A weekend in the Cotswolds

All things considered, I think I can safely say that the weekend was a very successful one indeed. Not only was the Darnley’s party a truly splendid affair, with some of the best company one can expect outside of town, but Hope and I have, I believe, quite firmly established ourselves as a couple.

We were greeted by our hosts most warmly and it seems that Hope’s family is not unknown amongst the West Country set. It is fair to say that several of my acquaintances there were surprised to see us together, but on the whole I believe that most were pleased for us. And whilst it is still “early days” as they say, sharing the weekend with Hope felt very natural, as if we had been together for years rather than weeks.

But of course, the weekend wasn’t about us. The party was to celebrate the silver wedding anniversary of my old school chum Lucas and his lovely wife, Marcia. I can remember the day they met as if it were just yesterday. Lucas, myself and a few of the old gang had decided to spend some of the summer at a little place in Devon owned by a friend of young Dasher’s. I can’t recall exactly where it was, except that it sat perched on a cliff overlooking the sea. We were not far from the moors and a seem to recall several rather drunken nights spent recounting tales of strange beasts and haunted villages. It was all rather jolly fun.

Anyway, young Marcia’s family were the closest neighbours, their rather substantial mock Tudor home being just a mile up the winding path that passed in those parts for a road. We had met the family on the first evening after our arrival down at the local hostilry. I say local but it was actually about three miles away. Lucas spotted Marcia as soon as we walked through the door and didn’t take his eyes off her all evening. After a few drinks, he finally plucked up the nerve to go across and speak to her. After that, the rest of us may as well have not been there. They were engaged with six weeks and married three months later. I admit that I don’t see an awful lot of them these days, but we are still good friends none-the-less.

Hope and I spent the Friday evening at our little hotel. We had a very nice meal and a pleasant time in the bar where we met up with several of the other guests who had, like us, decided not to stay at the house itself. It was actually rather late by the time we left the bar and made our way to our rooms. I had just got myself ready for bed when I heard a quiet knock on the room door. I have to admit that I was a little surprised. I mean, who on Earth would be knocking on my door at two o’clock in the morning? I hoped it was not someone with bad news. My first thought was that something had happened to Aunt Murdock – after all, she has been quite ill these past few weeks. So it was with a little trepidation that I opened the door, only to see Hope standing there, holding two glasses of brandy from a bottle she had, apparently, brought with her. It was quite a relief I must say, and not just because she wasn’t bringing bad news.

Saturday’s party was very enjoyable but brought little of note. I had the opportunity to catch up with a few old friends, many of whom were pleased to be introduced to Hope. I am pleased to say that Hope seemed to enjoy herself, not least because she found herself reintroduced to some old friends of her own she had not seen for some years. By the time we left, shortly before midnight, we were both extremely tired and just a little tipsy.

We returned to good old London on Sunday afternoon. The weather was a little disappointing after we had had such a marvellous spring day on Saturday.

I have not seen Hope since I returned home on Sunday evening. Apparently, she has a lot of work at the gallery before we head off to the old homestead on Friday evening. Of course, I myself have work to do. I have been in the office all day yesterday and today, trying to get to grips with some of the more obscure elements of the business portfolio. And I have to say I am not entirely happy about some of the things I have learnt. I have always known that my father was a man driven by ambition and money, but I hadn’t realised quite how ruthless he could be, until now. Some of the things I discovered today made me rather sad actually, and quite determined that some things are going to have to change if I am going to continue running the show. Maybe I will talk to Hope about it. I am learning to trust her feelings and her instinct.

I had planned to visit the Club tonight as I haven’t been there since last week. The chaps will be wondering what on Earth has happened to me. But in the end, I decided to stay at home. At first, I thought it might be a good idea to invite Dorothy to come down and join me in watching one of her favourite old movies. That was until I remembered that she had left and was now living with Angela in their nice new flat. It is strange how quickly one can become used to having another person around the place, and how difficult it can be to adjust once they have moved out.

I have decided that tomorrow I am going to drive up to see Aunt Murdock and Uncle George. I have not seen them for a few weeks so it will be very nice to catch up. I also want to speak to the old Mad Duck about my concerns and plans for the business. I just hope that she agrees with me. She may not have been in the office so much these days, but she still has a very large share in the business and her approval is essential if I am to make any changes.

