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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Lord Robery, PI!

holmes

What a week! My days have become so hectic recently I am not sure how I manage to fit everything in.

It was another early start today as I was back in the office again. And what a busy place it is. Miss Drayton, my trusty secretary, has been helping me, going over the details of the various pieces that make up the family business. It is like a huge jigsaw, but without the picture; or one of those you see with a different picture on either side. I am sure I will never get the hang of it all. I am very much in awe of Miss Drayton for managing to keep track of it all. I have not the slightest idea how she manages it.

Of course, Aunt Murdock has always been the one who really knows how all the pieces fit together, but I am beginning to think that Miss Drayton is the only one who has the whole picture. Anyway, I left the office feeling somewhat exhausted at about 1 o’clock and headed down to the club for a spot of lunch. Nothing fancy, just a simple soup, the Beef Wellington and a particularly nice cheesecake, washed down with half a bottle of Chablis.

When I arrived home a little after 3 o’clock, I found my godson Nigel waiting for me. He was already on the computer – he said he had an update of some kind for the family tree software. It is all beyond me which is why it is so good to have someone like Nigel around to help me. Admittedly I was a little confused at first by the documents that Nigel was working on. I was not aware that we had any Russian or Thai connections, but I am sure that Nigel knows what he is doing.

Anyway, we I spent the rest of the afternoon doing some research on my mother’s side of the family. I must say it is jolly good fun searching through old records. I am beginning to feel like one of those private detectives you used to see so much of on the television. Looking for the smallest clues hidden amongst the veritable shoal of red herrings. There’s so much information out there on the internet that it is very easy to get distracted. One never knows where any of the threads you pick up will lead to.

But there is more to this research than simply going through birth, marriage and death records. You see, Nigel has been showing me how to search the whole web thing, and how to work out what is interesting and what is not.

I’ve seen them on the television go through old newspapers and such, so I know we may well have to get out and visit some old libraries and museums at some point. But for now, I am quite happy doing what I can online. Now, that’s something I never thought I would say.

I have to admit that the who ancestry thing has got me hooked, it is quite fascinating and very addictive. Each new nugget of information opens up a whole new avenue of investigation and helps complete the picture. It’s a little like trying to figure out the jigsaw of relationships between the various parts of the family business.

Families are funny things and as I have discovered, not everyone is what they seem. The biggest shock for me so far has been finding out that several members of my mothers family were leading socialists at the turn of the twentieth century. Quite a thing really. I knew her side of the family had built their fortunes and reputation on trade but had not suspected that they were socialists. I must admit that I don’t really know how to feel about that little revelation.

Right now I am feeling a little tired after such a busy day. I can hear Dorothy moving around upstairs so I think I will pop up and say hello before going out. This evening I am meeting a few of the chaps for a few drinks and, hopefully, a bit of supper at the Club.

When is a date is not a date?

Yesterday afternoon I met up with Hope Greenwood for lunch. Throughout Sunday, and even Monday morning, Dorothy insisted on calling it a date, which I most vehemently denied. To call the meeting a date implied there are romantic intentions, which, I repeatedly assured my excitable young cousin, was not the case. We are just two old acquaintances meeting up for lunch. Nothing more.

But all my denials and protestations about the nature of the meeting fell on the proverbial deaf ear. She would have her fun I suppose, although why she has to do it at my expense is beyond my understanding.

All that said, I suppose it might be considered a date. An arrangement to meet for an entirely social reason may be called a date, provided it is understood by all, including the likes of Dorothy, that there is no intent other than to have a quiet lunch with an old friend.

Whether it was a “date” or not, we met, as arranged, at a rather nice little bistro I recently discovered on the Southbank. I thought it a suitable venue, with excellent food and wonderful views across the river. It is also extremely convenient for the city itself.

At Dorothy’s insistence I arrived a little early. Not that I would not have done anyway of course; it is just not the done thing to keep a lady waiting. But Dorothy can be very fussy and very forceful and I have already learned that it is often best to go along with her little whims.

As I was early I took a seat in the bar to wait for Hope, which also gave me an opportunity to gather my thoughts and enjoy a rather fine Burgundy. As it was I didn’t have to wait for long; Hope also arrived a little early.

