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.

 

 

A friendly face in the crowd

I had a very welcome telephone call this morning from Dorothy. She is still working on her little film in Edinburgh but tells me she should be back in London by the end of next week. It is quite a relief as I have missed having her about the place.

I have spent the past couple of days catching up with some of the old local families and, despite the ever-present sense that I am on display like some prize horse, I have quite enjoyed myself. And to be fair, there haven’t been as many staged introductions as I had feared. However, there does seem to have been something of a change of focus. Whereas previously I have been introduced to a seemingly endless stream of single young ladies, this week it has been middle-aged widows and divorcees. It’s as if I have passed some kind of generational milestone and I’m no longer considered suitable husband material for the under thirties. I must admit that I am not sure I like that idea. After all, I am not old. I’m not even fifty. And even if I was, that’s nothing. I am still fit and healthy and I have all my own teeth and hair, which is more than some men half my age can say.

It is also more than can be said for some of the middle-aged widows I have met this week. One particular lady had more facial hair than me and I’m pretty sure that my neighbour’s second cousin may have once been a man. That’s not to say they are all unattractive. No, far from it. I have met several women this week who I found very pleasing both to the eye and the ear. One thing I have noticed about the country ladies though is their propensity for gossip, and as a group, they are often quite narrow-minded in their interests and opinions. Now I am sure that there are some who might say the same about me, but I think that you will find that I am actually quite cosmopolitan. One could never really get along in London without being prepared to accept all sorts of people and ideas. I find that people who live their whole lives in the country lack the worldliness of city folk, with their limited society and confined outlook.

Being here at the old homestead always reminds me just how lucky I am to have chosen to live where I do, much against my parent’s wishes I might add. They wanted me to be part of the country set, but I never really felt I fitted in. One has to find one’s own way in the world and should not be constrained by the lack of ambition of mobility of earlier generations.

One thing that I have noticed on this visit is the relatively large number of new faces. It would appear that there have been several new developments in the area that have attracted several new families. I met with some of these whilst taking a spot of lunch at the local hostelry, the Kings Arms, with my estate manager, Mr Rotherby. Now, according to old Rotherby, most of these families are what he calls “the new rich”, his term for those who have acquired their wealth relatively recently with no family history to speak of. Whilst the some of the established families are a little reluctant to welcome them too openly, I find the news quite welcoming. After all, I suppose that there may have been a time when even my own family were considered “the new rich”. I know that on my mother’s side, their wealth and influence stemmed from the Industrial Revolution, prior to which, I believe, they were simple traders. I still have work to do, but I think that Nigel and I are really getting somewhere with all this ancestry research.

Anyway, as I was saying, I have met a couple of the new families and so far I have found most of them to be quite charming and very approachable. One household in particular, the Fletchers, has caught my attention. They live in one of a small collection of new cottages that have appeared about halfway between here and the King’s Arms. They have been built to look like traditional cottages, but the lack of thatch and the plastic window frames put paid to that notion. Mrs Fletcher, Anne, is a very attractive divorcee with three children, all in their late teens. According to the local gossip she left her husband after discovering he was having an affair and, in the words of old Jim (the landlord of the King’s Arms), she took him to the cleaners. I met Anne on one of my lunchtime visits to the King’s Arms and we seemed to get along quite well. She told me she moved to the area after her divorce mainly to get as far away from her ex-husband as possible, but also because she has family in the area. They are not a family I know so presume they are from one or another of the smaller villages or towns here about. Anne herself runs her own business, something to do with interior design or some such. It seems that I am always meeting up with arty types, which is ironic really as I don’t think I have an artistic bone in my body.

Anne and I have enjoyed a couple of unplanned lunchtime meetings this week. It seems she likes the atmosphere of the King’s Arms and is often there, either with a client or, as she was today, her eldest daughter, Stephanie. Now I am no judge of these things, in fact, I have to admit to being absolutely hopeless when it comes to estimating people’s ages, but when they were sat side by side, Anne and Stephanie looked more like sisters than mother and daughter. Of course, that may have been down to the poor lighting and plenty of makeup. As I say, I am no judge of these things and decided not to express what I was thinking as I was not sure if it would be considered too passe, and I didn’t want to copme across as some kind of lethario, scattering compliments in the hope of some kind of return.

 

Anyway, they were absolutely charming company on what was otherwise a very wet and dreary day. In fact, we remained in the bar for several hours before Anne had to rush home to call a client. I have had no engagements for this evening, which is just as well really as I think I need a break from the seemingly endless round of dinner parties and social gatherings that have fairly monopolised my time. I came out to the country for a break and to help recharge the old batteries, but so far I have hardly stopped, dashing from one engagement to the next. Whilst one has a certain reputation and standing in the community to uphold, there is a limit to how long one can be expected to keep smiling and nodding politely. I don’t know how Lizzie manages it.

