A History of the Chipulina Family
El Bom Bom Helado - Barclays Bank

1955 It was perhaps when I was about seventeen years old that I went to see my first bullfight. At that time many Gibraltarians were keen enthusiasts of la fiesta taurina. In fact going to see a fight in La Linea or Algeciras was something of a ritual. The corridas always started at four in the afternoon and the standard joke was that they were just about the only thing that ever started on time in Spain. My friends and I, however, were intent on making a day of it and crossed the frontier well before noon. We went to a favourite tapas bar called Rafael for a few drinks and followed this up with a meal at the Bodega Jerezana served at a table out on the pavement. People were already beginning to gather and there was a noticeable atmosphere of excitement.

Soon enough it was time to make our way to the ring. There were queues everywhere. The rich had already bought their sombra tickets and were assured of a reasonably comfortable seat on the shady side of the ring. The rabble, however, inevitably ended up in sol and suffered the consequences. I am afraid we belonged to the latter category. Once inside I soon realised that I could easily have forgone both the visit to the bar and the meal. There were local street vendors everywhere.
'Fresca la gaseosa. . . '
'El bom bom helado. . . chocolate, canela y vainilla. . . '
'Bocadillos de queso, chorizo y jamón. . . '
'Hay cerveza. . . '

Sol or sombra, the place was teaming with sellers of oranges, lottery-vendors, bootblacks and purveyors of holy pictures. There were even sellers of pictures, usually hand-drawn sketches that were anything but holy. Cushions were also on hire as the seats tended to be quite hard. These, of course, would eventually be hurled into the arena in time honoured fashion should the corrida fail to meet with our expectations.

The cost was five pesetas so we indulged ourselves. Incidentally everybody who went to a fight considered himself an expert: including myself. Four o'clock on the dot, a fanfare from the band and the complete cast of toreros and their respective cuadrillas of banderilleros, picadores, and peones walked into the arena. They were led by a couple of mounted alguaciles dressed in black 16th century costumes. I could easily recognise the stars of the show because they were the first to enter the arena after the alguaciles and walked with a distinctive strutting style. Furthermore, their uniforms, known as traje de luces, were cleaner and more colourful than anybody elses.

After several minutes of various more or less incomprehensible activities, everybody retired behind the barreras. A bugle was blown, the door of the coral was opened and an enormous black bull hurled itself out of the darkness and into the glare of the arena. It was an extraordinarily dramatic moment. The animal must have weighed well over a thousand pounds of pure muscle and it made me wonder how on earth anybody could possibly dare to be a bullfighter. The bull belonged to a ganaderia or ranch which bred distinctive animals with unusually thick necks which curved heavily towards their horns. They were called toros Miuras and were of such renown that they always shared top billing with the fighters.

Luis Miguel Dominguin, one of the foremost bullfighters at the time
I was fortunate to see him in action several times.

I could almost smell the awesome power of this particular Miura as it furiously launched attack after attack at everything and anything. On rare occasions a bull will leap over the barrier, sometimes even reaching the front rows of the spectator seats creating absolute havoc as everybody scrambles out of the way. On this my first experience, however, the bull kept to the script and the peones, from behind the relative safety of the barreras, cast their capes tentatively at the animal. They were, or so I was told, trying to find out whether the animal showed any marked preference in the use of either horn. Quite frankly I would hardy have thought it mattered.

A few minutes later, one of the toreros entered the fray and unfurled his large pink and yellow cape. He was about to check the bull out for himself. This he did with considerable skill and elegance. The classic pass is the veronica but there are endless variations to the theme. I am afraid I cannot say which particular sequence the matador used that evening but I remember finding it hard to understand how he could possibly treat the animal with such utter disdain as it thundered towards him time and again. The crowd yelled their appreciation.
The length of time it took to shout the 'olé' depended on how long the torero was in close contact with the animal during the pass. The more he was in control of the beast the longer he took.

Antonio Ordonez, my favourite bullfighter and Dominguin’s great rival. He also happened to be Dominguin’s brother-in-law which added spice to their rivalry. Hemingway among others considered him to be the better bullfighter. So did I. Compare this photograph with the one above and it is easy to see which of the two had more style.

During a lull in the proceedings a couple of picadores on well protected horses entered the ring. The bull charged one of them and the picador fended off the attack using a long sharply pointed pole, planting it in the junction between the neck and the shoulder blades. The number of times which the picadores took turns to do their job depended on how often they were instructed to do so by the torero.

