Food Glorious Food !

 After parking the Rolls, we looked for the town’s fishmongers. The owner was friendly enough chap and when I said I was from the Manor, he immediately went out the back and bought in a large chunk of Cod fish. Obviously he was used to the order and soon he was cutting three beautiful succulent Cod steaks.
I’d almost forgotten, Jane had said Sir liked his Cod in breadcrumbs and he liked French bread with his meal, so we went into the bakery and bought a couple of French sticks and a bag of freshly made breadcrumbs. Popping into the local supermarket we picked up a bag of large potatoes and a few lemons; not forgetting a couple of large bottles of cooking oil. The cooker was a large modern one and quite new, consisting of a huge hot plate area that incorporated a deep fat fryer. Being used to cooking with gas in Algarve and also in the caravan, I was going to have to get used to electric once more.
Hub and I were in the kitchen before 7pm, cutting up potatoes into chip size and leaving them to soak in cold water. I was feeling very jittery, we had only met Sir and I wondered how the rest of family would be? The son arrived with his girlfriend; they introduced themselves and seemed friendly enough; they then went off to the small study come sitting room.
Earlier, Jane had reminded us that Sir would want the fire lit in the study and when Hub said why? It was mid summer and the weather was sunny and warm. Why a fire for goodness sake? Jane replied that whenever Sir was at home he wanted a fire lit every evening; all year round!
During the day, we had pottered in the grounds, tidying up in readiness for the bedding plants (which had arrived that week) to be planted up in the flower beds. Whilst we were busy, old Bob had come over to Hub and pointing at the pole by the wide entrance gates said,
“Don’t forget to put the flag up”
Bob then went on to tell us that Sir always wanted the Union Jack raised during the day and lowered again at night when he was at home.
So the fire was lit and the flag raised! This was just 2 little ‘jobs’ that had to be carried out every week; there were many more to come.
On a raised part of ground close to the tennis courts I had noticed a circular wooden structure, with a lid on. When I asked old Bob about it, he told me it was a hot tub; then with a smirk on his face said,
“Some right fun and games go on in that at times!”
I wasn’t sure I liked the sound of that!
By 8pm the chips were done, cooked to perfection by Hub, all golden and crispy. I had laid the table at the dining end of the large kitchen, wine glasses sparkling ready for drinks. There was a separate large dining-room (more like a small hall!) but it was only used on special occasions. I prepared and cooked the Cod steaks.
Sir, son and girlfriend were seated at the table and so we dished up the fish and chips. On the side of the plates I had placed large wedges of lemon and a dish of Tartar sauce sat by the salt grinder. The French stick was cut into small chunks in a basket next to the butter dish.
“Thank-you Ellie, Hub. Did you do anything special with the Cod?”
I gulped. What had I done wrong?
“Err no. I just rubbed the fish with lemon juice, then into egg dip and breadcrumbs”
“Well it was very nice. What's for pudding?”
“Pudding?” My voice seemed to echo around the huge kitchen. Nobody had mentioned pudding. I felt a panic rise in me!
“How about some pancakes?”
It was Hub speaking and saving the day.
Then he was throwing flour into a bowl, followed by eggs and milk and then whisking away. I retrieved a small frying pan from the cupboard and adding pieces of butter Hub was soon making a batch of thin crispy pancakes. His ‘speciality’ had always been chips and pancakes!
I served these hot with caster sugar and more wedges of lemon.
The diners now replete pushed back their chairs and sipped their white wine.
“Do you know, they were the best pancakes I’ve ever tasted”
Sir was addressing Hub now and we stared at him in amazement!
“I’ve eaten them in the best restaurants in London and they were not as good as yours. A very nice meal, sit down and have a drink”
We sat the other side of the kitchen and the son brought us 2 cool refreshing glasses of white wine, which went down very well.
It had been a success! But I didn’t feel at ease. It was a funny relationship. One minute Sir was nice and friendly and the next he could be quite brusque. I noticed it with the son too. He was talking to Hub about the author Stephen King and Hub said he was a big fan of the writer; he had bought the latest book and in a friendly way he said the son was welcome to borrow it. But the son said a curt “No, its alright thanks”, turned on his heel and walked off. Hub looked a bit downcast. He's a friendly man and I knew, like me, he was missing the sunny warm atmosphere of Algarve life and all the friends we had there. I guess we both felt a little lonely and out of place; it was such an extreme change of lifestyle and neither of us felt very happy.
