Back from the races

I have just returned from the races and what a jolly couple of days it has been. Initially, I had not planned to go this year, what with one thing and another. Then, on Thursday I thought, dash it, Cheltenham is always such a splendid affair, I really ought to go. So I did. Rather luckily I was able to find a room with my old chum Ashworth. He has a rather fine little place almost next door to the course which is jolly convenient. I have stayed with him before and I was more than happy to bunk up in one of his spare rooms.

As I had left it rather late to make the arrangements I was not able to make use of my usual room overlooking the magnificent lawns but had to settle for a view towards the trees and fields to the rear. Not that I spend much time in the room itself for anything other than sleeping, but it is rather nice great the morning with a fine view. But then again, back home in Kensington, my view is hardly scenic. At the front, we do have some trees that partly obscure the view of the High Street, but to the rear, it is all roof tops and tower blocks. Hardly inspiring I know, but it is home.

Ashworth’s place is always busy during the festival week, but this year there was actually quite a crowd, with any number of the old school gang popping in and out for drinks and a chat. Ashworth has a splendid little snooker room and a very well-stocked cellar. His family have been in the wine trade for generations and Ashworth himself has always been the person to call if drinks were needed, even at school.

So it has been a very pleasant and, I must say, rather profitable few days down at Cheltenham. Not only did I enjoy some very good company and sample some extremely fine new wines, I also had some luck on the old gee-gees. Thanks to some good advice from a few of the chaps in the know, I finished the event almost twenty-thousand pounds the richer. Now, this may not be a fortune, but it is probably the best result I have ever had at a race meeting. Not being a pundit myself, I generally consider myself lucky to come away having broken even. Last year at Aintree, after following some rather dubious tips, I ended the day several thousand down so this weekend’s good fortune more than makes up for it.

I am not a natural gambler, unlike my father. He was the type who would often spend large sums chasing the odds, either at the races or in the casino. But I have to admit that he was very good at it and although he was often on the losing end of a bet, on the whole, his losses were outweighed by his gains. I think it was that tendency to take risks against the chances of high returns that made him such a good businessman. He seemed to thrive on the uncertainty, a trait that I have not inherited. In that way, I am more like my mother, a little reserved and with a preference for small returns on certainties rather than venturing into the unknown.

Gambling is deeply embedded in our culture. It is something that we all do at some point, be it with a small bet on the Grand National or with one’s future when choosing one job or lover over another. But, like many other things we do, it can in many cases become a real problem. The excitement one feels when collecting the rewards of an unexpected win can be addictive. Whilst I have always been cautious about where and when I take risks, some of the chaps I know have not. I have seen more than one of my old school chums gamble away entire family fortunes, always in the certainty that they can win it all back on the next turn of the card or the next race. But the odds are always against the gambler and the end result is so often inevitable. In fact, one of my oldest friends got involved with some very unsavoury characters not so long ago in his desperation to fund what had become an addiction. It was so sad to see the state he got himself into. A couple of the chaps and I did our best to help him but in the end he got himself in too deep and wound up taking his own life. It was all very sad and is a reminder of how easy all that we have can be taken away from us.

Although he was a gambler, my father always followed his own rule, stop when you are winning and never try to reverse a losing streak. It served him well, and I have always tried to follow his example in that regard.

When I arrived back in town earlier today there was a message for me from Hope. It seems that I had overlooked to tell her about my little trip. It would appear that she had wanted me to join her for dinner yesterday evening as Charlotte was away for the weekend visiting her sister and she thought we could spend the weekend together. Obviously, I would have jumped at the chance had I been at home, but I wasn’t. I telephoned Hope as soon as I received the message and apologised for my tardiness in not telling her I had gone away. I have to say that I had expected a much colder response to my call, but she seemed quite relaxed about the whole thing and said that she had already heard about my little jaunt from Dorothy. My apologies duly accepted, we have arranged to meet later this afternoon for a spot of tea and a piano recital at some hall or other in Westminster. Now normally, I would have to say that these kind of events are not really my sort of thing, but I do enjoy a little Tchaikovsky every now and then, and I did want to see Hope, so of course, I agreed.

