Yet another Bank Holiday

Well, we have just had another of those interminable Bank Holidays and the City has been fairly crawling with tourists. I can imagine that from the air the streets would have looked like a hoard of frantic termites running aimlessly through the streets. Hope and Dorothy were both busy today so I thought I would wander down to the river, as was such a nice day, but I very quickly realised that this had been a mistake. My quiet stroll turned into a nightmare of bustling pavements and indiscriminate music coming at me from all sides. By the time I actually reached the water’s edge, I was completely out of sorts and as far from relaxed as I think it is possible to get without actually blowing a fuse.

I rather bravely wandered down to St James’ but that was even worse. At this point, I decided that enough was enough and made my way to the one place in the City I can rely on for some peace and quiet – the Club. And if I am to be brutally honest, I am beginning to feel that life in the city is not what it used to be.

Living in a city like London, with all its hustle and bustle can be both invigorating and exhausting. The streets are always busy, the bars, theatres and other attractions constantly swarming with inquisitive and noisy tourists. It is truly a city that never seems to sleep. And for those of us lucky enough to call it home, it is almost alive with possibilities. There is certainly no shortage of new and interesting things to see and do. But the seemingly relentless pace brings its own pressures and one can, at times, be left in something of a daze trying to keep up with it all. I count myself very lucky that at such times I have an escape route; the old family homestead. I don’t know if it is that the pace of life in the City is getting too much, even for me, or something else, but this past week or so I have been feeling the draw of the countryside more and more.

The last weekend I spent at home with Hope had made the old place seem much more interesting and comfortable than it had for some time. Whilst I am sure that much of that can probably be put down to the time spent showing her around, I do find that Hope is one of those people who, by their very presence, can bring life and vigour to any surroundings.

As a boy, I so looked forward to returning home from school. My mother was always there to greet me, although my father was, more often than not, busy in the City with business of one sort or another. Although my mother would often join him in town, she always made sure she was there when I first arrived home. Since my parents died the house has felt less and less like a home to me. My visits have become increasingly infrequent, but the old place still has a strange attraction to me, one that seems to be getting stronger.

I suppose that it is the people who make a house a home. For me, it was always my mother who made the old pile worth returning to. Certainly, the old place has a lot of history and is littered with artwork and treasures that my father’s family have collected over the centuries. But it was my mother’s touch that made it somewhere worth being. Without her, it became nothing more than a museum, a shrine to the Dimbelby-Smyth dynasty that I found increasingly less relevant to my own life. Now, one begins to see the merit in the old place. Hope certainly seemed to enjoy being there and has quite openly said she cannot wait to return and “spruce” the place up a little.

I am not sure exactly what she means by that, but some of the chaps at the Club said it sounded ominous and I should be very careful about what I allowed her to do. In all honesty, I don’t believe she is planning to redecorate the whole place. Maybe she will just want to add a few of those “feminine touches” I have heard talk of.

I had not planned to return to the country until later in the summer but as there are one or two items that require my attention I have decided to invite Hope and Charlotte to join me for a few days next week. If the weather holds out they will see the old estate at its best. The English countryside undoubtedly offers some of the finest views one can get anywhere in the world and I look forward to sharing it with them both, if they can make of course. One can’t always assume that they will be free or available.

I am off down to the Club now to meet old Cambridge. I haven’t seen the old fool for a couple of weeks now and there is so much to catch up on. Maybe Dasher will be there as well this evening – he is another one who has been absent rather too much recently.

Unexpected pleasures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.