Fate does a u-turn

It never ceases to amaze me just how much one’s fortunes can change even during the course of a single day. And I don’t mean from the big events or disasters but from the most simple and unexpected of circumstances. I have never been much of a believer in fate or predestination, but there are times when I wonder if there isn’t some grand design to our lives. The old adage that people get what they deserve implies some form of plan or oversight; we all want good things to happen to good people and get quite upset when they don’t.

Anyway, it turns out that yesterday was one of those days when my own fortunes took a sharp about-face. It started well enough. I had arranged to meet Clara for a spot of lunch before she headed off to spend a couple of months with family in New Zealand. We met at a wonderful little restaurant I have recently discovered in Mayfair. It’s one of those places that produce simple but extremely delicious food. There is an air of ostentation about the place that I thought would quite suit Clara. We had a very pleasant couple of hours talking about common friends, including Dorothy and Hope. I was surprised to learn that Clara and Hope were acquainted, albeit only recently. It seems that Clara has visited Hope’s gallery a couple of times recently and purchased several pieces of art for her flat in Paris. By the time we went our separate ways it was getting quite late so I skipped visiting the Club and returned home to get ready for the evening.

I arrived at the gallery a little after 8 o’clock to find the place surprisingly busy. That is not to say I thought it would be poorly attended, just that there were a lot more people there than I had expected. I was greeted at the door by young Charlotte who recognised me straight away and insisted on leading me into the throng to see her mother. As it turned out, Hope was deep in conversation with a couple of potential clients, so I drifted towards the bar that had been set up at the back of the gallery.

Once I had secured my second glass of wine (a rather nice Rioja) I decided to take a look at the art on display. Now, I have to admit that art, particularly the modern stuff, is not really my thing. I like a good landscape and am quite fond of photography, but the rest of it tends to leave me a little bewildered. I think that I must have been showing my feelings as I was soon joined by Charlotte who took it upon herself to act as my guide for the evening. And a rather pleasant time we had. I didn’t care much for the work on display, but I did enjoy Charlotte’s enthusiasm and passion. She explained that the work on display was all from three separate young artists who Hope was attempting to bring to the attention of both collectors and other galleries. She obviously knows much more about the subject than I do and had an opinion on every piece on display. I asked if any of the work was hers, but she just laughed and said no, it was much too soon for her to be exhibiting.

Towards the end of the evening, once a large number of the guests had left, I had an opportunity to share a few minutes with Hope. All went well until she asked me what I thought of the exhibition. I felt I had to be honest but also didn’t want to cause any offence. I must have looked like a real idiot, standing there, unable to say anything for fear of it being the wrong thing. There were so many things going through my head, so many conflicting answers to this very simple question, but I just couldn’t work out what to actually say. If I was honest and said I didn’t really like this kind of art, I would sound ignorant and ungrateful. But I have never been any good at lying, so that wouldn’t work either. In the end, I admitted that I was a bit old-fashioned in my tastes and didn’t really understand the works on display. That seemed to work.

Hope and I spoke for a while about our different views about art. It is obviously something of a passion for Hope and Charlotte, and I enjoyed listening to what she had to say. We were getting along really well and I was beginning to appreciate her company. That is until I mentioned my lunch earlier that day with Clara West. Without warning, our conversation came to an abrupt end, Hope made her excuses and left to join her daughter. I remained at the gallery for a further ten minutes or so but did not get a further opportunity to speak to her. 

In fact, when I came to leave she was too busy for me to say my farewells; it was Charlotte who saw me out. It seems that just when I am beginning to feel that Hope and I are getting close, something happens to spoil it. I am sure it must be something I have said or done, I just don’t know what.

As I am sure you can imagine, I was a little disappointed with the way the evening ended, even more so for not having Dorothy to talk to about it. I had planned to invite Hope for lunch with me one day next week, but now I am not so sure it is such a good idea. She does seem rather temperamental and I cannot fathom her change of moods. Maybe I will speak to Charlotte.

 

 

On the road to Brighton

brighton_pierWell,  what a day yesterday was. I had arranged with my godson Nigel that we would take the Bentley for an airing and visit an old family friend in Brighton. It was something of a last minute decision, partly as an excuse to get out of the house, but also to get some more information for my family tree research.

Nigel arrived a little after 9 o’clock which was much too early for me; I was still finishing my breakfast. So, whilst I got myself ready, Nigel did a little work on the computer. I presume he was doing some research in preparation for our little chat later on with old Mrs Dalton. Whatever it was, he was very quick because he was switching off just as I entered the room.

The drive down to Brighton was the usual mix of frustration and boredom. I find that driving just isn’t any fun anymore. In fact, I refuse to get behind the wheel in the city these days. Which is a shame because I used to really love driving, particularly in the old Bentley. It was my father’s car and it was the first car I ever drove on the open road on my own. When I first started learning to drive my parents bought me a very nice little car, a Ford Escort. It was fine for learning in, but once I had passed my test I wanted something a little more substantial. Rather reluctantly my father allowed me to take his Bentley out for a spin, and it was an eye-opening experience. Cruising around the open country roads gave me a sense of power and freedom I have not found doing anything else. This freedom was the one advantage of living on the family estate, a million miles from civilization.

