The People of Gibraltar
1967 - John Stewart’s Keystone – Chapters 1 to 9

Chapter 1 - To Gibraltar

The “chops” of Main Street in the 1960s – and plenty to “shoose” from

This first chapter inevitably deals with his arrival. His first mention of the people of the Rock is nothing if not complimentary:
The common Englishman has come to regret his country’s colonial conquests and his government are making restitution to the dispossessed with all possible haste. But Gibraltar he still feels is in a category of its own. It is a prize of fair war, won and held against odds and peoples – as I shall show – by proud volunteers.
When he actually lands by tender at the “old Waterport” – by which I think he must means Commercial Wharf – he meets what must have been the first of those “proud volunteers – a Mrs Clytemnestra Latakia – with a suitcase emblazon with the words – BRITISH AND PROUD OF IT – who confronts him with a nasty scolding voice: 
I think I have as much right to put my suitcase here as you have.

British and Proud of it – Castle Street after the Referendum

The second Gibraltarian he and his wife meets is “a small dark man” who had been sent by the local civil service to welcome him. His name is Maurice Robertson Carvillo. Stewart records his opening salvo as:
I hope you have had a jolly good trip eh?
Understandably Stewart categorises this kind of approach to the English language as:
. . . the English that we used to call “babu” as used by book-educated Hindus. It is Anglo-English, more English than the English themselves, and is characterised by a hard won but stranded slang.
Personally I think I spoke reasonable English with a Spanish accent in those days - as did just about all my friends – which is not surprising as Spanish itself, was the language of choice for all of us. Richer families of the sort that could afford to sent their sons - they rarely sent their daughters - to England for their education were usually and unfairly made fun of not because of their English but because they spoke Spanish badly. 

Did we really speak “babu” style English? I can’t remember but personally I can confirm categorically that I have never used the term “jolly good”. What Stewart does get right is the “eh?” That “'eh” or indeed a “no?” pronounced with a Spanish accent followed by a rhetorical question mark which required no answer, was practically a sine qua non of local or Llanito chit-chat. (See LINK)  

Worryingly Carvallo’s accent seems to have been rather inconsistent: Here he is commenting on Main Street:
Ah, yes, we are a nation of chopkeepers. A chop is the dream of every Gibraltarian – a chop of his own, plenty to shoose from eh?
Again I am unsure as to the correctness of this sweeping generalisation. I have never had the remotest longing to be a “chopkeeper” in Main Street or anywhere else for that matter. Whatever the case mid 20th century locals would not have been amused by any of the above comments.

Chapter 2 - Digging In
The Gibraltarian home is typically, a small and crowded apartment up several flights of dark and dirty stairs. In it one, two or even three old people share a few ill lit rooms with the young family. 

Gibraltarian evacuees returning to their homes in Danino’s Ramp  (Mid 20th century )

And yet, Stewart argues, Gibraltarians who had been evacuated from the Rock during WWII were prepared to leave behind better financial opportunities in Britain or elsewhere to return to an overcrowded Rock, poor housing and second-class citizenship. Why did they do it? Apparently because of:
The pull of the place and race, the mild an constant joy of living in community with one’s own people, the rare ease of social relationships. . . and the sun that forms and warms it all. 
The Stewart family’s own house was according to him, one of the grandest on the Rock – but only superficially.
Splendidly situated and built regardless of expense, our house stands as a fine example of failure for this simple reason – the plan was wrong. The grand exterior proved deceptive, for it contained a minimum of ill-conditioned rooms, with acres of space wasted on a pretentious entrance hall and landing on three class-conscious lavatories and a home laundry that would have served a cottage hospital.
I have included this quote because it exposes one of the major flaws in the architectural history of Gibraltar at least up to the mid 20th century. Houses had often in the past been built on the “Wapping principle” – if I can quote Richard Ford (see LINK) – and were unsuitable for a Mediterranean environment. We might have got away with an intermingling of good British and Spanish architecture. What simply did not work was the tendency towards a mixture of heavy British military and shanty-town Spanish.

