Projects and Improvements

by Robert Cooper

Chapter 2

Sheldon met us after breakfast. The pour had been successful but luckily he had left two of his guys there until late. Some teens from the village had come back at about 11.00 that night intending to inscribe their names in the cement. Sheldon's men had apprehended them, escorted them home and told the parents to accompany their sons to the Manor at 10.00 this morning for judgement by the Earl. So I had to hold court for three teens with their parents, two of Sheldon's men and a representative from the cement company.

I decided to hold the interview in the big dining room. I had Standish prepare it for us.

I would have Geoff. myself and Edward all in our suits. While I could not impose fines or such I did have some disciplinary powers. I was going to give them and their parents a really hard time about this vandalism against things that were to the benefit of the whole estate. The boys could not deny their misdeeds as we had video footage of them. Had they walked on the drying concrete they could have caused compression and uneven curing with possible weakness in the pool walls. Or worse, as the concrete had only skinned on the top they could have broken though and drowned in the wet cement below the skin. I was VERY angry ! I wondered if Mr. Lang had a days work for three teens?

When the hearing convened at 10.00 I was surprised to see the Landlord of the Wheatsheaf there with his wife. I knew this time of day was busy in the pub so their son was not popular already. The other parents I did not know.

Sheldon's men started off, telling what they had seen and done. The next to speak was the cement guy telling the possible consequences including the possibility of drowning in the wet cement below the skin. When he said this all the parents went pale. The boys spoke next, expressing their contrition.

My turn next. I spoke bitingly about the fact that we had no previous cases of vandalism on the Estate and about the blight on the Leisure Centre if a fatality had occurred. I then said that as Earl I did have some powers of punishment and so they would present themselves to Mr. Lang at the stables at 6.00 a.m. on Sunday next dressed for dirty work. They would do whatever tasks Mr. Lang needed them to do until 6.00 p.m. They would be fed and given drinks during the day but they would WORK. Any questions ? One of the parents asked if their son could work away from horses as he was allergic. I said that Mr. Lang had plenty of jobs not involving animals. The Wheatsheaf Landlord said that his son would have little free time for the next few weeks after the embarrassment he had caused to his parents. The other parents also said that their sons would be well occupied. If they had no free time they could not get into mischief.

Completely out of context I had a thought of a monthly or bi-monthly newspaper for the Manor and Estate. Wonder who I could get to edit. Monday Meeting item.

Time passes. The foundations are set. The S chool is mostly up and the internal walls and fittings are going in. Sheldon has dug the pits for the septic tanks. Cheeky man chatted the crane driver to drop the tanks into the pits for him. The drainage channels are already dug and most of the special pipes are installed on a bed of coarse sand then covered up. Soon the natural growth will hide the scars.

The tanks need to be half filled with water otherwise they will pop out of the ground by hydraulic action. Once they are in use then this problem disappears.

The tilers are busy lining the pool and the panels and pillars for the lower part are going in. As it is a fairly large open space the support has to be pretty strong to keep the building rigid. The cross beams supporting the upper floor are pretty hefty. Once they are in then the huge floor slabs will be lifted in and bolted down. Then the gymnasium walls installed and the roof. At times the place looks like a disturbed anthill. So many craftsmen about. The various teams come on site, do their thing and then gone. It is all going very fast.

I have commissioned signage for 'Braebourne Leisure Centre' and 'Braebourne Manor School' They should be ready when the buildings are complete.

I want Edward to get his ideas for publicising both projects. We need to get paying customers into the centre as soon as possible.

The school is weathertight and the internal work is being carried out. Classrooms, offices, laboratories and all the other required rooms are being made. F r om the outside it looks quite impressive. The site manager says "Ready by early August." So we can arrange delivery of furniture and books for then. Anthony found a 'School Library Service' and after consultation with Mr. Timms he ordered a broad spectrum of books and all the equipment to operate a library including a computer programme for issues and returns etc.


On Saturday morning I was in my small office when my phone rang. When the call came through it was a young voice.

"Excuse me Mr. Earl. Do you want a pony?" I waved at Edward to list e n in on the extension.

"What sort of pony? why do I want him?"

"Our Da says that we cant afford him and he is going to sell him for dog meat"

"Where are you now?"

"By your gate. I borrowed a friend's phone to call you"

"Wait right there I will be there shortly."

I called Mr. Lang and told him what was happening. He said the he and Jay would meet us at the front door in two minutes.

