Magazine article The Spectator

On the Run in Gibraltar

Magazine article The Spectator

On the Run in Gibraltar

Article excerpt

THE British Foreign Secretary's ongoing attempt to unload Gibraltar on to the Spanish might be the last Straw for Gibraltarians and Spectator readers alike. But not for me. I can't even see the name 'Gibraltar' without feeling a flush of shame, a shiver of fear, and a slight but clearly detectable loosening of the bowels.

I spent one of the worst days of my life on the Rock of Gibraltar. Compared to my one day on Gibraltar, eight years on that other rock, Alcatraz, would be a doddle. Compared to my one day on Gibraltar, that Picnic at Hanging Rock would have been ... well, a picnic.

Allow me to share the experience, as modern bores say. Then, if you're like me -- that is, British, middle-class, and with your mid-life crisis now only a distant memory but all your neuroses and complexes still intact - then even you may wonder why on earth we want to keep the place, and why in the name of God the Spanish want it back.

We were on holiday in Spain itself: the Costa del Sol. And, with the temperature in the eighties, I had some pork for lunch. Experience told me not to. My wife advised against it. Even the waiter looked doubtful But I had it.

That night I entered the bathroom at approximately 10 p.m., and emerged, a pale, trembling shadow of myself, some eight hours later. My system, as it's called, was out of control. It was one-way traffic, thank God, but it was bad.

However, a day of Imodium and rest followed, then a night of comparative calm, and on the third day I rose again from the bed, ready to live life to the full. That morning we were due to visit Gibraltar. We drove down the coast road, parked the car, walked through the border, and boarded the bus that takes you over the airport runway and into town.

Halfway across the runway we both heard a rumble so loud that my wife looked around in alarm for an approaching 747. But the rumble came from within me. Franco's Skitters were returning with a vengeance. Thankfully, 20 yards from where the bus drops you off, there sits the most modern, clean and functional public convenience in the entire Mediterranean, and I made it with both my person and my dignity intact.

Fifteen minutes later, feeling both relieved and newly alarmed, I conferred with my wife. I told her I probably had dysentery. Disinterested in dysentery, she went shopping, while I went off to find a doctor; and, with the help of a tourist information office, I found one. My Doc of Gibraltar proved to be an amiable young English woman, who listened to my symptoms and responded by handing me a letter and a small, transparent pillbox. 'Get something in that,' she said, trying not to laugh, 'and hand it in to the hospital laboratory with this note.'

Back out on the street, sample box in hand, I contemplated my immediate future. Did I really have to go through with this distressing business? An alternative course of treatment raised a tempting head: a sovereign remedy, something more fundamentally associated with such problems of the fundament. Brandy.

In the nearest pub - and I have to admit, wherever you are in Gib, the nearest pub is never very far away - I sank one. Fine. Then, halfway through the next one, I realised that brandy is not a sovereign remedy for what I'd got. Quite the reverse. I abandoned the brandy and set off to return to my idyllic public loo, sample box safely in my pocket, rattling against my car keys. …

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