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The Crown and Anchor Years

September 28, 2010

This is a bit of a curio. I’ve been so busy of late that I haven’t found the time to write any new stuff. Then I came upon the piece below, which I wrote back in 1998, in the days when blog was a misspelling of an English surname. The background is that a partner and I ran a business called Kudos, that started in an unsalubrious area of Woking, in the UK. It grew to be an international business in seven countries, but Ken and I saw no reason not to stay in the original office, though we ended up taking the whole block.

Across the road was a pub which we frequented for a decade. This piece, which I wrote for the company intranet, describes the history of the pub during our time in Woking. I’ve removed some surnames to spare the embarassment of a few protagonists. We first went there in the depths of the recession of 1991. It was a place where we partied, where we saw a total eclipse of the sun and watched airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. For hundreds of Kudos employees who came though our doors during those years, The Crown and Anchor was part of life. I can’t say I’d ever visit it again, but I’ll never forget it. They don’t make pubs like the Crown and Anchor anymore.

For eight long weeks, there has been a gap in the working lives of many of us in Westminster Court. We don’t talk to each other any more (except for the smokers on the pavement – persecuted minorities always talk to each other). The garage has done record business – same bloody sandwiches. People have disappeared at lunch to obscure Woking eating places. The glue that has bound us together for the past seven years – the staff canteen, aka the Crown and Anchor, has been closed for refurbishment. And have we missed it! Well I have, even if those of a more refined disposition have always steered a wide berth.

On Thursday June 4th the Crown and Anchor triumphantly reopened, just in time for the World Cup. The place has been transformed. Green and gold on the outside, pastel comfort on the inside, plus a Thai restaurant in the old saloon bar where the pool table and knife fights used to be. 

So we crowded in to the opening evening to sup the free booze and sample the Thai cuisine, and lo! department spoke unto department. We were whole again.

For those who don’t remember the old days, I thought I’d look back on the old Crown and Anchor, the backdrop for so many defining moments in our history. As the Woolpack is to Emmerdale, The Bull to the Archers, the Rovers to Coronation Street and the Coach and Horses to Jeffery Bernard, so is the Crown and Anchor to Kudos.

Our affair with the Crown and Anchor started in June 1991, when we moved from our pokey offices in Guildford to the top floor of 9 Westminster Court. We were the first into the new office complex. There was a choice of two pubs in the vicinity. The C&A, no food and dubious beer, ran by a surly landlord and patronised by many of the criminal fraternity of Old Woking. The Queen’s Head, no food and dubious beer, ran by a surly landlord and patronised by nobody. The C&A became our regular simply because it was over the road.

The appearance of the C&A changed little over the subsequent seven years. Red and gold flock wallpaper, probably left over from a sixties curry house. Ceilings originally painted cream but now a nicotine-stained deep yellow. The exterior peeling and scuffed, last decorated in 1960. Carpets ingrained with beer, fag-ash, blood and chips. The doors showing signs of numerous break-ins. The “beer-garden” with rickety benches and lawn pocked by mole-hills. The seats foam-covered with maroon plastic in various stages of disrepair, the worst held together with electrical tape.

In short it was a pub in depression, ideal for a business growing up in a recession.

Enter the Kellys

Four months later things looked up. The landlord, so unmemorable that none of us remember his name, departed to be replaced by the very memorable Mike and June Kelly. Mike was, and still is I hope, Irish. When he was very young his dad moved from County Carlow to Didcot in Oxfordshire, where he found a job with British Rail. I never found out much of Mike’s post-Didcot history, but he ended up in the pub trade, and must have done OK because he had a holiday home in Nerja, in Southern Spain, to which he and June retreated with relief on a regular basis. Both he and June had grown-up children by their first marriages. June’s daughters lived locally and often helped out in the pub.

They made an immediate impact. Mike took the trouble to find out our names, in the way that the best landlords do, and made us feel welcome and wanted. He made no changes to the decor, nor do I believe did he ever seriously intend to. Yes, he would mutter about his plans to give the place a going over, but in the same breath he would complain about not being able to afford it. But he did make an effort to attract the punters, with discos, live music, Sunday lunches and even a notorious stag evening, of which more later.

