Loneliness - Moving On
by Andrew Foote
"Dad? The Prince wants to meet you."
The expression on my Dads face was one of horror!
"You have to be shitting me son! I mean I'm hardly dressed for the occasion and besides, I've just finished clearing out that blocked drain by the old kennels and I must smell pretty bad."
Sir George looked at me and grinned, obviously catching on to my attempt to wind him up.
"Seriously now Tim? You really ought to give some thought to it, not now but perhaps come the Industry awards?"
"Well…… maybe but why on earth he'd want to meet me is a total mystery.
Anyway, how did it go?"
Jus was animated.
"Really well! He seemed genuinely interested in everything we were doing. He walked around the production floors and spoke to loads of people, visited the crèche, had lunch in the restaurant and loved the gardens. He said it was inspirational!"
"Well he's right in that respect. All businesses should be run like yours. If they were then we wouldn't have so much unrest, strikes and so on but with so many managerial traditions having their roots firmly planted in the past, I doubt much will change short term."
Sir George took up this point.
"I heartily agree because I'm afraid I was guilty of making the same mistakes when I was in business but the boys have proved that there can be a better way. They've been in operation for what, two years plus some and have never had to dismiss anyone?
That in itself is remarkable.
We have had the wherewithal to encourage them in their ambitions, early financial backing and the like but the business model is all theirs.
Y'see, I was always taught that the workforce was always to be looked upon as unreliable, lazy and money-grabbing and so we treated them with that in the forefront of our minds. This of course only served to exacerbated things hence industrial unrest but now I can see the value of dedicated and happy staff.
Take young Joe as a prime example.
Does he ever stop working?"
I had to laugh at this remark.
"Yes he does, not that you'd notice!
You know that Matt's Dad decided to sell up and retire? Anyway Matt was beside himself and insisted that his old truck. 'Pride of the Islands' was spared so he and Joe together with a load of the others are bit by bit rebuilding her in the old corn store so that's why the lights are burning late into the night!"
My Dad jumped up and punched the air!
"Oh brilliant! Why didn't you say something before? I'd love to help them!"
"It was going to be a surprise.
She's going to be painted in our Company colours complete with our signwriting but retaining her name.
The idea was that rather than use her for deliveries, we'd set up some sort of mobile showroom for events. A vintage lorry and trailer all decked out for the sole purpose of showcasing our desire to preserve the past but also look to the future."
"So…… Matt gets to keep his truck and you get a superb marketing tool!"
"That's about the size of it Dad."
"Well at the moment they're stripping her down so there's been nothing to pay for but given time, we thought that maybe we should stump up the cash."
"No arguments from me son! I love the idea!
Are they working on her tonight?"
"Tonight and every night, They normally call a halt when the night shift guys turn up, Joe makes sure everything is okay then Matt runs him home in whichever vehicle is to hand."
"In that case, I'm going up to the mill to join them!
Tell your Mother that I do still love her but an old Foden needs me more than she does tonight!"
Just as soon as my Dad had left for the mill, Sir George ushered us through into the drawing room, sat us down and opened a bottle of wine.
"I need to have a chat with you boys, nothing horrible but facts have to be faced and one of these is my increasing age. Please don't misunderstand me, I'm all hale and hearty but let us face facts. This house is far too big for me and I would hasten to add that had it not been for Tim, I would probably have sold some time ago but…… now I feel the need to downsize.
I offered to leave the place to your Mother Justin but she is of the opinion that it should be otherwise disposed of. She, or rather your Father and Mother have no interest in the financial benefit so I offered to leave it in my will to Tim and Kaz.
They refused but then I'm not really surprised given their attitude to such things so I've decided to sell up.
I have already purchased a cottage almost directly opposite the Mill so what remains of the selling price of Forge House I'm going to invest in the Company and before you object, I have my reasons.
You have undertaken two major extensions to the Mill already and with little room to further expand, you will need to think about alternative premises.
Much though you don't want to think about moving, expansion is something you have to pay some attention to. Stay at the Mill for all light work, your offices, crèche and administration but then what about your fleet of vehicles now John Baylis has retired?
You will have to think about somewhere to garage them, work on their upkeep and you can't realistically do the job here so you have to look at your options."
"Yes but Granddad? Once you've sold the house, we'll have to move the boats."
"Eventually but I'm talking of many months, not weeks Justin.
I have given this considerable thought and the best plan is this.
You or rather your company, own the land right the way down to the river which has a frontage of what? Three, maybe four hundred yards?
Why don't you talk with the Thames Conservancy with a view to developing that frontage, not just for your personal use but also for all passing boaters.
You have a bar and a very good restaurant, shops that would supply most of their needs plus the bonus of a factory shop to showcase your products.
You could happily turn this to your advantage if managed properly."
I had the old adrenalin rush!
"Fantastic idea! I mean it could really work!
Think about how it might look? A tastefully lit deck and if we breasted boats at an angle to head upriver, a gentle climb to the bar and other facilities, water points and electrical hook-ups but at a cost of course, it could be the making of everything we've been working towards!"
