Tue | Nov 30, 2021

From gloomy to pristine – Glasgow has come a long way

Published:Tuesday | October 26, 2021 | 12:05 AM


There’s a lot of media focus on the UN Climate Change Summit to be held from October 31 to November 12.

Beginning this summit on Halloween is a bit scary, and with Glasgow as the host city, it refreshes many memories of my one and only visit to that ancient seaport on the River Clyde, six decades ago.

The docks were blanketed in a smoggy and foggy polluted atmosphere that January, and pictures of the splendid and pristine Scottish Events Campus, where COP26 meetings are scheduled to be held, look a far cry from what is permanently etched in the canyons of my mind. My memories are of slush-filled, dingy and drab dockside streets traversed every morning at opening time, to purchase a dozen cans of Tennent’s Lager from the Off-Licence Liquor Store. Although not yet legally old enough to buy or consume alcohol, there was never any problem as long as the correct money was produced for the chief mate’s daily ration.

The MV Owerri was a typical 1950s-built general cargo ship that was my first vessel, in what turned out to be a career at sea spanning over a quarter-century. Having joined in the home port of Liverpool to sail to several West African ports, shipping all manner of manufactured and consumer goods; then loading raw materials for discharge in European ports, before the age of containerisation. Among cargoes for discharge in Glasgow were bagged groundnuts and cocoa beans, bulk liquid latex in the deep tanks, huge mahogany logs; all loaded in exotic-sounding ports, including Lagos, Takoradi, Monrovia and Freetown.

Also still vivid in my memory is having to stand guard as cases of whisky were loaded into the vessel’s ‘tween-deck special security lockers; a pimple-faced 16-year-old who could never match the wits of a stevedore gang of thirsty Scotsmen.

Happy memories, too, about two Saturday nights at the legendary Locarno Ballroom on Sauchiehall Street, where accommodating Scottish lasses led the way to nearby darkened alleyways, and made a young sailorman’s life all seem worthwhile. That was Glasgow long before COP26.


Parksville, BC