For now, I think I will turn in and catch up with a little reading.

 

 

Rattling closets

Yesterday I attended a small supper party at the home of old family friends. What I expected to be a rather dull evening very quickly turned into a somewhat enlightening affair.

The who thing was a send-off for young Charles who is going away travelling for a year before taking up a job in his family firm. I have known Charles since he was a small child, but we became quite close during his colourful college days. He stayed with me for almost a year whilst his parents did some travelling of their own.

As far as I was concerned, Charles’ family has always been one of the most stable of my acquaintance. I have never known his parents to disagree over anything and they are very rarely seen apart. Charles and his three sisters are the kinds of young people that give one hope for the future. But it seems that every family has its little secrets; the skeleton in the cupboard that rattles away quietly, waiting for its opportunity to burst forth and spill the beans, so to speak. It was only the excess of alcohol, the atmosphere of bonhomie and the conversation about Dorothy and Angela that finally let this particular skeleton out for a bit of an airing.

Well, last night, with the drinks flowing rather too freely, the conversation drifted to my housemate and her girlfriend.

You see, I was asked, quite innocently I believe, about the arrangement I had made with Dorothy and her lodging with me. I think that more than one person in the room had assumed that we were “an item”, so to speak. Obviously, I promptly dissuaded every one of that particular notion fairly quickly. But in so doing I revealed her relationship with Angela, a revelation that some of the guests were not too happy about, and once that particular avenue of discussion was opened up, things began to take a very interesting, if somewhat surprising, turn.

I can’t recall exactly who said what to whom, but at this point in the proceedings, things began to get rather heated. Several of the older members of the party were showing open hostility towards Dorothy and her relationship. Whilst I was well prepared to defend her honour, it was, in fact, Charles’ mother, Mary, who sprang to Dorothy’s immediate defence with a fervour and depth of understanding that quite took me back.

I have never seen Mary get so angry and animated before. I have known her for more years than either of us care to remember and in all that time I don’t think I have ever heard her raise her voice to anyone, not even me. Well, last night the drink must have got to her because she really let rip. Denouncing those who had been critical of Dorothy’s sexual choices as bigots, she went on to identify several members of her own family circle, alive and dead, who had been gay. For some of her guests, including myself, these revelations came as something of a shock, particularly as two of those mentioned were in the room at the time.

At one point, just before we finally gave up on the dessert (a rather fine looking trifle), Mary actually had hold of one chap by the lapels. It was so out of character that I found myself unable to do anything but stand and stare. Quite honestly by this point, I had begun to feel like I had wandered inadvertently into the filming of a reality TV show. I was almost tempted to search for the hidden cameras because I could not think of any other reason for normally mild and meek Mary to behave like someone possessed.

I think it is safe to say that at that particular point in proceedings the party came to a very abrupt end. Obviously, it is not my place to tell everybody about their little secret, but let’s just say,  I didn’t see that one coming. I mean, who would have thought that a man with four children could have been hiding such a thing.

It has to be said that as supper parties go, last night’s was one of the most memorable of the year. It is certainly an evening that those of us who attended will remember for quite some time. I stayed behind until everyone else had gone, primarily to keep an eye on Mary. Her husband, Ian, had been very shaken by the events of the evening and was about as much use at this point as a bicycle in a flood.

Surprisingly Charles seemed quite upbeat about everything. Maybe it was the excitement about his impending world tour, or maybe it was because he was roaring drunk, but he seemed to hardly notice the state his mother was in as he stood amongst the ruins of the party. I believe he was the only one to get any of the trifle, and that was only because he helped himself.

In the end, I didn’t get home until sometime just after 2 o’clock, so I didn’t see Dorothy until this morning as she was packing to leave – she and Angela move into their own little flat today. When I told her about what had gone on she was quite shocked, but also I think a little amused. I like Dorothy very much, but she does have a mischevious side and I think it is just as well that she was not there herself. I can only guess at how Mary and her family are feeling today. I had intended to call on them to say my goodbyes to Charles, but I think, for my own safety, I am better staying away. I can imagine there are going to be some bad heads and recriminations.

