Monday, November 22, 2004

Chapter 1 - Good Prospects for the Weekend

The sun was still very hot on his back as it followed its daily path, just starting to dip behind the hills across the Bay of Gibraltar over Algeciras. The throbbing of the powerful Paxman diesel engines below purring now gently, as they approached the base jetty at Coaling Island in the centre of the enclosed harbour.

Lt Cdr Anthony Valoris stood back relaxed, leaning to one side of the small bridge, as he allowed ‘Subbie’ to bring their pride and joy, MTB 32, back alongside. The patrol had been uneventful and routine, much as on many other occasions over the last couple of months. Other than the odd ‘stop and searches’ on smuggling runners, not much else had troubled them lately. He supposed he ought to be thankful for that but he couldn’t help wishing for a little bit of excitement, some real action to test this great boat and its crew. The only item of note he had entered in his log was when they had been over flown by a Dornier with Spanish markings, ex-German Luftwaffe no doubt, flying from the nearby base at Malaga. Come to think of it, there seemed to have been far more of these sightings lately. Routine reconnaissance he thought, doing much as they themselves, keeping an eye on movements along their shores.

MTB 32 - Our pride and joy at full speed sea trials shortly after arrival in Gibraltar - Photo taken before markings were changed to MTB 32

He had been very proud and elated on being given command of one of the new Fairmile ‘D’ MTB’s when they first arrived in Gibraltar seven or so month’s ago. It really was an excellent craft, powered by three 16 cylinder Paxman VRB diesel engines capable of 1000 bhp at 1750 rev/min and a top speed of 27 knots through the water, though this was greatly reduced when fully loaded with its heavy armament of guns and torpedoes. Nevertheless, perfect for the task given to them in these waters, patrolling the coastal areas around Gibraltar and the Straits. He relished the prospect and excitement that every patrol brought. The small, close knit crew, all Gibraltarian reservists knew their jobs well having exercised interminably and were prepared for anything that could be thrown at them, itching at it in fact. He thought of how the men referred to their little craft as ‘Chocho’ with amusement. Loosely translated to English as ‘Fanny’, as in the female connotation. Often on a ‘stop and board’ chase when confronting suspected smugglers, shouts of “Venga Chocho” or much as one might whisper, “come on girl” in a very different context, would be uttered, urging the MTB on and up to her impressive speeds over the Mediterranean waves. A slight grin crossed his face as he reflected on the pleasing affection his men felt for their powerful charge.

He heard the voice of his Engineer, Leon Chipolina, known by all as ‘Chippie’ naturally, echoing the last command given, coming over the tannoy in a slightly bored accented ‘llanito’ tone, “Slow ahead”. The rush of the engines slowed to a dull thump. Chippie was an interesting character, with a dry sense of humour. You could never tell when he was being serious or pulling your leg. They had been at school together and Tony, as Lt Cdr. Anthony Valoris was know by his friends, had grown to be very good friends with Chippie. Diminutive, chubby and with an impish look about him, full of guile, not unlike one of our own Barbary Apes, Chippie was one of those people who can work magic with machinery or any sort of mechanical tasks and just the man one would wish to look after the heart of our prized craft. He had other hidden talents too. Some said he was not unknown around the local smuggling fraternity, even to lend a quiet hand at times. Tony had never been able to quite get Chippie to admit to any of this, dismissing it as ‘idle women chatter’ but grinned mischievously as he said so!

Subbie brought the boat into its berth perfectly and the men prepared to secure the boat for the off duty weekend they were all looking forward to. Other MTB crews would be looking after maintaining control of our sea lanes over the next couple of days. Tony gave his orders for the following Monday‘s resumption of patrolling duties, reminding Subbie to read a little bit of the riot act to the men not to overdo things over the weekend and to be ready for Monday morning at 6:00 am. Tony always enjoyed a cooling evening drink, especially after a patrol and he was looking forward to it now. He was hurrying as he also wanted to try and catch Cindy over at the Officer’s Club at Rosia Bay before she left from her afternoon’s obligatory sunning duties. As he made his way ashore, Chippie popped his head out of one of the engine room hatches. “See you tonight at the Hotel Skip?” he checked. When on duty, Chippie always referred to him as Skip or Skipper, respectfully adding the required ‘Yes Sir, no Sirs’ when necessary. Once ashore and off duty though, he fell back to just plain Tony. Tony looked back over his shoulder and held a thumbs up. “Sure, around tennish” and changed his thumb to an open palm as he smiled, turned and jumped ashore agilely, one or two crewmen wishing him a great weekend as he walked to the car park. He wished them likewise. Not much of military formalities around here, no salutes or piping! He preferred it that way, comfortable in the knowledge that he was popular with the men and that they did not lack in respect for him as their Skipper, in any way at all.