We all met up and strode down to the main gate. There was a boy there no more than 12 in tears holding a bridle. The pony was a very small piebald. The pony saw us and tried to shy away. Mr. Lang told us to hang back and sent Jay forward. The pony was content to let the boy approach.

Mr. Lang swore under his breath "That animal is terrified of adult males. Let's get him into a stall and settled then we can get the story from the boy."

Jay went to the left side of the pony and made friends. He had a few pony nuts in his pocket which helped. They went up the driveway, Jay chatting to pony and boy in turn trying to get the story. We waited outside the stables while Jay and the boy got the pony settled into a stall, gave him some oats and filled his water. The pony went for the food eagerly, he was obviously half starved. Once the animal was settled we all trooped into the Manor. I called Standish for hot chocolate and biscuits.

"Tell us your name first then tell us all about your pony."

" My name is Frederick Stubbs, I am 12. My brother is 14. Auntie bought Patches for us when we were kids but now he is too small for us to ride. Father says we can't afford to keep him any more as he is no use now to ride. He started sobbing. He says he will have to go for dog meat as nobody will buy him as he is too small. He threw himself at me "Don't let him go for dog meat. Please Mister Earl. He ain't no trouble. He just small like me. He my friend. I talk my troubles with him."

"Freddie, I talk MY troubles with my horse as well when things get on top of me."

"Mr. Lang. Did I see a small pony cart in the equipment shed? Do you think Patches could manage it?" I explained our clean air policy to Freddie and said that we often needed a small cart for things.

"Do you think you could train Patches to do this for us? You and Jay could train him at weekends and if you have time after school you can come and give him some exercise on a lead rein with you riding one of my big ponys."

His eyes lit up. " He don't go to dog meat? OHHH THANK YOU Mr Earl and thank you too Mr. Lang and you Jay. I am so glad that I thought of asking here for help."

"You gotta clean his stall out" said Jay

"Oh yes no problem and I shall brush his coat and clean his feet and all. he will be the bestest pony in your stables."

"Now to get your father to agree; What is his telephone number?"

A rather terse call followed. He threatened to beat Freddie for worrying me. I countered with the fact that Freddie was right to come to me; This was one of my functions to look after the welfare of the local; people. He was guilty of mental cruelty threatening to sell his pony for dog meat. I told him of the arrangements I had made for Freddie and I would send my solicitor with a deed of sale for the pony with a sum of money equivalent to the dog meat price, and NO marks on Freddie.

If Mr. Lang wants any more horses he will need more stable space. I have already had a word with Sheldon and he says that Mr. Lang can have what he wants. He says he can get a grant for it as well.

The school is nearly finished apart from a few odds and ends. It is all connected to water, electrics and sewerage. All the holes are filled in and the parking area is nice and smooth with a slight slope for rain water run off. Just needs tarmac laid next week. It will all be ready for the new school year on 5th September. Mr. Timms has all his staff organised and Geoff. has the support staff all lined up.

The food franchise is all agreed and ready to start. Hot lunch every day and if any late events are scheduled then sandwiches and finger food will be provided at 24 hours notice. The main hall is fitted with stage, theatre lamps and a good sound system so drama and musical events can be held.

The computer system is installed and operational. There are some showers in the rest room areas but gymnastic syllabus events will use the Leisure Centre Facilities.

The Leisure Centre Gymnasium will be useable by the school from the start of term but not for public use until the whole thing is complete. The pool has to be filled and allowed to settle and the pumps and filters run to get everything 'in balance'. The external facilities need to be built. Tennis courts need to be graded flat and then surfaced. The pitch and putt needs to be made. We have plenty of spare soil to create 'hazards' to make it interesting and the kiddies adventure playground needs to be created. The access road has been prepared by Sheldon and there is a load of granite chips being delivered shortly for its surface. They will be delivered in a cement truck with a rotating drum to keep it fluid as it will have a fixing mix of concrete to stabilise the road surface. It is quick setting so only needs to be kept traffic free for the rest of the day of delivery and overnight. The crane has gone and any heavy trucks can be scheduled around the drying period. Both the signs that I ordered are installed but covered for now. It is all very exciting to see my Grand Scheme coming together..

Geoff., Edward and myself have started driving lessons. We need road practice now so we are looking for volunteers from the staff to sit with us and be terrified. ( Joking really).

