As the university was on its Christmas break, Penny joined the rest of the human members of the household in travelling to London by the train every day. She was attached to the documents group over the Christmas and New Year break, learning all about forging Third Reich passes, licences and ID cards. Jinnie’s small section were busy planning a mission to insert an agent into Yugoslavia where some politicians had been in contact with the resistance talking about following Italy out of the Reich. Willie was settling into his job in the underground pistol range and was proving very popular. He had been granted refugee status but was well on the way to being granted U.K. citizenship.
The only household member not too happy was Larry as the house emptied early every morning and it was often seven in the evening before he got his tea. He decided to spend a bit more time with the old lady two houses down the road and she was delighted to have his company. Larry heard the discussion about the Christmas holiday and got a little worried. Willie was going to stay in the house over the holiday and he and Dirk were to spend Christmas day together and, as neither was a very good cook, they had booked Christmas lunch at something called a Toby Inn. Larry was a little bothered that Jinnie, Paolo and Penny would not take him to Potters Bar for the holidays and leave him with Willie. He liked Willie but he wanted to be with Jinnie and to be reacquainted with her parents and his friend the skewbald mare.
A couple of days before Christmas Jinnie started laying out clothes to take to Hertfordshire and Larry was mighty relieved when he saw the pet carrier come out of the cupboard under the stairs. When the day to travel to Potters Bar arrived he didn’t leave the house for more than a couple of minutes, he didn’t want to be left behind. When Jinnie called him he walk straight into the pet carrier and settled down on his favourite cushion that Penny had thoughtfully moved to the carrier from his basket, she had even put his squeaky mouse in the carrier to keep him happy.
Larry snoozed nearly all the way to the girl’s parents’ house waking just as Jinnie parked in the bay over the green from their house. As he stretched, Penny pulled up alongside them. Paolo walked over the green carrying his and Jinnie’s suitcase in one hand and Penny’s in his other. Jinnie took the pet carrier and a huge carrier bag full of presents while Penny followed on with two more bags of presents. Larry couldn’t understand why they had to keep him in the carrier as they crossed the green, he knew where they were going and if he wanted dinner he wasn’t going anywhere!
Mr and Mrs Walsh were waiting for them and after hugs and kisses all round they let Larry out of the carrier and Jinnie swapped his collar for the one that opened the cat flap in the back door. He could smell fresh paint so he set off to investigate. Jinnie’s bedroom, well now Jinnie and Paolo’s bedroom, had been re-decorated and there was a new double bed. The bathroom had also been refitted and there was a new carpet, duvet cover and matching curtains in Penny’s room. All very tasteful Larry thought. He padded downstairs and headed out to the garden, the humans were all sat around the gas fire chatting and drinking tea so he knew it wasn’t time to eat yet, he had time to go and say hello to his friend the skewbald mare.
Larry lost track of the time chatting and only realised it was time to eat when he saw the dining room light come on and through the patio doors humans were taking places around the dining table. Larry came through the cat flap and found his bowl filled with Felix Beef. But before eating he had to investigate the odd flashing light coming from the front room. In one corner was a huge Christmas tree with flashing lights and under it was a pile of presents wrapped in Christmas paper. One smelt intriguing, he couldn’t quite place it. First it smelt like Dreamies Chicken, then beef, then fish and then cheese, was confused.
Mrs Walsh had made her flakey pastry steak and kidney pie with roast potatoes, sprouts and cauliflower, all homegrown in the garden. Jinnie only hoped Paolo would like it, kidney was not to everybody’s taste and she had never cooked it for him. Fortunately he was happy to eat kidney and told them all about one of his mother’s dishes ‘kidney in fresh tomato sauce’. Jinnie thought when I meet his mum I must ask for the recipe and surprise him by cooking it. Her cooking was improving but was nothing like her mum’s or Simone’s. Last time she had made pastry it had been a disaster and when she told her mum, in one of their regular phone conversations, her mum had let her into a secret she used frozen pastry from Tesco.
