A History of the Chipulina Family
Eric's Spider - The Atlantic Hotel

1941 That summer my father went to Lisbon for ultra-violet treatment and was soon back in Barreiros on convalescent leave.

Pepe Chipulina (1.1) and friends on the Lima. This is one of a set of photographs of my father on board a Portuguese boat called the Lima. They were either coming back to Madeira or leaving for Gibraltar. My sister Maruja always thought that this was an unlucky series of snap shots. Pepe. Second from right, died soon after it was taken and the rest didn’t last much longer. The person who took the photograph also died in an accident soon after.

Our house in Barreiros overlooked the gardens of the Country Club of which Baba and Eric were members. Pepe (1.1) had brought both of them some tennis rackets which they soon put to good use. The Danish professional tennis coach, Svend Hersting, was reputed to have played at Wimbledon. Vague in manner, red-faced and very simpatico, he had married a local girl and drank like a fish. The Club Secretary was an ex-military type called Major Lloyd. He always wore a cloth cap and monocle and sported the inevitable game leg. He was nevertheless a genuinely nice person. He never lost his patience with the youngsters who were always roaming all over the place playing tennis, netball and chase games on the huge grounds where they had their own junior club house.

A modern view of Barreiros in Madeira

The Country Club grounds also had a large cave with a complex of tunnels, which was a favourite place to play all sorts of games. There was a rule to avoid getting lost and Eric once ventured in without a torch and was able to find his way back in pitch darkness purely by touch. The grounds themselves were full of neatly labelled exotic trees. The children soon learned which ones bore edible fruit and which were to be left severely alone.

Many friendships developed between the children of the evacuees and those of the ex-pats, all of which were soon speaking to each other in colloquial Portuguese with amazing fluency. Generally, it was an exciting and carefree time for Baba and Eric, who were both teenagers by this time. Eric got his first taste of adult reading while at Barreiros. It was an appetite he never lost.

The period also produced some of my earliest memories. Vague images of the house in Barreros, of lorries with sugar cane from nearby plantations and the workmen throwing the odd canes at yelling crowds of children, and the wonderful experience of sucking the sugary sweet juice from the stringy canes that would sometimes land on the balcony.

One day while strutting down the stairs with my hands in what I made believe were proper adult trouser pockets but were in fact gaps between buttons holding up his shorts, I stumbled. Unable to extract my hands which were jammed between the buttons, I fell down the staircase of the house. It must have been a relatively traumatic experience as I still vividly remembered the event more than half a century later. I was three at the time.

A plan of our house in Barreiros, Madeira

One evening there was another nightmare. The air suddenly became very hot and humid and a topical storm of hurricane proportions hit the island during the night. The sky turned a bright yellow colour and the wind was powerful enough to bend a large, nearby palm tree right over until its top touched the ground. It was quite an experience.

While convalescing, my father began to indulge in his passion for painting in water colours. Many of his efforts he simply gave away to friends. Some, mainly local landscapes, he flogged to a shop in the town centre of Funchal. He did quite a few views from the balcony of the house.

The truth was that Pepe (1.1) had fallen in love with Madeira. It must have been a stark contrast to the embattled Rock. But his leave was soon over and he returned reluctantly to Gibraltar.

On his way back via Spain and Portugal, Pepe (1.1), who had been asked to act as Consular Courier, had a strange experience. Sitting in an otherwise empty compartment of a train approaching the frontier, he was joined by a somewhat villainous looking man who sat on the seat opposite and stared ominously at him. Pepe, convinced that the man was about to assault him, was judging the distance between him and the communication cord when at last the man spoke.
'¿Es Vd. Ingles? '
Pepe nodded warily.
'I knew it!' said the man pointing at Pepe's shoes.
'Over here nobody has shoes like yours. '

In a nutshell, the man turned out to be one of the thousands of Republican guerrillas still active in the Sierra Morena. Interpreting Pepe's relief as sympathy for his cause, which Pepe also undoubtedly felt, the man went on to explain that the guerrillas depended on the BBC's Spanish language programme for accurate news. For some reason the reception had been very poor recently and he asked Pepe (1.1) if he could communicate this to the British Consul in Lisbon. Presumably Pepe obliged and told the Consul. Who knows whether the BBC did anything about it.

A view of the hills from the balcony of our house in Barreiros. This is a scan of a photocopy of one of my father’s watercolours. The original no longer exists.

On the 12th August, John Nixon, Reuter's special correspondent on the Rock, wrote in the Gibraltar Chronicle.
'Gibraltar today is the eighth wonder of the world. Nestling at the base of the gaunt rock concealing one of the strongest works of man, the tiny town bravely carries on.'

