Christmas plans coming together

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of meeting with Hope for our lunch date. It has often felt as if the fates were conspiring against us, always putting obstacles in the way of our spending any time together. But this week we overcame those obstacles and were able to spend a little time enjoying some excellent food and good company. Well, at least I did; I just hope that Hope felt the same.

I met Hope at the gallery and took her to a very smart new restaurant just around the corner, on the Kings Road. It is one of those new places that promote sustainability and local resources. It has a quaint, rustic feel and I believe they run their own farm. There are fads in fine dining just as much as in everything else but I must say, the idea of a restaurant growing and rearing their own food is one I can fully endorse. And I must say that the food was first rate. There are a surprisingly good number of acceptable restaurants and bars in the Chelsea area, certainly a lot more than I remember from the days I used to frequent the area. The weather was somewhat inclement so I didn’t want to have to go too far. There is nothing worse than sitting down to a meal when you are cold and wet. It spoils the mood and the appetite.

I remembered Hope’s preference for white wine and ordered us a bottle of Australian Chardonnay which I felt would go reasonably well with whatever we chose to eat. In the end, we both settled on the scallops. Good food, good wine and good company all went to make it a very enjoyable time. And it was lovely to catch up with Hope and find out a little more about her and her family. The last time we met for lunch, which seems an age ago now, she was a little reticent about saying too much. I think that she actually quite a shy person who doesn’t open up easily. I, on the other hand, can be a little too open at times, saying far too much and not always thinking before I do.

I already knew that she had two daughters – I have already me Charlotte on several occasions and we get on very well – but I did not really know anything about the eldest, Emily, and I am not sure I am any the wiser now. Hope told me that Emily works as a paralegal for a firm in Manchester, specialising in human rights. I didn’t say anything to Hope, but I have absolutely no idea what a paralegal is or does. I just had to smile and move the conversation on. From what she told me, the two daughters are completely different. Whereas Charlotte is artistic and, according to Hope, a real “home” girl, Emily is very practical, independent and possibly “a little scary” (her words not mine).

I really enjoyed our time together and was disappointed when Hope said she had to return to the gallery. Before she left I asked her about joining my little party in the country for Christmas. She seemed a little surprised by the invitation, but sadly had to decline as she had already made arrangements with Charlotte and Emily who she was sure would want to stay in town. Though I was obviously disappointed I left the offer open to all three of them to join me if they wished.

Normally I get through Christmas rather than embrace it, but this year it is starting to feel as though it is coming together quite nicely. Most of those closest to me will be there, if not on the big day itself, at least by Boxing Day, and I am anticipating we will have a splendid time. Dorchester has agreed to come down which I was very pleased to hear, particularly as I know he is still feeling a little down over the Annabelle affair. It is a rotten thing to do to a fellow just before Christmas, but I am sure that between the rest of us we can lift the poor chaps spirits, if not metaphorically, then definitely via the best single malt. The only person I haven’t spoken to yet is Anne. Whilst I am sure she will have her own plans, probably away up north with her family, I will ask her down anyway. You never know if you don’t ask, that’s what my mother used to say.

Christmas is the one time of the year when I miss my mother the most. It is such a chore having to make all the arrangements, deciding who to invite and when, what to eat and drink, and what gifts to buy. I may never have my mother’s skills in that department, but I am trying and I like to think that I am doing a fair job. To be fair though, Dorothy has been helping me a little with this year’s arrangements. She has sorted all the catering and has even managed to organise a small party for the estate staff. I am ashamed to admit that I had not thought of that before. She really is a useful person to have around.

All I need to do now is brace myself for the winter storms that have been forecast and hope they blow themselves out before Christmas Day. The country can be such a dreary place when the weather is bad. A little snow would be fine, just so long as it doesn’t fall until after I have arrived. I hate driving in the snow and as I have given old Albert the time off, I will have to make the journey myself.