For now I really just get back to the dining room. Dorothy has decided to make us both a full English for breakfast and I dare not be late. I am going to miss these Sunday morning treats when she and Angela do finally get their own place. It is amazing how quickly one becomes used to this kind of thing.

If music be the food of love…

To say that the last couple of days have been enlightening is actually a little of an understatement. Any of my friends would attest to the fact that I am a man of simple tastes and am not inclined towards taking unnecessary risks. When I decide to try a new restaurant, I tend to do so based on either a recommendation or because of the reputation of the owner or the chef. I like to be as sure as I can be that I am not going to be too disappointed. And whilst I enjoy sampling some types of foreign cuisine, I do draw the line at all that spicy Eastern cooking.

I was well aware that by leaving the choice of venue for our dinner date to Hope I was taking an uncharacteristic risk. Whilst I was sure she would not choose something too outlandish, I was still a little apprehensive about what she had planned for the evening. After all, I had also agreed to accompany her to the theatre and again, I had no idea what she might have booked to see. Hope had arranged to pick me up in a taxi so I did not even get a clue to the location.

I suppose that I should have had a little more confidence in her understanding of me and the things that I like. She took me to a little place that I had heard of but never visited, possibly because of it’s proximity to the National Theatre and the clientele that such an establishment can attract. But good food is good food, no matter where one finds it, and I have to admit that Hopes choice of venue turned out to be an excellent one. The decor and atmosphere were clean and inviting and the menu simple but varied.It was all fairly traditional fayre, but fairly well cooked and presented. I chose a steak and a rather fine Château La Croix Fourney to go with it. Hope settled for Sea Bass which she assured me was very nice indeed.

Being the early evening I had thought that wherever we went would be fairly quiet, but in that I was wrong – it was a very busy service, due I believe to the majority of the clientele being on their way to the theatre itself. Which should have given me a clue to where we were going, but this didn’t actually occur to me until we were waiting for our deserts.

Over the course of the meal, Hope and I discussed our families, work and a little about our desires for the future. It seems that each time we meet I learn a little more about this fascinating woman. She was quite candid about her marriage which seems to have had some difficult times. Not that this is anything unusual; many of my friends have dealt with rocky relationships. I myself have experienced something similar but admittedly not to the same degree as poor Hope. I had not known Hope’s husband particularly well but he always seemed to me to be a decent sort of chap. Not exactly the sort one would expect to meet down at the Club, but decent enough for that. From what Hope told me, he was a good father and pleasant enough man, but he could also be a little domineering. He did not approve of her art ambitions which is why she did not open the gallery until after he had died.

Anyway, when we finished our meal and it came to settling the bill, I was in for another surprise. Not the bill itself which Hope told me was reasonable, but the fact that Hope herself insisted on paying it. Now, it has always been my contention that when one is taking a lady out for the evening, it is the man’s place to pay. That is what my mother always taught me and it is something I have always stood by. I suppose I should have expected something like that; Hope is, after all, a very independent woman who is used to doing things for herself. But none-the-less, it went against the grain a little to have a lady such as Hope pay for the meal.

My next surprise came after we left the restaurant as we made our way to the National Theatre. There is no mistaking the building itself; it has to be one of the ugliest buildings of its type in the world. I don’t think anyone in their right mind could ever consider this concrete monstrosity as anything other than what the Prince of Wales would call, a carbuncle. I cannot for the life of me imagine why the architects of what was supposed to be a prestigious centre for the arts should design such an eyesore.

Anyway, it turns out that Hope had purchased tickets for the current production of Twelfth Night. Now I am sure that most people who know me are aware that I am not exactly the bard’s greatest fan and ordinarily the thought of being subjected to an evening of one of his plays would leave me somewhat cold. But on this occasion, I was with Hope so was assured of good company at least.