Meanwhile Pepe (1.1) suffered a relapse and had to travel once again to Lisbon for treatment. He stayed at the Hotel Bragança. Many years later, during the Portuguese revolution, a torture chamber run by PIDE, the Portuguese state police, was discovered in a basement near the hotel. In the intervals between sessions at the clinic Pepe often found himself at a loose end and regularly frequented the popular open-air Cafe Suissa in the Praça de Rossio. There he would sometimes pass the time discreetly drawing caricatures of people sitting in the cafe.

On one embarrassing occasion his subject suddenly stood up and approached his table. It seemed that he was about to demand an explanation as to why Pepe (1.1) had been staring at him. In fact the man had also been drawing a caricature of Pepe. Good-naturedly they simply exchanged drawings. But Pepe's (1.1) disease was making serious inroads and he decided it was time to retire. He returned to Madeira to join his family. As he was forced to forfeit his salary from his job in Gibraltar, the family were now demoted to Category 'B', or partly subsidised evacuees. They moved from Barreiros to the Atlantic Hotel.

A plan of the area surrounding the Atlantic Hotel

The Atlantic Hotel was a gem of a place, an old fashioned building with French windows and dormers, a huge garden with a tennis court and a couple of annexes. There was a tiny private beach at the base of the cliff on which it stood. There were many other guests apart from the Gibraltar evacuees. At different times there were Portuguese professional men staying temporarily. A couple of army officers from an Ack Ack battery that had been installed in Sao Martinho were much in evidence.

Perhaps the most interesting were a few elderly Brits who were permanent residents. They were a truly interesting collection of eccentrics that one would have thought did not exist outside the pages of fiction. The relationship between the Portuguese, British and Gibraltarians was excellent. There were tennis tournaments and even occasional dances led by a lady who played the piano rather badly.

This period would leave me with my only memory of my father, of being gently told off for grubbing around in the leaf litter as I searched for dates that habitually fell off a palm tree in the gardens of the Atlantic Hotel. A unique yet vaguely sad vision of a man I would later regret not having known better.

Me three years old

To supplement his retirement pension my father took up a job as a teacher in the British School with a salary of some 500 Escudos or about five pounds a month. Always a good dresser, he was reputed to have bought his shirts by the half dozen, and even when it was obvious that he was fading away, he would often dress to the nines to go down town to have coffee at the Kit-Kat cafe on the seafront avenue with his friends. He often took Eric with him.

Just across from the seaside of the avenue was the Pontinha mole, where on one occasion several dead whales tied alongside had been on show. The somewhat disconcertingly amorphous masses of blubber scarcely looked like whales. They had probably been bagged by whalers from the Azores, where the craft had long been practised. Whales, in fact, were relatively common in the area and schools could sometimes be seen half a mile or so offshore.

Life in the Atlantic Hotel itself was particularly pleasant. To someone as young as I was, however, there were the usual childish nightmares. The grounds of the Hotel included a section of a ravine. A narrow path ran along the edge on the Hotel side, at the end of which there was a sort of summer house and a small cave. The drop, if not sheer was extremely steep. To my eyes it appeared as dangerous as the Colorado Canyon. I was convinced that no-one could possibly survive a fall. One day my worse fears were almost confirmed. A young man, a son of José, the head waiter, somewhat rashly tried to learn how to ride his bicycle along the path. He probably survived the inevitable fall thanks to the shrubs growing on the slopes.

My father, Pepe Chipulina (1.1)

Another scanned photocopy of one my father’s water colours and yet another that no longer exists. This is the house where Columbus stayed in when he lived in Porto Santo The place originally belonged to Bartolomeo Perestrello, one of the discoverers of the islands of Madeira. Columbus married his daughter and lived there for a while before he became famous. A contemporary story suggests that a Spanish pilot was shipwrecked near Porto Santo after having sighted some strange islands to the west. Columbus may have learned certain things from him that were later to make him seem to have almost psychic knowledge of the existence of the New World.

Meanwhile Eric was confirming himself as Maria Luisa's favourite. One day for a lark Eric drew a very realistic spider on the wall of the room which he shared with his grandmother. When she came in later she screamed and raised Cain, summoning José, the head-waiter and anybody else she could possible lay her hands on. When the deception came to light, and it became obvious who was the culprit, she laughed her head off and for days afterwards was retailing the practical joke to all and sundry ad nauseum.

Real live bed-bugs, however, were a far more serious matter. There wasn't a bed in the place that didn't have them. The nasty little things were taking a liking to Gibraltarian blood. Sometimes things got so bad that nothing short of fumigation would do. The bed frames, which were made of iron, were brought down into the garden. There, every nook and cranny was subjected to the flames of a blow-torch. How the bugs could possible have survived such treatment is difficult to imagine. But they did.

