Life as an au pair in a different culture
By Julie Baker
My name is Alice Granger and I was born in Reading in April 1991. I am the eldest of four children and there is three years between each of us. I have an older brother and my two sisters are the youngest in our family. My father is an accountant in London and my mother works as a nurse in the local hospital. We are a solid middle class family with enough money to be comfortable but by no stretch of the imagination are we in any way rich. We were bought up to work hard, respect authority and do the best with whatever gifts we had been given.
We have all been through the local Reading schools which have provided us with excellent educations. I excelled at sport and represented Berkshire at both athletics and tennis. I have always been tall for my age and a love of sport has made me outgoing and confident. I have never been short of friends and latterly I have been lucky enough to have many male admirers. I have short blond hair, a toned athletic body and, I’m told, a pretty attractive face.
Academically, I was less able. I got good enough GCSEs to stay on to complete my A levels in 2009 and I did have aspirations to go to University. I ended up getting three ‘Cs’ but this was not good enough to get me into the two universities who had made offers to me. I could probably have got on some course through clearing but my parents advised me that I might be best to take a bit of time away from studying and gain some life experiences.
That summer of 2009 I decided that I would apply for a job abroad as an au pair. I looked at various countries to target and eventually decided that I would like to go to South Africa. This relatively new country seemed to be full of possibilities and I have always had a desire to see the wild life which is so abundant on that continent. I applied for a few posts but one contact through an agency stood out above all the others. It was from a family who lived in a town called Phalaborwa, which is on the edge of the Kruger National Park, who wanted an au pair to look after their two girls, Melanie aged 10 and Sophie aged 11.
The husband, Ande Van Der Watt, was, and still is, the manger of a colonial style hotel on the edge of town and with his job came a large house in the grounds of the hotel with a swimming pool and domestic servants. His wife, Jane, is English, probably about 10 years younger than Ande and they got married 20 years ago. Jane is Ande’s second wife. His first wife died in childbirth in 1991 and he was left to bring up his daughter Nadia alone. When they married, Nadia must have been about seven and subsequently she acquired two step sisters. So when I applied to work for them Ande would have been in his mid 40s, Jane in her mid 30s, Nadia and me both 18 and the two young girls, as I have said, were 10 and 11.
I was called to an interview at the Dorchester Hotel in London late in August 2009. The whole family had come across for a holiday and to visit Jane’s parents. Ande was friendly with the manager at the Dorchester who frequently went out to South Africa to stay in Ande’s hotel. The day I went, the whole family were on parade and we met in the main foyer. Jane talked extensively about the lifestyle they enjoyed and what I would be expected to do for the little girls. She also worked in the hotel full time but was keen for them to take part in out of school activities and for them to be as English as possible. For me, it was love at first sight! What a gorgeous family and by the end of our discussions I was desperate to be offered the job.
“There is one thing I should mention,” said Ande just before I left. “I realise this may come as a bit of a surprise, but we still do employ corporal punishment in our household.”
Yes, this did come as a bit of a shock given that this type of punishment for children had been phased out in the UK years ago.
“However,” he continued. “There is nothing to worry about. It is only used on rare occasions and it is me who decides on the punishments, when they are appropriate and it’s only me who delivers them.”
“That’s fine with me, Ande,” I replied. “I want to widen my experiences and if that is normal in South Africa then I haven’t got a problem with it.”
Nothing was confirmed on that first visit but a week later I got a letter offering me a position. The letter detailed what my duties would be, the time off that I would be allotted, the offer of a return airfare, the use of a shared car, a room of my own, all meals and finally enough pocket money to enable me to have a social life away from the hotel. I accepted without hesitation. Two weeks later, I was sat in my room at the Van Der Watt’s house feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. This was my first time away from home.
