Pits, tits and wobbly bits…

The European beach…

Long stretches of fine, golden sand and clear, azure water; cloudless skies painted with a watercolour sunset, swaying palms…

Well….that and a few added extras…of the wobbly kind…

We British are prudes. Whether we like to admit it or not.

If you head down to say….Southend beach, you’ll see people hiding a multitude of sins beneath wraps, sarongs, shorts, tshirts, beach dresses, and in some cases, Jeans! Actually in quite a lot of cases, on the hottest day in August you’ll still see some nutter walking down the street in a leather jacket (probably a testament and a middle finger up to the fact we’re lucky to get five days of good weather…) We are so hung up about our bodies, we have pioneered new ways of artfully tying our towels (Ooooh look! No hands *shimmies to demonstrate the non-falling-down-ness of said towel….runway walk…and pose….and pose*).

In Europe, however, the rule is: if you’ve got it, flaunt it; if you don’t got it, fuck it, flaunt it anyway.

For the duration of my stay, my views of the ocean have been partially obscured by wayward exposed tits, arses and spare tyres, cellulite and sagging skin.

It’s bloody fantastic.

Never have I ever felt so at ease showing some skin in a public place. Not that I’ve actually shown any more skin than normal…no really…stop it , I’m serious….you have such dirty minds…

I’ve gone back and forth on the “to tatas or not to tatas” debate (I’m sure it’s what Shakespeare actually wanted to write about…it just wasn’t era appropriate) and have, until now, settled on no tatas (No Sex Please, We’re British….oooh and just think of the sunburn. Don’t even get me started on the hazards of g string bikinis…did you read that story in the mail a few years ago?)

For me, this liberation is reminiscent of my holiday a few years back to Tenerife, where there was more German schnitzel than, well….German schnitzel… Back then, I was horrified. Now, I appreciate the charm…

Young or old, fat or thin, pale or tanned…here it just hunkey-dorey to let it all hang out.

Maybe it’s the heat that’s getting to me…I’m sounding decidedly un-British.

Excuse me while I go wear an actual bikini, sans cover-up (shock, horror!) to the beach…

*Does bikini strut…falls into hole that some tearaway has dug in the sand*

P.S. No, I am not just about to run off and join a nudist society, I said I was wearing a bikini…a bikini…oh I give up…

P.P.S. I’m not saying the view was always a particularly nice one…trust me, I’ve seen some things I can never un-see…on the other hand, that group of French boys….ooh la la indeed…

P.P.P.S. Legs or hotdogs ;P

WUWH…

This first month and a half has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster.

I’m not going to lie, there has been many a time when I have wanted to call home and throw a full blown tantrum, either demanding I come home or making my family come to me. God knows I’ve had enough instruction on how to throw a good ‘un, courtesy of beeble one and beeble two…

But when my mum emailed me to say a travel zoo holiday to Valencia had come up, and they could come and visit me I had mixed feelings…

On the one hand I was desperate for hugs and a good old chat (the language barrier, misunderstanding of my sense of humour and the fact that we essentially have an employer and employee relationship has prevented this with the family). On the other I stubbornly feel like I want to do this on my own. To assert my own independence. I am a walking cliché…

The deal was snapped up to fast to book it, so I am taking this as a sign.

My secondary school, an all girls grammar, in the last two years of me being there introduced a “learner profile”, listing the qualities that they hoped to foster in us students. The head’s favourite word was resiliance. It was pretentious and therefore it became absolutely necessary for the whole school to take the piss out of it.

Teachers would ironically slip “resilience” into their assemblies (my cynical English teacher was particularly hilarious in lessons), and we would band it about between us to the point that the head clocked, and upper school assemblies became a pantomime. She’d steer conversation towards the profile, pause, and all 400 of us would shout back “resilience”.

Whatever it is, I think it’s catching…

…goddamnit.

Don’t tell FIBs…

I missed it.

It being FIB, Festival Internacional de Benicassim.

