In need of a map

This week I have found myself in something of a quandary. I suppose that we all face these little dilemmas in our lives – reaching a crossroads where it appears that whatever direction one chooses to go is going to turn out bad, either for one’s self or one’s friends. If one could only see the full picture are were furnished with a map then maybe the choices one makes would be easier, but life is not like that and this wee I fond myself not only lacking the picture but did not even have the vaguest idea that I needed one. After all, one only needs a guide if one knows one is lost.

You see, having recently made the decision to decamp to the old family home for the rest of the summer, I have taken a keen interest in the goings on around the estate and village. I suppose that in some people’s eyes I am equivalent to the old Lord of the Manor, even though that distinction does not really exist any more. My father was a very hands-on local, throwing himself into the local politics and taking a lively interest in the local families and their affairs. Although he spent a great deal of his time in London, my mother tended to stay behind, and when he was at home he acted his part with great enthusiasm and flair. It is a role I never wanted and I admit that I have not made much effort to fill the old man’s rather large shoes.

Most of my visits are short and generally speaking I try to avoid getting too involved with the gossip and petty feuds that seem to be the mainstay of rural life. Most evenings you will find any number of the local fellows propping up the bar in one of the local hostelries, freely discussing each other’s business and ruminating over small time concerns.

I have several reasons for choosing to stay down here for an extended period and part of that is that I feel I need to take some interest in the threat to the local area from developers who seem intent on buying up land so that they can build more of their unsightly and clearly unwanted new housing estates. Like most people, I have read the reports of housing shortages and the like, but surely this is a problem for the big town and cities, not our lovely country villages? More houses bring more people which mean more traffic, and the last thing we need right now is an increase in traffic. One or two of the local businesses seem quietly keen on the idea, saying it will bring more trade, but other than a few extra faces around the public bar of an evening, I doubt that any of the kind of people these new houses attract will be spending any of their money locally. After all, don’t these people normally shop at either the big supermarkets or online? I can not see that doing the local business people any good at all.

We really do not need all the trouble that these extra, unwanted residents will bring, not to mention the disruption that will be caused by the building work itself. It is all so unnecessary and pointless.

Which brings me to my own dilemma. Hope came down on Monday to spend a few days with me, accompanied by young Charlotte who wanted a couple of days away. Everything was going well until we visited the King’s Arms on Tuesday evening for a light supper and a few drinks with some of the locals. Talk invariably turned, as it does, to those pesky developers. Charlotte, in particular, took a very keen interest in the discussion and began asking some rather pointed and relevant questions. There is something of the snoop about Charlotte, in that way she a lot like her sister Emily who, from experience, can be like a dog with a bone when her interest has been piqued.

Anyway, during the course of the disussions, a name cropped up that seemed vaguely familiar to me. At first, I could not place it but didn’t give it too much thought at the time. To be totally honest, at this point in the evening I was losing interest, distracted somewhat by another conversation further down the bar about the problems local farmers were having due to the dry weather. Not that I know the first thing about agricultural issues.

However, by the time we had returned to the house, it came to me where I knew the name from – it is one of the companies at the heart of my family business. Now, whilst one cannot be held responsible for the activities of every little element of one’s business interests when I made this fact known to Hope and Charlotte, they were both rather shocked. It put a bit of a dampener on the whole evening. In fact, it rather spoiled the rest of Hope’s stay. They left late this afternoon, determined that it was up to me to do something about things.

I have to admit that I am unsure of how to proceed. So far I have not told any of the locals about my connection to the developers and I am not sure it would be very helpful if I did. I have already made my opposition to the planned development quite clear so I have to be seen to do something, but I don’t know what I can do. Yes, it is effectively my business so I can, in theory at least, pull the plug on the whole thing. On the other hand, I am not sure just how much influence I can have on the day to day management of the activities of the various elements of the business.

After giving it some thought I have decided that I will cut short my stay here and tomorrow I will visit dear old Aunt Murdock and ask her advice. If anyone knows what is going on she will.

 

Summer holidays

Well, I have been back at the old homestead for over a week now and I must say I have found it to be a rather jolly and relaxing time. In fact, it has been like taking a little holiday. I feel rejuvenated and relaxed, the old batteries have been well and truly recharged, so to speak. It is strange but until this week I had not realised just how stressed and tired I had become. Life has certainly been rather busy of late and until I chatted to dear Aunt Sarah about it, I had not realised that I haven’t actually had what one might call a proper holiday for well over a year now.

