Loneliness - Moving On

by Andrew Foote

Chapter 25

We all partied the following Saturday, that is except for our bar and restaurant staff who elected to provide cover in exchange for a bonus and Matt who had offered to run Mr and Mrs Armstrong to Heathrow the following morning.

We were blessed with great weather allowing the kids the freedom to play outside in the grounds. I never realised just how many of the people we employed had children so following a chat with Jus, we decided to get one of the girls in the office to make up a list detailing them together with Birthdays so we could mark them with a card and a small gift.

Mum, Dad, Sir George and Mr Armstrong got suitably pissed meaning Matt volunteered to run them back to the house come eleven-thirty leaving Jus and I to lock up.

Yeah it had been a great day but the news we received Monday morning eclipsed it big time.

We got up to the Mill later than anticipated although I kept reminding myself that I'd made a promise to Sir George to take a back seat, this being the first move.

We made our customary tour of the shop floor before making our way to the office. We enquired about any pressing issues and after Gillian's assurance that everything was under control, Jus and I went through to the café in search of coffee.

No sooner had we sat down that we were approached by a man wearing a dark blue suit.

"Are you per chance Mr's Armstrong and Greening?"

Jus looked up from his drink.

"Yes that's us. Is there a problem?"

"No problem but I do need to talk with you. Your General Manager told me I'd find you here so may I join you?"

"Well err……"

"My name is Major Roger Stone and I'm the appointments secretary to His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales."

"Well I suppose you'd better. Tea or coffee, the bar isn't open yet."

"Tea would do nicely thank you.

The reason for my visit is to inform you that His Royal Highness will be presenting you with the Royal Warrant at Buckingham Palace on September the eighth but prior to that, he would very much like to visit your facility here at Mapledurham.

This would be by way of an informal visit, no fanfare of trumpets although we can't expect there not to be some media attention and your staff must be told but otherwise it is simply because your business has piqued his interest."

"Major we'd be honoured but why our little venture?"

"The Prince has a keen interest in sustainable farming, eco projects and environmentally friendly practices and is very active in presenting his estate at Highgrove as an example of what can be achieved.

Experts present the Royal Family with businesses that might be suitable recipients of the Warrant and as soon as the Prince read through the history of your Company, he was very enthusiastic about it hence his need to visit you prior to the award ceremony."

"Oh my God!"

"Yes Mr Armstrong but there's no need for concern. The Prince is genuinely interested so please just take it as a friendly visit and nothing more.

Shall we say next week? Wednesday I could arrange if that's convenient?"

We couldn't say no really!

We told the staff that Friday more in the hope that they wouldn't be bothered come the time but suggestions that efforts should be made to keep the work areas spit and polished I dismissed saying that ours was a work environment, not a fucking show home and everything should continue as always.

The gardens were always kept immaculate so it was game on.

My Mum and Dad together with Sir George point blank refused to be there saying that this was something we deserved without them getting involved and that made me very nervous. The closest I'd ever been to someone with a title was Sir George and Lady Eleanor and now I have to escort our future King around our factory?

Oh come on??

I told Jus to do it but he also refused on the grounds that I was the Managing Director and it was my duty but at the very least he'd be there with me by way of support.

How should I dress?

This was another problem for me to chew over. The only time I'd ever worn a collar and tie was at Lady Eleanor's funeral, even then it was under protest.

I opted to do collar but sod wearing a tie, I mean our workforce wouldn't recognise me!

I hopped on a bus into Reading and bought myself a decent pair of trousers and another shirt, shoes I already possessed so now I was set up for the visit.

That Friday Jus and I walked up to the Mill to be greeted by Matt.

"Hi guys. Looking forward to today?"

"Jus is but I'm shitting myself!"

"Why? What's the worst that could happen?"

"Don't go there! Plenty knowing me!"

"Rubbish! At the very least you've made a good start."

"How so?"

"Well…… you look half-smart for openers!"

"Fuck you! Only half-smart?"

"Only jesting Alex. I hardly recognised you!"

"Yeah well, see this backpack? Inside is a pair of jeans and a tee shirt. As soon as the coast is clear, I'm going to get changed into them."

The three of us made our way to the canteen where we met up with Joe and Gillian who also were feeling on edge.

"I wonder if the Prince realises just how nervous folk are about meeting him."

