So Szerelmey came back with a counter-offer: a pint would be good, but why not catch the Chelsea–Porto game afterwards? As it happens I’m still working through issues around the 1970 FA Cup Final, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.
And here we all are in the classy Butcher’s Hook on Fulham Road. The atmosphere is raucous, but, as they say, good natured. It quickly becomes apparent that Szerelmey are a sporty lot. John is a Sunderland-supporting foxhunter who coaches a children’s football team, Gary (125kg, also known as Shrek for some reason) looks like the rugby fullback he was, and Greg is handy with a gun.
Oh really? Yes indeed. He’s into conservation and shooting. In other words “the money from the killing goes towards the animals’ welfare”. A bit of a good news/bad news situation for the grouse and the deer, but good news for Greg’s friends.
“I take the rump and that kind of thing, hang it for a couple of days to get the meat loose then cook it on a strong flame. You seal it very quickly.”
Greg does get some stick from animal lovers, but as John says, at least you know the “chain of events” that brings meat to your table, “unlike KFC”. John and Greg run the argument that hunting is a branch of resource management, before admitting that it’s really about pleasure. Morality follows convenience. For example, Gary’s seven-year-old daughter doesn’t eat meat, but maintains that bacon is a vegetable.
Sinead mentions that as well as shooting, Greg is a runner. “Are you doing the marathon?” I ask innocently. Gary: “He runs the sort of distance you go in a train.” Ah. Greg is an ultrarunner. His idea of a trot is 60km over Mont Ventoux, preparatory to the 35 hour, 160km ultra trail over the Alps from Chamonix to Courmayeur-Champex and back. Greg says anyone can do it, if they get up earlier – and jump into a bucket of ice to stop blood loss from their muscles when they stop.
Does this sporting prowess help Szerelmey when it comes to doing business? That depends who they’re working for; John mists over when he talks about his favourite firms: “Working for Bovis is like working for your dad; working for [Sir Robert] McAlpine is like working for your grandad.” Greg talks warmly of Stanhope and the South African contractor Murray & Roberts.
And who wouldn’t they work for? Greg expresses sympathy with Cleveland Bridge’s predicament at Wembley (“We’d have walked off, too”) and John relates a rumour that the problem with the drains at the ground were caused by a disgruntled subbie dumping concrete down them. And then there are a couple of very well known firms that Greg would swerve because of their payment practices, but at this point a carefree CFC fan collides with me, knocking the rest of our chat off the record.
Chosen watering hole: Butcher’s Hook, Chelsea
Ambience: Shouty pre-match bar surrounded by mounted police
Subjects discussed: Football(obviously), shooting, running and flooring
Drinks drunk: Eight pints of Stella, three glasses of house white
John Guest senior contracts manager
Greg Verhoef director
Gary “Shrek” Williams senior contracts manager
Sinead Finlay Alwyn Communication
David Rogers Building magazine