I think I am in trouble now

Argh! I think I am in trouble now!

At all started so well. This morning I went into the office for a meeting with some manager or other. I wasn’t entirely certain was he was the manager of, and after speaking to him for almost an hour, I am still none the wiser. I know it had something to do with logistics, but he lost me about 5 minutes in and I never managed to re-engage with him. He was so enthusiastic about his department and his job, I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had no idea what he was wittering on about.

Anyway, as soon as the meeting was over I decided to take Miss Drayton out for lunch. Now, Miss Drayton has been my secretary for about two years, but as I have only been to the office very infrequently over that time I haven’t got to know her very well. So, I decided that today was as good a day as any to take her for a spot of lunch and to find out a little more about her and her understanding of the business.

There is actually a very acceptable little bistro not far from the office. It is one of those places that looks very modern but is actually very quaint and serves a more traditional English menu. It is often frequented by staff from the office and is a regular lunchtime venue for my Aunt Murdock. It is usually very busy but luckily there was a table for two available close to the bar. Miss Drayton seemed a little nervous about being there at first, but I ordered a very palatable Chablis and she soon relaxed.

As we enjoyed our drinks, Laura, as she insisted I called her, told me a little about her work experiences and her personal life. I was not prying, I was just curious. After all, she is my right-hand man at the office and I felt it only right that I should know more about her and what makes her tick. And I must say that I was very impressed on hearing about her career so far but very surprised to learn that she does not have a boyfriend. She is a very attractive woman and still quite young I think. I have to admit that I don’t actually know her age; it is very impolite to ask a lady that kind of thing. My best guess is that she is about 30, give or take 5 years or so.

Anyway, as we were just finishing our main course (we had both chosen the rather splendid sea bass that I have enjoyed there before) when who should walk into the bistro but my dear old Aunt Murdock. I was sitting facing the door so I saw her arrive over Miss Drayton’s shoulder. She didn’t see us at first and I watched her she was shown to a table close to the window. Once settled I made my way over to say hello. She was obviously pleased to see me and asked me to join her, but when I pointed out that I was there with Miss Drayton, her manner changed. I got the feeling that she didn’t approve. In fact, if I didn’t know better I would say that was actually quite angry.

I must say I was a little put out by my aunt’s reaction. After all, what can be more natural than a man taking his secretary for lunch? I know a few of the chaps at the Club do the same thing quite regularly, even treating their secretaries to trips away in some rather nice hotels. Mad Duck’s reaction was not what I would have expected. Anyone would have thought she had caught me in flagrante.

I returned to my table a little out of sorts but was soon cheered up by the prospect of ordering our dessert; a cheesecake for Miss Drayton, and a rather nice cheese selection for myself. At this point, I saw Aunt Murdock stand to greet someone who had just walked through the door. Well, you can imagine my surprise when I saw her step out to greet her sister-in-law, my Aunt Margaret. I haven’t seen Margaret for quite some time, and not since my recent reacquaintance with her old friend Hope. I was just about to excuse myself and walk over to speak to her when our desserts arrived, so I decided to wait until I had finished what was a very fine selection of cheeses. I am particularly partial to the Stilton, and their homemade chutney is one of the tastiest I know.

Once we had finished, Miss Drayton (I know she asked me to call her Laura, but one has to keep some degree of formality with one’s staff) left to return to the office and I made my way over to Aunt Murdock’s table. As they were eating their main course I was only able to offer the briefest of greetings before I was obliged to leave, but I was again surprised by my aunt’s very cold reception. Margaret’s “hello” was equally frosty.

On my return home I had a chat with Dorothy and told her about Aunt Murdock’s rather icy behaviour over lunch. I must say that I had rather hoped that she would be more supportive of me than she was. It seems that my taking Miss Drayton out to lunch was some kind of faux pas on my part. I can’t say I understand why; it was just a lunch to help me get to know her a little better. But apparently, being seen out with my young and rather attractive secretary goes against some unwritten social etiquette of which I was previously unaware. When I told her that many of the chaps at the Club did this kind of thing all the time, her reply was quite unladylike and certainly not something to repeat here.

