My Career In PR

In November 1981 I took a job as PR Assistant with a well-known Swiss firm. This was an executive position, albeit on the lower rungs. The man I replaced left to go into journalism; he probably knew already what I was about to find out and got out while the going was good. They obviously thought that they could save money by employing a woman, presumably at a lower salary, and by not giving me my own secretary: I shared my boss’s PA. He was a highly intelligent man with a wry sense of humour, good at delegating, and the atmosphere in the department was very congenial.

It appeared to be a cushy number: although I had to be there early (by 8 am), I dozed on the hour-long journey into Zurich, and once in my very smart office (supplied with potted plants and artwork of my choice when I moved in) I sat at my desk with an invigorating cup of coffee and the quality newspapers of the day. A gentle awakening that suited my metabolism very well.

The point of the newspapers was to allow me to find any reference to the company, and to keep an eye on its public image, as well as following its performance on the stock exchange. This turned into a pleasant perusal of whatever items caught my attention when I realized after two days that somebody else was doing this arduous task a couple of hours prior to my arrival. Around 9 am I would take delivery from this anonymous angel of a packet full of cuttings which it was then my job to paste neatly onto sheets of A4 paper, photocopy several times, collate and distribute to the Big Bosses on the floor above my office. Privately, I thought of this as making scrapbooks, and marvelled at the salary I was being paid for such menial work. I’m sure the scrapbooks ended up in the bin by midday.

In spite of the unequal pay scales, the company was quite generous to me, and since computers were just beginning to replace typewriters at the time, I was sent off to do a course in word-processing at the end of my first week, with the promise of my own dedicated computer to follow as a replacement for my golf-ball typewriter. Never having been a good typist (pick-and-peck is still my style) I was overjoyed at this: goodbye Tippex!

The second week I was given a few documents to translate, and then sent off to do a tour of a recycling plant and to visit some of the actual manufacturing sites so that I could have an idea of what the company was all about. I was also allowed to write a short article and participate in leading a staff training exercise at a posh hotel just outside Zurich. Back in my office the third week, I was entrusted with organising a trilingual press conference. This was exactly my cup of tea, being familiar with this kind of thing from my previous job.

How lovely to have a word-processor to prepare the documentation, and be able to put into practice all the little tricks and gimmicks I had just learnt! The printer was a state-of-the-art monster, with a daisy-wheel (anyone remember those?) and encased in a thick felt cover to reduce the decibels when it was operating. I was also actively engaged in the conference itself, another enjoyable aspect of my job, as I liked meeting and interacting with people.

However, the main news item sprung on the journalists was that owing to a sudden slump, 400 jobs were going to be cut. I learnt the term “natural wastage” and felt sorry for the other employees who would be affected by redundancy. Following the two-day absence for the press conference in my fourth week, I returned to find the offices very tastefully adorned for Advent, with a huge decorated tree in the main foyer and Christmas music playing softly in the background. In contrast, the mood was not so bright. Each department had its “Gruppenstab” or staff group, and numbers were being reduced. Heads of department were told how many employees they were allowed to retain, and it was up to them to decide which jobs to cut. The PR staff was to be halved. My position vanished.

“We don’t want to lose you,” I was reassured. “We’ll find you another job at the same salary.” This was Switzerland, remember? And 1981. Swiss women had been granted the vote just ten years earlier, and it was to be another ten before the last canton accepted women’s suffrage. It transpired that in the whole of this vast company, I was the only woman on the executive scale! My salary at the bottom of that scale was equivalent to the top of the secretarial scale, covering all the other women employees, so I was offered the job of PA to the Vice-President of Technology with effect from January 1982.

What was I to do during December? Well, as one of the chosen few to have done a word-processing course, I was deemed to be an expert. Nobody called my bluff. The company was intending to provide all its secretaries with word-processors instead of typewriters, so I was made responsible for testing all the various brands and word-processing programs available at the time, and recommending whichever I thought best. I was removed to a new office, and supplied with various brands of computer and programs. They were actually all much of a muchness and still in the teething stage, but in the end I made my decision and recommended IBM.

I had a ten-day break over Christmas and New Year, and then returned in January to take up my post with the VP Techno. This was a self-important little man, who held a PhD and visited an obscure American university once a year to deliver an hour-long lecture. On this basis, he insisted on being addressed as “Herr Professor”. I discovered that in the previous twelve months, he had had six different PA’s. I disliked him on sight.

