After my ghostly experience in the Manor, I never played that piano again. In fact I wouldn’t stay in the big house alone.

We had one particular weekend, before her ladyship departed for Spain, when they invited some friends to stay; one in which neither Hub nor I had a moments respite. From early morning till about 9 in the evening we were on the go. To our relief the guests departed on the Sunday night but Sir stayed on till Monday lunchtime. The whole weekend had been one of cooking, cleaning, making beds, with just Jane coming in to help me. I was exhausted!
But we’d had one piece of news that brightened us. The week after her ladyship was due to leave for Spain, Sir had informed us that he would be flying out to join her for a couple of weeks holiday.
As we left the kitchen on the Sunday evening, having first cleaned and tidied up, Sir called me back.
“I’d like a nice fry up tomorrow Ellie about midday, before I leave for the City”
I simply nodded and once back in the cottage I kicked off my shoes and slumped in the chair, in a huge sulky mood. Hub sat there with a slightly worried look on his face, then said, “I’ve applied for a job”
“What?!”, that had me wide awake!

He went on to tell me, it was a security job for a large company in the City of London and the interview was on the following Tuesday. Not much walking involved, mostly in an office checking CCTV cameras. I was dumbstruck, and asked why he hadn’t said anything.
“I wanted to be sure of getting it first. But they seem happy with my CV, so fingers crossed for the interview, then bingo, we can be out of here”
This was a lovely surprise but I wouldn’t get my hopes up and we still had to find somewhere to live.

Monday morning had us out early and getting some fresh provisions in town but as we drove back to the Manor, I had a terrible foreboding feeling come over me. It was a mixture of unhappiness, fear and almost panic.
“I don’t want to go back there!”
Hub stared at me as tears rolled down my face; he pulled over and stopped the car.
“I can’t go back there. I just can’t face cooking that man another meal. I’ve had enough of everything; the place scares me”
Hub tried to soothe me.
“Only a couple of weeks and we can be out of here”
But he knew I was very tired, saying he would cook Sir’s lunch. Then he surprised me again.
“When hes gone off to London, do you fancy a trip into Southend this afternoon?
I readily said yes, anything to get away from the Manor for an hour or two. Jamie was at school but we’d be back before he was home.
I went into the cottage, where Hub made me tea and told me to put my feet up. He then went round to the Manor to cook Sir’s lunch.
When Hub came back, he sat down next to me and started laughing. I asked what the joke was,
“I fried his eggs alright, they were all frizzled and greasy, the bacon was well overdone and the tomatoes got burnt, it looked terrible! Know what he said? Hub that was really delicious! That mans got a stomach like a dustbin!”
We both roared out laughing.
Hub delivered Sir to the station; it was the last time we saw him.

After a walk in Southend high street, we opted to go to Burger King for some lunch. This was a little treat, not only to have something cooked for us but to have a bit of freedom and to relax.
A simple and enjoyable meal and I sat back sipping my coffee.
“You ready to go yet? I’ve got something to show you”
I nodded then said, “Where are we going?”
He grinned and replied “Wait and see”
We walked to the end of the high street, up a side street then across the busy main road, then along a side road and turned into a small cul de sac. Hub led the way to the end of terrace house, opening the gate he walked along the path and knocked at the front door.
An elderly man answered it and invited us inside. He told us to look round the place. I followed Hub upstairs, where there were two nice size bedrooms and family size bathroom. Whilst there, Hub said he’d arranged a viewing for us as the house was available to rent. My grin was like the Cheshire cat’s! A home of our own at last!
Hub told me that the letting agent said we could have rented the house without Hub having a job, as his Fire pension would have been good enough assurance.
The house was part furnished but the landlord said we could move our own things in if we wished and he would store what was there already. It was a nicely decorated house, very clean with a large modern kitchen. Then the man said,
“Have a look at this”
He opened the back door and as I stepped outside, on the other side of the garden path were beautiful flower beds, a small lawn and against the fence a large fruiting pear tree and to the side there was a potting shed. I felt wonderful; my earlier miserable, foreboding mood had entirely evaporated.
On the way back to the Manor we chattered away non stop. We couldn’t wait to tell Jamie. He often moaned about being cut off out there in the countryside; I wondered what Lesley and Jeff would say too.
The landlord had told Hub we could move in any time we wished and to my complete surprise yet again, Hub had said we would move in two weeks. I can’t express in words how happy I felt at that time. I began to feel that at last we were making a life for ourselves once more; and I knew of another person who would be happy for me too.. Maria!
Jamie was really happy about the house; his words were something like ‘Ah we’ll be near civilisation at last!’
Which was true, not only did Southend have plenty of shops of every description but cinemas, theatres, pubs and a super size library, civic centre and college and a main line railway into London. There was another reason Jamie was happy, he would have a decent size bedroom in a family house again; he never slept well in the cottage annexe at the Manor, experiencing the same creepy, ‘being watched’ feeling as I had.
There was also a study in the new house, where he could do his homework in peace and quiet and also invite his friends into if he wished. As a family we ‘bubbled’ again!
On Tuesday Hub came back from his interview in the City with a grin on his face, to tell us he had got the job!