I quickly settled into the routine of the household. I got on brilliantly with Nadia who had recently been given the responsibility of looking after all of the chambermaids at the hotel. This was a big responsibility for someone so young but she got on with it with total professionalism. Like me, she was an attractive girl and shared a love of tennis. We quickly became soul mates and used as much of our free time together as we could. Sophie and Melanie were also delightful. We spent a lot of time doing activities together either at home, including some school work, or further afield seeing their friends or engaging in various sports.
Ande’s comment about corporal punishment was firmly lodged in my mind, though, and I wondered when evidence of the first instance would present itself. I didn’t have to wait long. I had been on a day off and returned to the house early evening. When I was on evening duty one of my tasks was to supervise the girls having a bath before they went to bed. That night I noticed that Melanie’s bottom was bright red. I asked her what had happened and she said that Daddy had given her the slipper for being rude to her Mummy. To be fair it didn’t look as though it had been very severe and I had been warned that this could happen, but it still made me feel a bit uneasy. Over the next few months either girl, or sometimes both girls, would have red bottoms and I would hear the details of what they had done wrong. They seemed to accept this as normal and something that occasionally happened to them.
Ande and Jane were always most complimentary about my work. Occasionally they would have something they wanted done differently but this was always sorted out after a discussion in an amicable way. However in January of 2010 there was a bit of a mix up on timings which did turn out to be my fault. I went off in the car late morning to play tennis at the local club, given that I thought I had an afternoon off, but when I got back that evening Jane was in the house not looking happy. I was supposed to have been taking the girls to dancing classes that afternoon. They had missed their classes and Jane had had to take the afternoon off work at short notice. I apologised profusely and told her that I would be more careful in future.
“It’s Ande who you should apologise to as he was annoyed that I wasn’t at work this afternoon,” Jane replied. “He wants to see you in his office when you have returned.”
I walked up the hill to the hotel still in my tennis dress, rehearsing my apology in my head. Ande was in his office when I knocked on his door. He had seen me pass by his window.
“Come in, Alice,” he called out in his normal friendly voice. “What have you got to tell me?” He said when I was stood in front of his desk.
I launched into my apology and he was smiling by the end.
“OK, I can hear what you are saying, Alice. A simple mix-up. However, your carelessness has cost us two dancing class fees and some disruption to the workings of the hotel.” He reached down to the bottom drawer of his desk and placed a large plimsoll in front of himself. “Alice, I’m going to have to slipper you for this, I’m afraid. Four strokes.”
My mouth hung open and I couldn’t properly take in what he was saying.
“No, no, Ande, I don’t think so. There must be some misunderstanding. You can’t slipper me. That’s simply not right. I’m sorry that I messed up this afternoon but there has to be another way of sorting this out.”
“I told you back in London that corporal punishment was an option in my household and you didn’t object then!”
His voice was rising and I could tell that he was losing his cool.
“But I didn’t consider myself to be part of your household, Ande. I thought you meant only the girls,” I stammered back.
“Where are you living at the moment, Alice?” He asked.
“In your house, Ande,” I replied.
“Precisely. You are therefore part of my household and therefore you should know that you are going to be punished in this way if I decide you deserve it. I’m not going to force you but this is the way it is done here and you have very evidently not done your job properly today. I must do something to teach you a lesson and hopefully to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Your choice. Accept your punishment or you will be on the next flight back to England.”
I could feel myself trembling. I was a long way from home and felt totally cornered. I suppose it would be over in a few minutes and if I was careful I would not have to go through this ordeal again.
“OK, Ande,” I said in a low voice. “Guess I’ve not no choice. What do you want me to do?”
“Thank you, Alice, and I’m sorry if this has come as a bit of a shock. I thought we were quite clear over this matter.” His voice had regained its normal calmness. “My way is that I apply the slipper over one layer of clothing. You can lift your dress up so that I can slipper you over your panties. Or you could remove your panties and rely on your dress to cover your bottom. Your dress is quite short so the second way is maybe not the best option. What do you think?”
