I worked in Greenock for a couple of years in the early 1990s when it was struggling to cope with the loss of the main industry, shipbuilding. At one time there were numerous yards, now there is just one and that is in trouble. People recalled how the pubs used to line pints up on trays on hearing the hooter blowing, signalling the end of a shift and the start of a busy session.
My base was a disused (now demolished) health clinic behind Cappielow, Morton’s football ground. There was a shop with off sales and a post office nearby. A crowd of early morning drinkers would wait for the off sales to open and stay there most of the day. As long as they were there our cars never got touched. The post office closed at lunchtime and one day it was set alight in a robbery. On a windy day the street was briefly raining banknotes, much to the drinkers’ delight.
On another day a frail old man came in and asked for an appointment at the scabies clinic. When this was queried he said it was in the Greenock Telegraph. And it was – in the 50 years ago today column.
It is a bit like a smaller version of Belfast with a handsome Victorian town hall, and some fine merchants’ villas heading west along the shore to Gourock.
The town’s economy is fragile. The Tate & Lyle sugar refinery has gone and IBM, once so big it had its own railway station, employs a fraction of the workforce it once did.
It is also a steep sided town with spectacular views across the Clyde to the Cowal Peninsula.
My reason for visiting was the appearance of a rare pub in the Good Beer Guide. The Willow is a typical Scottish tenement bar.
It is dark and windowless, in keeping with another Scottish pub tradition, but welcoming and friendly.
On spying two hand pumps I wondered about turnover in a town where the only other cask beer is in the Wetherspoons. I need not have worried, the Kelburn Red Smiddy (4.1%) was spot on. The Corncrake was left unsampled as I find this is a beer with a noticeably short peak shelf life.
At noon four lager drinkers were happy to chat. There were two old football matches being shown on the screens. One was Celtic 6 Rangers 2 in 2000, the so-called Demolition Derby, which one customer was following animatedly as if it was live. His flatulence were merely wind in the Willow. The interval between emissions was softly punctuated by the slightly incongruous sound of OMD on the jukebox.
The landlady said the Red Smiddy was a good seller and a guy at the bar agreed. On spying the framed Morton shirts I couldn’t help pointing out it was brewed by a St Mirren supporter. There’s no love lost between the teams but in the Willow it was sweetness, light and er, wind.