I remember well those first days and weeks of our time at the Manor house. On the Sunday I was to cook a roast dinner for the family. They wanted a cooked breakfast so dinner was to be in the evening around 6pm.
I had asked Sir’s preference of meat and he told me lamb. On the Saturday I bought a nice size half leg of lamb, which was more than plenty for 3 people. Along with this I was to cook cabbage, peas and roast potatoes.
Clearing up after Sunday breakfast I thought I would peel the potatoes for the evening meal. This would give me a little break and we could have our own Sunday lunch. As I dropped the potatoes into the bowl, a voice startled me,
“They’re a bit big”
It was the son. Hub, who was sitting at the table said,
“What do you mean?” he sounded angry.
“We like them smaller. They’re not the right shape”
“What shape would you like them? Mickey Mouse?” said a terse Hub, borrowing the famous line from the Fawlty Towers comedy show!
The son didn’t say another word but swiftly left the kitchen. Now I was nervous again but Hub told me to do the meal as I wanted to, saying if they want special ‘shapes’ they could come and do them themselves! I had to laugh but proceeded to cut the potatoes in smaller pieces. But that wasn’t the end of it; Sir strode into the kitchen.
“How you settling in Ellie?” his tone was quite pleasant but before I could answer,
“Know how to make mint sauce do you, in the proper way I mean?”
Then he proceeded to tell me how to make mint sauce, which was exactly how I made it myself! I couldn’t quite believe he asked the question.
“Can you make a jam pudding; a steamed job?”
I assured him that I could.
“Well that would be nice for dessert today and maybe a few jam tarts and mince pies for later”

From that moment on, I knew I was to be working for a very greedy man; that my job as housekeeper was to cover a multitude of tasks.
I thought I was going to have a couple of hours break that Sunday afternoon but I spent most of it preparing pudding, pies and tarts.
However we did manage to sneak an hour off when the family went off to the Yacht club for drinks and we could sit down to our own Sunday lunch.
Mint grew in a trough outside the kitchen door, so I made the sauce ready for the evening meal. The lamb was nicely roasted and so were the potatoes, despite their ‘shape’! The table was laid and everything was ready to be served. The jam pudding was simmering and on a large plate there sat quite a lot of jam tarts and mince pies.
We heard voices coming from the main door; there seemed a lot of them and suddenly the kitchen was full of, not just the family but four more! Then seven seated themselves at the table as Sir filled their glasses with wine.
Hub and I looked at each other in bewilderment. Then Hub went over to Sir and asked if he could have a word, explaining that we had cooked dinner for 3 people. Sir, having had quite a few drinks, answered loudly,
“Oh, you always want to buy more; we often bring a few friends home”
The group at the table stared at us as they sipped their wine. I was furious. He had embarrassed us in front of strangers and hadn’t had the good grace to ring the house and let us know he was bringing people back with him. I don’t usually hate anyone but that evening I felt hatred and close to tears. We were new to the job and this wasn’t fair.
With Hub slicing the meat very thinly (and luckily I had made plenty of vegetables) we did manage to fill the 7 plates. Dinner was followed by the pudding and freshly made custard. As I served the dessert, Sir stood up and went to the window, gazing out over the back garden,
“Don’t forget to water the plant pots Ellie will you?”
I paused and looking up at him I said,
“Would you like me to do it now?” my tone sarcastic and annoyed. He sat down and started eating his pudding.
Afterwards we received compliments for the meal but by then I didn’t care. I was tired and angry. I’d had enough.
I can remember that night, of how we felt. Having crashed out on the sofa in our small cottage, we both fell into complete silence.
“Don’t know how long I can take this. I hate seeing you waiting on that lot” Hub moaned
“But we have to do it. Save some money. We just have to stick at it”, my voice was very forlorn.

I felt like crying but that was no good. But I did have the feeling that we were cut off from the outside world. I not only missed my life in Portugal but I was missing my family. There was no room for Lesley or Jeff to stay. During the week they were both at work, so all we could hope for was maybe a weekend off in the future sometime, to visit them. Although we kept in touch with our Mums there wasn’t much chance of our visiting them yet. Hub’s father was just the same; there would be no improvement but I know that Hub wanted to travel down to Dorset to see him, as we had only managed one visit since our return to the UK.