We had to figure out a way to tell Sir of our plans. But as Hub and I talked it over, we worked out that our wages weren’t due till after Sir returned from his holidays. If we told him we were leaving, he could withhold those wages, in lieu of a months notice. We decided not to tell him. We would forego our wages; just leave everything clean and tidy, the place locked up, and the keys with a letter of our intentions. I have to say, that we felt no guilt in doing this; the Manor, Sir, her ladyship and the rest of the family had had their ‘pound of flesh’ from us. We were a long line of couples who had worked there and according to Jane we were the longest serving!

Once more we were loading up her ladyship’s car as she got ready for her long drive back to southern Spain. The Manor was emptying fast! Hub had delivered the youngest girl at the station the weekend previous and she was now back at boarding school. As her ladyship sped off I felt a relaxing calm sweep over me; another week and Sir would be off too.

Friday came round and Sir was climbing into the back of the Rolls, ready for Hub to whisk him off to the airport.
On Saturday morning Hub went into Southend to fetch the keys for the house, while I went to the annexe to pack Jamie’s clothes, whilst he was out with his mates.
When I returned to the cottage there was a young man standing on the doorstep. He gave me his card and said that he was an aerial photographer. I gave him a puzzled look as he went on to explain that he specialised in taking aerial photos of fine old buildings and asked if we wanted one taken of the Manor? I explained the owners and the family were away and that he would have to come back another time. He gave me his card which I put to one side.

Sunday morning and we were all ready to go, our old car packed with belongings and bags. We went into the Manor and checked that all was tidy, windows and back doors locked. There was one thing I was a sad about, I hadn’t said goodbye to Jane. We had become quite good friends. So I left her some chocolates and a card explaining what we were doing. I knew she wouldn’t be very surprised as most previous housekeepers/chauffeurs had left without any notice; she told me that one woman had actually thrown the dinner at the kitchen wall, when Sir had criticised her and had walked out never to come back! So I supposed we were being quite civilised.
As I placed our letter and the keys on the hall table, I noticed another folded piece of notepaper. Curious, I picked it up and there in bold handwriting was this:
‘Dear Sir, Mr O’Toole would like to know if you would like the Manor blown up’
The photographer’s card fell on the table; his name ‘O’Toole’.
I recognised my mischievous son’s handwriting. Of course he meant blown up in the photographic sense but it read more sinister….
As we drove away, I looked back at that big lonely house and wondered how on earth we had spent almost 5 months of our life there.

It was wonderful being in our own house again; a bit like being let out of prison after the confines of work and living at the Manor. Hub was looking forward to starting his new job on the Monday and Jamie very happy to be in town with all the facilities on our doorstep.
It was as though we were starting to live again, I had all the shops close by as well as a huge library and the beach just 15 minutes walk away. We felt at ease and content.
The weeks went by and Christmas came and went; a real family Christmas, with Jeff and Mel, Lesley and Ray eating around our big kitchen table. It was wonderful.

Jamie had returned to school and Hub was on day duties at work, so I was alone for most of the day. I recall one day particularly towards the end of January, I was watching morning TV and it was a programme about either properties abroad or holidays I can’t remember which but there were long golden beaches, sunshine, people enjoying themselves and I found myself crying. I was so lonely, missing my friends in Algarve and the outdoor life. I didn’t fit in here at all. I remember going to the kitchen for some water then stepping outside into the garden I leaned back against the door, feeling so miserable.
This wasn’t how it was meant to be.
Suddenly a movement caught my eye as something flew into the pear tree. As I stared I made out the pink and blue feathers of a Jay. Id only ever seen a picture of this bird in a book before and there it was perched in the pear tree.
Looking at the pretty bird, my eyes drifted upwards and the white clouds parted, a patch of blue sky appeared and the sun shone out on that crispy cold day and I sighed “Algarve”
It was then it started; crying myself softly to sleep at night. I was so homesick for Portugal .It went on for days. I was beginning to make myself ill. One night Id had enough and told Hub and Jamie how bad I was feeling. What is the old saying, ‘Out of the mouths of babes’?
Jamie said “You need a job Mum”
I said doing what? I had no qualifications.
He replied “Gardening”!
Within a week I had an advert in the local paper.

I was still having my weekly chats with Maria. She told me that spring was very much in evidence in Algarve, with all Almond trees coming into blossom. I didn’t need much imagination to remember how beautiful that was and I longed to see it, as winter was still with us in England.
As I told Hub about my chat with Maria that night he said,
“It may not be long before you see her again”, then winked at me.