Back to Bristol Ch. 04byGaryAPB©
Thursday and Friday passed without incident. On Thursday I did my interview for the newspaper, which went quite well. The reporter seemed anxious to get an agreed version, and was happy to ignore any comment of mine which I regretted as I said it, and let me answer the questions in my own way, not just sound bites.
I did achieve one other gentle squeeze on the confidence of Peter Davies which I was quite pleased about. I was talking to Carole at the time, "Have you done anything about organising some lunches for me with the junior and middle ranks?"
"Of course, it's in hand. At the moment it looks like being Thursday of next week. And I've talked to Personnel about how we choose the people. I've booked the biggest table in the Buffet Lunch Room, it takes eight, so you can have seven guests. But I haven't got any names yet. Do you have any ideas?"
"Not for names, No. But there should be representatives of both Exeter and the Abbey, I don't want those two places excluded. Make the one from the Abbey someone from Peter Davies team."
Her eyebrows went up in an unasked question.
"Because, although I hate the little shit, I don't hate his work or his team, and I don't want them to feel I do. OK?"
"Good point. In fact, that's thoughtful of you."
"And make sure there's a good age mix, but biased to bright youngsters on their way up, and could you make it three females say, it's probably too much to hope for fifty-fifty, but three would be nice."
"I'll see what I can do."
What I didn't say was that Dear Peter would, I hope, feel squeezed. His boss is getting on well with me, and now I'll be building good relationships with those immediately under him. I've got him surrounded, and I've done nothing wrong, he can't accuse me of anything wrong.
I left it there, and Carole started going through the mounting pile of invites and demands for my time: Would I like to speak at the Chamber of Commerce? Would I like to lunch with the Trustees of this or that hospital? I seemed to be a popular man.
There was one invite that did stump me, when Carole asked, "Will you be going to the RNIB local fundraiser ball?"
Apparently we are a big sponsor of the ball, it's part of the marketing budget for the laser eye correction kit we sell. Henri Bauer had accepted, but now it was up to me. She waved a ticket in front of me, It was very clearly printed Royal National Institute for the Blind. Easter Ball. Admit 2. I guess it's automatic for them to print everything in big bold fonts, so that those with weak eyesight have a sporting chance to read it.
"That says: Admit 2. I don't have a partner."
"There's always Helene?" Carole smiled.
"There's always the option of getting a new secretary?" I smiled back, "Do I have to say now?"
"No, the ticket's there. I think they just want to know if you're actually going."
"The answer is Yes, subject to finding someone to go with."
Friday was good, it was the first day of a series of one to one meetings with each Board Member.
Late in the afternoon, I called for Myra to come and see me, "How's it going?" I asked.
"Tough, but good. I'm hoping that within a couple of weeks I'll be able to get the full team down from London to start the accounts standardisation and integration process. I've spotted a couple of problem areas, but on the whole I'd say it's going well."
"Good, I'm really pleased to hear that. I've got another thing for you: Any idea what Marston Abbey is in the books for?"
"Four point seven million, I think. But don't bet on it. Why?"
"Have you been there?"
"Yes. It's gorgeous. What do I have to do for you to move the Transition Project offices to there?"
"More than your Mother would think proper." I leered.
She smiled back, "A small price to pay."
Oh, flirting is allowed is it, maybe even welcomed? But all I said was, "There's no rush, but sometime in the coming weeks, can you get it re-valued? And talk to the local planning people, see what they would allow in redevelopment. I reckon, done carefully, all that land and a beautiful old building must be worth a lot more sold off to a sensible developer."
"It would be a pity to see it go."
"Yes. I agree, I loved it like you did. But it isn't the sort of building for modern research. And, as far as I know, this company has no mandate for the maintenance and preservation of medieval ecclesiastical buildings..... And it's a good job I hadn't been drinking before I launched into that sentence. "
"OK, Chris. I'll play around with it, and see what I can come up with." She smiled, maybe a bit more warmly than someone being polite to their boss should.
"OK. And I'll warn Piers McBaine that we're doing so. And, as I say, no rush, you've got more important things to do."
I looked at my watch, "Fancy a drink?"
She looked surprised, then she smiled, "I'd love to, but I'm driving, and I've got some shopping to do otherwise I won't eat for the whole weekend."
