I’ll soon be home alone

I had some good news today. Well, strictly speaking, it’s not my good news, it’s Dorothy’s. She went for an audition yesterday for a part in some kind of short film. Well, this morning she received a call to tell her that she had got the part she wanted. I haven’t seen her so excited before. Apparently, it is her first part in any kind of film – she has always worked on the stage before. Anyway, filming starts next month in Scotland so she will be away for about three or four weeks. She did tell me what the film was about, but to be honest, it sounded very “arty” and I didn’t really understand it all. Dorothy will be playing a ghost of some sort, but I am not even sure about that. I am sure it will be very good and no doubt I will see it eventually.

Over a simple lunch at home, Dorothy and I had a very pleasant chat about what she would be up to in Bonnie Scotland. She tells me filming will be around Edinburgh, the only place in Scotland I have actually been to. My parents dragged me along to the Festival a couple of times when I was a small child, but I never really took to it. There were always far too many people around, and all doing all kinds of strange things I didn;t understand. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy theatre, but some of the arty-farty stuff that goes on in Edinburgh during the summer was all too much for an impressionable young man like myself.

When I think of those visits it all seems very odd. For one thing, neither of my parents were particularly keen on theatre or the arts when we were in London. We would occasionally go to see one of the bigger shows, but that was fairly infrequent and never more than a couple of times a year. But in Edinburgh, it was one shown or party after another. I suspect it was actually more about what people today call networking.

I haven’t been back to Edinburgh for many years now, although Dorchester and I did spend a few days there shortly after my parents’ accident. He had decided that I needed cheering up so he dragged me up there to spend a couple of days taking in the culture and sampling whiskies. I am not sure we saw much of what I would call culture, but we certainly did enjoy the most extensive range of single malts I have ever seen in one place. Maybe I ought to go back soon. Talking to Dorothy reminded me that Hope was in Edinburgh last weekend. What a small world.

Anyway, Dorothy will be heading North of the Border in a couple of weeks. She made it very clear that before she goes she wants to “sort me out” as she put it. I am a not sure what this entails or what she has in store for me, but if there is one thing I have learned in the few weeks she has been staying with me is that when she gets an idea into he head, it is best to just go along with it. I have tried resisting her little urges and ideas, but one way or another young Dorothy always seems to get her away. She is like Aunt Murdock in so many ways. Younger, obviously, but almost as fearfully determined.

The only hint I have had of her plans for me is her insistence I keep tomorrow free. What for, I can’t say, but I suspect it will not involve drinks or food. Needless to say, I have agreed to go along with whatever she has planned for me. I only hope it doesn’t involve shopping or anything sporty.

After lunch, while Dorothy went off to meet with Angela to give her the news, I popped along to the Club for a game or two of snooker. And I am so glad I did because Dorchester was there. I haven’t seen him for a couple of weeks so it was really great to catch up. More so because he was on his own without that awful American woman, Annabellelurking in the background. According to Dorchester, they are planning on visiting her family in the States next month. If you ask me it is getting far too serious between them. I mean, we hardly ever see Dorchester at the Club these days, and when we do, all he can talk about is Annabelle.

According to Dorchester, they are planning on visiting her family in the States next month. If you ask me it is getting far too serious between them. I mean, we hardly ever see Dorchester at the Club these days, and when we do, all he can talk about is Annabelle. I have known him for more years than I care to remember, and I have never seen him behave this way before. He has had relationships before, plenty of them. One or two of them have lasted several months at a time. But he has never missed so many snooker nights at the Club or flown halfway around the world to meet the family.

It is starting to feel like everyone is deserting me. First Hope goes to Scotland, quickly followed by Dorothy. Now Dorchester is flying out to America. Who will be next? Aunt Murdock off on an African safari? Cambridge cruising along the Nile? Maybe not!

One interesting thing I did learn between breaks is that Dorchester has recently joined one of those health clubs the chaps and I were discussing a couple of weeks back. He has suggested that I join him there tomorrow; he seems to think it would do me good. Of course, Dorothy already has plans so that little treat is going to have to wait.

