Projects and Improvements

by Robert Cooper

Chapter 3

In the dining room were Mr. Timms and a fair number of the staff.

We opened our envelopes with shaking hands and fumble fingers.

Geoff. let out a great whoop of joy.

What you got Geoff?

He read out his results

Maths A*

Business Studies A*

General Studies A

Economics A*

Now yours James?

I read out my results

Maths A*

Business studies A*

General Studies A*

Economics A*

WOW !! and WOW again. Big hugs for Geoff. and I. Great handshakes for Mr. Timms.

To get such results after the turbulent times we have had was totally unexpected. I don't know what Geoff.'s expectations were but the most I had hoped for was 2 A's and 2 B's. Four A*'s totally unexpected. And all down to Mr. Timms.

Standish suddenly had a bottle of champagne in hand, popped the cork and poured. More bottles, more pops and every body had a glass except Mr. Timms (who never touched alcohol). He had soft.

Everybody was in party mood. Mrs. Lang produced a big tray of snacks and we all set about emptying the bottles. Good time was had by all.

Next day was a driving lesson day. The instructor met us at the Manor and we three had our hour of instruction. He told us that due to the long wait for appointments the school were applying for our tests. It could be two months or more for a test. Meanwhile the school will arrange our theory tests well in advance. Next week's lesson he will bring theory test manuals and sample question papers.

After the driving lessons and lunch we went to see Mt. Timms at the school. We encountered Mr. Bailey at the reception. We asked for Mr. Timms. He then asked our names. I decided to play games. I said "I am Earl of Braebourne." He went very red and confused. I laughed at his embarrassment. I said "Don't worry, you have not met me before, I am also James Levitt. As you know I paid for this school and the Leisure Centre next door. I dropped by to see what the arrangements are for the visit by the Education Committee and the Mayor."

He said that some had not confirmed yet but as soon as they had a definite schedule he would e-mail me.

I told him "Check the proposed date with my secretary Edward Lang to ensure that my diary is clear for that day before finalising the actual date. Get hold of the various secretaries and hurry them up. Tell them that they have to fit in with the Earl's diary. If they delay too much, the school will be in session and the visit will not go ahead." With that we turned and left.

"That was a bit sharp" said Geoff.

"No,I just will not be sidelined by officious secretaries who think their principals are more important. I am an Earl. The Mayor stands up when I come into the room not the other way round. Another couple of years when I am 21 I shall be summoned to take my seat in the House of Lords. Then let them try and play power games.

We went next door to see what was going with the Leisure Centre. We were about to be challenged by the site foreman but he suddenly recognised us.

"Good afternoon, Your Grace. What can I show you today?"

"We just dropped by to see how things are going. Is all running to schedule?"

"All fine here, the pool is tiled and grouted. The Kiddy Pool is formed and lined. All the pool plumbing is connected and air pressure tested pending the fill. We can't start the fill until we have a secure building. Waiting for the glass sliding doors. On previous jobs, we filled before the building was secure and had loads of wild and domestic animals falling in. We rescued some during the day but those at night just drowned. This of course polluted the water and we had to pump it all out and start again. Should be O.K. for next week. Your man did a good job on the sewerage, saved us a lot of time. The Gymnastic equipment is all fixed and the showers, toilets and changing rooms are ready. The Squash courts are marked up and the screens are in. We are about two weeks ahead of schedule right now and I don't expect any major delays."

"Wonderful. We will get out of your hair now, thanks for your report."

I told Geoff. that I will be making some rules for the Estate.

There will be a strict 'No Smoking' rule for :-

The Manor House and Stables.

The Leisure Park including the Pitch and Putt and Tennis courts.

The School.

Children in the Adventure Playground must be accompanied by a parent or sibling older than 15. Not just left there while the adults did something else.

Our Liability Insurance required this.

On another matter, perhaps we should consider a monthly news letter.

Mr. Timms tells me that the school will be putting on various Drama and Musical events.

There will be competitions at the Leisure Centre.