When I moved permanently to London I bought myself the Daimler for getting around town. I know it’s a little on the large side, and definitely not the most fuel efficient of cars, but for comfort and, let’s be honest, prestige, it is hard to beat. But driving through the busy city streets is about as far removed from those early drives through the country roads as you can get. I became increasingly frustrated by the traffic, the endless road works and the poor standard of driving I encountered. The city is full of incredibly bad drivers and they appear to be getting worse. Not only do they seem to meander about aimlessly, changing lanes in a seemingly random fashion, but more and more drivers are seemingly intent on committing hari-kari. And what is it with all the changes to the roads? Hardly a week seems to go by without something changing. It seems like they are creating new one-way streets and installing new traffic lights on an almost weekly basis. I just can’t keep up with it all. Mr Arnold has in effect become my chauffeur, getting me to and from wherever I need to be.

And now, even out of town, things are getting much worse, particularly the standard of driving. The roads between London and Brighton are fairly good these days, but for me, the journey was far from fun. Obviously, the Bentley is the type of car that is capable of great speed and does command some respect from other road users, but there are a growing number of people who have very little respect for anyone else, and none at all for the rules of the highway. I lost count of the number of times much smaller cars fairly whizzed passed me, even though I was driving an exactly the speed limit. Maybe it is the car itself that encourages people to want to turn every journey into a competition. I must admit that in my younger days I may have been tempted to join the race, but I learned my lesson long ago. Losing one’s licence once may be considered slightly careless, but by the third time, one has to consider it time for a change.

Despite the horrendous traffic, we arrived in Brighton in good time, stopping for lunch at a little Bistro close to the promenade that I have visited several times before. I often find that dining out in places such as Brighton can be very tricky unless you know what to look for. In that way, I have been lucky to find a couple of very fine establishments that serve a respectable selection of dishes. Yesterday we settled for seafood, something of a speciality for the area. I know that Brighton has a bad reputation in some circles. Certainly, it can be a little rowdy at times, but I find that lunch in the right places can be a very acceptable way to pass a congenial hour or two.

We met with Mrs Dalton in her home close to the seafront where she regaled us with her memories of my mother’s family. I hadn’t seen the old dear for almost 30 years and I was surprised by how old-looking she had become. Old and frail she may be, but Mrs Dalton’s mind is still as sharp as a knife. She was able to provide a wealth of information about my mother and her family, things that I hadn’t known or had any interest in before now.

But before we left to come home, Mrs Dalton hinted that there was something else I needed to know, but that I would need to ask my Aunt Murdock about it. It sounded all very mysterious and a little exciting. Nigel tried to press her into telling us more, but she wouldn’t, just saying that it wasn’t her place.

Thankfully, the journey back was uneventful and I was able to make it to the Club early enough for several frames and a drink or three.

 

The missing link

Although it has only been a couple of days since Dorothy left for Edinburgh, I am already beginning to feel her absence around the house. It is rather strange how quickly one becomes accustomed to another person’s presence. That is not to say she is any way obtrusive, she always respects my privacy and never intrudes, but her very presence makes a difference to the atmosphere of the place. In just three days the house has changed from a vibrant welcoming place to a cold and far too quiet one.

When I first offered Dorothy a room here I must admit that I did wonder if I was doing the right thing. I have, after all, lived alone for quite a while and by the time she actually moved in, I was beginning to regret having made the offer. But in the weeks since her arrival, Dorothy has become such an important part of my everyday routine that the last couple of days have felt very strange indeed.

Of course, Dorothy has been leading her own life and is not always around, but her very presence, the sound of her moving about, the almost audible thump of her music ensures that her presence could never be ignored. I hadn’t realised just how much I have come to accept these things as part of the everyday pattern of life.

But there is one particular area in which Dorothy has become invaluable to me. You see, almost as soon as she moved in she started changing the way I dress and the way I behaved towards other people. It was almost imperceptible at first; in fact, I didn’t realise what was happening until we had that shopping trip where she changed almost my entire wardrobe. If I am going out to meet anyone special, such as Hope, she will stop me before I leave the house and either make minor adjustments or send me back upstairs to change one item or another. No one has done this since I was a child when my mother would often send me back to my room because I wasn’t looking smart enough. Now it’s the other way round. Dorothy will “suggest” I need to be a little more casual and recommend the clothes to wear for each occasion.

Now I have this exhibition event coming up at Hope’s gallery and I had been expecting to get some help from Dorothy. Obviously, her being in bonny Scotland means that I will not get the benefit of her advice. Oh well, I suppose I will just have to rely on my own adjusted sense of style. I can almost here Dorothy laughing at that statement which I think she would consider an oxymoron.

Dorothy’s presence has also made me question one of the main arguments I have always maintained for remaining single. The very idea of someone else being so integrated into my life has always been something I considered to be unacceptable. That is why my friends were so surprised when I offered Dorothy the room here. You see, I am quite a private person really, and I think I have become a little staid in my ways. Dear old Aunt Murdock has been telling me for years that I need to find a nice young lady and settle down. In fact, she has made it her goal to in life to find me such a lady. I have lost count of the number of women that she has introduced me to over the last few years, parading me like a prize bull. But whether it’s because I haven’t met the right person yet, or because I don’t want to lose my precious freedom, all her efforts have so far been in vain. I think that when she reacquainted me with my cousin Dorothy she had considered we might hit it off, so to speak, and in many ways we have, just not in the way that Aunt Murdock had wanted.