 

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Let battle commence

It’s an old adage that when in company you should never discuss politics or religion. And it’s a little bit of well-worn wisdom that I try to adhere to as much as I can. We all know that these are subjects that will inevitably cause friction and dissent, even amongst friends and family. I have seen more that one gathering descend into chaos as those with opposing views draw up their battle lines.

From the sidelines, these confrontations between people who are otherwise quite close can be rather amusing. But I have seen such disagreements lead to long-lasting breakups, which is not so funny.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I met with my Aunt Murdock and Uncle George. I had invited them to join me for lunch at a little place that we are all rather fond of on Parliament Square. Aunt Murdock has said more than once that it is her favourite London restaurant, and it is one I am rather fond of myself, although neither of us tends to frequent it too regularly. My choice of Partridge, followed by Cumbrian Beef, were a perfect reminder of why we enjoy it so much.

Anyway, today’s lunch was my treat. I have always been very close to the Murdocks and although I see quite a lot of old Mad Duck, I don’t get to spend much time with Uncle George these days. Since he retired from running his business he spends a lot of time playing golf, very often abroad, so I have to take these opportunities to get together whenever I can. I really like George and he is one of the few people I know I can talk to about politics and religion without causing a family feud. I could always talk to George in ways I never could with my own father. We have always seen eye to eye on most things, even the dreaded Brexit.

I find there is no better way to catch up on recent events than over a good meal. One can truly relax and savour the best in food and company if you chose your venue with care. Once seated George and I were very soon making observations, recommendations and comments about all kinds of things, from how to deal with North Korea, to the best ways to reduce terrorism and immigration. George’s immense experience travelling around the world gives him a wonderful insight into the way foreigners think and work. I have always taken his advice on political matters and very rarely do I find the need to disagree with him.

It was as we were waiting for our main courses I began to notice that conversation at the next table seemed to be getting a little heated. It was obvious from what was being said they were discussing the ramifications of leaving the EU, and I can tell you, there was little or no common ground between the two primary antagonists. I assumed they were two couples; the men were quietly battling it out while the women tried to come between them and broker some kind of peace. Things calmed down with the arrival of their desserts, which gave the ladies an opportunity to change the subject to families, children and last night’s television.

But the ceasefire didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before I heard mention of Boris Johnson, after which things began to get very heated. Mind you, it’s not the first time I have seen people fall out over their opinion of dear old Boris. I have to admit that I do like the chap, despite the silly things he sometimes does or says. I was almost tempted to leap to his defence, but a quick glance from Uncle George dissuaded me from that particular course of action.

In the end, it all got a little too loud and they were encouraged to leave the restaurant. It must have been frightfully embarrassing for the two young ladies who really need to learn to take a firmer hand. Aunt Murdock would never have allowed that kind of thing to happen at her table.

Once all the excitement was over we were able to enjoy the rest of our meal, which was as good as anticipated, as was the company. George and I were able to put the world to rights without coming to blows and Aunt Murdock got to enjoy her favourite Raspberry Souffle. For the three of us, it was a particularly enjoyable lunch. I only hope that the four young people who ignored the advice on avoiding politics and religion have made up their differences.

 

 

Does our ancestry define us?

I managed to do a little more sleuthing over the weekend, trying to trace my mother’s family tree. What jolly good fun it can be. I have found some very interesting sounding individuals, including a barrister and two military types.

Looking into the family’s fortunes, from what I can gather, one of my mother’s ancestors made some very shrewd investments in the early stages of the railways. It is a kind of rags to riches tale, almost literally as I believe they were mainly connected to textiles at about that time.

I suppose that all families have their interesting characters, and on my mother’s side that seems to be one Robert Hurley. From the documents that Nigel and I have been able to find, he was a bit of a scoundrel, probably what we would call a conman or trickster, back in the mid-1800s. I have read several newspaper cuttings that chronicle his various court appearances, although he also seems to have managed to wangle his way into society, appearing in more than one society journal. I have to admit that I rather like the rogue. Unfortunately, he did meet a rather gruesome end, getting himself killed in a bar brawl in Birmingham of all places.

Like all established trees, the family variety has far too many roots and branches for one to investigate them all. Consequently, I am having to be selective about whose path I follow and who I research. But the further back one goes, the more difficult it gets to find anything useful. But I suppose that is where the fun is. If it was too easy we would soon get bored. At some point, I am going to have to return to my mother’s more direct descendants and start looking into the family’s more recent history. I am sure there will be a few surprises there as well. After all, every family has its skeletons.