I was originally told by the family that we’d be going to Laredo for a week “sometime in July” but this turned into two weeks smack bang over festival time (it’s very true that the Spanish, famed for the phrase “mañana, mañana”, have a lax sense of time, this two weeks soon bled into three…).

I hadn’t exactly planned to go, I didn’t have a ticket, but a small part of me was hoping that I’d have one glamorous little thing about my trip that I could go back and tell people about.

Today, however, almost made up for it (EDIT: not today, did you read the post: Hello Internet…?). In a haze of post Gastroenteritis I-need-to-get-out-of-this-house-and-into-the-fresh-air,I went for a walk into the town (yes it did hurt my stomach a bit but sacrifices, eh?) and stumbled upon a mini rock festival.

Well not really a festival, but there was a stage set up in the town square for the main act, a smaller gazebo for the warm up, and, of course, a San Miguel tent.

It was great, and something a bit different to break up the weeks looking after the kids, reading and writing.

The first act was a group of local family and friends that had a jam session to some well known rock songs. The second was a electro rock duo that arrived topless wearing bright red skinny jeans and blue ray bans. One, long haired and skinny had “KILL ALL HUMANS” painted on his chest in red paint, and played the keyboard and synthesiser. The other, resembling Zach Galifianakis’s character Alan Garner in the Hangover, wore a tie and a muffin top, and played the drums. Together they made up THEFREETANGAS.

The rain held, the music was great and I had a chance to get some pretty holiday snaps when the sun popped out to say hello.

It would have been weird to go to a festival on my own any way wouldn’t it…

…and it saved me £90.

Never have I ever…

…had so many different things in my mouth than on this trip…

Oi, stop it, mind out of the gutter.

I’m talking food.

Anyone that knows me know I am one of the fussiest eaters on the planet. I like my foods plain and simple, sauce no thank you. I don’t like Chinese or Indian or Thai…or anything for that matter…I avoid anything fishy or sea food-y like it was the plague. I try nothing.

Here, however, I have tried almost everything. The only exception being prawns (just couldn’t do it), squid (they were actual tentacles!), and the UFS given to us at a seafood restaurant. I opted for a hamburgesa, which turned out to be a piece of meat and chips, sans burger bun…This was probably safer for me given the weak constitution of my stomach (have you read the post: Spoke to soon…?).

I’m doing so, I have found that there are a lot more foods I like, and would happily eat at home. I have become, dare I say it, a little teensy bit adventurous. I enjoyed the paella, the fish, the pourré, the rice, the coca (similar to pizza); and I got to taste the yummy Spanish versions of some of my favourite dishes, like macaroni and omelette (tortilla Española).

In both Benicassim and Laredo we are sin oven and con gas, and distinctly lacking a modern contraption called a kettle. Shock, horror! How does a Brit survive without tea you ask me? She doesn’t, she boils water in a pan over the gas stove (is it 2013 or 1813?).

In Laredo, negative: we have to cook toast on a strange flat pan over the stove as there is no kettle, and it comes out a bit gross, positive: there is a microwave in which to heat water for herbal tea *dances in the street*. In Benicassim, negative: no microwave just pots and pans, positives: a toaster *dances in the kitchen* and a gas stove that I can operate without third degree burns.

Don’t tell me I’m not adaptive.

Thank god, with this family I am not expected to cook (another good thing to ask if you’re going to be an Au Pair). I have to make the kids some breakfast but that’s just a bit of toast or cereal, a bottle and some milk with Cola Cao (chocolate powder). In Benicassim, the family makes lunch which I simply have to warm, and then people are at home make dinner. In Laredo, there is family around to make breakfast, lunch and dinner, I just have to feed them.

The one piece of meat that I was asked to watch over turned a little bit…golden, shall we say. The family’s 91 year old grandmother shook her head and told me I was a “muy mala cocinera”. Maybe they had a sixth sense before they hired me…

I’m not really a bad cook…I just normally work with a touch screen induction hob and an oven…

…I bake good cookies!

P.S. Fun fact about me re. the herbal teas…I can’t drink milk, it makes me sick. Apparently I was a nightmare baby and wouldn’t keep down anything they fed me. Guess what they were feeding me…? *facepalm* I also try to avoid caffeine for other health reasons. Plus they’re really yummy.

