Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fine Margins

We held our annual staff briefing last night after work - an excellent once a year chance to get everyone together in one place and to talk about the successes (and challenges!) across the business as we move through the summer months - and to then adjourn for some drinks and canapes and some team bonding!

Always a very valuable gathering but tempered on this occasion with the news that Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe - Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards - had been tragically killed in Helmand province in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb. Rupert's mother, Veronica, is one of our Head Guides within the Palace and many of the Palace staff knew her son very well. He was clearly an inspirational leader of his men and he will be hugely missed - our thoughts and prayers go out to Veronica and her family - yet another serving member of our brave armed forces who will not be coming home to his parents, wife and young family. Very very sad; just why are we in Afghanistan anyway with over 170 UK troops killed to date - it seems such a pointless conflict? Answers please on a postcard.

It is no doubt blisteringly hot in Afghanistan at this time of the year but it feels as though it has been equally hot here in the UK this week - but thankfully the heatwave is forecast to break today which should give us slightly cooler weather for the weekend. Unlike me to seek cooler weather given the needs of our business (dry weather essential!) but it can just get tooooo hot and that has been the case this week with people either on the beach or in the back garden. We have traded well but numbers have dipped as everyone has naturally become very lethargic - slightly cooler temperatures and the very slight risk of some rain will actually help our numbers - yes I know, we are very fickle and we are never totally happy with the weather card that we are dealt! Fine margins - too hot we suffer; too wet we suffer!

We have also had to work in these temperatures - not much fun. The main Estate Office is in a converted cottage at the entrance into the Park and it is a building that seems to have no air at all on a hot day - it is a furnace - especially upstairs where two or three of us sit. Every year we dust off "Project Nancy Boy" - an aspirational plan to install air-conditioning - but then we remember the cost, the time it would take to get it installed, the fact that we would probably need planning permission, and by that time the weather has cooled and we live through to another summer! The long range forecast seems to imply a "long hot summer" - could this be the time for "Project Nancy Boy" to become reality? Watch this space?

In complete contrast, space within the Palace itself is luxuriously cool even on the hottest day - the Duke's office on Tuesday was like walking into a fully air-conditioned room even though the temperature was entirely natural due to the stone construction of the Palace and the depth of the walls - they really did know how to build in the early 18th century! It is perhaps something that we should talk more loudly about in a heat wave - visit Blenheim Palace - a really "cool" place or "Britain's Coolest Palace" or "Chill Out " at Blenheim Palace!

We were pleased on Tuesday to get the bundle of papers out to the Duke and our Trustees for our meeting with them on Monday - always a slightly stressful time but the pack looks strong and we have lots of positive news to report so hopefully we will have a good meeting with them - but the margins surrounding success and failure are also very fine -we expect a good meeting and I will report next week on how we fared!!

We go into today and the weekend with "Murray-mania" dominating the sporting headlines - good luck Andy but it certainly gets tough from here in with Roddick and Federer in the way of a Grand Slam title - not least the first British finalist at Wimbledon for 71 years. Good luck also to the British Lions as they try to salvage some pride in the last test against the Springboks - it has been a weird series as the Lions dominated the second half of the 1st Test and the first half of the 2nd Test and yet they lost both games - albeit by a whisker in both games. The results could so easily have gone the other way and we could so easily have seen the Lions winning both tests but that is the roll of the dice - that's how fate determines such matters however fine the margins.

Back in Helmand province, you wonder how fine the margins were to have avoided the most recent tragic loss of life - leaving earlier or later; taking a different route, etc - rest in peace Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe - we will support your mother, wife and family in any way we can at this very sad time but through their grief I am sure that they are also bursting with immense pride at the glowing tributes for all you have achieved in your short life.

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