The metallic black Lexus ES was beautiful and Jinnie thought it looked just perfect for a managing director. The salesman from the garage showed her all the electronic wizardry but there was so much to learn that much of it went straight over her head. He helped her pair her phone with the 17-speaker sound system and link it to Apple Play. He showed her how to move the seat into the exact position to suit and lock it in the memory so that it adjusted itself for her. He showed her how a light under the door lit up the ground so that you wouldn’t step out into a puddle. How the door handles illuminated at night. He went on and on until Jinnie’s head was spinning.
Eventually the salesman left and with the huge manual in hand, Jinnie worked through many of the features. Jinnie had thought her Jaguar sumptuous but this was far and away better. Finally, she dared to actually drive the car and it purred up and down the road. When she got back on the drive and climbed out Jason and his men stood by the side entrance and Lucia stood at the open front door and they all applauded! Jinnie phoned Emma to ask what the firm wanted her to do with the Jaguar. She asked ‘C’ and he said stick it on the drive and they would arrange for it to be collected.
When Paolo got home he found Jinnie in the kitchen preparing dinner with Lucia’s assistance. Jinnie was making melanzane alla parmigiana, something she had never tried before but with Lucia’s help was willing to try. Paolo asked, “Do we have visitors?” When Jinnie said, “No, what made you think we did?” Paolo answered, “Well, a flashy car on the drive and a fancy dish for dinner.” Lucia laughed and said, “It’s not fancy, it’s melanzane alla parmigiana and I bet your mother has made you it hundreds of times.” Then Jinnie said, “And that’s my new company car and while dinner is finishing cooking you can swap the baby seats from the Jag to the Mini.”
Jinnie and Lucia were getting the twins dressed when Ro rang. She said that her temporary office was at the front of the serviced building and she could see the new offices and kitchens just over the road. She thought Jinnie would be interested to know that when she had arrived that morning the first thing she had seen were two of Belinda’s vans waiting for someone to let them on to the site and, as she watched, Belinda had arrived with the key. She said that it looked busy on site, she had seen several skips arrive and one big full one had already left.
Other vans had arrived and there were men on the roof working, all attached by ropes to a post in the middle at the roof’s peak. They appeared to be erecting a scaffolding and board barrier around the perimeter of the metallic roof and a scaffolding stair tower. The next delivery had been a large cabin on the back of a lorry labelled “Port-a-Loos Limited” and a forklift had lifted the cabin off and carefully positioned it. Ro explained that the main pedestrian entrance to the building was directly opposite her but the new building was on the corner of a side street. The entrance for vehicles was down the side street and led into the huge car park at the rear and either side of the building.
As they talked, Ro said Belinda and a man with a clipboard had just come out of the entrance and the man was measuring up the entrance. Jinnie told Ro how Belinda had promised to have people on site the day after she got an order and she had certainly done that. Jinnie asked how the serviced office was and Ro grunted. She explained that Aimee had collared the biggest and best office. Hers was OK but as she was not a director she hadn’t expected anything big. In general, the directors were happy, but Ro said that Nigel and Jed were a bit squeezed in. If she had been allocating offices she would have put Nigel and Jed in the big office Aimee had grabbed as it was more suitable for two. She continued everyone was busy, Nigel and Jed had been making sure everyone had access to the internet, email, and a printer that Jed had been sent out to get from Argos. Paul had been busy and had placed Nigel’s PC order and they were due the next day.
An idea suddenly struck Jinnie. “Do you have a digital camera?” she asked Ro. She replied, “No, I always use my camera, it takes excellent pictures.” Jinnie said, “I think that should do. What I was thinking was why don’t we put some before, during and after photos on our new website. We could even put up some renders of what it is planned it will look like. It might help Jerry sell the new kitchens to new customers. I’ll ring Belinda and see if she can set up access to the site for you. Oh, I suggest when you visit the site you wear sensible shoes and trousers. Belinda will supply a hard hat and high viz.”
Jinnie rang Belinda who was still on site having a kick-off meeting with Peter and Richard, her two senior site managers. Belinda had decided that this job was wanted so quickly she was going to have to throw manpower at it and consequently Peter was going to look after the offices, staff kitchens and car park, while Richard was going to look after the kitchens and building fabric. The air conditioning, electrical and data were all subcontracted out and would have their own onsite supervisors reporting to Peter. Jinnie asked Belinda if she would allow Ro on-site to take photos for the website. Belinda said yes, but as a visitor she would have to be escorted on-site. Then she suggested perhaps Ro and Miranda could get together and coordinate the posts on their two websites.