As it turns out, despite the usual issues I had with Shakespeare’s language, I found I really enjoyed the performance. Before it started Hope told me to expect something unusual but at first, I didn’t realise what she meant. I have seen this particular play before – it was one that my mother took me to see once – but my recollection was a little vague so I did not immediately see what she meant. Of course, once she pointed it out to me it was obvious. You see, in this particular production, the part of Malvolio, written as a male character, was being played by a woman. From what Hope told me, the actress Tamsin Grieg is very popular. I had not actually seen her before myself, but she was frightfully good and highly amusing.

After the show I had Arthur pick us up and drop Hope off at her flat in Chelsea. She asked if I would like to join her for a nightcap, but I declined. It had been a wonderful evening full of surprises, but I was a little anxious not to spoil things. I can’t pretend to be a particularly romantic type and I don’t fool myself that I am any kind of catch. I know that Hope likes me, otherwise she would not have planned the evening we had just had, but I did not want to put myself in a position where I may say or do something embarrassing. Before we parted Hope invited me to join her on Saturday evening for dinner at her flat. Of course, I did not need to think twice, accepting the invitation with probably a little too much enthusiasm.

This morning I had a telephone call from my Uncle George to say that dear old Aunt Murdock was back in the hospital. Nothing to worry about apparently, but he thinks she will be there for a couple of days. It is obvious now that I am going to have to get used to managing the firm’s affairs on my own as she is definitely going to have to slow down. At the office, my secretary, Miss Drayton informed me that she was going on holiday for a couple of weeks with her boyfriend but had secured a temp to manage my affairs, such as they are. I have to admit that it had never occurred to me that Miss Drayton might have a boyfriend. In fact, I had never even considered her life outside of the office at all. I really must take more of an interest in future.

 

Thinking the unthinkable!

I spoke to Hope on Monday evening and she agreed to join me on my little trip to the Cotswolds next month. I have also arranged to meet her tomorrow evening for dinner and theatre. I have no idea what we are going to see – I have left that up to Hope – but I have asked that it isn’t one of those high brow arty things. I am not a regular theatregoer by any means but I do enjoy a comedy or a murder mystery. My dear old Aunt Murdock has often coerced me into going with her to see all kinds of shows, some of which I enjoyed, but most I found either infuriatingly self-absorbed or interminably boring.

Even at school, I had trouble concentrating when it came to literature and plays. Shakespeare was the worst. Now, I know that by saying this I am going to offend some people, but I can only say things as I see them. After all, we can’t all like the same things, can we? I mean, it would be a pretty tedious world if we were all the same. Dorothy is always telling me I need to broaden my horizons a little, take in some of what she calls “serious” theatre. Aunt Murdock has been saying the same thing for years, even going so far as to hoodwink me into attending some of these shows.

Now, I am well aware of the importance of William Shakespeare and his role in English literature. I have visited Stratford-upon-Avon several times and know how important a figure he is. I just don’t enjoy his plays. There are actually quite a few literary figures whose work I find either boring or unintelligible. I clearly remember my father insisting that I read works by writers such as Jules Verne, but they never really appealed to me. Each to his own, as they say.

I have to say I am really looking forward to tomorrow evening. Hope has told me she has somewhere special in mind for our meal. She has even said she will pick me up in a taxi so I will not even get any clues as to whereabouts we are going. It is all very cloak and dagger and quite exciting. I just hope that her choice of show is something suitable. A nice comedy would be good. Or perhaps an old-fashioned murder mystery. I have to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for Agatha Christie type stories. There is a sort of comfortable familiarity with these types of plays. They don’t challenge ones intellect or expect one to look for hidden meanings. I just want to be entertained and the idea of having to decipher what is almost a foreign language makes the likes of Shakespeare more of a chore than a pleasure.

I had another busy day at the office today dealing with the property side of the family business. Aunt Murdock tells me it is the most profitable side our work, after the banking interests. Mind you, that term “interests” is one I use very loosely. Where I can see something tangible in the property portfolio, the whole banking side of things leaves me a little lost. It doesn’t seem to matter how many ways the banking chappies explain the way it all works, I just can’t seem to follow it. Fluctuating markets, CIFs, DTIs, Reverse Mortgages or Escrow Funds – all make no sense to me at all. I am finding dealing with the property and development side of things quite interesting. That is not to say I understand or agree with all the decisions made by others on my behalf, but I am much more comfortable with land and buildings than I am with money or people.