Yes, I have taken myself away for a few days here and there, but they do not really count. Sarah made the suggestion that I whisk Hope away to the South of France (or somewhere similar) and do a little sailing, perhaps. I have to admit that it does sound like a jolly splendid idea, although maybe not the sailing bit. The trouble is that I know Hope is extremely busy with the gallery at the moment so I do not think she would be able to go, even if she were willing.

Of course, I could always go away on my own or with Nigel or some of the chaps from the Club, but it just wouldn’t be the same. The idea of what might be described as a “lads” holiday does not appeal to me right now. Don’t get me wrong, I have had some simply marvellous holidays with some of my old school chums, but one does grow out of that sort of thing as one gets older.

Holidays are a rather strange thing I find. As a child, my parents would regularly drag me off to spend a few weeks on the Côte d’Azur where they had a very nice little villa. Actually, I still own the place but never go there myself anymore. I suppose it has too many memories for me but in truth, I have never really been one for idling in the sun or messing about in boats. Sailing was one of my father’s great passions outside of his work; I sometimes felt that he lavished more affection on his various boats than he did on either my mother or myself. But, that said, as a child I always enjoyed our times away at the villa, probably because, away from the house and the office, these were the few times I felt close to my father.

I know that most of the chaps at the Club take themselves and their families off the increasingly far-flung and exotic places these days. Where once everyone enjoyed visiting the Mediterranean in the summer and the Alps in the winter, now it seems that chosen destinations are becoming more and more exotic. For instance, this year several of the chaps have decamped for the beaches of Mauritius and New Zealand, whilst others have been tempted to try the beaches of the Cook Islands (wherever they are!).

I may not have a great urge to fly halfway around the globe to sit in a beach, but I have made up my mind that I will act on Aunt Sarah’s suggestion and ask Hope to come away with me somewhere warm and relaxing. I will leave the choice of destination to her as I a sure she will have some good ideas. I will speak to her about it next week when she joins me here at chez Dimbelby.

Of course being out here at the old family home does not necessarily mean that I don’t have work to do. Whether it is the estate itself or dealing with queries being sent to me by Miss Drayton in the office there is always something to do. I suppose it is the curse of the modern age, one can never truly get away. I remember, and it wasn’t all that long ago that when one went away it was dashed difficult for anyone to get in touch. Nowadays one can be contacted in so many different and increasingly intrusive ways that one cannot ever guarantee a total break from work.

As you would expect, the estate itself is running like a well-oiled machine and requires very little input from me. I must say though that the weather has rather taken its toll on some of the lawns. Where until recently there had been large expanses of lush and vivid green, there is a new landscape that looks more akin to southern Italy rather leafy Hampshire. I have also been warned that some of our crops may not be doing so well this summer. Admittedly I know very little about the agricultural side of things, but it is a worry non-the-less.

So, I am enjoying my little sojourn in the country and am really looking forward to being joined by Hope for a few days next week. I suspect that Charlotte may very well be accompanying her, but I am sure she will find plenty to keep herself occupied.

The lure of the country

Living in a city like London, with all its hustle and bustle can be both invigorating and exhausting. The streets are always busy, the bars, theatres and other attractions constantly swarming with inquisitive and noisy tourists. It is truly a city that never seems to sleep. And for those of us lucky enough to call it home, it is almost alive with possibilities. There is certainly no shortage of new and interesting things to see and do. But the seemingly relentless pace brings its own pressures and one can, at times, be left in something of a daze trying to keep up with it all. I count myself very lucky that at such times I have an escape route; the old family homestead in Hampshire. I don’t know it if is that the pace of life in the City is getting too much, even for me, or something else, but this past week or so I have been feeling the draw of the countryside more and more.

I hate to say it but even the Club doesn’t seem to have the same attraction it always has before. Whilst I always look forward to a meal and a few drinks with the chaps, I have recently felt there is something missing, something intangible.

Don’t get me wrong, I am still very much a city boy and I love nothing more than being about town with my friends, but recently I have begun to feel I need something more. The only real problem is that I am not entirely sure what that “something” actually is.

Anyway, I have decided that for the remainder of the summer I am going to relocate to the old family abode in the country. It means I won’t see quite as much of Hope as I have done recently, but I think the change of scenery and the slower pace will do me good. Hope herself is rather busy at the moment organising a couple of exhibitions – one at her own gallery and another at a gallery in Edinburgh, so I do not think she will have much of an opportunity to miss me.