I am extremely fond of Dorothy and, if things were different, maybe we could have made a good couple. But as it is she has become one of my closest friends and something of a confidante and relationship advisor. Admittedly she can be a little too emotional and get a little carried away at times, but she talks a lot of common sense and I have learned better than to ignore her advice. Obviously, the whole gym incident may be considered something of a misadventure, but I believe she had my best interests at heart, despite the two days of pain I suffered as a consequence.

That is enough for now I think. I am off down to the Club for a quick snifter or three with the chaps. A little bird tells me that Dorchester will be there this evening so it is a good opportunity to see what he has been up to lately – that confounded Annabelle woman never seems to let him out of her sight these days. I am not sure how he managed to wrangle an evening at the Club, so I am not going to waste the opportunity to see my old chum.

Tomorrow Nigel and I are taking the Bentley out for a spin. It hasn’t been out of the garage since we came back from Ascot so could do with a run to blow away the cobwebs. We are going to drive down to Brighton to visit an old family friend. I am hoping that we can learn something to add to my family tree as her family and my mother’s have been closely linked for many years.

 

People watching – a new hobby

Euston_station_concourseWell, it was all hands on deck this morning as we prepared for Dorothy’s departure for Edinburgh. She will be north of the border for about four weeks, but the number of cases and bags we had to manhandle onto the 10:43 at Euston you would have thought she was going for six months at least. I was exhausted carrying it all from the car to the platform. Thankfully First Class is at the beginning of the train so we didn’t have to drag it all down the full length of the platform.

I am not particularly good at farewells. I never know what to say or what to do. Once you have said the usual “I’ll miss you” and “hope you have a good time”, what else is there to say? I always find it difficult finding the rights words in that kind of situation.

And the whole hugging thing always makes me feel rather awkward. I see other people wrapping their arms around each other, all their emotions on public display and I just find it all somewhat embarrassing, particularly when it is happening on the platform of a busy mainline railway station.

Anyway, we said our goodbyes. The girls were both in tears, obviously rather upset about the separation, even though Angela is going up there next weekend. This kind of thing is always difficult; I never know what to do when grown women cry. I thought about putting my arms around Angela but didn’t want to upset anyone, particularly Dorothy, so I walked away a little and left them to it.

Once Dorothy’s train had left, Angela and I returned to the station concourse where she asked if I would like to join her for a coffee. Now, I don’t normally make use of the facilities at railway stations. I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea about this. My reticence about railway station refreshments has nothing to do with the surroundings or my fellow passengers; it is all about the quality of the food and drink. Not that I have ever eaten or drunk anything from those little outlets that line the concourse, but I can see enough to tell me that it is just not my kind of food. However, with Angela standing beside me, her eyes still wet from crying, I felt sorry for her and so agreed to sit with her for a while. I was pleasantly surprised when she led me not to one of those fast food stalls but a small and very pleasant bar overlooking the concourse.

Strangely enough, this was the first time that Angela and I had been alone together for any length of time. I found it slightly awkward at first, trying to make conversation with cousin’s girlfriend – the only thing I knew we had in common was Dorothy. As it was, I found Angela to be very pleasant company. From our seats in the bar, we had a good view of the station and very soon found ourselves discussing the mass of humanity we saw passing before the window. Apparently, this is something that she and Dorothy do a lot, quite often making up stories about the people they see. I can see the attraction of this harmless pastime, but I couldn’t quite get the hang of it. I did try, but it seems I lack the imagination required.

Whilst we were talking I thought I saw Hope and Charlotte walking towards one of the platforms, but I couldn’t be certain. Everybody is rushing so much, desperate not to miss their train, that it is very difficult to follow an individual. Angela has never met either of them so she couldn’t say.

We stayed in the bar for a little over half an hour before Angela left to return to her flat and I made my way to the Club. It had been quite a busy morning so I felt I deserved a good lunch and some fine wine. And if there is one place I can guarantee both, it’s the Club. The new chef is a veritable culinary wizard; what that man can do with the simplest of ingredients is nothing short of amazing. A couple of the chaps asked if Dorothy had arrived safely in Edinburgh and I had to admit that I had no idea. One fellow even suggested that I telephone her, which would be well and good if I had a note of her number on me. Which I didn’t. So I called her when I got home and it seems that all is well north of the border. Her train had arrived almost on time and the hotel she was staying in was comfortable and clean. I was happy with this and will pass the information on the fellows at the Club tomorrow.

In the meantime, I settled in for an evening of Strictly Come Dancing and some family tree research.

Divided by a common language

Today I had another of those tedious meetings with one of my managers. This time I had the dubious pleasure of meeting the head of PR and Marketing, Miss Langdon. Whilst I openly admit that talking to my heads of Logistics and Human Resources had left me underwhelmed and a little baffled, today’s little chat was in a league of its own.  Where Human Resources mangle the Queen’s English in a manner that makes it almost unintelligible, the language of PR and Marketing is about as easy to follow as Esperanto, and twice as incomprehensible.

