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.

No better place to be

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our streets are a battleground

Living in a city like London has almost as many advantages as there are drawbacks. For me, it is home. I have lived in the country – I still have a house there – but it doesn’t really suite me and I never visit, except for family occasions and the like. No, to me London is home and I am rather proud of the city and its people.

But every now and then I hear something in the news that makes me sad and angry, both at the same time. This is how I felt this morning when I heard about one of these so-called “acid attacks” at the Stratford Centre in East London. I don’t actually know the place, the East End is not somewhere I frequent on anything like a regular basis, but I assume it is much like the shopping areas we have in other parts of the city, vibrant and busy.

According to the reports I heard, a number of youths were involved, with at least one throwing acid into the faces of his victims. It is horrifying the think that such things are going on here, so close to home. I cannot understand why anyone would want to hurt another human being so badly, and leave them scarred for life. Dorothy tells me this kind of thing is on the increase and I am not afraid to admit that it worries me a great deal. Throwing any kind of liquid is rather inaccurate, you can’t exactly aim it, so I suppose that many of those hit by these substances will be innocent bystanders, people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thinking about it makes me so angry, and I can’t help but be concerned for my friends who I know frequent some of the busier areas of town. People like Dorothy and Hope. To think that either of them could fall victim to such an indiscriminate act just makes my blood boil.

And what do the perpetrators get out of it? I hear that the only arrest in yesterday’s attack is a 15-year-old. A teenager for heaven’s sake. What on Earth is a 15-year-old doing with acid, and why would they do such a thing? When I was 15 all I had on my mind was girls and sports cars (not necessarily in that order). The very idea of getting involved with any kind of conflicts or gangs just didn’t occur. For me and my school friends, it was all about exams, getting one-up on the masters, and how to avoid family gatherings in the holidays.

I know that not all young people are members of gangs, and they certainly don’t go around throwing acid into innocent people’s faces, but as is so often the case, the actions of the few tarnish the reputation of the many. Any small gathering of youngsters these days attracts mistrust and fear, as do groups of Muslims, or any other ethnic group for that matter. It saddens me very much that one cannot walk down the streets of our fair city without being constantly on the lookout for threats.

As I said, I am both angry at those responsible, and sad for the rest of us whose lives are impacted, either in reality or just through fear. London is and always will be my home. No one is going to change my love for the city, not least those who chose to turn its streets into their own battlegrounds. What we need are more bobbies on the beat. And maybe a return to the kind of punishments that worked so effectively when my own parents were children. A good clip round the ear-hole never did anyone any real harm, and might just be the shock some of these louts need. Let’s not let a silly minority spoil our beautiful city.