The taller of the MI5 men led the sisters, with the shorter man behind them, through a door marked ‘No Exit’, down a staircase and out onto the inner perimeter road. In an area marked ‘No Parking’ sat a brand new black Range Rover. The shorter man used a remote control to unlock the car, held open the near side rear door and invited them to take a seat. As she was getting in Jinnie asked, “Are we under arrest?” The two men chuckled and replied, “Of course not, we’re just here to give you a lift to Downing Street, I understand the PM wants a word.” Jinnie settled back into the plush leather of the rear seat and watched the Surrey countryside bordering the M23 slip by.
The car pulled up at the huge gates of Downing Street and was quickly waved through by the armed police guard. Unlike other visits to No 10 the car pulled up right outside No 10 surprising Winston who was dozing on what Jinnie thought of as ‘Larry’s windowsill’. As they climbed out, the MI5 officers wished them a good day. Jinnie led the way to the front door, which as if by magic opened just as she got there. The policeman on the inside of the door said, “Hello Mrs DeLuca, would you like to take a seat in the waiting room and someone will be with you very shortly?”
The door to the premier’s office opened and revealed Nigel sitting behind his desk, fountain pen in hand, making notes on documents as he read them. Like a headmaster, he looked over his glasses and said, “Hello girls, thank you for coming.” Pointing to the side table with his pen he continued, “Help yourself to tea and biscuits and take a seat on the sofa. I will be with you just as soon as I finish with this report from the Home Secretary, you wouldn’t believe he went to Eton and Oxford.”
When he joined them a few minutes later he said with a huge wink, “The only member of my cabinet who writes a worse report is the Education Secretary.” Then, turning to Penny, he said he had heard she had been wounded in action and asked how she was? She told him it was only a surface wound and although needing a few stitches was not going to stop her. He explained he wanted to kill two birds with one stone. Firstly he said he would like a report on their mission, he had heard it had been successful but not uneventful. They told him everything that had happened since Jinnie had last seen him in ‘C’s’ office. How the planning had gone, how the printers had been pressed for capacity. How they had been shocked by the casualness of the GOI but delighted by their performance in battle. How the mission had gone to plan until the RP had been discovered by a German patrol. How they had been fortunate to catch the patrol from the rear. Finally they praised Sergeant Williamson and how he had acted brilliantly throughout the mission. Penny said that the SAS men had been the difference between success and failure.
Jinnie was anxious to know how the whole night’s attacks had gone, particularly Dirk and Big Willie. Were they safe? The PM said that Willie and Dirk had been flown into Shoreham, together with 3 resistance leaders, one of whom was Hanna Brant. The attacks had been highly successful, catching the Germans almost completely by surprise. There had been a few firefights, one SAS man had been killed but his body had been brought back to the U.K. Several SAS men had been saved by their body armour and one SIS agent had suffered a bullet wound when a round went straight through his thigh. But in all, they had rescued everyone they had planned to release.
Nigel then said, “That’s enough about the work, now tell me about your investment into that lovely restaurant where you had your wedding reception.” Jinnie was taken by surprise, she had assumed that it was a secret. The PM continued, “You looked shocked that I know of your plans. I thought that by now you would have known that there is little that goes on in the U.K. that I don’t know about.” As if to reinforce his revelation he turned to Penny and enquired, “Will you be holding your engagement party there?” It was Penny’s time to be amazed now, just how did he know these things? She replied, “We haven’t had a chance to discuss it yet sir.” Now it was the PM’s chance to grin saying, “Please consider it, it is such a nice place and I am sure that your sister will be able to get you a discount. Oh, and please call me Nigel, I have not been knighted – yet!”
Mr Farage then said to Jinnie, “I understand that the Italian Ambassador has offered to open the newly refurbished restaurant when the work is complete. I wonder if you would consider allowing me to join him in a joint ceremony? Imagine the free publicity, the press and TV from both the U.K. and Italy will love it. You will be booked up for months in advance and I will be able to point to the Anglo Italian friendship and cooperation. It’s a win-win for both of us.”
Jinnie thought for a moment and then replied, “I would like that, but I don’t want to upset the Ambassador. I would have to ask him to make sure he agrees.” Nigel laughed and said, “That’s no problem, of course he agrees I have spoken to him already. Now all you have to do is sign the paperwork your father and the partners in the Trattoria have been drawing up. One other thing, have you chosen a company to carry out the refurbishment work yet?” Jinnie said although they had architects who had produced a costed design she didn’t think it had got to that stage yet as that would depend on the money to proceed being available and until she signed that wasn’t in place.