I will be back at the theatre this evening, but this time I am not going with Aunt Murdock. Instead, I am accompanying Dorothy and Angela to see some kind of musical or other. I agreed to go but have no idea what it is I am going to see. Sometimes it is better that way.

 

 

 

 

Family matters

This morning I made one of my irregular visits to see my dear old Aunt Murdock. I have not seen a great deal of her recently as she has been a little unwell and has not been to the office or dragging me to see her latest theatre projects. I don’t think she is seriously ill or anything like that, but she is not getting any younger and even a tough old boot like her has to slow down eventually. The old Mad Duck has been trying to run my affairs for so long now that it feels rather strange her not being around all the time, poking her nose into my love life and wittering on at me incessantly about my behaviour.

Not that I am badly behaved you understand. But Aunt Murdock does expect certain standards to be maintained. The major positive of her slow down has been to stop trying to marry me off to one or another of her seemingly endless stream of eligible young ladies of her vast acquaintance. And it may well be endless as she seems to know just about all the good – and some of the bad – families. In fact, her acquaintance is so large one can only wonder at the stories she could tell if she were so inclined.

But she isn’t that way inclined. Excentric she may well be, informed she most definitely is, but loose-lipped? Never! Aunt Murdock does not gossip and would rather die than divulge a confidence. Indeed, I have heard one or two people say that one’s confession is safer with her than with the Pope!

Uncle George, on the other hand, is very much the family gossip. If there is anything juicy to be had then he will be only too pleased to pass it along. I have often wondered how two such totally different people have managed to stay married for so long. Dorchester says it is because George is far too afraid of his wife to even consider leaving, but I think they are actually rather fond of each other.

Anyway, I called at their flat a little after midday, just in time for a light lunch and one of George’s fine brandies. Aside from being a little pale, Aunt Murdock seemed to be in fine form. George hovered around her as if he expected her to collapse, or physically fall apart at any moment. He is obviously very concerned about her, but she just shoed him away and told him, in no uncertain terms, to stop fussing. Once we had exchanged the usual pleasantries and ascertained that we were all quite well, my dear old Aunt began her usual third-degree interrogation about my love life – or lack of it – and news from the Club and the office.

Aunt Murdock’s sole aim in life at the moment seems to be marrying me off. She may have felt unable to play the active matchmaker recently, but that does not mean she has given up. Indeed not. If anything I believe that her recent ill-health seems to have strengthened her resolve. I know she means well and has my best interests at heart, but it can be rather embarrassing at times. Hope seems to be her current hopeful though I don’t think that she is the only candidate on the current “potential future Mrs Dimbelby-Smyth” list. And like Father Christmas, she is checking it twice.

Once the initial interrogation was over the three of us enjoyed a very pleasant lunch and a drop or three of Uncle George’s very fine brandy. I stayed for a couple of hours, allowing me to catch up with some family news and bits and pieces from the office. I was particularly interested to hear that one of my cousins is getting married early next year to an old school chum if mine. I haven’t seen either of them for years, which is probably why I hadn’t heard about their impending nuptials. Knowing the families I am sure it will be a lavish affair. During the afternoon I found the opportunity to invite them to join me at the house for Christmas, which they have accepted. Just as I was about to take my leave and head down to the Club, I told Aunt Murdock that Nigel and I had been to see Mrs Dalton, in Brighton, and mentioned the cryptic message about needing to speak to her. She asked what about and I told her that other than that is was connected to my mother, I couldn’t tell her anything else. At this point, she became awfully defensive and Goerge very dismissive. Neither of them seemed prepared to admit they knew what Mrs Dalton had been talking about. So, rather than upset them any further I made my excuses and left.

The more I think about it the more unusual and out-of-character the conversation had become. It is obvious that there is something they did not want to discuss, which I can understand from Aunt Murdock. Maybe if I get George on his own at some time he will feel able to tell me. For now, it is time to get back to making arrangements for my Christmas trip to the country. So much to do and so little time…

Friends and Hope

It has been a very quiet weekend here in old London town. Nigel was due to visit but was held up on business, Dorothy and Angela had gone on a last minute trip to Paris, and Dorchester seems to have taken to his bed. Even Dasher and Cambridge were out of town, although I am not sure where or why. In the end, I spent most of the weekend at the Club, but with mainly just the old guard for company, it just wasn’t the same.

