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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 6

I must not say "Calm descends on the Manor." Last time I said that all hell broke loose and we had to defend the Manor. Anyway Christmas approaches and I must apply myself to the matter of presents.

Including Estate Staff and Upton residents I had to buy for :-

30 Male, 20 Female and 50 children under 15.

Specials:- Geoff. Standish, Mr. & Mrs. Lang, Sheldon, Richard and Allen, Edward, Mrs Renney, Mr. Watson, Mr. Timms.

That's more than 100 people to chose presents for. Migraine coming on! I must remind Richard to think about his Christmas list

After a favourable response from the Director of Education we had put together our plans for the School.

Provisionally called 'Braebourne Manor School' we had envisaged a Modular building with 15 classrooms on two floors, offices,multi purpose assembly hall,store rooms, library, kitchen, cloakrooms and toilet facilities. The school would have access to the sports facility on the same site. It would have a secretarial staff, maintenance staff and be fully computerised including a Computer Laboratory for teaching and computer terminals in the Library for research and private study. There would be a simple and low cost uniform.

Mr. Timms had already recruited 10 staff, all B.A or B.Sc or above. Others would be recruited nearer the opening date. Mr. Timms was putting together a full presentation and would be sending it in both in paper form and on disc.

The next full meeting of the Education committee would be in late January so we would hear nothing until then.

Provisional Planning Application for the whole project had already been submitted by our architect. He had spoken to members of the planning committee in advance and his submission was in line with their advice. Again, their next meeting was not until late January so again we wait. Though I suspect there will be discussions between the two committees.

News from Detective Inspector Johnson. Mr. Wilkins and Mr. McMillan have both been sentenced to 30 years in prison. If they survive that long. Mr. McMillan has already suffered a severe beating whilst taking a shower and Mr. Wilkins has received multiple threats of violence including castration. The prison staff are going to have a difficult time keeping t h e m safe.

I passed this on to Steven who's only comment was "Good. I hope they kill the bastard s. "

Edward had discovered a big toy store who offered a wrapping service. He had been in contact with their deputy manager and obtained a substantial discount when he disclosed how many children's presents we required. Edward would provide names and gender as soon as we had compiled it. Game sets, box sets of popular films like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and others, a ge dependent. We need to get the list together if we are going to have all the presents ready for the party.

The stable boys dormitory will have two games consuls to share and each boy will have his choice of game to play on it. Edward and J o will have a new T.V. for their room. Richard and Allen will have new saddles for the ponies they are about to buy from the Manor. Staff children will have age appropriate games, Lego kits, artist kits, or whatever fertile minds can imagine. Research with parents needed. Standish to receive a pair of gold cuff links with Manor crest, Sheldon,Watson and Timms to have same in silver. I will think about the others later, my brain hurts. Talk to Edward about his parents wants.

Mrs. Sloan now wants to discuss Stevens situation. I have to consider that adoption would place him in line of succession to the Earldom but the trust states 'heirs under the trust to be Of The Blood' . This is a huge step for both. I would rather go for guardianship like I have with Richard. Permanent security for him without the problems of adoption. I need informed advice. I will consult the Estate Lawyers. At least I can make an informed decision. Perhaps a meeting with Mrs. Sloan, Steven, Geoff and a legal advisor. Arranged for next week.

Two more mock exams out of the way. Results fair but a s always, more work needed. Our working during the summer has been beneficial.

Geoff. and I rode out to see Sheldon. Caught up with him out in the fields, thanks to his

'I am here' notice on his office door.

He showed us the decrepit tractor wheezing it's way over the field. It certainly sounded quite unwell and Sheldon said that with a new tractor he could get twice the work done in the same time. Also the guys hated driving it. I asked him to get details of what he wanted to replace it and if it had any trade in value. He laughed and said possibly scrap value and perhaps a small sum to secure the order. I told him to get with Mr. Watson and organise finance. I said that if the new machine had any useful attachments he wanted, to buy those as well.

Back to the Manor via the Villa dig site. They had uncovered almost all of the decorative floor and to my untrained eye it looks really impressive. The head man caught us to say they had sensed on the ground scan a possible dump site near the back wall and could they dig it. Rubbish dumps often contained a wealth of finds showing life at the villa. Also, as the site was undisturbed it would all be dateable by layers. He showed us the location and I agreed the dig site of about 3 meters square.

He now had the analysis of the whole geophysics. survey. May we get together at the Manor and discuss it. I called Edward on my mobile and asked him for a spare slot on the diary. He said "This Friday 10 a.m. onwards". We agreed and Edward booked it in.

We got back to find a Water Board representative waiting. He was the advisor for industrial installations.

His query was did we really want a sewage hook up? A new 8 inch diameter line would have to be laid right back to the Manor take off and would cost a heck of a lot of money. He was suggesting a huge ' epondage' which we could dig ourselves and spread it out over two or three fields. I t was unlikely that we would ever need to drain the whole pool, just the filtration unit water.

We would need a decent size septic tank to cope with toilet waste. Either one big one or two smaller ones for school and leisure centr e. He could also suggest two alternatives to chlorine for the pool water cleansing both of which were 'environmentally friendly'.