"Yes young Alex. The other thing you have to consider is the lack of impact to our otherwise sleepy village.
The noise, for what it might be would be confined to the river, not lots of cars going in and out. So far any disruption has been minimal, all the villagers love your business but that could alter if there was too much coming and going. You are some two hundred yards up from the water's edge at the mill so the noise wouldn't pose a problem."
I looked at Jus who nodded his head.
"Go for it. It sounds wonderful.
Could you take on the job of negotiating with the Conservancy people Granddad?"
"I was rather hoping you might ask! I feel as if I don't have a role to play but this sort of thing is something I've very used to doing so…… will you give me carte blanche to do whatever is necessary boys?"
Crafty bastards these adults! They had been scheming this for ages or so we discovered later!
Sir George had already mapped out the frontage and together with my Dad had talked about how floating pontoon moorings might be feasible to build.
Power and water were easily done and my Mum and Mrs Morris were eager to begin the landscaping.
A gentle run of steps up from the river which would be surrounded by semi-woodland, rhododendrons, specimen trees and shrubs with accented lighting hidden away in the undergrowth just to complete the experience.
The main decking would be wide enough if folk wanted to chill out and sit by the river but the pontoons would be only two foot six inches wide so as to accommodate as many boats as possible but wide enough apart to cope with sea-going cruisers as well as narrow boats and smaller beamed boats to a total of eighteen visiting craft leaving loads of private bankside space for Casio and Spook.
Yeah well, Dad had done his sums and it was very workable but eighteen boats each carrying at least two people to a maximum of say eight? How the fuck might the restaurant cope!
None of the adults seemed too bothered telling us that once built, we should advertise in the various journals that booking was essential and leave it at that.
More kitchen space could be had by extending back although waiting staff might pose a problem and especially as the work might be seasonal but that was something to worry about for the future.
We left Sir George to do his finest!
For the first time since the business started, I wasn't bothered about the prospect of further expansion although the thought of finding other premises didn't appeal but as time progressed, luck seemed to follow us.
Planning application approved and so work on the moorings began in late November.
We had been very fortunate in as much as Thames Conservancy had ongoing work shoring up some dodgy banks and were keen to find a ready supply of puddle clay which we had to dredge clear so they undertook the task of not just doing our dredging at no cost but paying us for the clay which they removed in massive barges.
That alone saved us a bundle of money.
We had to contract out the piling as Dad wasn't happy about doing it but the cash saved from the dredging almost covered that cost.
Electrical supply was done by our works electrician and Dad.
Burying armoured cables is difficult even though the connected load wouldn't be much above three kVA including the woodland lighting.
The steps down to the river were installed using skid-proof decking, the pontoons and jetty likewise and by April the following year, everything, including an extension to the kitchens had been completed.
My Mum and Mrs Morris had done a decent job of clearing the scrub aided by some of our workforce who pitched in during their spare time.
Planting of the woodland was going well but it all takes time to mature but none the less, with the accented lighting hidden away, it really did look magical even then.
We attended the Industry Awards and...... met the Queen!
Oh My God!
She was delightful!
She has a wit and a keen sense of humour and immediately we were put at ease.
It was a brief if pleasant occasion but with an added bonus.
We, that is Jus and I, my parents and Sir George had been given an invitation to visit Highgrove, Prince Charles' estate.
Now this my dear Father cannot duck out of!!
I had always seen him as being confidant, unflappable and composed but this set him off big time! He even asked Sir George if there were any precedents for declining to which he was told that the best way to avoid it was to die or be certified as insane, the latter could be a subject of conjecture but the former even my Dad thought was a bit extreme so we wrote back accepting it.
We didn't know why the invitation had been made. We knew that the Prince had seemed genuinely interested in our venture, he was even late for his next engagement as a consequence so both Jus and I were eager to find out.
On the day we made the journey to Highgrove in the Bentley. Matt, as was now the norm, acted as our chauffeur with all of us, my Dad included, dressed in newly acquired suits but unknown to me, the boot had been packed to accommodate our outdoor clothing, hiking boots and waterproofs.
We were met by Prince Charles personal secretary and shown into an ante room where tea and coffee had been provided for us but we hardly had enough time to enjoy it as the Prince joined us some ten minutes later.
He talked to us at some length about how he was trying to run the estate using ecologically sustainable methods, our way of sourcing our electricity was especially of interest and asked if my Dad would look at some long-since disused millraces in an attempt to work out some sort of feasibility study in order that they might be restored for use such as ours had been.
Fortunately Dad had overcome his nerves and a conversation was had between them, the upshot being that Dad agreed to work alongside the estate manager to this end then following a really nice lunch, we were given a tour culminating at the stable yard.
Now I don't know anything about horses or Polo ponies so most of what was talked about was only mildly interesting but then, the real reason for our invitation became clear.
"You see, I'm passionate about Polo and both my sons have an increasing interest in it but I am faced with a predicament.
