A Yuletide to remember

Well, that is it. Christmas is now over for another year. From what I see and read the shops are very busy and the roads appalling! Here at the country house, things are still relatively quiet and thankfully free of snow and ice. we have all had a jolly good time of it. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is one the best Christmases I have had for quite some time. I have spent the past few days with some of the people closest to me which have made it rather special. And after all, that is what Christmas is supposed to be about. I know that some people get a little too caught up in the whole gift thing, but for us this year it has all been about the company and friendship.

The surprising thing is just how quickly the time has passed by. I can hardly believe it is Thursday already. When you look at it we spend days, weeks even, preparing for the one day and it is over before you know it. All that food, the presents and anticipation pile up, just to disappear almost in a flash.

Dorothy took on the role of hostess and, with the help of Angela and Aunt Murdock, served up the most amazing Christmas dinner. I knew she was a good cook, having had the pleasure of eating several of her meals over the past few months, but Monday’s spread was something quite different from the suppers we have shared in Kensington. It goes without saying that we all ate and drank far too much and spent most of the afternoon and evening immobile in the sitting room. Even Dorchester seemed to forget his troubles and really seemed to enjoy himself.

I was delighted when Anne joined us on Boxing Day. Her children had been picked up by their father to spend a few days with him, leaving her free to join us. I must say that she was a very welcome addition to the party and she made a particular impression on Aunt Murdock who seemed quite drawn to her. More than once I saw them deep in conversation. I only hope it was about colour schemes rather than romantic ones! Anne herself seemed happy to chat with the old Mad Duck so I was happy to leave them to it.

But Aunt Murdock wasn’t the only one to take an interest in Anne. I have often been told that I am not very good at picking up on other people’s feelings or thoughts, but even I had noticed that dear old Dorchester has been paying Anne a great deal of attention this week. I think that he is really taken with Anne and I could not have been more pleased.

Things were going swimmingly until Wednesday afternoon until the arrival of my old school chum Simon. I am not sure what possessed me to invite him down here and I am only grateful that he didn’t arrive any sooner. At school Simon was a bit of a loose cannon at times and as an adult has gained quite a reputation for his drinking and womanising. I had obviously had a little too much to drink myself when I invited him.

Anyway, almost as soon as he arrived I noticed that Simon was paying particular attention to Anne who was still with us. In fact, she had been with us almost permanently since Tuesday. I had suggested she stay over for the next few days, but she decided against it as there seemed to be a large enough party as it was. Which was probably just as well as Simon’s attention did not seem to go down to well with her. Not that this seemed to deter him at all, even when she made a point of staying close to Dorchester. It seems that Simon is rather more thick-skinned than I had realised and even after it was made very clear to him that Anne was not interested, the only thing that seemed to distract him was Hope’s arrival in the early evening.

Hope had decided to accept my invitation to stay with us for a couple of days. I was particularly pleased that she brought Charlotte with her but disappointed that her elder daughter, Emily, had chosen to return to her home up north. I had thought this would have been an ideal opportunity to met her at last. But anyway, it was good to have Hope and Charlotte with us.

No sooner had Hope and Charlotte divested themselves of their luggage and coats than the old rogue virtually pounced on the poor pair. I am pleased to say that Charlotte gave him very short shrift, sending him away with the veritable flea in his ear. She may be only seventeen, but she is already quite a formidable young lady and is obviously more than a match for the likes of Simon Fullerton.

Yesterday morning, however, saw Simon return to form and even before we had finished breakfast he was making eyes at Hope. I must say that I found his manner most disagreeable and felt compelled to say something to stop him upsetting my guests. But before I had an opportunity to formulate any kind of plan I noticed that far from being annoyed by Simon’s attentions, Hope seemed to be encouraging him. At one point during the meal, I saw her place her hand on his arm as she laughed at something he had said. Seated beside her mother, Charlotte looked as surprised as I was by this turn of events.

In fact, Hope and Simon remained thick as thieves for the rest of the morning. I could see both Charlotte and Aunt Murdock were not happy about their closeness and made no attempt to hide their feelings. I can’t explain why, but seeing Hope with Simon made me quite angry.

