Paolo and Jinnie chatted about the evening as, with the cruise control set to 70, they raced around an empty M25. They both agreed it had been a fabulous evening and Jinnie asked Lucia what she thought, only to find that she and Vincenzo were sound asleep, holding hands with her head on his shoulder. It was gone one when they pulled up outside Vincenzo’s parents’ house. His undoing his seat belt woke Lucia and he kissed good night and said he would ring her in the morning.
Five minutes later they arrived home to a completely dark house. Everyone was careful not to make any noise and wake the twins or Mrs Walsh. Jinnie and Lucia however had to check on the twins who were sleeping peacefully. Everyone whispered good night and crept off to bed.
When Jinnie woke, Paolo’s side of the bed was cold and he had obviously gone to work. The smell of fresh coffee drifted up the stairs and Jinnie quickly washed, dressed and hurried downstairs to find Lucia giving the twins their breakfast. “Good morning,” said Lucia, “I woke at the normal time, I think it was because I slept in the car on the way home. Your mum helped me get the twins up and has gone home now. She said to let you sleep and she’ll ring you for a chat later, but the twins were no trouble at all.”
“Did you enjoy your first every British company Christmas party?” asked Jinnie while wiping Willie’s eggy face and hands with a damp flannel. “It was fun,” replied Lucia, “I have no idea how that magician did those tricks and the Acrobats were so good. But I loved to dance most, there is nowhere round here where Vincenzo and I can go.” “I rather liked Vincenzo,” said Jinnie, “He is nice and very polite, a credit to his family.” Lucia giggled and said, “I rather like him too.”
It was drizzling again when Jinnie headed down the covered path to the garden office. As was often the case, Larry had beaten her and was sitting in his basket having a wash. He watched carefully as she sat down and turned on her computers. ‘She looked like she had a good time last night,’ thought Larry, before curling up and closing his eyes but keeping an ear open for anything interesting. Jinnie checked her DKL email inbox. As well as all the interdepartmental communications she was CC’ed into, there were loads of thank you messages from people who had been at the Show Ground last night.
Jinnie worked her way through the CC’s deleting almost all of them, thinking when will people realise that I don’t need to know most of this rubbish? I don’t care if Fred wants two weeks off in August, that’s his manager’s job to sort out. Finally she got around to the ‘thank you’ messages, most she replied to saying something simple like, ‘I was delighted to see you and your husband/wife and that you enjoyed yourselves so much’. However, a few needed a more personal message. Nigel said how much he had enjoyed the evening and that Camilla was delighted to see her again after so long and confirmed that she and Paolo were on the housewarming party invitation list. He had spoken to Belinda and she had confirmed that the house they were planning to purchase was only two down the road from her and said she was sure that Wright Refurbishment would be able to quote for any work provided it was OK with Jinnie. She replied saying how nice it had been to see Camilla again and that of course it would be OK to use Wright Refurbishment. Then she added a PS, “Have you thought about TTEvents for the house warming, I think they could do you a special deal.” She then CC’ed in Belinda and Miranda.
The last note that needed a reply was from Ro. Apart from saying ‘thank you’ on behalf of Jed and herself she had attached a copy of her wedding dress sketch and said she had made an appointment to see Arni on Saturday morning and her bridesmaid had early afternoon appointments, as did the flower girls and their mothers. She had samples of the dress material to leave with Arni so he could match the shoe colours. Jinnie thought about an email reply but decided to call her on Teams instead.
Ro answered immediately saying, “Hi boss. Thanks again for a wonderful party. Have you seen today’s Daily Mail? “No,” said Jinnie, “Why?” “Well, on the front page there is a picture of you and the ex-PM jiving and inside there are pictures of him on stage with Miranda and sitting with you and he is holding a big glass of red wine.” “I didn’t see any press photographers,” replied Jinnie. “The story on the inside page hints that the photos were taken by a partygoer on their phone but the article is quite friendly. It says things like ‘Pictured is our ex-PM now able to dance with the COO of his favourite restaurant.’ And Mr Farage with the managing director of TTEvents who have organised a series of Christmas parties that are proving very popular.’
