Published: 06:00, 06 March 2021
| Updated: 19:11, 06 March 2021
Back when boozy nights out were the norm, a pair of 80-something brothers would march into a Canterbury pub four times a week without fail. Invariably dressed in pristine shirts, ties and cravats, they positioned themselves next to the counter as they routinely worked their way through five pints each.
Tony and Bob Leonard would prop up the bar in the Two Sawyers, chatting and laughing with fellow drinkers as they supped their bitter. Their excursions to the city tavern would end with them clambering into a pre-booked taxi and returning to the home they have lived in their entire lives.
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They were continuing what had become a habit of a lifetime.
Neither Bob nor Tony have married or had any children. The former quips this is because “girls didn’t go in pubs, unless they were with somebody else”. Their lives have instead revolved around pubs, having been regulars at about 10 watering holes over the decades.
But last year, their ritual was brought to an abrupt end. Pubs closed down and the pair were forced indoors. Now, their evenings consist of sitting in front of the TV, drinking a glass each of wine, gin and tonic and port – and desperately missing their local.
“If people walked into the pub, we’d say good evening. You’ve got to speak to them,” Bob, 82, recalls. “We’d chat around, socialise with people and we’d have a good laugh.
“We’d try to get there for after 8pm and would take a taxi at 11.15pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays and 11.30pm on Fridays and Saturdays. Normally at the end of the night at the Two Sawyers, the landlord would give us a whisky to try them out, that sort of thing.
“We’ve missed it a hell of a lot. We go for our walks now and might see the odd dog walker, but we don’t see anyone really. It’s boring.
“We miss all the people mainly and the bar staff. We don’t like sitting about. I don’t miss the beer – we’re missing the people.”
One of seven children, Tony started going to the pub regularly at the age of 15, when their father, Fred, introduced him to the Bell and Crown in Palace Street. Bob, at 14, followed him into the boozer for coronation night the same year. He remembers its clientele that evening spilling onto the pavement, as drunken revellers stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside.
The pair viewed their visits as their main source of entertainment and soon became regulars, friendly with the landlord and customers. They frequented it “quite a few nights” each week until they were called up for national service when they turned 20.
“I went to Gibraltar, Northern Ireland, Malta and Benghazi in 1958. It was the first time I flew,” 83-year-old Tony says. “But national service was a waste of time.
“The people in the pub were good people and were a good laugh. It used to be 10p a pint in our day. They were good pubs in them days.”
Upon finishing their service, they moved back in with their parents in Edgar Road. Tony worked as a bricklayer, while Bob plied his trade as a carpenter and joiner. They kept the seats warm at numerous pubs – including the Unicorn, Black Horse and Maiden’s Head - across the city, only switching taverns when the landlord changed or if a manager took over the business.
The brothers went out as many as six times a week, often losing count of the number of drinks they guzzled. By the end of their jaunts, their clothes would be thick with the stench of stale cigarettes as they turned their attentions to their next outing.
“The smoking ban was the best thing they’ve ever done. It would stick in your clothing and we’d lie down on our pillows and still smell it,” Bob grimaces.
“My sister used to wash the clothes and she used to say she’d put them in the water and nicotine would come out. It was a horrible smell.
“At one time, I used to go to pubs six times a week. We count what we drink now because we’re too old, but beforehand we’d just carry on.”
Their dad died in 1964 after being knocked off his bike by an articulated lorry near Vauxhall Avenue. And after their mother, Ellen, succumbed to cancer seven years later, the brothers decided to purchase the family home. “I couldn’t move away from here,” Bob says. “Everyone in this road offers to help us. People talk the area down, but I’ve never had any trouble here.”
Tony and Bob talk about their love for pubs
Since lockdown was first imposed last March, Tony and Bob have assiduously abided by the rules. They have received assistance with their shopping from neighbours, as well as the bosses of the Two Sawyers, Jamie Robb and Ben Haldane. But having gone without their regular dose of cask ale for almost a year and missing the company of the regulars, the pair are eager to return to the Ivy Lane alehouse soon.
“We’re looking forward to going back very much. I’ll probably do a hula hoop,” Bob continues. “That is our life. I don’t like TV – I’m sick of it. I want to go out and talk to people.
“It won’t be the same [going to the pub]. Hopefully, we’ll go in at lunchtimes for a meal as soon as we’re allowed to and see how it goes.
“I can’t tell when we’ll be able to drink in the Two Sawyers properly – we’ll have to wait to see what Jamie [Robb, the landlord] thinks. We’re still worried about the virus.”