And of course there is some business to attend to on the old estate, what with those pesky developers poking their noses into everyone’s affairs. I am sure that there is something unsavoury going on somewhere; I can not believe that they are getting encouragement from any quarter, and certainly not from any of the local families. On my last visit, I spoke to a few old friends and they all assured me that no one was prepared to part with any of their lands. Several of the more vociferous members of the community have even been talking about petitions and the like, but I am sure that kind of revolutionary activity will not be necessary. I can’t say that I am entirely comfortable with that confrontational approach; it reminds me rather too much of the kind of behaviour one would expect from those union types one often sees on the television news.

But that is all by-the-by. I will be heading off into the wilds of deepest Hampshire late tomorrow evening. Prior to that, I have a dinner date with Hope and Charlotte who have promised to treat me to some very special home cooking. Apparently, Charlotte has taken a very keen interest in French and Italian cuisine and is rather keen to practice her new skills on us. I am very fond of Charlotte and she is undoubtedly very creative, but from what I hear from some of the chaps who have teenage daughters, cooking is not generally top of the list when it comes to skills.

That said, I am sure everything will be just so, otherwise, I don’t think Hope would have agreed to our being guinea-pigs for Charlotte’s culinary experiments. To be on the safe side I will take with me several bottles of a rather fine Ségla 2012 Margaux I have been saving for a special occasion. That way at least one item on the table will be guaranteed to be palatable.

I had planned to visit the Club this evening but instead, I am planning to pay a call on Dorothy. I have not seen her or Angela for several weeks and I may not get another opportunity before they fly out to America. It seems that Angela has relatives out there.

Absent without leave

Just in case anyone has been wondering why I have not been writing recently I would like to clear up a couple of small matters.

Firstly, I have not, as one of the chaps at the Club suggested, been the victim of some kind of honour killing arranged by Hope’s eldest, Emily. Mind you, I can appreciate why he might think that after the rather embarrassing events of last Monday. I have to admit that I am very much still in the dark over why a young lady who, in every other way, seems so normal could have taken against me in so violent a way.  In fact, her latest outburst embarrassed even Hope who seemed as much at a loss as I was to explain Emily’s actions.

One knows that one cannot expect to please all of the people all of the time, as Lincoln once put it, I have never encountered anyone before who I seem to ber s completely unable to please any of the time. I don’t really want to dwell on that last encounter, so let us just leave that one there.

Secondly, and this is a rumour that seems to have also originated in the Club bar, contrary to popular belief, I have not been given any kind of warning or ultimatum by dear Hope. Far from it in fact. Although she has never read my online journal, she is very happy for me to continue doing whatever it is I do.

Lastly, although the past couple of weeks have not been particularly easy for me, I have not been confined to an institution of any kind. Despite that Dasher may have been implying over the bar at the Club, I am very much of sound mind and body.

No, the real reason for my absence is a very simple and relatively boring one. You see my old chum Cambridge called upon me last Tuesday and asked if I would like to join him on a little trip he was planning to his old family estate in the highlands. Now, this time last year I would have hesitated to venture into the wilds of “bonnie” Scotland, but this year I just saw an opportunity to get away from the interminable World Cup that seems to be pervading every corner of one’s life at present. Now, I don’t want anyone to bet the impression in any way that I am some kind of grumpy old spoilsport, but it has to be said that the media’s general assumption that we are all football fanatics is rather annoying. Pages and pages of the daily newspapers have been dedicated to the damned thing and my normal television viewing has been disrupted in an unforgivable way.

So yes, the prospect of a few days at Cambridge’s Scotish country estate was most welcome. Hope and I had no immediate plans that I was aware of so I accepted the offer and very soon was safe aboard the Edinburgh bound train.

We had a wonderful few days in the picturesque highlands. I don’t see as much of old Cambridge as I used to and it was very pleasant indeed to spend a little time with the old chap and catch up on things. Of course, no matter where one goes one can never be totally removed from the humdrum of everyday life and all its cares and woes, but for my money, spending a few days on the banks of Loch Duntelchaig cames very close. The weather was near perfect and I found myself a little homesick – not for my house in town, but for my own little getaway in the heart of Hampshire. In fact, I think I will pay the old place a visit once Wimbledon is out of the way.

Anyway, I arrived back a couple of days ago only to find my absence noticed by far more people than I had expected. I must say I was quite touched by everyone’s concern until I realised that I had left in such haste that I appear to have overlooked the need to tell anyone where I was going.

Whilst for most – the chaps at the Club certainly – my absence would have been of little consequence, it seems to have been felt most keenly by dear Hope who, I am almost embarrassed to admit, I forgot to tell of my last minute plans. She was, as one would expect, extremely annoyed at what she called my thoughtlessness. In my defence, and I accept it may be a poor one, I have become used to doing my own thing and have still to come to terms with the idea that there is someone who might need to be consulted or at the very least be informed of my decisions. Rest assured, that lesson has been well and truly learned.

