little Rock morphs as the day goes on from trendy cafe to restaurant to bar to night club. Truly a cafe for all seasons. I have a full English Breakfast - it is only a matter of time before research proves that you need regular helpings of fried food. The reaon the human body craves fried food is because it needs it.

Tuesday 22nd April 2008

More excitement at GIBTEL who tell me that they can activate my new phone by remote control! Unfortunately, we cannot find a phone socket in the flat but finally track one down hiding on a skirting board with a lot of other sockets. The best place to hide a tree is in a wood.

We spend the morning shopping and in the afternoon pop into the Rock Hotel. A letter posted to us on 9th April has finally shown up, after a 15 day odyssey. What a tale it could tell - days spent hiding in corners and thrilling rides through the air.

On our return we see that an interesting ship has shown up, namely the DMT Sapphire which "is equipped with a 40 tonne knuckleboom crane, a subsea launch and recovery winch with 10,000ft of 1.5in cable, accommodation for 36, and a 150hp, 10,000ft Triton XLS Remotely Operated Vehicle". Cool or what?

As if that were not enough there is also a very pretty tug, Elsbeth III racing across the bay with its 5,000 HP engines roaring. Actually, I made up the roaring bit as you can only hear ship's engines when you are trying to sleep - during the day they are inaudible. In the Rock Hotel, the sound during the night is like being next to a lorry park. Obviously, the ships need to keep their engines and generators going 24 hours a day to provide electricity and hydraulic power. If it were a lorry park I would have found the noise seriously irritating but the fact that the noise is made by ships makes it forgiveable. Like pretty girls, ships can get away with almost anything.

In the evening we watch a TV programme on National Geographic which shows a North Korean woman who has had an operation on her eyes. "Kim Jong-il!" she says "I praise you for giving me back my sight and promise to work harder in the salt mines". I can hardly control myself. Salt Mines! Is this real or a joke? If it is a joke who is making the joke? The woman or the translator? I go to bed giggling.

Wednesday 23rd April 2008

A beautiful sailing ship, Sea Cloud II, built in 2001 is in the harbour. We set off to see her but on the way we have to walk past a major construction site. It becomes clear that although many of the workmen have undoubtedly heard of women and may even have seen pictures of them in newspapers they have never actually seen a woman walking along the street before. I tell my girlfriend that they are all staring at the camera she has round her neck but she knows that this is not the entire truth.

The phone saga continues. A nice man from GIBTEL calls my mobile to say the phone should now be working but since we do not actually own a phone to plug in we cannot comment. We accordingly set off to buy a phone which we do without difficulty. All we have to do now is plug it in. How hard can that be? Very hard, as it turns out.

The socket in the wall is of a type never seen before by the man who sells up the phone.

Fortunately the excellent firm of A A Sheriff (Wholesale) of 51, Engineers Lane, Gibraltar do seem to know what they are talking about and sell us a couple of adaptors for £4.50. Needless to say the phone is still dead but we feel we are making progress and who knows what tomorrow may bring?

Thursday 24th April 2008

When I wake up I look out of the window and think for a moment that somebody has built a block of flats overnight but it turns out that it is the Emerald Princess. Very big.

An engineer shows up and it looks like the phone line has not yet been connected, despite GIBTEL telling us it was.

We spend the afternoon at Sotogrande - the secret is to look confident and just drive past the guards at the gatehouse. If you hear bullets, just keep your head down and your foot hard on the gas. It is worth it because the Haagen Dazs sells coffee flavoured ice cream. Wherever you look you will see golf courses and yachts so keep reminding yourself that true fulfillment only comes from hard work. As Karl Marx might have said, golf is the opium of the retired classes.

Actually, I find the huge villas somewhat depressing and decide that Gibraltar is more fun. The view from our flat changes every day as trolleys come and go out of Morrison's car park. This morning I spotted one of the very rare small yellow ones chained up at one end of the car park like a maiden awaiting rescue by St George. Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Friday 25th April 2008

We set off at 9.00am to climb the rock. Actually that should be Rock or even ROCK as it is 1,400 ft high. Not much for serious climbers but a challenge for a pair of couch potatoes. We go via the Moorish Castle which is about half way up and the most direct route is through hideous blocks of flats which remind me of Belfast. Not that I have ever been to Belfast.

On the way up we keep having to retrace our steps as we come to dead ends so by the time we reach the top at about 11.00am we have probably climbed about 1,500 feet.