A good diplomatic answer, I thought. She's not stupid, she knew what I was pitching for, but she's probably right, affairs with the boss are probably not a good idea. I smiled, "Of course, you need to go home. I'll see you next week."
The weekend went quite well. I took the boys out for lunch and I bought them a kite each, so we spent the afternoon kite flying on the Downs. I thought the boys were noticeably more relaxed than last week, and happier to chat. But they didn't mention anything about their home, their mother's marriage, or my life, and I thought it best to leave talking about those things for a couple more weeks. I was pleased to find that Susan wasn't out to antagonise me this week.
When I got to work on Monday, Carole was quietly smug and just handed me some files without a word. It worried me. I went into my office wondering what awaited me.
What awaited me was a transformed office. The furniture was the same, except for the addition of an eight seat conference table. But the rearrangement, the addition of several table lamps, a large rug and some tubs of plants had transformed the room. I turned round to go and tell Carole that I loved it, but I bumped into her, she'd followed me to see my reaction.
"The Old Man will be jealous. This is so nice." I said.
Carole was smiling, apparently she'd come in on Saturday morning to see the start of the transformation, and had been there since half past seven this morning to do the final touches.
I looked into her eyes, "Thank you."
She smiled, "You're a breath of fresh air, I like that."
I looked round, "It needs personalising. Some pictures on the wall and a few nice things on those units over there. I've got some things that I can bring in, but I'll have to go shopping."
"I like the idea of some pictures, I suggested it to Sheila, but she didn't have any."
"Well, how about we do some work. I've read all the details of committees that you gave me." I said as I sat down at my desk, and unpacked my weekend reading from my briefcase. Carole sat down and waited.
"OK. These four are a waste of time as far as I can see. Can you please draft a memo to say it is my intent to cancel them, but if any of the members of any Committee feel that there is a really good reason why we should continue, then they are to come and see me." I handed Carole the first four files.
I smiled, "And now I come to the Research Liaison Committee." I paused, Carole smiled, she knew this one was going to be awkward.
I leant back, "First off, there is no way I'm chairing it. But I accept that Research needs greater interaction with the rest of the Company. So, I want Piers McBaine to chair it. Let's put both Bill Ellswood and John Wheeler on as the two directors with the most exposure to the market, and let them bring someone else each as well. Let's put Tim Johnson on it, it's nothing to do with him, but it gives a bright lad a chance, and he's of a scientific nature in computing. Have a word with Stephen Hobbs and get him to come up from Exeter or nominate someone to do so. I guess Piers will want Peter Davies, he should volunteer a couple of other ones from the Abbey as well. And I guess we ought to have someone from Production, not Dennis, there is no point in flogging a dead horse, but someone fairly senior..."
Carole interrupted me with a suggestion of an Annette Morgan who was Deputy Head of Production and sounded great, and we went on to define a new set of terms of reference for the Committee.
When we'd finished, and I'd asked Carole to type it up in a memo that could be sent to Piers for his comment, she added "And you don't have to sit on a committee with Peter Davies."
"You noticed." I smiled.
The pace of life at ITI-Franks was beginning to pick up for me, which was the way I liked it. My days were beginning to go faster.
Just before lunch on Wednesday, I had just got back to Carole's office after a meeting with Dennis Murrell in Production, and I was grinding my teeth in frustration. Myra was there, handing some paperwork to Carole.
I looked at Carole "Who have I got for lunch?"
"No one, I left it empty in case you wanted to go to lunch with Dennis."
"You hate me that much?" I turned to Myra, "Myra, have you seen my new office?" And I led her into my room.
"This is nice, a lot softer than it was. I used to sit in here for interminable meetings with Henri Bauer thinking it's so sterile in here. It looks a lot better."
"But I need your help. It needs a few pictures and some nice things for the units. So why don't I buy you lunch and you can help me choose some bits and pieces?"
She looked dubious, very dubious.
"And it's a chance to spend some of your boss' money, my personal money. You can't resist that can you.?"
She smiled, "What girl could resist shopping with someone else's money?"
