Jinnie’s Story, Book Four – Chapter Twenty

The lunch

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
I haven’t had a lamb shank in years.
Dine Out 2012: Cafe Pacifica Restaurant – Braised Lamb Shank,
Pan Pacific
Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

Jinnie was busy working on her PC when Penny stuck her head around the door and asked, “Have you seen the latest message from Steven?” Jinnie said, “No, is there anything new?” Penny replied, “I think he wants to take out the whole Kriegsmarine. He is proposing setting up laser designators on every ship in the dockyard and F-35s dropping guided bombs. He says Maja’s group will take out the air defences and guards. Once that’s done he says they will secure the port until the commandos arrive and the airport for the Paras.” “Gosh that sounds ambitious,” said Jinnie, “What’s the SAS saying?” “Well they have simply asked for a list of logistics, so they must be taking him seriously,” answered Penny.

That evening Jinnie got a phone call with the latest restaurant update from Alberto. Turner’s Hill was ahead of schedule, the building was watertight and first fix was very nearly complete. Belinda was saying they were currently about a week ahead of programme. Alberto reported that his contact on the local council was saying that the planning committee was recommending that planning permission for the dark kitchen to be granted by the full council at the next meeting, which was Thursday week. “Good,” said Jinnie, “they will have a chance to read about our special lunch before they make the decision.”

“That’s the other thing we need to discuss,” said Alberto, “I have got all the menu selections back and there are a number of handwritten comments like, ‘We are in for a feast’ and ‘This is wonderful’. I take it you, your sister and your old friends will be dining together, they have asked the matron if it would be possible to have a microphone and loudspeaker on their table linked to the home’s Tannoy system. Apparently, one of them wants to make a speech and wants the three bedridden inmates to be able to hear it. The matron has gone a step further and has arranged for a camera to be installed and the lunch will be on the home’s TV system.”

“One of the three oldies is now bedridden,” explained Jinnie, “It’s so typical of them to want to include him.” “Ah, that explains it,” said Alberto, “But we still haven’t decided on the best coffee yet, I’m inclined towards the Blue Mountain. Others like the Brazilian, at the moment it is down to your casting vote.” “That easy,” said Jinnie. “I’m for the Blue Mountain every day.” “OK, Blue Mountain it is then. I’ll talk to our suppliers in the morning. Now finally, is it still agreed that we give the Potters Bar press an exclusive and let them control the release of the story to the rest of the media?” “Yes,” said Jinnie, “They have been very fair with us in the past had given us loads of publicity. I have agreed to talk to their head reporter, Bill Furr, about the event. I don’t think I will mention the dark kitchen, but I will ask for his card and give him a call if we get planning permission.”

On the morning of the lunch, Jinnie had arranged her midwife appointment and was not at all surprised to hear that her blood pressure was slightly elevated, still in the safe range but the midwife suggested she should put her feet up more, try to relax and buy a home blood pressure test machine from the chemist. Jinnie couldn’t tell her that at work things were mad planning the insertion of many agents behind enemy lines every week, a special lunch that afternoon, a restaurant extension, a dark kitchen and her sister’s special “honeymoon”.

Jinnie had arranged to collect her sister from their parents and drive them to the retirement home. The lunch was timed like a military manoeuvre with the start time set for 1 o’clock. The small kitchen in the home was considered incapable of cooking the various dishes so all that was being done at Trattoria Trevi and delivered the mile to the home in insulated containers. The home’s kitchen was to be a service station where the insulated containers would be unloaded and the silver service platters prepared. Jinnie and Penny pulled into a busy car park at about 12:30 and parked as far as possible away from the vans running the food shuttle from the Trattoria Trevi. Jinnie wanted to check up on how everything was going so headed for the restaurant to look for Alberto while Penny went to find Fred and Jimmy. She found them in a packed day room and she suddenly felt underdressed. All the men were wearing suits, most with strips of war medals pinned to their chests. The women were all wearing cocktail dresses and many of them were also displaying medal ribbons.

