Developments in the country

Well, what an interesting few days this has been. I popped down to the old homestead primarily because of all the rumours I had been hearing recently. Judging by all the gossip the country was beset by marauding property developers, whose sole intent appeared to be to deprive half the county of their land and the other half their livelihoods!

Quite honestly I had half expected to be walking straight into a scene from Les Miserables, with the hard-pressed locals and the City suits each standing firm behind their makeshift barricades. I could almost hear the chorus of “One Day More” ringing in my ears as I approached the Kings Arms.

I was actually a little disappointed to find just one young lady sat on the high street clutching what was obviously a rather hastily produced placard with the slogan “No To New Developments” scrawled across it. This was hardly the raging protest I had been led to expect. As I am sure you can imagine, I don’t have much experience of protests or demonstrations of any kind, but even I could see that such a lacklustre approach was going to little if anything to deter the builders and their backers.

The reason I had stopped off at the King’s Arms first rather than the house was so that I could have a quiet chat with old Jim, the landlord. I was also feeling rather peckish so I could kill two birds with the one stone, so to speak. It was unusually quiet at the bar so I had no trouble securing a good table in the far corner, close to the fire. This not only had the advantage of keeping me warm but also boasted an excellent view of the entrance so I could keep a lookout for any of my friends who may happen to call in.

Anyway, over a couple of glasses of 10-year-old Ardbeg, Jim brought me up to date on recent events. It seems that there are two different companies vying with each other to purchased pockets of land all around the area. And as I am sure you can imagine, many of the local residents are none too happy about it, but local businesses are supporting the proposal. Personally, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. What can possibly be the problem with building a few more houses on what would otherwise be unused and wasted land? That is, providing there is a proven need and that the project is managed in a way that limits inconvenience to the local population.

Jim himself believes that more houses will bring more trade, so he is all for these new developments getting the go ahead. You see, according to Jim, none of the sites so far identified as having the potential for redevelopment had actually received planning permission. The area is largely greenbelt so some of the local country set can get a little hot under the collar about these things. As far as I am concerned, providing they build their new developments away from existing properties and can ensure that they are tastefully designed, then we should be supporting them. Of course, I will not allow any such development on my own property; I have no intention of being the first Dimbelby to had any of the family estates to be sold off.

After sampling the special, which was an absolutely enormous and beautifully cooked  Sea Bass, I made my way to the house to speak to my trusty Estate Manager, Mr Rotherby. When I arrived Mr Rotherby himself was busy in his little office and seemed very pleased to see me. Over drinks in the study, he told me all about one particular company who had been writing and calling every day hoping to secure a fairly large plot of land on the far side of the estate to build some kind of trading estate. Well, I was not going to have that. Putting up a few houses was one thing, but to introduce all that heavy traffic and workmen in overalls to this most beautiful part of the country just isn’t on.

Over the next few days, I spoke to a number of local councillors, some of my fellow landowners and other friends I managed to build a picture of what is really going on. It seems that there are two companies trying to secure several small plots of land suitable for building family homes. What they are proposing seems perfectly fine with me. One can’t afford to stand still in this day and age, otherwise, one will be left behind. On the other hand, there is another developer who is looking specifically to build a small industrial and retail “park”. And I can tell by the conversations I had over the weekend that we are almost unanimous in your objection to having any such things thrust upon the residents of the town.

One resident who did not hesitate to make her feelings known to me was young Anne who joined me on several occasions over the few days I was at the house. It would appear that the young scoundrel Dorchester has been driving across to Anne’s rather frequently of late. It was so good to see how happy she was with Dorchester and was busy trying to mould him into the type of chap who can appreciate the difference between a rose and a carnation. I am extremely pleased for both of them – I am sure they will make a very fine couple.

I had only planned to stay at the house for a couple of days but found I was enjoying my stay so much that I did not come home until late this afternoon. I had thought I would spend a few days visiting old friends, which I did despite the continual protests and placard-waving at strategic points around the town. In the end, I got rather bored talking about builders, developers and all the money they were going make and how many new homes in the area would be a disaster. So I just stayed at the house, chatting to Aunt Sara about family matters and reminiscing over the parties my mother and father often hosted there. Of course, as a child, I was never allowed to attend of these lavish affairs. To be fair to my mother, I was usually at school when these events took place.

