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.

Boat on the river

I had something of a treat yesterday evening. It was one of those simple little things that one does that makes a day special and memorable. You see, as a “thank you” for putting her up when she lost her digs, Dorothy and Angela arranged a dining experience on the Thames for us.

I have done similar things before on other rivers and canals (I particularly enjoyed a mea, but floating down the Avon a few years ago) for whatever reason I have never taken such an excursion on the Thames. Maybe it is because it’s in my back yard, so to speak. One very seldom enjoys the tourist side of ones home town. I suppose that I have just taken the fact that they are there for granted. But Dorothy seems to love that side of London, so off we went a little after six to join the boat close to Embankment. The weather was a little less than perfect, but what little rain we had was very slight, and the clouds minimal. Any of my friends will tell you that I am not a particularly good sailor, but the water was very calm, so I had little to worry about there.

We were greeted at the boat by a charming young man who seemed to take an instant shine to young Angela. Indeed, the attention he showed her throughout the evening would, under other circumstances, have almost guaranteed a return; but alas, his flirtations and over zealous attention to her every need, were wasted. Angela is devoted to Dorothy and that is not likely to change any time soon, even for the most eager of suitors.

Anyway, we had arrived in good time and only a couple of other dinners were already seated as we were shown to our table. We were at the prow (that’s the front, if memory serves me right), with a wonderful view across this marvelous waterway. Normally on such occasions I would choose a nice claret to accompany my meal, but yesterday I felt almost rebellious, deciding as I did to start the evening with a long, cool beer. Now, beer is something I do not drink a great deal, but when the mood takes me, I do enjoy a cold continental lager. At this juncture I must point out that I have nothing against English ales, I just find them a little too strong and bitter for my taste.

We had been at our table for little more than five minutes when we were joined, unexpectedly on my part, by a young woman who was introduced to me as Clara. Now I must admit that I thought three an odd number for a dinner such as this, but was hardly in a place to question Dorothy’s planning seeing as it was to be her treat.

Well, it seems that dear old Aunt Murdock is not the only matchmaker in the family! Although the evening was primarily intended as a thank you, Dorothy has never been one to overlook the opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and had decided to invite one of her theatrical chums along to make up the numbers.

From my first impression, Clara is never just one to make up the numbers. From her dark, almost Mediterranean complexion and her tall, regal bearing, to the seductive tones of her surprisingly deep voice, Clara was obviously someone who not only expected to me taken notice of, but invariable was. I must have looked a perfect fool, sat there with my mouth slightly open and, making short squeaky noises rather than the coherent greeting my mind was desperately trying to get my mouth to say.

Much of the rest of the evening is a little of a blur. I recall Angela’s amusement at the young crewman’s attentions, and Dorothy’s effusive gratefulness for my hospitality. I seem to remember an exquisite roasted quail and extensive cheeseboard (not both at the same time I must point out), but very little else. I am almost ashamed to admit that for the entire three-hour cruise and meal, almost all of my attention was lavished on Clara, who had been given the seat next to me.

Anyway, at the end of the meal, Clara headed back to her flat somewhere on the South bank, whilst Dorothy, Angela and myself made our way back to Kensington. Once home we settled down for a quiet drink and a chat before bed.

During our conversations I learned that Clara was actually a couple of years older than Dorothy and had been something to a mentor to her at school. I am sure our paths must have crossed previously at one event or another, but I don’t think I had ever spoken to her before.

According to Dorothy, Clara has been widowed twice and has inherited quite small fortune through these untimely deaths. Whilst she is not necessarily looking for husband number three, she felt that we might get along, which I think we did.

From my perspective, Clara is a charming and very interesting lady indeed. I was quite smitten by her smile and her deep green eyes. There is something of the fiery Mediterranean temperament in her manner, coupled with an almost angelic glow that flows across her face when she smiles. Yes, I know how soppy this is all sounding and no doubt there will be words said at the Club tomorrow, but I have just spent the evening in the company of one of the most attractive women of my acquaintance.

But as for a romantic liaison, I fear that is not to be. It was quite obvious almost from the word go, that Clara and I could never be more than friends, and I would like to think that we will be. She is a much more outdoorsy person than me, who enjoys outdoor pursuits and adventure. She also lives most of the year between Switzerland and the South of France, places I could never contemplate setting up a home.

So full marks to Dorothy for her effort. Whilst her matchmaking may not have gone according to plan, we did all enjoy a wonderful evening and I am sure that Clara and I will meet again. She has invited me to stay at either of her villas, which I just may do at some point on the future.