Across the room Penny spotted the matron who was wearing what she guessed was a dress uniform again with medal ribbons. Penny wished someone had told her the oldies were all getting dressed up, as she would have joined them and she just knew Jinnie would have loved the opportunity to wear her medal. Fred and Jimmy were delighted to see Penny and both said they were really looking forward to their lunch. Fred waved an arm describing the room and said, “The atmosphere here today is better than Christmas.”

Jinnie found Alberto in the dining room where he was gently directing his team. He saw Jinnie at once and called her over. As she weaved between the tables she had to admire how it had been transformed from an ordinary dining room into the image of a posh restaurant. Every table was now covered with a crisp white tablecloth and places were laid with Trattoria Trevi china, flatware, and glasses. Nothing had been missed even the serviettes had been folded into different shapes on different tables. She saw several types of flowers, birds and candles. As she neared him, Alberto polished a smear from a glass and placed it back on the table before nudging it into its exact position. Each table had a number and a name card was in front of every place setting. Jinnie particularly liked the single-stem vase on every table containing a beautiful orchid spike.

Jinnie congratulated Alberto on the room’s transformation and he smiled saying, “Yes, it does look quite good. I am pleased to tell you everything is running like clockwork, chef tells me he is ready for the 1 o’clock start, the staff are all in place, in fact we are only waiting for the guest of honour.” Jinnie looked at him oddly, but before she could ask for an explanation Alberto looked at his watch, clapped his hands and called, “Waiters to your stations, three minutes to the guests being seated.” Then in an aside to Jinnie he said, “You will find your name card on table No. 1”, sweeping out of the room.

Penny was chatting with Jimmy and Fred when Alberto entered the day room and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, please make your way to the dining room, luncheon will be served at one precisely.” Jimmy and Fred insisted that they didn’t need any help, but Jinnie noticed several people were receiving help, but not from the home’s staff. Alberto had even organised special carers so that the home staff could enjoy eating a special meal. As she accompanied the two oldies into the dining room Penny thought she heard a helicopter over the throb of excited conversation.

Penny, Jimmy and Fred joined Jinnie on table No. 1 which was laid for six. Penny looked at Jinnie and asked what was happening. Jinnie shrugged and admitted she had no idea, the two spare places were labelled ‘Special Guest 1’ and ‘Special Guest 2’ and Alberto knew but he wasn’t telling. Jinnie had been placed between Jimmy and Fred with Penny next to Fred. Special Guest 1 was next to Jimmy and Special Guest 2 was between 1 and Penny. Then as the room filled, the waiters filled gleaming glasses with iced water, pushed in chairs and placed serviettes in laps.

When everyone was seated, Alberto tapped a microphone and once the room had fallen silent he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen – please give a big hand to our special guests Mr Nigel Farage, the prime minister and representing the Italian ambassador Mr Paolo De Luca.” The double doors onto the patio and gardens swung open and to loud applause the two men walked in and took their seats on table No. 1. The instant they were seated the water glass in front of the PM disappeared to be replaced by a pint of bitter. Jinnie just sat there totally stunned, how had her husband managed to keep this a secret from her?

Penny recovered before Jinnie and introduced Jimmy and Fred to the PM and Jinnie’s husband. By the time she had finished, a waiter had appeared with a tureen of oxtail soup and was ladling it into the PM’s bowl. Pate, melba toast and salad appeared in front of Paolo and Jimmy while all the other three had prawn cocktails and thinly sliced brown bread and butter. Between spoonfuls of soup and pieces of crusty roll the PM gently teased Jinnie about the look of shock on her face. After a moment she said, “PM, I am regularly surprised by you, but not by my husband. He doesn’t usually know how to keep a secret.” Paolo replied, “It was easy, I didn’t know until I got to work this morning. Mr Ambassador was summoned to a meeting in Rome and as he left for the airport he said, ‘Paolo, I think you should represent me.’ So I had to rush out and buy a new suit.”