As I say, I really enjoyed my short sojourn in the country and am now ready to take on whatever it is Aunt Murdock and Miss Drayton have to throw at me.

 

 

Hopeless at relationships

Since Sunday afternoon I have been thinking a great deal about Hope Greenwood. Dorothy has been having her little chats with me, and even Aunt Murdock went out of her way to visit me yesterday afternoon to find out how things went. They are both convinced that there is something of a romantic nature between Hope and me, but I am not sure of Hope’s feelings on the matter.

Yes, we had a great afternoon on Sunday and I learned a lot about Hope’s past and even a little about her hopes for the future, but I remain as uncertain as ever about how she sees me. It doesn’t help that I am not sure of my own feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely fond of Hope; she has become one of my closest friends. I am just worried that having been single for so long I may not be the best person for her to be in a relationship with. And I am a little concerned about the way that Emily sees me. I would hate to come between them.

But relationships are not the only thing on my mind at the moment. You see, I received a telephone call from Mr Rotherby, my Estate Manager, about some comings and goings on the estate. He tells me he is a little worried about Aunt Sara, although he was somewhat vague over the particulars. He tells me that he has also been approached regarding the sale of part of the estate for a housing development. He knows my feelings on the matter but has asked if I could speak to the gentlemen concerned as they are taking very little notice of him.

So I have decided that I will have to pop along to the old family homestead tomorrow and see for myself what is going on. It might be nice to have a weekend away from the city and I may drop by to see some of the neighbours. I have already told Anne I will be down so she is going to join me for dinner tomorrow night.

 

Sunday Lunch with Hope

Last week invited Hope to join me yesterday for one of Mrs Kaczka’s renowned Sunday roasts. I have eaten roast diners in many respected and very fine establishments, but I have yet to find any that can compare to Mrs Kaczka’s. That woman is a venerable wizard in the kitchen, turning her hand to almost any kind of food with seemingly magical ease. Even Dorothy, who is herself a very good cook and makes the most wonderful Italian dishes, cannot compete when it comes to the traditional Sunday Roast. It may be a simple meal, but I believe that is part of its charm. Many places I visit try to make something special out of it, adding unnecessary frills and tastes, whereas Mrs Kaczka keeps to traditional recipes. For a Polish lady, she has an amazing grasp of traditional English cooking.

The main purpose behind my invitation to lunch was not to show off my housekeeper’s venerable culinary talents, prodigious as they are, but to ensure that, for once, I could count on having her undivided attention in a relaxed atmosphere. You see, I have been in a bit of a quandary over Hope in recent weeks. On one hand, we have a very good friendship, one I have come to appreciate and depend on a great deal and I would not want to spoil it in any way. On the other hand, I can’t help wondering if our relationship might not be heading for something a little more intimate. Dorothy and Aunt Murdock both seem to think that there is something more, but I am not exactly the most experienced chap when it comes to things like that. I am honest enough with myself to admit I am actually quite shy when it comes to the ladies and have never been very good at understanding my own feelings, let alone those of others. So I had hoped that a quiet leam, at home, with just the two of us might help me to find out Hope’s feelings on this particular subject. Exactly how I would achieve this, I had no idea.

Dorothy and Angela were to be out for the day and I was not expecting any other visitors, so everything was set up nicely for Hope’s arrival at 1 o’clock. But, as with all my plans so far this year, it did not work out quite as I expected.

I should have realised things were going slightly off course when Mrs Kaczka came running up to me a little after midday to say that all the power had gone off in the kitchen. Now, I will be the first to admit that dealing with crises involving domestic energy supplies is not one of my particular skills. Although I had a pretty good idea that we could rectify the problem by doing something with the fuses, I had no idea of either where the fuses were, or what I would do if I found them. Arthur always deals with that sort of thing and he was not there. I tried to telephone him but presume he was out with his family as I could not get a reply. At that point, all I could think to do was to call an electrician, but again, Arthur would normally have dealt with that so I had no idea who to contact. With no immediate solution to the power problem, which did seem to be isolated to the ground floor, my next thought was about the lunch itself. Should I try to book a table somewhere so that Hope and I would at least get something to eat and a chance to chat or should I postpone our date until another time?