 

The afternoon and evening were rather taken up with playing host to a number of the local families who I had invited for drinks and nibbles. I was kept fairly busy so had little time to ponder on this odd turn of events, but I was a little distracted non-the-less.

The biggest disappointment was when, late on Thursday evening, Hope announced that she would be returning to London on Friday morning with Simon. He had offered her a ride as he was joining friends in town for the New Year and she had already stated that she needed to return to work in the gallery to ready it for a New Year exhibition. I had hoped that she would return with Dorothy, Angela and myself on Saturday morning, although to be fair to both of them, I had not actually asked her as yet, so I can’t really blame her for accepting the offer.

I know that Hope is a grown woman and make her own decisions, but one can’t help feeling protective when one’s close friends are quite obviously making the wrong decisions with regards to their relationships. Simon is a great conversationalist and has added a brighter dimension to our little gathering, but his reputation with the ladies worries me. The way he switched his attention from Anne to Hope is an indication of just how fickle his feelings are. Charlotte is obviously taken in by his charms and I can only hope that she has some influence on her mother, particularly as I believe he has already invited her to join him for the New Year celebrations. I was going to ask Hope and Charlotte to join me for a little New Year soiree being organised by my chum Cambridge, but it seems this may not be possible now.

Charlotte and Hope set off for London with Simon a little before midday and I got the distinct impression that Charlotte was not too happy about the arrangement. I did suggest that she might like to stay another day but she said she felt she ought to stay with her mother, particularly as they had so much work to do at the gallery. I have to admit that I felt a little relief that she would be there as her presence may prevent Simon from making any undue advances on her mother.

We have a small party arranged for this evening but I have to say that at the moment I am not really in the party mood. On the whole, it has been a jolly good Christmas, just slightly marred by Hope’s early departure from our little company. But however the rest of the day progresses, it can not distract from the fact that this has been a very special holiday for me. Aunt Murdock has been uncharacteristically quiet, but that is hardly surprising – she is not getting any younger and it has been a particularly busy year for her. Dorchester seems have got over the loss of Annabelle thanks to the help of Anne who does seem rather taken with him. Dorothy has been in her element acting as hostess and cook and even I can see just how close she and Angela have become. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they decide to live together come the new year. My only concern there would be that Angela’s flat is much too far from the city for my liking.

When not cosying up to Sara, Nigel has spent a great deal of time working on some new business plan. I am worried that he works too hard sometimes, but he assures me he is fine and that his plans should mean he can give up working for the bank and instead be his own boss. I can’t deny that the idea of his making his own way makes me very proud and I have already offered him whatever support he needs.

For now, I must go and prepare for this evening’s little “do” and for our return to London tomorrow. Nigel is staying behind to spend the new year at the house, but the rest of us should be back home in time for lunch.

Christmas is just around the corner

Christmas is a special time of year, whether one is religious or not. It is a time for family and friends, for celebrating our bonds and our good fortune. It is also a time for reflection. As we approach the end of another year, we get an opportunity to pause and look back at the things we have to be grateful for. It is also to give a thought to those who are not so fortunate. There are lots of people who have no family, few friends and little to be joyful about. I may not be able to do anything to help these poor people, but I will spare a thought and a prayer for them.

I for one have had a very good year and as we make our final preparations for the big day tomorrow, I can’t help but feel blessed to be sharing it with some of my closest and dearest friends and family. In deciding to spend Christmas at the old family home I wanted to rekindle some of the spirit that made my childhood Christmases so special. My mother was always so excited about this time of year and always put so much effort into making it special. Although my parents died in the summer months, it is at Christmas that I remember my mother the most. This year I have decided to make a special effort, but it would not have been possible without the help of dear Dorothy who seems to know exactly what needs to be done. Not only has she taken on the cooking duties, she has organised a party for the estate staff later this afternoon that I am sure will go down very well. And with a little help from myself and Angela, she has made a wonderful job of decorating the main part of the house. We even have the most enormous Christmas tree in the hall. I have no idea where it came from but I have long since learned not to question Dorothy, just to let her get on with things. The house looks almost as good as I remember it as a child.

