A busy start to the new year

After a very poor start to the new year, things have begun to brighten up a little in the Dimbelby-Smyth household. Dorothy has secured herself a small role in a show of some kind due to be staged in London next month. I am not sure exactly what it is but she is quite excited about it. I spoke to Aunt Murdock on Monday and she is sounding much like her old self again. Obviously, she is going to have to slow down a little but she sounds much better than she did at Christmas.

And, to top it all, I have heard back from the insurance company about my poor old Bently. thankfully the old girl is built like a tank so the damage is mainly superficial. That said though, it is still going to take a couple of weeks for the repairs to be completed. But then again, quality and craftsmanship can’t be rushed. I will just have to be patient.

Albert is still rather upset about the whole thing. He has never been involved in an accident before and, despite my constant reassurances that he is in no way to blame, he seems to feel responsible for the damage inflicted on my dear old car. If it is anyone’s fault it is the driver of the delivery vehicle that hit us, although I understand that he is denying this. I personally have no desire to get involved in all the arguments and who is or isn’t to blame, I am only too pleased to leave that in the hands of my brokers. Personally, I just want my old car back.

One of the most unexpected consequences of being involved I what they term a road traffic accident is the pressure to make a claim for injury or losses, even if there aren’t any. I think that most people will agree that I am a fairly tolerant man – there are not many things that really make me angry, but this modern-day obsession with apportioning blame and pursuing ridiculous claims is one of them. I have often heard the phrase “where there is blame, there is a claim” and I never really understood what it meant until now. From what I hear from the chaps down at the Club, this culture for claiming compensation for even the most trivial of incidents is costing insurance companies, and so consequently yours truly, an absolute fortune. And as some of them have business interests in the insurance industry one has to believe what they say. I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? If the commpanies are paying out untold thousands of pounds in compensation, that that will mean higher premiums for the rest of us. I do not pretend to understand how the insurance industry works – all that underwriting and so on just confuses me – but even I can see the logic in that.

I believe that several companies have already attempted to make contact with me regarding my “injuries”. It is a good job they didn’t come through directly to me I can tell you. I would have given them a piece of my mind and sent them off with a flea in their ear, make no mistake about that.

Now don’t get me wrong, where there is a genuine case I am all in favour of victims receiving their just compensation, but this idea that one is somehow owed something I find rather offensive. I was pleased to note that many of my chums at the Club are of the same mind. As far as I am concerned, at this moment in time, my most pressing concern is the return of my Bentley.

This week I have spent three mornings in the office making good my promise to be more involved in the family business. And I must say that it is all much more complicated than I had at first thought. Not that I was under an illusion over the complexity of the family’s affairs. Generations of wheeling and dealing have left few avenues for investment untrodden. I am sure that with the help of Miss Drayton and Aunt Murdock I will learn enough to enable to steer this somewhat ponderous ship into a bright and prosperous future. However, I suspect that many of the various managers are expecting my endeavours to fall a little short. I can’t blame them if they do. My record with the firm hasn’t exactly been glittering. Working under my father I made a lot of mistakes, which is why he left the running of the family’s affairs to Aunt Murdock. He never had much faith in me, and looking back I can understand why. I am not a natural when it comes to business and financial affairs, but I am determined to do my best this time around. After all, I am a little older and more determined than I was I was in my twenties.

On Friday I was going to call on Hope again but decided instead to call her on the telephone. I have never been comfortable trying to hold conversations over the telephone; one never knows quite what the other person is doing or who they are with. I know it doesn’t trouble most people, but I always feel much happier when I can actually see the person I am talking to. But since I have had very little success when trying to visit her in person, and since the unfortunate events of my previous visit, I decided that it was much safer to call instead. As it happens, Hope was available and seemed genuinely pleased to hear from me. She could only speak to me briefly but we have agreed to meet for lunch next Tuesday, which is very agreeable to me. I think I will take somewhere quiet and intimate as I have a few things I would like to chat with her about, not least being Simon. I don’t know if she has seen him recently but I feel that if she does have any intentions towards him she needs to be made aware of his track record as far as women and relationships are concerned.

Yesterday I spent the evening with my old pal Dorchester and his family. they have a very nice little house south of the river where I spent many a pleasant weekend in my youth. Having known the family all of my life I find time spent with them much like being with family. One can relax and be one’s self in the company of people who have lived with one through the good times and the bad. We were joined by Dorchester’s two sisters, Clara and Emily. Clara is just getting over a particularly acrimonious divorce whilst Emily is visiting from abroad. At the moment she is living in Germany where she works in some capacity for the European Union. I think she is a researcher, but I may have got that wrong. We had a very pleasant evening, catching up on recent events and reminiscing about some of Mine and Dorchester’s little adventures when we were on holiday from school. Clara reminded me of a time when the four of us decided to take a boat onto the Serpentine, only to capsize the thing after becoming a little too boisterous. I think we all developed nasty colds and Clara insists that she has never been on a boat since. Half in jest I suggested that I take her back to the scene of the crime once the lake reopens in the spring. To my surprise, she said she would love to, providing I agreed to behave myself!