I couldn’t believe that I was having to make a judgment on this! I was an adult aged 18 and I was faced with getting my bottom smacked just like Melanie and Sophie. I thought quickly. My knickers were standard white ones that I always wore for tennis. They were made of a satin like material and were not particularly thick. They were quite highly cut below my hips but they did just about cover my bottom. My dress was very short and quite tight fitting. The material was certainly more substantial but I could see the danger that it would rise up exposing most of my bottom when I inevitably had to bend over to receive the slippering. However the thought of the more substantial dress won the argument in my head.
“Can I try taking my knickers off and see if my dress is long enough?” I asked.
“Sure, but I don’t think this is going to work for you, Alice,” Ande replied.
I was prepared to give it a go, given the thickness of my dress compared to my comparatively skimpy tennis underwear. I reached under my dress and slipped my panties down so that they were around my ankles. I then pulled the hem of my dress down as much as possible before doing a trial bend at the waist to see how much the dress rode up over my thighs and bottom. I could immediately sense this wasn’t giving a good outcome as I could feel the lower half of my bottom becoming exposed with cooler air playing over my skin. Ande confirmed what I feared.
“I can see most of your bottom, Alice, and I’d almost be slippering your lower back if we went ahead like this. It’s better for you to take the slippering lower down where you have a bit more flesh to work with.”
This process seemed to be going on for far too long and I suddenly wanted to get on with it.
“I think I’ll replace my underwear and lift my dress up then, if that’s OK with you?”
“Yes, fine with me,” he replied and I soon had my underwear pulled up and back in place.
Ande continued to speak. “Lift your dress right up, Alice, and then bend over so that you are grabbing your ankles.”
With this, he took up the plimsoll in his right hand. I turned so that my back was towards him and lifted up my dress.
“Please go easy on me,” I said just before I went down. “My panties are thin and I’ve never been spanked before.”
“Don’t worry, Alice, you’ll survive!” He replied. “I”m well used to punishing young girl’s bottoms. I know what I’m doing.”
With my dress held up I then tried to stretch my knickers over as much of my bottom as I could manage. When I was low enough to grab my ankles I could feel the material was being pulled towards the centre of my bottom and Ande would be seeing plenty of naked flesh! I felt the plimsoll resting on the seat of my panties. The first blow was a considerable shock. My bottom is quite small without much padding and the lack of any decent protection meant that it got the full effect of the impact. The pain exploded into my body but I managed to keep still and quiet. The second one was worse and my hands shot round to try to rub away the pain and also in an attempt to protect my bottom from further blows. I could feel the first tears trickling down my cheeks.
“Half way, Alice,” said Ande. “Normally, I add on extra strokes if someone’s hands attempt to interrupt the punishment. Given you weren’t to know that, I’ll let you off if you return to your correct position now.”
I did this without replying. I certainly didn’t want extras! The third stroke caused me to start sobbing and the final stroke was so painful that I let out a loud bellow. Goodness knows what any staff or guests would have thought had they been passing by at that moment.
I was totally in pieces. I was conscious of Ande putting the plimsoll back in his drawer and him telling me that I was free to go. I left his office without saying a word, still massaging my sore bottom beneath my tennis dress. By the time I had got back to the house, Jane had gone up to the hotel for her evening shift. Nadia hadn’t been around at all that day so the only occupants in the house were Melanie and Sophie. I got them off to bed without confiding where I had been or what had happened to me, and by 9.00 pm I was tucked up in bed myself with my mind still racing over the day’s events.
I was too ashamed to say anything to anybody about my punishment. I assume Jane must have known what was going to happen to me but I was fairly confident that Nadia and the little girls had no idea that I had been slippered. Ande was fine with me thereafter, despite that day’s events. He never mentioned what had happened and treated me totally as normal. My bottom was red for a couple of days and it took almost a week for the bruising to totally disappear.