Geoff. has sorted his old house out. All the staff are paid off. The Betts are safely ensconced in their cottage on the Estate. The Long Case Clock looks very dignified standing in the foyer. There is a small wall standing out which seems made for it. The French mantel clock looks and sounds good in the Estate Office. Various antique candle holders have been given to Standish to augment the Manor Silverware. All the other furniture is in the care of the Auction House and the house has been cleaned ready for sale. All his cash and jewels are stored in his new safe so he can relax.

We are reminded by Mr. Timms that our exam results are due on or before 15th August and because we are external students our results will come by e-mail. Edward has been told that if he sees them before us he is to print them off and put them in envelopes for us. Knowing Edward he will make a great drama of presenting them to us. Once we get our results we can consider further education.

Mr. Timms has asked if he may invite the Education Board to tour the school when it is complete, perhaps the local Mayor and representatives from the local press. All good publicity and we can get a good plug for the Leisure Centre as well. Who knows, the press may want to do a whole feature on the project. Free publicity is always welcome.

I said "Sure, go ahead. Get Edward to design an invitation on a Manor Card and get them printed off. Just give him a list of Guests.

This reminds me I need a new suit, the present one is getting a bit tight. Ask Geoff. if he needs one as well. I will ask the driver to sit with us when we go into town.

As we were driving into town a few days later I asked Geoff. if we needed a smaller car for these short trips. It would be more economical and easier to park. Perhaps a hybrid electric. It is only about 15 miles each way and could be done on the battery only and we could charge overnight on the economy tariff. He agreed that the idea had merit. The Range Rover was a big beast to drive even with power steering and auto transmission. It was indeed difficult to find a parking space large enough. We need to think it over.

Mr. Timms called us the following day to say that the school was now complete. He had checked all the specifications and found them satisfied. Everything worked. Anything else was down to us but there was not much more to buy in. All of his needs were either delivered or on order pending delivery even to the paper in the toilets. Would we care to sign off on the Company's work sheets and take ownership of the building. We agreed a time of 10.00 a.m. the next day. I wanted to dictate a letter of commendation and get it typed up on Manor headed paper with my formal signature on it.

On the next Monday meeting I was able to announce the completion of the school building and give a progress report on the Leisure Centre. I was also able to announce the forthcoming visit by the Mayor and the Education Committee. I said that Press might be here but please NO mention of the Roman Villa.

Mr. Lang was able to report that Freddy Stubbs was working well with Patches and the pony was well able to draw the small cart. Freddy and Jay had volunteered to take the job of restoration and repair of the cart and Jay had produced side panels with 'Braebourne Manor Stables' sign written in gold on black. He said it looked quite professional. It would certainly be a good advert for the Riding Stables.

Standish introduced his idea for 'Music at the Manor' for discussion and passed round his brochure.

Mrs. Lang introduced her idea for 'Meals at the Manor.' Authentic Norman meals every two months perhaps. These projects were for perusal and further discussion.

I raised the possibility of a Manor Newspaper and asked for a volunteer editor.

Various domestic matters were raised and approved and the meeting closed.

One of the items that Geoff. had brought back from his old house was a Steinway Concert Grand Piano. This was now in the Ballroom, retuned and ready to play. Mr. Betts had offered to give lessons if anybody was interested. He could also give recitals if there was a need. More for Standish's Music at the Manor. The Ballroom had excellent acoustics and would give full justice to the instrument. Seems two of the stable boys had piano training and they really enjoyed a good instrument.

Edward says our results are in. According to his instructions he has put them into envelopes and given them to Mr. Timms. He will see us in the dining room at 5.00 p.m. It is now only 3.00 p.m. It is cruel to make us wait but then, any result we have achieved is due to Mr. Timms' tutoring. We saddled up and went for a ride. Went by the villa on our way to Upton. There they had two refuse pits open right down to Roman levels. From these pits they had an abundance of 'finds'. The head man was most excited. All of his finds would be away for conservation but they all prove without doubt that the villa is early Roman and had been in use right through the occupation and on into Anglo- Saxon times. Sadly, he had now no alternative but to approach the Historic sites authority and have the site scheduled as a 'Site of National Historic Interest' and await further permissions on what more he could dig. Until then they would clean up all round, cover the mosaic floor, clear away all their kit and leave the site until they had further instructions. Scheduling could take up to a year or more. All of the finds remained the property of The Manor of Braebourne but certain items would be of interest to Museums and they would be bidding for them. The Uni would be the agent for the finds to save us being disturbed.

On over to Upton to see if all was well there. I am still Richard's guardian until he is 18.

Then a fast gallop back to the Manor for our results.

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