Mary Moriarty is a BEM

Port O LeithWell, it’s all a load of royalist imperialist hooey, of course, but once in a while the Honours List does light on someone who you think “Yeah, she deserves it!”

The Virtual Inglenook said of Mary Moriarty in 2009 that even she “only retires once”. He did not predict that Moriarty’s idea of “retirement” involved the Leith Festival (Gala Day yesterday, continues to the 20th, enjoy!)

She campaigned against the blanket ban on smoking in all enclosed public spaces, and while I’ve never ceased to be grateful that the ban was imposed (suddenly, I could breathe in pubs) still, you can appreciate the worries before it was imposed:

“We are trying very hard to find a compromise. I mean, I understand a ban on smoking where there is food, but in a boozer!

“The licensed trade has come up with the compromise of putting signs up that say ‘This is a ventilated smoking area’, but the whole point is this: customers who come into a pub have a choice.

“If they don’t want to be in a smoky environment, they can always turn round and walk out.”

A smoker herself, Mary concedes that the debate isn’t really that clear cut, and admits: “The concern is about the staff who have to stay there all day in a smoky atmosphere.

“When asked, I always say that I reckon I smoke about 180 a day. That’s ten cigarettes smoked passively for each of the eight hours I spend behind the bar.”

She ran Port O’ Leith bar for 25 years, from 1984 to 2009. There are more anecdotes than could be shared in a blogpost, but two that came up on my timeline (from the same person) when the news of her British Empire Medal broke:

She was chairperson of Leith licenced Victuallers for years, did a lot for charity and was fair to any customer. She would accept payment in any currency except zlotti and gave a fair exchange rate. I once saw four foreign fishermen come in at 11pm with only foreign currency. First she poured them four pints then took the foreign note, went to the back room, checked the exchange rate, wrote it on the note, put it in the till and gave them the change in UK money (I can’t remember the nationality now but I do remember looking it up & seeing the exchange rate was “fair”). As an “ordinary” person I can think of few others who deserved recognition even if the idea is archaic!

Here’s another. My business partner’s father died quite late in the evening. He wanted a contemplative drink. The only place that we knew would be open was the Port of Leith. We went in and ordered two pints. David was contemplatively quiet. What’s wrong with David? Mary said to me so I told her. Here’s the keys, she said: put the money in the till, lock up as you go and put the keys through the letter box. A REALLLY UNDERSTANDING Landlady, no frills, who was tolerant but took no shit and I’m sure she was like that when out in the community.

Moriarty’s own reaction to the news:

“I’m still in shock. When I found out about six weeks ago it absolutely floored me. I know I don’t really deserve it because a group of people are responsible for the Leith Festival. I’ve discussed it with my family and they said it really should go to the Leith Festival as a group. I phoned my sister in America and she is very proud.”

Her fantasy dinner party guest:

Definitely Henry VIII – six wives. I could upmarket him and tell him about Lizzie Taylor and Joan Collins and others who shall remain shameless. Eat your heart out, Henry.

And what would you cook them?

It would have to be Carbonara – it’s the only dish I can rummage up quickly.

Not to be confused with the real Italian Carbonara as served deliciously in Italian restaurants. Anyway, who wants to spend hours slaving over a hot stove when there’s hot gossip to digest?

Henry VIII sharing hot gossip with Mary Moriarty. Scary thought…

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