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.

 

When is a date is not a date?

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Hope Greenwood for lunch. Throughout Sunday, and even Monday morning, Dorothy insisted on calling it a date, which I most vehemently denied. To call the meeting a date implied there are romantic intentions, which, I repeatedly assured my excitable young cousin, was not the case. We are just two old acquaintances meeting up for lunch. Nothing more.

But all my denials and protestations about the nature of the meeting fell on the proverbial deaf ear. She would have her fun I suppose, although why she has to do it at my expense is beyond my understanding.

All that said, I suppose it might be considered a date. An arrangement to meet for an entirely social reason may be called a date, provided it is understood by all, including the likes of Dorothy, that there is no intent other than to have a quiet lunch with an old friend.

Whether it was a “date” or not, we met, as arranged, at a rather nice little bistro I recently discovered on the Southbank. I thought it a suitable venue, with excellent food and wonderful views across the river. It is also extremely convenient for the city itself.

At Dorothy’s insistence I arrived a little early. Not that I would not have done anyway of course; it is just not the done thing to keep a lady waiting. But Dorothy can be very fussy and very forceful and I have already learned that it is often best to go along with her little whims.

As I was early I took a seat in the bar to wait for Hope, which also gave me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and enjoy a rather fine Burgundy. As it was I didn’t have to wait for long; Hope also arrived a little early.

We took our table at a corner of the rather large room that afforded us a particularly fine view of the river. The whole of the Southbank and the Thames itself were teeming with people. This part of the city attracts tourists and day-trippers likes moths to a flame, flocking to the river to bask in the sights and sounds of this unique place. The absolutely glorious weather had encouraged huge numbers of people.

We were seated very quickly. I ordered the foie gras and the fillet, Hope chose the scallops and the lamb, accompanied by a surprisingly good Australian Semillon. Now, white wine is not often my first choice, particularly as I was having the steak, but Hope, it turns out, cannot drink red wine. So, being the gentleman that I am, I joined her in drinking the white. I have to admit it did make a pleasant change and went rather well with the foie gras. Contrary to what some people say, and I now they do, I am not a wine snob. Certainly I know what I like, but I am prepared to try new things, particularly those from the colonies, providing they are not American. One just has to draw the line somewhere.

The food was, as I expected, excellent. As was the service. Hope and I chatted away almost oblivious to the comings and goings around us. And I should point out that she was looking particularly elegant and attractive. When we had last met at the Sweetman’s garden party on Saturday, she had worn  quite a colourful and delicate dress and had her hair all gathered  on the head which gave her a rather sever “school Mame” look. Yesterday, however, she had left her hair down, allowing it to frame her face and give her a much softer, more appealing look. I would go so far as to say it made her look a good ten years younger.

What I hadn’t noticed on Saturday, but was quite obvious yesterday, was that Hope is a redhead. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I only mention it to help give you a fuller picture of the lady.

Over the course of the meal I learned a great deal more about Hope. She told me all about her two daughters, Emily and Charlotte, both of whom she insists I should meet. Apparently Emily is 28 and currently doing something or other with her father’s old firm, whilst Charlotte, still only 17, is a bit of an artist and is studying at Art College at the moment (not sure which one). Hope herself has recently opened her own Gallery in the city. The last time I had seen her, before her husband died, she had just started working in a friends Gallery, but in the meantime he has branched out on her own.

After our lunch Hope suggested we take advantage of the weather and take a walk along the river bank. Although I would normally seek to avoid the tourist areas and the bank holiday crowds, I acquiesced and led her away from the Festival Hall, down towards Westminster. I found myself enjoying her company so much I was somewhat reluctant for the afternoon to end. But, alas, Hope has her family and she had to return home much sooner than I would have liked. We finished the afternoon with drinks at a small bar I know just off Trafalgar Square.

It was undoubtedly one the most pleasant afternoons I have had for quite some time. Hope is nothing at all like I remember her. Being a widow seems to suit her. She is much more ambitious than she was and very obviously much more aware of her appearance.

On my return home, Dorothy and Angela were upon me like two hungry lionesses, eager for any morsel I would throw their way. The biggest question for them, and for me if truth be known, is whether or not I thought there was anything between Hope and I, and was I going to see her again.

Whilst I am sure we will meet again soon, I am not sure about any prospects for this to lead to anything more than a close friendship. I enjoyed her company and, yes, I find her very attractive, but it is far too soon to even think about our relationship being anything more than friends. Only time will tell.

As you might expect, Dorothy sees things slightly differently. I think her relationship with Angela is making her see Austenesque romances blooming everywhere.

I will keep on open mind. This was not a date, but who knows what the future holds.