Not only did I not understand two-thirds of the things she said, I am convinced that she was making some of the words and phrases up as she went along. I mean, what is all this about “blue sky thinking”? Does she expect me to stare at the clouds and daydream? And who came up with the phrase “white eye time”? I am all too familiar with the red-eye but was totally at a loss to understand this particular direction of our conversation. And when did it become accepted practice to speak in abbreviations? On several occasions, Miss Langdon would prefix a sentence with “FYI”. It wasn’t until afterwards when I asked my secretary about it that I understood what it meant. Needless to say, I was decidedly unimpressed by what I heard, or at least by the little I understood.

I think that anyone who knows me will accept that whilst I am not always the most on the ball when it comes to current affairs and business, I am not stupid. My parents spent a great deal of money on my education and I am pretty sure it can’t have been all wasted. So why do I feel so out of my depth and confused following these meetings? Is it too much to ask to expect people to talk in plain, simple English? I am sure my father would not have put up with all this gobbledygook.

I mean to say, English is such a beautiful language. It is the language of romance, of poetry and music. It can be so lyrical and magical, a joy to read and to hear. Whilst I can understand why the chaps from the colonies, particularly the Americans and West Indies, have manipulated it to make it their own, there can be no excuse for educated people from the City to try to do the same thing.

And it’s not just in the office I see examples of our wonderful language being murdered. I hear plenty of conversations in bars and restaurants where the phrases and words used seem to be designed to confuse rather than enlighten. At least at the Club, the Queen’s English is very much the language of choice. You won’t hear anyone dropping the term  “blue skies” into a conversation unless of course, they are talking about the weather.

Of course, I appreciate that language changes with time. Like everything else, it evolves. Anyone who has read Shakespear or Chaucer will acknowledge that. Even the words of the great Charles Dickens can seem a little odd these days. But from what I recall from my school days, evolution is a slow and natural process, and I don’t feel there is anything at all natural about blue sky thinking and FYI! It seems to me that insecure managers have collaborated together to create a linguistic barrier to anyone else encroaching on their territory. It seems nothing more than a device to secure their own positions whilst excluding those they perceive to be outsiders. One needs to learn the lingo, so to speak, if one wants to join the club.

Well, I am not going to play their games. In future, it is plain old Queens English or nothing. I am going to make it my mission to rid the company of business gobbledygook once and for all.

Once I had finished my chat with Miss Langdon I spent the rest of the morning with my secretary Miss Drayton. I wanted to get her view on the people who run the various departments. After all, she deals with all of them and I have learned to trust her instincts. I have also often found that women tend to be better judges of character than men. I don’t know whether it’s the hormones or part of the mother instinct, but they do seem to be able to see beyond the facade that some people manage to build for themselves. Miss Drayton is particularly astute at spotting those who have things to hide, or who are not quite as they seem. Actually, it makes me wonder why our head of Personel (or Human Resources as they like to call it) is a man. Surely this is a role better suited to a woman? Anyway, according to Miss Drayton, all the various department heads are very reliable and loyal. That doesn’t mean to say she trusts them all, but she says she knows how to handle them, and when they can be trusted and when they can’t.

I did consider taking Miss Drayton to lunch, but after what happened last time, I decided against it. It seems that it is not just our language that has changed beyond all recognition in recent years. These days a man can’t take his secretary out to lunch without his intentions being misconstrued. My father often took his secretaries out for meals and such like and no one thought anything of it. Or at least, if they did nothing was ever said to me. Ah well, I suppose that is the modern world for you. Maybe it is time I returned to the old family homestead in the country for a short while. I do love living in the city, but sometimes I like to return to the old estate, just to recharge the batteries and regain my perspective on life. Perhaps once Dorothy has left for Edinburgh on Saturday I could take myself away for a couple of days. I can’t be away for too long of course as I am attending an event at Hope’s gallery next week.

Anyway, I must dash, I am meeting Dorothy and Angela for a farewell dinner. I believe that we are being joined by a couple of her friends. I just hope they aren’t those theatrical types. I have had a stressful enough day without having to deal with a room full of lovies!

 

 

 

A frank exchange of views

One of the things I really enjoy about the Club, aside from the excellent food and extensive wine cellar, is that one never knows who is going to be there and which way conversations will go. There is such a variety of views that discussions are never boring, and can at times become quite heated. However, there is one thing that unites almost all of the members, and that is our concern over the terrible state our country is in at the moment. What we cannot agree on is the cause of the problem and how to fix it.

Quite a few of the chaps, and I include myself in this, are getting just a little impatient with the government over the whole Brexit thing. I will be the first to admit that I am not always the sharpest knife in the drawer when it comes to politics and finance, but even I can see that things aren’t going so well. The media is constantly referring to it as a divorce, which I suppose in a way it is, with both sides fighting over the family silver. My worry is that whilst the Union chappies seem fairly united in their approach, we are still fighting amongst ourselves over what we want to get out of the process. We can all see that despite what the Prime Minister says there is very little unanimity even in her own government.

What some of the chaps are saying is that they are more worried about the uncertainty and bickering than they are about Brexit itself. Like any divorce, each side wants to get the best it can for itself. Even the most amicable of separations will inevitably result in some conflict of interests; not that I have much experience of this kind of thing. What most people seem to want is certainty. I know one or two of my friends have business interests in the City and they are the ones most concerned about all the dithering and in-fighting. Apparently, the uncertainty about what is going to happen after Brexit is having an impact on investments and trade. I suppose I am in the same boat having investments of my own in City properties. Which reminds me that I really must talk to Aunt Murdock about this when I see her next.