Talking of great friends, I had lunch yesterday with Anne and she has accepted my invitation to join us on Boxing Day. She is spending Christmas Day at home with her children, but they are going to their father’s on Boxing Day so she is free to spend the day with us. That will be nice. I do find Anne to be not only very attractive but also very good company. She is very easy to talk to and seems genuinely interested in the things I have to say. She is also very keen on preserving the local heritage and has become active in the local campaign to stip proposed housing developments in the immediate area.

Almost everyone is here: Aunt Murdock and Uncle George, Dorchester, Dorothy and Angela, young Nigel and my Aunt Sara. My old school chum Simon may be joining us at some point and I am hoping that Hope will also be here, but for now, we have a splendid gathering and I am really looking forward to tomorrow.  Dasher has also said he will make an appearance some time during the week, but as is usual with him, he couldn’t be more specific.

Merry Christmas.

 

Festive thoughts and reflections

With so many members heading out of town for the festive season it has been remarkably quiet at the Club. But I shouldn’t complain as I am off into the country myself tomorrow for my own Christmas holiday and I must say that I am beginning to feel great anticipation for what promises to be a jolly fine gathering. I am not given to great introspection and seldom spend too much time pondering over the past. I have heard it said that the past is a foreign country and the future one as yet undiscovered. Now, that’s all a little too profound for me, I am actually a very simple sort of chap, but at this time of year, most people seem to take time to reflect on the previous year and make plans for the one to come, and I suppose that I am feeling in that kind of mood myself.

The reason for this untypical behaviour is probably down to Dorothy and her suggestion that we have a sort of movie night last night. Angela is out of town for a couple of days and we were both at a loose end, so I thought “why not?” We watched two Christmas films, both black and white’s from the 1940s: “It’s A Wonderful Life” and “Miracle on 34th Street”.  Obviously, I have seen both films before; who hasn’t? I have to admit that on previous viewings I found both to be rather too sentimental for my taste and, if I am being totally honest, I am not a great fan of either James Stewart or precocious child actors. But last night, mainly I think because of Dorothy’s enthusiasm and her passion for the meanings behind the stories, I saw both films in something of a new light.

That doesn’t mean to say I find them any less sentimental or indulgent, but I found myself giving some thought to the meanings behind the corny dialogue. Not that these two films are any different to all the others made during this period. Don’t get me wrong, many of these old black and white films are wonderful, they typify the best of Hollywood. But I don’t think anyone would deny that the scripts were very often slow and contrived. And they really don’t get much worse than It’s a WonderfulLife. But behind that banality and bad acting, Dorothy introduced me to a meaning I hadn’t really considered before. Both films opened a window on the past and offer hope for a better future.

And that is what got me thinking about the past year and what a busy and interesting one it has been. Obviously, it isn’t over yet and the way things are going at the moment almost anything could happen before the new year starts. But whatever happens over the next couple of weeks this year has been one of change and inspiration. For one thing, I have started writing. That much is obvious or you wouldn’t be reading this. For another, I now have Dorothy living with me, and although it may not have worked out the way Aunt Murdock intended when she reintroduced us, she has become an inspiration and a great support to me over the past few months.

For the moment though my thoughts are all on my Christmas in the country. It promises to be a particularly good one this year. On a number of previous occasions, the whole thing has flashed by me in a blur leaving me little in the way of memories, other than lingering reminders of intense hangovers. This year promises to be one of those that I remember for the right reasons.

This afternoon I took myself into town to make a few last-minute purchases before setting off tomorrow. With the help of my secretary, Miss Drayton, I have sorted most of my gifts but there are just a few things I need to pick up. I am anticipating that Hope will make it down to the house at some point over the holiday and I need to make sure I get her a little something special. Dorothy has made a couple of suggestions so I made my way to Mayfair. I had it in mind to buy her some kind of jewellery, but I have never been very good at that sort of thing. After perusing several very fine establishments I settled on what I consider to be a quite modern design. Of course, it is always a risk buying a lady jewellery, but I am quietly confident I have found something she will like. I know that Hope is a very “arty” person, but on Dorothy’s recommendation, rather than going for big and colourful, I have chosen something simple and elegant. Or at least, that is what I believe it is. I just hope now that she does make it to the house.

I am now going to pop down to the Club for once last drink or two before heading into wildest Hampshire. I am not expecting it to be particularly busy this evening, but hopefully one or two of the usual crowd will be there.

 

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.

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.