With Aunt Murdock’s current ill health I am having to consider my role in the business. It is obvious I am going to have to take on more responsibility, but I have to admit that the thought frightens me a little.

 

Brief Encounters

I had a very welcome telephone call yesterday from Anne Fletcher, my new interior designer friend. She called to tell me she is planning to come to London for a few days next week, primarily for business, and was wondering if we could meet up for drinks or a meal. Of course, I immediately agreed. Actually, I went a little further than that; I offered to let her stay here with me while she was in town. That way she would save herself a little money on hotel bills and it would also give us an opportunity to talk about things back at the homestead. I am particularly intrigued by all the talk of property developers buying up land in the area.

The upshot is that she will be down on Tuesday and will be staying until at least Friday. It will be jolly nice to catch up and I must find out how things went when she met with Hope.

Talking of Hope, I saw her briefly earlier in the week when we both attended a show in the West End. I had been invited by Dorothy who thought I would enjoy it and I have to admit it was much better than some of the other recent events that my dear Aunt Murdock has dragged me along too. Honestly, I don’t understand Aunt Murdock’s tastes at all. She insists on putting her money into the theatre but she is no Cameron Macintosh, that is for sure. I have lost count of the number of productions that she has lost money, some of it in quite spectacular fashion.

Uncle George doesn’t seem to mind too much, bless him. But then I suppose that there is actually nothing he could do to stop her even if he wanted to. Once the old Mad Duck sets her mind on something then it best, and safest, to just nod your head and let her get on with it. And it is always her own money anyway so it is not as if George is losing out himself. No, George is quite a serious and successful investor. He would never put any of his own, not inconsiderable wealth into something so fickle and unpredictable as the theatre. Oh no, for George it is all about business and currencies, although I can’t see how that can be any less of a gamble than the arts.

Anyway, as I was saying, I bumped into Hope and Charlotte at the theatre bar during the interval. It was extremely busy, as you might expect, and I had just sat down with a glass of single malt when I spotted Hope making her way back from the bar. I immediately stood and called them over to join us. It was really good to see them again, particularly Hope who I had missed a little over the past few weeks. It was difficult to have a decent conversation as the bar was quite noisy, but we did enjoy a brief chat before we returned to our seats for the second act. Before we parted I suggested meeting again afterwards. We agreed to meet at a quiet little bar I know, very close to the theatre immediately after the show.

As we left the theatre, Dorothy said she had decided to go straight home rather than go on anywhere. As it turns out Charlotte had also decided to go home leaving just Hope and myself. If the truth were told I was rather glad of the opportunity to have a little time alone with her; we had so much to catch up on and one or two questions to be answered. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that!

We had no sooner secured a table and some drinks when who should walk in but my old friend Dorchester, along with a rather attractive young lady I didn’t know. Dorchester was, I have to say, just a little tipsy and very loud as he made his way towards us. Needless to say, the evening had not gone the way I had intended and any chance of a quiet chat we west with Dorchester’s arrival. However, on the plus side, I found his new young lady – Georgia I think her name was – to be quite charming and very pleasing to the eye. I gather from our conversation that she is originally from somewhere in the other south-west but now lives in London.

Very soon after Hope said she really had to go as she had a busy day ahead of her. Before leaving she asked if I was free for lunch on Monday, which I agreed to without hesitation. Hopefully, we will get an opportunity to catch up and family events.

Today I have spent mostly at the Club. Dorothy did ask if I would join her for a little of what she called “retail therapy”. I must say that I am in no hurry to repeat the events of our last outing together on Oxford Street. It was an absolute nightmare; I am still traumatized whenever I remember that day.

