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by Robert Cooper

Chapter 6

The builder arrived sharp on time. I called for Mr Watson and we went to the new accounts suite. I explained what we wanted with Mr Watson's input as well. The link door position was settled and paint colours agreed. I explained that Mrs Renney and her crew would give the offices a good clean out before he started, and again after he had completed the building work prior to painting.

Mr Watson wanted a pale cherry below the dado rails with our usual matt off-white above and for ceilings and woodwork. His office, his choice. I told the builder that the rooms would be emptied but he could remove the carpets before painting as it was to be replaced with office grade carpet throughout the whole suite.

With this Mr Watson was almost ecstatic. I would ask Standish to have the rooms emptied and any usable furniture stored. Mr Watson wanted Seymore's old desk which looked antique, but a new chair. Mrs Renney's crew to give the desk a good clean and polish. The builder departed promising a speedy estimate with an expected timetable.

I asked Edward to see the plumber and electrician and to get their reports as soon as possible. He knew what I wanted. Mention extra load for computer system and possible new supply cable from the road.

Computer consultant arrived at 3.30 for first visit to discuss what sort of system I wanted.

I called Watson, Mrs Lang and Standish on the house phone to have them stand by for their input.

Now to consider what I wanted for computers.

3 stations for the 'posh' office with printer. With a docking station for laptops

3 or 4? stations for general accounts with laser printer.

1 station for Mr Watson.

1 station for Mrs Lang.

I station for Mr. Standish

1 station for Mr Sheldon (where is his office?)

1 station each for Geoff and I in private offices, use laser printer. Good, new laptops with docking stations.

All stations and printers to be networked onto general office net.

Server, (secure room for server and records storage? ask Standish)

All stations to be wi-fi if possible. The manor is mostly wood so should be no problem.

The consultant arrived, listened, made lots of notes, took a copy of my notes, looked around and departed promising an outline report within three days.

Phew What a day!

I went down to the kitchen to see if I could scrounge a cup of tea. Mrs Lang was there, I asked her about having her office right in the centre of the kitchen. She said right away that it was in a daft place as is disturbed the natural flow of the kitchen.

If asked, she would prefer the room across the corridor. With the door open and a desk positioned so she could see into the kitchen, she did not anticipate spending more that about an hour or so most days in there. We looked in there. It was a nice sized room just needing a clean and some office furniture. I suggested she get with Mrs Renney for cleaning and Standish to see what could be found in the way of decent office furniture, otherwise order new. I asked her to think about daily changes of whites for the kitchen staff with disposable plastic aprons and gloves for dirty jobs. Bring it up at the Monday meeting.

Her present office was a flimsy affair so a footman could remove it in about 2 hours work.

I drank my tea and went in search of Standish. I found him in his pantry showing a young footman how to clean silverware. He left the boy and I asked him about any desks or other office furniture in store or otherwise unused. I told him about Mr. Watson and Mrs. Lang's plans and he said that he would attend to it and liaise with Mrs Renney, Mr. Watson and Mrs. Lang, he would also detail a footman to dismantle the office immediately so the industrial cleaners could clean it's space. I also mentioned the forthcoming computer system and wondered about secure room for server and records storage, enough telephone jacks and power outlets for them. He said he would investigate and report at next Monday's meeting. While going back to my own territory I noticed a lot of seemingly unused rooms.

Now being nearly 5.00 p.m. I phoned Geoff and brought him up to date.

I said that everybody seemed a lot more cheerful since the recent departures. I had also found that we had a Butler, Standish. He had informed me that he was NEVER Mr. Standish except to staff ,

Butlers were always surname only .

Geoff told me back that he had floated the ideas we had about his future to his parents and they had seemed to be OK. with the outline plan but wanted lots more details. I promised to get details of tutors as a matter of urgency. If he could finish school at Easter that would be great. We chatted a bit more about nothing much but he did mention that one of the masters there was being let go as part of the school economy measures so he will chat with him tomorrow. We will talk again tomorrow night. I told him that he could hint that the Earl of Braeborne was looking for a tutor to A. level standards and that accommodation might be available. Tell him that he already knew his potential pupils. Also that I was toying with the idea of opening a school on the estate.

Dinner at 7.00 and then work on tomorrows plans. There was a television in grandfathers room so I had one of footmen bring it along to my room which fortunately had a TV jack. Even so there was a horrid smell of cigar smoke.

Go buy a new TV. And two pocket voice recorders with control s for audio typing.

Ask Standish about satellite connection.

"Big team" builders and decorators after lunch 2.00 for estimate.

Kitchens should be finished cleaning today and Mrs Lang's office organised. I assumed that Standish had found acceptable office furniture or bought in new.

Check with Mrs Lang to see when she is ready to cook again. I had seen a large delivery van at the back door. Otherwise Edward and I will visit the other pub, the Wheatsheaf, to see what their cuisine is like.

Ask George if he is OK for my typing. Ask Watson if it causes any problems. Once the computers are in he can work from the accounts office. I can send him instructions via the interoffice network.

