Fate does a u-turn

It never ceases to amaze me just how much one’s fortunes can change even during the course of a single day. And I don’t mean from the big events or disasters but from the most simple and unexpected of circumstances. I have never been much of a believer in fate or predestination, but there are times when I wonder if there isn’t some grand design to our lives. The old adage that people get what they deserve implies some form of plan or oversight; we all want good things to happen to good people and get quite upset when they don’t.

Anyway, it turns out that yesterday was one of those days when my own fortunes took a sharp about-face. It started well enough. I had arranged to meet Clara for a spot of lunch before she headed off to spend a couple of months with family in New Zealand. We met at a wonderful little restaurant I have recently discovered in Mayfair. It’s one of those places that produce simple but extremely delicious food. There is an air of ostentation about the place that I thought would quite suit Clara. We had a very pleasant couple of hours talking about common friends, including Dorothy and Hope. I was surprised to learn that Clara and Hope were acquainted, albeit only recently. It seems that Clara has visited Hope’s gallery a couple of times recently and purchased several pieces of art for her flat in Paris. By the time we went our separate ways it was getting quite late so I skipped visiting the Club and returned home to get ready for the evening.

I arrived at the gallery a little after 8 o’clock to find the place surprisingly busy. That is not to say I thought it would be poorly attended, just that there were a lot more people there than I had expected. I was greeted at the door by young Charlotte who recognised me straight away and insisted on leading me into the throng to see her mother. As it turned out, Hope was deep in conversation with a couple of potential clients, so I drifted towards the bar that had been set up at the back of the gallery.

Once I had secured my second glass of wine (a rather nice Rioja) I decided to take a look at the art on display. Now, I have to admit that art, particularly the modern stuff, is not really my thing. I like a good landscape and am quite fond of photography, but the rest of it tends to leave me a little bewildered. I think that I must have been showing my feelings as I was soon joined by Charlotte who took it upon herself to act as my guide for the evening. And a rather pleasant time we had. I didn’t care much for the work on display, but I did enjoy Charlotte’s enthusiasm and passion. She explained that the work on display was all from three separate young artists who Hope was attempting to bring to the attention of both collectors and other galleries. She obviously knows much more about the subject than I do and had an opinion on every piece on display. I asked if any of the work was hers, but she just laughed and said no, it was much too soon for her to be exhibiting.

Towards the end of the evening, once a large number of the guests had left, I had an opportunity to share a few minutes with Hope. All went well until she asked me what I thought of the exhibition. I felt I had to be honest but also didn’t want to cause any offence. I must have looked like a real idiot, standing there, unable to say anything for fear of it being the wrong thing. There were so many things going through my head, so many conflicting answers to this very simple question, but I just couldn’t work out what to actually say. If I was honest and said I didn’t really like this kind of art, I would sound ignorant and ungrateful. But I have never been any good at lying, so that wouldn’t work either. In the end, I admitted that I was a bit old-fashioned in my tastes and didn’t really understand the works on display. That seemed to work.

Hope and I spoke for a while about our different views about art. It is obviously something of a passion for Hope and Charlotte, and I enjoyed listening to what she had to say. We were getting along really well and I was beginning to appreciate her company. That is until I mentioned my lunch earlier that day with Clara West. Without warning, our conversation came to an abrupt end, Hope made her excuses and left to join her daughter. I remained at the gallery for a further ten minutes or so but did not get a further opportunity to speak to her. 

In fact, when I came to leave she was too busy for me to say my farewells; it was Charlotte who saw me out. It seems that just when I am beginning to feel that Hope and I are getting close, something happens to spoil it. I am sure it must be something I have said or done, I just don’t know what.

As I am sure you can imagine, I was a little disappointed with the way the evening ended, even more so for not having Dorothy to talk to about it. I had planned to invite Hope for lunch with me one day next week, but now I am not so sure it is such a good idea. She does seem rather temperamental and I cannot fathom her change of moods. Maybe I will speak to Charlotte.



Dining out

I have been asked by a few of my more casual acquaintances how they might find the best places to dine whilst in town. 