On my first day as his PA, he fussed about the number of sugars and quantity of milk I was to put in his coffee (he couldn’t do that himself, I even had to stir it for him). I then spent the rest of the day going through his Christmas cards and sending New Year greetings to anyone he had overlooked, as well as connecting him by phone to those he considered important anywhere in the world. This networking was all in anticipation of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which he was due to attend in February. The next week, in addition to his private correspondence, I was also tasked with writing letters of application in English and French for his recently-graduated daughter, and translating her CV. Nothing at all to do with company business. He also wore elevator shoes.

Truly the most difficult thing for me was getting into a secretarial mindset: it struck me forcibly that secretaries and PA’s who had been with the same boss for a long time had a relationship very much like a marriage. They were faithful, loyal, submissive and utterly devoted, prepared to wipe the man’s nose if necessary. My puffed-up superior’s feet of clay were all too obvious to me, and I had scant respect for him. Moreover, instead of a word-processor, I once again had a fancy typewriter that was giving me headaches. On the train going home in the evening, I could feel a hard ball of rage and frustration in my solar plexus. I was still in my three-month probationary period, so after two weeks I gave in my notice and looked for another job.

All the same, I am very grateful to that company for all the benefits accrued in those three short months: not only the very steep learning curve as I discovered my limitations, but also the computer skills I gained, and the enjoyment the PR job gave me. I think that could have been the ideal job for me if it had lasted. Best of all, I got ten days’ vacation in the middle of it and for some reason they doubled the amount of money in my works pension fund! An experience I would not have wanted to miss. I also learnt to understand Swiss German!

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Praying For A MONSTROUS CROW

Tweedledum and Tweedledee
Agreed to have a battle
For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
Had spoilt his nice new rattle.

Just then flew down a monstrous crow
As black as a tar-barrel
That frightened both our heroes so
They quite forgot their quarrel.

Lewis Carroll

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Two ugly fat men, noted for their silly hairdos and megalomaniac personalities, revel in world attention as they compete in throwing their toys out of their prams.

Of course, once nuclear conflict actually starts, there won’t be any admiring audience left. But that doesn’t matter to a megalomaniac, who craves attention NOW and damn the consequences.

Where’s that tar-barrel-sized crow got to?

And a ? in a Pear Tree

IMG_1391.JPGYou can tell, even after 44 years in God’s most beautiful country, that I’m still an ex-pat Brit by the fact that I sit outside with a cup of hot tea (with milk of course) at four o’clock on an afternoon when the thermometer has climbed to over 32°C. My American friends like glasses filled with ice cubes and a few dribbles of Coke or ice tea, the Swiss ones are enjoying a chilled beer or Most (cider or apple juice) but me, no – a cuppa cools me down just as well.

And so here I am on my little patio with the mountains watching over me, enjoying the sunshine, the peace and the quiet, drifting away on the stream of consciousness, as random thoughts and ideas come bobbing about like flotsam and jetsam.

Yes, it’s officially forty-four years since I came to live in the Confederatio Helvetica. And I am still not a Swiss citizen. That’s a long story, and I’ll leave it for another post when my brain isn’t melting like ice cream in a sauna. This is not a time for deep thoughts, though they occasionally try to intrude, nor for any Weltschmerz as I try to avoid reflecting on what’s happening outside my own little bubble.

No, today I’ll relax here and gaze at the old pear tree in the garden opposite, peaceful and proud. It’s probably as old as I am or more. It was here before the houses were built, when this little neighbourhood was still a field (or possibly an orchard) called “Sunnefeld” which is dialect for – oh, you guessed! – sunny field.

The owner of that tree has no idea what variety the pears are, but he does know they are good and, kind man that he is, he’s willing to share them with the neighbours. He handed me a good half dozen over the hedge one day last week. He was picking them off with a net on a long-handled pole, which enabled him to reach at least halfway up the tree, and also across the road and over my hedge to me. Very handy. At his age he probably wouldn’t get far if he tried to climb the tree.

This morning as I was sitting outside drinking my coffee I heard a sort of Morse code tapping and there was the woodpecker head-banging away on a high branch. How do woodpeckers escape brain-damage, when they hammer away so hard? Or do they eventually die of concussion? I googled this, and found an answer here.  Fascinating stuff.

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Woody was followed by some crows, parents with juveniles making a racket over their pear-eating lesson, which then made way for a raven, whose acrobatic attempts to cling to a thin twig while pecking at a ripe pear just above his head were worthy of the circus. A raven is a big bird and it was a very weak perch. Each thrust of the beak made him wobble on his twig, and I was sure he was going to have to let go and flap like a humming bird while attacking the fruit. But no, he kept his balance and finally dislodged the pear so he could finish his breakfast on the ground.

