Tour de France…

On our Tuesday off we decided we would make like the French and go for a bike ride through the sunflower fields.

We’d have the wind in our hair and and a baguette in our baskets.

A soundtrack of French music would be playing softly in the background.

French boys would wave from their balconies and throw us roses.

Too far?

A girl can dream ok.

Suffice to say, it didn’t quite happen that way.

The first problem being my bike was far too big; the second that we had abso-fucking-lutely no idea where we were going.

Being 5’1″ it’s not always easy finding bikes that fit me comfortably.

This one happened to be at least two whole sizes too big.

I had to jump to get on it, and fall off to get off it. I was doubled over forwards trying to reach the handlebars and the bike seat was wedged WAY too far where the sun don’t shine.

Despite this I tried to suck it up and make do.

Mistake!

I have never been more uncomfortable in my whole life.

This combined with my sorely lacking fitness levels meant I came off feeling like I’d been put through a spin cycle.

EVERYTHING hurt.

And we had a very pronounced case of “the bit”

Oh yes the dreaded “bit”.

Where that very bony part of your undercarriage meets the bike seat…

…and hurts like a MOTHERFUCKER.

I was walking sideways for three days.

And not in a good way…if you know what I mean.

Not only was I performing some kind of advanced yoga move on top of a two wheeled death trap but MY GOD it was hotter than summer in July.

Well it was summer in July….but….you know.

It was fucking hot!

If you happened to be in a remote area in the south of France on Tuesday and saw a small blonde girl horizontal on a blue bike and absolutely drenched with sweat.

That would be me.

I really hoping google maps wasn’t taking pictures that day.

And you think after all this effort we reached our destination?

NOPE.

Having been given no less than THREE sets of different directions we ended up even more in the middle of fucking nowhere when we started.

Who’s idea was this again?

Rachel I’m looking at you.

*Lies down in the recovery position*.

Oops I did it again…

A week ago I (very literally) crash landed into La Rochelle airport (thanks Ryanair) to begin my working holiday in the South of France.

Yes, I really did do it again.

Whoops.

#I’mABloggerGetMeOutOfHere.

The baby poo and sleepless nights of Spain apparently just weren’t enough to deter this…err…serial…working-holiday-ist? from another summer in the sun.

Yes well done Laura excellent use of your English degree to create concise and grammatically correct sentences.

*Slow clap*

Not only have I decided to spend yet another summer hundreds of miles away from family and friends and the comforts of home, but once again I’ve managed to wind up in the middle of nowhere.

Did I miss the memo about the existence of cities?

I’m starting to think that dropping geography in year nine was a bit of a mistake.

The warning signs were early….first of all we weren’t allowed to disembark the plane because the airport was too small for two aircrafts. Then as we were driven along the long winding roads past open fields and countryside the familiarity with rural essex, the land of horse-related train delays and escapee cows, became all too obvious.

It’s so peaceful you can hear a pin drop.

I am currently ensconced in a little shared annex with a fellow student from Leeds university for the next nine weeks.

My job? A mix of cleaning work, general grounds maintenance, the odd bit of cooking, playing with the kids, and….err more cleaning work.

My foreseeable Saturdays involve deep cleaning seven houses before the new guests arrive at 4pm.

Manual labour for the win!

On the flip side the hosts are lovely, the grounds are beautiful and we have a little kitchenette to make cups of tea to wile away the time….lots of cups of tea…so much tea…

In fact I think I have to go for my 47th wee of the day.

Toodaloo!

P.S. Breaking news! I’ve just today decided to switch to Earl Grey after a dire shortage of PG tips and a brief and not-so-tasty fling with Ceylon tea (which I’m told is from Sri Lanka). Yes this is the most breaking of all the news this week. #CountryLiving.

Cohabitation…

So to (sort of) round off all of my Spain posts (now I’ve said this there will probably be ten more for me to write in the future), here is perhaps the most important of them all…

To summarise: living with strangers sucks.

Now if you have a job, just take 30 seconds to imagine what it would be like to live with your boss. If you’re at school, make that your head teacher.