Well, the answer is quite simple really: never eat at a restaurant that has featured on TV, never eat at any establishment that is open for breakfast and never, never, ever eat anywhere with a flashing neon sign. I would also suggest avoiding anywhere with the word “hut” in its name, and give a particularly wide berth to anywhere with a nautical theme. But above all, do not, I repeat do not, at any costs, eat at any restaurant that specialises in Mexica, Moroccan, Asian or Oriental dishes – that is just asking for trouble.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love my food. It is one of life’s little pleasures that I simply will not cut corners on. For me, taste is everything, the presentation just an added bonus. There are some people who can be very snobbish about their food, but not me. Amongst my closest friends, I am considered to be quite cosmopolitan in my approach to cuisine. I have often heard my old chum Cambridge say he would never eat any of that, as he calls it, “foreign muck”! Even I consider that to be quite a narrow-minded view; we all need to broaden our horizons these days. I myself have learnt the benefits of Eastern European cooking, thanks to my housekeeper, Mrs Kaczka, who is a veritable wizard in the kitchen. She often prepares traditional Polish dishes for me, and her cakes and pastries are simply divine.

On the other hand, on several occasions, dear old Nigel has tried to entice me into trying some Indian or oriental dishes, but I am afraid that I just have to draw a line in the proverbial sand over that idea. It is all well and good for those native fellows to eat such things, but for the more refined, civilised palette, I fear all those spices and other very un-European ingredients are just a step too far. Admittedly, Nigel seems to enjoy these hot and spicy dishes, but he is young and I am sure he will learn better eventually.

Indeed, one of my old school friends once tried one of those spicy Indian dishes after a fairly heavy drinking session during our college days. If you had seen the state of him the following morning you would not go anywhere near the stuff. We never got all the stains out of the furniture.

Now, I understand that although some of the towns and cities outside of London do have what might conservatively be considered to be fine dining establishments. However, I regret that I must advise great caution. You really can’t expect the same high standards and levels of culture and civility as you will get here in town.

In the end, there is no real art to choosing the correct place to eat, it is more about knowing which places to avoid. I have often found that personal recommendation is far more reliable than anything else.

Of course, the best places to dine are those where you know the chef or those that are owned by friends. But I have found that quite often having one of those TV chefs can mean dramatically increased prices for very little return in terms of quality or variety.

And one final thought: if the restaurant of your choice is fully booked, then that is the one you actually want. An empty restaurant is usually that way for a very good reason.

When I’m cleaning Windows

A very strange thing happened to me yesterday afternoon. It was one of those rare occasions when I was at home all alone. Normally either Mrs Kaczka or Mr Arnold would be about but as it turns out, they both had things to do in town, and Dorothy was out with Angela somewhere. Anyway, shortly after midday, the telephone rang. Under normal circumstances I would leave it for someone else to answer, but as there wasn’t anyone else about I picked it up myself.

My greeting was answered by a charming young man who introduced himself as Daniel and told me he was calling about my computer. He said he was from Windows and that my computer was reporting it had some kind of virus. Now, I don’t know very much about computers, but I do know that mine is a Windows one, so I knew straight away that he knew what he was talking about.

Now, when I say he was a young man, that was just an assumption. Obviously, I couldn’t actually see him, but he sounded young and I think I detected a hint of an Asian accent, despite his very English sounding name. That is one of the things I mistrust about people you don’t know calling you on the telephone, sometimes voices can be deceptive. I remember once chatting several times to a lady it a local tailors. We spoke a couple of times over the telephone and I had built up a picture in my head of a petite blonde in her early to mid-twenties. When I actually met her on the day I collected my order, it turned out she was a rather well-built brunet of about 40. It was very disappointing. Not that I have anything against brunettes, but when you have a picture of someone in your head you can’t help but be a little disappointed when the reality doesn’t quite live up. You just can’t tell from a voice.

So, back to my Windows man. The first thing he wanted me to do was to turn on my computer. This may seem a simple enough instruction, but as the telephone, I had picked up was in the hallway and the computer in the study, I couldn’t see how I would manage it. There is an extension telephone next to the computer, so Daniel suggested I put down the receiver I was currently using and pick up the one in the study instead. What a jolly good idea, I thought, and proceeded to put the receiver back in the cradle and make my way to the study. But when I picked up the phone, the line was dead. I wasn’t sure what had happened but turned the computer on anyway. Almost immediately the telephone rang again; it was Daniel. He said we must have been cut off so had called me back. They are so conscientious these support chappies.

