Sunday, November 18, 2007

Trafalgar Cemetery

Walking past the cemetery the other day, I noticed two of the tombstones had poppy wreaths.

Although the name of the cemetery commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, only two of those who are buried here actually died of wounds suffered during the battle (Lieut. William Forster of the Royal Marine corps of H.M.S. Mars and Lieut. Thomas Norman of H.M.S Colossus - grave numbers 121 and 101). Most of those who died at Trafalgar were buried at sea, and Lord Nelson's body was transported to London for a state funeral. Wounded seamen were brought to Gibraltar, and those who died later of their wounds were buried just to the north of Charles V Wall, on the opposite side of Trafalgar Cemetery; a small plaque was recently placed there to commemorate the site.

Many of the tombstones in the cemetery commemorate the dead of three terrible yellow fever epidemics in 1804, 1813 and 1814. Also buried here are victims of other sea battles of the Napoleonic Wars - the battle of Algeciras (1801) and actions off Cadiz (1810) and Malaga (1812).

As I wrote about both Trafalgar Day and Armistice Day in Gibraltar, I thought I should add this brief postscript.

The cemetery is a very tranquil green spot, quiet and peaceful, and just outside the city walls.

I thought it was strangely touching that the two graves of men who died at the Battle of Trafalgar still receive a tribute more than 200 years later.

Captain Thomas Norman

Lieut William Forster

Source for quote: Gibraltar Heritage Trust although please note the inscription on the grave refers to Captain Thomas Norman and not Lieut Norman.

The Alameda Gardens

I'm always surprised when people say there is nothing to do or see in Gibraltar - apart from going to the top of the Rock and seeing the apes.

I've lived in some nice places (Sydney being the most spectacular I guess) but nowhere have I had so much diversity within literally five minutes walk.

The shops are five minutes away - I can buy a Dualit toaster, an AppleMac, a Dyson vacuum cleaner, designer clothes, whatever I really want. Admittedly the supermarket is probably 15 minutes away.

On the way to Main Street and the shops, I walk past the Governor's House and King's Chapel. If I go round the back streets I can visit the museum. Theatrical productions, concerts and exhibitions are held at the hall across the main road from my street.

The marina is five minutes walk away, out of the city walls and down the street.

And if I want to go a little further, perhaps ten minutes away, I can start the climb out of town to the Upper Rock and the Nature Reserve.

But nearer to home, and within the five minute category are Gibraltar's botanical gardens - The Alameda Gardens.

Tiled plan of the gardens at the entrance

Once a month (except for August) there is a free tour of the gardens, so I finally got organised enough to go along to it. It was excellent. We were taken round by the curator, Brian Lamb. He usually does the paid-for tours, but the guy who usually does the Saturday freebie was busy sorting out a hedge-trimmer.

Brian was absolutely fascinating, his amount of knowledge was unbelievable, and his breadth of experience travelling abroad on botanical research was very impressive. I don't know how many times he takes people round and churns out the same stories, but he didn't sound boring or bored. There is quite an art to churning out the same information and managing to sound interesting.

The gardens were founded by the Lieutenant Governor of Gibraltar, General George Don (later Sir George Don) in 1816 so that "the Inhabitants might enjoy the air protected from the extreme heat of the sun..." He funded them - amongst other sources - from spare money collected from the rates for a sewers project, and a number of lotteries.

The George Don gates at the entrance to the gardens

During the period when the border was closed under General Franco, the gardens fell into a state of disrepair, and the current team has been gradually restoring since them since the early 1990s.

There is a good website which sums up the aims of the gardens and lists all the plants grown there. We're basically in a subtropical/semitropical region, so naturally a lot of the plants that perish in the UK survive happily outside here.

While there are plants local to Gibraltar - it has the only surviving Silene tomentosa (Gibraltar Campion) in the wild - the gardens contain plants from similar Mediterranean climates throughout the world, eg Australia and South Africa.

Gibraltar is a limestone mountain so its soil is alkaline, unlike the nearby Spanish mountains which are sandstone, and therefore the soil on other side of the frontier is more acidic. The geology here is similar to that found in North Africa, so there are also plants from there, particularly Morocco.

There is an impressive range of succulents, well suited to the climate, as they don't require expensive watering in the dry hot summers. Olive trees, native to the Mediterranean climate are also dotted around the gardens.

One of the huge succulents near the entrance

Succulent garden

Dragon trees abound, the oldest one in the gardens is around 300 years although there is an older one in the gardens of the Governor's House.

