Friday, 29 August 2014

Travelling with a lunatic

Travel. We all have to do it on a regular basis. Most of us do it without even batting an eyelid. Most of us.
Not my mother.
I don't deny that it can be stressful at times. But it's never as stressful as when I do it with my 5 foot nothing mum. She brings the worst out of me.
Just yesterday we flew from Brindisi to Birmingham. A direct flight for this route does not exist. So we had to get creative.
After an hour of research we found that our best (admittedly extortionately expensive) bet was to fly Brindisi-Rome with Alitalia, and then Rome-Birmingham with Monarch (I'd never heard of them either; my mum suggested it all gooey-eyed because it's the company she used to fly with to visit my dad).
We scheduled in a two and a half hour stopover to give us plenty of time, and set off on our journey, carefree and light, the picture of confident travellers, suitcases rattling jauntily behind us.
Sidenote: my teeny mum likes to avoid stress of any kind when flying, so arrives at least two hours before any flight.
'I always say it's better to be waiting at the airport than at home!' she'll say. (I think it's better not to be waiting anywhere, but what do I know?)
So for this 8am flight, we left at 6.15.
I'm not complaining. She could be a lot worse. My friend, M.H.'s dad lies to his family of seven about what time their flights are so as to stay on top of things, and none of the children (all 18 and over) are allowed to carry their own passports (but neither is M.H.'s mum come to think of it...) 'just in case.'
So, at 23 years of age, I'm just happy to be entrusted with my own travel documents.
Picture us yesterday morning... We're swimming in time to spare, there's no queue to check in because it's such a small airport, we're talking about all the duty free shopping we'll be able to cram into those two hours that we have in Rome airport. This is the life! What larks! The holiday continues! If things were any better it'd be illegal!
Get to the desk.
'Scusa, ma c'e un'ora e mezzo di ritardo.' 
For all you pesky non-Italian speakers (what are you thinking? Buy a Rosetta Stone!) that translates to... my mum having a breakdown.
That simple delay meant that all our plans were scuppered. Forget duty free, we'd be lucky to even get on our second plane. It meant that we had 40 minutes to get off the first plane, collect our case from baggage reclaim, find the desk for our second flight and check in, go through security again, and all in flip flops. And Roma Fiumicino airport is so big. 
It didn't help that my aunty (my mum's equally panicky sister) had driven us to the airport, and so was essentially our support network at that crucial moment. Not only did she not help, but when she heard the news she had to sit down and take deep breaths.
'I'm not leaving you here,' she said as I rubbed her back.
'Yes you are,' my mum said.
'Come home with me,' my aunty said.
'No,' I said.
'We have to at least try!' shouted my mum (cool and collected as ever.)
We went back to the desk quite a few times during our wait for the first plane. In fact, I'm not ashamed to admit it, I'd go as far as saying that we harassed the staff. Not me. I'm British. I don't like to kick up a fuss. But my mum? A different story altogether.
She tried sob stories - 'we paid a fortune for our second flight, where am I going to get the money to pay for another one?'
She tried gentle persuasion - 'can't you just squeeze us onto an earlier flight?'
She gave them tips on how to do their jobs - 'MAYBE IF YOU WERE MORE HELPFUL, YOU'D ENJOY YOUR JOB MORE!'
She tried to humiliate them into helping us - 'you fly with Alitalia in good faith, thinking you'll be looked after...'
She suggested alternative solutions - 'why don't you just get our suitcase back out of there and we can have it onboard with us to save time later?'
And when all else failed, she just glared at them from afar.
My mum's coping mechanism was scarily similar to the five stages of loss and grief.

1. Denial and isolation
When she was told of the delay her face drained of all colour and she said, 'not our flight?', then, 'an hour and a half, are you sure?', then, 'no. Check again!' She then went back and forth from the departures board regularly to double check, each time more surprised than the last, shaking her head in bitter disbelief. When I tried to talk her off the bridge, she asked to be left alone to digest the information.

2. Anger
She started off by asking the staff very sweetly if there was anything that could be done. When they politely said no, (being as the second flight wasn't even with their company) she politely told them that it's no surprise their company's going bust, and were they being so rude because they couldn't be certain they were going to get to keep their jobs?

3. Bargaining
After she'd calmed down somewhat and had been talked into sitting down, she started with the irrational 'what if's.
'If only we'd gotten here 10 minutes earlier they would've put us on the earlier flight...' (the earlier flight was at 5am.)
'If we had only brought hand luggage, we'd be fine.' (We'd been in Italy for a fortnight. I don't think you can even fit 14 pairs of pants into hand luggage.)
We even weighed up the pros and cons of just abandoning the suitcase in Rome to save time - 'maybe they'd send it back to us...?' (neither of us were convinced of that one, plus there was no address on it anyway), 'what was even in there that you'd miss?' (loads of things), 'do you think we could re-buy everything that was in there for less money than it'd cost to buy two more flights home?' (no.)

4. Depression
At which point she just melodramatically slumped in her chair, refusing even coffee ('I couldn't possibly eat a thing; my stomach's completely closed up.')

5. Acceptance
And then all of a sudden, she was smiling again.
'Oh well! If we miss it, we miss it! It's only money! We'll make a holiday of it! I still know people there! Three nights in Rome it is! (Not sure why it had to be that long, but that part was non negotiable.) It's not like you've got a job to go back to! (Thanks mum.)'