“Well,” said Nigel, “When you go out to tender, can I suggest you contact the young lady, Melissa, who did your hair and makeup for your wedding. Makeup is only her part-time job, she is actually a director of her mother’s smallish refurbishment company. I am sure the architect will try to push you into the arms of one of the big London companies who will pay them for the referral. But if you insist on competitive tenders I think you will be astounded by the difference in costs. But ask to visit previous work done by any and all of your tenderers and if any don’t come up to scratch don’t just dump them, just pick a different winner of the competition.”
Jinnie thanked him for his advice while thinking, ‘Is there anything he doesn’t know about?’ As if reading her mind Nigel said, “I guess you are wondering how I knew about Melissa’s other job. It’s simple really, when I was invited to your wedding the Secret Service checked out everyone associated with the wedding and it came up then. I saw a small but growing British business fighting hard to establish themselves in a market where architects make money from their client fees and try to get a second bite of the cherry by pushing their tame contractor. I have been thinking about legislation but it is not easy to draught. In the meantime I had been pushing small and medium government contracts in the direction of such companies throughout the country. Without their knowledge I have been able to push several contacts in the way of smaller independent companies and saved the nation money in the process.”
The PM called for his Jaguar to take them the short hop to the Italian Embassy to collect her car. A very tired Paolo greeted them and led them to the underground car park. He told Jinnie he had been working long hours over the past few days but would be heading back to Potters Bar that afternoon and would she pick him up at the station? She replied, of course, just to ring when he was on the train, kissed him goodbye and headed for her parents.
The first person to greet them was Larry. His intuition was obviously working as he was sitting on the garden wall outside their parent’s house when Jinnie parked beside her father’s Jaguar. He jumped down and jogged across the green to meet them. Jinnie scooped him up, made a fuss of him and asked him if he had missed her. As usual, mum was in the kitchen and dad was pottering in the greenhouse. The girls sat themselves down in the living room with Larry sprawled across Jinnie, while Mrs Walsh got the kettle on. By the time the mugs of tea arrived Penny was asleep and Jinnie was yawning. Mr Walsh must have smelt the tea because he arrived from the garden. Seeing how shattered the girls were he proposed they get a few hours sleep. Jinnie said she had promised to pick up Paolo from the station. Mr Walsh said that was no problem he would do it.
After dinner, when everyone was sat in the living room having a post-dinner coffee from mum’s new coffee machine Christmas present, Mr Walsh brought up the subject of investing in the Trattoria Trevi. He explained how his business studies colleague had raved about the business plan, saying it was one of the best researched, written and presented he had ever seen. He said he would invest in the project if it had been him reviewing it for a bank and considered them mad to turn it down. Jinnie told her father what the PM had said about choosing a contractor to do the work. Without hesitation Mr Walsh said he saw the sense in getting multiple quotes for the refurbishment but warned that the cheapest quotation was not always the best. Sometimes you had to go with your gut feeling and pick the contractor who impressed you the most.
Jinnie and Penny had a few of days off to make up for working over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, so the following morning she and her father met with the manager of the Trattoria Trevi at Jinnie’s solicitor’s office. Her father had hired the same solicitor who had dealt with Ethel’s will, so both Jinnie and her Father were familiar with the offices and the meeting room. Jinnie explained to the manager, who was authorised to act on behalf of the restaurants owning partnership, that before she signed she wanted to discuss getting competitive tenders for the refurbishment and fit out work. When she explained about the incestuous relationships between some architects and contractors costing their clients money he agreed to her suggestion asking for several tenders based on the architect’s design was only sensible. Consequently Jinnie signed the documents to join the partnership and handed over a bank transfer.
Penny suggested to Jinnie that she asked Melissa to come around to give her a trial for hair and makeup for her engagement party. They could then get her chatting about her other job. Jinnie agreed and Melissa was invited the following evening. While conducting a test on Penny, Jinnie talked to Melissa asking her about her makeup business. Melissa explained that basically it was a Saturday job. She worked full time as design director for her mother’s fit-out and refurbishment business but as she was a qualified makeup artist working on Saturdays kept her hand in and as a single mother paid for a few luxuries.
Jinnie asked Melissa about the sort of work the company undertook and Melissa replied, “Just about anything, offices, factories, mezzanine floors, canteens, industrial kitchens, storage facilities, warehouses, restaurants, restrooms, lecture halls and over the summer holidays we tend to do a lot of work in schools.” Jinnie decided that it sounded like they could do the job and decided to ask Melissa to put her in touch with the company’s sales team as she had something of a refurbishment and fit out project she would like them to tender for. Melissa asked how big the job was and Jinnie outlined the extent of work and said the architects who had designed it thought about £250,000 for the refurbishment and fit out. Melissa replied, “That sounds like our sort of project. Do you mind if I phone mum right now?” After explaining to her mother what was being discussed she handed over her phone to Jinnie and said, “Will you speak to mum please, her name is Belinda.”