Ro kept Jinnie up to date with regular progress reports and photos of the build and news of happenings in the office. Jinnie kept seeing photos showing things being demolished in the office area. Existing partitions were being dismantled, suspended ceilings and lighting was coming down, the carpets were gone, the existing reception desk suddenly looked half wrecked and a concrete disabled ramp to a rear door was the only sign of anything new. In the huge area where the mezzanine and kitchens were to be built, the groundworks subcontractor was digging lift pits and driving piles for the mezzanine foundation pile caps. At the end of the first week’s work Belinda emailed the board members to say that work was on schedule and the building inspector was happy with everything so far and that work on pouring concrete for the first lift pits and mezzanine foundations had been cleared. She added that the roofing contractor was confident that they had fixed all the leaks but until it rained it would be impossible to know. Consequently the scaffolding would stay in place until after it had rained.
Jinnie was delighted that the garden office was virtually finished. The only major things were the air conditioning and repositioning of the computer system. Belinda had said she would pop over on Saturday afternoon and do the snagging. She and Brian had a booking at Trattoria Trevi in the evening and were aiming to impress the MD of an insurance company who had asked them to quote for a central London job. The air conditioning man had intended to have the work done on Friday but a big client had a system failure and he had asked Jinnie if she minded him not doing the installation until Monday.
On Saturday morning, Nigel had arrived to move the computer system and to test it out. Paolo volunteered to give Nigel a hand as Jed had gone back to Cheltenham for the weekend. Before he started work, over a cup of coffee, Nigel gave Jinnie an update on how things were going for the core team. He was impressed by everyone (except Aimee) saying that as far he could see everyone else got on well and was working hard to put the business together. He and Jed had installed the PCs and got a rudimentary network up and running for everyone except Aimee who had been missing on Thursday and Friday and her office had been locked. Nigel said how impressed he was with Ro, he said she was in early and worked late and nothing was too much trouble for her. He and Jed had been showing her how to put things on the company website and she had proved adept and he expected the first pictures and story to go up on Monday or Tuesday.
The equipment move went smoothly and the system was up and running by midday. Nigel said he was off back to his hotel in Crawley as he hadn’t seen Camilla for a week and she was moving to the same hotel until they found a local house. Jinnie was anxious to see the finished office but Paolo said it was chilly out there without the air conditioning to heat it, so she decided to leave it until Belinda arrived and to have a walk around with her. Larry was disappointed, he wanted to have a look at the finished article and to try out the new cat flap and basket.
Brian rang to say there had been an accident on the M25 and they would be a bit later than expected. But they were coming, traffic was moving but slowly and they had only moved a mile in the last half hour. The SatNav in Belinda’s car was telling them that they were nearly at the accident but he couldn’t see it ahead of them. While talking Jinnie heard Belinda say, “I can see blue lights, I think we should be on our way again soon.”
It was nearly four o’clock and daylight was going when Brian and Belinda arrived, so Jinnie, Belinda and Larry hurried down the new path to the office. Belinda stopped under the canopy and made a note. As hard as she looked, Jinnie couldn’t see what Belinda had. Belinda said, “It’s that light, it’s not square” and then Jinnie saw it. Belinda had brought a new fob for the cat flap and Larry allowed her to add it to his collar before he trotted off to try it out. By the time Belinda and Jinnie entered the office, Larry was curled up in his new cat basket. The building was divided roughly 70/30 by a partition with an opening between the two areas. The larger area was Jinnie’s office and was quite spacious. The smaller area was subdivided to form the toilet with small hand basin and in the larger portion was a kitchen area with a sink, worktop, fridge, electric kettle and coffee machine next to the toilet, and on the other side was the server, a printer and a communications rack. Belinda made a few more notes, but said she had found nothing serious, a bad seam in the wall vinyl, a loose carpet tile, a bit of external painting that was patchy and a toilet door that was sticking, all of which she said would be fixed on Monday.
Back in the house, Jinnie wrote Belinda a final cheque while Paolo made tea and brought in a plate of sandwiches, a Victoria sponge and a pile of side plates. As the food appeared so, as if by magic, did Larry, who jumped up onto Belinda’s lap. Jinnie laughed and said, “He knows he will get nothing from me.” Belinda said to Jinnie that she thought that by next week’s report she would be ahead of schedule and what a pity it was she couldn’t get down to Crawley to see the site. Jinnie told her that she now had an au pair and she might be able to. This started Belinda reminiscing about au pairs she had employed when her children were small and how she had a very mixed experience, some good, many indifferent and one fat lazy French one.
Brian asked Jinnie if he could have a word with her about Trattoria Trevi business. She said, “Of course,” and they withdrew to the kitchen for a chat. Brian explained that, with his Trattoria Trevi hat on, he had been talking to Jerry about reserving two kitchens in the Crawley facility and had been given a ridiculously high price. Brian said he had pointed out that he knew the costs, the profit margin and the price Jerry was asking was extortionate, it was more than twice what it should be. Brian asked Jinnie if she had agreed to this level of pricing. Jinnie said that this was the first she had heard of it and if she had been asked she would have suggested a price of cost plus 15%. Brian said if that had been the cost he would have thought nothing about it but he was being quoted cost plus 150%. Brian pointed out no one had yet reserved a kitchen and if that was what Jerry was asking no one would sign up and the business would be a failure. After a bit more discussion they decided to call a board meeting for Thursday afternoon and have this as the main item on the agenda.
