A History of the Chipulina Family
Valerie Jane Chipulina - The Austin 7

1956 In June I passed my driving test. From that moment onwards I took to pestering Eric at the most inopportune of moments whistling loudly from the bottom of Crutchett's Ramp, begging him for a loan of the Austin whenever I had an interesting date.

Gibraltar driving licence

The colloquial term for a casual date with a girl was 'un plan'. The word carried sexual connotations, the implication being that the 'plan' was to promote a prolonged session of heavy petting which, with any luck at all, would eventual lead to the real thing at the back of somebody's car. The reality very often fell well short of expectations but in those sexist days, most young male locals were much given to embellishing and exaggerating the results of their conquests.

The general tenor of the comments used to describe the appearance or desirability of girls were always crude and invariably unoriginal although unsavoury sexual innuendoes masquerading as compliments were very much the order of the day. They were euphemistically called piropos. Here are a few examples which were thought to be particularly witty at the time:

To a girl passing by with a dog on a leash:
'¡Ay quien fuera perro! '
To a girl with a light frilly dress:
'¡Josú, como está el verano! '
To a girl with large breasts:
'¡Anda nena, que tiene mas limones que la huerta mi tio!'
For more general usage the following were considered appropriate:
'¡Si tu fuera mi madre, mi padre tendría que dormir en la e'calera! '
'¡Ada eso si que e' carne, y no lo que hecha mi madre en la sopa! '
'¡Eje niña, que te menea' mejó' que un reló' de paré'! '

Unfortunately I had always been rather inept at the art of seduction. On the other hand I did happen to have Lewis Hathaway as one of my best friends, and Lewis was in a class of his own. WRACs, WRENs, daughters of ex-pats, service men's wives, tourists and the odd local girl, by the time he was 18, Lewis had already become a legend to his local contemporaries. The older generations never realised what he was up to because he was rather small and not really all that good looking. But he had been born with the gift of being able to charm the pants off anybody of the opposite sex. Luckily young female tourists often came in pairs, and I was very often the main beneficiary. It didn't always work out, but Lewis was successful so frequently that I always had more than my fair share of planes.

Reminiscent of Eric's experiences in Malaga, These dates were very often set up with dismissive ease.
'A mi me gusta la rubia. La morena es la tuya', or perhaps,
'La mas alta es para ti que yo no llego'.
These 'gifts' were usually offered before Lewis had even tried to get to know the girls. But he rarely failed. Lewis' father, incidentally, was rather serious individual. In fact, despite visiting the Hathaway's constantly and meeting him on an almost daily basis, I can hardly recall ever having seen him smile. One day, just after Lewis had dated a particularly buxom tourist and had gone out of his way to flaunt both her and her assets throughout the length and breadth of Main Street, Hathaway senior called both of us into his study and gave us a lecture. It was stern but short.

'Vds. tocan y dejarse tocar, hijos. Con las manos nunca pasa nada. Pero no vayan mas lejos, hijos, no vayan mas lejos que es peligroso.' It was an incredibly poignant moment. At the time of course I was naive enough to think I was hearing words of profound wisdom. In retrospect I came to realise that the old man had probably once been just as randy as his son.

This was a period of my life when my friends and I took to visiting Algeciras at every opportunity. It was relatively easy to get there in those days as the ferryboat still plied across the bay at frequent intervals. The reason for our visits was that we had suddenly discovered the charms of the Hotel Reina Christina. An evening out for a drink and a dance at this hotel was always something to look forward to.

Hotel Reina Cristina, Algeciras

The place was an old establishment with a distinctively Victorian atmosphere. It was quite close to the coastal road to the west of Algeciras and was relatively upmarket. In fact in its heyday it must have been quite posh. At night it really came into its own. When the weather was suitable, which was quite often, the dining room was moved outdoors into the gardens. The tables were usually placed in a series of circles around a large dancing area. Between the tables there were lit up date palms and other exotic trees. Overall, it was a beautiful and rather romantic place.

They also had a resident dance band of the 'palm court orchestra' variety. The various members of Los Romanceros soon got to know them quite well and on quieter nights the orchestra would sometimes let some of us accompany them on the drums or the double base. The idyllic nature of the place obviously had something to do with the fact that none of the dancers ever complained to the management. On one occasion and to our almost hysterical delight, we arrived just in time to hear a very popular Latin American group called Los Indios playing one of their tunes as part of a special floor show that had been organised for the night. It was an unbelievable coincidence. More than half the repertoire of tunes played by Los Romanceros had been copied note for note from recordings made by this group. To meet them face to face and spend half the night chatting with them was akin to a later day teenager having an intimate talk with his or her favourite pop star.

That summer I took part in the annual 'Club Fours' regattas, a major event in the club calendar. Eric had been cajoled into both training and coxing our crew. We were considered as rank outsiders. Our opponents were quite justifiably fancied by most people as they were definitely stronger athletes and better oarsmen. Not that it would have taken much to improve on our crew which included the likes of Johnny Norton el rubio, an individual who had never been much good at any sport and rowed in the key position of Number 3.

