The last post of the expedition – the tell-all fit for the tabloids

In the last two months I have gone from staying in Italy until June, to staying unless I screw up again, and now to being back in England by the end of the week. Strangely enough, or not, I’m not too unhappy. Why? Normally I’m not one to bitch or whine in a public forum but I think now I can safely, and freely, say that the only two things about this au pairing experience over the last were the friend that I made, the teaching experience that I gained, and the extra money I (briefly) earned that allowed me to see so much of this spectacular country.

I had a hunch back in the autumn that I wouldn’t see out my scheduled time here, that it was just a case of who got tired of whom first. I remember back in September, when I asked about the possibility of taking a Friday off to spend a three day weekend with a new friend in Rome, and how it seemed like such a big deal, only to be told later down the line that if I wanted to travel Friday afternoons and Monday mornings to get a full two days in wherever I was going, I could. This was only one element of the laughable hypocracy that has peppered the last three months out here.

Let me enlighten you on some of the episodes I’ve witnessed in the intermitting period. A few months in my host mum was seeming like one of the more pushy people I’d yet met. At first I thought it was just helpfulness, but no. It was actually just being pushy. Sometimes blindly so.

I had tried to get in contact with a handful of au pairs that would be living locally to me, before I came out, to help with socialising and seeing the sights. I did find a couple, including a particularly reliable one who I went on three weekend trips with. When I was telling my host of these planned trips before I came out, she used her network of au pair host families to find an au pair doing the same trip I was, on the same weekend. It was the au pair I had discovered.

A few weeks in, she was still using this network to find other au pairs who lived locally, or that might have been interested in visiting my host town. This was great as I’d not found any. Not that I needed to, having been busy with the one I mentioned previously.

One evening, she suggested yet another au pair I contact, although this one had contacted me hours earlier.

The next afternoon, as we were driving home from running a couple of errands, she told me she thought I needed to get out and meet locals, and that it wasn’t good only meeting up with English speaking people, and how girls, as in the au pairs she’d been putting me in touch with, were unreliable.

Which is all well and good, until you remember she had put me in touch with a number of these ‘unreliable’ girls, and that the nearest central bar is a ten, maybe fifteen, minute drive away.

One Saturday evening she had prepared what appeared to be a ragu sauce for pasta, en masse, in a pressure cooker. The next morning it was still sitting on the stove so, presumably in an attempt to avoid the inevitable ‘why has nobody put this into jars?’ interrogation from her later in the day, her boyfriend dutifully puts half an hour aside to do just that.

If he thought he had avoided the wrath, he was sorely mistaken. She comes downstairs and into the kitchen, and the first thing she says is something along the lines of, “Where is the pan with the sauce in it?”

“I put it in jars” he replies.

“Did I ask you to?” she retorts. I didn’t catch the rest of the rant that followed as I was too busy trying to resist laughing. This is a woman who routinely complained about things that have not been done, and here she was complaining about something that had.

I only recount these specifically as I wrote them up for a previously anonymous blog I started up to vent when such ridiculous events occurred. If my memory was better I would have dozens of stories to tell.

And maybe that is the reason I’m not particularly down, dejected or otherwise deflated that this experience has been so unilaterally bad. I repeatedly remind myself that in a few months and years down the line, they will just be hilariously cringeworthy episodes in an otherwise enjoyable au pairing experience. It’s all about the ‘long-game’ mindset I’ve had since I started to falter in university, helping me nudge myself ever more closer to the perfect course through life.

Jack out.

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Risk.

I never considered myself much of a risk-taker. Three years ago I was content with sitting out my failing degree, and two years ago I was content with working a forty-hour week and still not being able to afford my own place. It wasn’t until a little over a year ago that I finally took my first risk. I did something that had no obvious immediate benefit, for no other reason than because I was finally sick of being content with the mundaneness of my existence.

More precisely a year ago, I was gearing up for the second risk I had taken – going to Rome for a few days, to meet a friend who may or may not have been too busy to meet me some or all of the time. It seems silly, in hindsight, calling it a risk. Nowadays I’d just call it a bit of travelling, but back then I had to resist drawing parallels between myself and Columbus, I felt epic. Of course I wasn’t, but the feeling became addictive. Doing something new, or unpredictable, with no thought for the consequences, so long as they wouldn’t be harmful. This was the first time I had stayed in a hostel, and it was the most enjoyable and social hostel experience I’ve experienced so far. I met some really interesting people and even found one or two to explore the city with.