They chatted for a few minutes while Belinda established that there were architects design drawings available, but the fixtures and fittings were not specified nor were colours our finishes. Belinda asked if she could come and talk to them in the late morning, to see the site and to get an idea what was required by way of work and what they wanted in the expanded kitchen and furniture and fittings wise. She said she would try to bring along her electrIcal engineer, her air conditioning man, her proposed site manager and her lead designer. Could they have copies of the architect’s drawings to take back to work on?
Jinnie contacted the manager and he said that with the money in the bank the partnership had already secured the lease and put in the formal application for change of use and the council had previously indicated that it would be viewed favourably. Jinnie said she had a contractor lined up to come and see the site late the following morning and could he be there to meet with her and the contractor’s team. He agreed and said he would ask the architects to obtain a formal quote for the work and also find another local contractor to quote so that they had three to compare. Jinnie suggested that unless asked directly they didn’t volunteer the information to the bidders that they were in a three-way fight.
Jinnie and the restaurant manager were sitting in the restaurant enjoying a cappuccino and discussing progress on the project when Belinda and her team arrived. Belinda was a blonde who Jinnie guessed was in her mid to late fifties. An extremely smartly dressed stylish woman, within a few minutes of meeting her Jinnie was impressed by apparent knowledge of the job and the respect that her team had for her. There were all in their forties except for the designer who was late 20s or early 30s and Jinnie’s senses told her was gay. Not that he was effeminate but there was just something. They immediately started looking over the architect’s designs and discussing them. Then they looked at the new premises and finally the existing kitchen. Belinda went back to her car and returned with several furniture catalogues and a discussion ensued on the preferred types of tables and chairs. The designer was talking colours, styles, feature walls, and lighting all the time making notes. The electrician was a little worried if the power supply to the kitchen would take the extra supply for the additional equipment that was wanted. The A/C man was satisfied that the existing system could be easily extend and upgraded to take the additional load.
Jinnie sat back and watched as the team fleshed out the architect’s basic design and drew out of the manager just what he wanted in the new restaurant. Belinda pulled the team together, ensuring that each specialist had all the information required before turning to each and asking how long each of them required for their part of the build and making notes on what could run concurrently. She then asked if they had done anything yet about building regulations and when told no, she said she could arrange that and pass on the price at cost. Finally, Belinda told them that she would have a full quotation for them in seven days complete with drawings, specifications of all proposed equipment, some rendered images of the design, mood boards and samples of flooring and other materials such as the tiles for the toilets.
Finally Benda warned them that they could do 95% of the work in the new area without interfering with the running of the existing restaurant, they could prepare much of the kitchen expansion while the restaurant was closed during the day. But they would need to close the restaurant for three days to complete the kitchen work and knock through and make good the adjoining wall in several places while installing supporting RSJs. Jinnie asked if they were thinking of placing an order with them would it be possible to see examples of their work and talk to the companies who had commissioned them? Belinda replied, “Of course, just give me a ring and I will supply you with a list of recent clients and what we did for them. You can either contact them directly or speak to me and I will arrange a visit. They are all people who have agreed to go on our list but I must say that in the last ten years I have only had one customer who would not go on the list, but that was because the work he carries out is for the government and secret. He will, however, talk to prospective clients on the phone.”
Jinnie was amazed, in an hour and a half Belinda and her team had worked out exactly what they were proposing, got lighting and colour schemes sorted and gone away to finalise and cost everything. Not only were they clearly knowledgeable, they were quick and likeable. Jinnie said to Alberto the manager, “What did you think of them?” Alberto replied in one word “Impressive.” Jinnie continued, “I suspected if their price is anywhere near the architect’s guesstimate they are going to be hard to beat.”
The following day the other two bidders arrived for site visits. A local firm consisting of two people; an old man who said he was the owner and a youngster who appeared to be there solely to take notes. They spent a couple of hours wandering around and promised a quote and drawings in ten days. Then came the architect’s recommendation, a slick salesman. He wandered the site taking photos and and left several flashy brochures featuring many pictures of recent contracts. Many appeared to be banks, internet businesses and software houses and featured staff table tennis rooms and slides between floors. He promised a quote in two weeks when asked about drawings, mood board and colour swashes he sucked his biro and said maybe if they were willing to wait another week. As the two earlier tenderers had mentioned that a full maintenance manual would be supplied at the end of the job detailing things like paints used, equipment manuals and cleaning instructions Jinnie asked if such an item would be supplied. The salesman said, “Yes, is an optional extra, priced at £5,000 and available 10 weeks after completion and final payment of the project.” Jinnie asked Alberto what he thought of the salesman. His answer was, “As unimpressive as Belinda’s team was impressive.”
