Home is where the heart is

Well, here I am, back in town. I had thought I might return on Tuesday with Anne and take the opportunity to meet with Hope, but in the end, I decided to stay another couple of days and sort out a few issues with the estate. And I am very pleased that I did. I met with Anne for lunch after her return and she told me that her meeting with Hope had gone very well indeed. It sounds like they will be working closely together on a couple of projects. I am so pleased that I have been able to help them both.  Over drinks at the King’s Arms on Friday night, Anne and I were joined by Mr Rotherby who told us that he had just been speaking to a couple of local farmers who said that they had been visited by some developer or other about selling portions of their land.

This very quickly became the focus of a lot of debate around the bar, I can tell you. There is a lot of bad feeling amongst some of the locals about all these new developments, Not everyone is happy about having all these people moving into the area from the cities and cluttering the place with their cars and teenagers. Whilst I don’t share their views, being a city boy myself these days, I can see their point. Many of the small villages around here are like little oases of calm and rural tradition. But it is that very authenticity that draws in their new neighbours. But they also need to accept that these people bring money, jobs and some stability to what are sometimes areas in decline.

But I do have some sympathy for them. It seems that almost everywhere you go these days they are building new homes on what was once good farming land. I know that a lot of people get very angry about it, but so long as they stay away from our old estates and lovely villages, then I don’t see what the problem is. After all, politicians and campaigners keep banging on about the need for more houses, so let them get on with it. But if anyone thinks they are going to get their hands on any of my lands, they can think again. I may not be there very often, but I am determined to keep the estate as well maintained and intact as possible.

You know, I really don’t understand all the fuss about the housing shortage. I see plenty of empty properties almost every day, even in the city. There are whole blocks just sitting there with no one in them. Whilst some of these may not be housing as such, surely they could be converted or knocked down and rebuilt to make something suitable. Then they wouldn’t need to start looking avariciously at our beautiful countryside.

And I don’t understand all this fuss about what they call “affordable” housing. I mean, surely if one has a job one can afford a mortgage or rent. I admit that I am no expert when it comes to the economy or finances, but it doesn’t make sense to me to make house prices too high for people to afford. And if buying is beyond reach, there is always the rental market. A large part of my family business is related to property development and rental, and although I don’t understand it all, it seems to me that there is plenty of property out there.

It’s strange but for most of my life the old family house has just been somewhere I visit occasionally. It has not been a real home to me since I was in my teens. Although, if I am to be totally honest, I am not actually sure it ever was, even then.

My parents sent me away to school when I was very young so that is where I spent most of my time and I think that in many ways, the various schools I attended became home. That was where my friends were, and where I was happiest, which I think is as good a definition of home as any.

I have always been glad to return to the city, but there are times, like now, when something about the country leaves a trace of regret. The country estate may never have felt much like home to me, but family is important, and the family home is as much a part of it as the people themselves. After all, it is the place that holds the family’s memories and treasures. And there are certainly plenty memories in the old place, but not all of them good. And as for being a repository for the family heirlooms and mementoes, it is certainly that, in spades. Most of the walls are lined with portraits of various ancestors on my father’s side. The house shows very little of my mother’s influence, other than some improvements to the kitchens and new greenhouses.

Anyway, I am back in my Kensington abode, which feels much more homely now that Dorothy has returned from her filming job in Edinburgh. I am so relieved to have her around the place again.

Art for arts sake

When I am away from London I often find things can be far too quiet. Without the chaps from the Club and the general hustle and bustle of the city, it can very quickly become tedious. Many of the people one comes across in the country just don’t have the same interests or outlook as fellows from town. That is one of the reasons I keep my visits to the old ancestral home infrequent and brief. But one thing that being on the country estate does have that London simply cannot match, is the landscape. The vistas from the house can be quite stunning, particularly when the weather is like it has been these past few days. With bright sunshine and the rich autumnal colours, there is nothing anywhere that can hold a torch to the Hampshire countryside.