As he drove towards the Officers Club at Rosia, along the long Battery straight overlooking and running the length of HM Dockyard, the warm air flowing around him in his open top, slightly battered little Morgan, he thought about wild Cindy and looked forward to the prospect of sharing the weekend, enjoying her company and most of all, her womanly charms. Cindy was always great company. The type of woman that turns men’s heads and in more ways than is comfortable for mere males, perhaps! Bright and ever effervescent, dangerously blonde long wavy curls to just above her shoulders, dark green oval eyes, glorious smile and a contagious laughter that can easily be triggered and heard across a crowded room, Cindy was very attractive, exciting and great fun to be with, in any company, especially alone together. At times, however, Tony did catch glimpses of a more complex and dark side to her but these were only fleetingly shown. Despite her outgoing and seemingly carefree personality when off duty, she was very conscientious about her job and by all accounts, a highly efficient Nurse, working at the large Royal Naval Hospital up in Europa to the south of Gibraltar, catering to all the ailments, illnesses and injuries of the busy Garrison and Naval Base. She had arrived on post a year or so earlier and they had soon become friends, frequenting the best watering holes and nightspots the Town had to offer. They had been instantly attracted to each other when introduced by friends and it wasn’t long before they had progressed to a mutually satisfying relaxed love affair, not expecting too much of each other in terms of any future commitments but simply enjoying the social and other moments they could share in these uncertain times.

He got to the Club just after five and walked into the bar. “Hello Santi,” he greeted the Barman smiling, “How‘s the Rosia Front this afternoon?”. “Good day Sir, all quiet and tranquilo around here, yes, gracias! The usual for you Sir?” asked Santi in a heavy Spanish accent and completely mixing his response with English and Spanish. A custom most have around this part of the world and not solely restricted to the Spanish. Most Gibraltarians are bilingual in English and Spanish and mix their languages, often mid sentence allowing them verbal expression in a greater range. It is not uncommon to spring into the other language, even mid word! A quaint trick, odd for the visitor but not all that uncommon in places around the world where bilingualism exists. English is the official language of course and is used on all formal or official occasions, governmental, written business, at school and so on but Spanish is the language more commonly used at home and informally, socially and with friends. Santi’s English was better than most Spaniards. He was one of the many Spanish workers privileged with a special day pass and work permit, who enter Gibraltar every day for their employment. The Spanish economy has been completely decimated during their recent Civil War and things are very tough across the country, especially just over the border in Andalusia. Santi, like his many Paisanos and co-workers was very grateful for all that his work permit and allowed entry into Gibraltar provided him and his family. In the same way, many others who are unable to obtain employment in Gibraltar are also greatly helped and supported by the ability of these workers to sustain some sort of semblance of income, a small start to the economic recovery of this local community, around what is known as the Campo de Gibraltar.

“Make that two please Santi. Long glass, lots of ice and slices, thank you!” he reminded Santi as he bent against the glare of the sun now opposite and peered out of the patio doors across the large concrete sunning area that formed a little peninsula into the small bay. Interestingly, it was right here, many years earlier, where the body of Admiral Lord Nelson had been brought ashore off his flagship, HMS Victory shortly after his demise during the Battle of Trafalgar. His body was pickled and conserved in a sherry barrel right here above the Club in the Victualling Yard in preparation for his return journey back to England. Tony cherished many of the historical aspects that surrounded him and Gibraltar was chock-a-block full of them.

Squinting into the sun, he very quickly picked up the shapely figure of Cindy lying on one of the ‘tumbonas’ near the water’s edge and away from the now dwindling clusters of other bathers and sun worshipers. Gin and tonics in hand, he steered a path through them towards her, nodding and smiling and mouthing ’hellos’ to acquaintances as he went, followed by one or two admiring glances over their sun glasses by some of the ladies. As he approached Cindy, he gently touched a glass against her bare shoulder. Cindy squealed and sat up with a jump, attracting the attention of the members, much to Tony‘s embarrassment! “Valoris, you creep!” she squealed but quickly changing to a lower and husky tone, “What an unexpected pleasure” she smiled up at him, extending an arm gracefully round his neck and pulling him down towards her for a warm and gusty kiss full on the lips. He loved her for these displays of sexy affection, even though he was conscious that not all felt it very appropriate behaviour for a single lady. To hell with them, he thought, returning her warm welcome! He settled beside her, clinked glasses, ‘cheered’ and proceeded to catch up with each others news. Not that there was all that much to tell, other than the usual bad news from back home, as Cindy referred to England, news gathered earlier that morning at the Hospital, a great place to keep abreast of current affairs from all quarters! As they chatted and sipped their drinks, the sound of an airplane engine slowly droned over them. For the second time today, he picked out the unmistakable silhouette of another Dornier in the distance, making a wide skirt avoiding Gibraltarian airspace. Often, in these instances, the air raid sirens would have sounded in warning. This time though, the troopers manning the numerous anti-aircraft batteries around the Rock must have already picked up the Dornier and reported its presence to the Garrison command, avoiding the necessity for any air raid warning being sounded. Almost unconsciously, he once more noted this aerial activity to be a little more than the usual. So long as they are only Spanish, he comforted his disquiet.

“Dinner at the Hotel tonight dwarling? Perhaps a twirl or two on the dance floor?” Cindy, using the curiously affectionate corruption of 'darling' interrupted his thoughts. “Sounds good” he replied. Having arranged to pick her up later, he drove Cindy back to her Staff Sisters quarters and made his own way back into Town, to his small flat near the Hotel at the northern end of Main Street, for a much needed shower, freshen up and change of clothes, ready for the evening's entertainment.