“The story has a bit more about him being a surprise guest and arriving and leaving by helicopter and that loads of armed police were in attendance. It goes on to say that the popular parties are on six nights a week until Christmas and that a partygoer said Mr Farage appeared to be having a wonderful time, but it would have been difficult not to have at such a marvellous event. I bet Miranda is delighted at the free publicity” added Ro. “Wow, I wonder if I can get a copy of the Mail?” said Jinnie. “Paolo gets the online Telegraph to read in the train.” “I think it is a Mail exclusive,” said Ro, “but I bet it gets picked up by the other media.” Jinnie made a note to ring Miranda.
“The real reason I contacted you,” said Jinnie, “is because you said you were going to visit Arni on Saturday morning. As you are so near to me I wondered if you would like to pop in for a quick bite to eat at lunchtime. It will only be tea and sandwiches but you could meet the twins and the famous Larry the Cat if he is not next door visiting his friend.” “I would love that, my appointment is at 10:30 and Arni said to allow 90 minutes so I should be away by 12. How far is your house from his shop?” asked Ro. “Only about 5 minutes,” replied Jinnie, “But parking in Barnet High Street is almost impossible. You will probably have to use one of the big car parks and that will add ten minutes walking to your car. Don’t worry, I will be here whether you are late or early and the twins won’t care; the only time they know is food time.”
Jinnie decided that as she had dealt with all her DKL stuff and there was nothing in her Trattoria Trevi email inbox she would sort out her Christmas Eve drinks party invites and email everyone before ringing Miranda. She had just started composing the invitation when Larry jumped up and shot out of the cat flap. ‘Now what’s he seen,’ thought Jinnie before spotting Nigel coming through the door to his garden. He strolled up to the garden office, with Larry in tow, and tapped on the glass in the door before coming in followed closely by Larry. Sitting down in one of her visitor chairs he said, “Well isn’t it lovely and cosy in here? No wonder Larry only comes to see me occasionally, he must spend most of the day in here in the warm.”
Nigel continued, “I popped round to say thanks for last night, I haven’t had such a fun evening since before I was PM, and to find out if you have seen this morning’s Mail.” “I haven’t seen it,” Jinnie said, “but I have heard about it, my PA told me.” “Gosh, that’s the pretty girl I met last night, who was clearly very close to the young man she was sitting next to. Now that’s the sort of PA I want,” replied Nigel. “Hands off, she’s mine,” replied Jinnie. “I would never dream of poaching her from you,” Nigel exclaimed.
“Are you annoyed?” asked Jinnie. “Not at all,” came the reply. “In fact the article was very nice talking about ‘the much-missed statesman’ and ‘how everyone applauded’ and ‘I had time to chat with everyone and was jolly convivial’. Have you spoken to Miranda? She must be delighted at the free publicity.” “I haven’t yet,” said Jinnie, “it’s on my ‘To Do’ list, but I was composing an email about the Christmas Eve drinks party and I realised I don’t have an email address for you.” “No you wouldn’t,” said Nigel, “I had to pass my official PM one on to Richard and I had no idea how to set one up. That sort of thing has always been done for me. I was explaining that to that very nice Nigel who is one of your directors and he said his assistant Jed or Jeb would sort it out for me. I told him how to phone me on my old number and he sorted it all out in five minutes flat, I am now Farage,NX10@gmail.com. But don’t go spreading it around or I will start getting spam, you know the sort of stuff, some bloody African trying to sell me lucky onions.”
“It’s probably his cousin who is always on the phone saying he is from BT and they have detected odd things happening on my internet,” said Jinnie, “Anyway I’ll tell you now, 20:00 on Christmas Eve for drinks and nibbles, but I will put it in an email in case you forget.” I will blind copy in everyone who is invited and that way no one can see your email address.”
