The Old Vale Bar, the evening the late Ben Albone brought his horse, Sir Galahad, in for a drink. The horse had a good bucket, served by proprietor Lewis Montgomery, a legendary publican in Alexandria. The poem that follows is by Billy Scobie.
The Old Vale Bar (The 70s Generation)
On the old red sandstone edge of town
an ice-cream parlour gleams and shines.
In paint of crimson, gold and white,
In polished marble, clean and bright,
and spotless glass and varnished wood
adorn this worthy place.
Its neighbour is a drinking shop
purveying spirits, ales and wines,
where men from all the local parts
can warm the cockles o’ their hearts.
No vulgar, shallow, plastic pose,
defiles this hallowed place.
The labourer in boiler suit,
the gentleman in brogues and tweed,
the callow youth in denim jeans,
the businessman of ample means.
Of any class or any creed,
none need feel out of place.
There is the simple wooden bar,
no carpet to offend the feet,
the chairs and tables old and worn’
the yellowed ceiling cracked and torn,
and mirrors dulled by years of smoke
reflect this homely place.
Electric wires that dangle free
and calendars from decades past,
advertisements in letters bold
for foaming ales no longer sold,
and flickering, the old gas fire
will make the cosy place.
Invincible the gantry stands,
so deftly carved and proudly stocked,
with all the finest Scottish malts
brought up from closely guarded vaults
which lie beyond the old trap door
and down beneath the place.
The barmen nurse the well-used taps
and ale is poured with practised skill,
with every order well rehearsed,
each drinker’s tipple soundly versed.
No vain, pretentious cocktail comics
contaminate this place.
The trusty Donald, worth his salt,
will labour through the busy night.
While Iain Johnston glasses cleans
and Lewis on the gantry leans,
the well used ashtrays overflow
and clutter up the place.
O’er in the corner many nights,
a certain crew will congregate.
With each man in his special chair
they sit and shed their every care,
and share a kind of brotherhood,
the hall-mark of this place.
There’s big Jock Clark, a solid man,
the mainstay of the company,
devouring peppermint and rum
and smoking ‘full strength’ like a lum.
With mischief twinkling in his eye,
he beams o’er all his face.
Then Geordie of the railway comes,
and treats them to his darkest glower.
He hands the pontoon tickets round
with seldom any winner found.
As rare they are as smiles that crack
his undertaker’s face.
Right at the back sits Mont the Toff,
in collar, tie and well-pressed suit.
If in his chair he stays awake,
from sampling halfs he’ll take a break
to warble through some Scots refrain,
sweet sound – Amazing Grace.
When teacher Kenny’s off the hill,
well wrapped against the winter night,
with Jimmy Simpson at his back,
the pair of them exchange a crack,
and thoughts of tutoring the brats
from weary minds they chase.
Just now and then O’Hare appears,
the bird-man down from Levenvale,
McQuilkie with some poaching tale,
canoeing trips… a spell in jail.
With young men’s boasts,
the Green and Blue embrace.
In late, as usual, comes MacPhie
and takes his place with pint and pipe.
With careful words so cutely planned
debate’s fierce flames are surely fanned,
the state of nation’s sad misrule
and all its black disgrace.
Alas, each evening has to end,
the company must surely part.
Jock clasping hands and slapping backs,
the barmen shouting parting cracks,
the last then of a dying breed,
none other like this place.
One last pint in the Old Vale Bar. Picture by John O’Hare