By Reg Reynolds
The 19-year-old Canadian was skint and desperate for a place to sleep, but the Gibraltar Police refused to accommodate him. It was the ‘Summer of 66’ and in the spirit of those early ‘hippy’ days young backpackers from North America were getting out and seeing the world, many with substantial financial support from their parents, others like Peter Jolly making their way with a small grubstake and picking up casual work where and when possible.
At the time, air travel to Europe was a bit rich for most young people but Canada was home to the visionary Max Ward who had started up the low-cost, charter airline Wardair. That was in 1962, six years before the famous Brit, Freddie Laker, would launch Laker Air and be the first to provide cheap flights between New York and London.
To save money on hotels, they would seek out all-night cinemas.
Peter and his two travelling companions, friends from high school, decided on a more adventurous journey. They took the bus from Vancouver to New York, a trip that covered 3,000 miles and took four days. Peter remembers that in New York, in order to save money on hotels, they would seek out all-night cinemas. He even recalls one of the movies, The Sons of Katie Elder, starring John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Martha Hyer.
From New York they sailed on the cut-rate ocean liner Castel Felice, of the Italian SITMAR Line, owned by a Russian and registered in Monaco. The Castel Felice was built in Glasgow for the British India Company and was originally named Kenya. With the outbreak of World War II, it was requisitioned by the British Government and under the name HMS Keren was converted to a troopship. After the War she was purchased by the Russian Alexandre Vlasov and refitted with air conditioning and a swimming pool and served as a passenger liner for the SITMAR Line from 1952 until 1970 carrying more than 100,000 passengers, mostly immigrants, between Europe, Australia, New Zealand and America.
By the time Peter and his friends reached Gibraltar they had been on the road for months and had already travelled through England, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Italy, Spain, and Morocco. They booked into a small hotel at La Linea and crossed the border on foot. The young trio visited the usual tourist sites and finished the day by doing a pub crawl. Peter was enjoying himself so much, drinking and gabbing with the locals, that when the friends said it was time to return to their hotel, Peter said he would stay a little longer and catch up with them later.
He asked the police if he could stay in a cell for the night.
Peter says he thinks he reached the border somewhere between nine and ten pm but knowing him as I do – we’ve been friends for fifty years – I believe it was much later than that. Peter will be the first to tell you that he enjoys a drink or two or six and I believe he simply lost track of time and reached the border after midnight. I emailed my Gibraltarian friend Alan Gravett to ask if he remembered the border rules at the time. He replied that he wasn’t in Gibraltar then, but he talked with Doug Poyet, former proprietor of the Royal Oak Bar, and Doug told Alan that in 1966 the border closed at midnight.
Regardless of the cause, Peter was stuck in Gibraltar and didn’t have money for a hotel. He decided he would go to the police station and ask if he could stay in a cell for the night. This was common practice in Canada at a time when hitchhiking across the vast country with little or no money was a rite of passage for many Canadian teenagers. I did it myself once in a place called Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. A pal and I were hitchhiking from Winnipeg to Toronto, approximately 1,400 miles. Sault Ste. Marie was policed by the famous Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The two Mounties on duty that night grudgingly allowed us a cell each but offered no blankets or pillows. We slept, or tried to, on cold metal slabs, next to the noisy drunk tank. They kicked us out at 5 o’clock in the morning.
Peter told me that in his case the Gibraltar Police were polite but firm and told him there was no way he could sleep there, even for one night. Peter asked, “What if I break the law?” and the officer laughingly replied, “You’ll get a lot more than one night.” Well, it was June and warm enough, so Peter curled up on the ground in front of the police station.
The experience didn’t put Peter off Gibraltar as he returned a few days later and stayed at the low-price Toc H Hostel, then operated by an international Christian movement. It has been closed for more than a decade now, and a proposed government development has been delayed.
Peter made his way back through Europe, working for a time at a copper smelter in England, and then flying home via another of the early bargain airlines, Icelandic Air. Now aged 73, he still has the travel bug, and this spring had booked a train trip across the U.S. from Seattle to Boston and a flight to Ireland where he planned a walking tour, pub to pub, of the country of his roots.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic struck before he could leave town and now, like the rest of us, he is living in a pub-free zone. At least he doesn’t have to ask the police for a place to sleep, as he recently purchased a caravan.