In the end, I did neither, deciding instead to telephone Hope and see what she thought, which turned out to be the best decision I had made so far that morning. Not only did she calmly undertake to arrange an electrician to visit, she also announced that she would be there very soon and would bring a little something with her. I was so relieved we would still get our afternoon together that I never thought to ask what the “little something” might be.

Once this had been arranged I felt there was little point in Mrs Kaczka staying any longer as it was obvious to me that she would not be doing any further cooking. So I told her that once she had cleared up she could go home as I returned to my study to wait for Hope to arrive.

A little before 1 o’clock the doorbell rang but instead of greeting Hope at the door, who should be stood there looking for all the world like he had slept in a hedge for a week but my old chum Dasher. He had that look on his face I had last seen when Dorchester told me that Annabelle, his American girlfriend, had left him. Now, I knew Dasher didn’t have a current inamorata so I was rather taken aback when he announced, there and then, on my doorstep, that he was heartbroken, he had been rejected by the love of his life and could never love again! Of course, I had to invite the poor chap inside, even though it was actually the last thing I wanted to do. Once I had managed to steer him into the study and poured a shot of brandy down him, my thoughts returned to Hope, how it was beginning to look like my plans had completely fallen apart, and through no fault of my own.

Dasher explained to me that he had met a certain young lady at one of the casino’s he regularly visits a couple of weeks ago and they had formed an intimate bond almost immediately. When I asked why he had not mentioned her on any of our recent meetings, he said that she had asked to keep their relationship a secret for the time being. Being totally besotted as he obviously was, he did not think to question the lady’s motives for this and had proceeded to fall head over heels. Everything seemed to be going well until last night when, out with friends at a party somewhere in the West End, he saw his new paramour on the arms of another man. Well, to cut a long story short, it seems that his new love was married. Dasher was just a fling for her, hence her desire to keep the whole thing a secret. It a sounded very sordid, more like a bad film plot or one of those books women read on trains than real life. I felt really sorry for the poor chap, but what could I do to help? Hope was due any minute, the electrician would be there at some point and Dorothy wasn’t around to come to my rescue – she would know exactly what to do and say in this kind of situation.

Well, as I am sure you can imagine, after all of this the afternoon was not the one I had planned. Hope arrived just ahead of the electrician a little after quarter past one. The power problem was repaired in no time at all. Apparently, all we had needed to do was “trip the switch” – whatever that means. So we now had power back.

Hope’s “little something” turned out to be a sort of picnic. She had been quite confident that the power issue would be resolved so she had brought with her a couple of prepared meals that she had already made for Charlotte. She had planned to heat up in the microwave but I don’t have one, or if I do we couldn’t find it, so she had to use the oven instead. This actually gave us a little time to see if we could sort out Dasher and, hopefully, send him on his way. But, like everything else at the moment, that was a forlorn hope and it began to look like Dasher was going to be with us for the rest of the afternoon. Hope was actually really good with him. She seemed to know all the right things to say and I think that having a woman talking to him seemed to help. The silver lining came when she suggested he go upstairs and try to get a little sleep. He readily agreed to this, leaving Hope and me to enjoy the meals she had prepared. The food itself was very tasty, but Charlotte is a vegetarian, so it was not what I am used to at all. That said though, I found the flavours very interesting, although I could not tell you what my meal actually was.

Despite everything, we had a jolly good afternoon together. We talked about our friends and our lives, about our ambitions and hopes for the future. As always I was captivated by her smile and the way her face seemed to light up when she laughed. I have always found Hope very easy to talk to and found myself opening up more than I had planned to about my problems with my father, my love for my mother, and my anxieties about taking over the family business from my Aunt Murdock. Of course, Hope knows the old Mad Duck very well, so knows of her recent illness and is as worried as I am about her general state of health. Hope was equally as candid about her relationships with her late husband and her two daughters. I think she has coped amazingly well with the loss and becoming a single mother. Obviously, Emily has her own life to lead, but Charlotte was heartbroken by her father’s sudden death and has struggled to come to terms with it. I have to say that in all my dealings with Charlotte I have found her to be a very strong and determined young lady.

