Archive for September, 2010

Could you cope with an Au Pair?

September 24, 2010

I went for a business lunch at Jamie’s in Cardiff with one of the Superwomen yesterday.  I like the atmosphere at Jamie’s but have to say I think the food is going downhill. I had a steak which, had I been the host instead of the lunchee, I would have sent back – very poor quality meat and very touch.  Not a patch on the one I had at the Brasserie a few weeks back (not that I go out for lunch a lot you understand) even if the Brasserie does smell a bit damp these days.

Anyway I digress,  one of the (many) things we chatted about was pulling off the juggle between career, kids, family life and the odd tiny scraping of personal time.   We agreed from the off that no one manages it entirely successfully but one of the things which helps my lunch companion have a good stab at it is her au pair.  She has had about six or seven different au pairs over the years, mostly from Germany but also Spain and France.  For £70 a week  (guidelines for salaries for  au pairs in the UK are between £60 and £75) plus food and board her au pairs get the children ready for school including making breakfast, do all the washing and ironing for the entire family, clean their own room and those of the children, be there to look after the children when they get home from school and cook their tea plus two nights babysitting.  They don’t work weekends and are usually out the nights they aren’t babysitting, at language school or with friends.    Her au pairs get an en suite bedroom with a telly and broadband and must bring their own lap top with them.  They spend a lot of time on Skype apparently, talking to their friends and family, even propping up their lap tops to chat while they do the ironing.

This sounds like  a good solution to many a hiccup in a Superwoman’s life.   An extra pair of hands to help out, someone to get the kids ready so that you can attend early meetings, and two nights babysitting so that you can go to the pictures with your other half rather than deciding that the costs of a babysitter make it uneconomic to go to the cinema and you’d be better off renting a DVD instead.  But could you cope with having someone else living in your home?  My lunch companion had the considerable advantage of an en suite bedroom for the au pair set a little away from the rest of the family bedrooms.  This I think would be essential for most families considering an au pair.  However, my lunch companion has another tip for au pair management which is setting out very clearly from the outset and before the au pair comes to work for you what you expect from them, when and how.  She, being an accountant, has devised a spreadsheet setting out the tasks and the time lines.   Sadly, such efficiency is way beyond me.   I can’t do spreadsheets.  I can’t even manage my cleaning lady properly and still rush round the house the day before she comes tidying up so she doesn’t think I’m a slut and I cringe if I have to leave her a note suggesting she might, this week, just if she has time of course, mop the bathroom floor.  If we got an au pair I’m pretty certain I’d end up making her tea for her and not being able to go to sleep until I knew she was home from a night out safe and sound.    You’ve got to be a spreadsheet sort of person to cope with an au pair.

We made it through seven weeks of summer holidays

September 16, 2010

How was it for you?  If you have children, you had to struggle with childcare.  If you don’t have children you had to struggle with the extra work of covering for all those people struggling with childcare.  At least the latter category get to go on holiday now, when prices are much cheaper and  places aren’t  jam packed with kids.

You learn a lot about people and the human condition generally when you go on holiday.  We had a week in Cornwall this summer and then later on ten days in Majorca.  This is what I learned:


1.  Absolutely everybody wears wetsuits to go in the sea in Cornwall.  Fat, thin, young or old it makes no difference.  Your parents would have wetsuits if they went to Cornwall regularly.  If you don’t want to stand out in the crowd on a Cornish beach get yourself a wetsuit.  Luckily they are relatively flattering.  Honestly.

2.  It’s true, people really do pee in their wetsuits when they hit the sea water to give themselves a layer of warmth.  This works but is also the reason why you should never borrow someone else’s wetsuit.

3.  Even when people are wearing wetsuits you can just tell whether they are posh or not.  It’s the way they stand.  Or maybe it’s the haircuts.  But anyway you can tell.

4.  When I was a kid we used to go to the beach with a couple of towels, a bucket and spade and some sandwiches in a Tupperware box.  Nowadays, unless you want to experience serious beach equipment envy you need folding chairs, at least two windbreakers, a cool box and a little tent.

4.  You really don’t mind so much if it rains everyday in Cornwall when you know you are going to sunny Majorca in a couple of weeks.

5.  This is a lovely holiday cottage, spacious, well equipped, great value and with a lovely garden.  Ten minutes drive to Polzeath beach or to Padstow.    Book it quickly before we do.

6.  Body boarding is not as easy as it looks.


7.  You may tell yourself that getting up at 6am in the morning to bag a brace of sunloungers is beneath you and anyway reservation by towel shouldn’t be allowed and isn’t  fair but one day into your holiday and you’ll be setting the alarm clock just like everyone else.

8. Abba and Elvis Presley tribute acts are really a lot of fun once you’re on your second jug of Sangria.  Gosh, even the kids’ disco and Crazy Chloe the entertainment rep dressed up as Thomson the dog are fun by that point.

9.  Don’t delude yourself that once you get your children onto the tour bus and up the Tramuntana trail they’ll actually rather enjoy the views and the chance to see a different aspect to Majorca.  They won’t.  My daughter threw up on the bus in an act of revenge.

10.   Wouldn’t it be nice to live somewhere sunny?

11.  I mean really nice?