I like to think of myself as a fairly independent person, someone who can manage very well alone. But this weekend I have begun to realise just how much I do rely on my friends. But I suppose that we all do. Friends are a very important of who we are. And like too many things in life, it is more about quality than quantity. I may not have any experience of social media, but I am aware of its impact on young people and the obsession with having as many friends and followers as possible. I don’t hold with all this idea that you can collect friends online like some people collect stamps. Real friends are much more important. Just how important one doesn’t always realise until they are not around.

Talking about how important friends can be, this morning I made a little time to call my friend Hope and invite her to join me for lunch one day this week. I am delighted to say that she has agreed to meet me on Thursday when I have finished at the office. I am particularly pleased as I would like to ask her to join my little gathering at the old family homestead over Christmas. I am aware that she may already have made arrangements, but faint heart and all that.

It was only a very short conversation but a very welcome one. I find it quite strange just how much I have come to value her friendship and her opinions. I also get along very well with young Charlotte, but have yet to meet her older daughter; I think her name is Emily, but I may be wrong.

Dorothy and Angela will be back from Paris tomorrow so things will get back to normal. Or at least, the kind of normal that I have got used to.

An end to the special relationship

I had a surprise visitor this morning when who should turn up on my doorstep but dear old Dorchester. When he was shown into the drawing room, where I was at that time enjoying and very fine Lagavulin single malt, I was immediately struck by his dishevelled and rather unkempt appearance. I have known Dorchester for most of my life and for all that time he has always been the most fastidious of people when it comes to his clothes and general appearance. Personally, I have, until very recently, and under the strict guidance of Dorothy and Angela, ever really given my appearance much of a thought. But for Dorchester, outward appearance has always been very important. So, to see him unshaven and wearing a suit that looked like it had been slept in, left me rather taken aback.

It was obvious even to me that something was very wrong.

Once I had furnished him with a glass of Lagavulin, which he looked like he needed, and sat him by the fire (it’s a large wood burner actually), I just had to inquire what was troubling him. Normally I wouldn’t ask outright like this; it is one of those things that a fellow just doesn’t do. But on this occasion, I felt it was appropriate as it was only too plain that the poor chap was in some distress. So, with a glass of single malt clutched tightly in his hands, Dorchester told me everything.

It seems that Annabelle, his American girlfriend, had sent him an email late yesterday saying that she had decided to remain in the United States and was ending their relationship.

I have to admit that I didn’t know what to say at this point. It is the kind of thing that women do much better than men, the whole empathy what-not. I suppose if I had ever been in the same position I might have been able to offer some words of wisdom or platitudes, but I don’t believe I have ever found myself so low following the end of a relationship. Quite the opposite actually. That is not to say I have not been sad or disappointed, but it was obvious from Dorchester’s whole demeanour that his feelings were far greater than mine have ever been for any particular young lady.

What does one say to a friend in such obvious emotional distress? Whilst it is tempting to suggest that there may be plenty more fish in the sea, or that she wasn’t good enough for him anyway, neither approach seemed quite right just now. I mean, I have to be totally honest and say that I never liked the woman anyway and really do think he is better off without her. But I really didn’t believe that this was the moment to say that. Instead, I settled for refilling his glass.

Relationships can be such a minefield. Personally, I have never really got the hang of the whole dating thing. I have had a few relationships over the years, but none have ever lasted very long. I did once get engaged, but that was more a case of trying to please my parents and was the only way I could get them to stop pestering me. Luckily nothing came of it. My mother was well into her stride making arrangements for the wedding when her and my father died. I ended the relationship pretty quickly after that as there seemed little point continuing when we both knew it was never going to work. I believe she was just as relieved as I was. I won’t name names, but she is now happily married to a Human Rights lawyer with two small children. We still see each other from time to time and have remained good friends.