The who affair got me to thinking about my own family and the skeletons that may be lurking in our old a battered closets. It goes without saying that any family that has managed to hold on to a particular place in society has to have its own secrets, those misjudgements, misdemeanours and malpractices that no one really wants to see brought forth to face the light of day. My own research into my family tree has raised a number of questions, but so far, very few answers other than those one would expect. There have been one or two black sheep, individuals who, for one reason or another, have found themselves ostracised by the family, cast out and stripped of their inheritances.

Nigel is convinced that if we dig deep enough we will find something juicy, which would not surprise me in the slightest. I suppose that in a way I have a few of my own, but nothing worth getting excited or anxious about. I am sure Nigel has a few. His latest business venture has a ring of the unsavoury about it, although I could not say why I get that feeling. And what little secrets does Hope have, I wonder?

Revelations

This has been a week of interesting revelations and insights, for me at least. You see, it seems that I was very probably the only person in the whole of London who was completely in the dark over the relationship between Hope, Charlotte and Emily. I had no idea that their relationships were anything other than they appeared, but as is so often the case, what lies under the surface is often quite different from one’s expectations.

I met with Hope on Friday afternoon for dinner and drinks at a little place I know out towards Richmond. The weather was almost spring-like and after eating we were able to sit outside and take in the hustle and bustle of life on the river. Whilst I am not a particularly nautical person, I am often drawn to its banks, fascinated and awed by its cosmopolitan qualities. Most visitors tend to see just the bustling highway as it weaves its way through the city, transporting tourists from one point of call to another. But there is so much more to it. Just a few short miles from Westminster and its environs, the banks begin to clear of the historic and industrial and instead embrace the more tranquil.

Mind you, on the eve of the boat race, things could hardly be described as tranquil. This annual event attracts an awful lot of visitors, making the evening slightly less intimate than I had planned. It was, of course, my own fault really. I should have realised just how busy it was going to be anywhere on the Thames this weekend. Not that Hope seemed to mind. She said it was rather exciting, being amongst all the boating fraternity again. I had forgotten she was an old Oxford girl so had been a part of all this rowing nonsense.

Anyway, as we enjoyed our drinks she said something that at first I found rather odd. I was saying how different Charlotte and Emily were, presuming that Emily was more like her father. To which Hope replied that she thought Emily was actually more like her mother whilst Charlotte was like herself. At first, I thought I had misheard, but when I asked her to repeat the statement, I realised I hadn’t. My puzzlement must have shown on my face because she looked at me and said: “You don’t know, do you?”

“Know what?” I replied.

Well, it seems that Hope is not Emily’s mother. I suppose that I should have worked it out before from her age but I had honestly not given it any real thought. I just assumed that they were mother and daughter and have never questioned how young Hope would have had to have been or the age gap between the two girls. It had never been mentioned before as Hope had believed I already knew as Emily’s parentage had never been a secret. I was a little shocked at first, but looking back it does sort of explain a few things, not least of which is how Charlotte and Emily can be so wildly different from each other. Charlotte really is so much like her mother in both looks and temperament, but Emily, not surprisingly, is not.

According to Hope, Emily’s mother was something of a troubled soul. Her relationship with Emily’s father had been a short but tempestuous one, rather like the lady’s character. It would seem that after Emily’s birth, she went off the rails, started drinking heavily and, if what the family say is true, was negligent and abusive towards her young daughter. Anyway, it all came to a head when Richard announced he was marrying Hope and very soon after the wedding, Emily’s mother was killed in a car crash. She was very drunk apparently she drove her car into a tree one some road or other out in the country. Luckily Emily was not in the car at the time but was staying with her grandparents.

Emily had come to live with Hope and Richard soon after they were married. It can’t have been easy for Hope, taking on someone else’s daughter like that, but she has obviously done an amazing job. The most surprising thing about all of this was not the story itself, but that I had not heard any of it before. I have known Hope for many years and met her more than once over this period so I can not believe I  had not heard any of this.

I had hoped that we could spend some time together over the weekend but Hope is planning another exhibition early next month so had quite a lot to do. I am delighted to know that her little gallery os doing so well, but it does seem to take up far too much of her time. I suppose that if one wants to make a success of any business one needs to be prepared to make sacrifices. I suppose that is why she never felt able to do anything like it when Richard was still alive. Supporting him in his career would not have left her with the time she needed to devote to making the gallery work.