The Manor will be holding events as well.

We need a way of circulating this information.

We need to establish a membership fee for the Centre with a reduction for estate residents.

School events will be supported and funded by the Manor if necessary.

I had a telephone call from the Music Teacher for the school. Would it be possible for selected pupils to play the Steinway now and then. It has a different 'feel' to an electronic piano. I asked what they had there and was told they had keyboards of various quality but no 'real' pianos. I said there was no problem with limited use by accomplished pianists. She did realise that the Manor piano was a 'Concert Grand.' Just make appointments with Edward.

I then telephoned Mr. Timms. He said he knew of the request and understood the reason for it. I asked him if he had room for a small grand piano in the hall. He replied certainly but he was thinking about costs. I said that perhaps an anonymous benefactor might come up with one as an Opening Day present. He then smiled and said that such a benefactor would be honoured at the school in some way.

I asked Edward to research such an item. Not a Steinway or a Bechstein but perhaps a Yamaha.

Get on to a reputable dealer and see what they have. I want to spend no more than £12 thousand for a good second hand instrument. If he found something Geoff. and I would take a trip with the music teacher to London or Birmingham. She can make a final selection.

Phone call from Leon Brady. The Education Committee have decided that Monday next is a good time to visit, no reply from the Mayors Office. I told him to reply that that day is convenient and they would be invited for lunch at the Manor. If the Mayors office contacted then say that date has been decided and if not convenient for the Mayor, sorry the date cannot be changed.

Advise Standish and Mrs Lang of the lunch. 10 I think.

Ask Edward to get onto the local press and invite them to do an article about the School and Leisure Centre but not on the same day as the Committee visit. Good publicity of any sort is welcome.

All the decorating and finishing touches in the Manor are now complete. The three guest bedrooms on the office floor look really comfortable with the new bedding and such. The main staircase looks very impressive now it has new paintwork and stair carpet. All the downstairs rooms have been refurbished as we planned and the third floor is also ready for occupation. We now have a Manor that looks impressive and is certainly no embarrassment. The staff are all looking good in their new uniforms and the kitchen staff in their new whites do the place credit.

Geoff. has found the ideal person to manage the Leisure Centre. Miss Sheila Lacy. She is an athlete, trained for the Olympic team but had to drop out due to injury. She was Deputy Manager for a London Centre but was passed over when the managers position became vacant. She had heard that this was because of her sex. She is 30 years old with degrees in Sports Education and Management with a minor in Finance. She also held a Vocational Training Certificate in Child Psychology. She had heard of our project through a friend who worked at the Modular Building Fabricators. She decided to approach us direct before we started advertising. She felt that she had plenty to offer and thought that we would not be biased. She also wanted to get out of London. Geoff. wanted a second interview to confirm his judgement and to show her around the Centre and the school as she would be working with the school as well. This was arranged for Wednesday of next week, with Mr. Timms attending. Lunch at the Manor for 1.00 P.M.

Edward had found a Piano Centre in Birmingham that had four pre-owned pianos within our price range and we arranged a trip with the Music Teacher and her Deputy. I took the Manor cheque book

with me having told Mr. Watson what was going on. We left in the limo shortly after breakfast and the driver took us directly to the piano warehouse on the big industrial estate to the west of the city. I was pleased to see that there was a member of staff waiting for us. I introduced our party and said who would be deciding our purchase.

He said that he had five within my price stipulation but he was cheating a bit and had added two more that were a little above but superb quality. I took him to one side and said that the teachers were not to know prices. He said he understood. I suggested that the teachers should try out each instrument and then talk preferences. Form a short list and play some more. Then arrive at a consensus. I agreed a 10% discount for payment by cheque and we just listened to the music. They each played a short scale or two first to hear the sound then went back and played a test piece. To my ear there was one that stood out from all the others. The teachers seemed to agree and they both came back to this one and played a more complicated piece. It seemed as if they had both decided on this one. I asked him the history and he said there was a log book that came with it. This piano was a Steinway Grand but not a 'Concert'. The Teacher then sat at it again and played a longer piece and really gave it some pressure and the instrument responded. The whole warehouse filled with sound.

