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.

 

 

Unexpected pleasures

There has been a lot of talk recently about the unseasonal weather we have been experiencing here in jolly old Blighty. Snow, rain and high winds have been wreaking havoc in various parts of the country for several weeks, despite the arrival of spring. It would seem that someone forgot to tell mother nature that winter is now over!

I have heard it said that we Brits have an unhealthy preoccupation with the weather. Admittedly, for those foreign chappies for whom the weather is predictable and stable, it may seem a little strange, but for those of us who have grown up with our island’s unpredictable and rapidly changing weather, it is a natural topic of conversation.

Well, the bottom line here is that the Easter weekend weather has been appaling. If I had entertained any plans to spend time in the country, then they would have been completely spoilt. Luckily for me, I had made no such plans. To be brutally honest I am not a great one for the Bank Holidays. There are far too many tourists everywhere for my liking, so I usually spend these weekends either at the Club or with friends. I had not made any arrangements for this particular Easter weekend and had thought I might spend it with Hope. However, like so many others who run their own business, she said that she would be opening the gallery on the Friday and Saturday. I was a little disappointed by this, but I do understand. As she has already pointed out to me, she has invested everything in the business and cannot simply shut up shop whenever she feels like it.

So, rather than heading out of the City to escape the hoards, Hope suggested that instead, we join them and spend some time taking in some of the attractions our hometown has to offer. I have to admit that my initial reaction was one of horror. The very idea of becoming part of the herd goes against every instinct for survival and I have studiously avoided the more tourist orientated parts of town for far too many years for me to feel comfortable making a return anytime soon. But, it was what Hope wanted to do, so, being the gentleman that I am, I acquiesced to her wishes with minimal fuss, although to be totally honest I did not have any alternative suggestions to make. I should have been better prepared!

So, as Hope busied herself at the gallery, I spent most of Friday and Saturday with the chaps at the Club. Amongst the topics of conversation was the inclement weather we have been enjoying of late. It seems that I am not alone in believing that our climate was less erratic and wet in the past. Cambridge may well be right in apportioning this to rose-tinted memories, but for those who support the idea of climate change, it is another piece of evidence in the arguments for their cause. Well, whatever the reason, we were all agreed that things were not looking too good for the coming spring. The forecast is for more rain and cold winds, but I have never been convinced that these forecasters know what they are talking about. As I have said before, the British weather is notoriously unpredictable so I usually take their warnings with a pinch of salt. But it did make me a little concerned about Hope’s plans for us to venture forth onto the streets of the city.  Maybe it would not be such a good idea at all.

Anyway, I met joined Hope at her little flat on Saturday evening. It was actually a rather pleasant evening, devoid of both rain and the bitter Arctic winds that had been predicted, so we were able to take a leisurely stroll down towards the river where we stopped off for drinks before making our way to the lovely little brasserie we had previously visited for that rather ill-fated lunch with Emily. We had a lovely meal before making our way back to Hope’s for a nightcap. Shortly after our return, Charlotte arrived, looking rather the worst for drink and announcing that she was going to stay with friends for a few days. As she wobbled rather precariously towards her own room, presumably to pack a bag, Hope switched instantly from pleasant girlfriend to fiercely defensive mother. It was almost like someone had tripped a switch inside, which I suppose someone had – Charlotte. She squeezed my hand, gave me a quick smile then strode off towards Charlotte’s room with a look of steely determination in her eyes that would have made even Aunt Murdock flinch. Realising what was probably about to take place, I retreated to the kitchenette, poured myself a glass of wine and made for the lounge window, ostensibly to take in the view of the street below, but also to position myself as far away from the outbreak of mother-daughter hostilities I could hear brewing across the hall.

That, I suppose, is one of the great drawbacks of living in a flat. No matter how well proportioned or superiorly furnished, one could never get very far from one’s fellow occupants. In some I have visited, even one’s neighbours can be heard quite clearly when in dispute. I have always found these kinds of occasions to be rather embarrassing, and none more so than when one is in the immediate vicinity of the protagonists. I did not hear all that was said, but it was, thankfully, a rather short-lived confrontation that ended with Charlotte falling into the most frightful sulk and locking herself in her room.

It seems that her contretemps with Charlotte had left Hope in a rather black mood, so I left very shortly afterwards, but not before arranging to meet again early Sunday afternoon. The weather was far from ideal for wandering the streets of the capital, but I found it surprisingly enjoyable. During the course of Sunday and Monday, we visited the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery and Covent Garden, as well as taking an unexpectedly enjoyable boat trip down the Thames. I have to say it was one of the most relaxed and interesting weekends I have spent for quite some time. Art may not be something I take a great interest in, but hearing Hope talk with such passion and interest, one could not help gaining some appreciation of the works we saw.

