Summertime arrives with no warning in my part of the world. We have just two seasons here, A relatively short, very wet, very windy winter, with some of the most spectacular thunderstorms I have ever experienced. The local residents have a strange form of amnesia, which leads them to make the same claim every year that they have never known so much rain. The houses have no heating, and the damp permeates everything, and chills you to the bone. The sheer volume of water, combined as it is with the steep, narrow streets carved into the sides of the Rock, creates fast moving rivers in minutes, and you find yourself struggling knee deep through these torrents, buffeted by gale force winds.
And so we all long for summer. Although there is a part of me that is loathe to leave winter behind. British by birth, with strong celtic genes, my pale skin and red hair is far better suited to winter clothing. A natural tomboy, I also have an enduring love affair with my leather jacket, jeans, and Doc Marten’s, and dread the moment when I have to part company with these in favour of strappy tops and sandals.
Summer started here this week. It is as sudden as that. Just as immediate is the effect on our daily routine. the brisk walk down the Main Street is replaced with a less heat inducing stroll. Linen becomes the material of choice for men and women. The local women appear to tan deeply overnight, and remain effortlessly cool and fragrant despite the intense heat. (I struggle still to achieve anything deeper than off-white, and maintain a permanent glow!) Eating outside becomes the norm, and the cafes and bars throng with families enjoying long leisurely lunches. I love the style of dining here, the table spread with a vast array of dishes for everyone to share. A mouthwatering variety of fish, bowls of salads, olives, fresh breads.The youngest of children, sitting on the adult’s knees, happily devour the most exotic of flavours. All washed down with large jugs of chilled Tinto de Verano, ice cold glasses of beer, and copious amounts of water. The single plate of food, placed in front of me with the admonition to hurry up and eat it while it was still warm, does not exist here. People eat as much or as little as they want.
There is another herald of summer here. The tourists! Gibraltar is a very unique place, a small but imposing piece of rock attached to the very south of Spain. It is a British enclave, and it is this that sets it apart from the rest of the mediterranean. The Main Street is peppered with british shops, including the ubiquitous Marks & Spencer!! But it also rich in history, and has a marvellous mixture of cultures, and religions. The crime rate is virtually non-existent, and it is incredibly safe. We have no home grown industry, and so rely heavily on the tourist industry for our income. So we welcome their invasion every year. But as an expat myself, I find myself painfully embarrassed at the behaviour of some of my fellow Brits.
The way they dress, for starters. What rogue gene is it that compels them, the minute they set off for foreign climes, to wear THE most inappropriate outfits possible. Should someone suggest they wore the same garb to visit their local supermarket, they would recoil in horror. Yet they think nothing of baring vast amounts of bare white flesh, cropped tops exposing flabby bellies, shorts that are far too tight and ride up the inside of their thighs. The men, topless, proudly displaying their beer bellies. Sunburn is seen as badge of honour, even more so if it can be offset with a stripe of white from a poorly placed bra strap. Do they not have full length mirrors?
While most are happy to avail themselves of the various tours and visits on offer, to experience the rich history that is ours, there is a hardened core who make it their mission to visit the same shops that they have at home, with no other reason than to compare prices. Loudly. With accompanying accusatory stares at the shop assistants. They express huge surprise at the lack of certain stores, come close to weeping when they discover there is no cafe in Marks & Spencer, because they always eat there, and peer closely at their change, to make sure they haven’t been given any of that “foreign stuff” even though our currency is sterling as well.
They laden themselves with enough alcohol to keep a thriving bar stocked for a year, and staunchly refuse to even try the local dishes on offer, seeking out British fish and chips, and full english breakfast. Despite my colouring, and very english accent, they assume I won’t understand a word they are saying, and yes, they really do believe that if they talk loudly, and add an O to the end of each word, they are fluent in a foreign language. I have even witnessed one of my colleagues, on confirming that she was Gibraltarian, get poked like an exhibit in a freak show, with the comment “I’ve never seen one of you before!” It makes me cringe in horror.
The trip to the beach here is approached with an almost religious fervour. During the height of the summer, all Government offices close halfway through the day, as do a lot of the smaller local businesses, as the bulk of the population heads for the sea. The beaches here are a territorial minefield for the unsuspecting visitor, as local families will have used the same pitch for several generations, and don’t take kindly to usurpers. A lone member of each will make the dawn visit daily to place their umbrellas and chairs in their exact spot, and the ranks are swelled as the day progresses. Forget a small bag with a single towel, they arrive laden with cold boxes full of food, paddling pools for the smaller children, card tables to keep themselves amused. And there they remain, until the sun has long disappeared, then decamp to prepare their goods for the following day. I realised I had become entrenched in this culture, when I experienced a pang of disappointment that one of my teenagers had decided to use a ‘rival’ beach as his playground of choice. The teenagers are usually the last to leave, partaking as they do of a ‘SLOP’ (stay late order pizza).
As the summer season draws to an end, we celebrate our National Day, which is an almost overwhelming experience. The entire local population, including some unfortunate dogs, dress in the Gibraltar colours of red and white, and take to the streets in a fabulous show of community. They pack in their hundreds into the main square in town for a rally, which is finished with the release of thousands of red and white balloons.
And then the party begins!! Culminating in a rock concert, and a spectacular fireworks display!! This, for us, heralds the official end of summer.The children return to school, the beaches empty once more, and despite the lingering heat and clear blue skies, the clothes shops unveil their winter coats and cardigans. And after months of relentless sunshine, there begins a longing for the day that we wake up, and it is suddenly winter once more.And I can be re-united with my beloved jacket, jeans and boots!