When I first came to Gibraltar back in the sixties we nearly didn’t get in as we had almost no money. We were on our way back from a trip around Morocco, and I was still at school. Eventually we managed to blag our way in, and made our way to one of the great watering holes of the western world, Smokey Joe’s.
The building is still there, up a dingy side street right at the northern end of Main Street. There is a bright modern bar on the corner run by a charming English lady, while Smokey Joe’s is now a depository.
In the old days it was the place to eat for down-and-outs like us bums from the UK, and a must-visit joint for the US Fleet. I remember standing outside a firmly shut front door one day, looking puzzled. An American sailer came up, stared dumbfoundedly at the shut door and roundly declared, “What’s this? Smokey Joe is closed. Man, that’s unconstitutional.” And so it was.
It was like some greasy spoon on the Euston Rd where you could get an old fashioned English breakfast. Beans were heated up on a gas ring in their tin, and then tipped onto the plate. Bacon was crisp-fried, and the eggs were done properly by turning them over. The place was usually stacked to the rafters and the noise was sheer bedlam. Now the whole area is deathly quiet.
— To read about my first visit way back in the sixties, and the ridiculous shinnannigins that took place in the public lavatory, you need to read the relevant chapter of my book on Spain:
The port area has been reduced almost in tandem with Algeciras’s increase in size. Most of the port area is now covered with high rise apartments. There used to be a cricket ground beyond the casemates. It was a concrete yard like a parade ground. That too is now devoted to high-rise.
Main Street is now traffic free, and is lined with cafes, shops, English building societies, and about half a dozen branches of NatWest.
Parking is a nightmare, and sensible people will park over the border and walk across the airport runway, which sticks into the sea on each side of the causeway.
Before the coming of the new airport the area used to be a race course. I assume they must have kept the horses in Spain because there really cant have been room on the rock, and anyway, there couldn’t possibly have been any grass for them to eat
Luckily we managed to find a single parking space. That’s twice we’ve been lucky recently, but I dont think I’ll trust to luck next time. The whole town cant be more than two miles long, so walking is not a problem if you’re reasonably fit.
There’s a nice ambience about Gibraltar. It’s a bit claustrophobic, but gently so. If you can find a pad to live in I guess life can be very easy. Prices are cheap. Petrol was less than £1 a litre. Cigarettes and booze are cheap. Wine is cheap, and most things are taxed much less here than anywhere else in Europe. Getting anywhere in town is a matter of a ten minute walk. There is Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, and various old fashioned supermarkets. Walk into Main Street, do your shopping, stop at a street cafe, have a drink, have a chat, stroll home. It’s all very cosy. The official language is English. They even have the Friday Ad delivered every friday. And their EU representation is listed as South-West England, which must annoy them somewhat.
I’m getting to quite like the place. And if you want a change, there is the Costa del Sol just over the border, or the mountains of Southern Spain and the quaint white towns capping the hilltops. And just a short boat ride away in the opposite direction is the strange spell that is Africa.
Hmmm. The more I think about it, the more I fancy a pad just behind Main Street.