Amongst the things we discussed during our excursions were plans for our little weekend away in the Cotswolds. It’s a party of some kind being hosted by an old family friend and although I had been invited to stay at the house, I had already decided to stay at a nearby hotel. It is one I have stayed at on previous occasions and I am sure that Hope will appreciate it as much as I do. I have already booked her into the room next to mine. We have also discovered that our birthdays are similarly adjacent, mine on the 29th April, hers on the 28th. We have decided that we will celebrate them together by visiting the old family home for the weekend. Obviously, we will also invite Charlotte, should she wish to join us.

Having spent two whole days in Hopes company I was sad to take my leave of her yesterday evening. But alas, we both had work commitments that required our attention today. Personally, I would have been more than happy to have forgone my meeting with the finance chaps who seem to be running things at the office. I find their talk tedious and their manner generally condescending. I am aware that I may not have the firmest of grasps on economics and finance, but I do understand the importance of profits to a large and complex organisation such as ours. One of the things I have learnt from my weekend with Hope is that there is so much more to business and life than making a quick and easy profit. In fact, after this morning’s meeting, I have begun to think that I may need to make some changes to the old family business if only to make it easier for little old me to understand and manage.

But for now, it’s time to visit the Club.

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.

Hopeless at relationships

Since Sunday afternoon I have been thinking a great deal about Hope Greenwood. Dorothy has been having her little chats with me, and even Aunt Murdock went out of her way to visit me yesterday afternoon to find out how things went. They are both convinced that there is something of a romantic nature between Hope and me, but I am not sure of Hope’s feelings on the matter.

Yes, we had a great afternoon on Sunday and I learned a lot about Hope’s past and even a little about her hopes for the future, but I remain as uncertain as ever about how she sees me. It doesn’t help that I am not sure of my own feelings. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely fond of Hope; she has become one of my closest friends. I am just worried that having been single for so long I may not be the best person for her to be in a relationship with. And I am a little concerned about the way that Emily sees me. I would hate to come between them.

But relationships are not the only thing on my mind at the moment. You see, I received a telephone call from Mr Rotherby, my Estate Manager, about some comings and goings on the estate. He tells me he is a little worried about Aunt Sara, although he was somewhat vague over the particulars. He tells me that he has also been approached regarding the sale of part of the estate for a housing development. He knows my feelings on the matter but has asked if I could speak to the gentlemen concerned as they are taking very little notice of him.

So I have decided that I will have to pop along to the old family homestead tomorrow and see for myself what is going on. It might be nice to have a weekend away from the city and I may drop by to see some of the neighbours. I have already told Anne I will be down so she is going to join me for dinner tomorrow night.

 

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.

Guns, Valentine’s and Sunday Lunch!

Yesterday evening at the Club the conversation was all about one thing – the dreadful shooting in America that left so many young people dead or injured. I know that a lot has already been said and written about this appaling incident, so I am not going to add much more to the debate, except to say that even those of the chaps who own and regularly shoot guns think that something needs to be done to end all this pointless waste of life.

The gun totting side of the debate will undoubtedly continue to claim their right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution, but what about the innocents that find themselves the targets of these madmen and cowards? What of their right to freedom from the fear of being shot on the way to school?

And yes, I did say cowards. It is hardly the act of a brave man to open fire on unarmed members of the public. And it seems that the perpetrator of this latest outrage was a very troubled soul, the last person in the world who should have been in possession of weapons of any kind. Of course, if these poor students had been brought down by anything other than bullets there would be immediate calls for either the cause to be outlawed, any faults corrected or for tighter restrictions. But we all know that so long as the damage is inflicted by the seemingly sacred gun.

As I said, the chaps at the Club were unanimous in their condemnation of a regime that continues to condone such mindless slaughter in the name of the object they revere above all others.

Talk at the bar meandered around for a little before finally settling on thoughts of the other big event of the week – Valentine’s Day. On this particular subject, there was anything but unanimity. Some of the younger chaps were all in favour of the modern approach of wining and dining the young ladies, along with an abundance of flowers and far too much chocolate. One or two of the married gentlemen admitted that they had forgotten all about it and their better halves had given them hell over it.

The main problem I have with Valentine’s Day is the expectation that there is something special about the day, which, of course, there isn’t. Far too much is made of the whole thing in my view. And I was pleased to discover that a good few of my drinking chums feel the same way. I have never sent flowers to anyone on Valentine’s Day and I am not going to start now.

This afternoon I made a quick call to Hope at her gallery and she has agreed to join me for Sunday lunch here at chez Dimbelby. Hopefully, this will give us a real opportunity to chat. I am still concerned about how things went with Emily and I am hoping that some light can be shed on the matter. I am also popping down to the country on Monday and I wanted to see her before I left. In fact, I am considering arranging a visit for my birthday in April and may invite Hope and Charlotte to join me. Dorothy thinks I should arrange some kind of party, but I am not sure and anyway, it is probably getting a little late to organise something like that. I will ask hope what she thinks over our Sunday lunch.

