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I was six or seven years old. One Saturday night, while the whole family was asleep in the two adjoining bedrooms separated by a retractable Formica screen, there was a knock on our front door. Anxiously my father got out of bed and walked to the living room. Unlocking the front door, he pulled it back an inch or two.
Through the small gap between the door and the jamb, he saw two drunken sailors loitering sheepishly under the porch. Me and me mate Taffy here got told it was just round back of hospital. Got any idea where it could be, matey?
Scodger from the Argyll told us that he used to know this fellah from the Anglians who said that she was a proper Gibraltun goer. She died about three years ago. She was about eighty-five. She had been alive when we had first moved into our flat towards the end of , but had died of an embolism or some other geriatric malady a couple of years later. Or maybe not, judging from what happened that night in You will then find yourself in an area known as New Passage, a narrow, ill-paved alleyway that connects the steeply ascending Hospital Steps on the South to the broad, flat, limestone-hewn escalones of Castle Street on the North.
Even now — when almost no one in Gibraltar remembers what scandalous practices used to occur in this area — New Passage looks very much like a colonial red-light district should look: dark, eerie and, if we are to be honest, a little dilapidated. The demographic history of New Passage makes no less interesting reading.
Nowadays, the area is populated mainly by Moroccan workers and one or two remaining Gibraltarian families. If you were to go back even further in time — say, to the decade straddling the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — the situation would have been even more different. Even more so than nowadays, it would have attracted individuals with low disposable incomes — mainly prostitutes from the five or six brothels lining the length of the lane, and the scruffy, ill-fed ragamuffins from the Catholic orphanage on nearby Castle Street.