P.P.S. One thing I am really missing is chicken and asparagus pie. When I was at school my nan would buy uppercrust pies, cook them, keep half for them and drop me round the other half so I just had to warm it (my mum works late so I manage dinner, like a true domestic goddess…). She says that delivery service shall resume at university. Luckiest girl ever…

Spoke too soon…

If you saw my first post, you’d know that I touched a little on the horrors of travelling travelling, namely from a health standpoint (read: Delhi Belly). As I see what I’m doing more as travelling-staying-still-ing, I didn’t expect to come down with anything.

Perhaps that was a bit too optimistic. If someone in South Africa so much as sneezes in the general direction of Britain, I catch it. Such is the magnanimous fortitude of my immune system.

Since I got here, and thanks to sick beeble no. 1, I have been con constipado. 

No, not constipated, thank you very much, I’ve had a cold. That’s just the lovely Spanish word for it *pulls face*.

In the second week, it then progressed into full blown acute tonsillitis, to the extent of me being unable to swallow and having massive great big welts on my throat…TMI?

I had a course of antibiotics, and the family were nice enough to give me the a day off to recover (it was a Friday and so I had the weekend also). I thought I was all in the clear.

I arrived in Laredo with the sniffles, okay, fine I thought, a bit of fresh air and I’ll be peachy.

No such luck. At around one and a half weeks in, I came down with Gastroenteritis.

I have never, ever in my life, felt so ill. And thats saying something because just over 3 months ago I was in hospital with appendicitis (or maybe that was worse…time is a great healer and eraser of pain…). After being up all night I caved and begged to be taken to the doctors which, looking back, was in general a greatly embarrassing experience.

You see, the problem is, when you’re suffering from Gastroenteritis, you don’t give a flying fuck who knows about it. You feel so awful, you’d quite happily call the pope and tell him every little nasty thing your body is doing to try and rid you of this illness.

In hindsight however, I see that trying to explain my symptoms to the doctor in broken Spanish, and having to sit with my pee bucket (they don’t use little test tubes here they use tubs) in my hands while waiting to get it tested, were both very embarrassing things to be doing in from of the dad I was staying with. If you don’t know the symptoms of Gastroenteritis google them, I dare you. Read the horror stories. They’re a little to graphic for even me to explain on here, and that’s saying something (have you read my post: Talking crap…?). He later admitted to me that he and two other of the family members had had a bit of an “upset tummy” and was trying to work out if we’d eaten anything bad…but it didn’t hold a candle to my illness.

The good doctor gave me antispasmodics to help with the pain, and a diet of Aquarius lemon water (which, by the way is amazing if you do ever go down with this, I think it’s what helped me recover so quickly, even though the last thing you want to do is drink), and BRAT….bananas, rice, applesauce, toast. No fruit, no dairy, no salad. I ate nothing, and then a little cooked rice and carrots with fresh lemon squeezed over it (again with the lemon). Within 48 hrs, I was feeling pretty ok except for a mild stomach ache. I was lucky. In some people it lasts for a week…

Aside from being hard on me physically, which dear god, it was, it was almost as hard emotionally. I conclusively did not want to go and wake up another family member, this kind of thing is best handled alone when in a house of near strangers, and there was nowhere in the world I more wanted to be than back home with my family.

In fact, when I called my mum at 6am crying, we almost decided to book me a ticket home and cut the trip short. It was that bad.

One good thing to say about Gastroenteritis, is that once the virus is out of your system, recovery is near instantaneous. So when I felt better, I called home and said I was going to tough it out.

Here’s hoping I made the right decision…

P.S. Though the word embarazada may sound like the Spanish for embarrassing, I can promise you it’s not. It means pregnant. Which can cause much confusion, especially at the doctors. The word you’re looking for is vergonzoso.

P.P.S. Bucketful of soz to anyone who did find the site with the Gastroenteritis horror stories…but better to be safe than sorry right…?