It is views such as those I enjoy from the house and gardens that have inspired some of my favourite artists, such as Constable, Turner and Gainsborough. Capturing the majestic beauty of the English countryside is no simple matter and it is something that very few people have been able to accomplish well. However, I am not some kind of art snob. Certainly, the walls here contain pictures by some of the great, but there are also many in my own rooms that are by largely unknown artists. These I have selected personally, not because they have any great intrinsic value or because they carry any kind of kudos. That was very much my father’s approach to collecting art. Instead, I will choose to purchase a picture solely on its own merits. If I like it, that is enough reason for me to add it to my collection.

I think it is fairly well known both here and back in town, that when it comes to any of the arts, I am not exactly what one might call an expert or even an art lover as such. I like what I like, and that will just have to do. For me, much of what passes for art these days is actually rubbish. It has crossed my mind that this approach to art may be what has upset Hope so much. After all, she does run her own gallery and is trying to promote young talent.  Now, I know this sounds like I am rambling, but there is a reason for all of this waffle. You see, I had a telephone call on Saturday morning from my new friend Anne Fletcher who thought I might be able to help with a new commission she had been offered. Now I have to admit that I don’t really understand the role of an interior designer. Yes, I appreciate that they help to decorate rooms or houses, but I see that as a fairly simple task and can’t see how a woman like Anne could possibly make a lucrative career out of it. Surely one only needs to browse a few samples, point out that one likes the best then hire someone to do the work. Quite where the likes of Anne fit into that scenario I don’t really know.

Anyway, as part of her latest job, she has to source some original artwork. Of course, I immediately thought of Hope and passed her details on to a very grateful Anne who then accepted my invitation to come on over to the house and join me for a spot of lunch, which we took in the new conservatory overlooking the rear gardens. Whilst I have to admit that they are not exactly up to Capability Brown’s standards, the view is considered by many to be quite as good as that seen in many of the more publicly recognised stately homes. Shortly before her death, my mother was trying to convince my father to allow her to have a fountain installed, similar I believe, to one she had seen at Chatsworth House in Derbyshire when she was a young woman. My father, not surprisingly, would not go along with it, and I must say I am with him on that one. Although I have not seen the gardens myself, I don’t believe that anything so ostentatious as a fountain would add anything significant to the wonderful view I enjoyed on Saturday.

In the end, Anne stayed with me until the late afternoon when she had to leave to collect her youngest child from a birthday party or something similar. I did offer to have him collected for her, but she insisted that, kind as the gesture was, it simply wasn’t possible to send a complete stranger to collect a child from a party. After lunch, we had enough time for me to give her a very brief tour of the house. It is only when I show someone else around and talk to them about the history and events the house has seen, I am reminded that it is an integral part of my heritage and one I really should appreciate more.

As she was preparing to leave, Anne asked if I had ever thought of opening the house to the public. Obviously, this is something I would never countenance and was very surprised that she had asked the question. The thought of having total strangers wandering around my home is anathema to me. Whilst my visits here are brief and infrequent, it is still my family home and as such is not to be used as some kind of money tree. I know that for some families, their history and the building’s connections with history make opening them almost inevitable. But as this has always been a family home and has not seen the unfolding of historical events or been used as a hiding place for escaping royalty, I don’t think there would be much interest in the old place anyway. I think Anne was a little surprised by my answer as it is possible I may have been a little more vociferous than I had intended.

Yesterday saw the arrival of yet another unexpected visitor in the shape of my old chum Dorchester. His girlfriend has returned to America for a couple of weeks and I think that he has realised just how isolated he has become from his old friends. He had heard from the guys at the Club that I was out in the country so had decided to take a Sunday morning ride out to join me. We decided to make the most of the weather and took the guns out to do a little shooting. It is one of the few country sports I enjoy and is one of only a couple of activities I am actually any good at. That I think is largely down to my father’s insistence I learn how to handle a gun at a very young age. I am not sure why he thought it was important, but then I never understood a lot of things my father did.

During the course of the afternoon, I received two telephone calls. The first was from dear old Aunt Murdock asking when I would be back in town as there were some business related things she needed to discuss with me. The second was from Anne thanking me for introducing her to Hope. Apparently, Anne is travelling down to London on Tuesday to see some of the works in the gallery. I am sure they will get along well and both can benefit from the meeting.