The dessert was apple pie and cream, again made with apples from the garden. Mum said as she was doing traditional turkey and all the trimmings for Christmas dinner tomorrow she wanted something ‘ordinary’ for dinner. While Jinnie and Penny tackled the washing up and made after dinner coffee, the others went into the front room to watch TV. Larry watched the girls through half-closed eyes from his cushion that had been moved to his Potters Bar cat basket. Jinnie sat down next to Paolo, Larry joined them and Penny poured the coffee from a Thermos jug.
Paolo entertained them by telling them about Christmas lunch in Italy explaining that it was a huge blowout with multiple courses lasting three or four hours. The meal started with antipasto, usually cheese, salami, cured meats and olive, followed by baked pasta, his family preferred lasagna. Then came the main meat course often veal or chicken but his mum usually did roast lamb. Then came the second meat course, pork chops and sausages. For dolce his mother served tiramisu, panna cotta or tartufo. Jinnie said she was not sure she could manage all that and Paolo said next year we must visit my family.
Jinnie asked her mum if she had planned the usual cold meat, pickle and salad for boxing day after their normal trip to watch Barnet play. She had yes of course. Jinnie said, “Great. It can wait until the following day. I have booked a table for six at the Trattoria Trevi and Penny has invited Daniel as they have a lot of time to make up as they have only talked on the phone since the summer. Jinnie explained that it was a special treat for Paolo and they were putting on a Santo Stefano’s Lunch for the evening, the manager has said it was easy to arrange as it was what the staff would normally eat. Of course everyone wanted to know what a Santo Stefano’s lunch was and Paolo laughed as he explained it was much like Mrs Walsh’s Boxing Day lunch, leftovers!
Jinnie woke up on Christmas morning with Larry lying on her legs. ‘How did he get there,’ she thought ‘I’m sure I closed the bedroom door last night.’ Looking at her watch she saw it was just past seven so she got out of bed and quietly headed downstairs to make tea in bed for everyone. Of course Larry wasn’t interested in tea, he wanted his breakfast. Jinnie found him a pouch of Felix Chicken, well it was Christmas! She headed upstairs with a tray full of mugs, distributed them and climbed back into bed.
Mum called out, “Full English breakfast for everyone at 08:30 no lying in bed. Then presents after you lot do the washing up while I get the turkey in the oven.” Jinnie groaned. A full English followed by a Turkey dinner, she hoped it would be a late lunch.
Penny beat both Paolo and Jinnie downstairs and had nearly finished laying the table for breakfast. Everyone turned down cereal, but fortunately Mrs Walsh brought out a platter filled with fried eggs, bacon, fried bread, mushrooms, sausages, black pudding and a bowl of baked beans allowing everyone to take as much food as they wanted. Even Larry was happy, Mr Walsh slipped him half a pork sausage which he took back to his cat basket to consume.
Jinnie and Penny did the washing up while Mrs Walsh fussed around checking and basting the turkey, making sure the pigs in blankets were defrosted, for once she had bought M&S rather than making her own, sorting out the vegetables were ready to cook and that the Christmas pudding was steaming nicely and the water wasn’t too low. It was Grandma Walsh’s recipe pudding and considered the star of the meal. The prawns for the prawn cocktails were checked on and looked plump and tasty. Larry was being tantalised by the smells wafting out of the kitchen and hoped he was in for a few treats.
Mr Walsh and Paolo had taken all the carefully wrapped parcels from under the tree and divided them up into piles for everyone, even Larry. As the parcels were unwrapped Larry let his inner kitten take over, playing with the paper, the ribbons and climbing in the boxes. Penny had a surprise, Daniel had dropped in a present for her the day before she got home, a lovely silver bracelet, she didn’t know he had such good taste. Fortunately she had bought a Swatch watch for him and had intended to give it to him when they were reunited at the Trattoria Trevi on Boxing Day. Paolo had given Jinnie the most exquisite pair of diamond earrings of a similar style to her pendant. She burst into tears of happiness. Jinnie had bought her husband the latest mobile-enabled iPad Pro with an Apple pencil and a keyboard. He had been moaning about how big clunky and slow his laptop was and how hard it was to use on the train to and from work. Jinnie had sought out her old housemate Nigel for advice, he was the biggest IT geek she knew, and he had said if money was no object this was the ultimate. Paolo was delighted and he and Mr Walsh spent all the rest of the morning setting it up and learning how to use it.
