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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 8

We decided to try and live normally. We could do little until probate was granted. Even with Mr. Dawson chasing it would be three months or more. We could however get valuations on the house and contents. We could also help the Betts' with their property planning. As I mentioned earlier, there was a cottage for lease in the 'Thatchers' village and we arranged a showing. They found it pleasing, especially as it was close to Geoff. and Anthony. They said they would think about it and let us know inside a week. Geoff. also told them that they could chose any furniture from the house that was not antique. We also said that if they chose this cottage it would be decorated for them and all services updated where needed. With furniture and stuff from the house they could furnish two bedrooms, sitting and dining rooms and be comfortable. The only covenant was that on their demise the leasehold would pass back to the estate. They had no children. As it was leasehold they would have some of the housing allowance in the will left over to boost their pension. By the end of the week they had chosen to lease the cottage. We contacted Mr. Roberts, our small jobs contractor to go ahead and redecorate the cottage and renew the kitchen appliances to their choice. . We arranged Mr. and Mrs. Betts to come for a day and meet him to discuss colours, appliances and other things. We would arrange a car and lunch for them.

I n the third week of January we heard from the Education Committee that they had approved our plans. They would give us a year group based 'per capita' allowance as per their schedule of grants, a grant towards staff remuneration again based on the schedule and a maintenance and equipment grant each year, all in line with the other schools in their district t o commence when the school is finished and operational . The Committee also told us that they had approved the school building with the Planning Committee.

This left the Sports and Leisure Building to be approved, but we had been told unofficially that with the Education Committee approval, the rest was more or less assured.

This would give us plenty to occupy our minds while waiting for Probate.

Anthony, while only 14 had shown a sensible head on his shoulders, was given tasks to research in connection with the project. Not just 'make work' things, he really was being helpful assist ing Edward with research.

Laying in a new 8 inch sewerage pipe would cost many thousands of pounds, involve closing roads, local authorities and tons of paperwork. With a fosse/septic tank system we could carry out m ost of the work ourselves, place the 'epondage' where we wanted it and buy in the necessary tanks and pipes ourselves and get our discount. I envisaged laying in the soak away pipes in the habitat borders of the fields. This way we can use a small digger bucket just big enough for the pipes and keep the disturbance to a minimum. Inside les s than a year it will have all grown over and also not be liable to plough damage. Sheldon said the he and his crew could easily manage that task. We had decided that a two tank system was best. That way the sewerage foul water could be separated from rain water and pool waste. We contacted our Water Company adviser and asked him to come and see us.

We also contacted two modular building suppliers for quotations. We sent them specifications for the two projected buildings. Once we ha ve the plans for the buildings we could obtain estimates for the foundations. The excavation for the pool would have to be carefully managed to avoid the risk of collapse prior to the concrete liner being poured.

T he pool will be 50 mtrs X 25 mtrs X 5 mtrs below diving boards. Board heights 3 mtrs and 1 mtr. No high board.

Once I get all the estimates then I can get the accountants moving on raising the necessary finance.

In the middle of the month Sheldon told me that a farm adjacent to our land was having difficulties managing his fields. He was also constrained by a trust so could not sell but was offering a long lease on about 60 acres of land. Sheldon thought the price was good and that he could use the land profitably. If I thought it a was good idea then he would produce some figures for the next Monday Meeting. I told him to go ahead and give us the figures and also signal our intent to the land holder. I will contact the legal people and

estate accountants to let them know what is going on. The extra revenue from cropping 50 acres of productive land with high yield crops such as wheat, corn or potatoes will come in handy. He also had a land improvement grant for a new tractor barn on the east side of the Manor to replace the sheds we were demolishing for the big project.

Our final mock exam had been 'endured' and marked. As Mr. Timms expected we both achieved 'A' grades but he saw no reason to rest on those marks but to work harder for 'A*' grades. They would look better for our 'Uni' applications.

At the planning meeting held on 24th we were given outline planning permission for the Leisure Centre and School. The only caveat applied was of appearance. This would be satisfied with cladding both buildings with suitable materials to blend in with the local environment. This would be specified on the full planning application. We had outline plans from both building manufacturers so we need to consider which to chose. We do not have to chose the same for both buildings. If we chose two different builders I would prefer to build the school first and perhaps get it operational for the new school year in September.

