Wednesday 28th August
Here’s a post I wrote on my day off about a week ago…
What is Australia for me?
It’s this: sitting in a cafe on my day off: enjoying a banana smoothie and an ocean view whilst listening to relaxed tunes and having a moment to write this.
It’s the smells that should be bottled: eucalyptus trees on a hot day, barbecues in the park, wild flowers in bloom.
It’s the sound of a kookaburra laughing about something in the distance.
It’s amazing creatures like kangaroos and koalas and cockatoos, parakeets and galahs…
It’s the taste of beer and the sound of live music.
It’s chance encounters with people from all over the world.
It’s meeting members of family you never knew you had, or old friends in sunny places.
It’s feeling very welcome, but not quite belonging.
I’ve experienced many things in Australia – yet none of them have been bad. Even finding a 6ft python lounging over my toilet gave me a (horrific) story to tell and I learnt a lesson of caution when using the toilet.
Being unemployed and unable to enjoy it thanks to lack of funds wasn’t exactly a bad experience.
Neither was feeling used and unappreciated in my first Au Pair role a bad experience. It was incredibly unpleasant and draining but taught me what to ask for and what I deserved in my next role.
I have avoided most extreme weather situations in Australia – not had to endure many 40+ C days, nor suffered a long winter. I was relatively unaffected by the cyclones on the East coast and the bush fires didn’t come close enough to pose a real threat.
Am I sad about leaving? That’s what everyone keeps asking me. And the answer is yes and no. I knew Australia couldn’t last forever. I’ve not had any of the experiences I thought I would have, but instead had experiences I never imagined possible.
I never made it to Ayres Rock, didn’t buy a car so I could drive around the perimeter of Australia, never made it to the Northern Territory or Tasmania and have really only scratched the surface of this land of plenty.
I have been a waitress, a receptionist, a bar person, a teacher, a tutor, a farm hand, a nanny and a cleaner. I have worked for great money, no money and shit money.
I have tried new sports, new foods, learnt new skills, dropped bad habits and even managed to improve my Spanish.
So… Australia has given me so much, yet not quite enough to stay any longer. I know it’s time to leave and try something else. I am feeling a pull towards the UK, to the place I used to call home, to my family and to a culture and lifestyle I have been avoiding for many years. It’s time to see what’s coming next!
Hope it makes good blog material!
Very often, the focus of my blog posts is some mishap or other: some series of events that only seem to happen to me, something I have done wrong, some mini disaster, a bit of stress of just one or several of those moments.
Last Saturday was not one of those. I actually had a perfect day. Should I even write about it? I am not sure if I have a misfortune to make you laugh…
I had purchased a voucher for a Stand Up Paddle boarding lesson, as it was on my Perth bucket list. I had seen people doing it on the Swan River and thought it looked like something I would like to do.
There were two other Au Pair friends also doing it, so I wasn’t going to be on my own. I also had a lift lined up from someone who lives in the same suburb as me, so didn’t have to do battle with Perth public transport ( if you read OFF UP THE COAST you’ll know my feelings on this).
It had been raining most of the week, but I woke up to a beautiful sunny morning, with a clear mind (no booze the night before) and a healthy (ish) body – ready for action. My concern was that I read wetsuits were NOT provided, and as it IS winter, I didn’t fancy falling in. Then I must remind myself that this is Perth, not Melbourne, so it’s really not THAT cold. And yes, if you haven’t thought/said it already – I do indeed come from colder climes, so yes, I should be used to the cold weather/water etc. My other concern was my left knee: still bruised from my little ice skating escapade (read LIVE A LITTLE for that disaster) and comes with a certain amount of fear of hitting or even using it. I had read up on Paddle boarding, and the first thing you do is kneel and learn to get your balance – not something I can comfortably do – and can you believe this – because of this I was considering surrendering my voucher and not even going!