And more good news – Nigel returned to London today after his recent little jaunt abroad. He says it was a business trip of some kind, but I am sure he was in the far east somewhere. I don’t think we have any business interests out there, but I am sure Nigel knows what he is doing. But, be that as it may, Nigel is very keen to do a little more detective work on the old family history. I have to admit that I have been a little lax on that subject recently so I am very pleased that Nigel is back to push me into carrying on. Which reminds me, I really do need to speak to Aunt Murdock about something Mrs Dalton told us on our recent trip to Brighton. It was something to do with my mother, but I can’t fathom what it is all about.

Anyway, that is enough waffling from me for one evening. I think it is now time to get some sleep. I would go back to the Club for a quick drink, but I am feeling rather tired today; I feel like I may be about to come down with a cold or flu.

A frank exchange of views

One of the things I really enjoy about the Club, aside from the excellent food and extensive wine cellar, is that one never knows who is going to be there and which way conversations will go. There is such a variety of views that discussions are never boring, and can at times become quite heated. However, there is one thing that unites almost all of the members, and that is our concern over the terrible state our country is in at the moment. What we cannot agree on is the cause of the problem and how to fix it.

Quite a few of the chaps, and I include myself in this, are getting just a little impatient with the government over the whole Brexit thing. I will be the first to admit that I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to politics and finance, but even I can see that things aren’t going so well. The media is constantly referring to it as a divorce, which I suppose in a way it is, with both sides fighting over the family silver. My worry is that whilst the Union chappies seem fairly united in their approach, we are still fighting amongst ourselves over what we want to get out of the process. We can all see that despite what the Prime Minister says there is very little unanimity even in her own government.

What some of the chaps are saying is that they are more worried about the uncertainty and bickering than they are about Brexit itself. Like any divorce, each side wants to get the best it can for itself. Even the most amicable of separations will inevitably result in some conflict of interests; not that I have much experience of this kind of thing. What most people seem to want is certainty. I know one or two of my friends have business interests in the City and they are the ones most concerned about all the dithering and in-fighting. Apparently, the uncertainty about what is going to happen after Brexit is having an impact on investments and trade. I suppose I am in the same boat having investments of my own in City properties. Which reminds me that I really must talk to Aunt Murdock about this when I see her next.

There is still some disagreement amongst the chaps about how best to go about the Brexit negotiations. On one hand, there are those who want Mrs May to take a very firm stand and refuse any kind of compromise. On the other, and these are mainly the same people who supported the remain argument, there are those who want us to take what they refer to as a more pragmatic and open approach. I am not entirely sure which will be best for the country, but I suspect that it is somewhere in the middle. Even I know that there is never going to be a deal that satisfies the demands of both sides completely so we will have to accept some form of compromise. I am sure the debate will rumble on at the bar and, if the past week is anything to go by, it will only get more heated.

It is not just at the Club that the subject of Brexit rears it’s ugly head from time to time. Dorothy and Angela have been very vociferous in their support of remaining in the EU and are still very angry at the result. Angela has even spoken about getting herself a German passport. It seems that her mother’s family are from Germany so she can claim dual nationality if she wishes. I know that a number of people have done this recently, but to me, it seems a little futile unless one is actually planning to move there. I am not sure Dorothy would be too happy about that, but I am not going to interfere with their relationship or plans. What Dorothy has said on more than one occasion is that she is embarrassed by the whole thing. She has a lot of foreign friends and says that they can’t understand why we would want to leave the European club. I have tried to explain about sovereignty and the British standing in the world, but for some reason, she just can’t seem to understand it. I know that some people have implied it is some form of nostalgia for the days of the old Empire, but, at least as far as I am concerned, it isn’t that. It is just about being in control of our own destiny and our own laws. We should not be dictated to by other people. The rules and regulations we have to accept from Brussels are scandalous. For me, it is all about being able to decide things for ourselves. No one likes to be dictated to by outsiders who don’t understand our history or our customs. The French, Spanish and Germans have all tried to defeat us in war and failed; we can’t let them succeed by the back door.

