I spent the weekend in London au pairing for my 3-year old cousin Ella, and before Ella’s mother had flown off on her business trip, she and I had planned some ‘fun days out’ for the time I was staying. It was the hottest weekend of the year so far, and the idea of a sunny weekend in London seemed perfect. I had plans of exploring bustling food markets, strolling through Hyde Park in the glorious sunshine and eating ice cream outside cafés whilst watching the world go by. However, this is not how the weekend unfolded.
It had been a long, hot day, and Ella and I had spent the afternoon at Battersea Park Children’s Zoo in London. This ‘fun day out’ mostly consisted of me arguing with Ella about the positive aspects of wearing sun cream and a sun hat, battling with a buggy on the tube and spending over two hours looking at otters and donkeys in the blistering sun. FYI donkeys and otters don’t do that much, even if you stare at them for two hours solid.
However it had been wonderful chatting and playing with Ella all day, and despite finding London excruciating to navigate in 26 degree heat, the day had passed with reasonable ease. (Not mentioning how toddlers become very slippery with all the sun cream which has to be applied, which makes the job of keeping the said toddler ‘safe’ on the tube all the more challenging, especially when they charge off up escalators at any given moment.)
Another thing that struck me in London that I had not experienced when au pairing in Paris (the Parisians have no time for parents or children, as they are about as interesting as pigeons to them), is that if you are with a child other mothers start chatting to you and asking all sorts of detailed questions about your life. On the way back from The World’s Most Disappointing Zoo Since The Beginning of Time as I now call it, we found ourselves waiting with two mums at the bus stop.
They had children the same age as Ella and one of them started chatting to her. One of the mothers asked how old Ella was and we soon began discussing the difficulties of toddlers. She quickly asked me (in a strong cockney accent) how often Ella goes to the loo, if she still wears a nappy at night, and what age did she stop breastfeeding – a conversation I was happy to have, but usually would not discuss with a complete stranger. But somehow mothers just do, and it’s fine. We then got on to the subject of the ever-rising price of public transport in London. I readily agreed with them, because as a ‘penniless student’ the price of transport seems unreasonable, and we soon bonded over the unfair hand those unable to afford a car are dealt.
I suddenly realised that through all this mum-chat I had somehow not clarified that I was not Ella’s mother (I just knew an alarming amount about her life and toilet habits as I had au paired for her on and off since she was born), and therefore I was not a single mum who was not only supporting myself, but a child too. I was merely a student on her weekend off uni getting a bit of extra money and helping out a relative at the same time. I must point out that Ella comes from a well off family, and her father is a sports car fanatic, and from a young age he taught her to recognise a ‘good car.’ And, of course, just as I was blabbing on about how ‘even with a railcard, the train seems awfully over-priced’, Ella pointed at the road and shouted ‘Look, a Porsche!’
‘What the fuck?’ said one of girls, her eyebrows rapidly disappearing into her hairline. ‘You posh or what?’
The silver Porsche very similar to the car Ella’s father owns glided past, cool and sleek between the bumbling buses and taxis. ‘Porsche, Porsche, Porsche!’ Ella yelled, jumping up and down. ‘Daddy’s Porsche!’
I sat there, mouthing like a goldfish, and pulling Ella to my side as the girls got up and bustled their children onto the bus, giving me a look that clearly translated as ‘posh traitor’. I decided to get the next bus, and hoped no more Porches would appear.
Once we returned home from the mania of hot trains and angry commuters (commuters hate buggies, and children, and the sound of laughter it turns out) to the safety and comfort of the big, cool house, I felt relieved. The worst was over. Or so I thought. We were waiting for a food delivery from Waitrose – sometime between 5 and 6pm they said – and then I would cook dinner for when Ella’s brothers and father got home. But by 6.45pm there was still no delivery, Ella was irritable and tired after a day of walking, there was only an array of useless tapenades and parmesan in the fridge, and everyone would be returning home hungry in the next half an hour. I was feeling stressed.
Suddenly the doorbell rang. ‘Food!’ shouted Ella and ran for the door. As she ran, she fell, and in her tired, hot state, she began to scream and cry. Scooping her up, I bolted for the door and let the delivery guy in, Ella howling on my hip. He immediately was annoying, and sauntered into the house with a wink and made some hilarious comment about what a welcome he had received. I ignored him and showed him where to put the copious amounts of shopping and tried to soothe the still screaming Ella. As he put the bags down he asked me if I lived here, and I curtly told him I did not, I was the nanny of sorts. I was feeling irritated by his questions as I was clearly busy. ‘Oh, cool,’ he said grinning. ‘So… fancy going for a drink sometime?’
Just has he said this Ella stopped crying and looked up at me and whispered ‘I did a wee.’
As I held the wriggling child in my arms, I looked down to see wee dripping from her sandals on to my sock-clad feet. I stared up blankly at the delivery guy, as aghast as I was dumbfounded at his bizarre attempt at romance at such a time as this. ‘Please go’ I said, putting Ella down and trying to seem aloof and pretending I wasn’t literally standing in a puddle of piss.
He suddenly looked down at the puddle, his eyes widened, and he looked back up at me. Did he think that I had pissed myself? As much as I had no interest in holding up any kind of façade of demure sexiness (as one usually does around delivery guys, obviously) I sincerely hoped he didn’t think I was incontinent. Ella had conveniently run off by this point and I just stood there, just waiting for him to leave, my eyes on the ceiling, past the point of caring about manners or showing him out.
He quickly scarpered, backing out of the door like a man who had just been the sole witness of a murder, and I was left in a puddle of wee, still with a soggy child to find, wash and change, the shopping to unpack and then dinner to cook. And all in half an hour. I wanted to cry, and I wanted to drink gin. And lots of it.
I heard the front door slam as the delivery guy escaped from his incontinent never-to-be date, and I looked in the first shopping bag. To my joy and elation I found that an entire box of eggs had been squashed between a butternut squash and a huge jar of marinated artichokes, and what’s more the courgettes I had been planning on cooking for dinner were covered with smashed egg. I cursed middle class shopping deliveries and their weighty goods!
Just as I was considering doing the only reasonable thing I could think of – putting my head in the oven – Ella’s dad came home from his important lawyer job and found me standing in wee, surrounded by shopping, my hands covered in egg white and shouting ‘ELLA COME BACK HERE NOW, I NEED TO TAKE YOUR PANTS OFF!’
‘So it’s going well then?’ he said, his face as straight as a fireman’s pole.
I looked at him, dismay washing over me, and he looked back at me, eyebrow’s raised. Suddenly, we both burst out laughing (I was actually crying, he just didn’t realise), and I felt undeniably relieved he was home. He took care of Ella and I was left to clear up the disastrous shopping mess, cook dinner and mop the floor.
Just to be clear, the socks went in the bin, I don’t like delivery guys and I am never going to the zoo again.