I GOT my first real sense of the best of Gibraltar during a night at the cinema six years ago.
It was the night of the Oscars, and I was appropriately watching the King’s Speech – and in the King’s Bastion leisure centre, no less.
The place was rammed to the rafters with local families and groups of friends, most of whom seemed to know each other. And there was a real frisson of excitement, the British film being rightly up for various gongs across the pond.
But as I sat back to enjoy the trailers I noticed for the first time something very special about this small enclave, known as the Rock.
There was a palpable sense of togetherness and pride among the rows of ordinary Gibraltarians who came from every persuasion and faith.
In front of me was a row of Jewish friends, while below them was an Asian family, and across the steps a Muslim man and his girlfriend. And they all knew each other and swapped banter and pleasantries.
It was a real eye-opener, even for a Londoner, like me. For in this true melting pot of beliefs, there was one abiding trait; they were all utterly proud to be British.
It should be a lesson to us all, for while I have never been a fan of nationalism, it certainly beats racial segregation and hatred . . . and sadly, it’s extremely rare these days.
It took me a while, but I have really got to like Gibraltar.
There is something about the efficiency of its businesses, the ability to adapt to change and the warmth of its people, which appeals to me.
People give you the time of day and are always prepared to stop for a chat. They are interested (and interesting) and are rarely without an opinion on this or that.
Even their leader, a high-flying Oxbridge lawyer is personable and approachable… someone to share a bit of banter with, to chat to about the footie or who’s on the bill at Benicassim this year.
But above all, it is the fabric of the place that I so admire.
Once away from Casemates and Main Street, there are so many hidden corners, a surprisingly amount of well preserved buildings, a treasure chest of history and even some terrific nature walks.
On a hike to the top of the Rock, via Jew’s Gate and St Michael’s Cave with my mother and kids this weekend I was amazed, not just at the incredible views and scenery, but at how well protected and organised it is.
With excellent signposting, superb picnic spots and soon-to-be daredevil rope bridge and glass viewing platform, the top of the Rock’s worth a day out on its own.
There was even the odd bit of wildlife, and who can ever grow tired of watching the macaques in full swing?
But it was back in town at one of the typical Gibraltar boozers – over fish and chips and a pint of John Smith, with The Jam’s English Rose playing in the background – that I realised what made this small enclave great.
It has a real sense of its own identity, its place in the world and its drive to be different.