Warn Standish about the clearance of the three bedrooms, he is to investigate possible keeping any good antique furniture, otherwise sell or donate to charity.

Ask Standish about suitable school rooms for when I get my tutor organised. (He found this amusing.) Also accommodation for a tutor.

Phone local education dept and find out about rules for home schooling and tutors. (Edward)

Quad bike ride around estate if not raining.

Catch up with Sheldon see how he is getting on. Mention culvert fracture. Dump a load of gravel for a temporary fix.

Check with Mr Lang for any urgent problems.

Check with Mr Watson about frequency of bank statements, He to phone bank to obtain latest, as at Grandfathers death. Remind bank and Watson about possible accountants request for information concerning Death Duties. Fortunately Grandfather had died after Father so I was not liable for double death duties.

Even so they would be pretty stiff, perhaps I could give a valuable portrait in part payment.

Enquire about new passport, I had already had my identity queried as I was so young. I think it can be done mostly on line. (Edward?)

Arrange joint meeting with accountants and solicitors and bank manager as soon as possible. Tell Standish and warn of numbers for lunch. I had a vague memory of some sort of Trust mentioned when I originally met them. This may have some bearing on estate duties? Get Edward to organise this meeting.

Mention to Geoff this evening.

Ask Mother about her future plans. I had not seen or heard from her since I was pulled out of school last week. She could be very useful with her social contacts.? Come and visit? Ask Standish about suitable accommodation for her? Is there a "lady" suite in the Manor? Perhaps in the East Wing over the Ballroom? If so lets inspect it, take Mrs Renney.

Ideas falling over themselves.

Ask Mother if father had a brother or sister and if so do I have cousins?

My brain is on overload. I shall go see Standish, if he is not busy to get a tour of the ground floor. I have no idea what is there apart from the accounts suite and a vague idea of formal dining and drawing rooms. There were lots of rooms which seemed empty or unused.

JEEZZZZ More to think about. It might be worth having a decorator/handyman on the staff. Ask Standish. Might be somebody on the Estate? I am sure his reasons for the general neglect could be laid at Seymore's door.

I decided to phone Mother.

"Hello? Lady Levitt? Earl of Braeborne here!"

- Laughs- "Jimmy, your son, remember?"

"Lots to catch up on. Can you visit the Manor at Easter?"

"Good, I will send a car for you on Friday morning, I know you are an early bird so what time? -8.30 will be fine."

"Will you bring your maid?"

"O.K. I will ask Standish to arrange temporary rooms for you both. Standish is our Butler"

He is very efficient, quite formal but very approachable. However he will accept requests, but orders only from me"

"Bring comfortable clothes and walking shoes with you, You also need clothes for Church on Easter Sunday, something good but not too posh O.K.? Do you have waterproofs and outdoor clothes? Good, bring them."

"I will send the Estate Limo for you so you have plenty of room for your cases. Stay as long as you wish but apart from Church there will be no formality.

Geoff will be here for the week as well.. O.K. Bye, lots to talk about when you are here."

-house phone- Standish and Edward, my mother Dowager Lady Allice Levitt will be here for a visit arriving early Good Friday morning, she will have her maid with her. Can you make ready two rooms one double, one single adjoining for them. Get Mrs Renney and her girls on board for cleaning and if needed get two new bedding sets, mattress, duvets etc. For the time being they can be kept ready for any future visits by them ."

Standish, my mother may make requests but NOT give orders! I shall make that clear to her but she might try it on. Whatever she may think, she is NOT Lady of THIS Manor.

"Edward, arrange the limo for Friday morning, collect Lady Levitt at 8.30 at Levitt Hall."

"Arrange the car to collect Geoff from school at 4.00 Thursday."

Geoff phoned and said the redundant master is interested and will visit on Wednesday after Easter. I said to ask him to lunch. Mother will join us at lunch but not for any further discussions.

"Mrs. Lang? Meals for extras at the weekend. My Mother, Dowager Lady Levitt and her maid will be here for possibly four or five days. Also Geoff will be here all of Easter and the week after. Lunch for possible tutor on Wednesday of that week.

Meeting with Estate accountants, Bank Manager and Solicitors tomorrow at 11.00

Ask Standish to prepare a meeting room I should think for ten seats also a dining room for lunch. Advise Mrs Lang a light lunch for ten persons for 1.00p.m. wine or beer to be available.

Edward to dig out my suit from the wardrobe to see if it still fits. Otherwise a quick trip to town.

Investigate a "diary" programme for the computer, Install it on my lap top, then network it onto the Manor circuit so everybody can access it when the system goes live.

Breakfast at 7.30 cooked now in our own kitchens. Mrs Lang is obviously pleased with the cleaning.

Wet gear on and quad to find Mr. Lang and Mr. Sheldon to touch base.

Lang for preliminary chat about stable staff, horses and ponies.

Sheldon to see if he needs a quad and also if he can ride.

