I’ve just arrived back from speaking at the Gibunco Gibraltar Literary Festival where one of the highlights was 95 year-old Nicholas Parsons and his wife hosting a panel game show. He’s inspiring (still breathing in); I’m aspirating to his Peter Pan-esque life. On a wall somewhere, there must be a picture of Nicholas Parsons, ageing rapidly. He performed fabulously, better than four 27 ½ year olds could.

At the festival we were treated like royalty, ferried around in Jaguars, fed and watered to perfection; dining, no whining. On one of the many fabulous tours we were introduced to the macaques which apparently are not apes but monkeys without a tail. As one of the defining features of a monkey is the possession of a tail, its lack feels very bizarre, like being introduced to a short giant. The tour Primatologist was very specialised, possibly a macaquologist. Ultra-highly focussed biologists, tailologists, would be unemployable on Gibraltar. There probably being more Primark-ologists than Primatologists on the planet could bring a whole new meaning to the concept of re-tail therapy.
Legend has it that if the monkeys leave the rock so will the British. With Brexit brewing, Spain may well have a banana and butterfly net primate-napping campaign planned. Unable to discuss politics with my basic Spanish, at the cable car top reception I was left saying that the whole business with ‘el Brexit es muy malo. Un kilo de tomates y dos cervezas, por favor.’
With such an extraordinary amount of history packed into such a small area, Gibraltar must have the highest major historical events rate per square metre on the planet. The World War II tunnels here are particularly fascinating. I discovered that although I thought I was as surefooted as a goat, at the darker points I was as surefooted as a goat without a torch. The authorities calculated that the entire population of Gibraltar could fit into the tunnels during WW II if needed, like a glorious game of Sardines. Presumably little food, light or water, but very cosy with a great view.

Gibraltar is a fascinating mixture of cultures where everybody local seems to be bilingual. Normal Spenglish conversation is sprinkled with porque, mira, gracias. Overhearing this, I decided to change the name of the dog (perro) in my presentation to Perrita, ie little female dog. I avoided pero, (but) as this presumably meant that Perita would be little but. Unfortunately, my previous presentation canine, Barkshire, had been male. As I didn’t change the sex elsewhere, this poor puppy transgendered itself three times during two minutes of talking. Only a small fail: a fail-ita.
The Convent, the governor’s mansion, was used for some lectures, requiring security searches on the way in. It was startlingly brave of him to hold a literary festival at home; difficult to imagine this at our house. ‘The next lecture will take place in my daughter’s bedroom, the Floordrobe. Please kick the clothes out of the way on entry. In a fire, escape by knotting garments into a rope, although don’t bother with the skirts as there’s not enough material to count. The second lecture will be in the kitchen, featuring DIY coffee. Delegates will be frisked for knives and sharp objects on the way out. Flushed with our success so far, lecture 3 will take place in the bathroom.’

There was a wonderful talk on submarines. I’m slightly scared of travelling in one, which is illogical as being underwater in a long metal tube must be like being on a plane but with less wings, duty-free and cabin crew. Plunging downwards without seat belts presumably produces a jumble of bodies at the front pointy end. Gib’s runway has sea at both ends, hence offers the prospect of an unscheduled refreshing dip, so perhaps people should travel in bathing suits as they doubtless do in submarines.

At the Garrison Library we were entertained daily in the Green Room, the name clearly describing its ethics rather than appearance. This had stunning views over a courtyard of orange trees; a brilliant venue to pick. Below was the bookshop, hub of the buying orgy. Having flown in, our major challenge was to buy less than our baggage allowance of goods. The shop should have sold books by weight, not by price. ‘Two kilos of autobiography, please and a soupcon of humour. A bag? 4 whole grams? You’re joking, surely.’

On cruises, ultra-catered, you embark as a passenger and disembark as cargo. It seemed that the Gibraltar Literary Festival organisers had taken this concept as their rallying cry and we were fed fabulously for four nights, overseen by international chefs. Never has gluttony tasted so good. Caleta Hotel, Rock Hotel, Gibraltar University: our stomachs salute you.

As I read my 22.9 kg of new books, what will be my enduring memories? The fun, laughter, camaraderie, fantastic cargo-genic hospitality and warmth of the local people as I miss being driven around in Jaguars without tails.

Alison Gardiner

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