 

 

A no show at Ascot!

Some of the chaps seemed a little surprised to see me when I called at the Club earlier today. I had decided to drop by for a spot of dinner and there was quite a crowd at the bar, due I suspect to old George having brought in a fresh selection of wines from his recent trip to the French vineyards. It is something he does now and again, spending his holiday touring the vineyards of France in search of new and interesting wines for the members to sample. Anyway. amongst the small crowd that had gathered to sample his latest selection was my old friend Cambridge who I haven’t seen for a few weeks. It appears he has been spending some time in France himself recently, but in his case, it was the bars of Paris rather than the hillsides of Bordeaux. He was the first to express his surprise at seeing me still in town, wondering why I wasn’t down at Ascot.

One never likes to think of one’s self as being predictable, but I suppose I have become a little set in my ways over the past few years and maybe a little predictable. It has become expected that I will be at these little social events. Not there is anything intrinsically wrong with having routines. Quite the opposite I would say.

Obviously, I could not leave the question of Ascot unanswered and was able to assure those of the chaps who would listen that I was, in fact, making my way down tomorrow evening with Hope. Unfortunately, she can only spare the one day away from the gallery this week so we will just be there for Ladies Day. I had planned to stay longer but decided that as I wanted to take Hope with me, I should limit myself to the time she had available so that I could make the journey there and back with her. When  I first suggested to Hope that we might attend the meet, she surprised me by saying that he had not been herself for over twenty years. I have to say that this admission somewhat surprised me as I had thought it was the kind of event she would enjoy. But it turns out that following an unpleasant incident when she was last there had somewhat spoilt it for her.

I have booked us into a very nice little place I have used many times before when in that part of the country. It is very close to the course and keeps an extremely fine wine cellar. I understand that they have a new chef. There is always a worry when an established chef moves on, but I have from a very reliable source that if anything the food is better than ever. Of course, I will reserve judgement until I have had the opportunity to sample it for myself, but I am sure their high standards will have been maintained.

I have decided that this year I will take the Bentley and drive us there myself. I see no point in dragging old Arnold away from town for this particular little trip. It gives him an opportunity to spend a little extra time with his family and I am quite looking forward to the drive.

 

And so it begins…

Well, it has started! After months of anticipation, political wrangling and much preparation, the football World Cup has finally kicked off. Not that any of the aforementioned anticipation and preparation are anything to do with me personally you understand. Quite the contrary in fact. Football is one of those sports I have never had much time for. In fact, I do not believe that anyone in my family, with the possible exception of young Nigel, has the slightest interest in the game.

Actually, I don’t think I have ever seen a football match – well, not a whole one. We were occasionally forced to play when I was at school, but generally, the masters preferred rugger or cricket. Soccer was not considered to be a game for young gentlemen. My father was of the opinion that is was a game solely suited for the working classes and that was the end of that. Mother took no interest in any sport that didn’t involve a racquet or a horse, which I can well understand.

I remember when I was in my last year at school we had a new PT teacher who tried to establish a football team. Bless him, it was never going to work. There was just no call for it. I understand that he left the school shortly after we did. Probably for the best; not the right type of chap at all.

Of course, some of the chaps at the Club seem to enjoy the so-called beautiful game, but it is not a subject that has ever been allowed to dominate the conversation at the bar. Mind you, I did hear a rather worrying rumour that a proposal had been made to set up a television in the bar to show some of the tournament matches. Not surprisingly, and to my great relief, the idea was given very short shrift by the trustees. It would have been far too much of an intrusion and would have set a worrying precedent for the future. Heaven knows, once one starts down that particular rocky road there is no turning back. One can only imagine where that kind of thing can lead. Amy anyway, there are a number of establishments happy to offer such facilities, but they have no place at the Club. Never hand, I hope, they never will.

Whilst I have no interest at all in football, one cannot help picking up on some of the stories and characters that surround it. I believe that for a not inconsiderable number of people football is more of a religion than a sport. I have often heard the quotation attributed to one former manager (I cannot recall his name, but I think he had something to do with the city of Liverpool) who said that “football is not a matter of life or death – it is much more important than that!” Nigel would know who said it but football managers all look and sound the same to me.

And that’s another thing – whenever I do see news reports or overhear conversations about football it was only too clear that very few of the names I heard were British. It would seem that the country’s “favourite” sports is owned, managed and, to a large degree, played by foreigners. So, if our national leagues are dominated by players from other countries, where does the national team come from? Not that I am too concerned or have given the matter much thought – if any. But by an unexpected twist of fate, I have found myself involved with the whole silly affair if only in the most peripheral way.

