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.

Home on the range

I have been at the old family home now for a couple of days and I must say I am quite enjoying the change of scenery. They say there is no place like home, and that may very well be true, but I have very mixed feelings about the old family home. I have lived in London since my early twenties and my visits here have been regular but infrequent, especially since my parents’ deaths. I wouldn’t say it holds particularly bad memories or even particularly good ones; I just think that I am more at home in the city than the country.

Having said that, being here, surrounded by all the family nick-nacks is often a comfort to me when life begins to feel a little too intense. Although my visits have been infrequent, I do find that when I am here it gives me an opportunity to relax and put my city woes and stresses into some kind of perspective.

I will be the first to admit that it is a grand old place. The main parts of the house are about two hundred years old, but some of the out-buildings and surrounding cottages go back almost four hundred years. It is quite an impressive structure, although maybe in need of a little work here and there – a little like myself really.

For most of the year, my Aunt Sara lives at the house. Sara is my Uncle Adams’ widowed second wife and is actually younger than me. She married the old sod when she was barely sixteen and according to most of the family, she did it just for the money. But we have always got along quite well and I let her stay at the house whenever she wants. Otherwise, the old place would be unoccupied so in that way she is actually doing me a bit of a favour.

Often when I am at the house it can feel a little like stepping into a Jane Austen novel, all plotting matriarchs and houses bursting with sisters. It’s actually quite amazing when you get right down to it how little has changed in the country. Marriages continue to be arranged for convenience, family connections and money. The country set might not have the kind of balls that Miss Austen would recognise, but family parties and dinners are generally organised with the same ulterior motive – matchmaking. I generally try to avoid them if I can, although Aunt Murdock has a totally different view of things. In fact, she only ever makes an appearance when there is a party to attend, and will often as not try to force me to go along with her.

Most of the families around here have been part of the county set for generations; my own family have been here for a very long time. There is a long-standing expectation amongst many people that your’s truly will cement the local ties by marrying one of the more eligible single ladies that frequent the various parties and dinners around here. It’s not that I have anything against any of the young ladies themselves. Many of them are nice enough, in a country sort of way, but they are not really my type. Not that I am sure what my type really is anymore. I can think of two women of my current acquaintance who I will admit to thinking of in a more than casual way. Unfortunately, one is my gay cousin, whilst the other seems to be avoiding me.

Anyway, Nigel came round this afternoon and got me set up on the computer so that I could keep up with my journal. Mind you, I also have a sneaking suspicion he comes here to see Sara, but that is up to him. This evening he is taking me out to try a new restaurant that he assures me is every bit as good as any in London. Whilst I find that hard to believe, I am prepared to go along with him.

 

The missing link

Although it has only been a couple of days since Dorothy left for Edinburgh, I am already beginning to feel her absence around the house. It is rather strange how quickly one becomes accustomed to another person’s presence. That is not to say she is any way obtrusive, she always respects my privacy and never intrudes, but her very presence makes a difference to the atmosphere of the place. In just three days the house has changed from a vibrant welcoming place to a cold and far too quiet one.

When I first offered Dorothy a room here I must admit that I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. I have, after all, lived alone for quite a while and by the time she actually moved in, I was beginning to regret having made the offer. But in the weeks since her arrival, Dorothy has become such an important part of my everyday routine that the last couple of days have felt very strange indeed.

Of course, Dorothy has been leading her own life and is not always around, but her very presence, the sound of her moving about, the almost audible thump of her music ensures that her presence could never be ignored. I hadn’t realised just how much I have come to accept these things as part of the everyday pattern of life.

But there is one particular area in which Dorothy has become invaluable to me. You see, almost as soon as she moved in she started changing the way I dress and the way I behaved towards other people. It was almost imperceptible at first; in fact, I didn’t realise what was happening until we had that shopping trip where she changed almost my entire wardrobe. If I am going out to meet anyone special, such as Hope, she will stop me before I leave the house and either make minor adjustments or send me back upstairs to change one item or another. No one has done this since I was a child when my mother would often send me back to my room because I wasn’t looking smart enough. Now it’s the other way round. Dorothy will “suggest” I need to be a little more casual and recommend the clothes to wear for each occasion.

