To the Manor – Not born !

When sir had shown us the small cottage that was to be our future home we were at first worried, as it only contained one bedroom. However, before Hub could enquire about a second bedroom sir asked us to follow him. He had led us round the back of the cottage and to the door of an annexe that fitted onto its rear. Unlocking the door we followed him into a tiny self-contained apartment, with its own bed-sitting room and bathroom. This was to be Jamie’s space.

The week leading up to our move was a hive of activity. Jamie had interview at the local secondary school where they were very impressed by his school reports from the Silves college. So that was a huge relief and he could now take up his studies once more when the new term began.
The caravan had to be cleared and the personal bits and pieces we had stored at our older son’s garage had to be collected; on calling the Manor house it was arranged that we could move into the cottage over the weekend in order to start work on the Monday.

I was very nervous about the job and had no idea how it would be. I had never cooked for a large household before and being the housekeeper I was to be in charge of all domestic goings, on which I found rather daunting.
It was Saturday and moving- in time. Jane the elderly maid was there to greet us and after dumping our belongings in the cottage, we went into the Manor’s huge kitchen where she made us tea. When I saw all the appliances and gadgets my stomach went into knots as I visualised a large family, all complete strangers, sitting there whilst I cooked a meal for them. Jane had worked there for years yet I was to be her ‘boss’! I didn’t like the idea but it was my job and I would have to get on with it.
 

Jane showed us around the Manor, leading us up a grand sweeping staircase that lead out onto a spacious landing with various bedrooms and bathrooms leading off. Then up more flights of stairs to ever more rooms and bathrooms; a large Sauna room was installed under one of the staircases. It was all very confusing and I was convinced I would get lost wandering around this enormous building.
Retreating back to the kitchen for yet another cup of tea I expressed my concern to Jane, she was very kind telling me not to worry, that she would be there to help out. Then, before we went back to our little cottage, she said,
“Come and look at this”
Taking me through a door leading from the back of the kitchen and along a narrow hallway I saw high on the wall a large glass cabinet that held an array of rifles. Then she beckoned me to follow her up a steep twisting staircase. We came out onto a wide landing with doors leading off,
“This is another way to the upper floors”
Now I really was lost!

I enquired after sir and Jayne said he was at his yachting club for lunch and evening drinks. He would be out all day sailing on the Sunday but was leaving for his penthouse in the City of London on the Monday morning and would require a cooked breakfast before he left. This would be the first meal I would cook but it shouldn’t be too difficult. Then Jane told us about the rest of the family. The eldest son was working abroad. The second son worked in the City. The eldest daughter was at university and the younger one away at boarding school; the youngest girl would be home soon for the summer holidays.
Sir’s wife, milady, was abroad in their villa in Spain; both she and the older girl would be home in a few weeks and the second son came home most weekends with his girlfriend. I remember feeling so nervous at the thought of cooking and waiting on this well to do family!
Jane made us a nice evening meal before going home to her cottage in the town and as we trudged back to our own small cottage, the sky was beginning to darken. We were all feeling tired, so after a hot bedtime drink, Hub and I saw Jamie safely tucked up in his own little apartment, with his TV on and surrounded by his books and CDs.

Outside, the light was beginning to fade and all was very quiet. The Manor and cottage stood in very large grounds, so there were no sounds of traffic or of other human life going on, just the occasional hooting of an owl. Feeling the effects of our move I decided on an early night and rummaged in a box for a book to read.
Settled in bed, I could just make out, through the gap in the curtains, the outline of the greenhouses and as I lay trying to concentrate on my book, I began to think of the plants I might find in them. Sir was a keen gardener; maybe I would find new species of plants and hopefully grow some of my own. I drifted away from my reading and began to plan the garden I would create around our small cottage. The thought excited me and for the first time in ages my homesickness for Portugal subsided a little. Gardening was and always has been a balm to my worries and fears.
Something woke me; suddenly I was wide awake. An absolute, almost deadly silence and apart from very pale moonlight through the gap in the curtain the bedroom was cloaked in heavy thick darkness. I could make out Hubs form as he lay sleeping soundly next to me. But there was ‘something’, someone in the room. I had no doubt of it. I could feel it, nothing visible but a definite presence. I had the terrifying feeling that if I put my hand out, something, someone would take hold of it! My heart pounded. In that cloying blackness I felt we were being watched and I could hear the sound of my own breathing. I pulled the duvet up around my head and I lay there feeling very afraid.
Sleep must have come, for my eyes opened to the grey light of dawn filtering through the curtains. The clock said 5.30am. Too early to get up but I sat up against the pillows thinking of my disturbed night and so happy to see a new day dawning.
The Manor house was quite old, maybe a couple of hundred years or more and this cottage felt just as old and my mind dwelt on all the previous occupants that had lived in it possibly for hundreds of years. I shivered at the thought. This was our new home and I would be sleeping in this room for some time to come. I was far from happy with these thoughts!
From my bed I could see the greenhouses more clearly now as they were but 20 metres from the cottage. The grey morning light gave them an austere look but to relax my thoughts I planned the plants I would grow there, tomatoes, crisp cucumbers and salad vegetables…
 
A movement caught my eye and a figure glided into view. A tall robed, hooded shape appeared to float across and in front of the window. I was looking at the figure of a monk! The dark grey hood, pulled forward, hid any features from view and I wasn’t dreaming. I pinched myself. I was wide awake and it was daylight! This gave me courage and I moved to the window, pulling aside the curtain and as I did so, the figure turned towards me, the hood fell back, a hand waved at me..
It was Sir! He mouthed a ‘Good Morning’ to me and disappeared into one of the greenhouses. What on earth was he doing, wandering about at such an early hour of the day and nearly giving me heart failure!
I knew from that moment on, that our life here was going to be far from ‘normal’!
The memory of that first night and morning ‘in service’ remains as clear as ever to this day.

