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The Anniversary Dinner – Some Personal Impressions

By Brenda Mabey

The Thatched House Hotel stands, or rather straggles along an extended frontage, on the main road between Sutton and Cheam. We have passed it a thousand times, speeding by in the car on the way to somewhere or other, but I can never decide quite what to make of it. Is it an overgrown cosy cottage or a small-scale country house? It somehow manages to be a mixture of both, with a touch of chocolate box thrown in for good measure. Its style looks westward towards genteel Cheam rather than eastward to trendy, slightly downmarket Sutton. If Sutton’s Holiday Inn is at one end of the hotel spectrum, then Cheam’s Thatched House is most definitely at the other.
I have often wondered what it is like inside.

Thus was I delighted and more than a little intrigued to learn that the Thatched House had been selected as the venue for the 50th Anniversary Dinner of the Epsom Cine and Video Society. The prospect of a celebratory feast is of course always to be relished; but as an added bonus the occasion would provide a perfect opportunity to satisfy my long-standing curiosity about the interior and ambience of the establishment itself. In other words, here was a fine chance to indulge in a spot of "Nosy Parkering".

Deposit and balance having been duly paid to John Gollop and various mouth-watering items selected from a menu very efficiently circulated well in advance by Sylvia Bull, we awaited with eager anticipation the arrival of Friday 15th March and the appointed hour of 7.30 p.m. for 8.

Uncertain of the parking situation in and around the venue and in order to minimise the number of parking spaces which would be required, we had arranged to share our car with Frank and Martina Barron. Despite everyone’s very best intentions of punctuality, it was getting a little late as we turned into the small and somewhat overcrowded hotel car park. After a further delay as Dennis carefully shoehorned the car into one of few remaining free spaces and amidst general relief that Diggy’s vehicle had emerged unscathed from an extremely close encounter as we squeezed in beside it, our little party of four hurried inside.

From the outside it is quite apparent that the Thatched House Hotel is not purpose-built, but has rather been cobbled together from pre-existing houses on the site. However, the fact that this place is a bit of a warren only adds to its charm; like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it seems to have just "grow’d". As we entered, initial impressions, always so important, were favourable. The foyer was small, but well-appointed and welcoming. The first thing which came to eye was a large easel in a prominent position; it displayed a printed placard extending a warm welcome to the Epsom Cine and Video Society on the occasion of etc., etc. I can’t recall the exact wording but I do remember being impressed - a nice touch and a good start to the evening.

We were directed to the left along a narrow passageway and into a diminutive mock Tudor style bar, its smallness only emphasised by being packed wall to wall with smartly dressed bodies, all talking happily and noisily away nineteen to the dozen. Some faces were familiar, others not, so I surmised that this was tonight’s company of diners. I have since learned that there were forty-four people present, but what a huge crowd they seemed! Drinks were ordered and our own conversation added to the general hubbub. Ordinary hotel guests must have been bemused by all this Friday evening uproar – but no doubt they are used to regular functions and gatherings.

After a short while, an announcement was made that dinner was served and the tide of humanity hove slowly out of the bar, back through the foyer and into a large room at the rear of the hotel. A seating plan was displayed usefully on the door, so it was very easy to find one’s place for the evening. Guests of honour and committee members sat at a long High Table, while other members and guests occupied three slightly shorter tables set at right angles "below the salt".

Having settled into my seat, I had a good peer around. (I’m not really nosy, you know. I was merely, in the manner of Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations, "looking about me".) I was first and foremost struck by the general elegance of the assembled company, the ladies positively sparkling in their evening finery and the gentlemen smart and debonair in formal attire. At this point I single out for special mention our Chairman Ken Kendall, who looked particularly distinguished with his very smart bow tie. Having completed its perusal of fellow diners, my gaze strayed idly around the room, which was large, square and unremarkable. It was however, freshly and brightly decorated, the plain walls relieved by prints of the type you always find in hotel bedrooms and with fake wooden ceiling beams as a concession to olde worlde rusticity. In a word, functional, and perfectly adequate for our requirements. Two or three sets of large patio doors obviously led out into a garden, but since by now it was dark my curiosity about what lay beyond them would have to remain unsatisfied. Bit of a shame, that. (Not that I am nosy, of course – I just like to know.)

Other more important and pertinent matters soon claimed my attention. The tables were, as would have been expected, immaculately laid, but to complement the tasteful arrangement of cutlery and glassware, each place setting boasted an individual menu card, beautifully designed and printed, showing on the front the diner’s name and inside the personal menu choice. There was also a large and intriguing envelope which contained an eye-catching red folder housing in its turn a folded fact sheet with photographs and information about the history and activities of the Society. This was a wonderful souvenir, and for those of us whose membership only goes back a few years, a very informative and interesting read. To the designer and producer of these impressive items – I made enquiries and found that they were the work of John Gannaway, based on ideas by Diggy Mottram - I would like to express thanks and appreciation for all the hard work that was obviously put in, as well as many congratulations on the result.

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