Later this afternoon, I received a telephone call from Aunt Murdock which was pretty much a repeat of Dorothy’s dressing down. It seems that a number of people at the bistro also noticed me with Miss Drayton and have been making all kinds of assumptions about our relationship, particularly Aunt Margaret who she is in no doubt will say something similar to Hope.

Before ending the call, Aunt Murdock asked me about my arrangements for Cambridge’s charity function. I told her I had passed on the invitation to Hope, but for the second time today, I was met with an icy response – I could feel that look, even down the telephone wire. Apparently, I should have also made arrangements for taking Hope to the function itself; passing on the invitation wasn’t enough. I have to admit that this had not occurred to me, I just assumed she would meet me there. But according to my dear aunt, and Dorothy, who was listening to my side of the conversation from the study doorway, a gentleman is expected to transport his lady to an event to which they are invited.

It seems that my life is really not my own these days, but I suppose that the ladies know best about this kind of thing. I have agreed that I will call Hope tomorrow morning and make the necessary arrangements.

Hopefully, the news of my lunch with Miss Drayton and the subsequent misunderstanding about my motives will not have reached Hope before then. For now, I am going to get ready to go to the Club where I believe I can expect a more sympathetic ear.

 

Calling a spade a manual earth extraction tool

It has been such a busy couple of days that I have hardly had time to think, let alone write a blog! What with meetings, lunches and visiting the Club, my days have been jolly full. But one has to find time to relax, to unwind and recharge the proverbial batteries, which is why it has taken me a couple of days to get around to doing anything on my computer. I know that Nigel has been working on something but I just haven’t had the time. Those two mornings a week at the office have really made a difference to my flexibility.

But aside from my failed attempt to meet with Hope on Wednesday, the only other event that seems to warrant a particular mention is my meeting on Thursday with the business’s Director of Human Resources. When Miss Drayton first told me about the meeting, my first reaction was one of confusion. I mean, I understand the words themselves. I know what a human is and I know what resources are. What I couldn’t work out at first was what it means when these two words are bolted together. I suspected that it was going to be about people and jobs, but aside from that, I was totally in the dark.

Anyway, at 10 o’clock, I found myself ensconced in a small room with a very large man. Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my meaning. I am not saying that he was fat because he wasn’t, he was just very large. He must have been well over 6 feet tall with the widest shoulders I think I have ever seen outside of a wrestling bout. He was actually jolly intimidating, looming over me as he did with a glistening of sweat on his brow. This, apparently, was my Director of Human Resources, Mr Scott. It seems that the purpose of this particular meeting was simply to introduce me to him and to bring me up to date on staff issues through all the various companies the business has an interest in. However, I found that far from feeling informed, my only certainty when I left was that I was going to need to invest in a brand new dictionary.

Thankfully, the meeting was brief. Throughout it, he talked about “rationalising the human element of the balance sheet” and “streamlining the low productivity salary stream.” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, according to Mr Scott, we need to “facilitate some blue sky thinking” over staffing levels. Once Miss Drayton had translated this nonsense, I understood that he was talking about redundancies. Now, it is not my place to question the decisions of those who know so much more than I about running a business, but I did express some concern over the idea of sacking people simply to save a few pounds here and there. Mr Scott – I simply cannot remember his first name – assured me that anyone who was “disproportionately disadvantaged by having their role delimited or negatively restructured” would be adequately compensated.

But it wasn’t just the way he spoke that left me all at sea. Whilst discussing various roles and departments within the myriad of companies that make up the family’s business interests, I was struck by the absurdity of some of the job titles themselves. I mean, exactly when did a cleaner become an Environmental Maintenace Office? These days it seems that everyone is some form of engineer, technician or officer. What is the point of making a job sound grander than it is? I simply can’t see who benefits from these changes. Certainly not the individuals who actually do the jobs. After all, a cleaner is a cleaner, whatever you decide to call them.