There is still some disagreement amongst the chaps about how best to go about the Brexit negotiations. On one hand, there are those who want Mrs May to take a very firm stand and refuse any kind of compromise. On the other, and these are mainly the same people who supported the remain argument, there are those who want us to take what they refer to as a more pragmatic and open approach. I am not entirely sure which will be best for the country, but I suspect that it is somewhere in the middle. Even I know that there is never going to be a deal that satisfies the demands of both sides completely so we will have to accept some form of compromise. I am sure the debate will rumble on at the bar and, if the past week is anything to go by, it will only get more heated.

It is not just at the Club that the subject of Brexit rears it’s ugly head from time to time. Dorothy and Angela have been very vociferous in their support of remaining in the EU and are still very angry at the result. Angela has even spoken about getting herself a German passport. It seems that her mother’s family are from Germany so she can claim dual nationality if she wishes. I know that a number of people have done this recently, but to me, it seems a little futile unless one is actually planning to move there. I am not sure Dorothy would be too happy about that, but I am not going to interfere with their relationship or plans. What Dorothy has said on more than one occasion is that she is embarrassed by the whole thing. She has a lot of foreign friends and says that they can’t understand why we would want to leave the European club. I have tried to explain about sovereignty and the British standing in the world, but for some reason, she just can’t seem to understand it. I know that some people have implied it is some form of nostalgia for the days of the old Empire, but, at least as far as I am concerned, it isn’t that. It is just about being in control of our own destiny and our own laws. We should not be dictated to by other people. The rules and regulations we have to accept from Brussels are scandalous. For me, it is all about being able to decide things for ourselves. No one likes to be dictated to by outsiders who don’t understand our history or our customs. The French, Spanish and Germans have all tried to defeat us in war and failed; we can’t let them succeed by the back door.

Another subject that seems to have been creating something of a buzz at the bar this week is that of the Prime Minister’s position. I didn’t follow the events of the Party conferences – far too boring and narcissistic for my liking, all that self-congratulation and pompous self-righteousness does nothing for me – but those who do were very critical of Mrs May’s performance and the way she has been treated by the Party. I have to admit to having a great deal of respect for Mrs May, but even I am beginning to think that maybe she isn’t up to the job of leading us through our current troubles. Not that there seems to be a great deal of choice for replacement at the moment. With the Party so divided over Europe I don’t honestly think that there is anyone else capable of uniting all sides, and as far as I am concerned, unity is far more important than anything else right now.

There is only one subject at the moment that seems to have almost unanimous agreement with the chaps at the bar, and that is our mutual distrust of the American President, Donald Trump. Whilst he may be successful as a businessman – and there seems to be a little disagreement even over that – as a politician and diplomat he is very much out of his depth. The man seems to have absolutely no idea of how the world actually works. Several of the regulars at the Club have financial interests in the aircraft industry and are very angry over Trump’s recent announcements over the imposition of tariffs on Bombardier aircraft. One gets the feeling that he makes these announcements without thinking them through first. I certainly get the feeling that he doesn’t discuss things with his staff before taking to social media to make is pronouncements. I suppose that he is used to having complete control of his businesses and can’t seem to grasp the idea that his decisions have to me about more than just making money. America is not a business, it is a country, and it cannot be run in quite the same way. Having said that, Americans can be a little odd that way, putting financial gain ahead of everything else. I have said it before, they are a nation with no history and no idea of social etiquette. It is unfortunate that they have so much power and influence or we could just ignore them and let them get on with playing their silly games.

Mind you, we do have to be careful when discussing the Americans, and their President in particular, if my old chum Dorchester is around. Apparently, his American girlfriend is a Trump supporter (a Trump-et!) and he is very defensive of her views. According to Annabelle, the President can do no wrong. She fully supports his positions on immigration, North Korea and protecting American businesses. And whilst I can sort of see her point and some of his decisions, I cannot support her misguided view that Donald Trump is the saviour of the western world. The man’s a fruitcake I would hesitate to leave in control of a Sunday School, let alone a country.

Changing the subject completely, I had a call yesterday from Hope about some event or other she is holding at her gallery in a couple of weeks time. Apparently, it is one of those evenings when new artists get to display their work and she has asked me to go along. Of course, I have accepted the invitation, but I am not sure it is really my kind of thing. I have seen some of the work she has on display and it is all far too modern for me. My taste is more conservative I suppose, but she has been kind enough to ask me, so I will definitely have to go. I had thought of inviting Dorothy to join me, but she will be in Edinburgh by then.

 

Dining out

I have been asked by a few of my more casual acquaintances how they might find the best places to dine whilst in town. 

Well, the answer is quite simple really: never eat at a restaurant that has featured on TV, never eat at any establishment that is open for breakfast and never, never, ever eat anywhere with a flashing neon sign. I would also suggest avoiding anywhere with the word “hut” in its name, and give a particularly wide berth to anywhere with a nautical theme. But above all, do not, I repeat do not, at any costs, eat at any restaurant that specialises in Mexica, Moroccan, Asian or Oriental dishes – that is just asking for trouble.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love my food. It is one of life’s little pleasures that I simply will not cut corners on. For me, taste is everything, the presentation just an added bonus. There are some people who can be very snobbish about their food, but not me. Amongst my closest friends, I am considered to be quite cosmopolitan in my approach to cuisine. I have often heard my old chum Cambridge say he would never eat any of that, as he calls it, “foreign muck”! Even I consider that to be quite a narrow-minded view; we all need to broaden our horizons these days. I myself have learnt the benefits of Eastern European cooking, thanks to my housekeeper, Mrs Kaczka, who is a veritable wizard in the kitchen. She often prepares traditional Polish dishes for me, and her cakes and pastries are simply divine.