Seems they were sold on this one. We talked delivery and tuning. All agreed, I went into the office to write my cheque (less the 10%) and the school had its own piano given by an anonymous donor.

On the way back to the Manor I mentioned Standish's Music at the Manor proposal. They thought it a wonderful idea and wanted to work with him on it and perhaps arrange a Music competition for schools in the area. I said get with Standish and make plans. They had thoughts for their own students in the Manor as well.

Another call from Leon Brady, the Mayor's Secretary had called and said that he is free on the Friday of next week and could the education committee's visit be deferred until then. Edward, at my prompting, said "No, the Earls calender is already arranged for the next month." (Let her pick the bones out of that.) " The school has already planned start up operations and could not accommodate any visitors after next Monday. The invitations were sent out well in advance for calenders to be filled."

Next thing I know is I have a very irate Mayor's Secretary on the telephone demanding that I change my calender to accommodate the Mayors visit. I asked her why she was making such demands only three days before the date arranged. The invitations had been sent out at the end of July as soon as a completion date had been established. Why had she not been in touch before?

She carried on ranting so I said quite firmly "I will not be spoken to like that and unless she calmed down I would discontinue this conversation."

She said "I am the Mayor's secretary, You would not dare"

I said " I am the Earl of Braebourne." and put the phone down.

I told Edward that I will not take any calls from her. Give her the 'run around' if she calls again.

I called Le o n Brady, gave him the gist of the call and said that I will not take any more calls from her. I outrank the Mayor by several degrees of precedence and about 1100 years of history. I asked to be put through to Mr. Timms. I told him what had gone on and told him that the Education Visit would go ahead as planned. The Mayor was to be left out of the loop unless he apologised for his secretary's behaviour. The E ducation committee is the important one as they control the supplements to our budget. The Mayor has a 'NIL' rating. He will not be invited to the opening of the Leisure Centre either.

By the way, there is a piano on it's way, due next Wednesday from an anonymous donor. Your music guys seem to like this model. It is an ordinary grand, ( a concert grand would take to much room ) and it's sound is good for the size of your hall. It certainly filled the warehouse when your head of music gave it some stick. Your guys are talking to Standish about his ideas for 'Music at the Manor' events.

I took Black Knight for a ride to calm down.

Y ou know Black, I am fed up with being treated like a little boy by all these petty officials. I have made my stand with the Mayor's Secretary.

I did not ask for this job. I knew it was coming eventually but I expected that my father would teach me when I was older. I have just had to grow up a bit faster and join a steep learning curve. The fact that I have the school ready and the L eisure Centre almost there must say something about my eagerness to improve the lot of the residents of the estate, not to mention all the other little things that I have done. The Manor employs 15% more staff all at better wages. The new projects also give more job opportunities and the school improves the education of the children of the M anor estate.

P eople who don't like it can just bugger off. Sn o oty officials can get lost. I will just ignore them.

The estate is wealthy enough to cope without going 'cap in hand' for grants. They are nice to have and they make the accountants smile but they are not essential to us.

I WILL undo 50 years of neglect. I WILL change the 'always done it this way' attitude.

I WILL be the Earl of Braebourne. I WILL do my best for the Manor. SO BE IT !

We rode on, past the now deserted Villa site. Sad that they had to stop but the law must be obeyed and as owners of the land it is our responsibility to ensure that an ancient site is preserved. I st r uck off towards Upton Lodge. The boys were out somewhere but Mr. Stokes said that everything seemed o.k. The boys were settling in to their school work and delegated one room as a classroom and had installed desks and computers in there. Mr. Timms had set them a rigorous schedule of learning. I departed saying I would keep in touch. Back to the Manor for tea.