Once Nigel had headed home, Jinnie rang Miranda on her mobile which she answered almost immediately. She complained that her company landline had been busy all morning and she had had calls from all the national newspapers, radio and television stations blocking her company landline and making it difficult for potential customers, however, the free publicity was welcome. Many people had found the website and online ticket sales had been excellent, there were now very few left. Jinnie thanked Miranda again for a wonderful evening and they went on to discuss the series of parties at the SIS headquarters. Miranda said she had booked a talented pianist to play before and during the meal. Table magicians, the girl acrobats she had mentioned, who if anything were better than the ones at the Show Ground. A well-known singer who had just finished a run as the lead in a West End show, the pianist would accompany him and a DJ.
Miranda continued that she had been liaising with Emma and they believed everything was as ready as it could be. Jinnie said she thought it all sounded wonderful and a little more ‘up market’ than the Show Ground. Miranda chuckled and said, “Well we do seem to attract a boozy crowd at the Show Ground. The bar takings have been phenomenal, far greater than I expected, and much bigger than the Vineyard where they have been good. In fact they are also talking about next Christmas. I’m beginning to wonder if I should look at expanding to other big cities next year, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle.” “Don’t get carried away,” replied Jinnie, “You haven’t closed the books on this year’s parties yet.”
Jinnie had eaten lunch with Lucia and the twins and was back in the garden office when she took a call from a number she didn’t recognise but a voice she immediately did, Emma. She explained that the ‘office’ had a new bit of software that disguised the displayed numbers of outgoing calls to stop people, like the press, learning the real number. Jinnie said, “Why not just withhold the number?” Emma replied, “An increasing number of people won’t answer a withheld number call as so many are from scammers.”
After thanking Jinnie for the Christmas Eve invitation and saying they would be delighted to attend, she revealed her real reason for ringing. ‘C’ was asking for some ‘extras’ to the ‘Executive Evening’ SIS Christmas Party and would she and Paolo like to attend. All the departmental directors and their deputies would be there as would her sister and her husband and several other people she knew. Her next call was to be to Steven and his partner as he would be on Christmas leave by then as it was the Thursday before Christmas. Jinnie said she would love to be there and would put it in her diary immediately.
Jinnie added it to her online calendar which was becoming quite busy with the Christmas Eve drinks and nibbles, Christmas Day at Mum’s, Boxing Day football and meal at Trattoria Trevi. While she thought about it she rang Alberto to ensure that he had high chairs available for the twins and an additional seat for the ex-PM. Alberto said the high chairs were brand new and the staff were anxious to meet the twins as this would be their first visit and of course Nigel was always welcome. He said he had seen Lucia’s name on the guest list and wondered if Jinnie had considered adding Vincenzo as his father reported they were getting very close and he was a lovely boy.
Next time Jinnie was in the kitchen with Lucia she mentioned that she and Paolo would be home on Christmas Eve and going to her mum’s for Christmas dinner. She suggested that if Lucia wanted Christmas Eve off that was OK with her. She was invited to Christmas lunch at Mum’s but if she had other plans that was also OK. Then she explained about the annual trip to watch Barnet play and she was more than welcome to come but if she didn’t then that was also alright. She and Paolo would wrap the twins up warm and put them in the double buggy. Lucia said she would love to have Christmas Eve off. She could spend it with Vincenzo. As for Christmas Day, she had been invited for a real Italian Christmas lunch by Vincenzo’s parents but hadn’t accepted yet as she didn’t know Jinnie’s arrangements.
Lucia then said she had made no arrangements for Boxing Day but Vincenzo was a big football fan and could she ask him to join them. “Of course” replied Jinnie who went on to explain how it had become a family tradition to have an Italian Boxing Day meal at Trattoria Trevi and that they would be delighted if she and Vincenzo would join the family for what would be the Twins first meal in a restaurant. “Yes please” said Lucia and to Jinnie’s amusement told her “I will tell Vincenzo he is coming.”