Nigel called around a little earlier this evening, but he didn’t stay for long. I have not seen a great deal of him recently. It seems his new business venture is taking up a lot of his time. That and his romance with my Aunt Sarah. He seems to think I don’t know about it, but I believe that it is one of the worst-kept secrets in the family at the moment. I wish he would just come out and announce that they are a couple, then we could all relax around them and celebrate their relationship. I do not understand why he can’t just be honest with me. Maybe he will in bis own time.

A pleasant evening with friends, old and new

Dinner parties with strangers are a little like a leap into the unknown. One never knows quite what to expect. When Hope asked me to be her partner at this little soiree hosted by a couple of her old school friends I immediately accepted but did have my reservations. After all, I had no idea where we were going, who we would be with, or if we would have anything in common. As it turns out I need not have worried; we actually had a really fun evening.

The big surprise of the evening was discovering that although I did not know our hosts, I was already acquainted with the other guests, Richard and Lianna Bardon-Willis. I knew Dickie from College, he was one of the members of our little debating society; Lianna was one of the young ladies we used to drink with. They became a couple in our last year which was no surprise to anyone. We didn’t really keep in touch a great deal afterwards, but our paths have crossed on several occasions over the intervening years. Seeing them there was such a jolly nice surprise and made the whole affair much more pleasant.

Before I say I anything else I really do have to compliment our hosts – Charles and Helen – for the most amazing meal. A delicious Salmon and Prawn Taurine, Lamb so tender it virtually melted in the mouth, and a truly refreshing Lemon Sorbet to finish. All served with a perfect selection of wine which flowed just as freely as the conversation.

Our hosts seemed to know just the right things to say to keep things chugging along. I had not met them before, but they seemed to know a little about me. Apparently, Charles has some business interests that have brought him into contact with my Aunt Murdock, and my father before her. I don’t know exactly what he does, but it seems to involve property development in some way. Dickie, on the other hand, is in banking and has been since we left college, all those years ago.

The one rather strange thing about the evening was that Hope and I were the only two single people there. Although we have known each other for quite a while, our friendship is actually fairly new. For many years Hope was just someone I knew of but had very little direct contact with beyond family gatherings and social events. Over the past few months though I feel we have become very good friends and I am really rather fond of her. As the drink and conversation continued to flow, more than once I found myself watching her as she laughed, noticing,  not for the first time, that she has a couple of crooked teeth which I found strangely alluring A number of my friends and acquaintances have spent a great deal of time and money on having such things repaired, but there is something about these slight imperfections that I find more attractive and genuine. To my mind, all this tinkering with ones’ looks is often counterproductive. There is nothing so unnatural as a woman of a certain age relying on surgery and drugs to keep her looking like a 20-year-old. There are far too many women of my acquaintance whos looks owe more to a surgeons knife than their own efforts or lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when plastic surgery and like are necessary, but the obsession some people have over tinkering with their own bodies I find quite frightening. I would never consider going under the knife for anything unless it was truly necessary. And I am pleased to see that Hope is not one of those who feel they need to hide their natural look.

I must say we all had a jolly good evening and I was a little disappointed when it came time to take our leave. Charles and Helen were wonderful hosts, it was good to see Dickie and Lianne again, Hope was her usual charming self, and I do believe I did or said nothing to embarrass myself, which is always a bonus.

Arthur collected Hope and me a little before midnight. During the drive back to her house, I asked Hope about Emily and what she thought I had done to offend her. I could tell she was a little reluctant to talk about it, but I eventually persuaded her to tell me.  According to Hope, Emily has worked on a number of cases that have involved one or another of the companies my business is linked with, and her experiences have not been very good. This revelation came as something of a shock to me and I promised Hope that I would look into whatever it was that Emily felt was wrong.

Personally, I am not totally convinced that her business dealings are the whole story, but I am happy to leave things there for now. Undoubtedly we will have other opportunities to clear the air and discuss whatever issues Emily feels she may have with me.

One of the many things that were discussed last night, all be it rather briefly, was Valentine’s Day. Now I am not one for all this sentimental flim-flam so I was rather surprised to hear that both couples were planning something special for today. I found the whole conversation rather embarrassing as, being the two singles at the table, there seemed to be some expectation that Hope and I would be doing something romantic today. Of course, we aren’t and I had to admit to not having given the day a moment’s thought. Thankfully the conversations moved on to other things fairly rapidly.

Why is it that married couples can’t seem to stop themselves interfering with the relationships of their single friends? Well, I for one do not appreciate that kind of thing, no matter well-meaning the plotters may be. As I said, things moved on very quickly so the whole subject was soon forgotten, but I was reminded of it this morning when Dorothy and Angela joined me for a late breakfast. Apparently, there had been flowers, cards and gifts aplenty and they soon turned their attention to me. But not for long. I very quickly appraised them of my view that the whole thing was just another event designed to make as much money as possible out of people. The price that restaurants and clubs charge for tables on Valentine’s Day is almost obscene and as far as I am concerned it is all a complete waste of time and money. As I see it, one should not wait until 14th February to let one’s feelings be known to our loved ones.

My plan for this evening is for a few drinks at the Club and game or two of snooker with not a piece of chocolate or a rose in sight.