I honestly didn't know what to expect. I was very naive. I had no preconceived ideas of Manor House at all as I didn't know who, or how many people lived there, what the house really looked like, what my specific duties would be, where I would be sleeping, eating, what I would be wearing etc.
I think taking part in ECH has changed me. Historically I now know about the Edwardian Era whereas when I entered the house I knew nothing about the period. I also feel that I have grown up a lot too. Although I had lived away from home prior to Manor House (when I attended Uni) I found that moving away to be with so many others and having to take all their lives into account whilst we were together made me think and grow up a lot more. It was a definite learning experience. When I left the house I was also very grateful to have mod cons again and for life to be so much easier. But I have to say I have reverted back to my old ways and I take material objects for granted again.
Yes, my mum has said I have changed. Before entering the house I would have been described as high maintenance. I wore make-up every day (even to the shops), I had blonde and red hair which I washed and straightened every day, I painted my nails and plucked my eyebrows etc. all on a very regular basis. I would also be seen in a different outfit every day. In Manor House I only had the opportunity to wash once a week, never pluck my brows or shave my legs, and I brushed my hair once in two months! I realised it didn't matter what you looked like and that I didn't need all the material objects that I was so used to in 2001. As a result today I wear much less make-up and I take only 5 minutes to get ready rather than 5 hours!
I have learnt so many things. I especially have learnt that Edwardian life wasn't easy for anyone whether they be Lady Olliff-Cooper or me the third housemaid. There were always obstacles to face. I have also learnt that I did become my role. A housemaid's life in 1908 wouldn't have been a particularly happy one where they would have worked very hard for little job satisfaction. I found that I became quite introverted and withdrawn at times whereas modern-day Erika is extroverted and outgoing. I also learnt that one of the reasons the house ran so smoothly is because we were all 'designed' for a specific job. Becky, Jess and myself were 'designed' to clean and take care of the upkeep of the house through the guidance of Mrs Davies Charlie and Rob were 'designed' to serve the family's needs whatever they may be, alongside Mr Edgar the Butler. M. Dubiard, Antonia Ellen and Kenny were there to feed us, the family and all their guests and Miss Morrison was there to clothe and look after Lady O.C. Finally, Tristan saw to the horses for the family's pleasure (i.e. riding lessons) and travel to and from Manderston.
I have stayed friends with Ellen the Scullery Maid, and her boyfriend Kenny. Ellen and I arrived at Manderston together and we both felt companionship from the beginning. We also shared a room which enabled us to get to know each other well. I have also remained friends with Mr Edgar, the Butler. When I first met him he put the 'fear of God'in me! By the end of the project he was like a granddad to me.
Being given the opportunity to take part in a unique experience where I met some amazing and inspirational people, where I participated in events such as the Raj Ball, Empire Ball and most importantly the Servants' Ball. Having amazing memories!
I least liked the claustrophobic atmosphere that arose due to being kept indoors, below stairs for 24 hours a day. I also felt that living with 12 others got too much at times and people became very aggressive and rude with one another. Emotions, whether happy or sad always ran very high below stairs.
I also found that even though I was living with so may other people there were many occasions where I felt isolated and lonely.
The hardest physical aspect of the role I assumed was getting up at 6am every morning after relatively late nights (10 or 11pm). I found some days I didn't function due to lack of sleep, and I once fell asleep standing up in the Butler's Pantry whilst drying the china!
Mentally the hardest aspect of the role was to believe that I fitted in with the other servants. Due to coming into the experience half way through the others had formed a clique which was very hard for me to break into.
I really missed contact with my family and friends and I phone home several times from a public phone box in Duns (local town). I also couldn't live without tampons and I regularly stocked up on them at the local chemist.
I think in an ideal world the 21st Century could learn to live life at a slower pace as the Edwardians did but due to technology and the demands of 2002 living this is not really possible.
My corset, long coat and tam o'shanta
Receiving letters from my family and friends
The ostentatious social events e.g. eating at the dinner table with 11 others, sitting around a coal fire, the Empire ball, the Servants' Ball etc. that I would not be able to experience in today's society
Not seeing daylight
The isolation that came with the physical work
The soul-destroying work
I would have been in the project from the start. If I had been there since day one I could have related to the other servants' plights they faced in the beginning e.g. being fed gruel for every meal by M Dubiard for the first few weeks. I think I would have formed stronger bonds with the servants as a result of going through what they had been through. I also think that it would have enabled me to get to know Charlie, Rob, Tristan and Kenny better. I got to know the girls Becky and Jess as I worked with them and Ellen as I shared a room with her, but I found I never got the opportunity to get to know the lads.
I feel that the Edwardian setting did change the way that men and women related to each other but not noticeably among the lower servants. However I did find there was a prominent change between myself and the male upper servants and the family (females included). E.g. one day Mr Edgar saw me upset and said he would like to give me a hug but due to the environment we were in felt he was unable to. I also found out through cleaning Mr Raj-Singh the Tutor's room that he would talk to me whilst I worked and then if any member of the family were passing by he would stop talking. He felt that it was wrong for the Tutor to be seen chatting to a housemaid. I feel that these reactions were justified for the situation we were in. We all took on parts and we decided that when we took 'our characters' on that we would be as authentic as possible. In Edwardian times men and women on all levels wouldn't have interacted a great deal.
The Tweezer Story
It was mine and Ellen's first night at Manderston. We were in our bedroom talking about hose the first day had gone. Ellen told me that she felt she could trust me and said she had a secret to tell me. I was petrified about what she was going to say to me. At that point she told me she and sneaked in a pair or tweezers. I then got out of my bed, switched on the light, went to my drawer, opened it and pulled some out to and said “So have I!” We knew from that moment on that we would get on with one another.
How Kenny and Ellen got it together!
It was mine and Ellen's first half day of. We decided to walk into Duns. It was also Charlie and Kenny's day off too and they came into Duns by bike. All four of us went out for a meal and got quite drunk. We all lost track of time and we had to get back by 10.30pm or Mr Edgar would lock us out. It was now 10.23pm. Me and Ellen decided to jump on the back of the boys bikes. Ellen was on Charlie's and I was on Kenny's. Me and Kenny rode off, only to look back and see Ellen lying on the road with her pink petticoat everywhere and all our sweets we had bought all over the road. Kenny was very concerned that Ellen had hurt herself which she hadn't. Kenny told Ellen that she wasn't getting on the back of a bike again and that we would all be late instead and face the consequences. Ellen got angry and started shouting “No-one tells me what to do!” She got back on Charlie's bike and Charlie rode off, with me and Kenny following. Kenny was fuming all the way, as was Ellen. We got back just in the nick of time, and Ellen and Kenny decided to have it out in the Diary Cam room. They finally decided to make-up by snogging, thinking they had turned the Diary Cam off which they hadn't! Since that kiss they have been together ever since.