Are you suitably disturbed? 

Well this is essentially the job description of the au pair. To live in a confined space with the people who are paying you.

Add to this the fact that it may be your first time getting on a plane alone, going to another country alone and living without your family and you have the recipe for disaster.

You may think “isn’t it easier going to live with a family, wouldn’t that sort of break you in to the idea of moving out?”

The answer for me was a resounding no!

I honestly felt as though I was Alice and I had just fallen down the rabbit hole. I began to exist in this weird limbo state where my own life was suspended and I was very literally living in someone else’s life  for someone else. My contact with my family was completely severed (internet access was few and far between at the start and phone calls costed a bomb) and I had to somehow insert myself into the jigsaw puzzle that was the life someone I’d never met had created for themselves.

*Testing, testing, are you still with me?*

Now I don’t know if this was just my experience or my personality but I found slotting into someone else’s life to be extremely difficult. As there was often at least one of the parents and multiple family members at home while I was watching the kids (I think I met at least 15 other people, and yet wasn’t warned or properly introduced to any of them), I felt like an unnecessary addition, and felt at times that I just wanted to step back and give them time as a family when that wasn’t what I was being paid to do.

I constantly felt awkward and like I was walking on eggshells. Especially as the family talked to eachother in rapidfire Spanish over the dinner table, which for the life of me I couldn’t quite decipher, so I was left to sit in silence and wait for them to finish every night.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t feel entirely welcomed, or necessary. There were so many people buzzing around I felt like I was constantly being scrutinised, either for doing too much or too little.

As they provided all of my meals, I felt like I didn’t want to be even more of a burden on them and so when they offered to buy me extras I chose to decline and instead go out and by my own things. I think in this way my independence worked against me.

I also think that coming after a time when emotions and stress were already running high (A Levels) it was too much of a stark contrast, especially as there was literally nothing to do in the places I was staying. With a rigid routine in place for the kids, it became very slow and monotonous after a few weeks, and I really felt my depression and anxiety creep back in.

On a less philosophical note it was also very awkward to be walked in on in my underwear (old house…no locks…).

Would I do it again?

I wouldn’t write it off, I know that every experience is extremely different. I would, however, choose to be nearer a city or somewhere where there was much more going on. I would also ask the host family to help me make some connections with other au pairs in the area or people my own age…being with kids who can’t talk and foreign adults can be extremely isolating.

Well this post has turned out to be quite deep *puts on scuba diving mask*…maybe I should have taken philosophy at uni…

Please let me know if I have just gone absolutely nuts.

Right, I’m off to go watch some YouTube videos of cats…must regain equilibrium…

P.S. If your brain is all confuddled from this post I refer you to both confused.com to unconfuse you and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQbH3fyGerE&list=FLIbZHbmV9jfdJE_bJaiiSKA&index=18 for the lols…

Unpacked and over ‘ere…

And so finally my homecoming post arrives. It’s only two (okay three) weeks late…did I mention I was a horrific procrastinator?

You might have read my blog post “Dropping Dollar Bill$” when I talked about booking my ticket home, well I actually arrived back in the UK on the 9th of August.

A little part of me did hope for a “Love Actually” style airport reunion. I’d run off the plane to some uplifting, inspirational music (don’t you think that life in general would be much better if we had our own life soundtrack…just think of riding the school bus to Pirates of the Caribbean..da da dum dum da da dum dum da da dum dum da da do do… No? Just me then…), then I’d gracefully leap into my mum’s arms and she would proceed to swing me around, sob and rejoice at my return.

Actually make that quite a big part of me…

As per usual, the reality did not live up to the creative expanses of my mind. We landed on time at Gatwick airport, only to be told that one of the steps were broken and that we’d have to remain on the plane until they could ferry another set over. Cue bitching about the general quality of EasyJet airlines, and the air stewardesses trying to both placate and defend. I did not partake. I flew with Ryanair on the way out and it was relief enough not to hear the *we’ve arrived on time* horns at twelve o’clock at night.

