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Sober Life
by Sinclair Newton



Sober Life

We’re used to harbours in Ibiza. I mean, they’re all over the coast like a rash.

But it wasn’t until I was on a ferry from Ibiza to Barcelona that I suddenly realised the 21st century significance of what an island that flattens out as it greets the sea means to one of the world’s more troubling aspects… that of illegal immigration.

Party boats sometime moor up in the grandest harbour of all in San Antonio and people pop ashore to the Sunset Strip. It must be great if you are on one of those galleon-like ships and you can invite who you fancy from Café del Mar to join you on your little motor launch to come aboard for cocktails. Well, wouldn’t you if you were young and fancy free?

I’m not suggesting piracy here, rather the reverse.

Aboard the ferry to mainland Spain were two extremely black men in ill-fitting suits. I mean black like pitch and they were agitated as we pulled in under that statue of Columbus (I’m sure he’s pointing the wrong way, by the way, if it’s America he’s indicating as his destination of choice).

They had never worn suits in their lives before, you could tell. Nor, I doubt, the shirts and ties they kept fidgeting with.

I tried to keep up with them as they disembarked (no luggage, just lots of nervous perspiration), but they were gone in a flash and for all I know they’re about to move into Meadow Lane, where - I might add - they’ll be very welcome, with or without passports.

Apparently there are now thought to be a million Africans inhabiting Spain, mainly from Senegal (the Nigerians go to Ireland, especially the pregnant ones, where they get a fairer hearing, on account of the better health facilities for the unborn child, according to a mate of mine on the Irish Independent). Unborn human rights, they call it.

Don’t you see that once they are in Ibiza, they can get a ferry to Barcelona and there are no immigration checks when it docks because it’s a ship coming from a Spanish island to the mainland?

I never once had to show a passport all the way to Paris and that’s why they keep clambering all over the Eurostar trains and trying to walk through the Channel Tunnel.

Have I discovered something no one else has thought about, I wonder?

I’ve been pondering this harbour thing, because I’ve been reading a smashing book called The Road to McCarthy, by Pete McCarthy (Hodder and Stoughton, £17.99p). It’s a sequel to his McCarthy’s Bar which featured a Nun on the cover grasping a pint of Guinness and even I have to say there’s nothing wrong with that.

He makes the perfectly valid point that if you ever see a bar with your name over it, you should go in for a drink, which is what I always used to say when Sinclair’s Oyster Bar was opposite my office, the only trouble being that I could see it all the time.

Anyway, in his new book, Pete (I feel I know him well enough to call him that after reading both splendid books) travels to a harbour on the West Coast of Tasmania (it’s an island just to the south of Australia) where we Brits used to send convicts.

I didn’t know this, incidentally. I thought they went to mainland Australia and I was certainly never taught at my English school that half of them were from Ireland anyway. It was also never explained to me how abysmally they were treated when they got there.

Macquarrie Harbour, bigger than Sant Antoni’s - in fact, bigger than Sydney’s - was named in honour of the governor of New South Wales and was the wettest place in Australia, but it was not the rain that bothered the convicts. It became the most dreaded penal settlement in the southern hemisphere. It was the most isolated place, hemmed in by an impenetrable rain forest and unforgiving mountains bigger than Atalaya.

You see, it was bad enough if you did anything wrong in Ireland (as I now realise) let alone in England, such as stealing a loaf of bread for your children. Then you got deported. The problem was if you did anything wrong when you were there (such as getting drunk) and then did anything wrong when you were in there.

I’ve been drunk, but no-one ever did anything to me as bad as this, and McCarthy has found the testimony of a convict called Davies (we don’t know his first name) from about 1825 and I’m just going to repeat it here as an example of man’s inhumanity to man and as something to think about when you look out on this other harbour in Sant Antoni.

“The place of punishment was a low point almost levil with the sea… in the centre stands the Triangles to which a man is tied with his side towards the platform on which the Commandant and the Doctor walked so that they could see the man’s face and back alternatively.

“It was their custome to walk one hundred yards between each lash; consequently those who received one hundred lashes were tied up from one hour to one a quarter… and the moment it was over he was immediately sent back to work, his back like Bullock’s Liver and most likely his shoes full of blood and not permitted to go to the hospital until next morning when his back would be washed by the Doctor’s Mate and a little Hog’s Lard spread on… it often happened that the same man would be flogged the next day for Neglect of Work.”

I think you should think about the two very black men I saw escaping from their harbour and the convict called Davies whose testimony, if nothing else, survived from another. As McCarthy says, it obviously made quite an impression on him and adds: “I’m going to remember the back like Bullock’s Liver all my life, and I wasn’t even there.”

Sinclair Newton