Mr. Timms had phoned to say that he had been in touch with the Director of Education confirming the Monday visit and numbers for lunch. (Ten including two vegetarians) He had already told Standish. He had also touched briefly on the behaviour of the Mayor's secretary in case she had tried to influence them. H e informed the Director that it was too late to change the date of the visit. The suggestion was made that the secretary had mislaid the invitation and was now trying 'power politics' to get herself out of trouble. The Director made the comment that she was not the most efficient and had got the appointment because she was sister-in-law t o the mayor. He was looking forward to his visit.

Friday afternoon I caught up with paperwork and signed some cheques for Mr. Watson. On my way from his office I heard piano music from the ballroom. I peered round the door and saw Mr. Betts with his eyes closed at the Steinway, playing from memory Rachmaninov's V ariations on a theme by Paganini. In the large ballroom the instrument sounded wonderful. I found a chair and just sat and enjoyed. Standish came up behind me and just whispered "Sp l endid." We waited for the well known Variation 18 and we were both entranced. Mr. Betts realised we were there and stopped playing. "Apologies Your Grace. Geoff. said it was O.K. for me to play any time."

I said "Please feel free to play at any time. Music is always welcome in the Manor. How are you and your wife settling in?"

"Very well your Grace. My wife is enquiring at the school to see if she can help in any way. I have already found two pupils with electronic keyboards in the village."

Standish and I went off about our affairs.

The weekend went past with no dramas. We saw Freddie Stubbs working on polishing the Pony cart. We went over to see him. He was full of smiles. He went in and brought out Patches. He was a different Pony now. Sleek and well groomed and no longer afraid of adult males. His coat sh i n y with health and even his hooves had been polished. His mane and tail were braided. All told he was ready for show. I said to Freddie to be careful of the treats or he would get fat. He talked his pony back into the cart bars and hitched him up. They really looked good together. Freddie walked Patches round the car park to show how well he moved. Geoff. and I told him how good it all looked and to keep his ears open for a pony show in the area. If he found one then I would get him a livery and he could show Patches with his cart. He would need to get P atches acquainted with the horse box. The cart would go in one bay and Patches in the other. Freddie could travel in the Grooms seat behind the barrier to keep Patches company. I will talk to Mr. Lang about it. I asked Freddie about Patches' shoes. He said he thought they were o.k but next time the farrier came to visit the other horses he would get him to look. Freddie told us he cleaned the frogs of the hooves regularly and they were clean and free from infection. We thanked him for his time and went back into the Manor.

Geoff. told me that he wanted Miss Lacy to start as soon as she could so she can get started on recruiting staff. I said"That's fine, ask her on Monday after her walk round." There is a room in the Manor she can have including meals until she gets settled. She can have a quad if she has no car. We also want her ideas for membership subscriptions.

With the school ready to start teaching and the Leisure Centre near completion I don't have much to do except stand around looking decorative. A time of inactivity is nice in anticipation but soon palls in practice. Doing nothing would bore me stupid. What can I so next?

Standish and Mrs. Lang have their projects inside the Manor. Mr. Lang has his riding school. Edward seems to be in control of advertising. Geoff. staff recruitment. Timms and Miss Lacy have their operations to run. Steven has his garden, Freddy has his pony and trailer.

What is left for ME !

I am good at getting things going. But what? Think Levitt, Think! Something 'Out of the Box'. Meanwhile I am going to get involved with the Estate.

I do have an Estate to manage. I shall ride the fields on Black Knight and get into my head the sheer size of what I have inherited. I will see what crops are growing so I can ask sensible questions about harvesting, yield, profit ability and rotation. Sheldon tells me all sorts of things, most of which I don't understand. I must ask him about reading material to improve my knowledge (and help with my further studies). Yes, more study, but this is study to help my inheritance.