An hour later when we were released from custody, I picked up my bags from the bag drop and had to face the reality of carrying my 17 kilo suitcase and 10 kilo hand luggage round the bloody airport by myself (it should be illegal for airports to have stairs, surely). Once I’d made it out of the maze of passport control desks and travelators, I met my mum and her boyfriend at the lobby where she gave me a big hug, then we walked to the car and I ate a cheese and tomato sandwich.

Well that was riveting…

Anyway here is the exciting part, where we find out whether my blog really does live up to its namesake…

I packed….

26 Tops (assorted)
8 Dresses
8 Pairs of shorts
2 Skirts
5 Pairs of leggings
3 Pairs of trousers
1 Pair of joggers
3 Jumpers
2 Cardigans
1 Swimming costume
1 Tankini
4 Bikinis
1 Pair of swim shorts
2 Beach coverups
2 Towels
8 Pairs of socks
8 Bras
27 Pairs of knickers
1 Pair of running shoes
1 Pair of tennis shoes
1 Pair of flip flops
1 Pair of pumps
2 Pairs of sandals
1  Leather jacket
1 Sunhat
2 Pairs of sunglasses
Toiletries and makeup

I think the answer is yes…

Though I did fit it all into a 15 kilo luggage allowance (10 kilo hand luggage) *pats self on back*.

P.S. I think its quite clear now where I over-did it *cough* tops *cough*, I swear it didn’t seem like that much while I was actually packing…

Walk the walk…

As a companion to my “Talk the talk..” post, I thought I’d give you some handy tips about what you should ask the people you’re going to be staying with pre-departure.

I obviously failed miserably at this, I was met at the airport to find the family had a third son I had completely no idea about!

Oh, Laura…

  1. How many children will I be looking after, what are their ages?
  2. What are the children’s personalities like? What do they like to do for fun? Are there any problem areas e.g. fussy eaters, allergies?
  3. What is the children’s daily routine?
  4. What exactly are my duties and responsibilities?
  5. What time am I expected to start and finish work?
  6. What can I do in my spare time? What do you do as a family in your spare time?
  7. Are we going to be eating together? If so, what time? If not, what is available to me?
  8. What language do you wish me to speak in? How much English do you and the kids speak?
  9. Where will I be staying? Am I expected to share a room with the kids?
  10. What do you do for work? What is your daily routine?
  11. Have you had an au pair before? If so, what was your experience?
  12. Are there any religious/cultural norms or rules I should be aware of?
  13. Do you travel a lot? If so, will I be travelling with you and am I expected to pay for my share of the transport fees?
  14. How do you see an au pair fitting into your family?
  15. Tell me about the area you live in. What commodities are there?
  16. Will I be expected to cook and clean? If so, to what extent?
  17. Do you need me to be able to drive? If so, do you have a car I can use?
  18. Why are you choosing to have an au pair rather than a nanny or daycare?
  19. Do you have internet or computer access?
  20. Do I need to pay for my own flight?
  21. What happens if I feel unwell? Is there a doctors close by? Will you give me time off?
  22. How will I be paid, in euros or pounds, weekly or monthly?
  23. What kind of clothes should I pack, is there anything in particular I will need?
  24. How should I behave if the children will not listen or are rude?
  25. Do you have any pets?

Well I hope that just about covers it, my brain is refusing to come up with any more!

Talk the talk…

So being the all around kind and giving person I am (just call me your fairy godmother), here are some useful Spanish words and phrases for all you wannabe au pairs…or for those of you that just want to brush up on your vocab…