 

 

Jungle drums

Well, it seems that the jungle drums have been hard at work with the news that I am back home again. My return has been greeted in almost Austenesque style with several invitations to dine with some of the local families received already. In fact, if I spend enough time here, I begin to feel like a character from one of Miss Austen’s novels. Not that I have read them myself – I don’t go for all that romantic nonsense – but one seems to have an instinctive understanding of the characters and plots of such books. They are as much a part of our culture as Shakespeare and Dickens, and consequently one just knows what they are all about without the need to actually read any.

Actually, I have never read any Dickens either, except at school where we spent several terms battling with the intricacies and somewhat dark and dreary lives described in Bleak House. Once we had finished the book I vowed never to read Dicken’s again, and so far I have managed to keep that pledge. Moreover, I find that I can’t even watch the televised dramatisations without being overcome by a creeping sense of foreboding.

Anyway, I had only planned to stay here for a few days, maybe a week at most, but it has become obvious that I am now going to have to extend that a little. After all, one can’t be seen to be avoiding people, especially those who have been connected to my family for generations. Although this kind of socialising can be a little tedious, I have to admit, having been away for so long, the prospect of meeting with some old friends is actually quite exciting, in a way.

Nigel is staying here for a further few days and we are going to do some more digging into my family history. Our recent little chat with Mrs Dalton has opened up some interesting new avenues of investigation for us and Nigel, in particular, is very keen to do some more ancestral sleuthing. He says he also has some business of his own to attend to. Apparently, he is talking to one or two of our neighbours about some kind of new business venture. He was rather cagey when I asked him about it, and wouldn’t give me any details. He said it is to do with computers and the internet and I wouldn’t understand. Admittedly, my technical know-how is a little lacking, but I am getting better. I mean, here I am, keeping up to date with my journal on a computer I haven’t used before. That may not seem much to the youngsters out there, but it is quite an accomplishment for me.

Yesterday I took a tour of the grounds with my estate manager, Mr Rotherby. He has been with the family, running the affairs of the estate for longer than either of us care to remember. Mr Rotherby is a fine fellow; his family have been connected to the house for several generations and I suppose he is as much part of the fixtures and fittings as anyone could be. He must be due to retire soon, but it is something neither of us wants to discuss right now. Old retainers like Mr Rotherby have a tendency to just keep going and I don’t really know who will replace him. Anyway, everything seems ship-shape and Bristol fashion, as I knew it would be.

During our walk around the estate, Mr Rotherby told me that there has been some interest from a property developer in some of the outlying land. So far they have not made any formal approaches, but he says that he is sure they will in time. I must say I am not happy to think that some shady builder types have been discussing my property like this. I have had dealings with some of these developer chappies and I must say I have not been impressed by them. This is obviously something I need to keep an eye on.

I am visiting one of my neighbours this evening after accepting an invitation to join them for supper and drinks. They are one of the oldest families in the county and, thankfully, do not have a daughter they might be trying to foist on me. I am not sure who will be there, but I am certain that there will be more than just the immediate family. There always is. It will be the first of several such outings this week so I had better prepare myself.

I am not really looking forward to being paraded around the various homes of the county, but it comes with the territory I suppose. I just wish Dorothy were here to help; I am sure she would know how to handle these events, and her presence might have acted as a deterrent for those matriarchs who are still trying to marry me off to their daughters. Of course, if Dorothy or Hope were here I am sure I wouldn’t get so many invitations.

Talking about Hope, I am still pondering our last conversation. It seems that the more I think about it the more confused I get. Not just about Hope’s behaviour, but also why it bothers me so much. I mean, I hardly really know her and she certainly doesn’t owe me any explanations. That said, she did invite me to her gallery event and we did seem to be getting along so well before she turned away from me at the end of the evening. I am happy to admit that I have never really understood what makes women tick, but the last few weeks have highlighted just how lacking I am in the female empathy department.

What are Sundays for?