According to the experts, the braver the bull, the more eagerly he would return for more punishment but the finer points of this part of the fight passed me by and I joined the rest of the crowd as I booed the proceedings from start to finish.
'¡Criminal!. . . ¡Carnicero! . . . ¡Sin vergüenza!. . . '
In fact in almost all the fights that I have ever seen since, the picadores have always been booed. The spectators always felt that they caused too much damage.

The picadores finally left the stage and the rest of the protagonists took their positions behind the safety of the barreras as a lone banderillero, holding a couple of banderillas or staves decorated with coloured paper, was left facing the animal on his own. Absolutely incensed by the audacity of this foolhardy individual, and hell-bent on getting some sort of revenge after the indignities inflicted upon it, the bull charged immediately. The banderillero, instead of doing the sensible thing and running away actually raced towards the animal at a slight angle.

At the moment of contact, by which time I was convinced the man would be tossed right out of the ring, he dodged to one side, deftly planted the banderillas on its neck and spun away safely as the bull's momentum carried it forward out of goring range. Apparently the main object of both the picadors' use of the pike and the banderillas, is to weaken the neck muscles of the bull to such an extent that the head will be held low enough for the matador to kill him with his sword.

Next came a trumpet call and the last act began as the torero finally faced the bull on his own holding what looked to me to be a rather small piece of red cloth draped across a small toy sword. The cloth, I was told, was called a muleta and with it the torero proceeded to execute a series of elegant passes. He was preparing the animal for the kill. To my inexperienced eyes the bull had become rather subdued and seemed much easier to handle. I have since learned that I was quite wrong about the last bit.

El Litri showing off.

At this point in the corrida the bull, probably not the most intelligent of beasts, was beginning to realise that charging wildly at anything that moved was not producing any results and was beginning to reconsider whether defence might not be preferable to attack. In fact the most important decision that a bullfighter makes during a fight is to pick the right moment for the kill. The bull may be tired and subdued but it must remain in an attacking mood. No fighter, however much of a genius he may be, can kill a bull properly with a sword if the animal suddenly decides to defend itself by standing its ground, ignoring the muleta, and going for the man that holds it.

In this my first experience of the hour of truth or la hora de la verdad, the torero in question had probably judged the moment reasonably well and despatched the animal after a couple of attempts to its own particular ganaderia in the sky. If a bullfighter's performance is deemed to have been excellent he is awarded the ear of the animal as a token of popular esteem. An exceptional performance will get him both ears. Only if he has put on a really extravagant show is he given both ears and the tail. In this case the bullfighter made do with some polite applause as the carcass of the animal he had just killed was dragged out of the arena by a couple of horses.

The ring was raked over by the chulos and the spectacle began anew. All told six bulls were slaughtered that afternoon. For most of the spectators the corrida proved something of an anti-climax. But I had enjoyed it thoroughly and over the years I would return periodically to watch some of the best bullfighters of the era including Antonio Ordoñez, Luis Miguel Dominguin, El Litri, and many years later perhaps the most thrilling of the lot, El Cordobes. Nowadays, of course, I would be among the first to protest against such a brutal and cruel spectacle. But in those days not very many Gibraltarians thought of bullfights as either brutal or cruel and neither did I.

1955 On the 10th of January I got my first job as a junior clerk at Barclays Bank (Dominion, Colonial and Overseas). The branch was in Irish Town and my salary was thirteen pounds monthly. My initial duties were as 'Waste clerk.' This entailed laborious hand written ledger entries of every single transaction made by the six tellers employed by the bank at the time. There were few calculators then and all additions and subtractions were made by hand. At the end of the day my totals were checked to ensure that they tallied with those of the tellers. If they didn't, nobody, not even the manager, was allowed home until the difference was found.

Modern snapshot of Irish Town looking north. The bank was at the beginning of the street on the south side.

Understandably the rest of the staff did not take kindly to careless mistakes by the 'Waste Clerk'. For several years after I eventually left the bank I was always able to surprise my friends with the speed and accuracy with which I could add up long lists of numbers.

It was while I was doing my apprenticeship here that I noticed that a certain Spanish gentleman had opened an account into which he regularly deposited and then withdrew enormous amounts if money. The money incidentally was always brought to the bank in pesetas and in cash and was usually handed over to the chief cashier in a huge battered suitcase. The deposits were sometimes worth nearly a quarter of a million pounds sterling.

When I asked some of my senior colleagues to explain what on earth was going on I was told that the gentleman was making his fortune by speculating on the price of almonds: 'la compra-venta de las almendras' was the exact phrase used. I naively accepted this explanation at face value but remember feeling somewhat uneasy with the idea of anybody being able to make such a lot of money out of such an unlikely commodity. It was only very much later that I found out that the fellow was a top diamond smuggler moving the stones from Tangier to Amsterdam via Gibraltar.