Actually, I remember reading a piece about this sort of thing no so long ago in the Daily Mail. The article talked about these aggrandised job titles and I must admit that at the time I thought it was just some kind of prank. But apparently not. I know it is a long time since I was last involved in the business on anything like a regular basis, but I am sure that back then my father would have kept such things under control. He would never have stood for all this “blue sky thinking” and “touching base”. But then I suppose that everything changes over time, even language, although I don’t see the point of creating a new business language that nobody understands!

Talking to Mr Scott reminded me a little of the first time I worked for my father, just after I finished at college. My role at that time seemed to involve moving things from one place to another.  Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was goods, sometimes even people. I never really understood the rationale behind it all, but it seemed to please my father and I thought I was getting quite good at it. Unfortunately, not every movement went as planned. The good ship Robert sank without trace following a particularly disastrous episode involving a half-full van, three Norwegian tourists and a Traffic Warden. I still have occasional nightmares about it even now, all these years later. I still get a Christmas card from the poor old Traffic Warden who retired on health grounds shortly afterwards.

I mentioned the whole job description and business-speak matter with the chaps at the Club last night. Some of them have been involved running their businesses for quite a while so I was intrigued to hear what they had to say on the subject. I can say with some relief that they all to a man shared my feelings that things have gone a little too far in recent years. And it seems that there is more frustrating them than a change in language. Some of the chaps got quite hot under the collar about red tape, health and safety and interference from Brussels. I have to admit that much of the conversation went way over my head. There were a lot of references to needless bureaucracy and unnecessary costs, as well as the need for a firm hand when dealing with unions and local council officials, both of which came in for particularly vehement criticism.

I left the Club a little after midnight feeling relieved that I was not alone in my thoughts about political correctness and the pandering to absurd and unnecessary dictates from those interfering eurocrats in the Europe. The sooner we can get back to managing our own affairs and do away with all this red tape and pussy-footing about the better as far as I can see.

I’m not sure I will ever get the hang of this business thing but I am determined that now I have started working again I am going to make a much better job of it than I did in the past.

Lord Robert, PI!

holmes

What a week! My days have become so hectic recently I am not sure how I manage to fit everything in.

It was another early start today as I was back in the office again. And what a busy place it is. Miss Drayton, my trusty secretary, has been helping me, going over the details of the various pieces that make up the family business. It is like a huge jigsaw, but without the picture; or one of those you see with a different picture on either side. I am sure I will never get the hang of it all. I am very much in awe of Miss Drayton for managing to keep track of it all. I have not the slightest idea how she manages it.

Of course, Aunt Murdock has always been the one who really knows how all the pieces fit together, but I am beginning to think that Miss Drayton is the only one who has the whole picture. Anyway, I left the office feeling somewhat exhausted at about 1 o’clock and headed down to the club for a spot of lunch. Nothing fancy, just a simple soup, the Beef Wellington and a particularly nice cheesecake, washed down with half a bottle of Chablis.

When I arrived home a little after 3 o’clock, I found my godson Nigel waiting for me. He was already on the computer – he said he had an update of some kind for the family tree software. It is all beyond me which is why it is so good to have someone like Nigel around to help me. Admittedly I was a little confused at first by the documents that Nigel was working on. I was not aware that we had any Russian or Thai connections, but I am sure that Nigel knows what he is doing.

Anyway, we I spent the rest of the afternoon doing some research on my mother’s side of the family. I must say it is jolly good fun searching through old records. I am beginning to feel like one of those private detectives you used to see so much of on the television. Looking for the smallest clues hidden amongst the veritable shoal of red herrings. There’s so much information out there on the internet that it is very easy to get distracted. One never knows where any of the threads you pick up will lead to.

But there is more to this research than simply going through birth, marriage and death records. You see, Nigel has been showing me how to search the whole web thing, and how to work out what is interesting and what is not.

