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The Big Apple

March 1, 2010

Way back in July 1988, I travelled to the US to work as an Au Pair.

OMG – I had just landed at JFK airport.   Even the name was exciting!  Although I was going to be working for a family in Virginia just outside Washington DC, all of the au pairs who had rendez-vous’ed at Gatwick and then been flown en masse across the pond were taken to a hotel for three nights in hot and steamy Manhattan.

The purpose of our three day sojourn in the most exciting city on earth was to be trained in the art of child and baby management.  (Three days?)  After half a morning’s tuition of how to play games like ‘peek-a-boo’ with baby and a blanket, my newly-acquired-on-the-plane Au Pair Friend (APF) and I decided that we knew it all already and if we didn’t we could wing it, so skived off Babycare Class and headed out into the land of yellow cabs, steaming manhole covers and the Empire State Building.

Actually we headed straight for Bloomingdales, (it was something we had heard of) and immediately through the revolving door Au Pair Friend was persuaded into the Clinique chair at the cosmetics counter and given a real 80’s makeover, with bright blue eyeshadow and big lips and eyelashes.  She looked like Aunt Sally from Worzel Gummidge by the time they had finished with her.  I cracked up laughing every time I looked at her and the reaction she got when walking back in just before the end of ‘How to make mush for baby’s lunch’  was really something to see.

Browsing the cosmetics counter whilst waiting for APF, I did actually buy a deep petrol-blue eyeshadow that I still have and still occasionally use!!  Hmmm, that would definitely fail the latest UK craze of going through women’s makeup bags and telling them how far past its sell by date everything is.  I doubt even Clinique makeup has a 22 year shelf life.  Mind you, worse than that is an Estee Lauder blusher bought in all innocence when I was or 16 or so.  I had used my mum’s as an eyeshadow and decided I liked the pink-eye effect so headed out into town to purchase my own.  I had never even heard of Estee Lauder at that stage, so didn’t realise the extortionate price I would be charged once I reached the cash desk.  It cost about £5 and I was too embarrassed and shocked to put it back and wouldn’t use it at first (too scared) and then too worried I’d use it all up.  I still have that blusher, although the hinges on the lid have broken.  Not bad though for 29 year old hinges!!!  I think that blusher and eyeshadow will probably outlive me.

Return travel to baby classes in a yellow cab was deemed a must, although not before a large salty pretzel had been consumed from the street vendor followed by the largest ice creams in the most amazing array of colours and flavours topped with the most amazing warm caramel sauce.  The pretzel vendor actually tried to overcharge us, taking us for the gullible tourists that we were but we were onto him and felt incredibly smug not to have been caught out. The pretzels were good.  Mind you, we could have licked the pavement sidewalk and thought it tasted good, we were so smitten.

That first night in New York’s Roosevelt Hotel was an eyeopener.  Sorting ourselves into ‘sleeping groups’  in the very impressive lobby area, we really thought we had arrived.  Once we got up to our box room on the eleventy hundredth floor however, our excitement diminished only slightly and it didn’t fade that much more during the sweltering night when we realised that the air conditioning was not working in our room, or perhaps installation didn’t reach that high up in the hotel.  Being both English and naïve, I opened the window to let some cool night air in.  Of course, there was none; only hot, sticky ribbons of suffocating air mixed with pollution, blaring horns (The City That Never Sleeps) and wisps of excitement.

In the morning we were all whisked off to a greasy diner (not unlike the one in Frankie and Johnnie, if memory serves, although ours was a lot dingier with nasty brown decor) and fed something called hash browns with bacon and syrup all on the same plate!!

Memories of the rest of that first visit to the Big Apple drift in and out of my hazy, ageing head. Well, we are talking 21 years ago.  Just think, the two children who were the lucky recipients of my childcare skills are now 23 and 20.  The younger one only entered this world one week after my arrival at her family home.  Not only that but a third one came along a year or so after my departure.

It transpired that although APF was in Maryland (in a place called Chevy Chase – named after the actor, of course…), a totally separate state to Virginia where I was, we were both a 20 minute drive from each other and downtown DC.   We spent a lot of our time that year discovering the US together, even taking trips to California, New England, Massachusetts and, of course, back to New York for New Year’s Eve to see the ball drop – and I don’t think I’d be ruining anything for anyone by mentioning that technically the ball is lowered (on a rope) not dropped.

That was the start of an amazing year that left me breathless.  I had the best time and the most fun and met such an array of totally brilliant people. The most unexpected things would happen any old time, like the day I went down to some anonymous metro station and bumped into Muhammad Ali on the platform.  He had about 6 security monkeys around him and would shakily sign a religious pamphlet and hand it to you if you asked for his  autograph. And yes, I did.

Looking back, it seems as though the rate at which time passes was ratched up a notch or two and three or four years were compressed down into one.  It’s true what they say about time flying…

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 16, 2010 12:08 am

    I can’t BELIEVE I didn’t get a mention in this post, considering you met MOI, during that fabulous stretch of your career in Virginia. I’m pretty sure I saw some of that eyeshadow on you at some point…

    • purplejake permalink*
      March 16, 2010 9:39 pm

      Don’t worry – this is just the beginning. There’s more to come, far more, mwa ha ha….. Do you really think I could squeeze you into a throwaway line, mid post???? Not a hope, dear Mothership!

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