Stewart does not tell us exactly where his family house was situated but this photograph  of it appears in his book

An exception to the “Wapping principle” and there were quite a few others - Known as Mount Pleasant it was at one time the married quarters of the Eastern Telegraph Co and later of the Cable and Wireless

Chapter 3 - As it was in the beginning

This chapter covers the general “ancient” history of the Rock – but it's mostly about Gibraltar’s very own Neanderthal man – or woman (See LINK

A Neanderthal family on the east side of the Rock in front of Gorham’s and other caves which at the time were well above sea level   ( 1950 - Maurice Wilson )

Chapter 4 - Learning the Ropes
Then there were the local people, who we were soon told, were full of strange ideas and very easily offended . . . The dominant social pattern . . . was on the English upper middle class model and of rigidity hard to find now in England  . . . there were no elements of racialism in it: the rich Gibraltarians themselves – those who had been “home” as they called it, to boarding school – admired the model and aspired to imitate it. They simply took it further back, to red plush, Landseer, aspidistras, and sideboards stacked with silverware.

The “local people” demonstrating against the setting up of a toothless Legislative Council after the return from the WWII evacuation

We certainly were an easily offended people - perhaps we still are - none more so that the rich Gibraltarians mentioned in the second paragraph. But then who wouldn’t be offended if attempting to imitate your colonial masters was perceived as ridiculous. The same must have happened just about everywhere else in which the British were still ruling roost at the time.

Chapter 5 - The End of the World

This one is All about the ancient history of the Campo area, the Carthaginians, the Phoenicians, Carteia, (see LINK) San Roque and Gibraltar’s sunsets - contemporary locals never come into it. 

A view of Gibraltar from San Roque   ( 1870s – Jean Laurent ) (See LINK)

Chapter 6 - Food and Fishing

Street fish seller in the 1960s

The Stewart family were impressed with the enormous selection of fish available in the market, less so with the beef which they claimed was deep frozen Irish or poor quality Spanish. Also:
The bread is a disappointment. Joan (Stewart’s wife) has tried it all, and finds it standardised to a shiny, white, bubbly substance, as artificial as foamed cellulose. It seems that the baker have got together . . . The bread in nearby Spain is yellow and solid, but at least it tastes of bread. The Gibraltarians import it personally every time they get a chance and Pan de Pelayo, called after the best of the nearby bread villages, has come to be used as a general commendation.
I can’t remember Pan de Pelayo – nor its use as a general commendation. My memories of bread in Gibraltar are nil and those of Spain restricted to a dense, white, tasteless affair best given a miss. As regards milk at home we drank:
. .  good reconstituted milk or made do with condensed. Most Gibraltarian babies are fed on British powdered milk and thrive perfectly well on it. There is not a cow on the rock she says (his wife). But excuse me, I have better information.
The fact that the Governor owned a cow was common knowledge among most Gibraltarians who I suspect found it an interesting topic to gossip about. In fact I also suspect that in the 1950’s there was more than one cow on the Rock. The admiral certainly owned another one.

Lady MacMillan - the admiral’s wife - and their cow

Continuing on the topic of food:
There is a local delicacy called Callos which is typical of all peasant dishes – cheap in ingredients, careful in preparation, piquant and plentiful. It’s nothing more than chopped up cows’ tripe stewed and smothered in chickpeas and paprika sauce, tinctured with a delicate blend of herbs. In Gibraltar this is considered a gala dish and is served on festive occasions.
I must admit that I personally was never too fond of callos. But my parents were. Before WWII it seems that their idea of a perfect night out was to sample some callos from a lady in Catalan Bay who was reputed to be the best callos maker on the Rock. 

Chapter 7 - Rock Apes 

RA Officer feeding the apes in the 1950s -  The British Army was responsible for looking after the apes for many years

An entire chapter dedicated to these well known residents of the Rock (see LINK) with scarcely a mention of the human variety.

From the book – The caption reads: “The apes, deceptively gentle”

Chapter 8 - Rock Bird

The levanter over Gibraltar – a view from the east

This chapter deals mostly with the Barbary Partridge with a lengthy section on the east wind – the levanter – and its supposedly pernicious effects on everybody on the Rock:

Gibraltar penny with Barbary Partridge
Throughout a levanter day – or week – work slackened, tempers frayed, appetites waned, children misbehaved, drunkards drank more, the violent revolted, friends fell out and enemies augmented their hatred. The effects on sexual relations . . . one could only guess.
Chapter 9 - Rock Scorpions

