Whenever I visit Gibraltar on holiday, I like to take a stroll through the Upper Town. It’s the neighbourhood where I grew up in and walking along its sharp-cornered ramps and passages is always a very nostalgic experience for me – almost like taking a dip in a bath brimming with childhood memories.
Last time I went on one of these walks, I noticed an abundance of CCTV cameras. I don’t mean official police cameras, but privately owned ones – positioned like all-seeing plastic eyes above residential doorways, many of them bearing homemade signs saying ‘Wave hello to the camera,’ ‘You are being recorded’ or ‘If you are going to let your dog make a mess, look up and smile.’
My first thought was to wonder if it was really necessary to have CCTV cameras in such quiet, out-of-the-way locations, but as I continued making my way northwards along Road to the Lines it occurred to me that, in some ways, the obsession with surveillance and control is buried in our Gibraltarian genes.
If you wanted to pasture your goats on the Rock’s grassy slopes in the old days, for instance, you needed a permit. If you wanted to walk past the Landport Barriers (the gates through which the city was accessed by land), you needed a permit. If you wanted to go out at night, you needed a permit and a ‘lighted lanthorn’ (unless, of course, you were a British army officer, in which case you were more or less exempt from any kind of regulation). When the Gibraltar police force was formed in 1830, two out of its first three arrests were for permit violations — the second of these happening at 8 a.m. on 29 July, 1830, when Inspector Richard Whitelock, my great-great-great grandfather, stopped a Portuguese lighterman ‘for refusing to show his permit and using abusive language’!
Permits in the nineteenth century, and CCTV cameras in the twenty-first – who says history doesn’t repeat itself?
M. G. Sanchez has written nine books on Gibraltarian subjects, among them novels, short story collections, books of essays and autobiographical memoirs, all of which are available on Amazon. More information on his writing can be found at www.mgsanchez.net/media or on his Facebook page. He also tweets under the handle @MGSanchez.