Another subject that seems to have been creating something of a buzz at the bar this week is that of the Prime Minister’s position. I didn’t follow the events of the Party conferences – far too boring and narcissistic for my liking, all that self-congratulation and pompous self-righteousness does nothing for me – but those who do were very critical of Mrs May’s performance and the way she has been treated by the Party. I have to admit to having a great deal of respect for Mrs May, but even I am beginning to think that maybe she isn’t up to the job of leading us through our current troubles. Not that there seems to be a great deal of choice for replacement at the moment. With the Party so divided over Europe I don’t honestly think that there is anyone else capable of uniting all sides, and as far as I am concerned, unity is far more important than anything else right now.

There is only one subject at the moment that seems to have almost unanimous agreement with the chaps at the bar, and that is our mutual distrust of the American President, Donald Trump. Whilst he may be successful as a businessman – and there seems to be a little disagreement even over that – as a politician and diplomat he is very much out of his depth. The man seems to have absolutely no idea of how the world actually works. Several of the regulars at the Club have financial interests in the aircraft industry and are very angry over Trump’s recent announcements over the imposition of tariffs on Bombardier aircraft. One gets the feeling that he makes these announcements without thinking them through first. I certainly get the feeling that he doesn’t discuss things with his staff before taking to social media to make is pronouncements. I suppose that he is used to having complete control of his businesses and can’t seem to grasp the idea that his decisions have to me about more than just making money. America is not a business, it is a country, and it cannot be run in quite the same way. Having said that, Americans can be a little odd that way, putting financial gain ahead of everything else. I have said it before, they are a nation with no history and no idea of social etiquette. It is unfortunate that they have so much power and influence or we could just ignore them and let them get on with playing their silly games.

Mind you, we do have to be careful when discussing the Americans, and their President in particular, if my old chum Dorchester is around. Apparently, his American girlfriend is a Trump supporter (a Trump-et!) and he is very defensive of her views. According to Annabelle, the President can do no wrong. She fully supports his positions on immigration, North Korea and protecting American businesses. And whilst I can sort of see her point and some of his decisions, I cannot support her misguided view that Donald Trump is the saviour of the western world. The man’s a fruitcake I would hesitate to leave in control of a Sunday School, let alone a country.

Changing the subject completely, I had a call yesterday from Hope about some event or other she is holding at her gallery in a couple of weeks time. Apparently, it is one of those evenings when new artists get to display their work and she has asked me to go along. Of course, I have accepted the invitation, but I am not sure it is really my kind of thing. I have seen some of the work she has on display and it is all far too modern for me. My taste is more conservative I suppose, but she has been kind enough to ask me, so I will definitely have to go. I had thought of inviting Dorothy to join me, but she will be in Edinburgh by then.

 

A gallery without Hope!

Today I decided to call into Hope Greenwood’s art gallery, mainly to pass on the invitation to Cambridge’s charity bash, but also as it is the only way I am going to stop Dorothy nagging me. But as well as that, I was also extremely curious to see where Hope works and, maybe, to invite her to join me for lunch.

Now, I don’t know much about art galleries. They are not the kind of places I visit as a rule. My taste in art is fairly traditional and I already have far too many old paintings about the place to be buying more. Of course, I have been in one or two, mainly to attend some sort of exhibition or another. Aunt Dorothy is very fond of art and will often drag me along with her, but usually only when she can’t beat some other poor soul into submission. I don’t know if she invites me because she enjoys my company or to try to teach me. To enlighten me or simply as an excuse to introduce me to some very boring people. Art people can be extremely tedious. They get very frustrated if one doesn’t share their interest, and almost apoplectic if one should ever be so foolish as to contradict their opinions or question their knowledge or understanding. I did that once and I can assure you, it was not pretty.

No, in my experience, artists are very much like actors: self-obsessed, ignorant of anything but their art, and extremely dull company. Of course, there are one or two exceptions, Dorothy being one of them. She is anything but dull and actually doesn’t seem to be into all that sycophantic back slapping that goes on.

Anyway, this morning I sauntered on down to Hope’s gallery, which is actually in Chelsea, not an area I frequent very much these days, although I do remember it well from my younger days. Some friends and I use to frequent one or two of the clubs and bars of a Saturday night. I must say that the area has changed very little since I was last there, although the Kings Road itself strikes me as being a lot busier with some very exclusive looking stores.