On the other hand, on several occasions, dear old Nigel has tried to entice me into trying some Indian or oriental dishes, but I am afraid that I just have to draw a line in the proverbial sand over that idea. It is all well and good for those native fellows to eat such things, but for the more refined, civilised palette, I fear all those spices and other very un-European ingredients are just a step too far. Admittedly, Nigel seems to enjoy these hot and spicy dishes, but he is young and I am sure he will learn better eventually.

Indeed, one of my old school friends once tried one of those spicy Indian dishes after a fairly heavy drinking session during our college days. If you had seen the state of him the following morning you would not go anywhere near the stuff. We never got all the stains out of the furniture.

Now, I understand that although some of the towns and cities outside of London do have what might conservatively be considered to be fine dining establishments. However, I regret that I must advise great caution. You really can’t expect the same high standards and levels of culture and civility as you will get here in town.

In the end, there is no real art to choosing the correct place to eat, it is more about knowing which places to avoid. I have often found that personal recommendation is far more reliable than anything else.

Of course, the best places to dine are those where you know the chef or those that are owned by friends. But I have found that quite often having one of those TV chefs can mean dramatically increased prices for very little return in terms of quality or variety.

And one final thought: if the restaurant of your choice is fully booked, then that is the one you actually want. An empty restaurant is usually that way for a very good reason.

Not a Hope-less cause

Yesterday evening Hope accompanied me to Cambridge’s latest charity soiree, and even though I say so myself, it was a great success. Old Cambridge throws these little parties of his from time to time, usually when a particular cause catches his eye, and they are inevitably always well supported, both in terms of numbers and the money raised. It must be two years since his last bash which I remember very well, only because I was ill at the time and on soft drinks all evening, Aunt Dorothy saw to that. That particular event had been to support a hospice or some such somewhere up North. Yesterday we were there for a charity providing schools and educational opportunities for children abroad, in Africa or Asia I think. Wherever it is, I am sure it is a very worthy cause. Cambridge himself is very keen on this kind of thing. He has often lectured me on the futility of raising money to simply feed people. Far better, he says, to educate them or provide ways to help make the self-sufficient. I know he is very supportive of local children’s charities which I find rather odd for a man who has never had any of his own. At least, as far as I know. There are rumours around the Club that he makes regular donations to a children’s hospice on the coast somewhere, but I have never asked him about it. After all, one should not pry into another fellow’s financial affairs.

Anyway, as you would expect, the whole thing was meticulously organised and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves immensely. I know I did.

I picked up Hope at a little after 7 o’clock as arranged, and I must say that as I saw her approaching the car the sight of her almost took my breath away. If anything she looked even more attractive than when I had first been reacquainted with her at the Sweetmans’ garden party several weeks ago. Her dress was a sort of shimmering blue with sparkling jewels around the top. It was full length but with a slit up the left that showed off a very shapely leg. I don’t know much about this kind of thing – I can’t tell one style from another – but it certainly looked expensive, and was very flattering. Hope has lost a lot of weight over the last few years and the way she was dressed emphasised her shape to great effect. She may not have the figure of a supermodel, but she is most definitely a very attractive lady.

For most of the evening, Hope and I were seated with several of the chaps from the Club. After the food, Cambridge held one of his popular auctions. I very rarely take part in these things, not because I don’t want to contribute to the cause (I always do that), but because the items themselves never really interest me. On this occasion, however, Hope persuaded me to bid for a weekend break at some healthy club or other out in the country. She told me it was a very expensive establishment with an excellent reputation, and although she had never been herself, she was sure I would enjoy it. Remembering my experience earlier on the week I was not too sure about that but took part in the bidding anyway.

Well, I must admit that once I started I found myself determined to win. No matter what anyone else bid, I was prepared to go higher. With the adrenalin pumping and Hope getting more and more excited, I just kept on going. It was just numbers, and I have never been very good with that sort of thing.

When the bidding finally stopped and we realised I had won, Hope was jumping around like an excited school girl and I must have looked a little like the Cheshire cat. Of course, I have no intention of going there myself, but I offered it to Hope and suggested she should take Charlotte along, make it a girls weekend. The look she gave me was one I think I will remember for quite some time. I hadn’t noticed before, but Hope has a wonderfully warm and inviting smile that seems to light up her whole face. She looked almost youthful and I was quite taken aback when she reached across and kissed me on the cheek.

A little later the dancing started. I had every intention of asking Hope to join me for a spin around the floor, but before I had the opportunity to do so, we were joined by a gentleman who was obviously acquainted with her. We were introduced but I can’t recall his name, only that he was something in the art world and seemed to have some business to discuss. I excused myself and made my way over to speak to Cambridge who was holding court at the far end of the room. Amongst those with him was Dorothy’s old friend Clara West. We had last met several weeks ago when Dorothy and Angela had tried their hand at matchmaking. I hadn’t seen her since and was pleasantly surprised to bump into her again. We chatted for a short while before I thought I had better return to Hope and ask her for that dance.