By the time Dasher rejoined us a little after 5 o’clock I have to admit that I had quite forgotten he was there. He was full of apologies for gatecrashing our afternoon and for being such a mess. Of course, we both said there was nothing to apologise for and Hope even busied herself in the kitchen preparing the poor chap something to eat. In the end, the three of us stayed in the lounge and chatted about all kinds of things, but avoiding any mention of relationships, girlfriends or anything else we thought might upset him.

Dasher eventually left about eight, Hope shortly after. This was not the afternoon I had planned but I suppose, the way things have gone lately it was probably the best I could hope for. At least we had had a couple of hours to chat and relax which I am very pleased about. Whether or not I understand our relationship any better I simply could not say, but I do know Hope much better than I did.

I had thought I might pop down to the Club, but decided against it. I had had quite a busy day and decided that the best thing to do was to relax with a single malt.

Guns, Valentine’s and Sunday Lunch!

Yesterday evening at the Club the conversation was all about one thing – the dreadful shooting in America that left so many young people dead or injured. I know that a lot has already been said and written about this appaling incident, so I am not going to add much more to the debate, except to say that even those of the chaps who own and regularly shoot guns think that something needs to be done to end all this pointless waste of life.

The gun totting side of the debate will undoubtedly continue to claim their right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution, but what about the innocents that find themselves the targets of these madmen and cowards? What of their right to freedom from the fear of being shot on the way to school?

And yes, I did say cowards. It is hardly the act of a brave man to open fire on unarmed members of the public. And it seems that the perpetrator of this latest outrage was a very troubled soul, the last person in the world who should have been in possession of weapons of any kind. Of course, if these poor students had been brought down by anything other than bullets there would be immediate calls for either the cause to be outlawed, any faults corrected or for tighter restrictions. But we all know that so long as the damage is inflicted by the seemingly sacred gun.

As I said, the chaps at the Club were unanimous in their condemnation of a regime that continues to condone such mindless slaughter in the name of the object they revere above all others.

Talk at the bar meandered around for a little before finally settling on thoughts of the other big event of the week – Valentine’s Day. On this particular subject, there was anything but unanimity. Some of the younger chaps were all in favour of the modern approach of wining and dining the young ladies, along with an abundance of flowers and far too much chocolate. One or two of the married gentlemen admitted that they had forgotten all about it and their better halves had given them hell over it.

The main problem I have with Valentine’s Day is the expectation that there is something special about the day, which, of course, there isn’t. Far too much is made of the whole thing in my view. And I was pleased to discover that a good few of my drinking chums feel the same way. I have never sent flowers to anyone on Valentine’s Day and I am not going to start now.

This afternoon I made a quick call to Hope at her gallery and she has agreed to join me for Sunday lunch here at chez Dimbelby. Hopefully, this will give us a real opportunity to chat. I am still concerned about how things went with Emily and I am hoping that some light can be shed on the matter. I am also popping down to the country on Monday and I wanted to see her before I left. In fact, I am considering arranging a visit for my birthday in April and may invite Hope and Charlotte to join me. Dorothy thinks I should arrange some kind of party, but I am not sure and anyway, it is probably getting a little late to organise something like that. I will ask hope what she thinks over our Sunday lunch.

Nigel called around a little earlier this evening, but he didn’t stay for long. I have not seen a great deal of him recently. It seems his new business venture is taking up a lot of his time. That and his romance with my Aunt Sarah. He seems to think I don’t know about it, but I believe that it is one of the worst-kept secrets in the family at the moment. I wish he would just come out and announce that they are a couple, then we could all relax around them and celebrate their relationship. I do not understand why he can’t just be honest with me. Maybe he will in bis own time.

A pleasant evening with friends, old and new

Dinner parties with strangers are a little like a leap into the unknown. One never knows quite what to expect. When Hope asked me to be her partner at this little soiree hosted by a couple of her old school friends I immediately accepted but did have my reservations. After all, I had no idea where we were going, who we would be with, or if we would have anything in common. As it turns out I need not have worried; we actually had a really fun evening.