In Dorchester’s case, he was obviously besotted by Annabelle and her bombshell decision to end things has hit the poor chap pretty hard. But that is very much par for the course with Dorchester. He doesn’t do things by half, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart. He does tend to go diving in head first and has been let down quite badly a few times over the years. But even so, I have never seen him quite so upset as he was this morning. I would have asked Dorothy to help provide some moral support, but she was out auditioning for another stage show, so I was very much on my own, and very much out of my depth.

In the end, I decided that the only practical thing we could do that might take his mind off Annabelle was to make our way to the Club and try a frame or two of snooker. I suppose that there may have been better ways of handling the situation, but to be honest I was hoping that some of the other chaps might be able to offer some help and advice. As it turns out, the Club was practically empty, with just a small group of the old guard dozing in the far corner. Needless to say, we didn’t stay long, just long enough for a couple of drinks. We then made our way to one of Dorchester’s favourite bars in the West End where we met with a group of his friends from the City. I am ashamed to admit that I was quite relieved as I was able to make my excuses and leave him in their capable hands.

I didn’t return to the Club but made my way home instead. I was quite shaken up by the whole experience I can tell you. I am not very comfortable dealing with other people’s emotional issues. It is probably down to the way I was brought up, but I have never been very good at coping with distress or upset. I remember as a child how disappointed my father would be if I ever started to cry. Whilst mother was much more understanding and would often get upset herself, I never once saw my father cry, not even at my grandma’s funeral. Well, we are what we are and nothing is going to change that.

No better place to be

I was delighted when Anne accepted my invitation to stay with me while she is in London this week. It may seem rather odd to invite her here as I haven’t known her very long, but we really do get on so well. Her trip is a mix of business and pleasure: she is meeting a couple of potential clients for her interior design business and also doing some Christmas shopping. She has also spent the last two evenings at the theatre which is something she loves to do apparently. I suppose if you are a fan of the theatre then there is no better place to be than in London.

What with her meetings, shopping and theatre trips we haven’t had much opportunity to spend much time together, which is fine. I have had a rather busy week myself what with extra time spent at the office and preparing for the Christmas holidays. December is one of those months that seem to fly by with far too little time to accomplish everything one sets out to do.

She has been in town since Tuesday and today we managed to fit in a very pleasant lunch together. We met at a lovely little bistro I know on the Strand, close to the Savoy. It is one of the few that prides itself on its traditional British fayre. One can dine on cuisine from all corners of the globe in London. There is no shortage of Japanese, Mexican, Italian or Indian, but trying to find good quality British food is harder than one might think. As it was, I enjoyed a perfectly prepared Fillet Steak, washed down with a particularly smooth Shiraz, while Anne settled for the Dover Sole and a glass of Chablis.

From what she told me her new business is doing exceptionally well. She has managed to secure two very prestigious contracts this week and says she now has almost too much work which is remarkably good in this difficult economic climate. I keep hearing people talk about austerity and a stagnant economy but I must say that from my point of, things have never been better. I know that we have had to make some changes in the business with regards to staffing, all very regrettable, but as things stand at the moment we seem to be doing rather well. Anne is very happy with the way things are going at the present time, with both her business and her private life being on the up, as it were.

We had just left the restaurant and were striding down the Strand when who should we bump into but young Charlotte. I have to admit that I didn’t recognise her at first as she was so well wrapped up against the cold. I introduced Anne but it seems they had already met when Anne had visited Hope’s gallery a few weeks ago. I asked Charlotte if she wanted to join us for drinks, but she declined saying she had a previous engagement. It was a shame as I do enjoy Charlotte’s company, she is such a pleasant and lively young woman.

Anne is out this evening meeting with friends and will be returning home tomorrow morning. I had thought she might have stayed over the weekend but it seems she has work to do and people to see. I suppose that is the price one has to pay for being a successful entrepreneur.

