Projects and Improvements

by Robert Cooper

Chapter 1

I have noticed recently the two fillys born of the mares bought from the Riding School have become independent from their mothers. They are definitely Black Knight's progeny, both all black except one has a white blaze and the other a white star. These fillys seem to have adopted the two smallest stable boys, Trissy (Tristan) and Chrissy (Christian). As soon as the boys appear they follow them around like puppys. Mr. Lang has produced two small halters and it is not unusual to see the boys leading the fillys on exercise walks around the field paths or riding their ponies with the fillys on a lead rein. The boys like to run for exercise and of course the fillys are with them. Mr. Lang encourages this as it improves the fillys' stamina and helps their growth. They cannot be ridden until about a year old but this toughens them up ready.

Steven came back from riding the estate with Andrew and Anthony. He saw Geoff. and I outside by the stables.

"You know there is a bloody great hole beside the school building." he said.

We laughed at his astonishment. "That is the new swimming pool" Geoff. said. "The framing crew will be here today to set up the shuttering for the pool and the cross bracing to stop the whole lot collapsing when the concrete is gunned in. Once the woodwork is up, they slide in the rebar and support steel to strengthen the whole lot then they use a big pressure pump to force in the special waterproof concrete mix. It is gunned in under pressure to avoid any air bubbles or cavities. When you are next over there and the framing is in have a look at the thickness. To avoid leaks, the whole sides and ends have to be sprayed in one go so there are no joints. After that has cured then the floor of the pool is sprayed. This has to be a precision job to get the slope right so we have a shallow end for learners and a deep area under the diving boards for safety. These guys are experts as they have done this sort of thing many times. You can't afford any mistakes. If the pool leaks then they have

to come back and do it again at their cost so they make sure it is right first time. The pool people tell me that the pool will require approximately 3 MILLION litres of water. This they supply on completion by tankers. Thank goodness for that. I imagined a hosepipe running for about three months. They say this is all part of the installation.

You have seen the foundations for the school already poured. Once that has cured in about a week then you will see a giant crane and lots of trucks with bits of school on. It all fits together like a giant Lego set and as it is all pre-made it has wires and pipes and things already installed. The fitting team just have to fix it all together. It really goes together very quickly. Sheldon has already dug the trenches for the electricity cables and water pipes so they just have to connect up. It is a remarkably quick method of building. The company estimate about a week to put the building up and then a few days for the interior rooms, again all pre made and it will fit. By the way, when the cranes are working this is a 'hard hat' area so don't go near. If the foreman sees you watching he will take you to watch from a safe place. Make sure your horses are safe. If they spook and run then you have a long walk back to the Manor.

Up to our office. Edward is busy organising furniture for the school. He is working from a list given him by Mr. Timms. Anthony is sourcing school text books and other stationery ready for when there is a school to put them in.

Geoff. is negotiating with a security company for a new safe. He will soon be able to reclaim his late mother's jewellery and needs a safe store for it. They will send an adviser to tell him the best place for it.

I am on the other telephone making arrangements for driving lessons for myself, Geoff. and Edward.

Hopefully we will be organised for the school before we need to work on equipping the leisure centre.

Sheldon has volunteered to dig the septic tank pits and the drainage trenches from the Water Advisors plans. He has already ordered the tanks and pipes that are needed. The module crew just need to connect the right pipes to the correct tanks. We have separate systems for foul water and pool filter /rain water drainage.

I have arranged warning signs 'DO NOT GO NEAR THE BUILDING SITE' for display at various places in the Manor villages.

We must start to think about clerical staff for the school and all sorts of staff for the Leisure Centre. Perhaps try local recruiting first. Geoff. has volunteered to handle recruiting.

