To say that the last couple of days have been enlightening is actually a little of an understatement. Any of my friends would attest to the fact that I am a man of simple tastes and am not inclined towards taking unnecessary risks. When I decide to try a new restaurant, I tend to do so based on either a recommendation or because of the reputation of the owner or the chef. I like to be as sure as I can be that I am not going to be too disappointed. And whilst I enjoy sampling some types of foreign cuisine, I do draw the line at all that spicy Eastern cooking.
I was well aware that by leaving the choice of venue for our dinner date to Hope I was taking an uncharacteristic risk. Whilst I was sure she would not choose something too outlandish, I was still a little apprehensive about what she had planned for the evening. After all, I had also agreed to accompany her to the theatre and again, I had no idea what she might have booked to see. Hope had arranged to pick me up in a taxi so I did not even get a clue to the location.
I suppose that I should have had a little more confidence in her understanding of me and the things that I like. She took me to a little place that I had heard of but never visited, possibly because of it’s proximity to the National Theatre and the clientele that such an establishment can attract. But good food is good food, no matter where one finds it, and I have to admit that Hopes choice of venue turned out to be an excellent one. The decor and atmosphere were clean and inviting and the menu simple but varied.It was all fairly traditional fayre, but fairly well cooked and presented. I chose a steak and a rather fine Château La Croix Fourney to go with it. Hope settled for Sea Bass which she assured me was very nice indeed.
Being the early evening I had thought that wherever we went would be fairly quiet, but in that I was wrong – it was a very busy service, due I believe to the majority of the clientele being on their way to the theatre itself. Which should have given me a clue to where we were going, but this didn’t actually occur to me until we were waiting for our deserts.
Over the course of the meal, Hope and I discussed our families, work and a little about our desires for the future. It seems that each time we meet I learn a little more about this fascinating woman. She was quite candid about her marriage which seems to have had some difficult times. Not that this is anything unusual; many of my friends have dealt with rocky relationships. I myself have experienced something similar but admittedly not to the same degree as poor Hope. I had not known Hope’s husband particularly well but he always seemed to me to be a decent sort of chap. Not exactly the sort one would expect to meet down at the Club, but decent enough for that. From what Hope told me, he was a good father and pleasant enough man, but he could also be a little domineering. He did not approve of her art ambitions which is why she did not open the gallery until after he had died.
Anyway, when we finished our meal and it came to settling the bill, I was in for another surprise. Not the bill itself which Hope told me was reasonable, but the fact that Hope herself insisted on paying it. Now, it has always been my contention that when one is taking a lady out for the evening, it is the man’s place to pay. That is what my mother always taught me and it is something I have always stood by. I suppose I should have expected something like that; Hope is, after all, a very independent woman who is used to doing things for herself. But none-the-less, it went against the grain a little to have a lady such as Hope pay for the meal.
My next surprise came after we left the restaurant as we made our way to the National Theatre. There is no mistaking the building itself; it has to be one of the ugliest buildings of its type in the world. I don’t think anyone in their right mind could ever consider this concrete monstrosity as anything other than what the Prince of Wales would call, a carbuncle. I cannot for the life of me imagine why the architects of what was supposed to be a prestigious centre for the arts should design such an eyesore.
Anyway, it turns out that Hope had purchased tickets for the current production of Twelfth Night. Now I am sure that most people who know me are aware that I am not exactly the bard’s greatest fan and ordinarily the thought of being subjected to an evening of one of his plays would leave me somewhat cold. But on this occasion, I was with Hope so was assured of good company at least.
As it turns out, despite the usual issues I had with Shakespeare’s language, I found I really enjoyed the performance. Before it started Hope told me to expect something unusual but at first, I didn’t realise what she meant. I have seen this particular play before – it was one that my mother took me to see once – but my recollection was a little vague so I did not immediately see what she meant. Of course, once she pointed it out to me it was obvious. You see, in this particular production, the part of Malvolio, written as a male character, was being played by a woman. From what Hope told me, the actress Tamsin Grieg is very popular. I had not actually seen her before myself, but she was frightfully good and highly amusing.
After the show I had Arthur pick us up and drop Hope off at her flat in Chelsea. She asked if I would like to join her for a nightcap, but I declined. It had been a wonderful evening full of surprises, but I was a little anxious not to spoil things. I can’t pretend to be a particularly romantic type and I don’t fool myself that I am any kind of catch. I know that Hope likes me, otherwise she would not have planned the evening we had just had, but I did not want to put myself in a position where I may say or do something embarrassing. Before we parted Hope invited me to join her on Saturday evening for dinner at her flat. Of course, I did not need to think twice, accepting the invitation with probably a little too much enthusiasm.
This morning I had a telephone call from my Uncle George to say that dear old Aunt Murdock was back in the hospital. Nothing to worry about apparently, but he thinks she will be there for a couple of days. It is obvious now that I am going to have to get used to managing the firm’s affairs on my own as she is definitely going to have to slow down. At the office, my secretary, Miss Drayton informed me that she was going on holiday for a couple of weeks with her boyfriend but had secured a temp to manage my affairs, such as they are. I have to admit that it had never occurred to me that Miss Drayton might have a boyfriend. In fact, I had never even considered her life outside of the office at all. I really must take more of an interest in future.