The big surprise of the evening was discovering that although I did not know our hosts, I was already acquainted with the other guests, Richard and Lianna Bardon-Willis. I knew Dickie from College, he was one of the members of our little debating society; Lianna was one of the young ladies we used to drink with. They became a couple in our last year which was no surprise to anyone. We didn’t really keep in touch a great deal afterwards, but our paths have crossed on several occasions over the intervening years. Seeing them there was such a jolly nice surprise and made the whole affair much more pleasant.

Before I say I anything else I really do have to compliment our hosts – Charles and Helen – for the most amazing meal. A delicious Salmon and Prawn Taurine, Lamb so tender it virtually melted in the mouth, and a truly refreshing Lemon Sorbet to finish. All served with a perfect selection of wine which flowed just as freely as the conversation.

Our hosts seemed to know just the right things to say to keep things chugging along. I had not met them before, but they seemed to know a little about me. Apparently, Charles has some business interests that have brought him into contact with my Aunt Murdock, and my father before her. I don’t know exactly what he does, but it seems to involve property development in some way. Dickie, on the other hand, is in banking and has been since we left college, all those years ago.

The one rather strange thing about the evening was that Hope and I were the only two single people there. Although we have known each other for quite a while, our friendship is actually fairly new. For many years Hope was just someone I knew of but had very little direct contact with beyond family gatherings and social events. Over the past few months though I feel we have become very good friends and I am really rather fond of her. As the drink and conversation continued to flow, more than once I found myself watching her as she laughed, noticing,  not for the first time, that she has a couple of crooked teeth which I found strangely alluring A number of my friends and acquaintances have spent a great deal of time and money on having such things repaired, but there is something about these slight imperfections that I find more attractive and genuine. To my mind, all this tinkering with ones’ looks is often counterproductive. There is nothing so unnatural as a woman of a certain age relying on surgery and drugs to keep her looking like a 20-year-old. There are far too many women of my acquaintance whos looks owe more to a surgeons knife than their own efforts or lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when plastic surgery and like are necessary, but the obsession some people have over tinkering with their own bodies I find quite frightening. I would never consider going under the knife for anything unless it was truly necessary. And I am pleased to see that Hope is not one of those who feel they need to hide their natural look.

I must say we all had a jolly good evening and I was a little disappointed when it came time to take our leave. Charles and Helen were wonderful hosts, it was good to see Dickie and Lianne again, Hope was her usual charming self, and I do believe I did or said nothing to embarrass myself, which is always a bonus.

Arthur collected Hope and me a little before midnight. During the drive back to her house, I asked Hope about Emily and what she thought I had done to offend her. I could tell she was a little reluctant to talk about it, but I eventually persuaded her to tell me.  According to Hope, Emily has worked on a number of cases that have involved one or another of the companies my business is linked with, and her experiences have not been very good. This revelation came as something of a shock to me and I promised Hope that I would look into whatever it was that Emily felt was wrong.

Personally, I am not totally convinced that her business dealings are the whole story, but I am happy to leave things there for now. Undoubtedly we will have other opportunities to clear the air and discuss whatever issues Emily feels she may have with me.

One of the many things that were discussed last night, all be it rather briefly, was Valentine’s Day. Now I am not one for all this sentimental flim-flam so I was rather surprised to hear that both couples were planning something special for today. I found the whole conversation rather embarrassing as, being the two singles at the table, there seemed to be some expectation that Hope and I would be doing something romantic today. Of course, we aren’t and I had to admit to not having given the day a moment’s thought. Thankfully the conversations moved on to other things fairly rapidly.

Why is it that married couples can’t seem to stop themselves interfering with the relationships of their single friends? Well, I for one do not appreciate that kind of thing, no matter well-meaning the plotters may be. As I said, things moved on very quickly so the whole subject was soon forgotten, but I was reminded of it this morning when Dorothy and Angela joined me for a late breakfast. Apparently, there had been flowers, cards and gifts aplenty and they soon turned their attention to me. But not for long. I very quickly appraised them of my view that the whole thing was just another event designed to make as much money as possible out of people. The price that restaurants and clubs charge for tables on Valentine’s Day is almost obscene and as far as I am concerned it is all a complete waste of time and money. As I see it, one should not wait until 14th February to let one’s feelings be known to our loved ones.

My plan for this evening is for a few drinks at the Club and game or two of snooker with not a piece of chocolate or a rose in sight.