A day after her conversation with Lucia, Jinnie spoke to Alberto who updated her on Trattoria Trevi business. The two restaurants were thriving and fully booked throughout Christmas and well into the New Year. The Dark Kitchens in Potters Bar and Manor Royal were reporting record business virtually every week. The sales and profits at the Windsor sandwich shop had inexplicably leapt when it became apparent that an investigation into the books was underway. He could not prove anything but he was certain the branch manager had been up to no good. He suggested that they should keep a very close eye on things in case the improvement was only temporary.
The new shop in East Croydon had opened and was trading well and had received excellent reviews in the Croydon Advertiser. Brooke had taken to her new job like a duck to water and had already secured contracts with several very large companies in both Windsor and East Croydon for the supply of sandwiches and cakes to internal and external meetings. Alberto suggested that the sandwiches made and delivered from the Dark Kitchens should also be put under her control to which Jinnie promptly agreed.
Brooke had also suggested to him that they could lease a unit in one of the terminals at Gatwick Airport and if it went well expand to the second terminal and even other airports. She had argued that not everyone wanted a Mcdonald’s and many of the cheap airlines had recently taken to charging inflated prices on board for a factory-made sandwich.
A shop could sell both eat-in sandwiches, cakes, fruit and coffee or takeaway sandwiches. Brooke had even suggested they could look at selling little lunch boxes for a fixed price containing a freshly made sandwich of choice, a cake, piece of fruit, say an apple, orange or banana and a can or bottle of drink. If they could match or better the so-called ‘budget airlines’ inflated prices they were on to a winner. “Now why didn’t we think of that,” said Jinnie, “I reckon we could do that in our shops or offer it on our delivery vans.” Let’s try it at East Croydon, will you ring Brooke and put the idea in motion or shall I?”
Alberto had kept the best news to last. Belinda had handed over the Windsor restaurant ground floor, together with the beer and wine cellar and three-quarters of the car park the previous day. The building inspector had also signed off on that part of the project and they were free to open on New Year’s Eve as planned. Alberto said the project manager said it looked fabulous. The new illuminated sign outside had been tried and looked good. The ordering system, an exact copy of the Turners Hill one, had been tested and it linked into the Potters Bar accounts and management systems without fault. In fact only the staff training remained to be completed. Alberto added the advertising would start the next day on several local radio stations that covered the Windsor area and in newspapers that covered Windsor; The Windsor Express and the Royal Borough Observer.
Finally Alberto said, “Our website has been updated offline to include separate pages for Windsor. Currently, it explains that only the downstairs restaurant is open and that upstairs will be ready in two or three weeks offering a whole new dining experience, a monthly supper club, private dining rooms for 10 to 40, and space for up to 150 for weddings and private functions with a raised dias for a small band and room to dance. It is ready to go at eight tomorrow morning when the button is pressed and will be linked to our new central reservations system.” “You have been busy,” said Jinnie. “Not me,” replied Alberto, “This is the work of our project manager.”
Ro arrived shortly after midday on Saturday and her first stop was to meet the twins, who were at their adorable best. Leaving them with Lucia they did a whistle-stop tour of the house and garden office where she met Larry, who took an immediate liking to her and purred loudly when she stroked him. “You are privileged,” said Jinnie, “He only lets people he likes stroke him.”
On the way back to the house, Ro asked where the door in the garden wall went. Jinnie explained that it was into next door’s garden and it had been installed for two reasons. To let them have access to next door’s pool and to let their neighbour escape the press. “I suppose you must get on with him very well and he must be famous if he needs to avoid the press.” Jinnie smiled and said, “It’s no real secret now he’s living there but our neighbour is the ex-prime minister and Wright Refurbishment built the house.” “You and Belinda kept that one secret, did Brian know?” She asked. “He knew,” answered Jinnie, “but I don’t think any of the other directors did, it is on the books as ‘a large private house for Melrose Limited’ the agents Nigel employed to handle planning and the like.”