One day in December while Pepe (1.1) was relaxing in the lounge of the Atlantic hotel a gentleman called Brooks who was an Irishman long established in Gibraltar, rushed in and breathlessly announced the news that the Prince of Wales and the Repulse had been sunk by Japanese planes in the Pacific.

The Repulse and the Prince of Wales

Pepe (1.1) seems to have detected an element of gloating in his tone and proceeded to have a row with him. What exactly was said has long been forgotten, but the argument ended with Pepe accusing him of being a 'bloody Irishman'. Then, as always, it seems to have been difficult for an Irishman, however unsympathetic in this particular case to the Nazi cause, not to feel a tinge of delight at hearing of the misfortunes of the English.

On another occasion, and for reasons undoubtedly connected with the uncertain progress of the war, Pepe had another row with the Hotel Manager, an Austrian gentleman called Schrier. During the course of the argument he more or less accused the man of being a Nazi sympathizer. Pepe's illness was definitely affecting his judgement. Schrier was a walking caricature with a fat pig-pink face, a squat, hugely pot-bellied body and a voice like thunder. It always seemed as if he was bawling out his guests when in fact he was only attempting to treat them to his old-world brand of obsequious respect. The joke among the Hotel staff was that he couldn't see his genitals without the aid of a mirror.

Despite my father's illness, which cast a shadow over all else, life in Madeira was relatively pleasant. Now and then bus trips into the mountainous interior were organised and there were occasional school excursions. It took almost four hours to reach the opposite end of the island from Funchal.

A picnic by bus to Santo da Serra in the mountains of Madeira. The back of the photos shows the year and identifies the destination. I think the photo was taken just before the bus left. This is a rare photograph with all five members of the Chipulina family. Eric crouches at the bottom right holding on to me. Maruja sits on the bonnet of the bus more or less in the centre and a rather dishevelled Pepe (1.1) stands on the far left besides a half hidden but smiling Lina (1.2) .

On the 7th of December Japan attacked Pearl Harbour. With the entry of the United States into the war, the plans for Gymnast were replaced by the more ambitious Operation Torch, which involved the invasion of North West Africa and the use of Gibraltar as a major military base.

My mother, however, had far more pressing problems to worry about. At the time I was not eating properly. In fact for a while it seemed I was subsisting on a diet made up exclusively of bananas. One day she decided to take me to a doctor, a gentleman by the name of Leite Monteiro. As we waited our turn in the very dark and very quiet waiting room, the only sound to be heard was the loud ticking of a large grandfather clock. It was after the check-up and while Lina was asking the doctor as to how she might go about improving her son's appetite, that I began to mumble away repetitively; 'I'm hungry. I want some tea and toast; I want some tea and toast.'

With an anguished expression on her face my mother pretended not to hear but the doctor spoke embarrassingly good English. There really was nothing much left to say. The surprising thing was that I had always detested tea, and would continue to do so for many years to come. I was not all that keen on toast either.

My family on the tennis courts of the Atlantic Hotel. From left to right: Maruja, my mother, me and Eric.

Me and my mother on the tennis courts of the Atlantic Hotel not far from the fearsome ravine.

For my brother Eric, however, the ravine had rather more pleasant associations. Just across the bridge from the Atlantic was the Hotel Miramar where they used to have occasional dances, the music being provided by a radiogram in the bar. Naturally one needed a few escudos to attend these functions and it so happened that on one occasion Eric was utterly broke without a hope of either borrowing or cadging any money.

Wandering disconsolately about the hotel grounds that afternoon racking his brains for a solution to his problem; he happened to walk along the ravine path when something caught his eye. It was a fountain pen. Eyes gleaming, he promptly took it to Joel, a genial baboon in uniform who happened to be the Hotel buttons. The man gave it a cursory glance and immediately offered him 25 Escudos. One little boy's nightmare was a teenager's ticket to a dance. In fact it was more like a ticket to a ball. 25 Escudos was a veritable fortune to someone like Eric who was chronically broke at the time and normally dealt in the lower denominations of the Portuguese currency. For example, a 10 cents coin, known locally as a Tostao, was usually more than enough to buy him a couple of Santa Maria cigarettes.

Incidentally, the slang for a gargajo or gob was dois mil y quinientos. The phrase was heard quite often as the Madeirenses were prodigious spitters. It probably referred to the value of the original fine for spitting in public. Such finicky by-laws were of course comprehensively ignored by the locals. Dois mil y quinientos, funnily enough, was itself a colloquialism for a 2 Escudo 50 cent coin. It was a reference to an older coin called the Reis which had become so devalued that it took 1000 Reis to make a measly Escudo. But of course old habits die hard and even the Escudo was often referred to as mil Reis.

Babes in the woods. Still posing in the tennis courts but I don’t know the name of my girlfriend.