by Andrew Foote

Chapter 35

Over the next couple of days we interviewed all the people Joe had mentioned We did this on 'Spook' then once we were satisfied that they measured up we took them up to the Mill for a guided tour such as it was!

Hourly rates were agreed except for Katie's sister Gillian who would be salaried, all agreed to start the following Monday which unfortunately was the first day of our exams so my Dad and Joe would have to bare all the responsibilities.

Up until that day both Jus and I didn't do any studying. My Dad was of the opinion that it was right to take a rest, allow what we'd leaned to embed itself, relax and get refreshed.

Relax my arse! We were up at the Mill for 8am, one of us packing and answering the phone whilst the other was learning the machine , then we'd swap duties so both Jus and I were as up to speed as we could be but it was mentally stimulating and loads of fun!

Unknown to us, my Dad had been in contact with a national chain of pet shops and on demonstrating the 'Strong-Arm' to their purchasing manager, they placed an order for 1000 items with payment upon delivery so for the next few days it was seriously 'all hands to the pump'!

Monday morning dawned and exam time.

We had to sit them at a local Comprehensive school, regulations or something but that in itself was interesting!

We arrived by Bentley, something that didn't go unnoticed by the other pupils but the best bit was we were only wearing jeans and sweatshirts while all the others were in school uniform! My long hair was another point of contention as short, regulation locks were the rule! We got stopped by a prefect.

"What the hell are you doing out of uniform and you! Hasn't anybody told you to get a haircut??"

"We don't school here. We just came to sit our 'O's'. Is that a problem mate?"

"Your 'O' Levels? You can't be more than thirteen or fourteen!"

Jus took up the reigns having been used to school bullshit.

"I'm fifteen and my friend is fourteen. We're both home tutored which is why we don't wear a uniform so please can you direct us to the assembly hall?"

Five days and sometimes three exams a day and it was over.

We definitely generated some interest, not only from the other pupils but also from some of the teachers. More than once were we bollocked for being out of uniform, Jus using the same reply but toward the end we found ourselves accepted for what we were, normal kids with just a difference in life-style.

By Friday afternoon, Jus had sat all of his exams although I still had one more to do, Latin.

This was one very odd afternoon because on reaching the assembly hall, all the desks had been removed and a game of volleyball was underway. The master who was acting as the referee saw me standing there and at a suitable moment, called for a break.

"What are you doing here boy? I don't recognise you."

Here we go again!

"I'm not schooled here, I'm just a visitor taking my 'O' Levels."

"All the exams are finished. You must have misread your timetable"

I opened my briefcase and found what I was looking for.

"No it definitely says Latin on Friday afternoon at two o'clock. I'm early as it's now one thirty-five."

"Latin huh? We don't teach Latin here so that is most likely the reason. They've forgotten about you lad. Wait here and I'll go and have a word with the Headmaster."

Ten minutes later and I found myself sitting in the headmaster's study, a desk had been hastily brought in together with a chair and I was all set to go. The Headmaster was to oversee the proceedings and before turning to me, he called his secretary and told her he wasn't to be disturbed for the next two and a half hours.

"I'm very sorry for all the confusion Alexis, we don't teach Latin here but still that is no excuse for your exam to be overlooked. May I ask why you're taking that subject?"

"My Mum is fluent in it sir and when I was very young I fell in love with it. It's a beautiful language and while I know it doesn't bear much relevance to modern life, I still wanted to learn it."

"Can I hear you say something?"

I thought for a moment then said my piece.

"Well to be absolutely honest, you could be saying something very rude for all I know!"

"Honestly sir, I wasn't! What I said, loosely translated was 'Thank you for allowing me the privilege of taking my examinations in your fine school.'"

"Well in that case I'm sure the honour has been all ours! Do you intend to take it at 'A' Level?"

"No sir. I'm going to do Pure and Applied Mathematics and Physics. My friend Justin and I have a competition going on. We both intend to do our 'A's next summer and we have said the results in our chosen subjects have all to be firsts so I think we've enough to do without adding to the burden. Maybe another time!"

"My word! How old will you be?"

"Still fourteen sir. Justin fifteen."

"That is indeed a tough target but if you would like to sit them here then you'd be very welcome. Fourteen and fifteen years of age and sitting 'A' Levels! Unbelievable!

Right then. Time to get started."

Exam over and I caught the bus back to Mapledurham and once back, my Mum asked me how I got on.

"Okay I think Mum. I hate being overly confident but yes. I think it went well."

"All good! Justin is up at the Mill overseeing production. You had another big order come in this morning so it might be a good idea if you went up and lent a hand."

Things at the Mill were frantic! Jo and Kirstin were busy churning out 'Strong-Arms', Jus and Matt were packing and crating, my Dad was on the telephone in the office.

Jus saw me walk in and asked how my last exam went.

"Alright! I'm confident enough. What's happening here then? I know we were getting busier but shit! There must be hundreds of the damn things here!"

"Go speak with Tim. He'll tell you! We've got orders coming out of our arse!"

My Dad finally put the phone down and collapsed into a chair soliciting giggles from Gillian!