Smugglers working from Gibraltar often used World War II motor torpedo boats such as this one. Surplus to requirements they were sold off by the Royal Navy who were not too fussy as to who bought them.

Despite my naivety, I was soon promoted. My next job at Barclays was to man the Exchange Bureau at the airport. It was a job which entailed short bursts of hectic activity intermingled with long periods of total inaction. Most of the business came from passengers travelling to and from Tangier using either Gibraltar Airways or a Tangier company that ran a similar service. This company used a couple of rather ancient German planes. One day, while I was having a break from the Bureau, I noticed one of the Moroccan pilots wandering around the place. He had the look of somebody who was trying to find something he had lost. The joke doing the rounds was that he was searching for a piece of wire to fix the plane's propellers.

Gibraltar Airport Building. My office was just left of the staircase.

All in all it was a rather cushy job. But of course I had other responsibilities as well. During the summer months liners carrying passengers on Mediterranean cruises sometimes called on Gibraltar. One of my other jobs entailed going on board the liner and taking over the purser's office in order to attend to the exchange requirements of the passengers. The transfer from harbour to liner and back was done by tender. This was sometimes quite an ordeal as the liners usually anchored outside the harbour where it could get quite rough if the weather was bad. On more than one occasion the captain of the ship refused on safety grounds to allow the manoeuvre required to transfer me and my selection of foreign bank notes on to his ship.

That year, shortly after it was launched, The USS Forrestal, the largest aircraft carrier in the world at the time, and the first of the so-called 'super carriers', visited the Rock. One evening during a training session, Eric and his crew rowed around the ship as it lay anchored in the Bay. It was breathtakingly large. As they paddled slowly round the hull they could hear the ship's P.A. system barking out streams of instructions each prefixed by the usual warning phrase used by the US Navy, 'Now hear this! Now hear this!'

USS Forrestal

That year Gibraltar lost its free port status, as petrol, alcoholic drinks, perfumes and cigarettes were subjected to ad valorem duty. The tax had been discussed in secrecy by the Executive Council. When it was put to the Legislative Council, the Financial Secretary faced an uproar. They had not been consulted. The excuse given was that they hadn't been told to avoid speculation. Their indignation rose to a crescendo and the vote resulted in deadlock. The Governor, Lieutenant-General Sir Harold Redman, who had just taken over, promptly used his constitutional powers to pass it into law. The elected members of both the Executive and Legislative Councils resigned in mass.

Various specious arguments were then bandied about to justify their resignation. One of these was that a tax on razor blades was unfair to the poor, as their beards were just as tough as those of the rich. The irony was that Gibraltar at that time imported enough razor blades to shave half the population of Spain.

Mr. Lennox Boyd, then the Secretary of State for the Colonies flew to Gibraltar and reduced the tax from ten to eight and one third percent. The councillors were appeased, stood for re-election and were all returned unopposed. Economically it had hardly been worth the effort, but psychologically, and even politically, many Gibraltarians treated it as a triumph. The Governor had been told were to get off.

In November Eric married Sheila Devincenzi and went to live in 42 Crutchett's Ramp. Other newly married people in Gibraltar tended to be less lucky in so far as accommodation was concerned. It was a time when housing in Gibraltar was still in such short supply that hundreds of families still lived in Nissen huts, two families to a hut. Newly weds were often forced to live with their in-laws.

The day of the wedding. My grandmother weeps with emotion as Eric consoles her while having a quick fag. Shiela née Devincenzi smiles and makes sure her wedding ring is clearly visible.

That Christmas found Eric in a relatively subdued mood. As a newly married man, staggering around town playing the zambomba was probably beginning to lose its charm. In any case there were plenty of dinner parties, dances and verbenas going on all over Gibraltar in which one could get drunk without exerting oneself too much. For the good of the family name, I took over the role. I had now just turned eighteen and was more than pleased to discover the joys of those raucous night outs that my elder brother had enjoyed during the previous decade.

There was one particularly inane activity which I frequently took part in that was quite popular during the festive season. It parodied a game normally played by little girls and involved two groups of individuals who would face each other by lining themselves up right across the street. At a given signal one group would 'dance' towards and away from the other singing the following words:
'Yo tenia un castillo, matararirarilailiero,
Yo tenia un castillo, matararirarilailo. PIM POM.'
Then the other group would make up some witty reply and dance towards the first lot. In no time at all the wit would degenerate into an orgy of insults and obscenities.
'Porque son hijos de puta, matararirarilailiero.
Hijos de la gran puta, matararirarilailiero. PIM POM. '