Luckily I gave myself a good talking to that morning and got up and on with it. Wished I had bought a pair on board shorts – who in Australia doesn’t own a pair of boardies? Me of course!
It turned out that our lesson was just the three of us – 3 Au Pairs on paddle boards with an mean age of 28 (this is indeed unusual in my line of work!) went out on the Swan with out instructor Cristina from Germany. The water wasn’t cold, just a little “eech ouch” getting in on account of all the tiny shells on the shore.
I was given the biggest board – probably on thanks to my usual look of uncertainty. After a brief “this is how you do it” We lugged them into the water and got on. It hurt to be on my knees – bloody ice skating – so once we got some speed (literally moving, not racing) we got to our feet.
The sun was warming my back, my board was steady and I was smiling because I was paddling! I managed to turn without falling off, I coped with a wave caused by a passing boat, and didn’t fall off when I looked round at the large splash to my right when H had fallen off her board trying to get a photo of M!
The only problem I had was a cramp in my right foot (It wouldn’t have been right for it to have been THAT perfect), which I later learned was perfectly normal, although incredibly uncomfortable, as the body tries to counterbalance what the board does. Once our level of comfort was ascertained, we paddled back to shore to get different boards. This time I had a shorter, lighter, therefore faster board, which was much more fun to work with. I actually ENJOYED this outing, and found myself asking fellow British nanny friend from Torquay if this was something people did at home. Yes, apparently it’s quite popular! Show’s what I know, as the first time I had seen it was 6 months ago here in Perth.
To congratulate ourselves on a morning of exercise that doesn’t feel like exercise – I want to do more of this – we went to the Matilda Bay Tea Rooms. An Idyllic setting on the river, under the trees where the parrots sit and… poo on your slice of chocolate cake. No joke. But it wouldn’t have been MY blog post without a little bit of trouble…
My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.
Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.
If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.
Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.
After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.
On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.
After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.
T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!
Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.
When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.
I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.
Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…
Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…
So, the other day I bought a voucher to go Iceskating…
It occurred to me that I had become a bit “safe” recently and subsequently, quite boring, and yes, indeed bored.
I have a number of excuses for such a position. Is it because I now work as an Au Pair and I am quite literally drained of energy at the end of the day? And I have the unusual luxury of having my own digs, complete with tv and internet, so sometimes it’s just “easier” to not go out?
Is it because I have never got enough money? I don’t earn very much to say the least, and what I do earn, really doesn’t go very far in Perth. Then there is the fact that I don’t have my own car, so going anywhere involves a number of transport complications, so as previously mentioned, it’s just sometimes easier to stay at home.
But is that what I came to Australia to do? To sit in my room, watching Foxtel and feeling pleased I have got through the day? Worrying about where my cents will go, so desperately trying to save them instead of enjoying them?
I know that when I get back to the UK my dollars will mean nothing, the sun won’t shine very often and I won’t have the opportunities that living in a (pretty cool) city in a (bloody awesome) place like this has to offer.
They say that you should do something that scares you every day. That’s not always possible and I am not as brave as I used to be, so I will aim for once a week! I also have only 5 weeks left in Perth, and only 8 weeks left in Australia, so now is the time more than ever to MAKE EVERYTHING COUNT! Who knows when I will be back?
Iceskating. Yes it scares me. The last time I went was about 10 years ago. I fell over, but it was ok. The time before that was about 3 years previously and I fell badly, landing on my knee, really hurting it, and vowed never ever to go again. Since then I have feared hurting myself so much that I never thought I would go again. Frightened I would fall and hurt my back, I forgot about the prospect of landing on my knee again. Which was worse?
Anyway, I enlisted the company of a fellow Au Pair and friend on my fear-combating adventure. Bought the tickets and made the plans. I refused to let anxiety hinder my enjoyment, but on entering the building I was looking for any excuse turn on my heel (whilst still on dry land – can’t turn on ice!) and make a quick exit. There was nowhere safe to leave my bag: leave it in the car. The skates were too big: Smaller ones would be uncomfortable. The skates hurt: get over it. It’s cold: get over it. I don’t like the music: get over it. Out of excuses. Skates on.