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I often have mixed feelings about being back in the countryside. Whilst I do enjoy the break from routine and the beautiful surroundings, I am a city boy at heart and find myself missing the hustle and bustle of London life. I even miss the sound of traffic at all hours. But the one thing I can never get used to is Sundays. Back at home in Kensington, there is always something to do, somewhere to go or someone to see. But out here, in the back of beyond, I often find myself at something of a loose end. If the weather is fine then I can always take a turn around the grounds, maybe even have my old camera with me and try to capture the landscape or the local wildlife, but by and large, I find Sundays in the country a little dreary.

Of course, the churchgoers amongst the local population have their own routines, drifting as they do between the parish church and the local public house before returning home to the traditional Sunday lunch with the family. Of course, life in the City is very different. Whilst there are still plenty of Londoners who regularly make their way to the local churches and watering holes, they do so with a greater sense of urgency whilst battling against a tide of non-believers heading towards the miriad of other venues that offer up Sunday afternoon entertainment of some very different flavours.

I remember my mother was always very involved with the local church, but I don’t think my father ever set foot in the place, except for the obligatory weddings, funerals and occasional christening. Personally, I never been one for organised religion and preferred to spend the time at home with the newspapers or listening to the radio.

Of course, just working one’s way through the Sunday papers can be quite a challenge in itself. I know some chaps who only get the Sundays as it takes them all week to read them. Personally, I like to settle into a comfortable chair, with a large pot of coffee beside me, and work my way through the various sections and magazines, with a little Bach or Mozart playing in the background. And there is almost nothing better than doing this in front of a roaring open fire. Now that is one of the benefits of a house in the country, having a real fire to keep you warm and cosy.

I must just say that yesterday’s little excursion to the local restaurant that Nigel was so keen for me to visit went down very well indeed. I was very pleasantly surprised, not only by the atmosphere and situation of the place but also by the impeccable service and truly wonderful food. The menu is simple and based largely on local produce, with just a hint of the more exotic in their desserts. And Nigel was not exaggerating about the wines. We had a couple of bottles of a particularly exquisite Nuits St Georges that I must say complimented the local steaks extremely well.

 

Home on the range

I have been at the old family home now for a couple of days and I must say I am quite enjoying the change of scenery. They say there is no place like home, and that may very well be true, but I have very mixed feelings about the old family home. I have lived in London since my early twenties and my visits here have been regular but infrequent, especially since my parents’ deaths. I wouldn’t say it holds particularly bad memories or even particularly good ones; I just think that I am more at home in the city than the country.

Having said that, being here, surrounded by all the family nick-nacks is often a comfort to me when life begins to feel a little too intense. Although my visits have been infrequent, I do find that when I am here it gives me an opportunity to relax and put my city woes and stresses into some kind of perspective.

I will be the first to admit that it is a grand old place. The main parts of the house are about two hundred years old, but some of the out-buildings and surrounding cottages go back almost four hundred years. It is quite an impressive structure, although maybe in need of a little work here and there – a little like myself really.

For most of the year, my Aunt Sara lives at the house. Sara is my Uncle Adams’ widowed second wife and is actually younger than me. She married the old sod when she was barely sixteen and according to most of the family, she did it just for the money. But we have always got along quite well and I let her stay at the house whenever she wants. Otherwise, the old place would be unoccupied so in that way she is actually doing me a bit of a favour.

Often when I am at the house it can feel a little like stepping into a Jane Austen novel, all plotting matriarchs and houses bursting with sisters. It’s actually quite amazing when you get right down to it how little has changed in the country. Marriages continue to be arranged for convenience, family connections and money. The country set might not have the kind of balls that Miss Austen would recognise, but family parties and dinners are generally organised with the same ulterior motive – matchmaking. I generally try to avoid them if I can, although Aunt Murdock has a totally different view of things. In fact, she only ever makes an appearance when there is a party to attend, and will often as not try to force me to go along with her.

Most of the families around here have been part of the county set for generations; my own family have been here for a very long time. There is a long-standing expectation amongst many people that your’s truly will cement the local ties by marrying one of the more eligible single ladies that frequent the various parties and dinners around here. It’s not that I have anything against any of the young ladies themselves. Many of them are nice enough, in a country sort of way, but they are not really my type. Not that I am sure what my type really is anymore. I can think of two women of my current acquaintance who I will admit to thinking of in a more than casual way. Unfortunately, one is my gay cousin, whilst the other seems to be avoiding me.