Jus took a mouthful of coffee before replying.

"I reckon he must do Gill. He's been doing this sort of thing long enough and he isn't stupid but the way I look at it is this.

He wants to come and give us the once-over, he's not under any obligation as the award has already been decided. He's genuinely interested and it's up to us to welcome him and make him feel at home. This afterall is our space, he's the stranger in the camp, not us."

He looked at me as if expecting some kind of reply so I gave him one.

"Actually, I find that comforting. He might also be crapping himself at the prospect of meeting us."

Gill swatted me on the back of my head which made the other guys laugh.

"Aren't you ever going to grow up?"

"I bloody hope not but I do wish I was wearing a tie. Seems a bit disrespectful not to now I think about it."

"I think it wouldn't be appropriate. You're a natural slob so flaunt it!"

" I am so not a slob!! Just…… an oddball!"

"Have it your own way but whatever you do, don't go being someone you aren't or he'll see straight through you."

"Thank you Gill. I just wish today would hurry up and get lost."

"You're in the minority Alex. All your staff are gagging for it."

"They don't have to give him a speech or a guided tour do they!

I've always been a fan of the Royal Family, the flag they fly for our country, their commitment to the Commonwealth and undying duty to all of us then there's me, a water hippy, a boy not hardly into long trousers and now this?"

"Yeah well, now's your opportunity to prove you're the complete antithesis of that 'cos unless I'm very much mistaken, we have visitors."

Oh my God!

To be in the presence of Royalty is one thing. To meet, talk to and host your future King has to be the highlight of my life!

He was such a wonderful person.

He seemed genuinely interested in everything, our products, our business plan, how we had deliberately made provision in order to employ disabled staff plus our unorthodox power supply together with the crèche, restaurant, bar and gardens.

We showed him photos of the dilapidated old mill then followed it up with the way we had progressed to date.

"I have to say, I'm very impressed!

My estate at Highgrove is something I wish to transform into something that will casebook the way that sustainable farming methods can be used in order to work with nature rather than against it and your venture mirrors my ideas."

The Prince walked the factory floor and talked to the staff and even sat with Janet, one of our less able girls and took a turn in stitching dog collars.

We won't be employing him. Jan is way better!

The morning was rounded off with a light lunch which was provided in our restaurant followed by a press and photo session.

"Today has been a delight.

To see a business that was the creation of two young boys, no doubt encouraged by their parents is something I see all too rarely and this has to send a message to all young entrepreneurs and that is to go with your ideas and dreams.

The way in which they have completely transformed a once derelict yet historic mill is a shining example of how we can protect our heritage yet use it for the future ensuring a lasting legacy for our children and our children's children to enjoy and be proud of.

I was especially impressed by the way that the less able amongst us are encouraged into employment together with facilities to enable young families to have two bread-winners in the household and of course I'm making reference to the crèche. This is an idea that many companies could and should take on board as it would not only benefit them but also, benefit the wider community."

We accompanied the Prince to his waiting car but he stopped short to speak to an onlooker.

This onlooker was Jus' Grandfather!

"Sir George! So nice to see you!"

"You're Highness. So good to see you too. I hope you enjoyed your visit to our village?"

"An eye-opener! So good to see our younger generation taking the lead but I couldn't help but see a photograph of you with the boys in the reception area.

Where's the connection?"

"I'm Justin's Grandfather Sir. His parents are in the diplomatic corps currently serving in Tripoli so Justin is in our care whilst they're out of the country."

"So this idea has nothing to do with you?"

"Absolutely not!

The boys had an idea that spiralled out of control. I owned what was left of the mill but these two youngsters together with Alexis' father completely transformed the place to what you see today.

I am merely a facilitator in their endeavours and have nothing to do with how this business is run."

"Financial input?"

"Initially yes but as now all loans are cleared, they're on their own Sir."

"Have I met Alexis' father yet?"

"No. He's shy!

Actually I believe your drive towards sustainable farming and energy provision and conservation directly compliment each-others ethos."

"Then I trust that come the Industry Awards he'll be with us and maybe he could swallow hard enough to sit down and have a chat. He sounds just the sort of chap that I like!

My security people are getting on edge so I had better go but before I do, Justin? Alexis? Well done and my sincerest congratulations! Simply put? An inspirational visit!"

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