Once we get horses in I want to ride rather than use a quad and would prefer that he does as well. A horse can go where a wheeled vehicle can't and doesn't stink of petrol.

I also want to look at the woodland and that is easier done from horseback.

The sooner I get my head round the estate the better.

I wonder what news Geoff has about the tutor, there are plenty of on-line courses for degrees in finance and farm management. Perhaps his parents would enjoy a visit? Weekend after Easter?

Mr Lang has found his previous 4 stable boys on the estate and re-employed them all, cleaning and repairs are progressing, he has tack rooms and a small office. He expects to be ready in all respects in two weeks. He will not need an office in the house. He knows of a riding school that is going out of business soon, due to retirement of the owner and has provisionally reserved 4 horses and 4 ponies for us. There are more available. I wonder how many? Two of the mares are pregnant. He says the asking price is fair and they come with all tack. There is a local vet who does the farm animals.

He would like me to go with him to see them before he commits. Geoff will come with us during the Easter week. He rides as well.

Sheldon DOES want a quad and he can ride and understands and agrees my reasons for using a horse whenever possible. He has already made a temporary repair to the collapsed culvert pending the weather improving to allow a permanent repair. During Easter week he will take Geoff and me on a tour, means I must get two quads by then.

Back to the Manor.


"Edward, grab a copy of that invoice from accounts and see how much two quads

will cost, unless you need one in which case make it three. Try that guy who supplied the present one and then phone around and see if you can get any better prices. Delivery by Good Friday afternoon, no later. O.K.? By the way do you ride?"

"I have ridden ponies and horses since I was 5 years old"

It seems I have little to do this afternoon so perhaps Standish has time for a briefing?

He has time in about ½ hour from now. So I shall spend the time making notes of things to discuss with him I suspect that he has been blocked by Seymore on many things.

General 'seediness' of the manor.

Out of date equipment.

Poor maintenance of rooms.

Poor morale of staff until this week when I noticed a distinct uplift.

Proper staff uniforms, pride of place.

Has he enough staff?

Handy man on staff?

Tour of house including top floor, Seymore seemed reluctant to show anything.

Does he have a budget to work to?

Standish arrived and I asked him to sit and get comfortable.

I told him I would like him to be open and honest, not say what he thought I wanted to hear.

First I apologised for making staff changes without consulting him but Chef and Fields were obvious candidates for removal and Seymore had a serious care of "inertia", I also suspected that he was taking commissions on purchases for the Manor.

He agreed with all the changes I had made and the new staff were just old ones returned so no harm done.

I printed him off a list of my enquiries and let him read them.

He said (as I suspected) that the first few items were the result of constant blockage by Seymore to his requests for any repairs or decorating.

In fact he had been considering resignation because he just could not do his job properly.

Poor morale had been due to constant criticism and disparagement but even he had noticed the change when he came back from his break.

He was all in favour of a new modern staff uniform, no he did not have enough staff. He wanted at least three more to function efficiently.

He did not have a handyman but he thought it was an excellent idea.

His only budget was what Seymore said was allowed. Perhaps he could get together with Mr. Watson and produce something.

We agreed that he would go through my list and make some notes and recommendations.

I told him my view, that as this was one of the larger Estates in England, the Manor should reflect that fact. It should be a showpiece not an embarrassment as it was at the moment. The staff should be proud to work here and be "on the team".

Did he have time to show me the top floor while I was dressed for it?

He did, but needed to phone down to tell his staff where he was .

We ascended a really tacky staircase to top floor. The gallery was partly blocked with old furniture and general 'tat'. Nothing worth keeping it seemed. There were six rooms, I looked inside two and saw that they looked like old servants quarters, all full of old furniture, carpets and stuff. I asked Standish if they were all like this, he said yes. I asked where the present staff lived he replied that some had rooms downstairs, others had homes on the estate.

I said that it had all better be gone before any other improvements were made to the house and did he have any ideas. He said he would give it some thought. It was far to much for his staff, and I agreed it needed a clearance contractor. I asked him to get one in as soon as possible.

We went back down to my office.

I told him that Seymour would not be replaced. Geoff and myself would take on most of the tasks of Steward and perhaps he would accept an increase in scope of his duties (with an increase in salary of course). Perhaps think about it and more discussions soon?

I also told him that Fields had been discharged for gross neglect and safety reasons and that I had reappointed the stable master and staff. He look relieved about this and asked if I had appointed that bright young college man as estate manager. I said "Yes, Sheldon was manager now and had already found a collapsed culvert and made a temporary repair".

"I was impressed at his keenness. At his interview he had given me a long list off the top of his head of urgent Estate matters that needed attention, including locks on the fuel pumps and fuel issue books to keep inventory".

I said I wanted Mr Lang, the stable master to be responsible for the pumps. as he would more likely be on site.

I drew the meeting to a close by saying that he could ask to see me about ANY matter of estate business that was worrying him and especially any dishonesty.

I would be working more closely with him and keep him briefed in on all House matters. I suspected that Seymore had not been open with him.

Good ideas were always welcome from anybody

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