A couple of months later, we were approaching autumn when the temperatures drop slightly and the rainy season comes to an end. April to September are the best months for weather in this part of South Africa. Everyone’s mood was lifting and the hotel was gearing up for the busiest part of the year. Nadia, though, was going through a bit of a bad patch. She had broken up with her boyfriend and I had noticed she wasn’t looking her normal radiant self. I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong with her, and despite our closeness she wasn’t prepared to open up to me. I knew something was going on, though. Then one evening I could hear her crying in her room which was next door to mine. I knocked and she called me in. She was lying face down on her bed in her nightie. I asked her what was wrong.
“Lift my nightie and you will see,” she replied.
I was in for a considerable shock. Across her neat little bottom were six livid cane marks. I had no previous experience of what they might look like but there was no mistaking how she had got them, particularly given my previous experience.
“God, what a mess, Nadia! What did you do to get caned like that?”
She told me. She had been messing about with some mild recreational drugs to get her over the trauma of splitting with her boyfriend. One of her friend’s parents had caught her and reported her to her father. The caning was the result. I then confided in her about the slippering I had received a couple of months before.
“You might have warned me!” I said to her, half joking.
She looked a bit puzzled.
“But you were warned, Alice. I was there at the meeting in London when Dad told you about corporal punishment in our household.”
It was clear there was a cultural gap here. To her, this had always been a normal way to be treated, whereas I had immediately assumed that because I was English I would not be considered to be part of Ande’s household for the purposes of punishments. We chatted on for a bit and eventually Nadia regained her equilibrium and promised me and herself that she would not be getting involved in drugs again. As I left her room, I couldn’t help thinking that the two of us were going to be a good advert for corporal punishment. I was being super careful to check my calendar and maybe Nadia had just been cured of her drug habit!
I had only ever planned to stay with the Van Der Watts for a year and I had my flights booked to return to England at the start of September 2010. The dry season had been brilliant for me, but the weather was starting to turn wetter in those final weeks in Phalaborwa. I had taken up long distance running and played lots of tennis during the previous months, and I was genuinely sad at having to return home. Nadia had organised a farewell party at the tennis club on my last Saturday in South Africa for all of the people who had got to know me during that year. The rest of the Van Der Watt family had arranged a family dinner at the hotel the previous weekend so they were not present at the party.
We had such a good time with good food, dancing and the chance for a final chat with my South African friends. I’m not much of a drinker so I had agreed to drive Nadia and myself on the short journey into Phalaborwa and to drive us back at the end of the evening. I had only had a couple of glasses of wine all evening and therefore felt perfectly able to drive us home. When we left the club at about 11.00 pm it was absolutely pouring with rain. I must have been driving too fast for the conditions. About two kilometres before the turn into the hotel there is a sharp left hand bend which is notorious for catching unwary drivers out. Ande was always warning me about it but that evening the car slid and we ended up in the ditch. I was mortified. The car looked quite badly damaged and we had to get a lift back to the house with another passing motorist.
Jane was still up when we got in. Nadia and I were both soaked through and had to explain what had happened. Jane phoned up to the hotel and told Ande about the situation. He said he would phone the police to let them know about the accident and arrange to recover the car in the morning. He wanted to know that Nadia and myself were unharmed and then asked Jane to send me up to see him in his office. My heart sank. It looked pretty obvious what was going to happen. I think Jane and Nadia sensed it too, judging by their sympathetic looks.
I walked up the hotel in the steady rain. My short blond hair was plastered to my head, my thin blouse had gone ‘see through’ so that my bra was clearly visible, and my tight jeans were stuck to my legs. When I was stood in front of Ande’s desk I must have looked like the original drowned rat!
He was not happy. I’m not sure whether it was the damaged car, or the fact that I had put his precious eldest daughter in danger, or even the emotions surrounding my departure, but I could see he was very upset. He told me in no uncertain terms about how disappointed he was in me and that this episode was a sad way to conclude what had otherwise been a very successful year.