Brian then told Jinnie that the level of the Trattoria Trevi bank balance was becoming a bit of a problem and he felt it was time to expand the business with another restaurant. Jinnie asked if he was certain they could afford it and Brian said, “Yes, definitely,” and by the time any new project was up and running they would almost certainly be in a position to establish a fourth restaurant. Jinnie asked if he had a particular area in mind and Brian said no, perhaps a board meeting was required to discuss it. Jinnie said OK let’s get on with it.
Just as promised, on Monday morning the air conditioning engineers arrived and installed a condenser and two splits. The splits went into the two main areas and a ducted fan fed air into the toilet before it vented to the outside. The men showed Jinnie how to work the remote control and how to set the timer so the office could be either warm or cool when she started work. Jason popped in and quickly put right his items that were on Belinda’s snagging list. Just as he was leaving, the electrician arrived to sort out the final items and the garden office was all hers to use.
The next day an excited Ro spoke to Jinnie and told her how, with the help of Nigel, Jed and Miranda, she had got a very basic website up and running. It was only a few pages but the home page explained who they were and what they did and had a link to a contacts page that gave a postal address, an email address and a phone number and had a small map showing where the temporary office was located. Another page showed the Potters Bar kitchen and the final page described the new project and had a number of pictures of the site showing work progress and what it was going to look like. It also had a link to the contacts page for potential customers. Jinnie was more than happy.
Belinda had suggested to Jinnie that she should visit the site on the morning of the board meeting. Jinnie agreed as she was quite happy to leave the twins in Lucia’s hands. She met Alberto and Guido on the platform at Potters Bar and they got in the First Class that was at the front of the train. Belinda, Alberto and Guido had plenty to chat about, firstly they talked about progress on site. Alberto had seen the updated website and was interested in the progress. Jinnie explained that she had two main topics she wanted to discuss at the meeting, Aimee and Jerry’s pricing policy. She thought the best way to deal with Jerry was to bring up pricing as it was a related topic to Brian’s financial report and get the board to set a price. But Aimee was an altogether more difficult subject, how could they broach her behaviour was the subject of a long discussion with no conclusion.
As the train pulled into East Croydon the conversation changed to Trattoria Trevi business. Alberto told Jinnie that, as promised, he had ordered her a PC for Trattoria Trevi business and that the people who Belinda had used to install the restaurant system would be around to set it up as soon as it arrived. They then chatted about another restaurant, slowly they came to the conclusion that a number of locations were possible. They quickly ruled out central London, the competition was enormous and property very expensive. They had North London covered from Potters Bar and South London from Turners Hill, so the discussion turned to the East or West of London.
Eventually they decided that the area west of London, outside the M25, was more affluent than to the East and that Windsor, Ascot or even Bracknell might be suitable. By the time the train arrived at Three Bridges, they had agreed to call a board meeting, explain the monetary situation and recommend employing the property agent they had used to find the Potters Bar dark kitchen site to find them some options.
A taxi took them to the Manor Royal serviced offices where Ro greeted them and led them to the meeting room where Belinda, Brian and Nigel were waiting for them. Belinda took Jinnie and Nigel across the busy road to the site. A high mesh fence ran around the site’s perimeter and Belinda explained that it had been installed by the previous owners and had only needed a few minor repairs to make it secure. She led them to a locked gate where she pressed a buzzer. Moments later a voice came from the intercom asking who it was. Belinda gave her name and the voice said she would be met at the main entrance and the gate was buzzed opened giving them access to a paved area between the fence and the entrance. Belinda led them to the main pedestrian entrance which was a revolving door.
While waiting, Belinda said the revolving door had to go, it would never pass health and safety for disabled access or fire regulations as it couldn’t meet the numbers needing to use it in an emergency. It was OK while construction was taking place as the numbers on site weren’t huge but the offices alone were designed to accommodate 180 workers. Peter arrived on the other side of the door and pressed a button that released it and let them in. After saying hello to Jinnie and being introduced to Nigel he said, “I understand you are here for the grand tour.” Pointing to a pile of things on the remains of the reception desk he added, “Would you mind putting on a hard hat, a high viz jacket and signing in? We must obey all the health and safety rules, the inspector has a habit of dropping in to check up on us.”
Belinda pointed to a rendered image blue tacked to the wall that showed the finished reception area and said. “As you can see we haven’t really started here yet. The whole area is going to be completely changed – a new glazed entrance with powered double sliding doors, a new custom-built reception desk, new flooring, furniture, ceiling and lighting. Even the doors to the main building and to the stairs are being changed as we need one-hour fire doors.” Peter continued saying, “The only thing staying is the passenger lift but that needs to be refurbished, as does the visitor loo over there. Right, let’s get on with the tour.”
In Chapter – The Grand Tour
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