Once the computer was up and running he said he would need to connect to it to help sort the virus problem. I was a little concerned about this as Nigel had been quite firm about not letting anyone else have access to the computer except him and myself. But as Daniel was calling from Windows, the people who make the computer, I decided that it would be all right, otherwise, how was he going to make my computer healthy again. I know what I am like if I get a virus, and I presume that same sort of thing happens to a computer, otherwise, why call it a virus. Obviously, a computer can’t get a runny nose and sore throat but they can become slow and struggle to do the simplest of tasks. And from what Nigel has told me, some infections can steal your identity and your bank details. It is all very worrying, so it is reassuring to know that so many people are looking out for me.

For the next ten minutes or so poor Daniel tried very hard to talk me through getting him connected to my computer, but no matter what we did it just wouldn’t work. He tried everything and was I think on the verge of giving up when I noticed that the light on my wireless box wasn’t on. When I asked him whether or not it was important he sounded a little frustrated but asked me to switch it on. After that, it all went much more smoothly. Or at least it did at first. I managed to get to the website he told me about and clicked where he said, but we still couldn’t get connected. I think that by this time he was getting a little frustrated and I have to admit that I too was beginning to lose interest in the whole thing. After all, Nigel was due to call round at some point so he could probably sort it.

Having to give up before Daniel had had an opportunity to administer his electronic cure for my virus was very disappointing. Luckily for me Nigel popped round a little later in the evening so I asked him to look into it. You can imagine my surprise when, instead of showing concern for the health of my new computer, he actually laughed. I was a little shocked by this. After all, Daniel and I had spent over an hour trying to fix things and I didn’t see what was so amusing about it. Once he had calmed down a bit, and after a rather large brandy, Nigel explained to me that Daniel was not from Windows (it isn’t a company apparently) and that what he was trying to do was to get access to my details and would probably at some point asked for my credit card details so he could take money from me. It was, it seems, all a scam. A fraud designed to rob me of as much cash as possible.

Well, I felt such a fool. It seems that I still have an awful lot to learn about all this computer stuff. Nigel was very good about it. He said that he had set up the computer so no one could get control of it, so the scam could never have worked the way they wanted it to. Which is good news for me of course.

In the end, no harm was done, except to my pride. So if you should ever get an unsolicited call from someone claiming that your computer is infected or needs a fix of some sort, put the phone down straight away. Do not, whatever you do, let them have access to your computer or bank details. It is frightening to think how easily I fell for this scam. How do these people sleep at night?

I left Nigel to check the computer and retired to the lounge. Dorothy returned home shortly afterwards and we settled down for a quiet evening watching Strictly Come Dancing. Nigel left after an hour or so, declining to join us.

When is a date is not a date?

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Hope Greenwood for lunch. Throughout Sunday, and even Monday morning, Dorothy insisted on calling it a date, which I most vehemently denied. To call the meeting a date implied there are romantic intentions, which, I repeatedly assured my excitable young cousin, was not the case. We are just two old acquaintances meeting up for lunch. Nothing more.

But all my denials and protestations about the nature of the meeting fell on the proverbial deaf ear. She would have her fun I suppose, although why she has to do it at my expense is beyond my understanding.

All that said, I suppose it might be considered a date. An arrangement to meet for an entirely social reason may be called a date, provided it is understood by all, including the likes of Dorothy, that there is no intent other than to have a quiet lunch with an old friend.

Whether it was a “date” or not, we met, as arranged, at a rather nice little bistro I recently discovered on the Southbank. I thought it a suitable venue, with excellent food and wonderful views across the river. It is also extremely convenient for the city itself.

At Dorothy’s insistence I arrived a little early. Not that I would not have done anyway of course; it is just not the done thing to keep a lady waiting. But Dorothy can be very fussy and very forceful and I have already learned that it is often best to go along with her little whims.

As I was early I took a seat in the bar to wait for Hope, which also gave me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and enjoy a rather fine Burgundy. As it was I didn’t have to wait for long; Hope also arrived a little early.