Eventually there were just five parcels left on the table all for Larry. He sat on the table in a pile of wrapping paper wondering what was happening with these last parcels. Jinnie stroked him and said to him, “These are your presents Larry which shall we open first?” He was about to point out the one with the intriguing smell when he remembered they didn’t know he could understand the so he just meowed. Jinnie picked up a parcel and said, “Right this one first I think.” It was a new toy, a jumping fish that leapt in the air when he touched it. The next parcel contained a smart new imitation marble bowl with his name on it. Then came a sparkling and light up Christmas bow tie that attached to his collar. Jinnie fixed it for him and he rather liked it. It reminded him of a Union Flag, one that Nigel had got for him to wear on special occasions. The next parcel was the one he had been waiting for, it was a Christmas stocking full of packs of different flavoured Dreamies. That explained the confusion of smells and delighted him. The final parcel contained a remote control mouse. The men had great fun driving it around the dining room.
Larry decided to go and show the skewbald mare his bow tie and tell her about the other presents. She had tinsel around her bridal and had been given a fresh carrot and apple with her breakfast and the girl who came to check on her had brought her sugar lumps. Back in the house the men had settled in front of the TV and the women were getting on with lunch until Penny disappeared to phone Daniel and thank him for the bracelet. She explained she would give him his present at the restaurant tomorrow. Dinner was ready just before three so the TV was moved into a position where it could be seen while they were eating, as they wanted to see the King’s address to the nation.
The King made a normal speech talking about how well the nation was recovering from occupation, industry was booming, how he was delighted with how the four nations were working together. There was the normal bits or film of the Queen and the princes and princess and finally the King announced that he had been invited to visit both Spain and Italy during the next year and was pleased to tell the kingdom he had accepted. Paolo groaned, all he could see was a huge amount of work coming his way.
At about seven that evening, Mrs Walsh asked who wanted a sandwich. There was turkey, ham even prawn left over from the prawn cocktails. The only thing anyone wanted was a cup of tea, that is anyone except Larry! Mrs Walsh gave him a mixture of some of his favourite Felix Chicken, leftover sausage from breakfast, prawns and turkey all served in his new bowl. He wolfed it all down and retired to his basket to sleep.
Boxing Day morning was only a normal breakfast, bacon sandwiches all round. Later they all squeezed into Mr Walsh’s Jaguar and went to watch the football. This time he knew where he was going and got there in plenty of time. Paolo was introduced to the British winter tradition of Bovril and a hot dog smothered in fried onions and tomato sauce at halftime. The hot dog he liked well enough but not the Bovril. He would have preferred a coffee, even an instant one served in a paper cup. Barnet won two-nil to maintain their position in mid-table.
Their table was booked for seven o’clock and the women seemed to take ages to get ready, especially Penny. She decided to drive herself to the restaurant making the excuse that she could then drive Daniel home as his dad was dropping him off at the restaurant and she didn’t want him to have to get a cab home. Daniel was waiting outside when the family arrived and primly kissed Penny on the cheek. She grabbed him and much to his embarrassment gave him a full-on snog.
They were greeted in the restaurant like old friends. Jinnie and Paolo immediately started talking to the manager in Italian and he explained just how much business their wedding had brought their way. Having the Prime Minister and the Italian Ambassador dine in their restaurant brought in huge numbers of customers. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night they were filling every table and turning away more than the full number of covers each night. They had taken to opening for Saturday and Sunday lunch and again were always full although they didn’t turn away as many as on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Sunday evening and Monday they closed but Tuesday and Wednesday were their quietest nights when it was sometimes possible to get a table without booking. The manager said when Jinnie had phoned to make a booking he had swapped all sorts around to accommodate her.