When Nigel had finished his soup he looked around the table and said, “Well that was very good and I am delighted to see all empty plates. Now Jinnie, before you ask me, as you know my spies keep me well informed and as soon as I heard what was being planned I wanted in, I want to congratulate all these wonderful people and it is so long since I had a good British meal. So I contacted Giuseppe, the ambassador, and he talked to Alberto who arranged everything. Unfortunately, he was called to a meeting in Rome this afternoon so when he rang me I thought who better to stand in for him than Paolo. Now I will shut up because I can see the mains coming, I haven’t had a lamb shank in years and I am really looking forward to this.”

Jinnie had recovered her poise by mid-way through her salmon, asparagus and poached egg and asked Jimmy if he was enjoying his, as it was on the menu because of him. Jimmy said it was absolutely wonderful but he was thinking about Bert and hoping he was enjoying his steak and kidney pudding upstairs in his room. Nigel said, “If it is only half as good as this lamb shank he is certain to be.” Fred who was tucking into Irish Stew said, “You will be delighted to know that this is the best Irish stew I have ever had, it is even better than my mum used to make.” Which made everyone chuckle.

Jinnie was being careful what she ate and had picked lighter items for her first two courses but she couldn’t resist treacle tart for her dessert and had ordered it with custard. It arrived with her own little jug of custard and the waiter said to her, “Just ask if you would like more custard Ma’am, there is plenty more in the kitchen.” Then he glanced around the table and asked, “Now who would like some extra ice cream?” Before placing six bowls each with 3 scoops of what Jinnie guessed from its colour was Cornish vanilla in the centre of the table. Nigel made the first move adding a bowlful on top of his apple pie and cream.

When the coffee arrived Jinnie asked for it white, took a sip and thought, ‘Now that’s what I call proper coffee’. Nigel who asked for black, sipped his, smiled at Jinnie and said, “Now that is a decent cup of coffee, if I am not mistaken it is the same as ‘C’s’. I have never picked up enough courage to ask him what it was, but I would love to serve it at No. 10”. Jinnie replied, “You should have asked Emma she is the custodian of the beans. It’s Jamaican Blue Mountain, I understand ‘C’ got a taste for it when he served in the Caribbean prior to the War of Liberation.” “If I’d thought about it I might have guessed”. Said Nigel, “Now I need a refill,” and he waved at the waiter with the coffee pot in one hand and the milk pot in the other.

Nigel said, “That was quite a magnificent meal Jinnie. I hope you don’t think I am sticking my nose into your business but I would like to make a suggestion. I know about your dark kitchen and your plan to offer a Trattoria Trevi delivery service. But after seeing what Alberto and the team can do with traditional British fare perhaps you should consider adding a British delivery option, no one else is doing it.” As always Nigel had surprised Jinnie, ‘Was there anything happening in the world he didn’t know about?’ But he had come up with a really good idea she would have to talk to Alberto.

While she was thinking about a second kitchen, Jimmy tapped the microphone in front of him and when the room fell silent he started speaking. “Mr Prime Minister, special guests, fellow residents and staff please forgive me for not standing, but after that fabulous lunch I think that if I tried I would fall down. I only intend to say a few words but I really have to say thank you to my old friend Jinnie and her fellow directors and staff of Trattoria Trevi for serving us such a wonderful meal. It is many years since I have been so full and I don’t think I have ever enjoyed a meal so much.” He then had to stop speaking as the applause erupted.

As the applause died down Jimmy spoke again, “You’ll be delighted to know that I have just about finished and very shortly you will be able to go for your afternoon snooze but first I must add a few minor announcements before handing over to Mr Farage who has asked if he can say a few words. Firstly Matron would like me to remind you that there is no dinner service tonight, however for anyone who is still hungry sandwiches and cakes will be available at six. Lastly, I want to say something personal to my friend Jinnie. I want to wish her all the very best for the birth of her twins in June and I also to wish Penny a wonderful wedding over the spring bank holiday.”