I took her to the shops first, and she helped me choose some pleasant prints, already framed. I picked up quite a nice fruit bowl, I quite liked the idea of having some fresh fruit in the office. That's what comes of being married to a dietician for seven years. And then I spotted a lovely cut glass decanter and six matching whisky tumblers.
I stopped to look at it, it cost a fortune for what was essentially a glass bottle. But may be I can impress her with money, "I've always fancied having a decanter of malt whisky in the office. It'll probably never get drunk, but the idea of sharing a small dram with a colleague at the end of a long day.... Just like the movies, you know, jackets off, ties loosened, only the desk lamp on, and a meaningful few words before we go home...."
She smiled, and I bought the glassware.
Then I took her to lunch at a Chinese near the University where I'd eaten one evening last week so I knew it was good.
I was determined to make progress, maybe if I share a little of my story, show her some of me, .... "It's funny being back in Bristol after some years away. I was born, grew up, and married here......."
That caught her interest, and I quickly added, "We're divorced now...."
She had a look of 'another bloody man probably letting down some innocent wife', "...and it wasn't what you're thinking." I quickly got in. For about ten minutes a gave her an attractively edited version of my life.
Then there was a pause, "So, what happened to you then?" I asked.
What I learnt was that she had a long term boyfriend from University called Jonathon. They'd both got jobs in Bath, and set up home together. Everything was great for a couple of years, then he started 'having to work late'. When she discovered the affair, she gave him a choice, 'her or me'. He chose Myra, and everything was fine-ish for a while. Then he decided to change his job and go and work in London, and Myra waved him bye-bye. But she missed him, and so she got herself the job at ITI in London. Some days she'd commute the hour and half to London from Bath, other nights she'd stay with him. Then she discovered that on the nights when she went back to Bath, he was a busy little chap! And now she's bitter and twisted and man-shy.
She was fairly emotional in her telling the story. I suspected that I was the first person she'd told it to as one complete tale. She didn't give me an opening to suggest that we might date, and I still had the nagging doubt that maybe I shouldn't, not with a colleague.
When we got back, she did give me a big smile, "Thank you. I enjoyed that."
When I staggered to my office with pictures and parcels, Carole handed me the usual sheaf of papers and files, "And how was lunch with Myra?"
"Good." And I looked at her, "And innocent!"
"I'm sure it was. By the way, one of those files is the list of your guests for tomorrow's lunch, with a mini-bio on each from Personnel. I've told them to come here at twelve forty five. I've told them downstairs to have your table ready for one."
I'll catch her, I thought, "Well you'd better order a jug of orange juice and some bottles of fizzy water or something for those who want a drink when we're here."
"Already done. It'll be delivered at twelve thirty." Damn! She's just so bloody efficient!
The only thing I looked up was the representative of Peter Davies team. It was a girl called Sharon Booth, from her personnel bio she was twenty seven years old, with a first class degree in opthalmics, and she was married.
Actually the Lunch went well. There was good conversation, and a lot of laughter. I didn't really get to talk to Sharon Booth very much on a one-to-one basis, she sat about as far away from me as she could get. I wondered if Dear Peter had briefed against me.
As we were leaving the Lunch Room, I tapped her on the shoulder, "How are you getting back to the Abbey? I can give you a lift if you like, I want to see Piers McBaine."
She looked relieved. "Oh, that would be kind. I thought I was going to have to take a taxi."
"Well let me nip back up to my office and see Carole, and I'll meet you in Reception."
Carole of course, wanted to know how the lunch had gone, and I told her that I thought it was a success. I got her to check that Piers McBaine would be there to see me if I turned up in half an hour.
I picked up Sharon in Reception and showed her to my car.
After some usual pleasantries I changed the subject, "Don't you drive? You said you were taking taxis."
"Oh, I drive. But Peter said he had to come into Bristol for lunch, and he insisted that I took a lift with him. He wanted to take the opportunity to talk to me."
"But that would leave you stranded for your return trip."
"That's what I said, but he said there might be wine at lunch, and anyway he'd sign my expenses for a taxi."
"So, if I'm not being too nosey, what did he want to talk about?"
"I'm not sure. He wanted to know what I'd been told about this lunch, but other than that there was nothing particularly important, or nothing I spotted anyway."
"Maybe it was something that he needed to know but you didn't see as particularly important. Have you worked for him long?"