We have all our saddles and such tailor-made for us but the people who undertake this are coming close to retirement and despite our efforts, we haven't managed to come up with suitable replacements. The company who employs these good people are due to close and so hence my dilemma."
I asked the question as being unused to Royalty it didn't faze me that much.
"I can understand how that might pose a problem Sir but where do we fit in here?"
"Very simple Alexis. I was wondering that given your ambitions, your lack of hesitation to explore all opportunities, you might give some thought to expanding your product line to include leatherwork, specifically bespoke items of high quality.
My thought was that if you employed the craftsmen and women who currently undertake our commissions, take on some really good apprentices who are prepared to learn from them then once the older members of staff reach retirement age, you have replacement crafts-people to continue their fine work and might I add, in a very vibrant and lucrative market.
Obviously I don't expect you to make any decisions immediately, you'll need time to think about it so perhaps if, once you've had a chance to discuss things, liaise with my secretary and tell him of your decision one way or the other."
Oh that wasn't very helpful!
Being asked by our future King to push our little business directly into uncharted waters was one on hand, a very great honour yet on the other was altogether problematical.
Would the existing craftsman and women be prepared to travel from Buckinghamshire to Berkshire or would we need to relocate that side of the business and if we did, how would it be managed?
If we decided to stay put, how might we accommodate the extra staff and find sufficient space for their workshops? Weren't we already at capacity?
One other issue was the sheer number of folk we'd need to take on.
We needed the existing craftsmen and women plus at least two apprentices to learn from each of them, tailors, the people who had to travel extensively in order to measure both horse and rider, buyers of the right quality of leather, more transport facilities and...... and…… and…… all this was making my head hurt!
My dear Father together with Sir George didn't share my concerns and even Jus thought that we should at the very least, explore all options before making any decisions.
We were cash-rich, yes okay but that still isn't any reason to get carried away.
Why was this original firm shutting up shop?
Were they no longer profitable?
We knew that some of the highly skilled employees were thinking about retiring but even so, if the business was viable then why not take on their own apprentices?
My Dad assured me that everything would be thoroughly investigated but then countered it by adding something like "You do realise that if we take this on, not only will you have the patronage of the Prince of Wales, you also get that of Prince Harry and Prince William. Then you have to consider Princess Dianna, The Queen, Prince Phillip and there's always a possibility you'll get the contract to reupholster the Royal carriages.
This is something you really cannot walk away from mate! You might even be rewarded with the Warrant of the entire Royal Household and take my word for it…… that is something very special indeed."
Jus whispered in my ear.
"Think about it or I'll be sleeping on Casio!!
Only kidding you but please Alex?"
I was, and not for the first time, out-gunned and out manoeuvred so it was best to capitulate and despite my forgiving's, lean on the others and wait it out.
Jus and I had our first real argument over this. He was so bloody passionate about us moving forward yet again that our time together became problematical and sometimes frosty.
I yearned for the simplicity that my life had been up until then, carefree learning about life and never believing that it would ever change but Jus' experiences being away at boarding school, his bullying, his terror had turned him into an adult before his time.
We were drifting apart and I knew I was to blame so instead of turning to my parents, I went to Sir George.
"Do you really want to know what I think Alex or do you want me to just play along? Either way it isn't going to be easy for you and come to that, neither is it going to be easy for Justin."
"I need the truth Sir.
If we're going to make it, then only the truth will do even though I might not like it."
Do you still love him?"
"Every bit as much as I've always done."
"Then you don't have to try too hard because I know that he feels the same towards you.
As I see it, the only matter that's come between you is the business of further expansion of Armstrong-Greening Limited. Justin is all for moving forward whereas you are opposed to the idea.
Am I right so far?"
"Yes. This isn't like anything else we've done because it would mean we would have to expand away from the Mill. In every other event we've found space for the manufacturing of new lines right here but we're at or very close to capacity as things stand with no prospect of housing a venture like this saddlery."
"Is that your only concern?"
"Mostly. My feeling of going too fast too soon is something that's always been with me but up until now I've been persuaded otherwise and we've done okay but……"
"There's always room on any Board of Directors for a cautious voice Alex but Companies are or should be democratic with no one person making all the decisions so why not call a meeting and put it to the vote?
I have been the Chief Executive Officer of a number of businesses and there were many times where decisions were made that flew in the face of my own thinking and for the most part they proved to be correct choices so what if we could think of a way where instead of expanding away from the Mill, we managed to keep everything in-house. Would that make a difference?"
"Definitely but no offence intended Sir, but you would have to be blind or just plain stupid to see that's impossible?"
"In the existing building yes but you have plenty of land where another building could be situated, something in keeping with its surroundings and before you go worrying about the cost, Tim tells me the Company is cash-rich and it'll be necessary to invest some of the profit or risk a massive tax bill.
Think about it Alex and just one other matter.
Don't take your disagreements home, not ever.
Business matters should remain at the Mill and also, you should think about getting some dogs to help take your mind off work. Get some fresh air and exercise, blow away your concerns and learn to relax again."
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]