John Pau: Across the border

Border, Gender, La Línea, Language, Religion Comments Off on John Pau: Across the border

John Pau was born in French Morocco in the 1940s, but lived most of his life in Gibraltar. As in the case of many other Gibraltarians before the closure of the frontier, he used to go to Andalusia with his family on weekends. During these outings, John was struck by the poverty of Spain under Franco. In his interview, he compares Spain to the UK, where he went to study for a few years. When he returned to Gibraltar, he continued visiting Spanish cities. He recalls the harshness of Spanish police and the problems in crossing the border. Despite these inconveniences, there was “an enormous Spanish influence” in Gibraltar before the border gates were shut in 1969. From his point of view, in those days, many Gibraltarian men married Spanish women —particularly from La Línea—, and these marriages had a huge impact on the daily life and culture of the Rock.


Audio Interview (19-25 February 2014):



IN: And what about your childhood? Do you remember going over to Spain?

JP: Oh, yes. We were… What we did was, be it my father, his, his brother…, both, both sides of the family here. They had… another side, they only had one child. So we used to get together in the car and off to Spain on the weekends. Sometimes we travelled down to Cádiz, Málaga. Obviously there wasn’t half as much travel, hardly any travel, if any at the time. So we would drive down to Málaga, Cádiz or Seville on occasions. So that was totally different to today, of course. My recollection then was [that] Spain was rather primitive, just out of Civil War. And I remember seeing scarcity wherever, poverty galore. On a par with a Third World country now, maybe even worse. Spain, of course, has taken a leap forward, which is beyond belief.[…] Jumping again, going back to the time when my family would go off to Spain for, for, for the Sunday outing. We would go to, maybe, Cork Woods or somewhere there.

IN: Where is that, sorry?

JP: The Cork Woods. You know, er…

IN: Yes, yes, yeah.

JP: Almoraima.

IN: Almoraima.

JP: Somewhere there, a spot there.

IN: Yes, yes.

JP: And I’d play cricket with my cousin, wherever. My parents just sit around and have tea or just chat and, you know, for a snooze under a tree or something. I remember rumblings and for the first time we wondered. Where’s all this coming from? And then eventually we… When we were sitting down having tea with cakes, whatever, and then all of a sudden we would see a head popping up and it would be one of these, “quintos”, they call them. And behind him there would be one, two, three or four. And then… a member of the family would say, ‘Would you like to join us?’ And they would pop over. You could see how hungry they were. They were desperate, absolutely desperate. And they would come and join us then for a cup of tea and cakes, whatever. And this use to happen fairly frequently. So these are recollections… That’s about Spain, of course
IN: And what do you remember about the feeling crossing the border. How did you feel when you crossed?

JP: Oh, no, phhh. Well, I would say you would have to prop up and, you know be careful of, well, watch your behaviour, be courteous, um, be diplomatic, los, eran los grises, creo que les llamaban

IN: Los grises.

JP: Sí. These characters were, um, exceptionally dominant, dictatorial, harsh and they wouldn’t mince their words. They wouldn’t ask for a document or anything. They would demand it and they would want it on the spot.

IN: Really?

JP: I recall, for example, because obviously the… what is now, what used to be… neutral ground, which is precisely where the border starts, where we start or where we end […] about a hundred or 50 metres from where the Post Office is now in La Línea.

IN: Yes.

JP: So that was a heck of a chunk of, er, neutral ground then. And when the few cars that there were, and though there were quite a few, nothing like what we have now, but there were. And on a Sunday, let’s say, these cars would queue right with the already in neutral ground in the heat, no air conditioning, nothing at all. This thing moving very, very slowly. And so imagine this long line leading into, onto the border. And you would get a custom official in his full uniform, either marching or walking alongside these cars, keeping an eye on each and everybody. And should anyone, any one of the local cars, because they weren’t any Spanish cars coming in here then, want to sort of jump the queue at anywhere along the line, he’d come down all the way down and he’d become exceptionally aggressive, beyond belief. He will either send you back to Gib or for the slightest thing send you all the way back to where you started from, if not worse. You would be… end up worse than you started off.

IN: Wow!

JP: And it’s… It’s, er, it’s a different world. I mean it’s hard to picture this.

IN: And how did you feel like being a Gibraltarian going over to Spain?

JP: Then?

IN: How did you feel? Yes.

JP: I felt secure.

IN: You felt secure.

JP: If you kept within the law and you respect tradition and respect, er, the law of the country, you would feel as safe as can be, safer than most any other place I’ve ever been. For example, if you were driving down any road, you would invariably find, el Guardia, el Guardia Civils, be it on the right or the left on either side of the road with a cape, with rifles, customary ware and pistols and truncheon as per usual. But as you drove by, they would be very courteous. They would wave you by and they’d salute you. And obviously the moment you saw them, right, you know, at a distance, you’d immediately slow down. This is something that gave you, gives you peace of mind.

IN: Hmm, definitely. […] And how did you feel about when you went over to England as a Gibraltarian?

JP: I was very self-assured. I’ve always been, been able to look after myself. […]

IN: Sí. Concerning the…

JP: Britain, Britain, Britain was very different to now.

IN: It was.