Once on the plane, everyone had calmed down. Apart from the fact that my mum had found a particularly docile stewardess to bother all flight. She cornered her as soon as we got onto the plane, asking her numerous questions while the other passengers filed on, getting in everyone's way and causing the stewardess to get flustered and forget to check half the people's tickets (safe.)
Each time the stewardess walked past my mum had a new question that the poor girl couldn't possibly know the answer to.
As the stewardess brought drinks through, my mum shouted, 'do you think we'll make it?'
As the stewardess collected the rubbish, my mum shouted, 'what are the chances of us making it?'
As the stewardess handed out in flight magazines, my mum shouted, 'what are your tips for making it?'

The flight was only an hour long, and before the 'fasten your seatbelts' sign was even off we'd grabbed our hand luggage and were standing by the door.
I ran, oblivious of anything else. I pushed a man with a cane out the way. My mum ran her trolley wheels over an infant's feet.
As I ran for my life, I noticed my minuscule mum lagging behind. I lost 3 seconds turning to look for her. She wasn't running right.
'I need a wee!' she said.
'YOU CAN'T HAVE ONE!' I shouted.
'I'm going to do it now.'
'I'm really going to do it!'
'Fine!!!' I growled.
So we lost 2 minutes for a toilet break.
As my mum emerged from the Ladies' I threw her bag at her and carried on running. No more stopping.
An unhelpful fellow passenger shouted after us, 'I heard your connecting flight is at half 11?' (Of course he heard that, the whole plane heard that...)
'Good luck!' someone else shouted.
'Remember to breathe!' shouted another person.
At baggage reclaim there was no baggage. Obviously. We'd outrun the baggage.
The fellow passenger from before joined us as we paced the hall.
'God, it's so bad about the delay, isn't it?' he said.
'Mmhmm,' I said.
'I mean, I don't have a flight to catch, but, you know, you make your plans, don't you?'
Thanks for that.
After approximately one minute's wait, my mum lost all patience.
'WHERE ARE THE BAGS FROM BRINDISI?!' she screamed at nobody in particular, looking around accusingly.
Thankfully they came within 10 minutes. I grabbed ours and ran. The wrong way.
Once again, my mum resorted to shouting, 'HOW DO WE GET OUT?!', directed at absolutely anyone who might know. A terrified cleaner pointed us in the opposite direction to the one in which we were throwing ourselves.
My mum followed me.
We ended up turning on each other.
'Are you sure this is the way to departures?!' my mum asked me, panic-stricken.
'YES, OBVIOUSLY!!' I screamed back (even though I wasn't sure at all, and had only seen signs for 'arrivals' for the last 500 metres.)
We found the check in desk with mum's usual method - 'WHERE'S DESK 234?!'
Unsurprisingly it was last call and there was nobody else in sight.
When we saw the enormous queue for security I could've sworn I saw my mum swallow a sob.
'It says Terminal 3, 5 minutes!!!!' she wailed, despairingly.
A member of staff took pity on us; she hustled us to the front and winked.
'Just this once!' she said.
My mum almost leant in to kiss her.
As we waited for our stuff to come out the other side of the machine, mum was hopping from foot to foot. She shoved a woman's bag out the way to get to hers, and the woman in question started to say, 'ma che cazzo...', but we were running off before she had a chance to say any more.
As we neared H3, I almost turned religious.
'Please, please, please, please...' I chanted in my head, as I ran.
As we skidded round the last corner, we found a long line of people by H3, all patiently waiting to board.
Swimming in sweat, but amazed by our good fortune, we high fived, hugged, and called everyone who would care to tell them that we'd made it. (Even though most of them didn't even know that we'd feared we wouldn't, and J.G. wasn't even awake yet.)

Then we waited 45 minutes to board. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Being a real life person (and the reasons why I have avoided being one for so long)