Nigel himself is doing a little bit of research into his own family, as well as helping me with mine. Maybe that is where the Russian and Thia links come from, although I was not previously aware of any. But that just goes to show you that one never knows what is lurking behind other people’s closed doors.

One of the reasons I find all this ancestry research to be so fascinating is because heritage is so important, especially to families such as mine. Like so many families with long histories, we feel that it has established us as an important and well-respected part of society. In many ways our heritage defines us. Whether you believe in nature or nurture, each generation has a profound influence on the one that follows. I am who I am because of those who went before me, or despite them!

I mean, can one bad apple in the family’s past taint future generations? I would think not, but there is a stigma attached to the direct descendants of any criminal or low born individual. But that is not really a case of the individual being influenced by their relative, but more of society making a link and branding the individual by such association.

I have to be honest and say that this whole ancestry thing is something that until recently I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to, I have just taken it all for granted. As a child, my history lessons often featured relatives, and I just accepted that. It never occurred to me that other families weren’t the same. But the more I learn of my mother’s side of things, the more I see how much different their lives were to those of my father’s family at the same time. It gives me a certain amount of pride to think of how hard her family has worked to get to the position they are in now. It can’t have been easy, and I would like to think that some of the strength of character and determination to succeed has found its way into me.

 

 

 

 

All I got was wet!

Do you ever get the feeling that some things just aren’t meant to be?

Well, for the past week or so I have had to put up with both Aunt Murdock and Dorothy almost constantly going on at me about meeting up with Hope Greenwood again. And they are not the only ones who seem to have an interest in my friendship with her. But, despite all their insistence, and I must say some work on my part, it appears that the chances of any kind of romantic liaison are very slim indeed.

You see, I popped along to the gallery this afternoon – as we had arranged over the telephone – and I must say, it was a jolly difficult journey, what with the terrible weather. Despite my best efforts, by the time I arrived, I was rather wet through. In fact, I don’t think I have been so wet, with my clothes on, since the day I fell into uncle George’s garden pond back in 2002. We had been celebrating dear old Lizzie’s Golden jubilee with some very fine champagne and a selection of single malts, and it is possible that I may have had a little more than I should. During a particularly rowdy rendition of Rule Britania, myself and a couple of the chaps from the Club ventured a little too close to George’s new pond. Needless to say, dear old George wasn’t best pleased, and I think the newly transplanted fish were a little put out as well.

Anyway, as I walked through the door I could see Hope on the far side of the gallery talking to a young lady who I presumed was a client. I stood, dripping by the door for a few moments before Hope spotted me and, excusing herself, came over to greet me. I must admit that the whole greeting thing was a little awkward, not least because I was wet through and dripping all over her shiny floor. Unfortunately, our conversation was very brief as Hope had a meeting with the lady I had seen her talking to, so my plan for lunch had to be postponed again.

However, I did have an opportunity to pass on the invitation to Cambridge’s charity soiree, which she assures me she will be able to attend. Once that was agreed, I left the gallery and made my way back to the Club where I was able to dry off and enjoy a rather pleasant lunch. We have a new chef at the Club who is trying to introduce a wider range of dishes, some of which are proving to be very popular. I forget his name, but he is Italian apparently, which explains the sudden appearance of pasta and pizza on the luncheon menu.

If you haven’t heard, we have a new chef at the Club who is trying to introduce a wider range of dishes, some of which are proving to be very popular. I forget his name, but he is Italian apparently, which explains the sudden appearance of pasta and pizza on the luncheon menu. Now, I don’t have anything against the idea of extending the menu, but I personally have no intention of going continental. I have never been particularly fond of Italian wines, and I don’t suppose the food is much better. Don’t get me wrong, I am partial to a little pasta now and again, and have even had some very nice pizzas, but it is not the sort of food one expects to be eating at a respectable club. I see no reason to change things and will continue to eat the same foods I always have. Today I chose the Rack of Lamb, washed down with a very pleasant Spanish Rioja. If there is one thing you can always rely on at the Club, it is the quality of the wines on offer. Chefs may come and go, but the wine cellar is always stocked with the best.