When they got back to the kitchen, the twins were too busy eating their lunch, a tomato pasta dish that they were both in such a rush to eat they were using their hands rather than waiting for Lucia to feed them. They were so messy that Jinnie and Ro couldn’t help laughing. Jinnie, Ro and Lucia managed to get their ham and cheese & pickle sandwiches when the twins had been cleaned up and put down for a nap. As Ro drove away in her battered old Ford Jinnie wondered if Belinda’s car scheme could be expanded to include the likes of Ro.
There was much discussion as to whom would drive to the SIS party and in the end nobody did, they all went by train. Jinnie, Paolo and Dan been issued with special one-off building passes that had been emailed to them. When the bar code was scanned it allowed them access into the building and to the restaurant. Jinnie was delighted to see the progress of the phase two refurbishments. The almost complete reception was a delight, a vast improvement on its previous inception. The corridor to the restaurant was completely finished and looked bright and cheerful with new lighting, carpets and a colourful paint job. Jinnie thought, ‘If this is a good example of the refurb the remaining phases are in the bag.’
Their invitations were checked again at the entrance to the restaurant which looked spectacular with paper decorations, trees with fairy lights and tinsel everywhere. They were shown to their table and were pleased to find they were sitting with Alan and wife and Emma and her husband. The pianist was playing Christmassy tunes and the atmosphere was jolly with lots of Christmas jumpers on display. Jinnie sent Paolo to the bar for G&Ts and chatted with Alan, firstly about the twins and then about the refurbishments, she knew better than to talk about work. Alan’s wife was particularly interested in the twins and by the time Paolo was back with the drinks Jinnie had learnt that after unsuccessfully trying for a baby for years, she was finally pregnant and had been warned that it could be twins. She wanted to know all about the perils and pitfalls of twins. Jinnie told her that despite the extra weight she had put on it had not been too bad. But now they were walking, beginning to talk and had started potty training they were a joy, as they explored and learned something new every day.
Miranda was rushing around at the far end of the room and waved, Jinnie waved back and Alan said, “So you know the party organiser.” “Yes,” replied Jinnie, “I know her well, I am a director of her events company that has organised all this. I am also a director of another company you will see advertising very soon, that will make and supply reasonably priced wedding and bridesmaids’ gowns that are individually made to measure to the bride’s specification.” “Really,” said Alan’s wife, “I had an awful job getting exactly what I wanted when we married. I had to settle for something nearly right and spend a fortune having it altered to fit.”
“That’s exactly why we set up the business. We reckon we can undercut ordinary bridal shops by at least 50%, probably more, as every bride and bridesmaid is carefully measured so there are no alterations. We can also recommend a custom shoemaker, not cheap but his shoes will last a lifetime as he virtually remakes them when he repairs them. There is also an in-home hair and makeup service who are just brilliant. They will also do any of the major wedding guests, bride’s mother and granny, you just have to sort it out in advance so they know how many they are dealing with and can bring an adequate number of staff. Alan’s wife said, “Please give me the details, my little sister is getting married in the summer and I’m certain she would be interested.”
Emma and her husband joined the table and sat down with a big sigh. “I have just had a huge row with a security man who wanted to X-ray all the food from Trattoria Trevi as it was delivering. The guys on duty for the past couple of days didn’t, but he insisted so ‘C’ had to give him a direct order. If he hadn’t, God knows what time we would have got dinner. Anyway, Miranda assures me we are back on programme.” With that, she took a huge slug of her white wine and said,“My, isn’t this pianist good.”
In fact, the whole evening was good, the food, the acrobats, the singer and the DJ. Jinnie chatted with many old friends and colleagues, ate too much and drank too much. In the end, they had to run to catch the last train to Potter Bar and grab taxis home from the station. Jinnie though was busy thinking about how the singer and pianist would make a great opening night for the supper club.
In Chapter 31 – Christmas Joy
© WorthingGooner 2023