 

A busy weekend

The weather may be absolutely appaling, but there is a ray of sunshine on the horizon, for me at least.

Thursday’s lunch with the Greenwood’s did not go the way I had hoped. Emily’s antipathy towards me was as surprising as it was unexplained. I do understand that we will obviously have some very different perspectives on the world, but I did not expect that I would have to spend the afternoon defending my position on what are, in reality, very minor points. I hate to think what would have happened if we had been discussing religion.

Anyway, yesterday afternoon I received a telephone call from Hope apologising for Emily’s behaviour over lunch. It seems that she has been having personal problems, something to do with her relationship with her current boyfriend. According to Hope, she was an absolute horror all week and had fallen out with Charlotte over something a nothing. She says they will both let out a huge sigh of relief when she returns to Manchester this evening.

So, during our brief chat, Hope asked me to join her on Tuesday evening. She has been invited to a dinner party at the home of an old school friend and wondered if I would like to join her. Of course, I said yes, even though I do not know the hosts or any of the other guests. Generally speaking, I would try to avoid such events as I find them to be tedious and embarrassing, but I am sure that it will not be anything like that. I just hope that they are not all arty types; that is one thing that would make the evening very difficult. Art is not my thing and attempting to keep up a dialogue on the subject, particularly with total strangers, can be very taxing. But I am sure we will have a wonderful evening.

Yesterday I invited Dorothy and Angela out for the evening. They are both very fond of jazz music so I decided I would treat them to an evening at a jazz bar that one of the chaps at the Club had recommended. It is not really my thing, but I was happy to sample the atmosphere and the food, which I had heard was very good. And I have to admit that I actually found the music quite pleasant. I would not go so far as to say I enjoyed it, but I didn’t find it as unpleasant as I had imagined it might be. As for the food, that turned out to be everything I was told it would be. Dorothy and Angela seemed to enjoy the combination and we had a very jolly time. In fact, it was actually quite late by the time we got home and I was feeling just a little tipsy. I may have had one or two single malts more than I should have, but if one can’t enjoy yourself when you are out with friends, when can one?

I have had a rather quiet day today spent mainly with the girls. I had originally planned to spend the afternoon at the Club, reading the newspapers and sharing a drink or two with some of my chums. But when I awoke this morning I was feeling a little delicate so decided that in the end I would just stay at home and relax which turned out to have been a very good decision. Shortly after lunch, I received a visit from young Nigel. Normally he is a very confident young man, very sure of himself and his decisions, but today I saw a very different side of him. Over drinks in the lounge, Nigel confided in me that he was becoming very serious with a particular young lady and wanted my advice. Why he came to me I really don’t know. My history with the ladies hardly marks me out as any kind of expert where romance is concerned. I actually find the idea of talking about these things very uncomfortable. I never know the right thing to say. So, I did the best thing I could think of, I called for Dorothy and Angela.

Nigel made me promise not to say anything to anyone about our little chat so I will leave it there for now. Suffice to say that I was not totally surprised by his revelations, only by his indecision. I think that we all have times when the road ahead seems unclear and need the guidance of others to help us find the correct path. I just hope that things work out for him.

I will be on my way to the Club shortly for a few drinks and a light supper. I had invited Nigel to join me but he declined as he had a previous engagement elsewhere. I just hope that the snow stays away.

Lunch with a bitter taste

It’s strange how life has a way of turning sour just when one believes that things are looking sweet.

I received a telephone call from Hope last night asking if I would like to join her, Charlotte and Emily for lunch today. Of course, I was only too delighted to accept the invitation, particularly as it would be the first opportunity I have had to meet Emily. I had heard a few things about her, some of it a little frightening if the truth be known, so I was really looking forward to getting to know her.

We agreed that I would meet them at the bistro Hope had chosen, a little place I had been to myself not very long ago. It is one of those places with an open grill in the centre of the restaurant where they prepare the food. On the previous occasion, I was with some of the chaps from the Club and one or two of them caused some trouble after drinking a little too much of the very fine Beaujolais. It all started when that buffoon Richards took a shine to a particular young lady at the table beside ours. It was obvious to everyone except him that she was not interested, but that has never stopped him before. Well, he became more insistent, she and her companions got very angry and in the end, I had to manhandle the man out of the building and into a taxi. It was all rather embarrassing so I was pleased to have an opportunity to pay a return visit in what I hoped would be less troublesome circumstances.

