Help me solve mystery of monkey in Leith’s ‘Rime of the Auld Mariner’ – Susan Morrison

Does anyone know the truth of a tale that a sailor called Auld Bob told Susan Morrison about the arrest of a chain-smoking, alcoholic monkey after a fight in a Leith pub at the heigh of the Cuban Missile Crisis?

Friday, 13th December 2019, 6:00 am
Fidel Castro wasn't in Leith but was still the cause of an argument that ended in punches being thrown. Picture: Keystone/Getty

Christmas is a time for tales of the mysterious and the unexpected. Let me share with you a strange story of a mad night in Leith, and, by sharing it, perhaps we can find out the truth of this urban legend.

When I first moved to Edinburgh, I lived in a tiny flat. It was owned by a sailor, Auld Bob, who told me a tale I have been chasing these 30 years since.

At the height of the Cuban ­missile crisis, a ship from Havana was impounded in Leith docks. The crew were pretty much on their own. Both money and food had run out. According Auld Bob, the good folk of Edinburgh had been flinging fish suppers at the unfortunate sailors, along with Irn Bru. This was not entirely successful. The bottles tended to explode on impact unless caught very carefully. Basically, they were hurling a sort of Scottish Molotov cocktail at them.

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Not every chimpanzee can adapt to life in a zoo. Picture: AFP/Getty

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Big-hearted Leithers decided the best way forward was what we would call a fundraiser. A pub on the Shore offered to host this charity event. It was nicknamed The Jungle. These days that name would be hipster cool, but this was back in the days when you didn’t wander into a waterside hostelry and ask to see the wine list.

Just one arrest made

Things had been going well. There was a tombola, a whip round and a raffle. However, at some point in the evening, things turned a tad ‘late-night Leith’.

Some comments were made regarding Fidel Castro, who, as far as I can ascertain, wasn’t there. Following a frank and open exchange of views, things got a bit punchy.

The local constabulary were called. The Leith police charged in. Everyone denied everything, officer. Even the guys with the black eyes and wonky noses.

There was only one sentient being to arrest, and that was the monkey.

Yes. The legend says that the pub had been home to either a ­monkey or a chimpanzee that had been brought to this Shore and somehow wound up living in The Jungle. Bob told me the monkey had lived in the pub for so long it had developed a serious drinking problem and smoked 20 Embassy Regal a day.

Sudden detox

The monkey had bitten someone during the fisticuffs, and so the constabulary took the monkey into custody. None of these guys had watched anything involving David Attenborough, and so had not a clue about monkey care. The zoo was called and took the monkey.

Sadly, things did not end well. The monkey, being a chain-smoking alcoholic with an eye for the ladies, didn’t realise it was a monkey.

The sudden detox and change of company was too much, and the story goes that he did not survive long in his new home.

Now, a Christmas challenge to you. Auld Bob has long left us, so I can’t ask him for more details. Can anyone out there cast light on the urban legend of the monkey, the police and the Cuban missile crisis?