We waddled our way towards the ice – how do you walk without looking like a penguin??
I gingerly stepped onto the ice, gripping the barrier for dear life. At this point I start laughing hysterically (anyone familiar with this?) as I was actually bricking it. I can’t move!! I had no idea what to do, I froze, pardon the pun! Other skaters whizzed past me, carved the ice, skated backwards. No one was falling over. This was not the place for Grace to get over her fear!
Slowly I started to move my feet – making my way along the edge, and whilst laughing and screaming simultaneously whenever someone passed me, I found myself sort of skating. My partner in crime was finding my expression (sticking tongue out in concentration interspersed with screeches of fear or hysterical laughter) hilarious herself and had to stop a number of times from laughing too hard. I don’t know how many laps I did before I started to realise I was actually skating and dare I say, enjoying it a little bit. I still flailed my arms, and windmilled my way around and went straight into the barrier to stop. I still screamed every time someone whipped past me, and watched people fall over to asses how badly they were hurt and to figure out how they got up again.
I started to get the hang of it, and was smiling, grinning, skating, yelling out “I am skating, no one will believe me! I can do it!!” I don’t have words to describe how it felt to actually do it, after all these years. I even had a little fall and got back up again, but I was fine!
It has to end somewhere though doesn’t it? Usually when someone wants to take a picture. Often when you fall and really hurt yourself and the wind is taken out of your sails, not to mention your chest and your pride, not to mention your body is bruised.
“You skate ahead, do another lap, and I will get a photo of you”. Off I went, picking up speed: the idea of a camera capturing my moment spurring me on. Then something went wrong, I did something wrong and I went down. I went down hard. Right on my Left knee (same one as before) and hard on my left boob and hand, as I tried to cushion my fall. I flipped myself over immediately, scared someone was going to slice me in half, but the pain in my knee made me want to vomit and the pain in my chest from being winded actually scared me. I can’t tell you how I got to my feet, but I made it just as someone was offering me a hand, I managed to dodge oncoming traffic and slide contraflow to the exit and get off, barely able to move my legs. I sat, tears smudging my mascara, as my leg shuddered with shock, and my left breast felt like someone had kicked me repeatedly. I wanted everyone to disappear so I could have a good cry. The pain eventually subsided, but my enthusiasm was gone. Skating was finished for me. The fear was back and I was terrified and bruised. I did, however, get back on the ice and I did another lap, just so that I could end it well, and not have my memory being face down.
I saw so many people fall and get back up again, who looked fine. I was fine too – nothing but my smile was broken, but it was time to go home.
On the way home, we stopped for frozen yoghurt – my new obsession and I got a bag of ice for my knee, which I sat with all evening, fearing the prospect of an unusable knee.
I am SO pleased I did it, I now know I can do it, and I had a go, and even enjoyed it.
I told my younger brother tonight what i had done, and he said… “So, maybe are ready to have another go at skiing then…” Some of you know my skiing story from the Pyrenees about 7 years ago – an experience I do not wish to repeat!
Back in March, when I was working for a different family, I was “invited” to go on holiday with them. Delighted at the opportunity to go somewhere new in WA and be part of the family I jumped at it. I sooner realised that I was not really on holiday – I was just doing my job in a different location. My hosts has no intention of showing me the place they had raved about, nor were they really willing to share it with me. So on my day off, and my free moments I did what I could to explore the area and see what it had to offer.
Dunsborough is quite a sleepy town on a very calm piece of water. It appeared to me to be one of those places that people leave in the winter and flood in the summer.
Here’s a selection of my images.