So, it was not quite the day I had planned, but I have kept my promise to Dorothy and Aunt Murdock in as much as I have been to see Hope. Alright, she was too busy to come out to lunch with me, but she has accepted the invitation so I will definitely see her again soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Am I losing control of my own life?

This morning I had an unexpected, but a very welcome telephone call from Hope Greenwood. She hasn’t returned home yet but is in Edinburgh staying with an old friend. Apparently, she has been having a short break and visiting a few artists in Scotland. She told me that she heard yesterday that I had visited her gallery – it seems that the helpful young lady I spoke to on Wednesday was Hope’s youngest daughter, Charlotte.

It was just a brief call as she had an appointment, but she told me she will be back in London tomorrow. There wasn’t enough time to discuss the invitation to old Cambridge’s soiree but I told her I would call into the gallery again on Wednesday. Maybe this time I can take her out for that lunch I promised myself.

Whilst I was on the phone talking to Hope, Dorothy walked in and did a little eavesdropping. At times she is like an old mother hen, fussing and manoeuvring. I sometimes think she is taking tips from old Mad Duck. She may even be some kind of third columnist, planted by the old dear to spy on me. Nothing would surprise me where Aunt Murdock is concerned.

According to Dorothy, if I’m going to meet Hope for lunch again, I am going to need some new clothes. She told me that my current wardrobe is a little too conservative and old fashioned. I am not sure I agree with her, but she seems to have set her heart on taking me out shopping. Of course, I have said I couldn’t possibly find the time, but I know Dorothy well enough by now to know that she won’t let a simple matter such as being far too busy get in the way of a good plan. I am sure that now she has suggested going clothes shopping, as far she is concerned it is going to happen.

The more I think about it, the more I worry that my life is being controlled by the various women around me. I mean, there is Aunt Murdock trying to get me married off, Dorothy doing her best to “modernise” me, and even Miss Drayton seems to be trying to turn me into a business man. I know they mean well. They all seem to think they are doing what is best for me, and I am sure that in some ways they may even be right, but surely a chap needs to have some control over his own life.

 

Calling a spade a manual earth extraction tool

It has been such a busy couple of days that I have hardly had time to think, let alone write a blog! What with meetings, lunches and visiting the Club, my days have been jolly full. But one has to find time to relax, to unwind and recharge the proverbial batteries, which is why it has taken me a couple of days to get around to doing anything on my computer. I know that Nigel has been working on something but I just haven’t had the time. Those two mornings a week at the office have really made a difference to my flexibility.

But aside from my failed attempt to meet with Hope on Wednesday, the only other event that seems to warrant a particular mention is my meeting on Thursday with the business’s Director of Human Resources. When Miss Drayton first told me about the meeting, my first reaction was one of confusion. I mean, I understand the words themselves. I know what a human is and I know what resources are. What I couldn’t work out at first was what it means when these two words are bolted together. I suspected that it was going to be about people and jobs, but aside from that, I was totally in the dark.

Anyway, at 10 o’clock, I found myself ensconced in a small room with a very large man. Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my meaning. I am not saying that he was fat because he wasn’t, he was just very large. He must have been well over 6 feet tall with the widest shoulders I think I have ever seen outside of a wrestling bout. He was actually jolly intimidating, looming over me as he did with a glistening of sweat on his brow. This, apparently, was my Director of Human Resources, Mr Scott. It seems that the purpose of this particular meeting was simply to introduce me to him and to bring me up to date on staff issues through all the various companies the business has an interest in. However, I found that far from feeling informed, my only certainty when I left was that I was going to need to invest in a brand new dictionary.

Thankfully, the meeting was brief. Throughout it, he talked about “rationalising the human element of the balance sheet” and “streamlining the low productivity salary stream.” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, according to Mr Scott, we need to “facilitate some blue sky thinking” over staffing levels. Once Miss Drayton had translated this nonsense, I understood that he was talking about redundancies. Now, it is not my place to question the decisions of those who know so much more than I about running a business, but I did express some concern over the idea of sacking people simply to save a few pounds here and there. Mr Scott – I simply cannot remember his first name – assured me that anyone who was “disproportionately disadvantaged by having their role delimited or negatively restructured” would be adequately compensated.