¡Ven aqui! – Come here
¡Venga! – Come
¡Mira! – Look
¡Ten! – Take
¡Toma! – Take
¡A ver!- Lets’s see/Show me
Pero bueno – Said when the child does something cute but naughty, equivalent would be “Oi Cheeky”
¿Has hecho pis? – Have you done a wee?
¿Has Hecho caca? – Have you done a poo?
¡Para! – Stop
¡Come! – Eat
¡Bebe! – Drink
¡Traga! – Swallow
¡Mastica! – Chew
No me muerden – Don’t bite me
No golpeas a tu hermana – Don’t hit your sister
No tiras/No tira eso – Don’t throw/Don’t throw that
No tire el pelo – Don’t pull my hair
Deja eso – Put that down
No pase nada – Don’t worry
Pobresita – Poor little
Sucio – Dirty
Seco – Dry
Mojado – Wet
Travieso – Naughty
Tete/Chupete – Dummy
Biberón – Bottle
Babero – Bib
Pañal – Nappy
Cuna – Cot
Toalla – Towel
Bañador – Swimming costume
¿Está cansado? – Are you tired?
Estoy cansado – I’m tired
No me cuentas peliculas – Don’t tell me stories
¿Dónde le duele? – Where does it hurt
Con sueño – Sleepy
A dormir – To sleep
Suelta me – Let go of me
Quedarte aquí – Stay here
¡Oye! – Hey


And the most important…

¡Que no!

Practise makes perfect…

We no speak Americano…

According to the little girl I’ve been looking after, my English is terrible and I’m not from England.

Me and her dad had a good old chuckle about this.

In all seriousness though, if this trip has shown me anything, its how bloody awful my Spanish is.

I’d like to think I was one of the better ones in my Spanish class, having had a Spanish teacher at home when I was very little…I must at least be in the top 15 (guess how many there were in my class?).

I’ve also just gotten my IB ab initio Spanish results through and I got a respectable 6 (equivalent to an A), so you’d think I’d be able to stay somewhat afloat in a sea of foreign conversation, right?

Wrong!

When I first arrived, I couldn’t understand a single bloody word. The family wasn’t very impressed, I’m not exactly giving Brits abroad a very good rep…

It was so embarrassing, it kind of put me off speaking any Spanish in front of the family. Not that this was a problem, my job was explicitly to speak in English. I even got found out and told off when I went on a covert mission to speak in Spanish to the kids at the beach…

What’s even more embarrassing, however, is having to whip out the “I’m English”, blank stare excuse in front of the locals. Especially if they speak fluent English, Spanish and French…

So I was perpetually stuck in some “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” purgatory.

In the end I decided I would just listen a la sponge, and whip out my rudimentary Spanish only when absolutely necessary (ice cream, food, Vogue…) and when I was sure not to get caught at the beach.

Something along the line must have gone right…by the end I could understand, and somewhat reply to the 92 year old grandmother who didn’t speak a word of English! I could get the kids to do what I asked them to! And I could understand all of the plaques at a mini Roman exhibition I went to!

At the same time, the little girl had learnt “wind the bobbin up”, “1,2,3,4,5 once I caught a fish alive” and “twinkle twinkle” as well as many a cute, heartbreaking English words and phrases. I almost keeled over when she asked me “what is properly?”…the accent!

It seems I had found a happy Spanglish medium.

When I told her I was leaving, she said to me (in Spanish) “yey! Now I can speak Spanish with mummy and daddy, I don’t like speaking English because I’m Spanish”.

Glad to know my mother tongue made as great an impression on her as hers did on me…

P.S. I think that the unnatural speed and complete lack of intonation in their speech is a ploy by the Spanish especially to make foreigners look like complete idiots…I mean I could even understand a bit of what the French family next to me were saying and I haven’t done French since GCSE!

Dropping dolla bill$…

In case you didn’t know, that’s gangster rap talk for spending money.

And I’ve just dropped a lot of it…in fact, hang on, let me sit down a moment…I’m feeling a bit faint…

Why, oh why, are flights from Spain to London so bloody expensive? It cost me £70 quid to fly out here, including checked luggage, but it’s costing me more than double that to fly back. The flights only 2 hours long so that’s over £100 an hour! I could get…I don’t know…a full body spa treatment at Harrods for less than that!

If I ever become prime minister, or for that matter the worlds #1 villain and all around evil genius (a la Gru in Despicable Me, less the huge nose and Russian accent…don’t you just love the minions?), the first thing I’d do is price fix flights. Lets completely ignore the implications of this on the economy for just a moment, and float away into a dreamland where it costs £70 to fly to Spain and £70 to bloody fly back…look into my eyes, not around my eyes, in my eyes….and you’re drifting…

*Snaps fingers*

Wasn’t that lovely?