Now remember children, they can call us Rock Scorpions . . . .but we are NOT refugees – we are evacuees
Rock scorpions, the soldiers called the denizens of Gibraltar. .  . the scorpion is tough and thrifty, and defends himself with courage until he dies. On the other hand he is treacherous and venomous. The expression is no longer used.
Not that it matters but curiously it is by no means clear as to who exactly Rock Scorpions are and whether the phrase referred to the entire resident population of the Rock or just a specific few – for example Gibraltar tradesmen. There were also other less well known phrases. “Rock Lizards” were people who had been born in Gibraltar to UK parents. Stewart continues:
This strange medley of people has a common background . . . no rich or powerful people was ever invited or admitted to become a citizen of this British fortress, nor, in its past perils and austerities, would such a person have wished to stay. Every citizen is therefore descended from the displaced and dispossessed who came to Gibraltar for shelter and sustenance.

Kiosks and flower sellers in front of the Exchange building on Main Street  ( From the book )
They came cap in hand to serve the soldiers, and when they rose to more exalted tasks it took them generations to overcome the menial mentality and win the respect of their proud colonial masters. Combatant soldiers nowhere admire or respect their civilian assistants, and the military mind was in the ascendancy in Gibraltar until recent years. Gibraltarians are all, however different they appear, one and the same in their social anxiety, in their deep desire for respect, and in their quick pride and anger at the first sign of contempt.  

The Keys of the Fortress – Soldiers taking part in the Ceremony of the Keys – a reminder of Gibraltar’s military past but held more often in the 1960s than at the time of writing (From the book) 

It is not a particularly complimentary view of the locals – but then stereotypes of necessity have a tendency to caricature. One thing Stewart might have added is that Gibraltar is unusual as a colonial outpost. The people in it were never conquered; they came because they wanted to. Ever since 1704 the British were faced with a dilemma brought about by the fact that the entire civilian population upped sticks when they arrived.

The result was that Gibraltar was never really a colony in the accepted sense of the word but a large fortress which required a considerable number of imported camp followers to supply it with non-military goods and services without which it couldn’t function militarily.

Throughout the 18th and 19th century the British authorities continually attempted to control and limit the number of people living in the Rock for security reasons. They failed and the population continued to rise – despite horrendous losses to various lethal epidemics over the years. An ironic truth - the place simply couldn’t function without those “cap in hand people” with their “menial mentality”.

Nevertheless I would say Stewart is correct about our pride and anger at the first sign of contempt.  And what Gibraltarians consider to be contempt might be considered absolutely trivial to others. Mention the Bay of Algeciras or perhaps Gibraltar refugees during WWII and a thousand angry voices will rise in protest – it’s the Bay of Gibraltar as pronounced in English – and we were not refugees, we were evacuees. Not quite the same thing at all.

The Bay of Algeciras – as it appears on the archives of the Imperial War Museum – no less

His own example also rings true. It seems that an English serviceman living with his wife in married quarters and who was constantly being disturbed by some local neighbourhood children red in the Gibraltar Chronicle (see LINK) an article praising local children to high heaven. Unable to resist the opportunity he wrote a letter to the editor to the effect that at least some of them were actually inconsiderate, spoiled and cheeky.
One after another the Gibraltarians weighed in to defend their race and culture. In letters hysterical with abuse, they told the soldier to go home – overlooking the fact that if all the soldiers went home there would be no more British Gibraltar was signed C.O. Jones  . . .  another . . . T.P.M. English.
“C.O. Jones” of course stands for “cojones” – the Spanish slang for “testicles” or “balls” - “T.P.M. English” for “Tu Puta Madre” – “Your whore of an English mother.” Elsewhere he tries to explain the reason behind our touchiness but simply makes matters worse.
. . . Gibraltarians even at their highest level, found but uneasy acceptance in English society there and many of them carried the smarts of previous slights, consciously or unconsciously administered by the ruling race. Some of them carried not chips but logs on their shoulders and I have watched their smile vanish at the sound of an upper-class English voice.
I would say that although he is laying it on a bit thick he is correct in pointing out that we can be very thin-skinned at times.

Terraced and overcrowded houses above Casemates Square below the Moorish Castle and the older part of the town    ( From the book )

The caption in the book reads: "Main Street, building flats above the great harbour" - I am not entirely sure what point the author was making