But it wasn’t just the way he spoke that left me all at sea. Whilst discussing various roles and departments within the myriad of companies that make up the family’s business interests, I was struck by the absurdity of some of the job titles themselves. I mean, exactly when did a cleaner become an Environmental Maintenace Office? These days it seems that everyone is some form of engineer, technician or officer. What is the point of making a job sound grander than it is? I simply can’t see who benefits from these changes. Certainly not the individuals who actually do the jobs. After all, a cleaner is a cleaner, whatever you decide to call them.

Actually, I remember reading a piece about this sort of thing no so long ago in the Daily Mail. The article talked about these aggrandised job titles and I must admit that at the time I thought it was just some kind of prank. But apparently not. I know it is a long time since I was last involved in the business on anything like a regular basis, but I am sure that back then my father would have kept such things under control. He would never have stood for all this “blue sky thinking” and “touching base”. But then I suppose that everything changes over time, even language, although I don’t see the point of creating a new business language that nobody understands!

Talking to Mr Scott reminded me a little of the first time I worked for my father, just after I finished at college. My role at that time seemed to involve moving things from one place to another.  Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was goods, sometimes even people. I never really understood the rationale behind it all, but it seemed to please my father and I thought I was getting quite good at it. Unfortunately, not every movement went as planned. The good ship Robert sank without trace following a particularly disastrous episode involving a half-full van, three Norwegian tourists and a Traffic Warden. I still have occasional nightmares about it even now, all these years later. I still get a Christmas card from the poor old Traffic Warden who retired on health grounds shortly afterwards.

I mentioned the whole job description and business-speak matter with the chaps at the Club last night. Some of them have been involved running their businesses for quite a while so I was intrigued to hear what they had to say on the subject. I can say with some relief that they all to a man shared my feelings that things have gone a little too far in recent years. And it seems that there is more frustrating them than a change in language. Some of the chaps got quite hot under the collar about red tape, health and safety and interference from Brussels. I have to admit that much of the conversation went way over my head. There were a lot of references to needless bureaucracy and unnecessary costs, as well as the need for a firm hand when dealing with unions and local council officials, both of which came in for particularly vehement criticism.

I left the Club a little after midnight feeling relieved that I was not alone in my thoughts about political correctness and the pandering to absurd and unnecessary dictates from those interfering eurocrats in the Europe. The sooner we can get back to managing our own affairs and do away with all this red tape and pussy-footing about the better as far as I can see.

I’m not sure I will ever get the hang of this business thing but I am determined that now I have started working again I am going to make a much better job of it than I did in the past.

A gallery without Hope!

Today I decided to call into Hope Greenwood’s art gallery, mainly to pass on the invitation to Cambridge’s charity bash, but also as it is the only way I am going to stop Dorothy nagging me. But as well as that, I was also extremely curious to see where Hope works and, maybe, to invite her to join me for lunch.

Now, I don’t know much about art galleries. They are not the kind of places I visit as a rule. My taste in art is fairly traditional and I already have far too many old paintings about the place to be buying more. Of course, I have been in one or two, mainly to attend some sort of exhibition or another. Aunt Dorothy is very fond of art and will often drag me along with her, but usually only when she can’t beat some other poor soul into submission. I don’t know if she invites me because she enjoys my company or to try to teach me. To enlighten me or simply as an excuse to introduce me to some very boring people. Art people can be extremely tedious. They get very frustrated if one doesn’t share their interest, and almost apoplectic if one should ever be so foolish as to contradict their opinions or question their knowledge or understanding. I did that once and I can assure you, it was not pretty.

No, in my experience, artists are very much like actors: self-obsessed, ignorant of anything but their art, and extremely dull company. Of course, there are one or two exceptions, Dorothy being one of them. She is anything but dull and actually doesn’t seem to be into all that sycophantic back slapping that goes on.

Anyway, this morning I sauntered on down to Hope’s gallery, which is actually in Chelsea, not an area I frequent very much these days, although I do remember it well from my younger days. Some friends and I use to frequent one or two of the clubs and bars of a Saturday night. I must say that the area has changed very little since I was last there, although the Kings Road itself strikes me as being a lot busier with some very exclusive looking stores.