A Lidl bit of home comfort…

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you may have been able to tell that I’ve had a bit of a problem in the shopping department. This may go some way to explain why I feel I have to play Trolley Dash every weekend (see post: I’m packing heat…).

I put my hands up, I am a bit of a shopaholic. It’s genetic. No really, ask my mum.

The problem is, where I’ve been staying there are no good shops! No lovely familiar chain stores that you can count on to be in every decent sized English town or city. No Apple store to easily acquire things like chargers or headphones. No Debenhams or Topshop, H&M or Primark, Boots or…*stares wistfully into the distance*

There are some lovely little clothing boutiques, but the prices are extortionate in some, or just plain above my budget in others (€89 for a top anyone?). Also it is inevitable in these shops that you will have to face one (or sometimes even both if you’re really unlucky) of the two assistant archetypes.

To explain: type one is the over-friendly shop assistant, who will attempt to “help” you at every turn, despite your protestations that you really can try those jeans on in the changing room by yourself, and no you don’t need her to help you get the other leg in. Type two, the stink-eye shop assistant, whose eyes burn into the back of your head as you pretend to look at the jumpers whilst planning your escape (too casual an exit and you’ll look like you really have stolen something…and oh god she’s still looking).

A encounter with either will be painstakingly awkward enough to know that it should be avoided at all costs. Especially if you don’t buy anything and its just you and them…you and them…like an old country and western film…*cue music*…

Out here, theres the added problem that these models come in BETA, read: are programmed to speak Spanish and recognise all other shop goers as Spanish. I’m good, but not that good. I’m also pale, blonde, blue eyed so I don’t know why this is…

As a result of this, I have therefore decided to take up residence in Lidls, and the Mercadona, which if you squint really hard, could just be a little old English Tesco’s or ASDAs.

They’re cheap, cheerful and have tiny little metre long beauty/toiletry sections that abate the pangs of homesickness a little.

Apparently I’m not the only one, the only other British people I’ve seen on the whole trip were the ones in the queue at Lidl, complaining that there weren’t enough checkouts open…*facepalm*

Ohh the Mercadona has just brought in Rice Krispies squares…must dash…!

P.S. Like a magpie to silver, I also spotted an ALDI here in Laredo, but google have clearly decided it’s not important enough for Maps, so in my attempt to get to it I got terribly lost and ended up at the Circus…

P.P.S. Raspberry dark chocolate for under a Euro anyone? Yes please.

Unplugged and insane…

One of the biggest problems I’ve faced while out here is connectivity. Or lack thereof.

The savvy packer I am (not), I managed to bring two iPod leads with me for charging instead of the crucial one for my iPad. I later found out that it had fallen under my bed, so it wasn’t entirely my fault…

This proved to be a huge problem for staying in touch with everyone at home. It was especially annoying as the sole reason I had gotten an iPad now (instead of at the start of uni) was so that I could use it while I travelled (complete with military style rubber case and screen protector, chill).

In the first month alone, I ran up a £60 bill on my crappy HTC as my service provider didn’t validate the travel boosters I bought, and almost gave my mum a heart attack.

Why didn’t you just buy one out there? You ask, confused…

Well as it turns out, despite visiting every phone shop within a five mile radius of Benicassim (where I was staying for the first month), I couldn’t fine one bloody shop that sold chargers for the new iPads. Le sigh.

As a child of the Internet generation, I was suitably flummoxed, but no fear, I still had my iPod and my Kindle, right? Lying on the beach listening to music and reading the books that I’d bought but not gotten round to reading (I may even post something about my favourite summer reads) was quite lovely.

Until my earphones broke.

And my kindle decided that it would not connect to any other wifi network than my one back in England, so my reading selection was exhausted.

For a brief period I was stranded, marooned, shipwrecked…(insert synonym here). Every time I switched my iPad on to be faced with the no charge icon, it was like a physical pain.

Ok so that’s a bit dramatic. I still had my phone connected to the wifi, but that things so slow it made me want to hurl it from the terrace into the sea. To get this wifi, I also had to stand outside and lean over the balcony, as it was provided by the local library and the signal strength was awful.