Not too far away I had the opportunity to visit Busselton too. “Grace, D is driving to Bussleton this afternoon – he can drop you off there, and you can get a bus back if you want”. Never one to turn down a little adventure I went for it. And took a walk along the famous Bussleton Jetty, which is the longest in the southern hemisphere at just shy of 2km. You have to pay for the privilege of doing so, or you can pay even more to take a rickety old train up and down it. But not interested in spending money, I wanted to use my legs, so took a stroll! Here’s what I saw:
Tired of calm water, I was keen to get to Yallingup and see some surf. I paid a ridiculous $15 for a return bus journey to take me just 8km each way, giving me just less than 3 hours to get some (expensive) lunch and enjoy the scene. It was worth it though, and when I got to the beach, I was so taken with it I had to get in the sea. Not planned to do so, so for the first time since I was about 9 years old – I went in in my undies! This is what you do when you are me, and you are on your own and you want to make the most of every situation. Just do it!
“What has happened to your blog?” My mum asked me a while ago.
“I logged onto your blog, but you don’t seem to have written in it for some time” wrote
my aunt this morning.
What HAS happened to my blog? I am asking myself whilst sitting in my little cabin in the garden on a chilly Perth evening. It’s certainly not as though I have nothing to write about – I have a number of blog posts circulating in my head continuously but they never make through my fingers to my keyboard. I even took a notebook to work today, hoping to find a moment to scribe my thoughts, but alas it didn’t happen.
It seems the last time I wrote I was enjoying reflecting on life in Australia – opportunities and obstatunities that were presented to me throughout the year – this was MONTHS ago! Back then I was living in the tranquility of a farm in northern New South Wales and desperately looking for work to ease my finances, but secretly wanting to not work very much at all and soak up everything Australia has to offer on the final stretch of my visa.
So that’s how I find myself in Perth, where I currently live in “donga” in the garden of the family whose children I care for. I am now a Nanny, or an Au Pair, or Mary Poppins? I think I like that one best. Is it easy? Sometimes. Can anyone do it? No way. Why am I doing it? Because why not?
I escaped another cyclone warning in NSW to get to Perth for a full time nanny position back in February. That job may well have been the reason I had writer’s block for so long. I think I was physically, emotionally and most importantly, creatively drained working for a family who wanted a service, not me. I gave 100 %, which wasn’t enough and although I couldn’t admit it at the time I was incredibly unhappy. After one too many unkind words, I started to look elsewhere, in search of a family who wanted Grace and not just someone who was great with their kids, could cook and didn’t mind cleaning. I now look back on that experience and only wish I had swallowed my pride sooner and not wasted some two months feeling trapped and not enjoying what Perth had to offer me.
Long story short, I am now working for as family whose ideals are closer to mine, who don’t have me as an accessory, and whose children’s challenges and warm smiles make everyday a wonderful day.
So I live in a self-contained container in the garden. Having my own space, I now realise, is paramount to my sanity and enjoyment. I was spending every moment I wasn’t working out of the house: throwing away money I didn’t have in order to avoid being there or I was locked away in my room hiding from awkward, uncomfortable conversations.
I now work half the hours I used to and earn almost the same. I have freedom, trust and no checklists. I have never been told off, nor checked up on. Not been giving rules or written instructions or lists to sign. I’ve never had to detail where I take the car, nor justify how I spent my cleaning day. It’s wonderful!
Every day is different – some more challenging than others – as anyone who has ever spent time around young children will understand. I enjoy picnics and adventures in the park, stories in the garden, football in the playground, baking in the kitchen, trips to the beach, swims in the pool, crafts, trips to the library, road trips in the car and everything I thought I would enjoy about being an Au Pair. At the end of the day, I bid my farewell, walk over to my little house and enjoy doing whatever I please until the next morning. No questions asked. I can teach and entertain in my own space whilst enjoying comfort in the proximity of my neighbours, yet gratitude for the space between our two buildings.
I now realise how much more I have to write and show as I get to know a new part of Australia and live in perhaps its most expensive city on the lowest wage I have had since arriving here.
Watch this space for hopefully some more regular thoughts…