Young Steven has found himself a niche with the Home Garden, planning layouts and crop rotations to ensure maximum productivity over a long period. He is also investigating new varieties of vegetables and fruits. He gets stuck in with his own special garden tools marking out and digging new crop beds. He says there is a lot of wasted space out there. The paths are too wide. He is planning long narrow beds that can be worked from the sides to avoid treading on the ground and compacting the soil. He gets one of the men to run the cultivator on new ground as he is not yet strong enough to manage the machine. He has made his mark with the gardeners with his knowledge and willingness to get 'down and dirty' in the soil. They respect him and willingly take his orders. He takes care to explain his schemes to them and they like his new ideas. He wants to repair all the greenhouses and get them into full production. He has an order in with the local horticultural wholesaler for glass and glazing bars and an amazing assortment of seeds and seedlings. He says we will be eating new produce inside 3 months apart from previously existing stuff. He also wants some new cold frames as the existing are not worth repairing and in the wrong place. He plans for the Manor to be almost self sufficient for fruit and veg. by next year. He has told Mrs. Lang that she needs two new big freezers for all the produce and put it down on the Monday Meeting agenda. Mrs. Lang says "You grow it and I will cook it."

T here are times when I feel overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of the task that I have inherited. The size of it is compounded by the neglect over the past 50 years. At such times I take Black Knight and amble though the woodland. He is good therapy. I speak my doubts to him and he listens. I am still only 1 9 and the size of the Manor's problems would daunt an older and more experienced man. So I ride and chat to my horse.

I have the 'curse of inheritance' which I cannot escape so I must square my shoulders and get on with it. Fortunately I have a good team around me upon whom I can rely. They also have the confidence to tell me when I am wrong or going too fast. But the big decisions are still mine to make.

OH WELL! Ride back into the maelstrom. Must be nearly dinner time!

I have noticed a regular payment under Sheldon's signature to 'Farmers Mutual'. When I asked Sheldon he explained that this was a monthly subscription to the area Farmers Co-operative where we could hire large machinery such as combine harvesters and such which are not in use for much of the year and cost many thousands, just sitting in a shed for most of the year. They also have other services such as taking small harvests, combining them with other farmers harvest to sell in bulk to get a better price, corn drying, big trailer hire and so forth. All the subscriptions went towards paying for all these heavy cost/low use items. Who wants to buy a wide cut plough and tractor at £300K for use only every two or three years in spring. Not efficient use of capital.

Mr. Watson tells me that the accountants are feeding him money when he needs it thus saving on interest so he is well content. He also has a big overdraft facility with the bank in case of emergencies but he tries not to use that as it is expensive. He says that we are within forecast at this time.

I went down to find Standish. I asked him how things are going inside the house. He said that he is satisfied. He wants to bring up a couple of matters for discussion at the Monday Meeting soon. He has thoughts on Music Events. 'Music at the Manor' staged in the Ballroom. Guest orchestras. A wide variety of music. He tells me that the local University have a Chamber Orchestra, a small Symphony Orchestra and various specialist groups from Baroque to modern Pop music. The Manor could make some revenue from it and also contribute to the various musical entities. Mrs Lang is happy to produce food and he would organise a bar for the interval. Might even consider light opera and selections from popular musicals. There is a separate door into the ballroom so patrons would not be tempted to wander in the Manor. Standish had obviously been thinking about this for some time and has now brought it into the open.

I asked him to write a proposal when he had time and put it to the Monday Meeting with my approval in principle. Edward would help him with a Power Point Presentation and enough copies.

So, gradually the activities of the Manor are growing. In this way the Manor can regain it's place in local society. I am sure that some thought will stimulate other ideas. As I have said before, get it on the agenda and SELL it to us.

The pool shuttering is now in and a date for the 'pour' is arranged. I have asked Sheldon for a few of his men to keep spectators well back. The concrete is fluid enough for a body to sink in seconds, also the tankers are seriously BIG. The kiddie pool will be constructed after the pool is formed and dried. I have asked the school module company to avoid any trucks delivering on that day please. I would prefer not to have a truck gridlock.

Mr. Timms is in a bit of a quandary. The staff he wants have to give their notice now to finish at the end of the school year (31st July.). This means that their salaries will stop. Can he pay them from their termination date? Geoff. and I though about this. If they were prepared to help with the setting up of the school then we would pay salaries from their starting date (1st August). That way, the school would be ready and any teething troubles sorted in advance. The pupils could commence classes right from the beginning of term. Their salaries would be part of the start up costs and therefore tax deductible. He has a secretary/administrator already chosen. He is 'super efficient' and will allow Mr. Timms to have more classroom time and not worry about the routine of administration. He is due to start on 1st July. One of his first tasks is to arrange the transfer of all the Manor Estate children to the new school, and any other children from the area who wish to come to the school.