The way things have gone so far this year I suppose I should know better than to expect a silver lining. It would seem that for every ray of sunshine there have been at least two dark clouds rushing in to blot it out.

I left home early but thanks to some unexpected congestion and the almost obligatory roadworks I arrived almost ten minutes late. Now most people who know me will attest to the fact that I can be very relaxed about most things, but one thing I do expect from myself and others is punctuality, particularly as I was hoping to make a good impression. I spotted the girls as soon as I walked through the door, seated at a table close to the grill area. I have to say that I was a little surprised at first as I did not recognise Charlotte at all. It has only been a few days since I last saw her but in that time she has coloured her hair. Where she previously sported wavy auburn locks she now had straight, bright red hair. I have seen this type of thing many times before but had not expected young Charlotte to follow in that particular fashion. I am pleased to say that Hope had not undergone any such transformation and was looking her usual bright and cheerful self.

As I approached the table Hope rose to greet me and introduced me to Emily.

My first impression was one of surprise. I had expected Hope’s eldest daughter to look at least a little like her (in the way Charlotte did, sans red hair!), but I could see no resemblance whatsoever. Where Hope and Charlotte are relatively short and dark with what my mother would have described as cherubic features, Emily was very tall and slim with short blonde hair. And where Hope and Charlotte kept makeup and jewellery to a minimum, Emily looked a little like a walking advertisement for a cosmetics retailer. Several things struck me at once as she introduced herself; the first being that the smile on her lips did not seem to reach her eyes which seemed rather preoccupied with sizing me up. She is also much taller than her mother or sister. I do vaguely remember her father and although I could not state categorically that she was very like him, by my recollection he certainly had that Arian look that Emily seemed to favour.

Once the introductions were over and I had taken my seat beside Hope, we went through the usual routine of discussing the options on the menu and comparing previous meals at similar locations. I repeated the tale of my previous visit to this particular establishment which I was pleased to see Hope and Charlotte found amusing, but Emily did not. Where I had hoped the story might provide a lighthearted opener to our lunchtime conversation, Emily wanted to pick at the events to discover more about my companion and the young lady. I had been told that she could be a little serious, but I had not expected her to miss the point of my little tale so completely. I decided at that point that I needed to be a little more wary about the things I said.

But of course, once the wine and food arrived, and I began to relax, I dropped my guard. Now I am not saying that I set out to deliberately antagonise her, but I found that she took offence at almost everything I had to say, particularly when it came to politics and the law. I am not saying that I am particularly well versed in either discipline, but like most people, I have my own opinions on the state of the country and the world at large and I am used to being able to express these views at the Club without fear of too much contradiction or hostility. Emily however, seemed in no mood to listen to anything I had to say. This is not to say we were arguing as such; rather, she had a way of putting down any opinion I wished to express with a look or seemingly mild reproach that by the time we had come to the end of the main course I was feeling rather like a naughty child being constantly chastised by an angry parent. Hope did try several times to move the conversation on, but with little success. At one point Charlotte seemed to get quite angry with her sister over some remark she made.

As we finished our desserts Hope asked if I would like to join them for coffee at home, but I decided that under the circumstances it was best to decline the offer. It was obvious that Emily has some kind of issue with me but I cannot for the life of me understand what I may have said or done to make her behave the way she did. I think that under the circumstances I was extremely restrained.

I really could not have imagined two more different young ladies than Charlotte and Emily. One would have thought that being some kind of Human Rights specialist she would be a compassionate and understanding person, but what I saw today was an angry and confrontational one. I like to think of myself as a fairly easy going sort of chap, but even I found it very difficult to find common ground with young Emily. I understand that she will be at her mother’s until Sunday so I will wait until next week to try to speak to Hope again to reschedule our evening date. I just hope that the events of today haven’t spoilt anything.

In the meantime, this evening I am going to join my old chum Cambridge for a few drinks at his club. I don’t go there very often – it’s my father’s old club and I find the place a little too quiet and solemn most of the time. It will just be a light dinner for me, but I am looking forward to tasting some the excellent new vintages that Cambridge has told me about.