Now I have this exhibition event coming up at Hope’s gallery and I had been expecting to get some help from Dorothy. Obviously, her being in bonny Scotland means that I will not get the benefit of her advice. Oh well, I suppose I will just have to rely on my own adjusted sense of style. I can almost here Dorothy laughing at that statement which I think she would consider an oxymoron.

Dorothy’s presence has also made me question one of the main arguments I have always maintained for remaining single. The very idea of someone else being so integrated into my life has always been something I considered to be unacceptable. That is why my friends were so surprised when I offered Dorothy the room here. You see, I am quite a private person really, and I think I have become a little staid in my ways. Dear old Aunt Murdock has been telling me for years that I need to find a nice young lady and settle down. In fact, she has made it her goal to in life to find me such a lady. I have lost count of the number of women that she has introduced me to over the last few years, parading me like a prize bull. But whether it’s because I haven’t met the right person yet, or because I don’t want to lose my precious freedom, all her efforts have so far been in vain. I think that when she reacquainted me with my cousin Dorothy she had considered we might hit it off, so to speak, and in many ways we have, just not in the way that Aunt Murdock had wanted.

I am extremely fond of Dorothy and, if things were different, maybe we could have made a good couple. But as it is she has become one of my closest friends and something of a confidante and relationship advisor. Admittedly she can be a little too emotional and get a little carried away at times, but she talks a lot of common sense and I have learned better than to ignore her advice. Obviously, the whole gym incident may be considered something of a misadventure, but I believe she had my best interests at heart, despite the two days of pain I suffered as a consequence.

That is enough for now I think. I am off down to the Club for a quick snifter or three with the chaps. A little bird tells me that Dorchester will be there this evening so it is a good opportunity to see what he has been up to lately – that confounded Annabelle woman never seems to let him out of her sight these days. I am not sure how he managed to wrangle an evening at the Club, so I am not going to waste the opportunity to see my old chum.

Tomorrow Nigel and I are taking the Bentley out for a spin. It hasn’t been out of the garage since we came back from Ascot so could do with a run to blow away the cobwebs. We are going to drive down to Brighton to visit an old family friend. I am hoping that we can learn something to add to my family tree as her family and my mother’s have been closely linked for many years.

 

People watching – a new hobby

Euston_station_concourseWell, it was all hands on deck this morning as we prepared for Dorothy’s departure for Edinburgh. She will be north of the border for about four weeks, but the number of cases and bags we had to manhandle onto the 10:43 at Euston you would have thought she was going for six months at least. I was exhausted carrying it all from the car to the platform. Thankfully First Class is at the beginning of the train so we didn’t have to drag it all down the full length of the platform.

I am not particularly good at farewells. I never know what to say or what to do. Once you have said the usual “I’ll miss you” and “hope you have a good time”, what else is there to say? I always find it difficult finding the rights words in that kind of situation.

And the whole hugging thing always makes me feel rather awkward. I see other people wrapping their arms around each other, all their emotions on public display and I just find it all somewhat embarrassing, particularly when it is happening on the platform of a busy mainline railway station.

Anyway, we said our goodbyes. The girls were both in tears, obviously rather upset about the separation, even though Angela is going up there next weekend. This kind of thing is always difficult; I never know what to do when grown women cry. I thought about putting my arms around Angela but didn’t want to upset anyone, particularly Dorothy, so I walked away a little and left them to it.

Once Dorothy’s train had left, Angela and I returned to the station concourse where she asked if I would like to join her for a coffee. Now, I don’t normally make use of the facilities at railway stations. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about this. My reticence about railway station refreshments has nothing to do with the surroundings or my fellow passengers; it is all about the quality of the food and drink. Not that I have ever eaten or drunk anything from those little outlets that line the concourse, but I can see enough to tell me that it is just not my kind of food. However, with Angela standing beside me, her eyes still wet from crying, I felt sorry for her and so agreed to sit with her for a while. I was pleasantly surprised when she led me not to one of those fast food stalls but a small and very pleasant bar overlooking the concourse.

Strangely enough, this was the first time that Angela and I had been alone together for any length of time. I found it slightly awkward at first, trying to make conversation with cousin’s girlfriend – the only thing I knew we had in common was Dorothy. As it was, I found Angela to be very pleasant company. From our seats in the bar, we had a good view of the station and very soon found ourselves discussing the mass of humanity we saw passing before the window. Apparently, this is something that she and Dorothy do a lot, quite often making up stories about the people they see. I can see the attraction of this harmless pastime, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I did try, but it seems I lack the imagination required.