I would put the plans out on the large table and get the staff to look at them and comment at the next Monday Meeting. Also on the agenda would be Sheldon's proposal for leasing the extra land and various 'domestic' items.

I had some feedback from the legal team concerning Steven's status. They had told me that adoption would be unadvisable from the Manor Trust angle and that guardianship like I had with Richard Upton would be better. They felt that after full discussions with Mrs. Sloan she would agree. They would send draft papers for her information with their representative to the meeting.

With only three months to go before our 'A' level examinations Geoff. and I felt that we had enough going on and hoped that no other great crisis would burst upon us.

Monday Meeting was most informative with lots of ideas and suggestions from the staff, channelled through their Department Heads. The two that stood out were a 'splash pool' for the little ones and a pre-school for 4 to 5's. This latter was clearly in Mr. Timms' area so I told the meeting that I would put it to him and see what his reaction was. It clearly would be of benefit for the Manor community. Sheldon was given his 'go ahead' for the land leasing. Various other routine matters were discussed. Most satisfactory. These Monday Meetings seemed to be very helpful. There was rarely any major dissent and those were usually solved there and then or put back for further investigation. Geoff. and I found them most helpful in our decisions about Estate matters.

The meeting about Steven was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Present would be Mrs. Sloan and one of her caseworkers. One of my Legal team. Myself,Geoff. Edward for minutes and of course Steven. Geoff. and I had briefed Steven on the evening before so that he was fully aware of what the meeting was about. We told him that if he felt overwhelmed or thought that we were talking past him and not to him he could pause the meeting for clarification, especially about any legal matters that were being discussed. This meeting was for HIM and that his opinion mattered. It was not about a bunch of adults talking about him as if he were a sack of potatoes.

The meeting opened with the legal adviser laying out the rules for the Manor Trust. Basically, to benefit from the trust, the successor had to be a minor. The other major factor was that he had to be 'Of the Blood.' Otherwise the Trust became extinct. This meant that the estate became liable to normal dues and taxes which would eventually effectively destroy the estate.

He went on the explain 'Guardianship under the Estate' where the ward was entitled to some rights and all protections by the trust but not the right of inheritance. The other alternative was direct personal guardianship by me as a 'private' person not as Earl which would be complicated. The recommendation by the legal team in this case was 'Guardianship under the Estate.' This would give him all the security of adoption but under a different name. He would also benefit financially. The Earl would be in 'Loco Parentis'. To be in all respects his guiding parent until he reached legal age. He sat down and waited for questions.

Mrs. Sloan asked "Did this mean that the 'Manor estate' would effectively adopt him but he would not be Heir?" He answered that it would .

I put in that while I would be happy to adopt under different circumstances, I had a duty to the Earldom to ensure the continuance of the trust and this seemed to be the best way around the 'of the blood' problem. Steven would be safe, well provided for, well educated and financially secure. He just would be out of the line of inheritance. He would also have secure employment on the Manor for as long as he wished.

I then asked Steven for his viewpoint.

He said " Lord James has already explained to me the difficulties of adoption. His alternative seems to be a good alternative. I have no living direct relatives so I would be in a group home which I would not enjoy. Also, at my age my chances of adoption would be small to none and that is if a suitable parent was found who I felt compatible with. I enjoy living here. The school is good. The food is good. The adults are kind and caring. They take an interest in what I do. I have made many friends of my own age. As we all saw recently, they protect me against harm. The cost of that protection must have been considerable but was given freely. When the Inspector called to warn them about the risk to me they all immediately started planning my protection. At the moment, with my arm in plaster I can not do much but I help where I can and it is appreciated and I am told so. In conclusion, I LIKE it here, I feel safe and wanted. I want to stay here please."

"Wow" I thought, "Mrs. Sloan, only a cast iron heart could resist that appeal."

Mrs. Sloan coughed gently. She then said "Steven that was very well put. You have obviously given much thought to this. Under the rules,at your age, we must give credence to your wishes and you have put those wishes forward very firmly. I will need time to study the legal papers that I have been given and I will consider them with your wishes in mind. You will of course stay here during this time and I will give our decision soon. This matter is serious enough and so far out of our guidelines that I need to get a ruling from my superiors. I will urge this matter through as hard as I can together with my strong recommendation for approval. I will also include your eloquent statement of your wishes. With that they all gathered up their things and departed.

I said to Steven " We just have to wait and see."

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