We had been told of people going up to have lunch at the restaurant but you would have to be seriously deluded to do that - this is strictly a "bangers and boiled carrots" type of cafe. Nice view though.

We start to walk down after about thirty minutes. On the way a group of Spanish schoolgirls ask if this the way to see the "monos" (monkeys). I reply that it is but they seem unclear so I do my best monkey act with lots of scratching and leaping, which they greatly appreciate. If all else fails I can become a simian impressionist.

When we get back to the flat I pursue the telephone saga. I speak to a nice lady called Sabrina at GIBTEL and another nice lady called Michelle at Europort (our managing agents). They each suggest the other is to blame. So far, so predictable. Then something amazing happens - I suddenly realise that they are both actually trying to be helpful and in a whirlwind of activity our phone suddenly is working. Later it turns out that only one socket is working but that is a minor matter (I hope)

Saturday 26th April 2008

Since the phone now works maybe the broadband connection can be made to work? I make the mistake of following the manual but the GIBTEL help desk (on 192, for some reason) point out the error of my ways and hey presto, the internet connection works too! As if that were not enough, Milky Mouse decides that after a few days sunbathing he is ready to work as well. He is now thoroughly dried out and ready for the fray. A whole host of electronic gadgetry is cooperating. Where will this end, I wonder?

Today we decide to go and see the dolphins. Somebody has recommended Dolphin Safari because they guarantee not to have more than 12 people on their boat and this seems better than being on an overcrowded boat with limited visibility. I phone their number at 12.45pm and a helpful person agrees that we can turn up at 1.30pm and pay £20 each in cash for two people to go on their 2.00pm trip. He would have preferred our credit card number but I explain that I am not willing to give it but leave my name and phone number. So far so good.

At 1.25pm we arrive at their offices but there is nobody there but since we are early that is not surprising. I phone their mobile number and a young lad called Sean immediately turns up and is polite and helpful. He takes our £40 and gives us a proper receipt and explains that the boat will leave at 2.00pm.

We wander off and eat ice creams and return at 1.55pm. At 2.00pm there are no people and no boat. We get hold of Sean and ask what is happening. He phones the boat and tells us that "the boat is off the Morocco coast because there are no dolphins". I make the point that we should have been informed of this since it can hardly be a surprise to them. Sean explains that he did not know of the delay but by now I am somewhat sceptical and ask for a refund. Sean politely gives us back our £40 without any argument.

We leave but at 2.45pm I phone Sean and tell him that we would still like to see some dolphins and to get in touch if and when the boat returns. At 3.15pm Sean phones and tells us the boat is back and will definitely leave at 4.00pm. I tell him that if we are interested we will be there at 3.55pm but if we are not there then to leave without us.

We finish our meal and arrive at the dock at 3.55pm. The boat is there and looks like a proper boat plenty big enough for 12 people. Sean is in converstaion with some people and after a couple of minutes he comes over. By now it is 4.00pm and there is no sign of crew or passengers. I tell Sean sharply but politely that we have been hanging around since 1.30pm and we expect the boat to leave at 4.00pm and they should get their act together.

A minute or so later he returns with somebody who is either the owner or skipper who avoids talking to us but mutters something about "needing to build the tour" and then leaves. There is no attempt to explain or apologise. A minute later a character with a strong Geordie accent arrives who tells us he is the manager and is extremely belligerent and accuses us of hassling his staff "who is just a young lad". At this point I say nothing other than that we are leaving and we walk away. As we do so he says "don't come back in a couple of weeks because you are not welcome here any more".

Don't worry, Mr Belligerent, there is no danger of that.

My girlfriend is very upset by all this and I am not too pleased myself. If and when the boat finally left I have no idea but clearly their technique is to leave people hanging about until they have a full boat. Obviously, if you have given your credit card number and made a definite booking you are then in a difficult position as the boat is always "about to sail". The net result from our point of view is that we have been messed about from 12.45pm to 4.00pm with no boat trip and then subjected to verbal abuse.

This is the first unpleasant incident we have had since coming to Gibraltar a month ago and hopefully it is an isolated occurrence. Everywhere else we have been treated with great courtesy.

It reminds me of arriving in Nassau in the Bahamas many years ago and getting on a small bus to the town centre. We were the first people on board and the driver immediately turned round and started to drive off in the opposite direction. Every time he passed somebody walking down the road he would ask them if they wanted to go into town. After about 45 minutes he had a full bus and then we set off!

As we go to bed, the four masted MSY Wind Spirit is all lit up. In case you were wondering, MSY stands for Masted-Sail-Yacht.

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