I am off to the Club now for a light supper and a drink or four with Dorchester. His girlfriend has not returned from America yet and I think he is becoming a little worried. He has spoken to her but apparently, she has been a little evasive and noncommittal. reading between the lines I believe Dorchester to be a little worried about their relationship. I expect this evening will be one spent trying to bolster the poor chap’s flagging self-esteem. I do not relish the role of Agony Uncle, but he is one of my oldest friends so I will do what I can to reassure him.

Spoiling Christmas

 

Well, it is now December so I suppose it is time to start thinking about Christmas. I know that some people have been preparing for some time already, but as far as I am concerned, anything done before December is simply much too early. I have heard that there are people who decorate their homes in November, but why on Earth would anyone want to do that?

Shops are the worst offenders of course. I had a need to call into Harrods at the beginning of September and having lost my way a little, walked straight into some kind of Santa’s Grotto. It was very disconcerting, being dressed for summer but surrounded by Christmas decorations and fake snow. One can hardly move around the City without coming face to face with either a snowman, an elf or Father Christmas himself.

To me Christmas is a time for children; there is something magical about it that is wasted on adults. At least, the adults that I know. I remember my own childhood Christmases spent with family and friends at the old house. It was a very special time and one of the few occasions where I could guarantee having both of my parents around. My mother always got very excited and put an awful lot of time and effort into making it perfect. My father was a little less enthusiastic but he indulged my mother and I and he always took part in whatever games or activities we came up with. Not always with as much enthusiasm as I would wish, but you can’t have everything.

These days I don’t really get too involved in the all the rigmarole of Christmas. As I say, Christmas is really a time for the little ones and as I don’t have any, there seems little point in going to all the trouble. Of course, we have decorations and a tree, but I try to keep it all within sensible bounds. And what we do have is all indoors. I have never seen the point of all these outdoor lights and sparkly decorations, which seem to get bigger and brighter every year.

Now, I don’t want anyone reading this to get the wrong impression. I have nothing against Christmas. I am not some kind of later day Scrooge. I do enjoy the festivities and the parties, but I really do feel that the over-commercialisation is spoiling the whole thing. There is far too much greed involved with far too much emphasis on spending money, very much at the expense of the spiritual side of the season.

I suppose I will have to make a decision very soon about how I am going to spend Christmas this year. I generally spend the big day itself with old Mad Duck and uncle George, sometimes at their place, sometimes here. Every now and again though I return to the old country pile with friends and family in tow. I think that this year I will invite Dorothy to join me in the country. She hasn’t seen the old place for simply ages and I am sure she would love the atmosphere. Obviously, I would also invite Angela as well, unless she has other plans.

That’s another thing about Christmas these days – everyone is always rushing around trying to visit relatives they never see from one Yuletide to the next. I see very little point in spending time with people one hardly knows and don’t really like, just because it’s Christmas and you are related. I want to spend time with the people closest and dearest to me, not simply to fulfil an annual obligation.

Of course, not everyone gets to enjoy Christmas. There are numerous people who have to work over the festive period. I do feel so sad for them. It can’t be pleasant having to work as if it were a normal day while the rest of us enjoy all the festivities and food. I suppose that is one good thing about me spending the holiday in the country,  at least Mrs Kaczka and Arnold get to have a short break. I am sure they will both appreciate and make the most of the opportunity.

And I suppose I really ought to decide on gifts for people, but it is not easy. After all, many of my closest family and friends are hardly in need of anything, except maybe a hair transplant for Uncle George. I like to think that I am very good when it comes to buying gifts. Everyone says how good they are. I must speak to Miss Drayton about it tomorrow when I get to the office.

 

Brief Encounters

I had a very welcome telephone call yesterday from Anne Fletcher, my new interior designer friend. She called to tell me she is planning to come to London for a few days next week, primarily for business, and was wondering if we could meet up for drinks or a meal. Of course, I immediately agreed. Actually, I went a little further than that; I offered to let her stay here with me while she was in town. That way she would save herself a little money on hotel bills and it would also give us an opportunity to talk about things back at the homestead. I am particularly intrigued by all the talk of property developers buying up land in the area.