This years accounts show a nett of 12% which is same as the past few years. I must explore ways of boosting that margin by planting crops with better returns , managing inefficiencies, better use of resources, machinery and staff. I think Sheldon is spending too much of his time working land, which is commendable but he should be functioning more as Estate Manager. He has been used to playing deputy but now has to take the next step to become the decision maker. Up to now he has been applying other peoples plans however inefficient. Now he needs to use his degree training in modern working methods and review his cropping diary. Perhaps set an area aside for experimental crops and see what happens. Cereal crops are all well and good for high yield but they don't bring in the profit that 'exotic' crops will and unless we try them we will not know what works on our land. Small quantities can always be sold through the Farmers Mutual. For crop experiments, specialist equipment can be hired in from the same source. Garlic, lavender, soybeans, sweetcorn.

All high yield, high profit crops. In rotation they don't take too much from the soil and don't require additives. Organically grown crops also command a premium. Need to get with Sheldon for a planning session so we can decide crops for next season. I also need to get with Steven to find out his plans as well. Perhaps I shall not be as idle as I thought.

The Education Committee came for their visit on Monday and over a good lunch they commended Mr. Timms and the Manor for an excellent school with a modern syllabus. The Director even suggested that some of Mr. Timms' syllabus ideas could be spread amongst the other schools in the district. He would like to explore that at a future date. He was also inter e sted in the possibility of other schools using the Leisure Centre for swimming and advanced gymnastics, especially as we had an Olympics trained Director. All that to be delegated to Mr. Timms and Miss Lacy. As they were dispersing after lunch, the director caught me aside to tell me that he had had words with the Mayor about his secretary. How rude she was and how his diary was in a mess. The Education Committee had received their invitations at the end of July, plenty of time to get it into his diary, he also mentioned other problems with the Mayors Office that he should address before he was caught out by something major. He told him that she had already alienated the Earl of Braebourne with her rudeness and others just refused to deal with her tantrums. Having said this he also went his way.

That afternoon I went for a ride on Black. Towards the E ast G ate which was hardly used for traffic except at harvest time.

Black suddenly stopped dead in his tracks and turned and looked into the field beside the road. There was a trampled area in the tall crop. Black took a few steps into the crop. I looked ahead and saw a dog with three puppies in a sort of nest on an old blanket with an old wash bowl with water and a (cleaned)plate. The pups were obviously very young and still nursing. There seemed to be a note pinned to the blanket. I pulled out my mobile and phoned Mr. Lang. I asked if Freddy was there. He said he was and was giving Patches exercise with the cart. I asked if he and Freddy could come down towards the East Gate with the cart. He said that they were on the way E.T.A. 5 minutes. T hey arrived and I told Freddy to go on a bit and turn round. Mr. Lang and I dismounted and went to see the dog. She stood up as we approached but gave no threat, in fact she seemed pleased to see us. Freddy walked in and the dog went to him wagging her tail. They made friends and Mr. Lang unpinned the note.

"Dear Farmer. Our dog ha s had pups and father is NOT pleased. He said he will get the vet in to put them all down. My sister and me don't want our friend killed nor her puppies. We are sure that you can look after them and when they are old enough to find them good homes. Her name is Judy and she is mostly Retriever with a little bit of collie we were told. She is very intelligent and good with other animals. PLEASE Mr. Farmer take care of our friend."

"Well Mr. Lang, What to you make of this?" I said, "She can't stay here, that's a fact. Can we put them all into Freddy's cart and find a place for them at the Manor?"

Mr. Lang looked thoughtful. "The Earl always had dogs until his legs went bad so, I don't see any reason why not. What do you think Freddy?"

"She seems very friendly and she lets me handle the pups. We can find her a space somewhere."

"Right then, decision made. Come on Judy, lets get your little family moved to a new home." There w ere only three pups so Mr. Lang took two and I took the third. Judy followed Freddy to the cart where he spread out her blanket in the load space. She hopped in and we put her pups with her. She turned round a couple of turns and then settled down. The pups started feeding again. Mr. Lang and I mounted our horses and walked back to the Manor beside the cart. Mr. Lang suggested a place in the tack room so there was no chance of being trodden on by the horses. He found a nice thick horse blanket for her. Freddy went to see Mrs. Lang for some scraps for Judy. When he returned she ate them down very quickly, she was obviously very hungry so I sent hi m back for more. This time Mrs. Lang came out to see why we wanted the food. She wanted one of the pups for their home when they were old enough. Andrew could deal with the training.