It turns out that Hopes former husband was a bit of a football fan and during their time together, Hope had taken an interest in the game. She did not normally watch matches or anything like that but said that the World Cup was different and she was supporting the England team. Charlotte, however, really does seem to enjoy it all and says she will be watching some chosen matches with her a group of her friends. I, of course, will be avoiding the whole silly thing as much as I can, which will probably mean spending more time either at the Club or at home. Even the office cannot be considered an escape from the damned thing. Only yesterday I noticed several television screens had been set up and were tuned into the tournament.

Anyway, my main goal for today (no pun intended) is to avoid any further encounters with the World Cup, if that is possible. I will pop down to the Club this afternoon, maybe stay for dinner and a frame or two over drinks with the chaps.

A weekend away

Kent-Countryside-900x450

I have to say what a jolly nice weekend I have just had with the lovely Hope. We had not planned to go away, but after having had a rather bad week I decided that we should pack our bags and head out of town for a couple of days. I originally suggested we go to Brighton and stay with some old family friends with a little house on the coast, but Hope was not all that keen on the idea. So, after a little chat and with the help of young Charlotte, we settled on a lovely little hotel in Kent.

Now, normally when I go away I will either stay with friends or, if I have to stay in a hotel, chose one that I already know or has been recommended. The very idea of booking our stay through the internet was something I had never even considered. But for Charlotte, and most young people I suspect, it seems to be almost second nature. Whilst I am getting much better with the whole cyber surfing thing, I am still very much on the beginner’s slopes. Hope has more experience than I do with with the computer, but even she admits that some things still confuse her.

So, by the time we had finished our first glass of Chablis, the hotel was booked and all we had to do was pack a few bags and then we were on our way to sunny Kent, the garden of England.

Of course, it being a sunny Friday afternoon, the roads out of town were extremely congested and I was very glad I had decided not to drive there myself. Albert was going to drop us off and then make his own way home – I would be using the car myself over the weekend and making the return journey on Sunday afternoon.

I must say that when we arrived at the hotel I was very impressed. One hears so many stories about people being duped by unscrupulous characters using the internet to front their nefarious enterprises. Nigel is always going on at me about the need for security and that I had to be careful about who I might “meet” online. Well, I have told Nigel often enough that I am not that easily fooled and anyone trying to con me would have a very hard time indeed. Non-the-less, I was very relieved when we pulled up outside what was an old stately home but was now our home for the weekend.

As a child, my mother and I were frequent visitors to the Kent countryside, but in recent years I fear I have somewhat neglected it. TWe would often visit family and friends and I have very fond memories of those long hot summers. We were always outdoors and I never remember it raining, although I am sure it did. Kent to me is a county of my childhood and one I very rarely visit these days.  I suppose that the Kent’sm undeniable attractions are better shared, which is why my stay there with Hope was so special. For two days we became tourists, something I am not used to.

I have to say that our accommodation was first class. The service and food were as good as anywhere ion the City, and the room extremely comfortable. I will admit that I can be rather fussy when it comes to hotels, but on this occasion, I found nothing to complain about and plenty to enjoy. The fact that the weather was so good certainly helped to make the whole weekend rather special. When we are in town, I feel I do not get to spend as much time with Hope as I would like. She is obviously a very busy lady with a home and the gallery to run, so I do try not to monopolise her attention. But when we get the opportunity to get away from all the hustle and bustle of our busy lives and relax, I find myself happier that I have been for many a long year.

But as always, all good things must come to an end. I did try to persuade Hope to stay for a few more days, but unfortunately, she had commitments at the Gallery which made that impossible. So, regretfully, we made our way back to town late on Sunday afternoon. Which is just as well actually as shortly after our return I received a telephone call from Aunt Murdock to tell me that poor old Uncle George was back in the hospital with his heart. Of course, that meant jumping straight back into the car and driving across town to see how the dear old thing was getting on.

I am relieved to say that despite the rather frightening array of electronic devices and the miles of tubing that surrounded him, the old fellow was in fairly good spirits. He was obviously rather tired and looked a little pale, but was otherwise showing no signs of being at death’s door. In fact, he was out of the hospital and back home by late Monday afternoon. I paid a quick visit to the house earlier today and can happily report that the old gentleman has quite recovered from his little turn and is already talking about whisking the old Mad Duck off to the Lakes for a long weekend.

Anyway, I must finish there as I have agreed to meet a couple of the chaps at the Club this evening for a few drinks. I don’t seem to get down there quite as much as I used to and there is so much to catch up on.