Whilst we were talking I thought I saw Hope and Charlotte walking towards one of the platforms, but I couldn’t be certain. Everybody is rushing so much, desperate not to miss their train, that it is very difficult to follow an individual. Angela has never met either of them so she couldn’t say.

We stayed in the bar for a little over half an hour before Angela left to return to her flat and I made my way to the Club. It had been quite a busy morning so I felt I deserved a good lunch and some fine wine. And if there is one place I can guarantee both, it’s the Club. The new chef is a veritable culinary wizard; what that man can do with the simplest of ingredients is nothing short of amazing. A couple of the chaps asked if Dorothy had arrived safely in Edinburgh and I had to admit that I had no idea. One fellow even suggested that I telephone her, which would be well and good if I had a note of her number on me. Which I didn’t. So I called her when I got home and it seems that all is well north of the border. Her train had arrived almost on time and the hotel she was staying in was comfortable and clean. I was happy with this and will pass the information on the fellows at the Club tomorrow.

In the meantime, I settled in for an evening of Strictly Come Dancing and some family tree research.

A frank exchange of views

One of the things I really enjoy about the Club, aside from the excellent food and extensive wine cellar, is that one never knows who is going to be there and which way conversations will go. There is such a variety of views that discussions are never boring, and can at times become quite heated. However, there is one thing that unites almost all of the members, and that is our concern over the terrible state our country is in at the moment. What we cannot agree on is the cause of the problem and how to fix it.

Quite a few of the chaps, and I include myself in this, are getting just a little impatient with the government over the whole Brexit thing. I will be the first to admit that I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to politics and finance, but even I can see that things aren’t going so well. The media is constantly referring to it as a divorce, which I suppose in a way it is, with both sides fighting over the family silver. My worry is that whilst the Union chappies seem fairly united in their approach, we are still fighting amongst ourselves over what we want to get out of the process. We can all see that despite what the Prime Minister says there is very little unanimity even in her own government.

What some of the chaps are saying is that they are more worried about the uncertainty and bickering than they are about Brexit itself. Like any divorce, each side wants to get the best it can for itself. Even the most amicable of separations will inevitably result in some conflict of interests; not that I have much experience of this kind of thing. What most people seem to want is certainty. I know one or two of my friends have business interests in the City and they are the ones most concerned about all the dithering and in-fighting. Apparently, the uncertainty about what is going to happen after Brexit is having an impact on investments and trade. I suppose I am in the same boat having investments of my own in City properties. Which reminds me that I really must talk to Aunt Murdock about this when I see her next.

There is still some disagreement amongst the chaps about how best to go about the Brexit negotiations. On one hand, there are those who want Mrs May to take a very firm stand and refuse any kind of compromise. On the other, and these are mainly the same people who supported the remain argument, there are those who want us to take what they refer to as a more pragmatic and open approach. I am not entirely sure which will be best for the country, but I suspect that it is somewhere in the middle. Even I know that there is never going to be a deal that satisfies the demands of both sides completely so we will have to accept some form of compromise. I am sure the debate will rumble on at the bar and, if the past week is anything to go by, it will only get more heated.

It is not just at the Club that the subject of Brexit rears it’s ugly head from time to time. Dorothy and Angela have been very vociferous in their support of remaining in the EU and are still very angry at the result. Angela has even spoken about getting herself a German passport. It seems that her mother’s family are from Germany so she can claim dual nationality if she wishes. I know that a number of people have done this recently, but to me, it seems a little futile unless one is actually planning to move there. I am not sure Dorothy would be too happy about that, but I am not going to interfere with their relationship or plans. What Dorothy has said on more than one occasion is that she is embarrassed by the whole thing. She has a lot of foreign friends and says that they can’t understand why we would want to leave the European club. I have tried to explain about sovereignty and the British standing in the world, but for some reason, she just can’t seem to understand it. I know that some people have implied it is some form of nostalgia for the days of the old Empire, but, at least as far as I am concerned, it isn’t that. It is just about being in control of our own destiny and our own laws. We should not be dictated to by other people. The rules and regulations we have to accept from Brussels are scandalous. For me, it is all about being able to decide things for ourselves. No one likes to be dictated to by outsiders who don’t understand our history or our customs. The French, Spanish and Germans have all tried to defeat us in war and failed; we can’t let them succeed by the back door.