The gallery turned out to be very easy to find. But as I approached I began to feel surprisingly nervous. I actually had to stop a few yards away just to take some deep breaths. It must have been some sort of anxiety attack, although I can’t recall having one before. It took me a couple of minutes to calm the butterflies that were chasing around my stomach, but once I began to feel more composed and in control, I walked into the gallery’s front door. The building on the outside is rather dull. There is nothing that would make you want to stop and take a look inside. I had expected it to be all glass and steel, but it was actually very warm and welcoming. Space inside had obliviously been created especially to show off the various art pieces in their best light. The upper floor and been partially removed to create a mezzanine floor at the rear of the building, leaving the reception and first part of the gallery very bright and open.

I took all of this in as soon as I walked through the front door. To my immediate left was a small desk that I presumed was the receptionists. At first, I didn’t see anyone else in the building and thought myself quite alone. It was only as I made a move towards the rear of the gallery that I spotted a young lady adjusting some kind of statue.

“Sorry to keep you,” she said, “I’ll be right with you.”

After what could only have been a few seconds, she stopped what she had been doing and turned to face me. I am not very good with such things but she looked to be no more than about 18 or 19 years old and dressed in a way I thought to be a little too casual for working in an art gallery. But she seemed friendly enough.

When I asked if I could see Mrs Greenwood, she looked at me a little quizzically and told me that Hope was, in fact, away for a couple of days, talking to potential clients and artists.

I have to admit that this took the wind right out of my sails. In my head I had prepared for any number of eventualities, but not once did I consider the possibility that she wouldn’t be there. I must have looked a bit of a fool because the young lady then offered me a seat and asked if she could get me anything.

I declined, although if the truth be told, I could have done with a small brandy to steady my nerves. Why had I not considered this possibility? And why hadn’t I called ahead?

Because I don’t like telephones! And I felt it best to extend the invitation personally rather than over the telephone or by post. It is so much more personal that way. I had also wanted to take Hope out to lunch to a nice little bistro I know not far from the gallery itself. I haven’t been there recently but I am assured they still serve a first class Dover Sole and the wine list is still as extensive as ever.

So, there I was, reclining in a leather armchair in a Chelsea art gallery, with absolutely no idea what to do next. I have never felt quite so deflated and unsure of my self, and I can tell you, it is not a nice feeling. The young lady asked if she could take a message, but what should I say?

“If you could ask Mrs Greenwood to call me if you would be so kind,” I replied, handing over one of my calling cards.

The young lady took the card from me, looked at it, then looked back at me and said, “So you’re Lord Robert?  I’ve heard such a lot about you. Why should I say you called?”

I explained that I had an invitation to a charity event and wanted to invite Hope to join me. I mumbled, keeping my eyes away from hers. Despite her somewhat casual attire she was extremely attentive and seemed very interested in my welfare. At my request, she ordered me a cab to get me home.

It’s strange isn’t it, that in my head I had gone over all the possible ways this meeting could have gone. The brusk decline, the flirtatious acceptance, the existing engagements, the family commitment. I had even considered that she may have a medical condition that required treatment that would prevent her being my “plus one”. I had never even considered the idea that she simply would not be in.

The taxi had arrived by this time so I arose from the chair and offered my thanks to the young lady for her help.

Once I was back home I began to regain some of my previous composure. I also ran the events of the previous half-hour through my mind. For one thing, I had not asked either the young girl’s name or where Hope had got to on her business trip. Or even when she would be back. It seems that when the chips are down, yours truly is definitely not the man to send on ahead on reconnaissance. I suppose she is probably in France or Italy, soaking up the culture and using her charms to secure the work she is keen to display and sell.

From what little I saw of the works on display, it looks like Hope specialises in contemporary styles, rather than the more traditional portraits and landscapes that have until now been my only choice for adorning my own walls.