Did this brief period of untethered-ness help me to “find myself”? To become more in tune with the beauty that is our planet?

Not exactly. But it was a bit of a change, and an abrupt one at that, to be, on my first ever time alone away from home, completely separated from friends and family.

I can’t even say what a relief it was when my mum, blurry and naked save for a towel (don’t ask), flashed up on Skype (I’m glazing over the arduous process it took to get her set up on there from a different country). It turns out that Laredo, the place I wasn’t looking forward to visiting as much (later…patience, patience!), had a little Movistar shop CON CARGADORES! That’s chargers for you and me.

So please excuse me…

Me and Siri need a little time alone….

P.S. Apparently in America, Siri is a woman. Weird. My Siri is a rather lovely gentleman who tells me where to hide dead bodies.

P.P.S. We did try to post my charger from England, but as of now, it has yet to arrive. Royal Mail I’m looking at you…naughty…

I’m packing heat…

…well I’m packing biscuits…and chocolate, and crisps…

Even though I have been here a while, I have yet to fully adjust to the Spanish meal timetable. Lunch at 2:30? Dinner at 9:30 or, god forbid, 10:30 at night, when you should be sleeping not eating? It goes against every diet book ever published, “don’t eat after 7pm” they say, well woah, the message has not quite reached the Mediterranean!

I find myself starving between meals, and not wanting to eat the family out of house and home (more on this ‘etiquette’ later), or make them feel as though they’re not giving me enough for each meal (they are, they are perfect meal time portions), I have instead perfected a covert operation to gather between-meal sustenance. Mostly junk food, because, lets face it, I’m not going to smuggle apples.

I am like a squirrel gathering his nuts for winter, a bear filling up with food so that he has a comfortable layer of fat to hibernate on, an ant…okay you get the picture…

The trips go a little like this…

Dress in inconspicuous summer clothes
Make room in too large handbag
Ensure there are aplenty Euros to buy contraband
Tell family I am going for a walk
Walk to nearest supermarket of choice (of which I have located all suitable candidates in each location)
Buy contraband
Return home
Use body as shield to block conspicuous, lumpy and larger-than-when-I-left handbag
Unload contraband into suitcase
Hide under large brimmed beach hat (casually obvs, you don’t want it to look deliberate)
Feel guilty
Retrieve when necessary

I have been doing this since I got here and all in all it has worked out well. The family are none the wiser and I am less emaciated.

Don’t look at me like that

Anyway in order to have a balanced diet you need a bit of junk with all that fish and vegetables, it’s on the chart.

IT’S ON THE CHART!

No? Okay fine…

Talking crap…

This brings us nicely onto our first topic of discussion; which is shit…

I’m not saying that the topic I’m writing about is rubbish, I’m talking actual feacial matter. The human kind.

I apologise for the bluntness of this post, I think I’m a little bit in shock (or maybe its just the fumes), and I just can’t bring myself to sugar coat it…oh god…the imagery…sorry! Stop reading now if you’re squeamish!

did tell you I was underpaid!

This morning (EDIT: not this morning, see earlier postscripts), I woke up to an actual indoor farmyard. Old McDonald had moved in, unpacked his suitcases and set up the pig pens. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. There was so much matter, shall we call it, in the baby’s nappy, I could have made myself a fortune at Cash for Gold (yes, there is one here).

At this point in time, he could literally shit the Taj Mahal and I wouldn’t be surprised.

The smell was one thing, but the fact that I actually had to change this nappy was a whole other kettle of fish. If you are planning on being an Au Pair to a baby, consider this very carefully!

It took an entire morning with two doors and a window open to clear the air. Thank god we’re here in Laredo, in the 30-40 degree heat of Benicassim it would have spelled instant death.

 If that wasn’t enough, later that day I had two more matter related incidents with the little girl…

The first; she barged in on me in the bathroom (luckily I was just washing my hands), sat on the toilet and then proceeded to announce “tengo muchas cacitas”, read: “I have lots of poo” and pull a face like the angry hulk.