My aunt Sara left this morning to spend a couple of days with an old school friend up north somewhere. She’s actually quite a character and has something of a reputation in the county for her forthright opinions and capacity for alcohol. I do enjoy her company, but this week she has been relatively quiet. I don’t expect either her or Nigel to be back before I return to London, which I must do next week.

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.

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.

 

People watching – a new hobby

Euston_station_concourseWell, it was all hands on deck this morning as we prepared for Dorothy’s departure for Edinburgh. She will be north of the border for about four weeks, but the number of cases and bags we had to manhandle onto the 10:43 at Euston you would have thought she was going for six months at least. I was exhausted carrying it all from the car to the platform. Thankfully First Class is at the beginning of the train so we didn’t have to drag it all down the full length of the platform.

I am not particularly good at farewells. I never know what to say or what to do. Once you have said the usual “I’ll miss you” and “hope you have a good time”, what else is there to say? I always find it difficult finding the rights words in that kind of situation.

And the whole hugging thing always makes me feel rather awkward. I see other people wrapping their arms around each other, all their emotions on public display and I just find it all somewhat embarrassing, particularly when it is happening on the platform of a busy mainline railway station.

Anyway, we said our goodbyes. The girls were both in tears, obviously rather upset about the separation, even though Angela is going up there next weekend. This kind of thing is always difficult; I never know what to do when grown women cry. I thought about putting my arms around Angela but didn’t want to upset anyone, particularly Dorothy, so I walked away a little and left them to it.

Once Dorothy’s train had left, Angela and I returned to the station concourse where she asked if I would like to join her for a coffee. Now, I don’t normally make use of the facilities at railway stations. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about this. My reticence about railway station refreshments has nothing to do with the surroundings or my fellow passengers; it is all about the quality of the food and drink. Not that I have ever eaten or drunk anything from those little outlets that line the concourse, but I can see enough to tell me that it is just not my kind of food. However, with Angela standing beside me, her eyes still wet from crying, I felt sorry for her and so agreed to sit with her for a while. I was pleasantly surprised when she led me not to one of those fast food stalls but a small and very pleasant bar overlooking the concourse.

Strangely enough, this was the first time that Angela and I had been alone together for any length of time. I found it slightly awkward at first, trying to make conversation with cousin’s girlfriend – the only thing I knew we had in common was Dorothy. As it was, I found Angela to be very pleasant company. From our seats in the bar, we had a good view of the station and very soon found ourselves discussing the mass of humanity we saw passing before the window. Apparently, this is something that she and Dorothy do a lot, quite often making up stories about the people they see. I can see the attraction of this harmless pastime, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I did try, but it seems I lack the imagination required.

Whilst we were talking I thought I saw Hope and Charlotte walking towards one of the platforms, but I couldn’t be certain. Everybody is rushing so much, desperate not to miss their train, that it is very difficult to follow an individual. Angela has never met either of them so she couldn’t say.

We stayed in the bar for a little over half an hour before Angela left to return to her flat and I made my way to the Club. It had been quite a busy morning so I felt I deserved a good lunch and some fine wine. And if there is one place I can guarantee both, it’s the Club. The new chef is a veritable culinary wizard; what that man can do with the simplest of ingredients is nothing short of amazing. A couple of the chaps asked if Dorothy had arrived safely in Edinburgh and I had to admit that I had no idea. One fellow even suggested that I telephone her, which would be well and good if I had a note of her number on me. Which I didn’t. So I called her when I got home and it seems that all is well north of the border. Her train had arrived almost on time and the hotel she was staying in was comfortable and clean. I was happy with this and will pass the information on the fellows at the Club tomorrow.

In the meantime, I settled in for an evening of Strictly Come Dancing and some family tree research.

Not a Hope-less cause

Yesterday evening Hope accompanied me to Cambridge’s latest charity soiree, and even though I say so myself, it was a great success. Old Cambridge throws these little parties of his from time to time, usually when a particular cause catches his eye, and they are inevitably always well supported, both in terms of numbers and the money raised. It must be two years since his last bash which I remember very well, only because I was ill at the time and on soft drinks all evening, Aunt Dorothy saw to that. That particular event had been to support a hospice or some such somewhere up North. Yesterday we were there for a charity providing schools and educational opportunities for children abroad, in Africa or Asia I think. Wherever it is, I am sure it is a very worthy cause. Cambridge himself is very keen on this kind of thing. He has often lectured me on the futility of raising money to simply feed people. Far better, he says, to educate them or provide ways to help make the self-sufficient. I know he is very supportive of local children’s charities which I find rather odd for a man who has never had any of his own. At least, as far as I know. There are rumours around the Club that he makes regular donations to a children’s hospice on the coast somewhere, but I have never asked him about it. After all, one should not pry into another fellow’s financial affairs.