I wouldn't class myself as 'unemployed.' I'm not. Really I'm not. I definitely don't have a real job either though. Unless you class playing endless penalty shoot outs with a small boy and forever telling him to 'stop throwing couscous everywhere'/'get into bed, no YOUR bed... are you a big baby? Do any of your school friends still sleep in their mummy's beds?!'/'stop tugging at the fringe on my leather jacket, they don't make these anymore! You really will break it!' as a real job. (If you do then you probably do even less work for your money than me.)
As well as my glorified nanny role, I also started 'interning' at a film company recently. That's fun. Some of the tasks have been shit I actually like doing as well, like translating and editing, and a particular highlight was when they asked if J.G. would tweak the Liverpool dialect in a football themed script (ignoring the fact that one week later they called me back in demanding that I explain what 'that's boss' means and asking whether they could take all the 'lad's and 'our kid's out, replacing them with highly Americanised and unconvincing alternatives, such as 'pal.' I don't think I've ever heard a scouser say 'pal' in anything other than a jokey way, but I digress...)
However. In my 'internship' I'm also assigned menial tasks such as running the length and breadth of Paris looking for polystyrene chips and picking up lampshades from storage (which may or may not have been simply for use at one of my employers' homes and not actually for any of the films...)
I'm yet to be paid a penny, but I get a free lunch now and then and I don't have to make anyone coffee, so I take what I can get.
It's not long term though. Obviously. I got a terrifying statement from the student loans company last week informing me of exactly how much I owe, and I can confirm that ignorance was indeed bliss when it came to not knowing the exact total of my debt... I had a rough idea, and it turns out that my guess was only 10 grand off... (No biggie!)
So I've made the executive decision to move back home and look for a real person job. As much as I'm not arsed about money, the people you owe it to DO tend to care. Who knew.
This is by no means the first time I've come to this drastic decision (one that almost everyone else my age made at least 2 years ago.) Last summer I spent 3 months job hunting, and it took it out of me. Not that I even got a job by the end of it. I opted instead to simply have another self prescribed year abroad. (Queen Procrastinator needed another year of lie ins and smoggy, beautiful Paris air.)
The job search period always starts out optimistically. You think positive, confident thoughts such as, 'I'm young! I have a degree! I speak three languages! I'm hip! I'm desirable! I can string a sentence together! They should be lining up the block for me!' Things like that.
It seems almost impossible that you don't already have a string of high flying jobs. You shake your head in disbelief that you weren't snapped up the very day you graduated.
So you put all of your energy into writing a CV that lists all of your endless qualities in a quietly confident tone (with strictly no boasting), in a way that says, 'hey, I'm dripping with potential, but I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes,' but that also says, 'I'll work hard. Within reason. I'll work late OCCASIONALLY, but I need quite a few holidays,' avoiding all obvious adjectives such as, 'hardworking', 'reliable', and 'punctual.' It's not often that you'll achieve a perfect CV that incorporates all of these elements, but you'll settle for something which makes you sound relatively hardworking, relatively reliable, and relatively punctual anyway.
Then, high off the success of your CV tweaking, you'll join around 26 job sites, getting into the swing of things and ticking nearly all of the boxes in the 'jobs by category' sections.
'Management?' Sure, why not!
'Media?' YEAH.
'Teaching?' Shouldn't rule it out!
'IT?' Sometimes I cry if my computer doesn't do what I tell it to, but fuck it! Lets give it a go!
'Engineering?' Yeah...?
'Environmental?' Not 100% sure what it involves, but worth a shot!
'Sales?' No. Definitely not.
Then you'll sit back and wait for the calls to pour in.
They don't.
You wait.
On day 3 you'll get a missed call from a withheld number. YES! This is it!!
You stare at your phone, willing it to ring again. My god, that was definitely a potential future employer. Definitely.
One hour passes and you can't concentrate on anything else. Two hours. Oh my god, why aren't they calling back??
And then they do. You sit up straight, put your shoulders back, clear your throat, pat your hair down (you know they can't see you, but it somehow feels like something you should do) and you answer the phone.
You don't use your normal voice. You find yourself speaking in someone else's. My go-to phone interview voice is very soft, sugary sweet, but somehow has strength at its core, whilst also being a bit of a song. (Yours could be different, but I can guarantee it won't be your every day one.)
'Hell-oh-oh?' I'll say.
'Sweetie? It's me. I'm calling off the work phone. Just wondering if you'll be in for lunch?'
'Mum?! Did you call me before?!!'
'Oh yes, a couple of hours ago to check you were up.'
'So are you in for lunch then?'
'Yes!! I don't have a job!!! Where else would I be?!'
Or... something like that.
Your spirits will inevitably get low on day 6, so on day 7 you'll contemplate the possibility of applying for a couple of jobs. In most cases, the reality of it isn't as terrifying as the idea of it. You'll spend a whole evening really s e a r c h i n g. Typing into Google every single name of every single company that has ever had any kind of success in your desired field of work, sending hopeful emails to little independent companies, hoping to appeal to their sense of compassion... You'll then trawl all of the 26 job sites under the job categories that you actually like and want to work in. You'll make shortlists and organise the applications into chronological order depending on their deadline dates. You'll really make an event out of it- putting your phone on silent, getting into bed, setting up a snacks table... And then the lists start.
I usually write quite a few, just to make sure everything is covered.
Headings can range from:
Things that are non-negotiable in a future job
Jobs which will not make me want to kill myself
and everything in between.
By the time you've finished all this planning you'll more often than not feel truly fulfilled, like you've really accomplished something (even though you're yet to apply for a single job.) You'll resolve that 'that's enough work for one night!' and roll over and watch HBO shows until your eyes blur.
You'll wake up the next morning full of confidence and excitement for the opportunities that this new day might bring, and when your only new emails are from ASOS and Graze you'll feel cheated and crestfallen (even though, I repeat, you're yet to apply for a single job.)
Don't fret though, you can feel it in your bones that today is the day. You set aside a couple of hours for that one job that's really caught your eye. You work on a quirky, yet serious, cover letter, a letter that manages to say, 'hey, look at me! Over here! Hey! I'm the kinda cheerful little scamp you want in your office! I'm better than all those other boring, playing-it-safe candidates!' and that also says, 'I'm just as good (and not in any way a little scamp) as all those candidates who sent in well thought out and researched applications, no different, so just maybe pick me, if you think I sound nice and you fancy having me around.'
Once that's done, you'll have a leisurely lunch break, and then after having double checked both your CV and cover letter, you'll send it all off with a polite little note in the body of the email and feel like you've done a whole day's work. (I mean, you're usually unemployed if you're going through this whole charade, so you more or less will have done a whole day's work...)   
Hoping for a quick response, you'll call it a day and tell all your friends that you're sick of all this bloody job searching.

I can assure you that that first application will be the best one you'll ever do. For the first job I ever applied to (at a publishing house), my cover letter included facts and figures about the previous year's releases, quotes from some of the more obscure books they'd published, a few personal (relevant) anecdotes, and quite frankly a whole load of other great stuff that made me sound like an undiscovered genius.
For the next 53 applications I mostly used that first cover letter, changed the name of the company, and (at a push) mentioned a couple of their bestsellers.
And then wondered why nobody called me.
That fateful summer of 2013 wasn't all doom and gloom though. I had a few interviews. I even had one lot of follow up interviews. They weren't great though. One interviewer asked me very personal questions about my family, their income, and my relationship with my parents, and then stared me out for around 20 seconds when he didn't like one of my responses. 20 whole seconds of complete silence. In a job interview. Yeah.
Another job, which I thought I had in the b a g, sent me an email addressed to another candidate, informing me that said candidate hadn't got the job. When I informed them of their mistake, they promptly emailed back to tell me that I hadn't got the job either.
I guess the moral of the story is... you'll probably get a job if you try hard enough? And sometimes you might even like it? (And if you don't, there's always Paris..)
But anyway, here's to another fruitful summer of writing very, very similar cover letters to endless publishing houses. And lets hope that just one of them will read what I have to say and think to themselves, 'hey! This is just the kinda cheerful little scamp we want in our office!'