The oldest dragon tree in the gardens

And amidst all the plants and lush sub-tropical greenery there are statues and cannons, commemorating Gibraltar's role in historical battles.

The Eliott Memorial at the entrance

General Eliott defended Gibraltar during the Great Siege of 1779-1782

The Duke of Wellington's Monument

Unveiled three years after the opening of the gardens - the bust stands on a pillar from Lepcis Magna (Libya),
given to Sir George Don as a gift

One of the best things about the tour is that we got to go in the places that are not open to the public. The Open Air Theatre holds events regularly throughout summer and can seat 450 people. The Italian Gardens in the The Dell were designed by a Genoese gardener in the nineteenth century. The Dell can be hired for weddings and when we went round there was a huge sunshade, table and chairs in place - but no wedding. We finished the tour by visiting a propogation area.

The Dell, the steps and Italian Gardens

The Dell, pool to the west side of the bridge

The pond in the Open Air Theatre

Strelizia reginae in the Open Air Theatre

It was a good group, say around fifteen people, and we took around two hours. Normally it's a half an hour to an hour's wander round for one person - but obviously not visiting the areas that are closed to the public - or getting the benefit of Brian's expertise and experience.

A shady spot in the gardens

The next (and final) tour this year is on Saturday 15 December at 3pm.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Armistice Day

Gibraltar commemorates both Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. This year as 11 November fell on a Sunday, there were two commemoration ceremonies on the same day.

Armistice Day is normally commemorated at 11am in the lobby of Parliament House. Exceptionally this year, the ceremony was moved back to 1.15 pm to allow people to attend the earlier Service of Remembrance at the Cross of Sacrifice at midday.

Partner managed to get some photographs of the Armistice Day Commemoration Ceremony, although not lots, he reported there was tight security and he was not allowed to leap around like a proper-photojournalist (I'll never get him trained).

While I was reading around the topic to see what currently happened everywhere I was interested to read about the two-minute silence.

I thought it had fallen by the wayside but according to the internet, it is still going strong. As I was in Spain at the time, I have no idea what happened here in Gib.

I seem to remember we used to do it in school but it was a traditional private girls' school so it was obviously the done thing.

My parents lived through the Second World War (they were in their early teens when it started), my father and his brother joined the navy, and my mother's two older brothers joined the air force and the army. (Her younger brother later went on to join the air force and stayed in for his full term). The older brother in the air force was killed when his plane was shot down, not too long before the end of the war.

Consequently every year my mother would sit in front of the television watching every programme about the war, and all the commemoration services and ceremonies. She cried her eyes out. It didn't help that he had been her favourite brother - or maybe in her mind he had become the favourite because he was no longer around. At least he had stood up for her when the middle brother hit her and made her nose bleed. And tried to fight for her to stay at grammar school when her mother wanted her to leave early and help with the household chores.

She couldn't tear herself away from the annual commemoration programmes, they were obviously something she felt she shouldn't miss. Maybe she thought if she didn't watch them she would be showing disrespect for her older brother who had died so young - leaving a widow and a baby. Yet every year she became so very upset. So I loathed Remembrance Sunday/Armistice Day with a passion (my mum often called it Armistice Day I guess because that's what she had grown up with). I would ignore the television and, with the callousness of someone young who had no idea what my mum was going through, I would tell her to stop watching it if it made her so upset.

I think I'll be keeping away from any ceremonies. My mum died a few years ago and I can imagine watching a ceremony, thinking about her, and promptly ending up in tears. Doing exactly what I told her not to do.

Anyway here are a few photos, showing the guard of honour, the arrival of the Cardinal and the arrival of the Governor's car at Parliament House.

And here is a poem by Wilfred Owen, the war poet and First World War soldier. We studied him at school and his poetry left a lasting impression on me. He died a week before the end of the war and as the bells were ringing out for Armistice Day at 11am, his parents received the telegram telling them of their son's death. He was posthumously awarded the Military Cross for his courage and leadership.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
- Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, -
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Sources: gibfocus, partner for photos, and my memories. Here is a site with more Owen poetry.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fifty thousand words

Bit of a blog rest at the moment. I decided to sign up for the write a 50,000 word novel in a month challenge. So my creativity - or at least my fast typing - is currently being directed elsewhere. I managed to rattle off 1000 words of rubbish yesterday, but I've got a bit of catching up to do, as most people started at the beginning of November. They might have started earlier for all I know.

Anyway, so it's fingers to the keyboard to type at least 2000 words a day, and to make up the extra few thousand on the odd rare inspired day.

Catch ya later.