JP: A picture of the UK was obviously… gone through the World War and all that stuff, er, was trying to pick itself up. The roads weren’t half as lit as now, pitch dark almost everywhere. Taxis were hard to come by. They used to, um, heat their homes with coal and everything, so there was smog everywhere and you would have to wear maybe one, two shirts in a day or those shirts that you changed the collar.

IN: Yes.

JP: Everybody knew their place then; whereas now it has become more of a one-class society.

IN: And that’s what you want.

JP: That’s the way I see it. Whereas before… Well, I think it happened everywhere. People knew their place and therefore they wouldn’t venture very far. If you said you came from Gibraltar, they’d say, well, they couldn’t place it for starters. Maybe…

IN: We were what, sorry?

JP: If anyone came from Gibraltar, they couldn’t place Gibraltar. But there are still people who can’t place it.

JP: Britain was dark and dingy at the time. I don’t know. Even the temperature was different. I think it was probably colder than it is now [LAUGHING], I think.

IN: Well, they say. It’s true. It’s true.

JP: Yeah, um…

IN: It’s true.

JP: Of course, they wouldn’t holiday anywhere, um, only except the affluent people ventured to go to France. They wouldn’t dream of going to Spain, because Spain was as far as Hawaii as far as they were concerned. […]

IN: Well, the Gibraltarians, do you think they travelled a lot?

JP: Well, in those days, no, no, no.

IN: They didn’t.

JP: Of course not, no. No, again, er, the most they’d go is to Spain. They were very, very, er, limited. You know, the wages, salaries were very, very reduced then. Um, er, so, I think the families were larger. The mentality was totally different anyway. Um, they were more Spanish orientated, be it because they had mothers who were Spanish. And there was an enormous Spanish influence here, … an influence that derived from mothers who came from close vicinity. These ladies didn’t come from Cataluña or Madrid or anywhere else. They came just from the immediate surroundings, maybe La Línea. So these ladies may not have been exceptionally well educated or anything, but nice, honest ladies, and they brought [up] their children, you know, the best way they could. And I think religion had a path here because they were brought up in a very religious country. So they seemed to have brought this religion along with them.

IN: Into Gibraltar.

JP: I think so. I don’t see this now, but, … Growing up, I mean in my 20s and 30s and 40s, if ever I visited any home and they showed me round the house or whatever or the flat, I’d see a cross or I’d see a picture of, er, you know the religious artifacts, whatever, the Madonna you know and so far and so forth. Um, they were brought up, er, along those lines. Um, so this obviously, the children, boys and girls, being brought up in this atmosphere obviously, it permeates even to today.

IN: They spoke more Spanish and English in that…

JP: Definitely.

IN: In that, in that environment.

JP: Well, I think what people here called Llanito I think derives from there, because this Llanito, I think, stems from it. Mothers who, who were illiterate, they married locals. The Spanish they knew was very limited. They couldn’t read some of them or write. So they brought up a family, who spoke Spanish exceptionally badly. Do you follow me? And this is where, where it all stems from, I think. And we didn’t look… We shouldn’t look beyond that.

IN: But what do you mean? They spoke Spanish and what about English?

JP: Well, the Spanish they spoke was not, you know it’s Andalusian, but un anadaluz pero que deja mucho que desear.

IN: Limitado.

JP: Bueno no se expresaban y entonces no se leía, no se escuchaba la radio tampoco… Total que estaba muy limitado. So this is the level of education that was brought across and this is what gave rise to the people, the majority of people, because the majority had Spanish mothers, I think, you know by and large. But as a result, a very large number of people here have connections in Spain, family connections, brother, sister. Well, I don’t know about that, but cousins, second cousins, aunts and going all the way back. It must be.

IN: Do you think more ladies married Gibraltarian men than men… than Gibraltarian women marrying Spanish men.

JP: Women, yes, of course. The majority of men married Spanish girls. I don’t recall many local girls marrying Spanish men, very few. I can just recall a few, not many.

IN: Really?

JP: Very, very few. So looking for a, for a boyfriend was very difficult then… because of … despite everything, I think there has always been a differential. Gibraltar was always more prosperous than the hinterlands. So the young boys thought themselves, you know, superior in that sense they had more spending power. So they used to attract girls over the other side of the border who wanted to improve their lot. And their mothers, obviously being what mothers are like, they want the best for them; they would push the girls in that direction. This is the way I see it.

IN: And how do you think they met? Did they come over to work or how do you think?

JP: Well some, some did, but some of the men who went across, they befriended the girls there. And this is how the relations started, tea dances, perhaps, the fair. They would meet at the fair. This is the way I see it.

IN: And what about the, the…?

JP: So it was limited for the men. It was limited for the girls. Local girls had a very tough time of it.

IN: Because of the competition?

JP: Oh, yes. Because men felt superior and said, well, I’ve got a choice, you know a heck of a choice. Here the ability was very limited. Besides, I let my hair down when I get across. This is what happens everywhere. So this is another one. So the girls here, the style of living was different. Now they are more, more open, where you know, we’re not so restricted and certainly not for the girls either. So, in those days, women, they had a tough time really.

» Border, Gender, La Línea, Language, Religion » John Pau: Across the border
On 22/03/2016
By Andrew Canessa

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