But when I got back to the table, Hope was not there. Assuming she must have gone to the ladies room, I sat and poured myself another glass of wine. It was only after I had been sat there a while that I spotted Hope at a neighbouring table talking with a group of mainly younger people. I could have joined her of course, but as I did not know any of them and wouldn’t really have anything to say if they were the arty sort, I decided to wait until she returned.

When she eventually did rejoin me I immediately asked her for a dance. It turns out that my assumption that all ladies liked to dance was a little wide of the mark. Apparently, Hope didn’t do what she called “proper dancing”. I must admit that I was a little surprised by this revelation. Within my own circle of friends and family, everyone danced, particularly the ladies. It is just one of those things one is expected to be able to do.

Shortly after this Hope said she was tired and was going to go home. I offered her a lift but she declined, saying that she would get a taxi. She suggested I should stay and enjoy the rest of the evening with my friends. It turns out that she was leaving early in the morning to visit friends in Bath. I spent the rest of the evening with Cambridge and Clara, and even managed a couple of dances before leaving a little after midnight. I was going to go on to the Club with some of the chaps but in the end, I decided against it.

I had a call from Hope around midday today. She was calling from her friend’s house and thanked me for taking her along to the last night’s soiree. Apparently, Charlotte was “over the moon” about the weekend break and Hope apologised for leaving so early and not dancing. I told her that was quite all right and that I had danced with Clara after she had left. The call then came to an abrupt end as she had to join her friends for lunch.

As I say, it had been a very enjoyable evening. It was very nice to spend some time with Hope. I really do enjoy her company. She is only a few years younger than me but there is something almost youthful about her. I find her very easy to talk to and find myself wanting to tell her everything. It was also good to see Clara again. It turns out she is back in London for a few weeks. I know she is planning on visiting Dorothy so no doubt we will meet again.

Never again!

I was due to go to the office this morning, but as I awoke unable to move any part of my body, I have had to give it a miss. When I went to bed last night  I was very tired and a little stiff. This wasn’t surprising considering my visit to the gym in the morning.

But when I tried to get out of bed this morning, stiffness had been replaced by rigor mortis! I couldn’t move any of my limbs, my neck had set and my back felt like someone had strapped me to a pole. I had to get up, if only to go to the bathroom, but try as I might, I couldn’t sit up. In the end, the only way I could get off the bed was to shuffle towards the edge, let my legs swing over the side, and propel myself into an upright position. I managed to wobble to the bathroom, and with some struggle did what I had to do before shuffling my way back to bed.

I have never felt so much physical pain in my life. Every part of my body seemed to be either on strike or in rebellion against me. I decided that the best thing I could do at this point was to go back to sleep in the hope that with a little more rest I would feel better. On the plus side I did sleep some more, but on the negative side, it did nothing to alleviate the stiffness and pain that was making any movement extremely painful, if not impossible.

Eventually, the need for breakfast forced me to once again make the painful journey from quilt to carpet. Once I had managed this I then had to face the Herculean task of putting on my housecoat. Getting my right arm in wasn’t too much of a problem, but then trying to manoeuvre the left resulted in several further expletives and not inconsiderable pain before I was successful. At this point, I was beginning to think I should have stayed horizontal. The thought of trying to get dressed filled me with a terror I had not experienced since I was a small child.

All I had to do then was go downstairs. This did not seem like it was going to be too bad. Or at least, so I thought. Almost as soon as I descended onto the first stair I realised my mistake. This was going to hurt! The only way I was going to make it all the way down was by taking the stairs one at a time. About halfway down the is a full-length mirror. I have often thought of moving it as I find it a little disconcerting at times, but have never got around to it. Why my mother chose to put one there I will never know. As I approached it I made the mistake of watching my painful descent. And I must admit that if it had been anyone else hobbling down the stairs I would have laughed. With both legs locked straight and my back unbending, I looked more like Herman Munster than the suave man-about-town. I have no idea how long the descent took, but it felt like an eternity, and I was very close to shedding a tear along with the colourful language that followed me down.

Once seated at the breakfast table I was able to relax and enjoy a much-needed cup of coffee while Mrs Kaczka fussed over me like I was a sickly child. Now normally her over attentiveness can be somewhat irritating, but for once, I accepted the attention gratefully. By the time I finished my first cup I realised that there was no way I was going to be able to work this morning. I am not even sure I would have been able to make my way to the office, at least not without attracting unwanted attention. Moving about was painful, but eventually, I did manage to loosen up enough to have a shower and get dressed. And all this because I had agreed to try out the gym.

Well, I can tell you now that I am never going back there again. Why on Earth would anyone want to put themselves through this kind of torture every week? As far as I can see it does a lot more harm than good. I have spent the whole day recovering and for what? What possible benefit could there be to justify what I have gone through today?

Dorothy came home shortly after lunch. When I told her how much I had been suffering she just laughed at me. According to her it just goes to prove how much I need the gym. Apparently, the more exercise you do the less painful it gets. She also predicted that it would be a lot worse tomorrow! I am not ashamed to admit that this last little gem of wisdom very nearly brought a further tear to my eye. The thought of going through all this again tomorrow was just too much. I had hoped that Dorothy would be more sympathetic to my plight. I was obviously mistaken.