"Dear God! This is just stupid! Another big order, this time for a thousand items and so long as we deliver on time its cash up front! We've now got orders for three thousand five hundred items and I'm not sure how we'll cope. We'll have to see if people can do overtime, maybe even weekend working."

Gillian looked thoughtful.

"I'll pitch in and if it helps, I'll have words with Ali and Kate. School will be breaking up for Christmas next week and they'll probably be pleased for some extra pocket money."

At five-thirty, the end of a normal working day, I convened a staff meeting and outlined our difficulties.

"Obviously we will pay at a rate which will be more than the normal hourly and those of you who are salaried will likewise get a bonus so what do you think? No pressure will be put on you, if you'd rather not do it then fine but we really need to up the ante if we're to meet our order book."

Fortunately there were no dissenting voices so it was agreed that the Mill would be open from seven-thirty in the morning until seven-thirty at night, Saturdays from eight until four in the afternoon and Sundays from nine in the morning until one in the afternoon. Once we had a handle on the increased production rate, we would review it and increase or decrease as required, the new hours to begin the following morning.

Once everyone had gone home for the day, my Dad, Jo, jus and I sat in the office and chatted, my Dad having a few points he wanted to make.

"First off. Professor Standish had developed the material for the balls. So far as he's able to judge, they're 'dog-proof', non-toxic and faster to make. This is because he's developed a mould that is the same size at the one for the 'Strong-Arm' which will allow it to fit the machine without any major alterations and because the balls are smaller, you'll be able to produce six of them in the same length of time it takes to produce one 'Strong-Arm'.

As you're likely to sell less of them pro-rata, what does that tell you?"

Jus answered quickly.

"Restrict the ball production to Sundays and the rest of the week to the 'Strong-Arm'. Could I also suggest that we don't package them as thoroughly? That way it helps speed things up and reduces the manufacturing costs. Perhaps just get some sticky labels printed and put them on the balls?"

"So far as the production Justin, that was what I was hoping to hear but your idea of just labelling them is brilliant!

You've got to have a product name that brings them to people's attention. Any thoughts on that?"

Joe studied his feet before chipping in.

"We could never get away with it but it would be a laugh if we could call them 'The Dog's Bollocks'! You know, balls, bollocks?"

We all had a good laugh over this but then my Dad had an idea.

"You're right there Joe, we'd never get away with it but? What if we called it 'The Dog's Ball', offer them out at say one for 7/6d (seven shillings and sixpence) or two for ten bob and infer that the purchasers would then have a pair of 'Dog's Balls'! Hell, the adults would get the double-entendre but most kids wouldn't? I like that mate. Nice idea!"

That was agreed by all of us but I had a nag.

"What are our profit margins Dad?"

"Actual manufacturing costs, gross, not net are 1/- per unit with the 'Strong-Arm'. Take into account wages and repayment of the loan to Sir George, a net sum of 9/- or 8/- if we want to clear the loan early which would be my preferred way to go.

We're very much in profit Alexis especially as you've not taken into account the sale of the excess power we produce which is both part funding wages but also the bulk of it is going into a high interest deposit account so you can buy more plant and equipment, maybe even pay yourselves a bonus.

We do sell power, quite a lot of it during the working day but after we're closed for the night, the entire output of that alternator goes straight to the grid and that is where we make serious money. Joe is taking metered readings each morning and at the end of the month we'll have a better idea."

"So let me get this right. We sell 100 units and our net profit is £40. 1000 units, £400 and so 3500 units means £1700. That doesn't sound very much."

"You are joking, right? With your overtime and taking into account increased wages, you will be netting somewhere in the region of £5000 per week and that isn't even taking into account your Sundays ball production! The 'Strong-Arm' alone works out at £20.000 per month or on a good year? £240.000 pure profit but that is only if we can maintain sales as they are now. Also machinery tends to develop problems so we must plan for down-time. Staff holidays and sickness pay, make provision for expansion, both equipment and staff but always with our eye on the market and most importantly, new products!"

I looked at Joe, he looked almost tearful.

"Hey Joe? What's the matter?"

"It's frightening me. All this talk of big money, new kit, more staff? I'm not sure I'm good enough to be your Production Manager."

My Dad, as always was very quick to put him at his ease.

"Listen Joe. We're small-fry at the moment and you're doing very well. This is why we have these meetings, an exchange of ideas, mutual help and support because none of us know what's going to happen. We're all novices so please? I want you to continue to do what you're doing, grow with us if that's the way it goes, enjoy the journey and be proud of yourself mate!

I'll tell you one thing. Alexis has attitude and if he wasn't happy, you would know all about it!

You want Joe with us son?"

"Jus and I picked him. We get on great together, mates even, so yeah. Of course we want him!!"

Jus was going to have his say as well.

"So Joe? How do you want to play it? We all want you so will you stick with it?"

A single tear ran down his face, a sharp intake of breath.

"I'm with you guys 100%. I will try my best to do the right things, not to let you down, to support our business to the best of my ability.

Anybody got a bottle of wine? I could do with a drink!!"

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