It was Monday. I was in the kitchen early and had put the tomatoes and bacon under the grill. I had just taken the eggs from the fridge when a sudden voice behind startled me,
“I don’t like the whites”
It was Milord. I stared at him for a moment.
“Can’t stand the whites of eggs”
I muttered something and my trembling hands proceeded to shovel the cracked egg back and forth draining the whites into a cup before sliding the yolks gently into the frying pan.
“Thank-you Ellie, that was very nice”
I turned from the sink to answer but he was gone and as I looked out onto the driveway, Sir, clutching briefcase, was climbing into the back of the Rolls Royce with Hub at the steering wheel and they were soon moving off to deposit him at the station, for his train into the City.
 

 
I was on an upper floor in the Manor house. Id changed the bed linen and cleaned Milord’s bedroom, then went to look out of the window at the grounds that spread out far below. It was a splendid view. I saw a man’s bent figure working in the large allotment beyond the hedges that bordered the flowerbeds. Sir had told me about old Bob. He was the one who grew the vegetables for the big house and had been in service there for many years. Bob was another one to be under my supervision and as I watched him limp amongst the vegetables I began to wonder just how old, old Bob was? I ran down the staircases and wandered out into the grounds, glad to get some fresh air on a fine summer’s day.
I walked over and introduced myself to Bob and I asked if he needed a hand; I felt the itch to get my hands into the soil. He gave me a stern ‘No thanks I can manage’. A man well into retirement years, I guess he felt some resentment at a younger woman ‘being in charge’!
“I’m going to make some coffee, would you like one?”
He muttered that he’d be over soon and preferred tea, so I left him to it. In the kitchen Jane had the kettle on, so I went over to the cottage to give Maria her weekly call.
I felt a little lonely in this huge environment and she was my closest friend at that time. Listening to her brought me a warm, colourful vision of Algarve, something to cling to and keep hope going to the day when we could return there once more. They had been to the coast and Carlos had been fishing.
 
Immediately my mind went back to the day we had eaten the giant eel that he had caught of the coast at Carvoeiro; how my stomach had squirmed, yet it had turned out a delicious meal.
 
She had her usual moan about the local church, the priest had visited wanting funds for the church. Not being very well off, she resented being asked for money. It was one of her pet hates, a visit from the clergy! Maria only went to church on special occasions. She did have a beautiful singing voice and although belonging to the church choir, Maria wasn’t especially religious and in her ways was very much the modern woman.
All was going well at the workshops and after promising to call her in a week’s time, I made my way back to the Manor kitchen.
“You haven’t met all the family yet have you?”
Old Bob posed the question with a sly grin on his face and continued to slurp his tea.
“No not yet. We’ve only just arrived”
“Rum lot they are. Right Jane?”
Jane looked slightly embarrassed.
“Specially the oldest girl; a bit weird and her ladyships a right fuss pot, runs her fingers over surfaces looking for dust”
My stomach sank as Jane said this was true and added,
“Likes the bed linen changed every day when shes here”
I said she must be joking but Jane shook her head. I asked about the youngest child who was due home in a couple of weeks. Jane said she was quite a nice girl and felt sorry for her, as she seemed quite a lonely child.
 
Having some time to ourselves during the week, I got going on my own patch of garden. There was a sundial in the centre, so I sketched a design on paper of herb and flower beds radiating from the dial with small gravel paths in between. Jane brought me some perennial plants from her overcrowded garden at home and we shopped at a local market buying in herbs and bedding plants; this would of course have to include my favourite plant and herb, English Lavender.

We did get some strange looks from folk in the town, as we had stepped out of the handsome Rolls Royce in our working clothes and began buying plants off the market stalls and loaded them into the boot of the Rolls!

We had been given permission to use the Rolls. It was a sumptuous, beautiful car, so comfortable and smooth, that I had delusions of grandeur when riding in it, even though I wasn’t exactly dressed as the lady of the Manor!
On the Thursday evening, the phone went in the cottage. A young and strange voice spoke. It was the son of Milord, speaking from his London apartment. Introducing himself he suddenly said,
“Its always fish and chips on Friday nights Ellie, did Pa tell you?”
I said no, that he hadn’t. But I would make sure dinner was on time at around 7.30pm.
Panic started to set in. I wasn’t very good at chip making. I told Hub and he said not to worry that he would cook the chips. Although he doesn’t like cooking, he was and is a good chip maker. The children had lived on these (and sausages!) when they were young on the few times I had been ill and Hub had been in charge!
We had just settled down to watch TV, when the phone rang again. This time it was Sir,
“Hello Ellie. Its fish and chips tomorrow night please and I like fresh cod from the fishmongers in town. Tell him you’re from the Manor and you will get the finest cuts”

I recall that when I went to bed that night, I wasn’t just fearful of turning off the lights and experiencing the ‘something in the dark” again but also nervous of the dinner expected of me the following evening. Could I cook to the standard expected?

Sleep didn’t come easily that night!