Another subject that seems to have been creating something of a buzz at the bar this week is that of the Prime Minister’s position. I didn’t follow the events of the Party conferences – far too boring and narcissistic for my liking, all that self-congratulation and pompous self-righteousness does nothing for me – but those who do were very critical of Mrs May’s performance and the way she has been treated by the Party. I have to admit to having a great deal of respect for Mrs May, but even I am beginning to think that maybe she isn’t up to the job of leading us through our current troubles. Not that there seems to be a great deal of choice for replacement at the moment. With the Party so divided over Europe I don’t honestly think that there is anyone else capable of uniting all sides, and as far as I am concerned, unity is far more important than anything else right now.

There is only one subject at the moment that seems to have almost unanimous agreement with the chaps at the bar, and that is our mutual distrust of the American President, Donald Trump. Whilst he may be successful as a businessman – and there seems to be a little disagreement even over that – as a politician and diplomat he is very much out of his depth. The man seems to have absolutely no idea of how the world actually works. Several of the regulars at the Club have financial interests in the aircraft industry and are very angry over Trump’s recent announcements over the imposition of tariffs on Bombardier aircraft. One gets the feeling that he makes these announcements without thinking them through first. I certainly get the feeling that he doesn’t discuss things with his staff before taking to social media to make is pronouncements. I suppose that he is used to having complete control of his businesses and can’t seem to grasp the idea that his decisions have to me about more than just making money. America is not a business, it is a country, and it cannot be run in quite the same way. Having said that, Americans can be a little odd that way, putting financial gain ahead of everything else. I have said it before, they are a nation with no history and no idea of social etiquette. It is unfortunate that they have so much power and influence or we could just ignore them and let them get on with playing their silly games.

Mind you, we do have to be careful when discussing the Americans, and their President in particular, if my old chum Dorchester is around. Apparently, his American girlfriend is a Trump supporter (a Trump-et!) and he is very defensive of her views. According to Annabelle, the President can do no wrong. She fully supports his positions on immigration, North Korea and protecting American businesses. And whilst I can sort of see her point and some of his decisions, I cannot support her misguided view that Donald Trump is the saviour of the western world. The man’s a fruitcake I would hesitate to leave in control of a Sunday School, let alone a country.

Changing the subject completely, I had a call yesterday from Hope about some event or other she is holding at her gallery in a couple of weeks time. Apparently, it is one of those evenings when new artists get to display their work and she has asked me to go along. Of course, I have accepted the invitation, but I am not sure it is really my kind of thing. I have seen some of the work she has on display and it is all far too modern for me. My taste is more conservative I suppose, but she has been kind enough to ask me, so I will definitely have to go. I had thought of inviting Dorothy to join me, but she will be in Edinburgh by then.

 

Not a Hope-less cause

Yesterday evening Hope accompanied me to Cambridge’s latest charity soiree, and even though I say so myself, it was a great success. Old Cambridge throws these little parties of his from time to time, usually when a particular cause catches his eye, and they are inevitably always well supported, both in terms of numbers and the money raised. It must be two years since his last bash which I remember very well, only because I was ill at the time and on soft drinks all evening, Aunt Dorothy saw to that. That particular event had been to support a hospice or some such somewhere up North. Yesterday we were there for a charity providing schools and educational opportunities for children abroad, in Africa or Asia I think. Wherever it is, I am sure it is a very worthy cause. Cambridge himself is very keen on this kind of thing. He has often lectured me on the futility of raising money to simply feed people. Far better, he says, to educate them or provide ways to help make the self-sufficient. I know he is very supportive of local children’s charities which I find rather odd for a man who has never had any of his own. At least, as far as I know. There are rumours around the Club that he makes regular donations to a children’s hospice on the coast somewhere, but I have never asked him about it. After all, one should not pry into another fellow’s financial affairs.

Anyway, as you would expect, the whole thing was meticulously organised and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. I know I did.