Mrs. Renney would probably have a fit if I brought a dog into the Manor House.

Back along the East Gate path and saw what was there. This gate was little used, unless when working this side of the estate. I saw that the security camera had been damaged and now twisted so its field of view was not on the gate. I wondered why. I doubt the kids who brought the dog and her pups would even notice the camera. I looked around. The padlock and chain was laying on the ground, chain cut through. I called Edward on my mobile and asked him to get hold of the security guy and have another camera placed discretely further in to give coverage of the gate. Edward called back to say the guy would be here tomorrow morning. On a hunch I went back to the stables, told Mr. Lang what I had discovered. I suggested that Steven should be warned as I had the feeling that another of his father's friends was after revenge.

Back in my office I called Det. Inspector Johnson and discussed my ideas with him. He called up the visitors log on his computer to see if he had any regular visitors. He told me there was one who visited every week and that we should watch out for him. He e-mailed me the log photo of the visitor. I told him about the camera at the East Gate.

He said "Good, don't replace the chain yet. Make it look as if it has not been noticed. Keep an eye on the computer monitor . Meantime ask Steven if he recognises the picture."

I took the picture out to find Steven in his garden. He recognised the face as one of his father's friends, part of the rapist group. I told him what I found at the gate and told him to stay safe and with others until we got to the bottom of the intrusion. I told him that at this stage it was just a hunch on my part but I wanted him to be safe here on the Manor.

The security guy came as promised and installed the camera, discretely hidden but with a full clear view of the gate. He set the computer program to record this camera on a special file and set the warning sound to a more urgent siren. If anything triggered the alarm we would know instantly. He said that he had set the camera to ignore small mammals and birds. So we would not be troubled with foxes and owl s triggering the alarm. I decided to leave my lap top open at night beside my bed.

After a week or so I began to think it was just me being paranoid but suddenly the alarm sounded and Geoff. and I watched the screen. We saw two men, one of whom was the face on the picture. I immediately phoned Insp. Johnson while Geoff called Jo to bring Steven to the Manor.

Jo brought Steven up to the Estate Office and also brought Mr. Lang's shotgun and a pocket of cartridges. Just in case.

We watched the progress of the two men. I knew Standish was security conscious and everything was locked up tight so to get in they would need to break a window or force a door. By then they would be on more than one security camera and on video. Inspector Johnson called to say he was at the front gate. I told him where the two guys were and that we had them on camera and video. He said "Stay indoors" I told him we were in my estate office and safe. I did not mention the shotgun.

I told Jo to go into the office wash room with Steven if the intruders got into the Manor.

Watching the camera feeds was impressive. The intruders were trying to find a way in and on another camera we saw them surrounded by police and caught red handed. Once they were cuffed Inspector Johnson called us on the phone and said would Steven come and identify them. By now, the security lamps had activated and they were all well lit up. When we got to the group Edward started his recorder. Steven went up to the man who he recognised from the picture.

"Hello Mr. Greendale. Did my father send you?"

"Miserable little shit. You got us all into trouble and your dad is having a bad time in prison. He wants you dead before his appeal is heard." spat out Greendale.

"Hey" said the other guy. "I did not agree to helping with a killing"

"Shuddup" said Greendale "You agreed with the rest of us to silence the kid."

"Enough" said Inspector Johnson He then gave the usual caution. " You are both under arrest charged with attempted murder, conspiracy with others to commit murder, trespass with criminal damage and other crimes. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Now that we have heard of Mr. Wilkins' involvement there will be no appeal as he will have other charges laid against him."

Edward handed over his tape of the conversation.

"Thank you for your assistance Your Grace, We will get these two off your land and round up the rest of his associates and see what they know. Goodnight to you all."

We all went off to bed and agreed to meet after breakfast in the morning. I warned Jo to put the shotgun in a safe place.

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