A History of the Chipulina Family
Calentita - Piruli Commando!

1946 The kitchen was little changed from pre-war days. In fact it had probably not changed much over the past century. There were three grates which used coal or charcoal, chunks of which were fed into small square apertures on the front. The fuel was known locally as picon. The working surfaces were covered with tiles and there was a huge copper bell above the grates to catch the smoke. A sort of wicker fan called el soplador was used instead of bellows.

There was no running water. Instead there was a large earthenware container with a wooden lid that stood in one corner of the kitchen. It was called la tinaja. As a small boy I enjoyed peering into it and seeing my face reflected in the water below. La tinaja usually stored water drawn from the patio cistern. It must have been quite a chore to fill the thing up. The old hand pump was down in the patio itself and the stairs leading up to the kitchen two storeys up, were very narrow and awkward.

Sometimes, however, the water was delivered by Seño' José, one of the many aguadores still employed in Gibraltar at the time. In fact Catalina, the family housemaid, was married to one of them. A small but strong and stockily built man, José would carry the water up to the kitchen in small, distinctive, heavy wooden barrels. The gurgle of the water running out of the barrels and into la tinaja is one of my clearest memories of this period.

Cutlery was cleaned on a solid block of a crumbly substance called carborundum. Knives were always sharpened by el Afila'ó. The curious up and down scales of his pipes were to be heard regularly in the nearby Patio el Nazo. El Afila'ó sharpened his knives against a circular stone. The contraption was cleverly attached to a bicycle wheel, which he would spin at a constant speed by peddling away with one leg. As the wheel turned so would the stone. A knife held against it would release a satisfying shower of sparks.

El Afilador. This photo is actually from Cuba! But ours were the same.

Other memorable street traders of the time were el Aceitero, el Lechero, el Paraguero', and el Pescador. This last tradesman announced his wares with a repetitive cry:
'De la mar el mero, de la mar el mero'.
There was also another gentleman who went around selling slices of an unusual chick-pea flour concoction which came in the form of an enormous pancake. The stuff was called Calentita and the seller, who was known to all and sundry as el tio la Calentita, always carried the pancake in a thin round metal container which he balanced on his head with expert ease, From a local point of view it seemed a peculiarly Gibraltarian institution. In fact its origins lay in Genoa where the stuff was still sold fifty years later. Over there it was, and perhaps still is, called Calda.

An aquador and a calentita vendor at the entrance to the Hospital. I suspect this is a pre-war photograph but they looked exactly the same just after we returned from Madeira.

A slice of Calentita

Cultural life was also returning to Gibraltar. That year a huge hanger normally used to house Sunderland flying boats was adapted for a concert in which Sir Malcolm Sargeant conducted the Symphonia de Madrid. The acoustics proved excellent. Lina, Maruja and Eric went and were suitably impressed. It was Eric's first live concert.

In July Eric left his post office job and joined the Education Department as a temporary clerk. He was now a civil servant. H.W. Howes was the Director of Education at the time and was Eric's boss. It was while Eric worked there that Howes wrote 'The Story of Gibraltar'. The book was typed by the office typist.

Paloma. This memorable calentita vendor, the last one in Gibraltar, was known locally as Paloma. He wore extra thick glasses and looked as if he was as blind as a bat. Unfortunately the old snapshot on the left is not good enough to show this. Calentita vendors were supposed to carry a collapsible stool to place the tray on while serving but I don’t think any of us recalls ever seeing Paloma using one. He would simply prop up the tray on the nearest available shop-window sill. The caricature was one of a series drawn by my brother Eric for an article on street characters of long ago published in the Gibraltar Chronicle

In November Eric began his military service with the Gibraltar Defence Force. This was known locally as haciendo el GDF. Some of Eric's older friends had reached military age while in Madeira. The unfortunate individuals were unfairly greeted at the barracks with a derisory, 'los Commandos de Madeira'.They were not the only ones to be taunted with this ironic epithet. An elderly evacuee who was definitely not of military age had returned to Gibraltar with a penchant for wandering around the streets of Gibraltar in a naval cap and a chronically pissed condition. His proper name was Sacramento but he was known to everyone as Pirúli. He was often cruelly persecuted by young delinquents, who would follow him around shouting out,
'Pirúli, Commando!

Doing military service in the Gibraltar Defence Force. It was known locally as ‘Haciendo el GDF’. The cartoon is one of several drawn by Eric Chipulina for a series of articles called ‘A Short Expedition into the Gibraltarian Mind’. It was published in the Gibraltar Chronicle

Meanwhile it was time for me to put on my first pair of long trousers. This was an important event in the life of most young boys in Gibraltarians. For as long as could be remembered it was common practice for younger boys to wear shorts. At a particular moment in their lives, usually a month or so before their eighth 'dia de su santo', this attire was suddenly considered inappropriate and a long and expensive ritual was set in motion.