I’ve seen them on the television go through old newspapers and such, so I know we may well have to get out and visit some old libraries and museums at some point. But for now, I am quite happy doing what I can online. Now, that’s something I never thought I would say.

I have to admit that the who ancestry thing has got me hooked, it is quite fascinating and very addictive. Each new nugget of information opens up a whole new avenue of investigation and helps complete the picture. It’s a little like trying to figure out the jigsaw of relationships between the various parts of the family business.

Families are funny things and as I have discovered, not everyone is what they seem. The biggest shock for me so far has been finding out that several members of my mothers family were leading socialists at the turn of the twentieth century. Quite a thing really. I knew her side of the family had built their fortunes and reputation on trade but had not suspected that they were socialists. I must admit that I don’t really know how to feel about that little revelation.

Right now I am feeling a little tired after such a busy day. I can hear Dorothy moving around upstairs so I think I will pop up and say hello before going out. This evening I am meeting a few of the chaps for a few drinks and, hopefully, a bit of supper at the Club.

A new Hope

Now, before I say anything else about yesterday, I must make one thing very clear: attending Sir Arnold Sweetman’s garden party was not my idea. As a rule I enjoy a good garden party. They can, if the weather is kind and the wine properly chilled, be very jolly affairs. They are the type of social gatherings that usually attract the best people and offer a wonderful opportunity to mingle with family and friends.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s soiree was hosted by one of my Aunt Murdock’s business connections. Sir Arnold is a nice enough chap but his wealth is from trade and he is not renowned for his breeding or taste. In fact, he can, at times, be quite crude and vulgar. The guests were, for the most part, business people, and believe me, there is nothing so tedious as a group of businessmen going on about mergers, take overs, stock prices and trade deals. I can’t imagine anything more boring than talking about trade.

Of course, I had to go along for Aunt Murdock’s sake. And for her, the event was a way of killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. You see, she is not only trying to get me back into the business, presumably to take over from her at some point, but she is also more determined than ever to get me married off to one eligible young lady or another.

Yesterday was arranged as another of these blind date opportunities. When we last met she dropped enough hints, so I was pretty sure I knew who to would be. I was right, but more about that later.

Despite my misgivings about our host and the other guests, I have to say it was a fairly lavish affair and the weather was near perfect. By the time Aunt  Murdock and I arrived, the sky had cleared and was a beautiful bright blue. There was a slight breeze; just enough to mess up the odd hair do, but not enough to cause too much trouble with the catering. The house itself is situated just south of the river and is surrounded by huge trees that provided a little shade and some shelter from the breeze.

We had been there for about an hour or so and I hadn’t seen the old dear for quite a while. I had managed to make my escape from a group of stock brokers and had found myself a quite corner of the largest marque. Away from most of the crowd I was enjoying a rather fine Beaujolais when I heard Aunt Murdock’s distinctive and rather loud voice coming towards me from the other side of the tent. I can’t say I had enjoyed the afternoon thus far, but this was the one inevitable moment I had been looking forward to the least.

You see, I was sure  she had set me up to meet someone I already knew, Hope Greenwood, an old friend of my Aunt Margaret’s. I hadn’t seen Hope for a couple of years. We last met at a small gathering about six months prior to her husband Ronald’s accident. Mad Duck and her companion  were approaching me from behind. I could have turned to face them but decided to finish my drink and wait for them to reach me.

Well, imagine my surprise when they crossed in front of the table and there before me stood not the Hope Greenwood I had last seen almost three years ago, but a much slimmer and very much more glamorous Hope. A new Hope, as it were.

You see, Hope was one of those women who had, quite rightly, devoted most of her adult life to being a full-time mother and wife. In the early days of her marriage she had been quite a beauty, but in recent years she had sort of let herself go a bit. The last I heard she had started working for a friend in an art gallery. Not because she needs the money, because she doesn’t.