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Like mother, like daughter...

My mother, the worrier. Ever since I can remember she's mollycoddled me to within an inch of my life, and no solo outing could ever commence until she'd listed all of the possible dangers that I had to watch out for. Now this didn't apply just for holidays or nights out. She's always had words of warning for even a simple trip into town, and don't get me started on any time I would step foot into a car... (those bloody death traps!)
I'll give you a sample of a conversation we've had a million times as I'm trying to leave the house:
'Bye sweetie. Remember, hold onto your things.'
'Yes mum.'
'Look after each other.'
'We will.'
'Be careful.'
'Watch your drinks. They do all kinds of things these days...'
'We always do.'
'Make sure you're careful on those heels!'
'I will.'
By this point I'll be halfway out the door, but she will have only just got started...
'Yes mum?'
'Have you got a coat?!' (Said at any time of year, and always presented as a dire emergency.)
'Okay, be good!'
'Bye mum.'
'Wait a minute, have you got a key?!'
'Yes. As always...' (I will inevitably be losing my patience at this point.)
'Sweetie!' (As I'm turning away for the eighteenth time...)
'Will you send me a text when you arrive?'
'Who's driving?'(Also of utmost importance, even though she's yet to have a different reaction to any name that I ever offer up.)
'Tell her to drive slow, won't you?'
'Yep.' (I will have optimistically made my way to the end of the drive by now.)
'Darling, be safe!'
'Can you leave me Sophie's number just in case?'
'MUM!!!!!' (And regretfully, this marks the regression to my pathetic teenage self.) 'God! I'm not going to let anyone rob me or spike my drink, I'll make sure all my friends have both eyes on me at all times, I won't talk to any strangers and I won't eat any berries without checking if they're poisonous first. HONESTLY!'
Her face will then fall, and I'll feel like a monster. But it does get tiresome. I mean, her go-to phrase is, 'Have fun! Within reason!' Really.
When I was younger it used to really piss me off, and I ended up lying about pointless stuff just to keep her quiet.
I'd be going to see my little high school boyfriend and tell her I was going to the gym. I would even go as far as regularly leaving the house in gym clothes and getting changed in the alley next to my house. Yep.
Nights out with my friends would be a 'sleepover at Rach's.' It got to the point where between us girls all of our rowdier outings would be nicknamed 'pizza and DVD nights.'

And now that I'm 23 years of age? Now that I live in a different country to her? Now that I've lived on my own for five years, and have been financially independent for almost as long? 
Not all that much has changed, mes amis. I tell her more, but she worries just as much.
Ever since I moved out she still calls me at least twice a day (yep, twice a day), and for her peace of mind she still wants me to email her when I get home after a night out. (I soon learned that the best thing to do with that was to just send her an email around 1am saying, 'home! great night!' or similar...) I know what you might be thinking. 'Leave her to worry! Stop indulging her! She'll be fine!' Well. That's where you're gravely mistaken, guyz. There's no chance of leaving her to worry, as I learned one fateful morning at university when I didn't answer my phone (I was sleeping off a hangover and was blissfully unaware of any contact being made.) I woke up to twenty missed calls and frantic knocking on my door. My panicked mum had driven all the way to Nottingham, and had worked herself up into such a state that as soon as she saw that I was alive and safe, she burst into tears, hugged me, turned right back round and drove all the way home again.

Other things that my tiny mum really, really, really worries about:
-Me eating sushi
-Me getting the metro late at night alone (kinda understandable)
-Me not carrying thief-proof enough bags
-My fridge exploding
-Me using chemical products to clean my bathroom
-Me dying my hair
-Me driving her car (or any car come to mention it...)

My mum, the worrier.
I wouldn't have her any other way. 

Anyway, you need to know something else...
It's not actually her fault.
She comes from a family of worrying women.
Her sisters worry, her mum worries, her aunties worry... the whole gang work themselves into wild frenzies of their own making.
My cousin had a secret boyfriend for ten years because her mum was so worried about him not being right for her.
And my nonna is the original and best Queen Worrier.
She still calls all five of her (adult) children daily.
She still requests that when any member of her extended family flies anywhere they call her when they land. She makes her own little calculations about when she expects us to have arrived and won't sit still until she knows that the plane is safely at its destination in one piece.
When we're driving anywhere and Nonna's in the back she develops a nervous sniff, and if we're driving anywhere and she's not in the car she'll watch us drive off from the balcony, shouting advice as we back out (even more infuriating being as she's never once driven a car herself...)
Tonight my mum and my nonna were talking about an upcoming visit my mum's making to Paris to see me:
Nonna: So we won't talk that whole week then?
Ma: No mamma! I'll be with Silvia.
Nonna: No phone calls at all? 
Ma: No... I'll message the others and they can tell you what I've said.
Nonna: Why don't you message me?
Ma: Because you don't know how to read them!!
Nonna: Well, as long as you're safe...
And so on, ad nauseam...

And as I find myself asking my loved ones things like, 'no, tell me exactly what time you land!', it's slowly beginning to dawn on me that maybe, just maybe, I'll end up being exactly the same...
A little worrier like my mum, and her mum, and her mum before her.     