The gallery turned out to be very easy to find. But as I approached I began to feel surprisingly nervous. I actually had to stop a few yards away just to take some deep breaths. It must have been some sort of anxiety attack, although I can’t recall having one before. It took me a couple of minutes to calm the butterflies that were chasing around my stomach, but once I began to feel more composed and in control, I walked into the gallery’s front door. The building on the outside is rather dull. There is nothing that would make you want to stop and take a look inside. I had expected it to be all glass and steel, but it was actually very warm and welcoming. Space inside had obliviously been created especially to show off the various art pieces in their best light. The upper floor and been partially removed to create a mezzanine floor at the rear of the building, leaving the reception and first part of the gallery very bright and open.

I took all of this in as soon as I walked through the front door. To my immediate left was a small desk that I presumed was the receptionists. At first, I didn’t see anyone else in the building and thought myself quite alone. It was only as I made a move towards the rear of the gallery that I spotted a young lady adjusting some kind of statue.

“Sorry to keep you,” she said, “I’ll be right with you.”

After what could only have been a few seconds, she stopped what she had been doing and turned to face me. I am not very good with such things but she looked to be no more than about 18 or 19 years old and dressed in a way I thought to be a little too casual for working in an art gallery. But she seemed friendly enough.

When I asked if I could see Mrs Greenwood, she looked at me a little quizzically and told me that Hope was, in fact, away for a couple of days, talking to potential clients and artists.

I have to admit that this took the wind right out of my sails. In my head I had prepared for any number of eventualities, but not once did I consider the possibility that she wouldn’t be there. I must have looked a bit of a fool because the young lady then offered me a seat and asked if she could get me anything.

I declined, although if the truth be told, I could have done with a small brandy to steady my nerves. Why had I not considered this possibility? And why hadn’t I called ahead?

Because I don’t like telephones! And I felt it best to extend the invitation personally rather than over the telephone or by post. It is so much more personal that way. I had also wanted to take Hope out to lunch to a nice little bistro I know not far from the gallery itself. I haven’t been there recently but I am assured they still serve a first class Dover Sole and the wine list is still as extensive as ever.

So, there I was, reclining in a leather armchair in a Chelsea art gallery, with absolutely no idea what to do next. I have never felt quite so deflated and unsure of my self, and I can tell you, it is not a nice feeling. The young lady asked if she could take a message, but what should I say?

“If you could ask Mrs Greenwood to call me if you would be so kind,” I replied, handing over one of my calling cards.

The young lady took the card from me, looked at it, then looked back at me and said, “So you’re Lord Robert?  I’ve heard such a lot about you. Why should I say you called?”

I explained that I had an invitation to a charity event and wanted to invite Hope to join me. I mumbled, keeping my eyes away from hers. Despite her somewhat casual attire she was extremely attentive and seemed very interested in my welfare. At my request, she ordered me a cab to get me home.

It’s strange isn’t it, that in my head I had gone over all the possible ways this meeting could have gone. The brusk decline, the flirtatious acceptance, the existing engagements, the family commitment. I had even considered that she may have a medical condition that required treatment that would prevent her being my “plus one”. I had never even considered the idea that she simply would not be in.

The taxi had arrived by this time so I arose from the chair and offered my thanks to the young lady for her help.

Once I was back home I began to regain some of my previous composure. I also ran the events of the previous half-hour through my mind. For one thing, I had not asked either the young girl’s name or where Hope had got to on her business trip. Or even when she would be back. It seems that when the chips are down, yours truly is definitely not the man to send on ahead on reconnaissance. I suppose she is probably in France or Italy, soaking up the culture and using her charms to secure the work she is keen to display and sell.

From what little I saw of the works on display, it looks like Hope specialises in contemporary styles, rather than the more traditional portraits and landscapes that have until now been my only choice for adorning my own walls.

Oh well. I’m sure that the young lady will pass on my card and message when Hope returns. All I can do is wait.

I had planned to pop into the club this evening but I think I will give it a miss tonight. I have a long day tomorrow with an early start – I have a business meeting at 10 o’clock so I need to be in the office earlier than usual. I can’t remember who the meeting is with, except that it is something to do with Human Resources, whatever that means.