First there was the selection of a suitable material. Then came the visits to the tailor and the prolonged discussions as to whether the suit would be single or double breasted, single or double vented, or whether the pockets should go here or there. The first pair of long trousers never came on their own. They came with a suit. There was much browsing through books with pictures of impossibly tall and elegantly dressed individuals who bore no resemblance whatsoever to the eventual wearer, who incidentally took little part in these discussions.

All these comings and goings were very time consuming as they inevitably entailed visits to La Linea. During the sundry fittings the tailor inevitably seemed to dislike whatever he had done previously, sometimes even to the extent of ripping sleeves and other items off the garment altogether. The feeling was that he started from scratch after every visit.

Finally the great day arrived and the newly clad individual was forced to parade up and down Main Street, vulnerably open to the ridicule of both friend and foe alike. The only thing that allowed me to survive the ordeal was the knowledge that very soon it would be my turn to be on the other side of the road, grinning cruelly at some other poor sucker.

1947 The year began and Lieutenant-General Sir Kenneth A. N. Anderson, also changed his job and took over as Governor. He replaced Lieutenant-General Sir Ralph Eastwood. To say the least, Eastwood had not been the most popular of chiefs with the mass of Gibraltarians. During a time when thousands of evacuees were being denied the possibility of returning home because of lack of accommodation, this insensitive gentleman had decided to convert a large cottage at great public expense, for his own use. He considered his normal residence too hot for summer.

Sir Kenneth Arthur Noel Anderson, Governor of Gibraltar

.Eastwood also tactlessly invited a Spanish General over the border to show him round fortifications that the Gibraltarians themselves were forbidden to go near. During football matches he was often whistled and hooted at by the troops. It was the only place they could give vent to their feelings without actually ending up in the Detention Barracks. It was said that the only people to see him off were service personnel. According to the local wits they were only there to make sure he was actually on his way.

It was sometime around this period that a fellow who was a postman during Eric's time at the GPO added to the long list of excruciating local malapropisms, by always referring to the Governor's Aide-de-Camp as the 'Aga Khan '.

This was also the year in which the Gibraltar Government Lottery was instituted. It was a great success from the start despite being a rather dubious device for raising revenue in that it raised it unfairly from the wrong source. It was always those who could least afford it that would gamble the most. Nevertheless, many individuals and families took to reserving a ticket with a particular number, which they called el fijo, and purchased it every week. From the very beginning the family fijo was 1613. Nearly fifty years after the first draw it had yet to win a major prize. The standard joke was that it was impossible for a local ever to leave the Rock as to do so meant abandoning el fijo which was sure to come up the minute he left.

The draw was held weekly in Mackintosh Square which was still known locally as el Martillo. The winning numbers were selected from a series of drums by some anonymous local official of hopefully impeccable honesty. The general atmosphere was that of a rather formal outdoor Bingo session. A grotesque literal translation of Spanish into English, 'The lottery touched him in the hammer,' alias 'Le tocó la lotería en el Martillo' became something of a cliché for a while. An even older pre-lottery atrocity which was still being flogged to death, was the one that referred to the fact that 'The clock of the hammer has no string,' a crude translation of 'El reloj del Martillo no tiene cuerda.'

1947 On the 6th of July the Australian cruiser 'Shropshire' called at Gibraltar on its way back home from England. On board was the Australian contingent that had taken part in the Victory Parade celebrations in London. Many were ex S.E.A.C. commandoes, as tough and unruly a company of men as ever to have visited the Rock. That night a group of them tried to force their way into the bar of the Hotel Victoria. The Police were summoned and arrests were made. Annoyed by the injustice of it all, more Australians turned up to aid their comrades who by now had been taken into custody.

Ignorant of the fact that they were on British rather than Spanish territory, they had difficulty coming up with a suitable war cry as they besieged the station. They eventually resorted to a highly inappropriate, 'Down with Franco'.
A number of civilians then came to the assistance of the local Police and within minutes all hell had broken loose. By a coincidence Eric was returning from the CRC that night via Reclamation Road. As he climbed the steps and rounded the corner into Mackintosh Square he suddenly found himself in the middle of a minor civil war. In the free for all that took place many Australians as well as civilians had to be taken to the Colonial Hospital by ambulance. Eric luckily came out unscathed.

HMAS Shropshire