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Laundry day

The worst day of them all - worse than a Monday, worse than Wednesday (my longest working day), worse than Boxing Day - can only be one, and it can be one only: laundry day.
I fucking hate it.
This hatred that I feel may well be completely unreasonable and wholly irrational, and I'm relatively sure that it's both of those very similar adjectives, but the heart feels what the heart feels. And when laundry day comes around, mine sinks.
Now, what you need to bear in mind is that I put it off for as long as humanly possible (this is made easier by the fact that I have around 100 pairs of pants, and innumerable t-shirts - and everything else, honestly, can wait), but it unavoidably rears its ugly head now and then. I generally admit defeat when all I have left in my drawer is the real fancy pants (the ones you don't want to waste on everyday shit) and my 'grundies', as J.G. so eloquently calls underwear which is on its last legs.
What you also need to bear in mind is that the experience of washing clothes is only this stressful because I have no washing machine to speak of...
Back in the days when I still lived in Nottingham, I never fully appreciated how blissful it was to be able to leisurely put on a half empty wash, or fling in your whites and, after a joyful interlude of living your life, vaguely remember them a few hours later, when you'd find them exactly where you left them. Those were the days.
Now? Not so much. 
What I'm talking about here is the experience of doing your laundry at the l a u n d e r e t t e.
This is not a halfhearted activity to be taken lightly. Far from it. This is half a day shit. I set my alarm for laundry day. On a good day (which is rare) it takes 2 hours. One hour and a half for washing, half an hour for drying. But there are few good laundry days.
Lets take yesterday for example. I set my alarm, packed all my clothes in a suitcase (yeah, what?), grabbed my colour catchers and washing detergent, and headed for the launderette, head held high. I manoeuvred my case around all the carefree Parisians breakfasting al fresco, and was relieved to find my launderette of choice half empty. This is generally my first issue: I don't like the idea of quite literally airing your dirty laundry in public. I think this stems back to one horrifying day when I was loading a machine in the South of France. I was fully concentrated on what I was doing, when I turned around to grab another handful of clothes, only to find that there was a very suspect elderly man touching one of my garments (an intimate one, lets say.) When he caught me looking at him, far from apologising or running away, pants in hand, he simply said, 'this is nice.'
Against my better judgement, I merely retaliated with an uncomfortable smile, and carried on with the task in hand. Since then, I've made sure to always pick the most isolated machine. When someone chooses the one next to mine, I'm thinking, 'fuck off, this is my turf!! Don't look at my Snoopy underwear!!' And other such thoughts.
So there's that.
But then something always goes fucking wrong anyway. I ruin at least two items of clothing per wash.
Yesterday was the turn of my black jeans. For whatever reason, they came out more grey than black, and I know for a fact that they'll never be the same again. Their glory days are over. I'm heartbroken.
The time before that my duvet cover ripped unrecognisably. Now my duvet hangs out the end, unprotected, and every time I see it it's a cruel reminder of my failure.
T-shirts shrink (lets just thank god that I'm partial to a crop top or two), socks disappear, and white items invariably come out with a distinct tinge of another colour.
I can't do laundry.
Amongst other problems, yesterday I opened the machine before it had completely finished wringing the water out, and I had to spend about €10 on the dryer. After I'd grumpily loaded the sopping wet clothes and towels into said thieving dryer, I turned to see that a homeless man had taken my seat and was using it as his lunch spot, where he was devouring an incredibly pungent hot dog. What's more, the man in question had no teeth. His jaw was mechanically working away at his meal, and I hadn't the stomach to linger around him for long. So I waited for half an hour on the step outside.
Don't even get me started on having to have the right fucking change... (Which I never do.) I've found a new age launderette these days, so I can go with whatever currency I fancy, and simply deal with a machine. But before I discovered this twenty-first century washing establishment I was tied to one where you had to pile coins into the actual washing machines. This was no mean feat. How often do you have €15 in change? (Yep, that's how much a regular laundry day sets me back. Now can you see why I put it off?) Jamais. I'm only paid in 50s (not very many.)
So I used to have to venture out to try and get change before the whole charade could even begin.
On one such day, I tried to get change by buying a takeaway coffee.
'Great idea, Silv!' I hear you thinking.
'Not so fast!' I think back.
I ordered my drink, took my drink off the side, and handed the man behind the till a 50, almost apologetically. He looked incredulous. He called his colleague over, and they both began gesticulating wildly. In an agitated state, they seemed to be complaining to one another about my thoughtless actions in a language I didn't understand. Which was rude in itself. But then the colleague took it upon himself to tell me exactly what he thought of me in a language I did understand.
He said, in no uncertain terms, that I should have told them beforehand that I was going to pay with a 50, and through tuts and sighs, told me that it wasn't right.
He 'tu'ed me, which is fucking rude anyway, and then threw his arms up in the air in complete disdain.
I ended up paying on card, after telling him to watch how he spoke to me, and I emerged onto the street with no change and a coffee I didn't even want.
I eventually got change by going into a supermarket, but once I got to the launderette, pockets jangling with coins, a man inside told me off for leaving the door open behind me. It all seemed too much at that point.
I fled from the scene and burst into hot, bitter tears on the street. Admittedly, not only did I overreact, but I was also a bit homesick that day, (and possibly slightly premenstrual - sorry to bend to the usually unfair stereotype) but either way, I took my dirty laundry back home and decided to tackle the mountainous challenge another day.

And that's all I have to say about laundry day.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


'Kids and their microscopic bugs are gross as shit.' - L.T.