During the evening I asked Dorchester about Anne. He was a little coy, I suspect because he didn’t want to say anything in front of his sisters, but from what he did say, it seems that he has seen her a couple of times since Christmas. I must say that I was delighted with this news. Anne is a really wonderful young lady much more suitable than that American he was seeing until recently. I am not sure his parents are aware f this new relationship; they seem to be under the impression that he can make things up with Annabelle. From my point of view, he is much better off without her and I hope that his new relationship with Anne works out. I am sure his family will all like her.

I have no plans for today other than visiting the Club this evening after dinner here with Dorothy and Angela. In fact, Dorothy is cooking and has told me to “expect the unexpected”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I just hope it is nothing too continental or spicy. I do enjoy Dorothy’s cuisine, but there have been occasions where her dishes have been a little too hot for me. Anyway, I had better go and prepare myself. There should be just enough time for a snifter of the old Scotish firewater and a glance through the newspapers.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

Home is where the heart is

Well, here I am, back in town. I had thought I might return on Tuesday with Anne and take the opportunity to meet with Hope, but in the end, I decided to stay another couple of days and sort out a few issues with the estate. And I am very pleased that I did. I met with Anne for lunch after her return and she told me that her meeting with Hope had gone very well indeed. It sounds like they will be working closely together on a couple of projects. I am so pleased that I have been able to help them both.  Over drinks at the King’s Arms on Friday night, Anne and I were joined by Mr Rotherby who told us that he had just been speaking to a couple of local farmers who said that they had been visited by some developer or other about selling portions of their land.

This very quickly became the focus of a lot of debate around the bar, I can tell you. There is a lot of bad feeling amongst some of the locals about all these new developments, Not everyone is happy about having all these people moving into the area from the cities and cluttering the place with their cars and teenagers. Whilst I don’t share their views, being a city boy myself these days, I can see their point. Many of the small villages around here are like little oases of calm and rural tradition. But it is that very authenticity that draws in their new neighbours. But they also need to accept that these people bring money, jobs and some stability to what are sometimes areas in decline.

But I do have some sympathy for them. It seems that almost everywhere you go these days they are building new homes on what was once good farming land. I know that a lot of people get very angry about it, but so long as they stay away from our old estates and lovely villages, then I don’t see what the problem is. After all, politicians and campaigners keep banging on about the need for more houses, so let them get on with it. But if anyone thinks they are going to get their hands on any of my lands, they can think again. I may not be there very often, but I am determined to keep the estate as well maintained and intact as possible.

You know, I really don’t understand all the fuss about the housing shortage. I see plenty of empty properties almost every day, even in the city. There are whole blocks just sitting there with no one in them. Whilst some of these may not be housing as such, surely they could be converted or knocked down and rebuilt to make something suitable. Then they wouldn’t need to start looking avariciously at our beautiful countryside.

And I don’t understand all this fuss about what they call “affordable” housing. I mean, surely if one has a job one can afford a mortgage or rent. I admit that I am no expert when it comes to the economy or finances, but it doesn’t make sense to me to make house prices too high for people to afford. And if buying is beyond reach, there is always the rental market. A large part of my family business is related to property development and rental, and although I don’t understand it all, it seems to me that there is plenty of property out there.

It’s strange but for most of my life the old family house has just been somewhere I visit occasionally. It has not been a real home to me since I was in my teens. Although, if I am to be totally honest, I am not actually sure it ever was, even then.

My parents sent me away to school when I was very young so that is where I spent most of my time and I think that in many ways, the various schools I attended became home. That was where my friends were, and where I was happiest, which I think is as good a definition of home as any.

I have always been glad to return to the city, but there are times, like now, when something about the country leaves a trace of regret. The country estate may never have felt much like home to me, but family is important, and the family home is as much a part of it as the people themselves. After all, it is the place that holds the family’s memories and treasures. And there are certainly plenty memories in the old place, but not all of them good. And as for being a repository for the family heirlooms and mementoes, it is certainly that, in spades. Most of the walls are lined with portraits of various ancestors on my father’s side. The house shows very little of my mother’s influence, other than some improvements to the kitchens and new greenhouses.

Anyway, I am back in my Kensington abode, which feels much more homely now that Dorothy has returned from her filming job in Edinburgh. I am so relieved to have her around the place again.