Anyway, Nigel came round this afternoon and got me set up on the computer so that I could keep up with my journal. Mind you, I also have a sneaking suspicion he comes here to see Sara, but that is up to him. This evening he is taking me out to try a new restaurant that he assures me is every bit as good as any in London. Whilst I find that hard to believe, I am prepared to go along with him.

 

On the road to Brighton

brighton_pierWell,  what a day yesterday was. I had arranged with my godson Nigel that we would take the Bentley for an airing and visit an old family friend in Brighton. It was something of a last minute decision, partly as an excuse to get out of the house, but also to get some more information for my family tree research.

Nigel arrived a little after 9 o’clock which was much too early for me; I was still finishing my breakfast. So, whilst I got myself ready, Nigel did a little work on the computer. I presume he was doing some research in preparation for our little chat later on with old Mrs Dalton. Whatever it was, he was very quick because he was switching off just as I entered the room.

The drive down to Brighton was the usual mix of frustration and boredom. I find that driving just isn’t any fun anymore. In fact, I refuse to get behind the wheel in the city these days. Which is a shame because I used to really love driving, particularly in the old Bentley. It was my father’s car and it was the first car I ever drove on the open road on my own. When I first started learning to drive my parents bought me a very nice little car, a Ford Escort. It was fine for learning in, but once I had passed my test I wanted something a little more substantial. Rather reluctantly my father allowed me to take his Bentley out for a spin, and it was an eye-opening experience. Cruising around the open country roads gave me a sense of power and freedom I have not found doing anything else. This freedom was the one advantage of living on the family estate, a million miles from civilization.

When I moved permanently to London I bought myself the Daimler for getting around town. I know it’s a little on the large side, and definitely not the most fuel efficient of cars, but for comfort and, let’s be honest, prestige, it is hard to beat. But driving through the busy city streets is about as far removed from those early drives through the country roads as you can get. I became increasingly frustrated by the traffic, the endless road works and the poor standard of driving I encountered. The city is full of incredibly bad drivers and they appear to be getting worse. Not only do they seem to meander about aimlessly, changing lanes in a seemingly random fashion, but more and more drivers are seemingly intent on committing hari-kari. And what is it with all the changes to the roads? Hardly a week seems to go by without something changing. It seems like they are creating new one-way streets and installing new traffic lights on an almost weekly basis. I just can’t keep up with it all. Mr Arnold has in effect become my chauffeur, getting me to and from wherever I need to be.

And now, even out of town, things are getting much worse, particularly the standard of driving. The roads between London and Brighton are fairly good these days, but for me, the journey was far from fun. Obviously, the Bentley is the type of car that is capable of great speed and does command some respect from other road users, but there are a growing number of people who have very little respect for anyone else, and none at all for the rules of the highway. I lost count of the number of times much smaller cars fairly whizzed passed me, even though I was driving an exactly the speed limit. Maybe it is the car itself that encourages people to want to turn every journey into a competition. I must admit that in my younger days I may have been tempted to join the race, but I learned my lesson long ago. Losing one’s licence once may be considered slightly careless, but by the third time, one has to consider it time for a change.

Despite the horrendous traffic, we arrived in Brighton in good time, stopping for lunch at a little Bistro close to the promenade that I have visited several times before. I often find that dining out in places such as Brighton can be very tricky unless you know what to look for. In that way, I have been lucky to find a couple of very fine establishments that serve a respectable selection of dishes. Yesterday we settled for seafood, something of a speciality for the area. I know that Brighton has a bad reputation in some circles. Certainly, it can be a little rowdy at times, but I find that lunch in the right places can be a very acceptable way to pass a congenial hour or two.

We met with Mrs Dalton in her home close to the seafront where she regaled us with her memories of my mother’s family. I hadn’t seen the old dear for almost 30 years and I was surprised by how old-looking she had become. Old and frail she may be, but Mrs Dalton’s mind is still as sharp as a knife. She was able to provide a wealth of information about my mother and her family, things that I hadn’t known or had any interest in before now.