Is there anything more stomach turning than the thought of a head full of almost invisible insects feasting on your blood à la Edward Cullen? I think not. Even just writing this now is causing me to fidget nervously and my skin to crawl. I barely allow there to be room for a headband on my head, never mind a whole colony of creepy crawlies. I'm afraid there's simply no room at the inn. Take your business elsewhere.
I think as an adult you can more or less avoid them completely (unless you're a parent or a teacher.) But a six-year-old boy? Not so much. Children like nothing better than being all up in each other's shit. And unfortunately, this more often than not involves rugby scrums, Chinese whispers, cuddles, and all manner of other activities where heads touching heads is essential. All it takes is for one tot to catch headlice from a cousin, then before you know it he's passed them on to half of his class, and within a week it's an epidemic.
I'd had two weeks off for half term, so I was excited to see E.V.P. after school on Monday. When he ran out to meet me he was unusually reserved and his face was covered in chocolate. I hugged him anyway. We went back to his house where I gave him a snack of yet more chocolate (don't tell!), and then we settled down to build a Lego empire. About half an hour later, Viola, the other nanny (don't ask why one child would ever need two nannies at a time...), came in. We exchanged pleasantries, and then she dropped the bombshell.
"Have you heard?"
"No, what?"
"He had them."
"Had what...?"
She didn't answer straightaway. Instead, she scratched theatrically at her head, grimaced, and then dissolved into a fit of giggles. My heart began to pound, my blood ran cold, and I immediately stepped back two steps from him.

Not nits, please not nits...
But unfortunately for everyone involved, (excluding his father, who's bald) nits was exactly what Viola was hinting at.
Even though what had been insinuated was that he no longer had head lice, my first reaction was to reflect on the hour I'd spent with him and ensure that I couldn't recall having been too close to his little head at any point. That hug. I'd been standing up, he'd put his arms half-heartedly around my waist. Okay, I think we're safe there... The walk home. Short. Uneventful. No contact at all, apart from him holding my hand to cross the road. And they can't be passed on like that, surely?! Snack time. I'd handed him the chocolate from a height. His hair had been a good few feet below me. Right, good. Lego building. Now this was riskier territory. We'd both been kneeling next to each other on the floor up until a few moments prior. Dangerously close. Recklessly close, I now realise. How far can those little fuckers jump?! E.V.P. has long, flowing locks, so long, in fact, that taxi drivers that don't know any better call him 'miss' (much to E.V.P.'s horror.) And my fringe, swinging around everywhere, is just asking for trouble. As soon as the word 'nits' had entered my head I'd started scratching like a woman possessed, and it wasn't just limited to my scalp- my legs were itching, my shoulders were itching, my soul was essentially itching. 
I wanted to believe that it was simply psychological, especially because he was meant to have been in recovery, but I'd got it into my head that I'd played with fire (or in this case, with lice) and I'd inevitably been burned (or in this case, become infested.) It didn't help that when I was a six-year-old monkey myself I'd had more than my fair share of traumatic experiences with head lice. They really seemed to like my hair, for one (I had them at least three times in my time.) But far more memorable than the smell of the industrial shampoo and the feel of the nit comb doing its thing, was the day I walked into my classroom, after a particularly trying evening of louse removal, to find that my Year 3 teacher had written on the blackboard in big chalk letters, 'Stay away from Silvia today. She has nits.' And that really happened. Exactly as I've described it. How do you ever get past something like that? You don't, that's the answer to that. And I haven't. Obviously nobody likes nits, but I am truly disgusted even by the thought of them. I don't want to be melodramatic (although I fear that I am being exactly that), but I just don't know what I'd do if I ever got them now, as an adult. Unthinkable.
And yet here I was, thinking about that very possibility. Unfortunately (if I'd miraculously managed to steer clear until this point) I still had a good few hours to get through. So I began my evening of avoidance. Not that E.V.P. makes it easy...
That night, of all nights, he seemed to want to have his head as close to mine as I'd let him (which was not very close at all.)
"Silvia! Give me a piggyback!" he shouted, excitedly.
"Oooh, not today, chou chou, I've got back ache," I improvised.

"Silvvv, can I snuggle with you?" he asked, pulling his cutest face. (This one was the hardest to refuse...)
"Nope! Let's have a race instead!" I desperately suggested, running frantically across the room.
"Silv, I've got a secret to tell you..."
"E! It's rude to whisper!"
"Pick me up?"
"You're not a baby anymore, E!"
"Silvy, want to try on my new hat?"
"No, sharing is bad!" (As you can see, as I grew more desperate, my excuses lost all truthfulness, and would probably take me weeks to undo, but I just didn't care about anything other than the barrenness of my scalp remaining that way.)
When the ordeal was over and his mother came home I ran out of there faster than you can say, 'itchy scalp.'

She text me later to say, 'Sorry I didn't mention the lice, but we got rid of them all.'
However. When I showed up to pick him up from school earlier today I noticed something which made me acutely nervous. E.V.P.'s tiny paw was rooting around in his hair... He was scratching. He was really scratching.
And is there anything quite as disconcerting as a child scratching their head? No. No, there's not.
So my plight continues, and there will be no hugging around here for the foreseeable future...

