BEACH TIME – Now and then

Strangely enough, even on the Rock, there are those who don’t care much for summer and say that beach-going is a ‘no-no’! However, come the summer months – and they’re here now – our sandy shores and other places become overwhelmed with bodies seeking the sun’s rays and a fresh dip in the sea.

Around the Rock, there are a number of beaches, waterfront clubs, hotel pools, and nowadays, even homes and private estates with swimming pools, not to mention other bathing spots and locations across the way in Spain. It would be difficult to say summer on the beach, or elsewhere, was more or less popular in the 50s and 60s. I would suggest going for a swim was as popular then as it is now, with its differences, although for some families, the trend of old remains: rising at 7am, getting all the food ready – much of it prepared the night before – setting off to the beach nice and early, and remaining there till the sun has long gone to bye-byes, truly making a go of it after having carted down everything imaginable for a day at the beach which would include, yes, the kitchen sink! We’re talking about tents, umbrellas, comfortable beach chairs and folding tables, games, beers, wine, soft drinks, plenty of water, cooler bags or containers, watermelons to be buried in the sand washed by the cool (or warm) Mediterranean Sea on the shoreline, and let’s not even mention food, that would put Morrison’s to shame! And how about binoculars and perhaps a fishing tackle and so much more, those could be included also. A ‘military operation,’ you could say, undertaken by some families even today, right through the season and especially, when school’s out for summer. The routine would – and still does for some – continue past the new school term in September.

Eastern Beach c.1953

In recent times, a great day at the beach is also spent on National Day where hundreds flock with red and white everywhere. However, the less fussy nowadays will order takeaways, now that the Hungry Monkey delivery service has become so popular. But there certainly are differences between today’s trip to the seaside and how it was in the 50s and 60s.

I met up with local, amateur historian, Gil Podesta who has a number of publications to his name. Books coupled with interesting sketches, Gil really knows his stuff when it comes to Gibraltar-related customs of days long gone and the Rock’s history in general. We reminisced at length and recalled how swimwear looked decades ago…

Most ladies wore swimsuits or two-piece bathing costumes – bikinis really came into their own in the 60s – and I remember some men wearing stylish, tight fitting Jantzen swimming trunks. The less privileged could be seen wearing an old pair of shorts or even a modified, bespoke pullover worn upside down, with the wearer’s  legs pushed through the ‘holes’ where the arms would go! When you returned from your dip in the sea the pullover-cum-swimsuit would weigh heavily with a couple of kilos of sand in between your legs!

Spanish fishing boats c.1953

Multi-coloured lilos and other assortments of beach toys were rare: I remember one or two boring olive green lilos lying on the sand or offering a wet bed for a bather off shore and Gil reminded me of the large rubber rings being paraded around the beach which were the inner tubes off the under carriages of military aircraft or from car tyres. Street vendors would frequent the beach selling ice-cream from their tricycle barrows or pushcarts, the cake man would be there with his baskets full of pastries just in time for tea time, the Calentita vendor attended too.

An interesting feature at the beach was the man with his cauldron full of boiling water where beachgoers would line up with their kettles, saucepans or a couple of thermos flasks ready for a fill-up for an old penny or two, to take back to their tents for their families…It was, indeed, tea time! Spanish fishermen would come closer to the shore and would often swap fresh fish for loaves of bread and bottles of water to quench their thirst whilst spending the day out in the bay fishing. During the very early morning, before the human overflow covered every patch of sand, gharry drivers took their horses on the beach for a bit of exercise and a cool down on the shore.

Exercising the horses at Eastern Beach

Not to be forgotten are the other swimming locations spotted around the Rock like the Calpe and Mediterranean Rowing Clubs, the Yacht Club, Rosia Club, the Nuffield Swimming Pool and other clubs, which tended to be, and still are, for private members and guests only. Some hotels eventually had pools also.

One other swimming venue – apart from the five beaches still available today for all and sundry – was the Montagu Sea Bathing Pavilion situated at the northern end of Queensway where Montagu Gardens stands today on reclaimed land. However, the entrance building to ‘El Montagu’ still stands, housing the STM FIDECS offices. For four old pennies (that’s 4d – £1 was worth 240 pennies pre decimalisation) you could get in and the lady at reception would give you a key attached to a wooden block (in case you dropped it in the sea) which gave you access to a private cubicle. If they were all taken, you would be directed to a communal men’s changing room. To the left, past reception as you entered the Montagu building, was the ladies section and men’s on the right and each sector on the first floor had a sun terrace sandwiching a cafeteria. On the bathing side, by the water’s edge, there was a mixed bathing area so sweethearts and couples could bathe together. There were diving boards and a raft to swim out a few metres ‘out to sea.’ The Montagu was an open swimming area, not a pool, which meant if you swam out far enough past ‘New Camp,’ the RAF Sea Rescue station, you would meet the tug boats in the harbour! Spending a few hours almost daily at the Montagu brings back great memories.

Montagu Sea Bathing Pavilion

Frequenting beaches nearby was not uncommon either… Getares just past Algeciras, Palmones and other beaches along the east coast were popular. Marbella and Estepona were just fishing villages in the 50s and 60s and perhaps are visited more today during the summer season for their beaches, hotel pools and caravan sites. During the days of a closed frontier, Ahlen Village, outside Tangier in Morocco, became very popular also.

These days affluence is in the air and a trip to the Caribbean where it’s summer at any time, Cancun in Mexico or locations deep into the Eastern Mediterranean are very popular, but our beaches and other venues are still overflowing during the summer months. Summer on the Rock is and was, for living!

sketches | Gil Podesta