But before we left to come home, Mrs Dalton hinted that there was something else I needed to know, but that I would need to ask my Aunt Murdock about it. It sounded all very mysterious and a little exciting. Nigel tried to press her into telling us more, but she wouldn’t, just saying that it wasn’t her place.

Thankfully, the journey back was uneventful and I was able to make it to the Club early enough for several frames and a drink or three.

 

The missing link

Although it has only been a couple of days since Dorothy left for Edinburgh, I am already beginning to feel her absence around the house. It is rather strange how quickly one becomes accustomed to another person’s presence. That is not to say she is any way obtrusive, she always respects my privacy and never intrudes, but her very presence makes a difference to the atmosphere of the place. In just three days the house has changed from a vibrant welcoming place to a cold and far too quiet one.

When I first offered Dorothy a room here I must admit that I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. I have, after all, lived alone for quite a while and by the time she actually moved in, I was beginning to regret having made the offer. But in the weeks since her arrival, Dorothy has become such an important part of my everyday routine that the last couple of days have felt very strange indeed.

Of course, Dorothy has been leading her own life and is not always around, but her very presence, the sound of her moving about, the almost audible thump of her music ensures that her presence could never be ignored. I hadn’t realised just how much I have come to accept these things as part of the everyday pattern of life.

But there is one particular area in which Dorothy has become invaluable to me. You see, almost as soon as she moved in she started changing the way I dress and the way I behaved towards other people. It was almost imperceptible at first; in fact, I didn’t realise what was happening until we had that shopping trip where she changed almost my entire wardrobe. If I am going out to meet anyone special, such as Hope, she will stop me before I leave the house and either make minor adjustments or send me back upstairs to change one item or another. No one has done this since I was a child when my mother would often send me back to my room because I wasn’t looking smart enough. Now it’s the other way round. Dorothy will “suggest” I need to be a little more casual and recommend the clothes to wear for each occasion.

Now I have this exhibition event coming up at Hope’s gallery and I had been expecting to get some help from Dorothy. Obviously, her being in bonny Scotland means that I will not get the benefit of her advice. Oh well, I suppose I will just have to rely on my own adjusted sense of style. I can almost here Dorothy laughing at that statement which I think she would consider an oxymoron.

Dorothy’s presence has also made me question one of the main arguments I have always maintained for remaining single. The very idea of someone else being so integrated into my life has always been something I considered to be unacceptable. That is why my friends were so surprised when I offered Dorothy the room here. You see, I am quite a private person really, and I think I have become a little staid in my ways. Dear old Aunt Murdock has been telling me for years that I need to find a nice young lady and settle down. In fact, she has made it her goal to in life to find me such a lady. I have lost count of the number of women that she has introduced me to over the last few years, parading me like a prize bull. But whether it’s because I haven’t met the right person yet, or because I don’t want to lose my precious freedom, all her efforts have so far been in vain. I think that when she reacquainted me with my cousin Dorothy she had considered we might hit it off, so to speak, and in many ways we have, just not in the way that Aunt Murdock had wanted.

I am extremely fond of Dorothy and, if things were different, maybe we could have made a good couple. But as it is she has become one of my closest friends and something of a confidante and relationship advisor. Admittedly she can be a little too emotional and get a little carried away at times, but she talks a lot of common sense and I have learned better than to ignore her advice. Obviously, the whole gym incident may be considered something of a misadventure, but I believe she had my best interests at heart, despite the two days of pain I suffered as a consequence.

That is enough for now I think. I am off down to the Club for a quick snifter or three with the chaps. A little bird tells me that Dorchester will be there this evening so it is a good opportunity to see what he has been up to lately – that confounded Annabelle woman never seems to let him out of her sight these days. I am not sure how he managed to wrangle an evening at the Club, so I am not going to waste the opportunity to see my old chum.

Tomorrow Nigel and I are taking the Bentley out for a spin. It hasn’t been out of the garage since we came back from Ascot so could do with a run to blow away the cobwebs. We are going to drive down to Brighton to visit an old family friend. I am hoping that we can learn something to add to my family tree as her family and my mother’s have been closely linked for many years.