Monday, 24 February 2014

The Pitfalls of Parisian Shopping

The shop assistant’s eyes were on me. They’d been on me for the last five minutes. I tried to ignore her bored gaze and come to my own conclusions about the dress I was trying on. She didn’t look like she, personally, liked how I looked in it. Twirling around in the mirror for the hundredth time, I wasn’t sure that I did either. Regardless of how very clearly she couldn’t care less about whether I bought the dress or not, it didn’t stop her from telling me that, ‘it’s made for you, honey,’ and, ‘you look like a model.’ I doubted her sincerity. The fact that there was no mirror inside the changing room made the decision making process all the more difficult, and I was beginning to sweat. Working out how you feel about a potential new addition to your wardrobe is quite a private task, as I’m sure you’ll agree. You need to have the freedom to stare at yourself in it, uninterrupted, for a good few minutes, then see what it looks like from the back for a similar amount of time, then move around in it to see how it feels (a lunge or two is always quite useful for this.) Once you’re sure that the piece of clothing in question has passed these initial tests you can then move on to trying your own jacket over the top of it, tying your hair up, or taking your hair down, depending on how you had it in the first place, and possibly taking a few pictures to send to your American friend (who has very similar tastes to you) for a second opinion, which will only come through once she wakes up, which is very often a few hours too late, but is always welcome nevertheless. Not only did my lack of privacy mean that I couldn’t subject the dress to all these essential trials, there was the added trouble that I’d already been in this shop twice this week to look at the same dress, and now I felt as though I really should commit in some way. If not to this particular garment, then at least to a garment. I couldn’t possibly leave empty handed again; it just wouldn’t be right. I’m not sure who dictates how many times it’s ‘right’ to go into a shop and not purchase anything, and in fact, I’m pretty sure that you could go into a shop 365 times in a row and nobody would be able to ask you to leave simply for browsing, but if we didn’t follow unwritten protocol then we’d all be cavemen, clubbing each other over the heads, with no real need to find the perfect dress anyway. My indecision rising to almost tangible levels, I tried to get the scowling assistant back on my side by shooting her a friendly look that said, ‘what am I like, ey?’ She chose to ignore it, and me, and moved over to another customer who seemed like they had some intention of actually spending their money. I smoothed the silky material (probably polyester moonlighting as silk) down over my hips, and got onto my tiptoes to get a look over my shoulder. It looked alright. It was in no way a head turner, it was in no way the Parisian LBD that I’d promised I’d find myself, and it was in no way worth the €95 price tag. But living in Paris since October, I've long since lost all concept of an item’s real worth.
I went back into the comfort of my changing room and drew the curtain, just to buy some time. I slowly got undressed, and hung the dress back on the hanger so I could get another look at it. I couldn’t stay in there for long, so I made a snap decision. It was definitely nothing special. I could find something better, I was sure of it. I wasn’t buying it. I instantly felt a sense of relief at having found the sensible solution. I climbed back into my jeans and jumper, and feeling like a frumpy fraud, made my way back into the shop, dress in hand. Heading towards the rail to replace the dress, I caught the shop assistant’s almost imperceptible I-knew-it look. Her stupid, smug face made me feel ashamed and vindictive in equal measures, which is a dangerous combination by anyone’s standards. Before I knew what I was doing I’d made a sharp 360 turn and was placing the unwanted dress on the till. I could always bring it back when there was a different assistant working.
‘We have a no returns, no refunds policy, madame,’ the assistant said, in perfect English, as she made her way over to the till. (I hate it when French people assume - quite rightly - that I’m English.)
‘Pas de problème,’ I replied, my heart sinking now that I knew I was stuck with this dress that I almost definitely didn’t even want.
‘That will be €125 please.’ (I hate it even more when you speak French to a French person and they reply in English. I’m trying; humour me!)
‘Errr... N'est-il pas à prix réduit? Je croyais que toutes les robes étaient à €95...
‘Sorry madame, this dress is new season, it’s €125.’ (There she went again, answering me in English.)
‘Okay, great, I’ll take it.’ (And there I went again, giving in and answering in English, and spending money - that I didn’t really have going spare - just to save face.)
I can’t wait to wear my new dress (and by ‘wear’ I mean ‘put in the back of my wardrobe, and look at resentfully every now and then.’)
On my way home, the carrier bag containing my boring dress banged annoyingly against my shin, and I spotted the most beautiful black dress in the window of Zara. Against my better judgement, I  stopped to look at the price. It was €45.
Hurrah for my polyester delusion dress.  