Oh well. I’m sure that the young lady will pass on my card and message when Hope returns. All I can do is wait.

I had planned to pop into the club this evening but I think I will give it a miss tonight. I have a long day tomorrow with an early start – I have a business meeting at 10 o’clock so I need to be in the office earlier than usual. I can’t remember who the meeting is with, except that it is something to do with Human Resources, whatever that means.

 

A full house

What an eventful day yesterday was. As we had agreed, young Dorothy turned up at my house around noon in a car loaded with the boxes and bags containing her belongings. I had had Mrs Kaczka prepare the big room at the back. I will admit that the view may not be the best, but it does have an en suite bathroom. I am sure that neither of us want the embarrassment of bumping to each other on the way to our ablutions.

And I must say that so far it has been quite jolly having someone around the old place. It is rather pleasant having some company for a change. Not that I am ever exactly lonely, what with Dasher often passing by on his way to lunch. Other friends do visit from time to time, and there is always Mrs Kaczka if I need to chat to someone. But having a permanent companion is something new to me. Not that Dorothy’s stay is permanent, but I am sure she will be be with me for a little while yet.

Having said that, Aunt Murdock is already looking around for a new project to sink her teeth, and her money, into. Dorothy’s previous production was one of Mad Duck’s investments but it didn’t work out. Not surprising really. I would never say anything to Dorothy, but I thought it was awful. Dorothy herself was very good, but the show was one of those arty types that bore me terribly.

Anyway, as far as our living arrangements are concerned, I think that Dorothy and I will get along very well. After all, there is no chance of anything romantic between us, her being gay (if that is the right word). Her girlfriend Angela was round yesterday evening and I found her to be a very nice young lady. I can see why my aunt thought she would be a suitable catch for yours truly, had her preferences and affections not been in another direction entirely.

I still haven’t said anything to my aunt about her error in trying to match me up with either Dorothy or Angela – I am not sure which one she had intended as my latest date – and I am not looking forward to it. I am not sure how she will take the news that her protege is batting for the other side, so to speak. But as far as I can see, you have to assume that at least half of the acting community is gay. Whilst that is particularly true of the men, from my experience, most of the women at that way too.

Not that I have anything against gays. There are a couple of homosexuas at the Club and we treat them just the same as the normal chaps. After all, this is the twenty-first century and we are supposed to be an inclusive and liberal society. Of course, there are some of the older chaps at the club who frown on such things, but so long as they don’t make a show of their sexuality or try to proposition anyone, what harm are they doing?

After supper yesterday I left Dorothy and Angela to themselves and took myself down to the Club for snooker and a few drinks. A couple of the chaps had heard about my having invited Dorothy to stay and were keen to find out how things were going. Which seemed a little ridiculous  her having only moved in that afternoon. Personally, I think some of the chaps are rather intrigued by me having a gay relative living under my roof and I am sure I can expect more questions as time goes by.

I am currently in my study looking out on a bright but cloudy Kensington. With my window open I can hear the reassuring hum of traffic and people below me. There is nowhere quite like London. My recent trips to Ascot and Birkdale, whilst pleasant and welcome in their own way, remind me of just how special this city is. As a child I was sent away to schools in the country but never lost my love for the hustle and bustle of the big city. I don’t often walk the streets, preferring to be driven these days, but when I do I am often both astonished and comforted by the cosmopolitan nature of the people I see and meet. I know that some people think I am a bit pompous and a stuck-in-the-mud, but you can’t live in a city like this with learning to appreciate complexity and international nature of one’s fellow residents. Despite our many differences, we are all Londoners, and we should be proud of that. I know I am.

And that’s enough of that sentimental rubbish from me. Time to get myself ready for an evening with friends. Dorchester and his American girlfriend Annabelle have invited me out for a spot of supper and a drink or two at his parents home in Highgate Hill. It should be a jolly evening. Whilst I have my reservations about Annabelle, I am rather fond of Dorchester’s parents. They were very good to me when my own parents died and they have always looked out for me. Not that I need looking out for, you understand, but it is nice nonetheless to know that someone out there cares about you.