Johnny Norton ‘el Rubio’ and I posing on some cobbles commemorating the coronation of Elizabeth II

I had been chosen as stroke on the suspect reasoning that since Eric was rated a good oarsman his brother was bound to be a good one as well. To make matters worse our rivals had drawn the better boat. At last, after a sleepless night and a morning spent mainly in the toilet fighting off stomach butterflies the great day arrived. After an uneven start true to form the fancied boat pulled steadily ahead. Half-way down the course we found ourselves over a length behind. A short while later a large rusty old steamer anchored in mid harbour suddenly hid our rivals from view as each cox continued on his course on either side of the hull. At this point, quite unexpectedly, Eric began to call for a bit of extra effort, exhorting the crew in time-honoured fashion.
'¡Venga ahora, dame diez buenas!'.

A somewhat baffled crew responded reluctantly as this type of thing was normally reserved for the final stretch. Besides we had now reached the stage when our hearts were beginning to thump unpleasantly and our arms and legs were starting to feel like lead. It was the psychological moment in any race in which novices such as us began to doubt whether they could finish the race at all, never mind win it. For good measure there was an absence of wind and a sea that felt like treacle to the oar. The tide was flowing in our favour and created the demoralising illusion that the boat was hardly moving. But there was no respite as Eric's extravagant demands for another and yet another 'diez buenas' continued relentlessly.

When we finally reached the ship's bow, all eyes strained to see how our rivals had fared. Not a ripple in sight. They had obviously drawn even further ahead than we had thought. Then dejection suddenly turned into elation. Half hidden by the ship's rusty anchor chains, the bow of the other boat appeared two whole lengths behind us. Our exhaustion dissolved into thin air and our deadened muscles suddenly came back to life. Eric made no further extra demands. We had already done our job and it was too late for our rivals to rally. We won the race with relative ease.

When the umpire's launch came alongside as we paddled back to the clubhouse at the finish, the CRC captain hailed us with the immortal words: 'Well done Chip!' It took a while before I realised the congratulations were for me rather than for the other Chip at the helm.

Badge of the Calpe Rowing Club commemorating its 150th anniversary

In July, Colonel Nasser of Egypt celebrated my famous victory by nationalising the Suez Canal. In October the Suez conflict began. By November it had ended ignominiously for the British and the French. During most of the Suez crisis the Gibraltarians were on the side of the erring British. An angry General Sir Charles F. Keightley, who had led the British forces in Suez, was quickly appointed Governor of Gibraltar after the fiasco, and was thus effectively silenced.

Meanwhile several peculiarly Gibraltarian activities continued to make the rounds. One of these was a theatrical show called Fiesta en el Aire which was usually held at the Theatre Royal. It was essentially a vaudeville type of show in which local amateurs were allowed to flaunt their very limited talents. There were, of course, several more or less permanent fixtures. One of them was a very pretty and very precocious young girl who sang appallingly corny Spanish tunes about brave bulls and even braver fighters. She always wore skirts that were somewhat shorter than they ought to have been and the local gossip was that the dirty old men of the town always bought up all the seats closest to the stage in order to have a good view.

Other popular events that were held regularly were outdoor street dances called verbenas.

Fiesta en el Aire. Cartoon drawn by my brother Eric for the Gibraltar Chronicle.

These were organised by just about any institution that felt so inclined and could be gate- crashed with impunity by anybody who wanted to join in the fun. There was one memorable verbena organised by the local constabulary. As one of Los Romanceros happened to be a cop we were, of course, obliged to take part. For reasons which now escape me the affair ended in one of the most monumental generalised punch-ups ever witnessed in Gibraltar.

On the 8th of September I followed in my brothers footsteps and won the Forrestier-Walker regatta rowing as stroke. It was a curious race in which once again the firm favourites lost against a lighter and less than fancied crew. By the end of the year the Constitution of Gibraltar was amended and a port development plan designed to improve berthing facilities was begun. The Project included the construction of new catchment areas and reservoirs.

That year a plush new cinema opened to the public. It was called the Queen's. This was an era in which big screens such as Cinemascope, Cinerama and Todd-AO were very much in vogue. The Queen's Cinema easily coped with all of them. Most of these wide screen films were always filled with as many extras as the film makers could possibly afford. As there was little that Hollywood could not afford in those days they made a very good job of it.

The Queens Cinema. Our flat in Alameda House was only a hundred yards or so to the right of the Cinema.La Venta nightclub was also a much frequented place by me and my friends.

Films such as ‘Oklahoma’, 'Ben Hur' and 'Quo Vadis'? made sure that the Queen's Cinema was always packed.

Oklahoma. Shown at the Queens Cinema, it was one of the few films ever to have been made in Todd-AO.

That autumn Maria Luisa (2.4) became a great grandmother. On the 14th of October, Sheila gave birth to Valerie Jane Chipulina. She was a beautiful baby. Across the straits, Tangier was returned to Morocco and ceased to be an international zone.