My big worry at the moment though is how I am going to feel by Saturday. I am taking Hope to Cambridge’s little soiree and I had hoped we might take the floor for a dance or two. But I am feeling anything like as bad as I do today, I will instead be staying at the table and leaving the dancing to others. Which would be a shame as I am rather partial to a good dance. Not the modern jiving and jiggling around; no, I enjoy real dances like the waltz or the foxtrot. That doesn’t in any way imply that I am an expert or anything, but I did learn to dance at college and it is one of those activities I really do enjoy on the rare occasions I get the opportunity. My mother was a very good dancer but my father refused to take part, so I would often partner her at balls and events. I like to think that I cut a rather fine figure on the dance floor. Mind you, I don’t know if Hope is interested in dancing, but most women are, aren’t they? I suppose I will find out on Saturday.

Thinking about Saturday reminds me that I really must visit my barber tomorrow, providing I am physically capable of leaving the house. A good cut and shave will set me up very nicely. One wants to look one’s best for these big social events, and I wouldn’t want to let Hope down.

Down at the gym

Today was the day of my agreed visit to the gym. I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I had given my word so, that was that. But I still maintain that it is all a waste of time and energy. After all, what is so wrong with my body that I should feel the need to improve it?

Now admittedly I don’t have the physique of an athlete, but there is a very good reason for that: I am not an athlete! I play snooker and occasional golf, but that is about all. And I maintain that I am not overweight in any way. One or two comments have been made to the effect that I am getting a little paunch, but that only natural at my age. Certainly, nothing to get worked up about. To my mind, these gyms and clubs are playing on people’s vanity. A brisk walk and sensible diet are all that is really needed.

When I am walking through town I often see individuals who could definitely use some help to get their weight down. From my own observations, I think it is a social thing. Whilst I can think of one or two individuals of my acquaintance who could do with losing a pound or two, generally speaking, we are all fairly trim, we live active and healthy lives and eat the right foods. Those people I do encounter who may be considered obese or overweight are generally not of my social circle. It is all down to too many fatty foods and too much time spent in front of the television if you ask me.

Anyway, Archie collected me just after 10 o’clock and we made our way to his club. Of course, I knew the building but I hadn’t realised it was some kind of health club. I was also very surprised by what I found inside; it was more like a country hotel. I suppose we all have preconceived notions of what people and places will be like, and very often these ideas are quite close to the real thing, but often they are not. In this case, I had expected a room full of sweaty, middle-aged men in shorts and vests, pushing weights around. I did not expect the room full of fairly attractive young ladies riding bicycles and other rather elaborate pieces of equipment.

Once I was changed into my new gym clothes Archie introduced me to a very nice young lady called Sara. Apparently, she was to be my personal trainer who would be in charge if my induction.  I was a little alarmed as I wasn’t sure I wanted to be induced! Isn’t that something they do to pregnant women? But I need not have worried, it was more of an introduction to the facilities and to see what would be best for me.

Now, as I am sure I have already said, I don’t feel I need any of this exercise lark. I’m perfectly fit and have no intention of doing my body any further injury than is necessary. For a little over half an hour, Sara had me doing things that I never imagined I would do. It started with the cycling thing. Now, I’ve ridden a bicycle before, but not for a very long time, and even then, it was just a way of getting around the family estate. I had always used one to get around when I was at college, but since then, I have preferred to use cars. These days, on the rare occasions I visit the old family house, I use one of those electric jobbies they use on golf courses.

I found the cycling machine a little tiring, but not too bad actually. In fact, I felt quite good, even a little elated. I have to admit that at this point I was beginning to believe that it wasn’t so bad after all. I mean, my heart was beating away like some demented woodpecker on drugs and I am sure I was starting to sweat.

But this was just a warm-up, apparently. After that, Sara led me from one device of torture to the next. She had me pulling, pushing, lifting and generally doing things with my arms and legs that were totally unnatural. Whilst the atmosphere and general ambience were not what I had expected, the whole exercise thing pretty much lived up to my expectations.

At Archie’s suggestion, I finished my afternoon with a short session in the sauna and jacuzzi. Neither are new experiences for me, and they were a welcome way to relax after what Sara had put me through. It was while I was sat in the jacuzzi that I saw Hope’s daughter Charlotte come through from the changing rooms and head towards the pool. She was still there when we left, but I don’t think she saw me. Not that would be anything wrong with her seeing me, but I would rather not have to explain what I was doing there. After all, I had no intention of repeating the experience.

Once we had showered and changed, Archie and I went straight to the Club for a quiet lunch and a few drinks. I was a little tired from the morning’s exertions but still felt that strange exhilaration. It was not an unpleasant feeling, just one I am not used to.

Dorothy was pleased to hear about what I had been doing at the gym. She seems to believe that I am going to make a habit of it. I can assure you that I am not. It was interesting, even a little fun, but it just isn’t for me.

I had planned to go to the Club again this evening, but I am feeling tired and my legs are a little stiff. I suppose that is only to be expected after all I went through earlier today. So instead I will take myself off to bed with a good book. I am expected at the office tomorrow morning so it is probably just as well.