We took our table at a corner of the rather large room that afforded us a particularly fine view of the river. The whole of the Southbank and the Thames itself were teeming with people. This part of the city attracts tourists and day-trippers likes moths to a flame, flocking to the river to bask in the sights and sounds of this unique place. The absolutely glorious weather had encouraged huge numbers of people.

We were seated very quickly. I ordered the foie gras and the fillet, Hope chose the scallops and the lamb, accompanied by a surprisingly good Australian Semillon. Now, white wine is not often my first choice, particularly as I was having the steak, but Hope, it turns out, cannot drink red wine. So, being the gentleman that I am, I joined her in drinking the white. I have to admit it did make a pleasant change and went rather well with the foie gras. Contrary to what some people say, and I now they do, I am not a wine snob. Certainly I know what I like, but I am prepared to try new things, particularly those from the colonies, providing they are not American. One just has to draw the line somewhere.

The food was, as I expected, excellent. As was the service. Hope and I chatted away almost oblivious to the comings and goings around us. And I should point out that she was looking particularly elegant and attractive. When we had last met at the Sweetman’s garden party on Saturday, she had worn  quite a colourful and delicate dress and had her hair all gathered  on the head which gave her a rather sever “school Mame” look. Yesterday, however, she had left her hair down, allowing it to frame her face and give her a much softer, more appealing look. I would go so far as to say it made her look a good ten years younger.

What I hadn’t noticed on Saturday, but was quite obvious yesterday, was that Hope is a redhead. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I only mention it to help give you a fuller picture of the lady.

Over the course of the meal I learned a great deal more about Hope. She told me all about her two daughters, Emily and Charlotte, both of whom she insists I should meet. Apparently Emily is 28 and currently doing something or other with her father’s old firm, whilst Charlotte, still only 17, is a bit of an artist and is studying at Art College at the moment (not sure which one). Hope herself has recently opened her own Gallery in the city. The last time I had seen her, before her husband died, she had just started working in a friends Gallery, but in the meantime he has branched out on her own.

After our lunch Hope suggested we take advantage of the weather and take a walk along the river bank. Although I would normally seek to avoid the tourist areas and the bank holiday crowds, I acquiesced and led her away from the Festival Hall, down towards Westminster. I found myself enjoying her company so much I was somewhat reluctant for the afternoon to end. But, alas, Hope has her family and she had to return home much sooner than I would have liked. We finished the afternoon with drinks at a small bar I know just off Trafalgar Square.

It was undoubtedly one the most pleasant afternoons I have had for quite some time. Hope is nothing at all like I remember her. Being a widow seems to suit her. She is much more ambitious than she was and very obviously much more aware of her appearance.

On my return home, Dorothy and Angela were upon me like two hungry lionesses, eager for any morsel I would throw their way. The biggest question for them, and for me if truth be known, is whether or not I thought there was anything between Hope and I, and was I going to see her again.

Whilst I am sure we will meet again soon, I am not sure about any prospects for this to lead to anything more than a close friendship. I enjoyed her company and, yes, I find her very attractive, but it is far too soon to even think about our relationship being anything more than friends. Only time will tell.

As you might expect, Dorothy sees things slightly differently. I think her relationship with Angela is making her see Austenesque romances blooming everywhere.

I will keep on open mind. This was not a date, but who knows what the future holds.

Home again

I arrived back from Ascot late this afternoon so I am still a little the worst for wear, as they say. Whilst I really do look forward to this trip every year, this was a particularly lucrative one financially. As you know I am not the most horsey of people, but some of my close friends are, and this year they persuaded me to back several of the riders. I am not averse to a little gambling, particularly at an event such as this, so I went along with their suggestions. I am not sure exactly how much I came away with in the end, but I believe it was in the region of a couple of thousand or so.

Ascot is one of those events in the social calendar that is more than it seems to be. With dear old Lizzie taking such a keen interest and being actively involved, it has a certain cache. And although I can’t pretend to know too much about the horses, riders and all that, I enjoy the society of friends and the atmosphere that goes with it.

This year we had perfect weather and we managed in impromptu picnic in the grounds. It was a rather splendid affair, all top hats and tails. What a lark!

But I can’t talk about Ascot without saying something about the insane preoccupation that the ladies seem to have with their dresses and hats. I mean, what do they think they look like? I am surprised some of them can even walk about. I don’t really hold with all this over the top flamboyance, but I suppose it has become part of the spectacle and what people have come to expect.