Mr. Timms is doing his own recruiting of teachers as he knows what he is looking for. All we have asked is for a DBS&CRB check. He also has recruited a fully qualified S.R.N from the local village as School Nurse and to teach PSHE classes.

Geoff. has already recruited more than a dozen part time ladies from the local villages for secretarial and other duties at the school. He is also negotiating a franchise deal with the Wheatsheaf and Thatchers for catering at the school and for the Leisure Centre. He says it is looking promising. We have price control so food and beverages will be affordable. There are some establishments where the patrons bring their own because the prices are so exorbitant.

Edward has nearly all of the school furniture located and held pending the school being ready. Anthony reports that he has nearly all of the text books organised with just physics and chemistry outstanding, waiting for the new syllabus.

We are making overtures to the Phys.Ed. faculty at the Uni. to see if there are any of their potential graduates interested in positions in the Leisure Centre.

Mr. Watson has already set up an accounts system for the school, being run at present by his part timer. It will have a direct link to the school system when that is set up.

Geoff. now has Notice of Grant of Probate and will be meeting Mr. Dawson in the next week or so to decide the next moves. He and Anthony will also visit the house to decide actions there. Geoff. will arrange for the furniture selected by Mr. & Mrs. Betts to be moved together with any items that he and Anthony wish to keep, including the Long Case clock. Once that is all done he will then contact an antique furniture auction house to dispose of the rest of the contents. The staff will be paid off with their redundancy payments and the house will be cleaned and sold. Neither of them wants to keep the house, especially after the disclosures in their letters from their father which is understandable.

Driving Lessons for the three of us weekly commencing at the start of July They will teach us in the

Range Rover once we have the basics in their dual control vehicles. We have all been practising on the Estate lands with the old Land Rover so we can all get moving and keep control of a vehicle.

Concrete pouring begins tomorrow at 06.00 hours and will continue most of the day. Sheldon get your men organised. I don't want any accidents.

Tomorrow is Geoff.'s 19th Birthday. I have asked Mrs. Lang for a special dinner for him.

He has everything he needs so I don't have a clue what he wants for his present. I shall just have to ask him. I thought about a new horse but Black Knight would just drive off another stallion, perhaps a gelding might fit in.

Mr. Lang says he is ready to open his riding school. He has his paddock and arena organised and he has laid out two trails in between our fields. These trail rides must be supervised. I don't want people riding, over the crops. Some people think it is fun to ride through standing crops.

Paid a visit to Upton Lodge to see how things are going. They now have five fields with what looks like oats planted. To my untrained eye they look beautiful. Had a cuppa with Richard and Allen. I told them about the school and leisure centre. We might have to find another tutor for them. I would talk to Mr. Timms about it. Otherwise they were happy. I asked if they would like a quad bike each? I did hope they would continue riding their ponys as much as possible to keep with our clean air policy. They said "yes please." But I warned them to use them ONLY on their own or the Manor land. I told them "a horse can go where wheels can't and they don't stink of petrol." I told them I would organise this for them and use our contacts to get a good discount. I left them and went back to the Manor

When I mentioned it to Mr. Timms he told me that he already had planned for this and the boys would come into school two mornings a week for tuition and work remotely for another two sessions and for research. He expected them to have six sessions a week plus their private study. He had a syllabus worked out for them. He intended them to have 8 mock exams this autumn with selected 'O' levels next spring depending on mock exam results.

The dig had been very quiet recently, I wondered what exciting discoveries they had made. Geoff. and I will ride over and have a look. When we got there we saw them all gathered round one of the small digs. We dismounted and walked over. The head Man greeted us and made his team move back so we could see into the hole. We saw bones. He told us that the date of the skeleton was post Roman, (Anglo Saxon). He had sent a finger away for D.N.A tests and carbon dating. This indicated that the villa was inhabited after the Romans had gone. He said that he almost had enough to have this villa 'scheduled' but he wanted to dig more before any restrictions came into force. Particularly the under surface portion that they had identified. He had to be careful to avoid awkward questions about going beyond the rules for scheduling. He may have to cheat a bit and cover some parts up again. He was going to go for another two pits that were shown on the ground survey before he went for the rest of the villa building. He felt sure that once he started the rest of the villa building he would have to stop and apply for scheduling. We left him to it and went back to the Manor.

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