But what made the difference was Mike’s sense of humour, his willingness to put himself out, especially for us, and, most important of all, the food. The chef was the long suffering June. Mike and June came from a long tradition of transport caff food. They knew how to cook for those who worked off their food. Their breakfasts, as those Kudossers who lodged with them will recall, were mountainous – every form of cholesterol known to humanity. Their lunches, the fry’n’chips variety, beloved of many including me, were titanic. Their chilli con carne defeated the UK boss of ICIM, ICL’s Indian software house, a native of Kerala, whom we once entertained there. And yet there was more to June than building the bums of builders. Gradually other dishes appeared on the menu. Dishes designed to appeal to us effete office workers, like Spanish casseroles and spicy fried chicken, always with three or four types of fresh vegetable. Whenever I went on one of my frequent diets June would come up with joys like fresh grilled tuna. I always thought that she had missed a vocation.

If you didn’t fancy June’s cooking you also had the delights of the whelk stall, which was a converted caravan in the car park. The whelk stall seemed to be a chalice passed from one regular to the next. One moment you were drinking with them, the next they were selling cockles and whelks outside.

 The scars to prove it

 As Kudos grew, so did our patronage of the C&A. If we needed a working lunch, Mike would bring over the pop and sausage rolls. Large tabs started to accumulate, and the pub quickly became known as the staff canteen. We held our second Christmas party in the room upstairs, dank and low-ceilinged. It was notable for the way in which the dignified business folk of Kudos degenerated into food-throwing lunatics, instigated by one or two people whom you would not expect to behave like rock drummers on tour. Pay me lots and I’ll tell who.

The most memorable event of the first bash was around chuck-out time (or chuck-up depending on whether or not you ate the seafood platter), when one of the regulars, a hard-looking chap of five-foot nothing, forgot which bar he had come from and joined the disco. He took against one of our number who was at least a foot taller, clapped his hands on our man’s shoulders, rose with the grace of Billy Bremner on angel dust, and nutted him on the bridge of the nose.

By and large this was an exception – the violence was mainly implied rather than actual, but perhaps this was because most of us early evening drinkers took off before the night got long. Tracey, who for a spell worked the odd weekend behind the bar, remembers ducking to avoid a large glass ashtray frisbeed across the bar as the parting shot from a punter whom Mike had just barred. The asthray shattered a mirror and lodged some glass in the poor lady’s derriere, which made her reluctant to sit down for the rest of the evening. One way to keep the staff on the go I suppose. The guy that did it disappeared for a while; something to do with Her Majesty.

 The pub was also the venue for our fifth anniversary, at which much beer was consumed. Ken, being a modest person, had made up his mind that there would be no speeches. But as always his enthusiasm eventually got the better of him and he stood on a table to say his piece. Being somewhat the worse for wear he steadied himself by putting his hand on the ceiling. Thirty-five years of grime rubbed off and an executive paw print was clearly visible ever after.

 The one event we weren’t invited to was the famous stag evening. A rather flash insurance salesman organised a stag night for his mates at which there were to be two strippers. Mike blocked the main bar off, leaving only the saloon open to the public. As the evening went on, the beer went down, and everyone, including the strippers got very drunk. Rumour (aka Ken, who definitely wasn’t there) has it that the strippers got so carried away with the occasion that they offered what may politely be called “additional services” for a knock down (or knock up, depending on which way you look at it) price. Allegedly twenty guests bought in. What seems indisputable is that if the law had walked in at that point there would have been no more C&A, and local history would have changed course. Mike, being a good Catholic, was deeply embarrassed the morning after. June didn’t speak to him for a fortnight.