The only relief was the family would be gone by the morning and we would get a break for a few days. Although we had the gardens to plant up, we could do it leisurely, and would at least have a rest from waiting on the family. Next week we were to collect the youngest girl from the station; she was coming home for the school holidays.
Boy was I glad to phone Maria the next day. The family had gone and after I had made beds and cleaned their rooms I left Jane to her dusting in the large sitting room and went to talk to my dear friend.
Maria was a balm to my bad mood and as she chatted away I started to relax. I told her I hadn’t had a chance to look for a kilt for young Ricardo but she went on to say that it didn’t matter now as he had gone off the idea. She thought he had been teased at school with his dancing and when he mentioned the kilt his friends had laughed at him. So that was an end to it. I pictured her there in a sunny relaxed Lagoa, in her little house near the park, and oh how I wanted to be back in Algarve, driving around to different jobs, meeting people, strolling the cliff tops, or having a drink at Smilers bar in Carvoeiro.

Then she said she would have a surprise for me when I returned to Lagoa. On asking what? she giggled and said it was a secret but it was a good one. My mind went into overdrive as I thought ‘was Maria pregnant? Then dismissed the idea, as she had told me she didn’t want more children. But what could it be?
The following week had us driving to the station to pick up the youngest girl. We had been given photos and told where she would be waiting. The thin young girl with freckles sat huddled in the corner of the station’s waiting room, battered suit case at her feet, looking like a piece of lost luggage herself. Jamie sat up front with his Dad as the girl and I sat in the back of the Rolls. I chatted to her and found she was quite a sweet child but rather shy.
Back at the Manor Jane had made us tea and a special sponge iced sponge cake; apparently a favourite of the girls. We all sat around the table chatting and I asked the girl what she would like for dinner, she replied anything would do and then went off to her bedroom.
“Whatever you cook her, she probably won’t eat it” Jane said sadly
On asking why? (my own children had always had a healthy appetite), Jane told me the child lived on bits and pieces, mostly sweet things.
Knowing my own kids tastes as youngsters and wanting to tempt the girl, I cooked fish fingers and chips for her dinner. It was a Friday evening and Sir would be home. The son and girlfriend weren’t coming that weekend, so it was just 2 to cook for.
I watched, as the girl pushed the food around her plate, however she did manage to eat one pancake but then said she was going up to her room to watch TV.
I have to add here, that pancakes became a regular ‘pudding’ every Friday night!
On washing up, I opened the cutlery drawer and as I put the knives and forks away I noticed some silver foil hid away at the back of the drawer; I opened it and saw squares of chocolate laying there. I was puzzled but I covered them up again and closed the drawer.
It was around 10.30 or so, Jamie was asleep in his annexe and Hub and I were dozing on the sofa watching TV, when the phone rang, nearly frightening the wits out of us! I jumped up to answer it.
A frail little voice spoke “Ellie, could you make me a hot chocolate drink please, I can’t sleep?”
It was the girl. Hub was into a film, so I made my way round to the Manor’s kitchen. It was dark now and the only light was a dim one over the kitchen door; there was complete silence as I opened the door into the kitchen; not a single sound which I found a bit spooky. I put the milk on to heat and went to the drawer to get a spoon for the chocolate powder. As I opened it the silver piece of foil lay empty at the front, the chocolate gone!
I made my way up the 3 flights of stairs to the child’s bedroom. Knocking on the door I opened it and the girl was lying half under the covers of the bed. She sat up as I came in, looking pale and tired as I put the drink next to her. The TV was on and quite loud.
As I went to leave she said,
“Would you stay with me for a little while Ellie, I thought I heard a noise outside?” She looked afraid.
I tried to assure her that all was okay, that her father was downstairs.
“No, Daddy isn’t home yet”
She then told me that Sir had gone out to his club; the child was all alone in that huge empty house. On hearing this, she wasn’t the only one afraid! I sat on the end of her bed, hoping she would soon go to sleep. I imagined Hub would have dozed off by now and I had to walk back down all the flights of creaking stairs and then round to our cottage in the dark…