The second; after a long morning at the beach, I showered her and washed her hair. After towelling her dry, she bent over and told me she had sand in her bum…

…which I had to wipe out…

Now I don’t know what the appropriate reaction to this should be. I am of the the keep calm and carry on kind, and only let it bother me mildly, I soldiered on through, but I don’t know if I should actually have been horrified. I know for one that I have friends that would have been running for the hills at the first whiff of any human substances (and there were many more I had to deal with, read: sick, wee….). Have I forever lost any claim to glamour?

What do you think?

P.S. Handy hint: If, while at a park, playground or any other public space, the baby in your care goes suspiciously quiet and is standing still, straddling a part of the swing structure and looking pensive, he is shitting. Just putting that out there.

And if the four year old tells you she needs to wee, she means now, her body has yet to provide her with the gift of forewarning…

Hello, Internet…

This spring, I made the life affirming decision that I was going to become “one that travels”, a jet setter, an explorer a – forgive me the cliche – a mini gap-yearer. One of those people, that when faced with the mosh pit known as graduate employment, they would be able to sit back in their rolly chair (the king of all chairs, or maybe that’s the rocking chair, ooh or the swing seat, there is much fun to be had on one of those…), an easy smile on their face and an air of cultured-ness about them as they recount how, in their travels across the Asian continent, they learnt to speak 5 different languages, to cook 7 different types of Asian cuisine like a native (would Sir like to come over for dinner to sample these aforementioned delights?), to survive on less than a shoestring budget and to volunteer and fundraise for 18 different children’s homes and charities whilst simultaneously “finding themselves” (through mastering 3 different types of yoga, buddhist meditation and a stay at a zen monastery, naturally). The graduate employer, so overcome by this worldliness and thoughts of beef stir fry (so many graduates, so little time for lunch) – note, he is yet to be cultured on the proper Asian names of the dishes, though come to think of it, it would be handy for those Chinese clients… – hires them without a second thought, in a senior position with company car and benefits.

In my mind, this was exactly what was going to happen. I was going to become a child of the world.

In reality, in a haze of A level induced insanity, overcome with a bout of wanderlust, and petrified that my mum was actually going to follow through on her threats to get me a job on my local ASDA fish counter; I accepted a offer to move to Spain for 3 months to be an Au Pair to two gorgeous children, four and one.

Perfect! I’d thought. I’d get to live in 3 different parts of Spain: Madrid, Benicassim and Laredo, practise my Spanish IRL (in real life), a subject I loved at school, and to top it all off, my job description was to “take the children to the beach everyday”. *Swoon*.

Instead of an uncomfortable 12 hour flight, horrifying humidity, getting lost in a place where I had no hope of learning the language, and having to navigate my way through a variety of U.F.S. (unidentifiable food substances) that would give me something akin to “Delhi belly”; I could swoosh around in a maxi dress and sunglasses on long walks, pushing the pram as passers by coo at the babies. And, of course, work on getting myself as close to the shade of mahogany as possible.

There would be lovely little boutiques and panaderías, ice cream and sun. If everything went pete tong, I could jump on a plane and be back in London in 2 hours. I hate travelling anyway, it’s a pain in the arse.

It sounds like a dream, you may say, and I thought so too, until I arrived and realised I was most definitely…

…Overpacked and underpaid…

P.S. these posts will all be out of synch as, like a good little blogger, I brought my iPad, pad and paper, camera…etc…etc, and then went and FORGOT MY IPAD CHARGER. (More on this later) and so I am already 5 weeks in to my trip and the first post is only going up now *insert slow claps here*. Therefore if I say “today” it most probably isn’t.

P.P.S. Oh dear have I overdone it with the post scripting? I kimd of like it, it’s like when you find a fiver tucked in to an old pair of jeans, a little nugget of extra goodness….I digress…

Hi, hello, ¡hola! My name is Laura, and if there does happen to be a soul out there in the big wide world reading what I write, then I very much hope you enjoy it, and know that there will be much, much more to come!

Besos xx