Friday, 7 February 2014

Allergic to money

Fresh graduates aren't usually rolling in money. Au pairs aren't usually rolling in money either. I am a fresh graduate. I am also an au pair. Funnily enough, I am not rolling in money.
The people I work for on the other hand... Let's just say that I once witnessed a (small) €36 cheese being consumed chez E.V.P.'s mum. Not for any grand occasion. Not even particularly as a big blow out or a luxurious treat. Just on a school night. Just on a very ordinary school night during a very ordinary meal. (And not that this enhances the story in any way, but I genuinely prefer the €2 brie from my local Franprix.)
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is this: my employers are hardly strapped for cash.
And yet... I act as though they are in the exact same boat as me - and in that boat we count coins and scrimp at every turn. And for this (entirely fabricated) reason, I can never bring myself to ask them for money. I'm not talking monetary gifts, I don't mean an outrageous pay rise, I'm simply referring to money that they owe me.
It's a disease really.
Before I arrived in Paris there had been vague talk of a contract of some sort, but what with one thing and another, and moving into P.P.(E.V.P.'s daddy)'s spare room, I just never bothered insisting. Silly, silly, silly, spineless Silv. A.V. (E.V.P.'s mummy) once told me, quote, 'we have a very organic attitude towards these things.' So.
Organic or not, it initially took me 5 weeks to muster up the courage to nervously remind A.V. that she had yet to pay me my first month's wage.
'Why was I having to remind her?!' I hear you ask.
'Because she is the most scatterbrained professional business woman I have ever encountered. She loses her house keys twice a week, never pays with cash, and doesn't believe in carrying a bag,(not sure that this is an appropriate place for atheism, but...)' I answer you.
Now, for some wildly inexplicable reason I was wracked with guilt when I had to ask her to pay me this money (money that she was late in giving me, let's just remember.) I asked her once, and she assured me that it was on its way. Another few days passed and it seemed to gave gotten lost on said way. The second time I had to ask her for these basic wages I was almost apologetic. Yet she wasn't. She'd merely forgotten, and would give them to me the next day. But then the next day she unexpectedly went to Mexico to shoot a film, (yeah, bitches be cray) and I had to more or less insist via email that I genuinely couldn't afford to live in this city for one more day unless she found a way to give me 'some' money (I'd long since abandoned the idea of her paying me the lot. Desperate times...)
She found a way eventually, (P.P. handed me a stuffed envelope on her behalf) and I relaxed for the next couple of weeks.`
But then another pay packet was due, and the whole charade started again.
The thing is, I don't blame her. She has a lot on her plate or whatever, and I understand why she would be in no rush to pay me unless reminded. Which is where I come in. Or at least, should come in. But I often don't. Because of this aversion to talk about money. C'est ma faute, but I don't know what to do about it.
I've only been here since October, so I've only had to beg to be paid three times up until now (the last time being two days ago.) 
But luckily for this blog post, the fun doesn't end there.
My tiny tot has grown accustomed to certain luxuries during his short, privileged life. To mention but a few, he expects a snack to be waiting in the paw of whoever meets him from school (which is me, 9 times out of 10), and he often can't be fucked walking when he can take a taxi. So. These things cost money. And it's me who pays for these things. A few weeks of daily pain au sucres and rides to his house around the corner soon add up. A.V. once told me that I should tell her how much I spend on these little things so that she can pay me back. She hasn't mentioned it since. Neither have I.
There's ways around that though. I soon learned that. Now I simply run E.V.P. home to the fridge before he has a chance to notice that I'm empty handed and that we're using our feet to get to our desired destination.
But the plot thickens further.
My working hours are as follows:
Mondays- 4.30-bedtime (his)
Tuesdays- 3.00-bedtime (his)
Wednesdays- 11.30-bedtime (his)
Thursdays- 4.30-bedtime (his)
Fridays- 3.00-bedtime (his)
And a few late nights when his parents fancy having a laugh.
So I have quite a bit of free time, not to mention that I'm not exactly enhancing my CV with my current 'career path', (if we can call it that) being as I have absolutely no intention of working with children (or even hanging out with any for any extended period of time until I have my own.) So, I help P.P. and A.V. out with fun shit that needs doing for their work - editing, transcripts, translating, letter writing and the like. It's alright, actually. Oh, apart from the fact that I am so far doing it all completely FOR FREE.
A.V. has a sneaky way of calling me into her office and making it seem like we're hanging out as gal pals rather than me doing her a favour. So I've just made an internal decision to never mention the money that I was promised. Just because... I'm really not willing to bring it up. So I guess I'll just carry on working for free until further notice.
With P.P. it's not so easy to avoid the subject. This is because he is painfully professional, and when he asks me to do stuff for him, it'll be full projects- shit that takes a good few days to finish. He suggested that I make a note of how many hours I spend doing whatever it is that he's given me, and then to let him know. So I did. (Well, I made a note of my hours. The letting him know part was another story...)
I painstakingly kept a little tally of the time I'd spent doing research for this new film he's doing, and it came out at a neat 15 hours. I emailed him all of my findings and various book summaries, and he was happy.
However, the next time I saw him in person, we had to have that conversation that I so dread, that conversation that makes my blood run cold and makes my eyeballs sweat. The Money Conversation.
It started out kinda okay.
'Silvia, I need to pay you for the project you just did.'
'Oh ha, yeah... erm... ha ha, well, I mean, yeah, I just... ha!'
At this point I backed away and started to put my coat on.
He followed me and said, 'we really do need to sort it. How do you want to do this?'
'I don't know... erm...' And I backed away more.
After lots of stuttering and avoidance I said that I'd made a note of how many hours I'd done, so maybe we could do it hourly. He was on board (as I knew he would be.)
'How many hours did you do then?' he politely asked.
Well that you can answer at least, Silv! We all know I did 15, because I worked it out and wrote it down that I did 15. Remember? I did that little tally. There was no mistaking how long I'd spent working on his project.
But shit that should be straightforward is never straightforward with me. Instead of just uttering the two easy syllables, 'fif-teen', what did I do? I lied. Just completely lied. Made it up.
'Ten and a half,' I said. WHAT. What the fuck is wrong with me?! Not only did I lie, but I lied to my detriment. I give up. I don't even deserve to be paid.
The poor man even insisted, 'we need to be professional. How much do you charge per hour?'
EUGH!! I don't charge anything, I have no idea about anything, I'll pay you if you want!
He's asked me a number of times 'how much I charge.' And every time I blush and mumble something unintelligible and then scurry off with my tail between my legs. I always try and turn it around by saying things like, 'well, how much do you pay?' When that fails (which it obviously always does), I then desperately say, 'whatever you think is fair!', and hope that he doesn't think €1 an hour is fair.
Last time I left with promises of researching how much others charge. I've looked. But I don't feel right asking him for the pay that I've seen EVERYONE SINGLE OTHER PERSON WHO DOES THE EXACT SAME JOB AS I'VE JUST DONE asks for.
The thing is, as much as I would be mortified if I accidentally asked for too much, I'd be equally mortified if I short changed myself. And yet, at this rate, I'm going to get nothing.
In conclusion, I will never be rich, because I am utterly incapable of even saying the word 'money.'
My future looks bright.

Oh yeah, I should probably take this opportunity to urge you to contact me if you have any odd jobs that need doing. I charge very competitive rates. (And by 'very competitive rates' I mean that I'll work for free. And thank you for it.)