Fun days and barking cats

Over the years, the way in which Kudos and the C&A interacted grew more diverse. Whenever there was an office move, we would recruit large regulars to do the lifting. Anyone we wanted to put up for the night (except customers…) we would book into the pub for B&B, from whence they would emerge with the builders and reps for one of June’s gargantuan fried breakfasts. Ask Mark about these. The C&A became our window on Old Woking, the place you could go to get the latest on the criminal fraternity, or to buy a used car (from Steve with the foot-long eighties-vintage mobile phone – he spent more time in the pub than in his “office”), or to find out who in Westminster Court had recently gone bust. We (or rather Tracey) even helped organise a fun day in the back garden and adjoining fields to raise funds in memory of a local girl who died of meningitis. Whatever the shortcomings of the place, you could forgive everything because of the inextinguishable good humour of Mike and June. (That good humour did not always extend to relations between them. Mike lived in fear of his spouse’s wrath, which was mighty.)

 Around 1995 came a notable newcomer. A black and white cat the size of a small Labrador waddled in one day and never left. Mike claimed that Mickey was abandoned when the people in the next house moved away. To look at him you would think that Mickey’s owners had intended to use him for foie gras du chat. Walking was clearly a pain, so he hardly ever attempted it. He spent most of his time stretched on his side. A major brawl erupting around him would merit only the slightest twitch of acknowledgement. The only time anyone ever saw him “fast” on his feet was when he caught a mouse among the molehills in the back lawn. The effort clearly exhausted him because he didn’t then have the energy to kill it. Mickey was a sumo cat. He exuded an air of somnolent menace. Even visiting dogs circled warily around him. Yet oddly enough, despite his extraordinary size, no one I know ever saw him eat. Perhaps Mike fed him on moles.

Dungroanin

Every year was to be Mike’s last, but we never took his threats to retire to Nerja seriously until the middle of ’97, when he started to get visibly stressed by things that would previously have washed over him – busy meal times for example. The place became even more dilapidated, and some very young drinkers began to appear in the saloon bar. By the end of the year it was clear that the time had come. He was selling up and on his way. Torturous negotiations followed and by February there was a new landlord imminent, with plans for Thai restaurants, minstrel galleries, a change of name even (allegedly “the Fat Cat” after Mickey). Two weeks later Mike and June were gone and Mark and John were in charge. The Kellys refused a party. Their leaving was celebrated by a quiet drink or six, the exchange of addresses and promises to keep in touch. Since then nothing has been seen or heard of them. Sad affairs, lifetime friendships.

 In March the pub closed for refurbishment. Delays, discovery of damp rot, and changes to plans turned the estimated four weeks to eight, but finally, last week, all was ready. And we were whole again. The beer was declared drinkable, the food good (albeit more expensive), the decor much improved and the new TV magnificent. The whole job cost a hundred grand.

As for Mickey, like Humphrey the Downing Street cat when Labour got in, he’s been “retired” to a home for obese cats. But his effigy is there for all to admire in the form of a fine stained-glass portrait above the bar.

We all have our memories of the old Crown and Anchor. Ken has a piece of the flock wallpaper. Others have scars in unlikely places. For me those days are summed up by a cautionary message to be found on the machine in the loo that dispensed banana-flavoured condoms – “use for fun only”.

 

From → Social, UK

4 Comments
  1. Very amusing.

    Twas voted the Best Local pub in Woking in 2014 (http://www.wokingbbn.co.uk/winners.aspx) don’t you know.

    Mind you there is not much competition these days in Old Woking, Kingfield or Westfield. The Queens Head was converted to flats; the White Hart is in the process of being converted; and the Cricketers is now a Chinese.

    Indeed Westminster Court itself is soon due to become residentials flats.

    • Thanks for the update. There isn’t much competition, but at least Wetherspoons didn’t win anything. I note that the C&A was the only winner without a website or email address. Mike Kelly would approve…. Steve

  2. David Antill permalink

    It closed a few weeks ago – never frequented this place as it seemed to be used by workmen on there way home from work and looked very run down.

    But we are getting excited now it is undergoing a £675,000 refurbishment and already looks amazing, stunning new roof and beautifully painted and transformed on the outside.

    Cant wait to go inside when it re-opens next week and if they do good food what a bonus. Have heard they are to make a feature at the end of the gardens and have opened it up to the Rivey Wey.

    • Goodness! I suppose that reflects the area going more upmarket since the 90s. Whoever is investing that sum must be an optimist. I must look in sometime… Steve

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