The manager then told them the lease on the shop next door had become available as the estate agents who had been there had moved to a bigger premises in Darkes Lane. The manager continued that they had considered purchasing it and increasing their table count and enlarging the kitchens but the banks wouldn’t lend to them as they were still all Italian citizens. The banks just had looked at their business case, said how strong it was but sorry their rules barred them from making loans to non-Britons.
The menus appeared swiftly with two complimentary bottles of Krug. It was a fixed menu tonight, starting with a Russian salad made with the leftover fish from the Christmas Eve traditional fish dishes. This was followed by a broth made from the remains of the Christmas Day chicken with egg noodles. Next came arancini balls made from yesterday’s leftover risotto. Then came frittata di pasta, this was new to Jinnie and she had to ask Paolo what it was. He explained that it was made from all the different kinds of leftover pasta but in a bowl with eggs and beaten before discs were poured on a skillet and fried on both sides. It was normally served with a mixed salad. Finally, the dessert was panettone reloaded. Again Jinnie had to ask Paolo, he said if you like tiramisu you will like this. Strips of panettone are soaked in coffee liqueur and served with mascarpone.
The meal was a great success and over the coffee Jinnie talked to her father about the predicament the restaurant owners were in. As the discussion had been in Italian he had no idea what they had been discussing. She explained they had a thriving business which had a wonderful opportunity to expand. The banks wouldn’t loan them money because they weren’t British. She said to her father she had money and it looked like a great investment, one that would pay a better return than the “safe” investments her money was in. Her father thought about it for a while then said, “Let’s talk to them and ask to see the business plan. There are several ways forward, the plan could be flawed. It could be excellent and we decide to proceed. Then we have a choice, you loan them the money and take repayments or you buy into the business and either take dividends or a share of the profits.” Jinnie said, “OK, let’s talk to them and ask for a sight of business plan.”
Jinnie and her dad went off and talked to the manager who appeared to be a spokesman for the group. Mr Walsh told him of their proposal and asked how much money they needed. He said they need about £500,000 to get the lease and the alterations done. But the five of them were able to put up half of that amount so they needed about £250,000. He would have a quick staff gathering, see what the consensus was and get back to them before they left that evening.
When Jinnie and Mr Walsh got back to the table, Mrs Walsh was crying, Paolo looked confused and Penny and Daniel were holding hands and grinning from ear to ear. Penny asked what was happening and Penny held out her left hand and displayed an engagement ring. Jinnie hugged her sister and congratulated her. Mr Walsh had always liked Daniel and told them all Daniel had approached him a few days ago and had his permission to propose. He was touched by the old fashioned courtesy and said ‘yes’ but it was Penny’s decision ultimately.
Mr Walsh suggested more Champagne to celebrate, but Penny said as she had to drive it wasn’t a good idea and perhaps an engagement party might be a better occasion and that was agreed. Penny and Daniel departed to tell his mother and father they were engaged and the remaining four called for the bill. It arrived with a decent discount and a copy of the business case that had been turned down by the bank. Mr Walsh promised to give it a good review and get back to them in the next couple of days.
The following morning, Jinnie was woken around seven-thirty by her mobile ringing. The number showed ‘withheld’ and she assumed it was the PM. But she was wrong, it was Emma, ‘C’s’ personal assistant. She was sorry to phone her during her Christmas/New Year break but there was a major flap in the office, could she get in as soon as possible and it might mean a few long days. As she leapt out of bed and headed for the bathroom she heard Penny’s mobile start ringing. Jinnie thought ‘Surely not Daniel, she only got in at two’. Moments later Penny was banging on the bathroom door shouting, “How much longer are you going to be, I have to get into the Cross ASAP.”
In Chapter 18 – A joint mission.
© WorthingGooner 2022