Once again Jinnie listen to the applause and as she did so she watched a man adjusting the single camera so that it was focused on the PM who was patiently standing waiting for the room to settle again. Nigel eventually said, “I really had to say thank you all for allowing me and Paolo to join you today. I should explain that my good friend the Italian ambassador should have been the second guest here this afternoon, he has a very close relationship with Trattoria Trevi, which as many of you will have read in the press is my favourite restaurant. Unfortunately, he has been recalled to Rome for a meeting with his PM this afternoon. Anyway, I suggested that Paolo should represent him this afternoon and he agreed. What you probably don’t know is that Paolo is Jinnie’s husband and holds a very senior position at the London Embassy.”

After yet more applause Nigel continued, “Now what I really wanted to say was my personal thanks to all of you for your service to the UK and that I understand that Trattoria Trevi had decided that if today’s lunch was a success they would consider making it an annual event. Well, I think we can all agree that it has been a considerable success. So I would like to finish now with just two points. Firstly I hope other restaurants see what a wonderful event this has been and follow suit with their local retirement homes and finally can I come back next year please?” With that, Nigel sat down to thunderous applause. Jinnie whispered into Jimmy’s ear, “He really knows how to work an audience.”

Twenty minutes later Nigel and Paolo had been helicoptered back to London and the sisters had joined the three oldies in Bert’s room to chat about events over a thermos jug of coffee Penny had fetched from the kitchen that was being cleared up and returned to normal. Bert was sorry he hadn’t been able to physically join them but was delighted with the effort that had been made to include him. He said the one thing he regretted was not meeting Paolo and Jinnie promised to bring him in to meet him as soon as possible. As they chatted a knock came on Bert’s door and the man who had been adjusting the TV camera put his head around the door and said, “Mrs De Luca, I’m Bill Furr would it be possible to do our interview soon as I would like to get things up on our website as we don’t want to leak.” Jinnie said, “Of course, can I meet you in the day room in five minutes I really need a quick word with Alberto first.”

Bill and Jinnie found a quiet corner of the day room, Bill conducted an in-depth interview starting from when Jinnie first started working at the retirement home as a schoolgirl, how she met the oldies and how she was recruited into the English Resistance Army by Ethel. She was very careful what she said and what she left out. She was happy to talk about the ERA as everyone knew it no longer existed, but she left out her inheritance from Ethel. She talked about meeting Paolo at university in Berlin but not that they were parts of an active cell. How she had been in England on Christmas holidays when the War of Liberation broke out and how she had played a minor part.

She talked about doing languages at Cambridge and meeting Nigel when she was helping her father as a candidate in the post-war election and how she had worked as a translator for Mr Berlusconi at Nigel’s behest. How Berlusconi had reintroduced her to Paolo and how he had been posted to the new embassy in London. Then she talked about marriage and how she had bought into the Trattoria Trevi, using money she had inherited, when the restaurant couldn’t borrow to expand from British banks. She explained about the second restaurant in Turner Hill and how they had big plans for a new home delivery concept, which she couldn’t talk about yet but she promised that once they had planning permission and work was underway she promised to talk to him again.

Looking back on the interview Jinnie was delighted she had not even hinted at her real job and made it sound as if she was a full-time director of Trattoria Trevi. If anyone checked her out at Companies House all they would find was she was a director of Trattoria Trevi and lived in a house suitable to a company director married to a senior foreign diplomat from a friendly nation. She had also laid the groundwork for the dark kitchen and she wondered how good a journalist Bill Furr was. Would he check out local planning applications and if he did, would he mention it in the interview? Or would he save it for a follow-up article, she got the impression he was an old hand and would want a double bite of the cherry.

In Chapter 21 – The Trieste Cell

© WorthingGooner 2022