If music be the food of love…

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.

 

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.

Brief Encounters

I had a very welcome telephone call yesterday from Anne Fletcher, my new interior designer friend. She called to tell me she is planning to come to London for a few days next week, primarily for business, and was wondering if we could meet up for drinks or a meal. Of course, I immediately agreed. Actually, I went a little further than that; I offered to let her stay here with me while she was in town. That way she would save herself a little money on hotel bills and it would also give us an opportunity to talk about things back at the homestead. I am particularly intrigued by all the talk of property developers buying up land in the area.

The upshot is that she will be down on Tuesday and will be staying until at least Friday. It will be jolly nice to catch up and I must find out how things went when she met with Hope.

Talking of Hope, I saw her briefly earlier in the week when we both attended a show in the West End. I had been invited by Dorothy who thought I would enjoy it and I have to admit it was much better than some of the other recent events that my dear Aunt Murdock has dragged me along too. Honestly, I don’t understand Aunt Murdock’s tastes at all. She insists on putting her money into the theatre but she is no Cameron Macintosh, that is for sure. I have lost count of the number of productions that she has lost money, some of it in quite spectacular fashion.

Uncle George doesn’t seem to mind too much, bless him. But then I suppose that there is actually nothing he could do to stop her even if he wanted to. Once the old Mad Duck sets her mind on something then it best, and safest, to just nod your head and let her get on with it. And it is always her own money anyway so it is not as if George is losing out himself. No, George is quite a serious and successful investor. He would never put any of his own, not inconsiderable wealth into something so fickle and unpredictable as the theatre. Oh no, for George it is all about business and currencies, although I can’t see how that can be any less of a gamble than the arts.

Anyway, as I was saying, I bumped into Hope and Charlotte at the theatre bar during the interval. It was extremely busy, as you might expect, and I had just sat down with a glass of single malt when I spotted Hope making her way back from the bar. I immediately stood and called them over to join us. It was really good to see them again, particularly Hope who I had missed a little over the past few weeks. It was difficult to have a decent conversation as the bar was quite noisy, but we did enjoy a brief chat before we returned to our seats for the second act. Before we parted I suggested meeting again afterwards. We agreed to meet at a quiet little bar I know, very close to the theatre immediately after the show.

As we left the theatre, Dorothy said she had decided to go straight home rather than go on anywhere. As it turns out Charlotte had also decided to go home leaving just Hope and myself. If the truth were told I was rather glad of the opportunity to have a little time alone with her; we had so much to catch up on and one or two questions to be answered. But, as they say, the best-laid plans of mice and men and all that!

We had no sooner secured a table and some drinks when who should walk in but my old friend Dorchester, along with a rather attractive young lady I didn’t know. Dorchester was, I have to say, just a little tipsy and very loud as he made his way towards us. Needless to say, the evening had not gone the way I had intended and any chance of a quiet chat we west with Dorchester’s arrival. However, on the plus side, I found his new young lady – Georgia I think her name was – to be quite charming and very pleasing to the eye. I gather from our conversation that she is originally from somewhere in the other south-west but now lives in London.

Very soon after Hope said she really had to go as she had a busy day ahead of her. Before leaving she asked if I was free for lunch on Monday, which I agreed to without hesitation. Hopefully, we will get an opportunity to catch up and family events.

Today I have spent mostly at the Club. Dorothy did ask if I would join her for a little of what she called “retail therapy”. I must say that I am in no hurry to repeat the events of our last outing together on Oxford Street. It was an absolute nightmare; I am still traumatized whenever I remember that day.

And more good news – Nigel returned to London today after his recent little jaunt abroad. He says it was a business trip of some kind, but I am sure he was in the far east somewhere. I don’t think we have any business interests out there, but I am sure Nigel knows what he is doing. But, be that as it may, Nigel is very keen to do a little more detective work on the old family history. I have to admit that I have been a little lax on that subject recently so I am very pleased that Nigel is back to push me into carrying on. Which reminds me, I really do need to speak to Aunt Murdock about something Mrs Dalton told us on our recent trip to Brighton. It was something to do with my mother, but I can’t fathom what it is all about.