He would leave us with various leaflets for information with his card. After we had had time to consider then please to call him again and we could get down to specifics.

Wow ! Lots of information in one go also more research to do for septic tanks and epondages. (Edward !! ) Not urgent until after New Year.

Now into December, firming up plans for Christmas.

Trees to be cut and placed in foyer and ballroom by 10th. Decorated as soon as ready.

Invitations to be designed,printed and sent out to all staff and 'special' guests.

Presents to be collected from toy store, and elsewhere.

Discuss party food with Mrs. Lang. Discuss party with Standish.

Geoff. is definitely not a cuff links man or any other jewellery. He is presently using a saddle supplied when we bought the horses so I think I will get Mr. Lang to buy him a new one for his Christmas present from me. He knows about such things.

I must also ask Standish about arrangements for Christmas Day. I would like to give all staff with family the day off to have the day with their families. If need be let the Manor go into partial rest for the day,and the full dinner for everybody in the big dining room on 26th or perhaps hold it over until 31st and have a New Year party instead. See what he thinks.

Trees are in place and decorated. The vintage decorations look lovely. Standish managed to find some imitation antique lights. They are all on the ballroom tree and greenery on the walls. The foyer tree has modern decorations and lights. Sheldon also found some seasonal greenery for more decoration. With this all done the Manor looks very festive. All set for 21 st . All presents have arrived, all superbly wrapped except for the saddles and big items.

A small bandstand has been installed at the front end of the ballroom with plenty of power strips for their instruments.

Geoff. went to collect his brother on the Thursday before the party to fit with their parents' arrangements. He would be with us until mid January. More presents to add to the huge stack beside the tree. I noticed that members of staff had also been placing presents under the tree.

A ll staff were given time on Saturday to go home an d get changed into party clothes and to collect family. Even Standish, normally so formal, had found himself a colourful jacket to wear with a large rosette on his lapel.

Braebourne Manor was in Party Mood!

The band arrived and got set up. Party food was laid out in the dining room. Standish had a couple of volunteers for the bar. People started arriving at 7.30 and the party got under way. The band had a 'caller' to call the steps for the line dances which the youngsters thoroughly enjoyed otherwise the dancing was very mixed and everybody joined in and all seemed to be enjoying. The bar was very popular, luckily Standish had plenty of beer available.

A t 9.30 I called for order and started giving out the presents with Geoff. helping. Gifting took over an hour even with two of us doing the honours,then it was back to dancing and merrymaking. Those with children started drifting off at about 11.00 and most others went home when the band closed down at midnight.

Clean up would be in the morning so the Manor was quiet by about 1.30 and Geoff. and I retired to our room. Andrew and Anthony had gone up just before us and Standish went round turning off lights before he went off. I did notice that there was no food left on the table.

Next day there was an early bustle as the staff cleaned up in the ballroom and dining room. By lunch time everything was back to normal. Geoff. and I with the two boys went out for a ride. We went over to have another look at the school site and then back through the two villages. We received plenty of waves and "Thanks for a good party" on our way.

Seems everybody was happy with their gifts.

Back at the Manor there was a pile of cheques to sign and some personal post for Geoff. and me. Mostly Christmas greetings from school friends. I saw on the table in the foyer a card from Mrs. Sloan for Steven which I thought was considerate. Which reminds me that we have to get the 'guardian' business sorted in the New Year. B etween Christmas and New Year we had a quiet time at the Manor. The Roman Villa team were off on vacation, we rode over to Upton Lodge a couple of times to see that the ponies had settled in and the new saddles were o.k.

T hen it was New Years Eve Dinner. I had given Mr. Watson a list of Annual Bonus Cheques and he had made them up and all were in nice envelopes with the Manor crest on them. Standish had placed them on the Dinner Table as place names. We all met up in the small sitting room behind the Dining room. Sherry was served, or soft drinks as required. Standish then called everybody to Dinner and asked that they do not open their envelope s until after the speeches. The footmen brought in the platters and bowls of veg. and so forth and placed them on the table. The kitchen staff then joined us and we all sat down together for a superb turkey roast with all the trimmings. That was followed by Christmas Pudding made to Mrs. Lang's traditional recipe. Wines and jugs of beer were on the table for people to help themselves.

Once all had finished eating, Standish called for silence and introduced me by name and title.

I stood and reviewed the year's happenings, both successes and tribulations. I commended everybody for their valiant efforts throughout the year especially during the renovation works. I mentioned my gratitude to all of them making me welcome at my abrupt accession to the title and for their tolerance and assistance during my settling in period. To show my thanks I offered them a bonus for the year's end and they could now open their envelopes. I sat down to polite applause. There was a small rustle as the envelopes were opened and not a few eyes were opened wide when they saw their cheques. Though in the case of the youngsters I had put cash as not all of them had bank accounts.

Geoff. and I then moved to the sitting room where there was port or brandy available. Standish acted as barman. My hand was warmly shaken and I was thanked for the gift.

Eventually only Standish and Mr. and Mrs. Lang were left and we sat and chatted about nothing much for a while and I wondered aloud what the New Year had in store for The Manor and for us. Whatever it would be I was sure it would be interesting.

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