The upshot is that she will be down on Tuesday and will be staying until at least Friday. It will be jolly nice to catch up and I must find out how things went when she met with Hope.

Talking of Hope, I saw her briefly earlier in the week when we both attended a show in the West End. I had been invited by Dorothy who thought I would enjoy it and I have to admit it was much better than some of the other recent events that my dear Aunt Murdock has dragged me along too. Honestly, I don’t understand Aunt Murdock’s tastes at all. She insists on putting her money into the theatre but she is no Cameron Macintosh, that is for sure. I have lost count of the number of productions that she has lost money, some of it in quite spectacular fashion.

Uncle George doesn’t seem to mind too much, bless him. But then I suppose that there is actually nothing he could do to stop her even if he wanted to. Once the old Mad Duck sets her mind on something then it best, and safest, to just nod your head and let her get on with it. And it is always her own money anyway so it is not as if George is losing out himself. No, George is quite a serious and successful investor. He would never put any of his own, not inconsiderable wealth into something so fickle and unpredictable as the theatre. Oh no, for George it is all about business and currencies, although I can’t see how that can be any less of a gamble than the arts.

Anyway, as I was saying, I bumped into Hope and Charlotte at the theatre bar during the interval. It was extremely busy, as you might expect, and I had just sat down with a glass of single malt when I spotted Hope making her way back from the bar. I immediately stood and called them over to join us. It was really good to see them again, particularly Hope who I had missed a little over the past few weeks. It was difficult to have a decent conversation as the bar was quite noisy, but we did enjoy a brief chat before we returned to our seats for the second act. Before we parted I suggested meeting again afterwards. We agreed to meet at a quiet little bar I know, very close to the theatre immediately after the show.

As we left the theatre, Dorothy said she had decided to go straight home rather than go on anywhere. As it turns out Charlotte had also decided to go home leaving just Hope and myself. If the truth were told I was rather glad of the opportunity to have a little time alone with her; we had so much to catch up on and one or two questions to be answered. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that!

We had no sooner secured a table and some drinks when who should walk in but my old friend Dorchester, along with a rather attractive young lady I didn’t know. Dorchester was, I have to say, just a little tipsy and very loud as he made his way towards us. Needless to say, the evening had not gone the way I had intended and any chance of a quiet chat we west with Dorchester’s arrival. However, on the plus side, I found his new young lady – Georgia I think her name was – to be quite charming and very pleasing to the eye. I gather from our conversation that she is originally from somewhere in the other south-west but now lives in London.

Very soon after Hope said she really had to go as she had a busy day ahead of her. Before leaving she asked if I was free for lunch on Monday, which I agreed to without hesitation. Hopefully, we will get an opportunity to catch up and family events.

Today I have spent mostly at the Club. Dorothy did ask if I would join her for a little of what she called “retail therapy”. I must say that I am in no hurry to repeat the events of our last outing together on Oxford Street. It was an absolute nightmare; I am still traumatized whenever I remember that day.

And more good news – Nigel returned to London today after his recent little jaunt abroad. He says it was a business trip of some kind, but I am sure he was in the far east somewhere. I don’t think we have any business interests out there, but I am sure Nigel knows what he is doing. But, be that as it may, Nigel is very keen to do a little more detective work on the old family history. I have to admit that I have been a little lax on that subject recently so I am very pleased that Nigel is back to push me into carrying on. Which reminds me, I really do need to speak to Aunt Murdock about something Mrs Dalton told us on our recent trip to Brighton. It was something to do with my mother, but I can’t fathom what it is all about.

Anyway, that is enough waffling from me for one evening. I think it is now time to get some sleep. I would go back to the Club for a quick drink, but I am feeling rather tired today; I feel like I may be about to come down with a cold or flu.