Anyway, Aunt Murdock made her introduction, physically manhandled Hope into the seat across from me, and then immediately rushed off in the direction or the afternoon’s host on the pretext of arranging a meeting.

So, there we were,  Hope and I, both slightly embarrassed by my mad aunt’s maneuverings and neither of us having the faintest idea of what to say or do next.

It’s strange how even now, in middle age, one finds oneself feeling and behaving like love struck teenagers. Just trying to find the correct words or phrases to get the conversation started seemed beyond the capabilities of either of us. All we could manage were a few meaningless “how have you been” and “how are the children” style questions. Of course, we already knew each other, but put into this strange situation by old Mad Duck seemed to have robbed both of us of the ability to start a coherent conversation.

We were spared too much embarrassment by the unexpected arrival at the table of Martin Oldman, a mutual friend and business acquaintance of Hope’s. The three of us chatted for a short while before Martin made to move on to discuss business with someone who had just arrived, leaving Hope and I to our own devices.

Now that the ice had been broken, as it were, I found it surprisingly easy to talk with Hope about how things have been, and what she is doing since poor Ronald died.

Despite my initial reservations, it turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon. The wine continued to flow freely and the food was excellent too, but the biggest surprise was Hope herself. When we last met she had just started working again and was, well, shall we just say she could have done with losing some weight. She also had a tired and put-upon look.

But yesterday she looked like a new woman. She has lost all the excess weight and has quite a glow about her. Once we got chatting she reminded me of when I first met her over 30 years ago, before her marriage, when she had ambitions to be a lawyer.

All I can say is that Aunt Murdock has really excelled herself this time. Despite the slow start, I found Hope to be a charming and animated companion. We spent a very pleasant afternoon together before she had to leave – something to do with her youngest daughter. We left the party with an arrangement to meet for lunch on Monday.

I spent the evening at the Club. A couple of games of snooker and a few drinks were the perfect end to the day.

All in a day’s work

As planned, I was up and about at the crack of dawn this morning to prepare for work. What a strange sentence that is; not that I am unaccustomed to work you know, it is just that it has been some time since I last attempted a day at the office. Sometimes it is easy to forget that I did actually work for my father for almost a year before he suggested I take a more relaxed view to my career.

And by relaxed, he meant, stay at home and don’t come back!

My father and I had a fairly good relationship. We didn’t always see eye to eye and I know that he was often disappointed with my choices, but on the whole we got along extremely well. He was very supportive of my various little projects, but when it came to business matters he was extremely ruthless. He gave me no special treatment, not that I wanted it of course.

So, anyway, this morning was a little out of the ordinary for me. Mrs Kaczka had prepared a breakfast suitable for a working man: bacon, sausage, eggs and toast. I must admit that most mornings Mrs Kaczka would just prepare me some toast and a pot of coffee, which was usually enough, but to day I needed something a little more substantial. By the time I had finished my breakfast, browsed the newspaper and decided on the most suitable attire, I arrived at the office shortly before 10 o’clock.

The rest of the morning was spent with my secretary going over office politics and the kind of things I might expect to face. I must say that it all sounds jolly straight forward. It seems to be mainly attending meetings, signing papers and, occasionally making decisions. I may not have actually done a great deal today, but it have to admit that by mid day I was more than ready for lunch. It was quite a busy morning, but if they all go like that I am sure I will manage.

I had thought I might bump into Aunt Murdock in the office, but it seems she had other engagements today. However, I am assured that she does very often visit the office at some point during the morning, although not as frequently recently as she had in the past.

I returned home after lunch, around 3 o’clock, feeling quite exhilarated by my day’s exertions. I was even tempted to return to the office for the afternoon, but decided not to put too much pressure on my secretary, Miss Drayton.

I have to admit that I was pleasantly surprised by the way things went this morning. I often hear some the chaps complaining about how exhausted they get when they have to go into their offices, but I found the whole thing quite exhilarating and I don’t think I am going to have any issues keeping to my promise to dear old Aunt Murdock.