Anyway, that is enough waffling from me for one evening. I think it is now time to get some sleep. I would go back to the Club for a quick drink, but I am feeling rather tired today; I feel like I may be about to come down with a cold or flu.

A night at the theatre

Hello again. For the second day running I find myself recovering from a heavy night, but this time it has nothing (or very little) to do with drink.

You see, yesterday evening I was invited to the theatre by my dear aunt Lady Murdock, or Mad Duck to those of us who know her well. As I am sure I have already said before, I am obliged to go along with the old Mad Duck’s little whims as she has control over my business and financial affairs. It’s all very dreary but that’s just the way it is, and I am rather fond of the old dear. She is, after all, my mother’s older sister and I know she has my best interests at heart.

So, off I went like the dutiful nephew that I undoubtedly am. We met at a rather nice bistro just off Shaftesbury Avenue for a pre-show drink and snack. I say snack because it was one of those places where they decorate the plate with samples of food rather than present a decent meal. Don’t get me wrong, what I had was very tasty, but it was more of an appetiser than a meal. At least the wine was good – a rather fine Chablis set me up very nicely for the evening.

However, if I’d known what was ahead of me I would have ordered a third bottle and forgone the desert!

It has been said that I am a bit of an old traditionalist. I don’t see anything wrong in that and when it comes to the Arts I much prefer the “old masters” to the modern upstarts. Give me a Turner over Picasso any day. Theatre wise, I just don’t get some of these modern shows. I love going to the theatre, it is one of the advantages of living in London. There is always so much to see. But you have to be careful because in amongst all the wonderful productions are some modernist shows that sadly don’t deserve a London stage.

I particularly dislike one-woman shows where you are expected to sit for two hours or more and listen to some hormonal and emotionally retarded woman spout out about how sad her life is and how cruel the world has been to her. Or those modern musicals that seem to be about nothing in particular and with music that is just too noisy. I know some of them are based on pop songs, but that is no excuse for what I can only describe as moronic dribble.

Well, it turns out that the show old Mad Duck dragged me along to last night was one that she has invested in, and with a distant cousin of mine playing the leading role. Not only can I not tell you what the show was called, I have no idea what it was about. There was a lot of shouting, a great deal of prancing around and absolutely no set to give me a clue about where or when it was supposed to be taking place. The cast of three seemed to spend the entire two hours arguing about something, or someone, or another.

And just to make matters worse, Mad Duck insisted we stayed behind in the bar afterwards to meet with the cast, all of whom she thought were wonderful. Of course, you have to be polite to these people, but trying to be positive about what I thought was probably the worst play I had ever seen to the emotionally unstable cast (all actors are emotionally unstable in my view) was very tiring indeed.

Although I enjoy the theatre, actors themselves tend to bore me. They can be a particularly self-centred crowd and all this lovey-dovey stuff they go in for is quite nauseating. There is almost nothing worse than having to spend an entire evening in some grubby theatre bar with a whole horde of them. OK, three is hardly a horde, but anything more than one is far too many for my liking.

The one redeeming feature of what was otherwise a frightful evening was reacquainting myself with cousin Dorothy. Of course, that is not the name uses on the stage (I can’t recall what that is). Yes, I know she is an actor (you can’t say actress these days apparently – it’s not politically correct) but once we got past that and had downed a couple of rather fine single malts, she was actually frightfully good company. I haven’t seen her for a few years so we had a lot to catch up on. I think the last time we met was at a garden party somewhere out in the sticks – Kent I think.

Anyway, we finally said our goodbyes at around 3am and I must say I was very glad to get home. Next time dear old Aunt Murdock suggests a trip the the theatre I will have to feign some kind of fatal illness.