I’m going to go cry into my plane food…I guess I’ll avoid the freshman 15 if I can’t afford food at uni…

Siesta fiesta…

I came up with the idea for this post at three in the morning.

Why? You ask me…

It’s because I had a bloody siesta yesterday.

Siestas are much like the Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang…they lure you in with the promise of two shiny hours sleep and then bam, you’re lying awake all night trapped in a cycle of self hatred…not worth it, no not worth it at all.

The children need a nap – that’s a given – otherwise they’re grouchy and tired all afternoon, but I just can’t justify myself (or every other fully grown Spanish adult for that matter) losing three perfectly good hours from the day. I mean how do they ever get anything done?

Maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t power nap and still get a full eight hours sleep at night…

The thing is, I never sleep in the day, unless I’m very sick, or by some other extenuating circumstances, absolutely exhausted. If you catch me nodding off at two in the afternoon, call a doctor, I may be dying…

I am also about as useful (and scary for that matter) as a dead zombie corpse when I haven’t slept…I wake up like a pissed off deep sea monster, rising out of the ocean…maybe I am the Loch Ness monster…I’ve sure been feeling like it lately…

I honestly need about 10 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep in a pitch black room to wake up chirpy, and as you can imagine there ain’t much of that going around in this job…

This morning for example I was woken up, as usual, at six am with the girl screaming “no, no, suelta me, suelta me” (read: let me go, let me go) as the baby tugged gleefully on her hair and laughed.

She’d climbed into his cot *deadpan*. What did she expect.

They both then took it in turns to shout “mama” and “papa”, attack each other and throw various objects at me, including a dummy and a toy dinosaur. On three hours sleep I was not best pleased…

After a failed attempt at shushing them, and then trying to ignore them, and then hiding under the covers and pretending I wasn’t there (kids these days…they’re too smart…), I rose up from the dead and murderously stomped off, baby in tow to heat the milk for his bottle. By the time the second batch of toast had pinged up, I was halfway to consciousness – this is very important considering the fact I am technically living with my bosses. By the time we’d sat down, on the outside I was smiley and buoyant (oh shut up…I tried..) while on the inside contemplating rolling myself off the balcony. All of today I have felt like hell.

These are the times I regret not drinking caffeine.

No I’m not going to have another siesta…I bloody refuse!

P.S. Why does this only happen in Spain? Do they know something the rest of the world doesn’t or are they just a sleepy (lazy) people.

P.PS. If this post turns out to be incoherent, I apologise, I’m so tired I’m almost face-planting into my iPad…

And I would walk five hundred miles…

And I would walk five hundred more…*sings obnoxiously in hideously inaccurate Scottish accent*

If there was a memo, I’ve missed it. I don’t understand.

The practise seemed even more prevalent in Laredo…

Since I’ve been here I’ve noticed that its a “thing” for three quarters of the beach population to walk, nay stride, purposely up and down the length of the beach, back and forth, like ants carrying food to their nest under the watchful eye of their queen…ok where exactly do I think I’m going with this?

I don’t now if its just me, but it all seems a little bit strange… When I, for one, am on the beach, I…well…beach myself, like a whale…in the optimum “sunbathing position”…basting in Hawaiian Tropic. I refuse to move other than to lightly toast (read: burn) my other side or if I near mummify from dehydration (naughty, don’t actually do this).

I’m starting to think this is the reason why google didn’t bother mapping Lidls in Laredo, or any of the supermarkets for that matter (I’m totally over it….totally…), it would have been too hard to photoshop out all of the “ants” obscuring the view.

Out of pure curiosity, I decided to partake in this bizarre activity, and have concluded that it looks suspiciously like exercise…

Am I skinny yet?

P.S. Do you “walk the walk”? If so, why? It it just for the lols, the exercise *shudder* or is there a secret underground practise I don’t know about ‘coz I’m English?

P.P.S. My “research” walk along Benicassim beach was actually quite pleasant. I would have done it again but that’s my monthly exercise quota all used up…