So I have had a rather quiet weekend really. Dorothy was out with Angela most of the time making essential purchases for their new flat. I cannot believe that she will be moving out next weekend. The old place is going to seem very quiet and dull without her.

Nigel dropped by earlier today to help me with my ancestry research. I have to admit to being a little lax on that front recently – Nigel has been away a lot, working to establish his new business and I have had a few other things on my mind. It was very nice to get back to tracking down the various branches of the old family tree. Nigel reminded me of our visit to Brighton last year to speak to an old family friend, Mrs Dalton. I have to admit that I had completely forgotten about old Mrs Dalton and her rather cryptic suggestion that I needed to speak to Aunt Murdock about something in my mother’s past. Now that I have been reminded if it I will make an effort to chat with the Old Mad Duck later this week to see if she knows what the old dear was alluding to.

Before we went our separate ways – Nigel to his parents and me to the Club – Nigel asked if I would like to invest a little money in his new business. He said that although he had most of the capital he needed, he was looking for some additional funds to secure better offices and, as he put it “oil a few wheels”. Of course, I agreed straight away. He is my godson after all and I am happy to help him in any way that I can. Whilst I don’t understand exactly what it is he is doing, I know that it involves some international dealings and I can only begin to guess at just how much “oiling” some of these foreign chappies require.

 

Things are looking up

After several “dates” where things did not go according to plan, Hope and I finally managed to spend a whole afternoon and evening together with no interruptions, disasters or fallings-out. We met as agreed for a light tea before making our way to Westminster for a piano recital Hope had recommended.

Tea was in a wonderful little place Hope has frequented before, close to Covent Garden. Now I have never really understood the current fascination for these so-called afternoon teas where one is expected to nibble on miniature sandwiches and cakes that to me look like they are designed for children rather than adults. I always associate these affairs with genteel old ladies or pretentious young women looking to secure their place on the social ladder. But I suppose that as with many other things in life, it is almost as much about the ambiance and company one keeps than the food itself which I understand is not intended to replace a proper meal. In that sense, tea on Sunday was a very jolly affair and I have to admit that the food was exceptionally nice. Hope was in good spirits and seemed to enjoy hearing of my busy couple of days at Cheltenham races. I was very surprised to hear that she had not been to a race meeting since she was a teenager. I had expected that she and her former husband would have been regulars. I think that I will have to invite her to Ascot this summer as I am sure she should enjoy it.

After tea we made our way through the somewhat cold streets to the recital. I have to admit that although it would not have been my first choice, I enjoyed the performance immensely. There is something incredibly relaxing about listening to good music played well and I very soon found myself totally absorbed in the wonderful melodies. There was something almost magical about the atmosphere and by the midpoint of the performance, I found I had Hope’s hand in mine. I have no recollection of the moment we started holding hands; I can’t even recall which of us made the first move; it just seemed so natural.

Not for the first time with Hope, I felt a little like a schoolboy with his first crush. Holding Hope’s hand like that had such a feeling of intimacy that I am sure I must have been blushing.

We returned to Hope’s flat for supper and drinks once the performance was over. Charlotte was still in Manchester with her sister so we had the place to ourselves. And that is all I am going to say about Sunday evening. A gentleman does not kiss and tell.

I returned home yesterday morning to the news that dear old Aunt Murdock and Uncle George have decided to leave the city for a while and have relocated to their little summer place close to Brighton. It is a house owned by George’s family that they have been known to use on occasion, but not recently. Apparently, the old Mad Duck is none too happy with the social scene of Brighton at the moment, but she obviously needs some time to relax and recharge her batteries, so to speak. I will have to drive down to see them later in the week, should I get the opportunity.

I have to say that aside from my dear Aunt’s ill health life at the moment is looking particularly good. Obviously, the utter madness that the rest of world seems to be descending into is worrying, but I am sure it will all work out. All this talk of nerve agents and spies sounds more like a plot from a very bad book rather than real life. I will have to pop along to the Club tomorrow night and see what the chaps make of it all.

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.

 

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.