We took our table at a corner of the rather large room that afforded us a particularly fine view of the river. The whole of the Southbank and the Thames itself were teeming with people. This part of the city attracts tourists and day-trippers likes moths to a flame, flocking to the river to bask in the sights and sounds of this unique place. The absolutely glorious weather had encouraged huge numbers of people.

We were seated very quickly. I ordered the foie gras and the fillet, Hope chose the scallops and the lamb, accompanied by a surprisingly good Australian Semillon. Now, white wine is not often my first choice, particularly as I was having the steak, but Hope, it turns out, cannot drink red wine. So, being the gentleman that I am, I joined her in drinking the white. I have to admit it did make a pleasant change and went rather well with the foie gras. Contrary to what some people say, and I now they do, I am not a wine snob. Certainly I know what I like, but I am prepared to try new things, particularly those from the colonies, providing they are not American. One just has to draw the line somewhere.

The food was, as I expected, excellent. As was the service. Hope and I chatted away almost oblivious to the comings and goings around us. And I should point out that she was looking particularly elegant and attractive. When we had last met at the Sweetman’s garden party on Saturday, she had worn  quite a colourful and delicate dress and had her hair all gathered  on the head which gave her a rather sever “school Mame” look. Yesterday, however, she had left her hair down, allowing it to frame her face and give her a much softer, more appealing look. I would go so far as to say it made her look a good ten years younger.

What I hadn’t noticed on Saturday, but was quite obvious yesterday, was that Hope is a redhead. Not that there is anything wrong with that. I only mention it to help give you a fuller picture of the lady.

Over the course of the meal I learned a great deal more about Hope. She told me all about her two daughters, Emily and Charlotte, both of whom she insists I should meet. Apparently Emily is 28 and currently doing something or other with her father’s old firm, whilst Charlotte, still only 17, is a bit of an artist and is studying at Art College at the moment (not sure which one). Hope herself has recently opened her own Gallery in the city. The last time I had seen her, before her husband died, she had just started working in a friends Gallery, but in the meantime he has branched out on her own.

After our lunch Hope suggested we take advantage of the weather and take a walk along the river bank. Although I would normally seek to avoid the tourist areas and the bank holiday crowds, I acquiesced and led her away from the Festival Hall, down towards Westminster. I found myself enjoying her company so much I was somewhat reluctant for the afternoon to end. But, alas, Hope has her family and she had to return home much sooner than I would have liked. We finished the afternoon with drinks at a small bar I know just off Trafalgar Square.

It was undoubtedly one the most pleasant afternoons I have had for quite some time. Hope is nothing at all like I remember her. Being a widow seems to suit her. She is much more ambitious than she was and very obviously much more aware of her appearance.

On my return home, Dorothy and Angela were upon me like two hungry lionesses, eager for any morsel I would throw their way. The biggest question for them, and for me if truth be known, is whether or not I thought there was anything between Hope and I, and was I going to see her again.

Whilst I am sure we will meet again soon, I am not sure about any prospects for this to lead to anything more than a close friendship. I enjoyed her company and, yes, I find her very attractive, but it is far too soon to even think about our relationship being anything more than friends. Only time will tell.

As you might expect, Dorothy sees things slightly differently. I think her relationship with Angela is making her see Austenesque romances blooming everywhere.

I will keep on open mind. This was not a date, but who knows what the future holds.

A new Hope

Now, before I say anything else about yesterday, I must make one thing very clear: attending Sir Arnold Sweetman’s garden party was not my idea. As a rule I enjoy a good garden party. They can, if the weather is kind and the wine properly chilled, be very jolly affairs. They are the type of social gatherings that usually attract the best people and offer a wonderful opportunity to mingle with family and friends.

Unfortunately, yesterday’s soiree was hosted by one of my Aunt Murdock’s business connections. Sir Arnold is a nice enough chap but his wealth is from trade and he is not renowned for his breeding or taste. In fact, he can, at times, be quite crude and vulgar. The guests were, for the most part, business people, and believe me, there is nothing so tedious as a group of businessmen going on about mergers, take overs, stock prices and trade deals. I can’t imagine anything more boring than talking about trade.