As much as I enjoy being at events like Ascot, meeting old chums and enjoying wonderful food and drink, it is always comforting to return home, to get back to my own surroundings and the peace and quiet of the city. I find the country to be far too busy and noisy. I don’t think those damned birds ever go to sleep.

Anyway, I am back home now and everything seems to be in order. I can see that Nigel has been working on my computer again to make it safe for me. I really do appreciate the time he devotes to keeping me safe from all those nasty infections and things that can attack your computer when you are not looking. I mentioned my new-found interest on the internet to some of my horsey friends who have all promised to tune into my blog, so “hello” to you all.

It has been a long day so I think I’ll just pop along to the Club for a night cap or three. It is good to be home.

Welcome to the Internet

Some time ago, I can’t recall exactly when, except that it was a Monday and it was raining. I know it was a Monday because Dora, my cleaning lady was there and she always comes on a Monday. And it was definitely raining because I remember that Dora was wet when she came in.

Anyway, it was a Monday morning and Dasher Robeson had called round for our usual pre-lunch drinkies. Of course, Dasher isn’t his real name. He acquired that nickname at school following a rather memorable incident in the girl’s dorm. Dasher often calls by, unannounced, just in time for drinks, but on this particular day – this wet Monday – he was all abuzz about something he had seen on the internet. Now, at the time I knew nothing about this new fangled world wide interweb thingy and quite frankly, I didn’t really want to know. But after a couple of single malts – a particularly good Edradour – and a rather large brandy, I gave in and agreed to go with him to the local “cyber café” so we could do a spot of what he called “browsing”.

Now, to be fair to Dasher, he didn’t actually say the café had a bar, but darn it, every café I had ever been to before served proper drinks; but not this one. Oh no, when we arrived, soaking wet through, I had at least expected somewhere dry and hospitable. Whilst it was certainly dry – not a drop of decent spirit in the place, I was offered tea, but as they only served one type – and I suspect that came out of a bag – I declined, preferring to take a nip or two from my own flask. That is something my father taught me, never go anywhere with an empty flask.

Once I had got over the shock, not only of the surroundings but also the rather shady nature of the rest of the clientele, I must admit that my interest was tweaked by what Dasher showed me. Besides all the videos of cats and people falling over, there was an awful lot of interesting things to be found on the internet.

I mentioned my visit to the cyber café with my nephew Nigel when he visited me later that week. I call him my nephew, but Nigel is in fact my godson. He has always called me Uncle Robert so it always seemed natural to call him my nephew, and as I have no brothers or sisters, I suppose he is the nearest I will get. Now, Nigel is one of those young chappies who takes an interest in computers and such like.

Anyway, Nigel was delighted at my new-found interest in the digital world and the very next day he turned up with a brand-new computer. Not one of those portable lap things but a big tower one. I am still learning how to use it but Nigel is being very patient and supportive. In fact, he is here most days tweaking and cleaning the system for me. He has warned me of the dangers of the internet and spends quite a bit of time making sure I am safe.

It was one evening whilst chatting to Dasher and Nigel that we hit on the idea of me writing a sort of online diary. Admittedly we were all a little tipsy, but it did seem a clever idea and so, voila! Here I am doing just that.

Well, it is not exactly a diary. I have one of those and can’t see what interest it would be to anyone else. Nigel calls it a blog but I don’t really understand what that means.

I already write a lot of letters to my friends and family so Nigel said I could use the internet to keep in touch and I would only have to write things once. How amazing!

Of course, for now Nigel is going to have to help me with the technical stuff, which he assures me he is only too happy to do.

Hello world. It’s me!

Hello and welcome to my latest adventure. Unlike my previous forays into the unknown, this time I get to stay at home and don’t have to deal with bolshie natives or unseasonable weather. This internet thingy is all new to me so anyone reading this who doesn’t already know me will have to be patient I’m afraid. I am sure I will get the hang of it all very soon, particularly as my wiz-kid nephew Nigel is helping to get me started.

I would write some more but Nigel is keen to finish setting up my new computer and I am already late for drinks with Dasher and Cambridge at the club. So I will say au revoir for now.