I’ve been to many other cities since, and dare I say it I’m almost becoming accustomed to the novelty of it. I am still taking risks, in that I’m meeting up with new au pairs and seeing cities that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise, but now I’m starting to notice risk-taking seeping into other areas of my life. I risked being thought of as unusually chatty by a stranger on my way through London last week on my way home from the airport, and got rewarded with a very enjoyable evening with that same stranger on my return through London back to Italy a week later.

There is no telling where some of these risks will get me, but I am definitely becoming less adverse to taking them. My only concern now is that I don’t become labelled as cocky or arrogant, as I only really want to take chances for what they’re worth.

Jack out.

All’s well that ends well

Wow, what a week this has been. First off, Early Saturday morning, I got some pretty sad news from back home. It was only ever a question of when, not if, but the suddenness with which it happened was still a shock. I’m counting my blessings that I’m away from home, and that my somewhat fatalistic nature kicked in which helped me handle it well.

Saturday itself, I had been invited to go to Pisa with some friends, and decided to go ahead with that, hoping it would take my mind off things. It was very much the right thing to do. Travelling has always been about more to me than the new places you find. I’m also after the people that deceive you in how long you’ve known them for – weeks and months that seem like years or even lifetimes. The moments you realise you’ve found another one of these people, that seem to instinctively know what to do in your times of greatest need, but can also share your most ridiculous laughs in your times of greatest goofiness, are the defining moments of life. Saturday was one of those moments.

On Sunday morning, still buzzing from this day out, followed by an evening in a natural hotspring with the same group of friends, I awoke to find an email waiting for me. In contrast to the news I received but twenty-four hours earlier, this was a message that I had wondered if, not when, it would arrive. I’m never one to go into detail unnecessarily, but it was the message a part of me always hoped to receive and, being of the opinion that life is too short to hold grudges, I accepted the apology within.

Sunday, again, I hung out with the life-changing friend from the previous day, and by the late afternoon I was both emotionally and now physically spent. I haven’t really been able to catch back up on my sleep up until this point, but I’m just ploughing through the days until I can relax for my birthday trip to Bologna this weekend.

Jack out.

The fifteenth post of the expedition – the celebratory release for the landmark sales figure

If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine – it’s lethal.‘ – Paulo Coehlo

I’ve just passed the four month mark with this family, and to mark the occasion they told me they were going to pay for my plane ticket home. I’ve also just been to the lovely town of Siena, also here in Italy, to see a family that I could potentially continue my aspiring au pairing career with (if you can call it either aspiring or a career), and as such I’ve had to give more serious thought than ever to what I actually want to do after July.

Option one is to find a reason to stay in this area of the country, to revel in the social network I’ve spent the last four months stringing together, and to establish a firm base from which to develop my aspiring tutoring career (see caveat above) somewhere in Lombardy. But at the same time as I contemplate that, I see ghosts of myself in England, and the reluctance I had in leaving the country in the first place for the very same reasons – I had a steady income, a social network, and a base from which to develop my aspiring career as…

And there was the rub. I had a job, two jobs in fact, and while the curve of progression had initially been steep in both, it was very much beginning to level off. I was off the bottom rung, but it was of the sort of ladder your grandmother used for reaching the top cupboard shelf. More of a footstool in fact. I was a graduate, but in a field that I had grown tired of, evidenced by my results. There was no graduate program to apply to and wait for, no skillset I could put front and centre of my CV and watch the offers roll in. I had been waiting for the moment that, when asked, I knew what I wanted to do after I graduated, but a year after the event it had still not materialised. In it’s absence, I had developed a routine, fulfilling the basic needs, but giving an overall flatline of existence beyond that, which was when I realised, or more accurately was told, that even if I didn’t particularly want to do this, it was something I simply had to do.

Which brings me on to option two – in essence break the routine I’ve spent the last four months establishing, leave behind the fascinating, inspiring, accommodating people I’ve met and seek out a new adventure. Do what I did by coming to Italy in the first place. I suppose it would be short-sighted not to, especially looking back over the last fourteen ‘posts of the expedition’. I have been incredibly lucky to have this as my first au-pairing experience, and to have met so many welcoming people in this small Italian town, and have evidently undergone so much personal development in the few short months I’ve been here, but I’m well aware this is by no means ‘it’ as far as the world, or even Italy, goes. And heck, I can always come back. As I always say, it’s not goodbye, just see you soon.

Jack out.