Over the next seven days the restaurant took two calls from Belinda’s company, the first was to say sorry, they had forgotten to to ask if they had a fire plan for the existing building showing fire exits and routes, call points, extinguishers etc. as they wanted to incorporate it into the drawing for the extended building. If they won the contract it would be required by building control and the fire brigade. Doing it now would save time. The second call was about the wall tile colour for the new ladies WC. The chosen tile was in short supply and although the supplier had more on order they were on extended delivery. There was a worry that a second batch would probably not be a colour match. Would a close alternative be acceptable? Jinnie was impressed at the detail that was being worked through by a company that didn’t have an order and said so to Belinda. She replied that time spent planning a project now was cheap. It allowed them to kick off a contract as soon as an order was placed as they knew exactly what was needed and had to be ordered when to meet the construction programme. If, a fortnight into the project, they ran out of toilet wall tiles and had to wait weeks for more it could be a disaster.
Exactly one week later Belinda delivered her bid. She had to make three trips to her car to bring in mood boards, product samples, relevant equipment brochures and a roll of drawings. While Belinda was shuttling to and from her car. Jinnie and Alberto stole a look at the bottom line in the quotation. It came in at £225,500 + VAT. The two partners looked at each other and grinned. The only extra was, as promised, building regulation approval. This was a fixed sum based on the cost of the project and Belinda had even included a copy of the local authority fee schedule. VAT was not a problem, the restaurant was VAT registered so would, of course, be offset against payments to Customs and Excise, it was just a bit more work for their accountants.
Belinda sat down with them and went through the quotation, referring to the drawings and the rendered images. She explained clearly and precisely what everything was and, where they had varied slightly from the architect’s specification, why. Jinnie listen intently and asked the occasional question. The design drawings were not something Jinnie found simple to understand but the rendered images were. They showed both floors the proposed finished restaurant and the toilets in 3D. Alberto loved them, it was his baby coming to life. The bar chart showing the work programme was simple to grasp and showed a 10-week programme with the Trattoria closed for 3 days in week ten. The last day of the programme was a full deep site clean. Finally, there were no more questions and Belinda shook their hands and left them saying she hoped to be hearing from them soon, but she realised they almost certainly had other bids to compare hers with.
Three days later the local man presented his companies bid. It was nowhere near as comprehensive as Belinda’s but it seemed to cover most things in the specification, however Jinnie quickly spotted a few anomalies and ‘optional’ extras that weren’t really extra. The specification had called for Dulux paint throughout, but the quote included for cheaper Leyland paint, likewise the specified flooring specifications had been replaced with cheaper imports from the Far East. There was a paragraph saying it was the restaurant’s responsibility to ensure compliance with building regulations and, last but not least, was an extra for supplying skips at £750 per skip. Jinnie asked how many would be required and was met with a shrug and told “Probably 10”. Then Jinnie looked in vain for the final site clean and was told, “Oh we can organise that but it will be an extra to contract.” The bottom line of the bid said £220,750 + VAT plus extras. Jinnie decided to ask her dad to set up a comparative spreadsheet.
Just after the local man left, the salesman from the big company rang, he was sorry to have to tell them that on consideration his company was going to withdraw from bidding the the contract price looked likely to fall below their minimum value of £375,000. He offered to refer them to a partner company who undertook “Low Value” contracts, he was told not to bother.
Jinnie’s dad jumped at the chance to use his spreadsheet skills and soon produced a spreadsheet that proved just what Jinnie and Alberto had guessed, Belinda’s bid was by far the cheapest when the second bid was adjusted to bring it to the specified standard. A partner’s meeting was called and the results of the bidding contest were presented with the recommendation that they proceed with Belinda’s bid provided they saw some of the company’s previous work. The partners took one look at the standardised costs and the rendered images and agreed unanimously. One of the chefs said thank goodness they had asked for more than one bid as they would still be at the start point if they had gone with the architect’s recommendation. Jinnie went off to phone Belinda with the good news, and asked to see some of her work. She said, “Thank you. We have a couple of jobs you might like to see, I would suggest a West End restaurant and a pharmaceutical company in Harlow where we refurbished the whole building but I am particularly proud of the new kitchen, staff restaurant and directors dining room. Now would you mind completing the order form in the back of the quotation and get it over to me, a scanned copy e-mailed will suffice. I will then get my account department to email over an invoice for the 10% deposit. While talking I have checked staff availability and I think we can start work on Monday. Peter, the site supervisor you met, is nearly finished his current project and I think I can trust his deputy to tidy up. He likes to start early and is normally on site by 07:30 but as it’s the first day I will suggest he leaves it until 08:00. I will be over about 09:30 with Andrew the designer, just to ensure everything is on track. That is of course if you still want to proceed having seen our work.” Then came the bit she wasn’t looking forward to a ‘thanks but no thanks’ e-mail to the losing local contractor. While Jinnie was organising the contract, the other partners turned to discussing sourcing the extra employees they had in the business plan and would need to staff the expanded restaurant.
In Chapter 21 – The Big Build.
© WorthingGooner 2022