“You are going to have to be punished again, Alice,” he said in his clipped Afrikaans accent. “This time is going to be worse for you though. You are going to get six strokes of my cane and you will have nothing on your bottom to protect you from the cane or to preserve your modesty. Strip from the waist down please.”
I felt total humiliation but I was firmly in the wrong and I had learnt the last time I was bent over in his office that this was how things were done in his household and there was no point in resisting. I knew from Nadia’s experience that the cane was an option but I hadn’t anticipated Ande asking me to be partially naked to receive it.
I stood and faced him. I took off my trainers and socks and placed them beside the chair in front of his desk. I then unfastened my jeans and lowered the zip. With a bit of a struggle I managed to peel them off my legs before folding them up and putting them on the seat of the chair. I was wearing a thong that night so that the lines from my panties would not be visible through my jeans, but Ande can’t have known this at that stage. I looked up at him in that moment and he held my eye contact. I kept looking at him as I lowered my underwear and stepped out of them. I placed the thong on top of my jeans.
I was still holding his gaze. “Where do you want me to go?” I asked.
The top of his desk was clear.
“Come round to this end of the desk, Alice, and bend over so that your upper body is resting on the surface of my desk, your legs are together, your hips are resting on the edge of the desk and your arms are spread to the side so that your hands can grip the desk edges. This time I will not tolerate any movement from you. If you change position or your hands leave the desk edges I will be adding on extra stokes. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied.
I got myself onto the desk and felt totally vulnerable. Ande could see my naked bottom and presumably my private parts if he cared to look. My bare bottom was presented perfectly for a caning and there was nothing in the world that would protect me from what was about to happen. As I lay there, I saw Ande go to his side cupboard and from the top shelf he bought down a thin looking cane which had a crook handle and was about a meter in length. I saw him do a couple of practice strokes which made the air crackle and hiss. Next, I felt the cane tapping on my bare skin.
“Are you ready, Alice? Six strokes of the cane for you.”
“Yes, Sir,” I replied.
The cane was a massive step up from the slipper. It bit into your skin and left a fiery line of pain every time it landed. The first stroke was enough to reduce me to tears and by the third I was an absolute wreck. I consciously had to tell myself to stay in position because I couldn’t bear the thought of taking any more of this than I had to. By the second half of the punishment I was crying out with the pain, not caring who might be hearing the commotion. By the fifth stoke I was begging Ande to stop but the cane strokes just kept on coming. Predictably the sixth and last one was the worst and afterwards I lay motionless on the desk surface apart from by heaving sobs and deep breaths.
Ande returned the cane to his cupboard and stood behind me. I was past caring that my naked and chastised bottom was in full view. It must have taken me a couple of minutes to recover sufficiently to stand up. When I did, I turned to face Ande.
“Are you OK, Alice?” He asked in his normal soft voice.
“Yes, I suppose so,” I replied. “I’m sorry about this evening, Ande,” I added.
“It’s dealt with, Alice.”
With this, he took me in his arms and held me tight. I’m convinced that in that moment he felt genuine affection for me.
Soon I was back down at the house. Jane had gone to bed but Nadia was waiting up for me.
“Did you get the cane, Alice?” Was her first question.
“Yes, six strokes, same as yours,” I replied. “You might have warned me about the need for a bare bottom though!”
She laughed. “Wouldn’t have helped you, even if I had warned you!”
We went upstairs to my room where this time it was Nadia inspecting my six cane marks. She rubbed some cream into them and two days later I was sat uncomfortably on the long haul flight back to Heathrow. The whole Van Der Watt family had turned out at the local airport to see me onto the connecting flight back to Cape Town and all six of us, including Ande, were in tears at the moment of parting. What a great learning experience that year in Phalaborwa was on so many different levels and, looking back, I would change nothing.
Thinking about it, not even those two thrashings from Ande!
© Julie Baker 2017