Anyway, as you would expect, the whole thing was meticulously organised and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. I know I did.

I picked up Hope at a little after 7 o’clock as arranged, and I must say that as I saw her approaching the car the sight of her almost took my breath away. If anything she looked even more attractive than when I had first been reacquainted with her at the Sweetmans’ garden party several weeks ago. Her dress was a sort of shimmering blue with sparkling jewels around the top. It was full length but with a slit up the left that showed off a very shapely leg. I don’t know much about this kind of thing – I can’t tell one style from another – but it certainly looked expensive, and was very flattering. Hope has lost a lot of weight over the last few years and the way she was dressed emphasised her shape to great effect. She may not have the figure of a supermodel, but she is most definitely a very attractive lady.

For most of the evening, Hope and I were seated with several of the chaps from the Club. After the food, Cambridge held one of his popular auctions. I very rarely take part in these things, not because I don’t want to contribute to the cause (I always do that), but because the items themselves never really interest me. On this occasion, however, Hope persuaded me to bid for a weekend break at some healthy club or other out in the country. She told me it was a very expensive establishment with an excellent reputation, and although she had never been herself, she was sure I would enjoy it. Remembering my experience earlier on the week I was not too sure about that but took part in the bidding anyway.

Well, I must admit that once I started I found myself determined to win. No matter what anyone else bid, I was prepared to go higher. With the adrenalin pumping and Hope getting more and more excited, I just kept on going. It was just numbers, and I have never been very good with that sort of thing.

When the bidding finally stopped and we realised I had won, Hope was jumping around like an excited school girl and I must have looked a little like the Cheshire cat. Of course, I have no intention of going there myself, but I offered it to Hope and suggested she should take Charlotte along, make it a girls weekend. The look she gave me was one I think I will remember for quite some time. I hadn’t noticed before, but Hope has a wonderfully warm and inviting smile that seems to light up her whole face. She looked almost youthful and I was quite taken aback when she reached across and kissed me on the cheek.

A little later the dancing started. I had every intention of asking Hope to join me for a spin around the floor, but before I had the opportunity to do so, we were joined by a gentleman who was obviously acquainted with her. We were introduced but I can’t recall his name, only that he was something in the art world and seemed to have some business to discuss. I excused myself and made my way over to speak to Cambridge who was holding court at the far end of the room. Amongst those with him was Dorothy’s old friend Clara West. We had last met several weeks ago when Dorothy and Angela had tried their hand at matchmaking. I hadn’t seen her since and was pleasantly surprised to bump into her again. We chatted for a short while before I thought I had better return to Hope and ask her for that dance.

But when I got back to the table, Hope was not there. Assuming she must have gone to the ladies room, I sat and poured myself another glass of wine. It was only after I had been sat there a while that I spotted Hope at a neighbouring table talking with a group of mainly younger people. I could have joined her of course, but as I did not know any of them and wouldn’t really have anything to say if they were the arty sort, I decided to wait until she returned.

When she eventually did rejoin me I immediately asked her for a dance. It turns out that my assumption that all ladies liked to dance was a little wide of the mark. Apparently, Hope didn’t do what she called “proper dancing”. I must admit that I was a little surprised by this revelation. Within my own circle of friends and family, everyone danced, particularly the ladies. It is just one of those things one is expected to be able to do.

Shortly after this Hope said she was tired and was going to go home. I offered her a lift but she declined, saying that she would get a taxi. She suggested I should stay and enjoy the rest of the evening with my friends. It turns out that she was leaving early in the morning to visit friends in Bath. I spent the rest of the evening with Cambridge and Clara, and even managed a couple of dances before leaving a little after midnight. I was going to go on to the Club with some of the chaps but in the end, I decided against it.

I had a call from Hope around midday today. She was calling from her friend’s house and thanked me for taking her along to the last night’s soiree. Apparently, Charlotte was “over the moon” about the weekend break and Hope apologised for leaving so early and not dancing. I told her that was quite all right and that I had danced with Clara after she had left. The call then came to an abrupt end as she had to join her friends for lunch.

As I say, it had been a very enjoyable evening. It was very nice to spend some time with Hope. I really do enjoy her company. She is only a few years younger than me but there is something almost youthful about her. I find her very easy to talk to and find myself wanting to tell her everything. It was also good to see Clara again. It turns out she is back in London for a few weeks. I know she is planning on visiting Dorothy so no doubt we will meet again.