"Over five years, ever since I graduated. Peter came to my college and gave a lecture on his work." She blushed a bit, "Don't tell my husband .... well my fiancé at that time, but I thought he was rather dishy and his work sounded so exciting. I wanted to work here."
"You didn't follow up on your dishy feelings?" I laughed.
"Good Heavens, No! Although I think he tried once, in the early days. But I love my husband very much, I was just married by then, and I probably misinterpreted Peter anyway."
"I think you probably did. There is nothing, as far as I know, on his record about him molesting female colleagues."
"Don't destroy my memories completely. It is rather flattering to think I might have been chatted up by my dishy boss when working late one evening. You know the Abbey is a rather romantic setting on a summer's evening and there's only two of you working late."
I laughed, "Pure romantic imagination."
We fell to comfortable silence for a couple of miles, then she asked, "Is it true that Peter's wife was your ex-wife?"
"Yes. It's true."
"What a choice! Deputy Head of Research or Managing Director. Boy, did she get that one wrong!"
Again she made me laugh, "I knew all women were mercenary. And you were trying to paint yourself as a romantic earlier."
"Is there bad feeling between you and Peter? There is a rumour he worries about it." She paused, and I wondered about how I was going to answer. But she had second thoughts. "Sorry, I shouldn't have asked. It was very rude of me."
"Don't worry. You can't help who you fall in love with. My wife fell in love with Peter. And as far as I know they have a loving and strong marriage." I laughed dirtily, "And I've had my moments since."
Sharon laughed, looked at me and said, "I would have thought you wouldn't have had too much problem having plenty of them."
I pulled through the gates of the Abbey. "Well, here we are. What are you doing for the afternoon?"
"First, I've got to go and see Peter. My guess is he'll want a full report on the lunch." But as we got out of the car, she looked across the car roof at me, "Please don't make it awkward for Peter. He's a nice man, and there is no where else in this country that I could do this work."
"Don't worry, I've heard no suggestion of cancelling the project. In fact, I promise I'll come over some time soon, and you can show me what you do."
I walked into Reception with Sharon, where we shook hands and she went off to her lab. I told the receptionist to warn Piers McBaine that I was on my way, but that I'd walk straight down to his office.
As I walked along the corridor, I considered that Peter Davies had tried chatting up a married woman and a colleague, not that it surprised me. Better news was that he is getting nicely paranoid about me. He gave me some sleepless nights, time for him to try them!
I knocked and walked into Piers McBaine's office, "Piers, it's very good of you to see me at short notice." I held out my hand and we shook hands.
"It's good that you took the time to come and see us over here. It's always good to welcome the Managing Director to the Abbey." He paused and looked at me, "But I suspect there's a reason, and one that I might not like. Good news comes by email, bad news comes by personal visits."
I laughed, "Confidential news."
"What? And do you fancy a cup of tea?" He asked as I settled into one of his visitors' chairs.
"No thanks, this shouldn't take long." I paused while I chose my words, "I've asked Myra Hepsted, I believe you know her, to organise a valuation of the potential sale price of the Abbey."
He didn't look too concerned, "I've thought this day would come for years. Companies don't own places like this just to use as research laboratories."
"No, I suspect we could sell this place and build a brand new purpose built set of laboratories somewhere and still make a good profit."
He nodded, "Well, thank you for letting me know."
"Well, I thought I should warn you. Myra could well be bringing surveyors and others over the place at some time. And that could start very bad rumours flying unless you handle it properly."
"Yes, I'll make sure everyone knows."
"Well you can fairly emphasise that no decisions have been taken. This is purely a revaluation for the accounts and so that we have the information on which we could make a decision."
"OK. But while you're here, I want to talk to you about the changes you've made to the Research Liaison Committee."
"Well, in simple terms, you've taken yourself off it. I worked for years to get the prestige of having the Managing Director as Chairman of the Research Committees, and now we've lost that."
"View it that you have come of age. You don't need my patronage like that any more. I've tried to improve the opportunities and status of that Committee. Head of Research is now to chair a committee with members of other departments sitting on it, including two Directors. And it can do some really good work of keeping you and your guys in touch with the marketplace. You should be doing research into solving problems that the market wants solved and is willing to pay good money for the solution."