I picked up Hope at a little after 7 o’clock as arranged, and I must say that as I saw her approaching the car the sight of her almost took my breath away. If anything she looked even more attractive than when I had first been reacquainted with her at the Sweetmans’ garden party several weeks ago. Her dress was a sort of shimmering blue with sparkling jewels around the top. It was full length but with a slit up the left that showed off a very shapely leg. I don’t know much about this kind of thing – I can’t tell one style from another – but it certainly looked expensive, and was very flattering. Hope has lost a lot of weight over the last few years and the way she was dressed emphasised her shape to great effect. She may not have the figure of a supermodel, but she is most definitely a very attractive lady.

For most of the evening, Hope and I were seated with several of the chaps from the Club. After the food, Cambridge held one of his popular auctions. I very rarely take part in these things, not because I don’t want to contribute to the cause (I always do that), but because the items themselves never really interest me. On this occasion, however, Hope persuaded me to bid for a weekend break at some healthy club or other out in the country. She told me it was a very expensive establishment with an excellent reputation, and although she had never been herself, she was sure I would enjoy it. Remembering my experience earlier on the week I was not too sure about that but took part in the bidding anyway.

Well, I must admit that once I started I found myself determined to win. No matter what anyone else bid, I was prepared to go higher. With the adrenalin pumping and Hope getting more and more excited, I just kept on going. It was just numbers, and I have never been very good with that sort of thing.

When the bidding finally stopped and we realised I had won, Hope was jumping around like an excited school girl and I must have looked a little like the Cheshire cat. Of course, I have no intention of going there myself, but I offered it to Hope and suggested she should take Charlotte along, make it a girls weekend. The look she gave me was one I think I will remember for quite some time. I hadn’t noticed before, but Hope has a wonderfully warm and inviting smile that seems to light up her whole face. She looked almost youthful and I was quite taken aback when she reached across and kissed me on the cheek.

A little later the dancing started. I had every intention of asking Hope to join me for a spin around the floor, but before I had the opportunity to do so, we were joined by a gentleman who was obviously acquainted with her. We were introduced but I can’t recall his name, only that he was something in the art world and seemed to have some business to discuss. I excused myself and made my way over to speak to Cambridge who was holding court at the far end of the room. Amongst those with him was Dorothy’s old friend Clara West. We had last met several weeks ago when Dorothy and Angela had tried their hand at matchmaking. I hadn’t seen her since and was pleasantly surprised to bump into her again. We chatted for a short while before I thought I had better return to Hope and ask her for that dance.

But when I got back to the table, Hope was not there. Assuming she must have gone to the ladies room, I sat and poured myself another glass of wine. It was only after I had been sat there a while that I spotted Hope at a neighbouring table talking with a group of mainly younger people. I could have joined her of course, but as I did not know any of them and wouldn’t really have anything to say if they were the arty sort, I decided to wait until she returned.

When she eventually did rejoin me I immediately asked her for a dance. It turns out that my assumption that all ladies liked to dance was a little wide of the mark. Apparently, Hope didn’t do what she called “proper dancing”. I must admit that I was a little surprised by this revelation. Within my own circle of friends and family, everyone danced, particularly the ladies. It is just one of those things one is expected to be able to do.

Shortly after this Hope said she was tired and was going to go home. I offered her a lift but she declined, saying that she would get a taxi. She suggested I should stay and enjoy the rest of the evening with my friends. It turns out that she was leaving early in the morning to visit friends in Bath. I spent the rest of the evening with Cambridge and Clara, and even managed a couple of dances before leaving a little after midnight. I was going to go on to the Club with some of the chaps but in the end, I decided against it.

I had a call from Hope around midday today. She was calling from her friend’s house and thanked me for taking her along to the last night’s soiree. Apparently, Charlotte was “over the moon” about the weekend break and Hope apologised for leaving so early and not dancing. I told her that was quite all right and that I had danced with Clara after she had left. The call then came to an abrupt end as she had to join her friends for lunch.

As I say, it had been a very enjoyable evening. It was very nice to spend some time with Hope. I really do enjoy her company. She is only a few years younger than me but there is something almost youthful about her. I find her very easy to talk to and find myself wanting to tell her everything. It was also good to see Clara again. It turns out she is back in London for a few weeks. I know she is planning on visiting Dorothy so no doubt we will meet again.

I think I am in trouble now

Argh! I think I am in trouble now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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