Of course, I had to go along for Aunt Murdock’s sake. And for her, the event was a way of killing two birds with one stone, so to speak. You see, she is not only trying to get me back into the business, presumably to take over from her at some point, but she is also more determined than ever to get me married off to one eligible young lady or another.

Yesterday was arranged as another of these blind date opportunities. When we last met she dropped enough hints, so I was pretty sure I knew who to would be. I was right, but more about that later.

Despite my misgivings about our host and the other guests, I have to say it was a fairly lavish affair and the weather was near perfect. By the time Aunt  Murdock and I arrived, the sky had cleared and was a beautiful bright blue. There was a slight breeze; just enough to mess up the odd hair do, but not enough to cause too much trouble with the catering. The house itself is situated just south of the river and is surrounded by huge trees that provided a little shade and some shelter from the breeze.

We had been there for about an hour or so and I hadn’t seen the old dear for quite a while. I had managed to make my escape from a group of stock brokers and had found myself a quite corner of the largest marque. Away from most of the crowd I was enjoying a rather fine Beaujolais when I heard Aunt Murdock’s distinctive and rather loud voice coming towards me from the other side of the tent. I can’t say I had enjoyed the afternoon thus far, but this was the one inevitable moment I had been looking forward to the least.

You see, I was sure  she had set me up to meet someone I already knew, Hope Greenwood, an old friend of my Aunt Margaret’s. I hadn’t seen Hope for a couple of years. We last met at a small gathering about six months prior to her husband Ronald’s accident. Mad Duck and her companion  were approaching me from behind. I could have turned to face them but decided to finish my drink and wait for them to reach me.

Well, imagine my surprise when they crossed in front of the table and there before me stood not the Hope Greenwood I had last seen almost three years ago, but a much slimmer and very much more glamorous Hope. A new Hope, as it were.

You see, Hope was one of those women who had, quite rightly, devoted most of her adult life to being a full-time mother and wife. In the early days of her marriage she had been quite a beauty, but in recent years she had sort of let herself go a bit. The last I heard she had started working for a friend in an art gallery. Not because she needs the money, because she doesn’t.

Anyway, Aunt Murdock made her introduction, physically manhandled Hope into the seat across from me, and then immediately rushed off in the direction or the afternoon’s host on the pretext of arranging a meeting.

So, there we were,  Hope and I, both slightly embarrassed by my mad aunt’s maneuverings and neither of us having the faintest idea of what to say or do next.

It’s strange how even now, in middle age, one finds oneself feeling and behaving like love struck teenagers. Just trying to find the correct words or phrases to get the conversation started seemed beyond the capabilities of either of us. All we could manage were a few meaningless “how have you been” and “how are the children” style questions. Of course, we already knew each other, but put into this strange situation by old Mad Duck seemed to have robbed both of us of the ability to start a coherent conversation.

We were spared too much embarrassment by the unexpected arrival at the table of Martin Oldman, a mutual friend and business acquaintance of Hope’s. The three of us chatted for a short while before Martin made to move on to discuss business with someone who had just arrived, leaving Hope and I to our own devices.

Now that the ice had been broken, as it were, I found it surprisingly easy to talk with Hope about how things have been, and what she is doing since poor Ronald died.

Despite my initial reservations, it turned out to be a very pleasant afternoon. The wine continued to flow freely and the food was excellent too, but the biggest surprise was Hope herself. When we last met she had just started working again and was, well, shall we just say she could have done with losing some weight. She also had a tired and put-upon look.

But yesterday she looked like a new woman. She has lost all the excess weight and has quite a glow about her. Once we got chatting she reminded me of when I first met her over 30 years ago, before her marriage, when she had ambitions to be a lawyer.

All I can say is that Aunt Murdock has really excelled herself this time. Despite the slow start, I found Hope to be a charming and animated companion. We spent a very pleasant afternoon together before she had to leave – something to do with her youngest daughter. We left the party with an arrangement to meet for lunch on Monday.

I spent the evening at the Club. A couple of games of snooker and a few drinks were the perfect end to the day.