I had just ended my relationship and once again, like they all do, the aftermath relationship drama started. The stalking, standing outside my work, along with all the other general crap you have to put up with when a relationship ends.
I was 24, newly single, was in a well paid job and working in a city I loved but someone in my head was telling me that this was not enough. I needed more. I needed to leave but where do I go?
One day, sat doing nothing in the office and completely bored of typing medical negligence letters; there it was waving at me from an advert in a travel magazine. “Au Pairs in America wanted.”
There were no online application forms just a number to call in London and the application form arrived, in the post, two days later.
To be honest, I had no clue what an Au Pair even was until I read the form. ‘Looking after and caring for children in America.’ My worst nightmare but the fact it said ‘in America,’ sold it.
All they wanted was proven experience of at least two nannying jobs in the UK with references and photographs. Having no interest in children and no experience with them; this wouldn’t put me off. All I decided I needed was two people with children who were prepared to say I had been a nanny for them. Within an hour I had the two. Within the week I had the photographs, application form, filled in and sent by first class post back down to London.
The Christmas and New Year over with I had still no news from my application until one day on the home phone (no mobiles in them days) Christine called me from the Au Pair in America Agency asking me to come for an interview at her house. Can you imagine nowadays going to a stranger’s house for an interview? Wasn’t even thought of back then. I met Christine at her house in Leeds, told her everything she wanted to hear and she said there and then I’d been accepted onto the programme. No DBS checks, no questions asked. I’d been accepted. By the following day, my advert had been put out to America and all I had to do was wait for the phone calls.
The first call I got was from a lady called Barb who lived in a small town near Kansas. I would be looking after their one daughter, on a farm, in the middle of nowhere. The mother told me all about the farm, my daily duties and the place they lived in. A small town with no bars and no nightlife. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is one thing I’m not. Plus, I’d just watched ‘Wrong Turn’ horror movie. Faffing about on combine harvesters running away from hillbillies. ‘No, sorry Barb.’
The second call I received changed my whole life. Mona. She was a Major in the USA Army, married to Sidney also a high-ranking Sergeant in the USA army and they had two children aged four and seven. They lived on an army base in a state called New Jersey. They were church-going, law-abiding citizens. To be fair, the ‘living on an army base' could’ve turned me (all those USA soldiers) but no, it was when she said those life changing words when I asked her where New Jersey was.
“It’s 40 minutes by boat or train to New York City.”
February 1995 – Manchester Airport to JFK
Thirty girls from all over Europe checking into fly, first time alone, to New York City for a three-day Orientation, staying in a hotel on Broadway before being flown off all over the USA to their chosen Au Pair destinations to meet their new families for the year.
On the BA flight I was sat on a four-seater middle row situation with a girl from Sweden, a girl from Manchester and a girl from Finland; all four of us sharing our cigarettes (yes you could smoke on airplanes back then), ordering beers and excited for our new adventures to come in the USA.
The First Time
I’m going to be truthful. I honestly thought on arrival in JFK I’d walk out the airport and see the Statue of Liberty in full view, hand in air (possibly greeting me), Twin Towers at least in viewing distance and the Empire State with King Kong swinging about at the top of it.
All I saw on walking out of JFK for the first time in my life was complete and utter chaos. Yellow cabs randomly parked anywhere, buses waiting for passengers blocking the yellow cabs and the beeping of horns and hand gestures instead of talking was indescribable.
I can honestly say I do not know how our Au Pair Greeter manged to get all 30 of us first time European nannies all on the same bus.
The one thing, as a first timer that I did not know was that New York is made up of five boroughs that create the Legend that is New York City. The Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and of course Manhattan. I thought back then that New York City was the capital of America. So little knowledge I had to learn.
JFK is in Queens and Queens is a good hour, depending on traffic, before you even get to Manhattan. On this occasion we had everything laid out for us but in future chapters there are cheap and easier means for a first timer to get into Manhattan.
So back to the first time. I am on the bus, smoking again, window seat of course and absolutely nothing to see except bumper to bumper six lane traffic on the highway heading to the city. I’ll be honest I’m feeling disappointed at this point and this continued until the traffic started slowing down and there became fleeting glimpses of tall, magnificent buildings, glistening in the sunlight across the Hudson River.
Then suddenly, like a mirage, as we approached the Manhattan Bridge...
There it was.
My first view, through the mist across the Manhattan Bridge was the Twin Towers and I literally lost my breath and cried.