There was also a dainty little squirrel that scrambled lithely up and down the tree, though it showed no interest in the pears. Our squirrels are small, neither red nor grey as in the UK but a very dark brown, almost black, and sometimes stray into our gardens from the park nearby.

And silently observing all this along with me is the pear-tree owner’s incredibly handsome cat, who has more sense than to venture onto trees – she seems to know about the pitfalls of attempting the descent and would never expose herself to ridicule – but nevertheless keeps close watch on potential prey.

Aisha

With so much entertainment, I really don’t need to move from my patio, which suits me as long as the temperatures remain in the thirties. Maybe one day, I’ll actually see a partridge in that pear tree. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit here and enjoy my tea.

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These Boots Were Made For Walking

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… And that’s just what they did, many kilometres of tramping up and down and round and round these mountainsides. I don’t even remember exactly how old they are, but I think the colour combination of purple and green was probably popular for Alpine hiking gear in the eighties or nineties, so they have lasted well.

I reported just over a year ago, on my last trip on the Hohen Kasten, that I thought this would be my last attempt at a hike. I’m still not much fitter than I was then, but this week, together with a couple of old friends, I took the cable car and ski lift to around 2200 m altitude and managed to walk a panoramic trail of 4 or 5 kilometres on another mountain. The views were fantastic, and it was well worth the effort.

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I confess that I let them take the high road (over the peak) while I took the low road (more or less level) but when first one boot sole came loose, then the other, and finally both fell off, I have to admit to feeling relieved that I wasn’t having to scramble down a steep stony path. And I was also thankful that my boots had a layer of some kind of material between the dear departed commando sole and the cushioned insole, so that the last kilometre back to the ski-lift was not quite as painful as it could have been. I now understand what it means to be down on one’s uppers.

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The heifers grazing on the high pastures always look rather surprised when humans suddenly appear, and will occasionally walk along with you which is a little unnerving: are they going to charge? Can I run away fast enough with my battered boots?

It was a giggly group of grannies who hopped off the ski-lift at the halfway point and rolled up at the mountain inn, gasping for a glass of cold refreshing cider. My unsympathetic friends found my disaster a great cause of merriment, and accused me of deliberately sabotaging my boots as an excuse to avoid having to walk. Really! And I was feeling so proud of my achievement, even if it did take me nearly 2 hours to complete a one-and-a-half-hour hike.

Departed soles.pngI disposed of my poor dilapidated boots when we finally disembarked from the cable car and returned home.

And how pleased we were later on, as we realized that we had picked the coolest day for our outing: the rest of the week was far too hot for hiking and we were lucky enough to have a swimming pool as well as the lake on the doorstep.

I’m quite happy to admire the mountains as a backdrop nowadays, without feeling the need to conquer them.

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Not My President

You can accuse me of mixing my metaphors and wallowing in clichés, but there surely can’t be many decent, intelligent Americans still stroking the synthetic fleece of the tweeting creature and claiming it really is a sheep, can there? I quote the old saying that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, chances are it’s a duck. But this Donald is no spluttering squawking harmless toon. Ducks don’t disguise themselves as sheep, either.

In fact, this wolf in sheep’s clothing was hardly disguised at all because he is doing more or less all he said he was going to do, but too many people were too busy loathing Hillary to listen and take such drivel seriously. Except that it isn’t drivel and it is serious. And even those who hoped he would surround himself with experienced, wise, intelligent advisers and staff have to admit that this has hardly been the case.

I’m glad he isn’t my president.

Unfortunately, his words and actions are having repercussions in the rest of the world and so impinge on my life, too.

I wish him no personal harm, but for everyone’s sake, can’t you Americans DO SOMETHING to remove him, render him impotent? Maybe just lock him up in Mar el Lago or Trump Tower with a toy phone so he can continue tweeting without being heard. Please, before Armageddon?

 

Floating Fairy Flies Again!

Twenty kilometres as the crow flies in just over one hour, and maximum altitude 1300 m above sea level. Air temperature around 25°C. That’s for those who need figures first.

No statistics can convey the deep peace and joy that comes with a ride in a hot-air balloon. Yes, there are those loud roaring bursts of flame now and then, but tranquillity is the watchword, as you dreamily drift over the landscape in your own little bubble.

IMG_1381This was among my birthday presents last year, as my family decided I may not be capable of struggling into the basket when I get to 80, so my round birthday gift came (symbolically) 5 years early. There was too much toing and froing last year for me to be able to arrange my trip, which has to be at pretty short notice since it all depends on weather conditions being as close as possible to ideal.

The call came last Tuesday: “Can you be at Lommis airfield for 5 am on Saturday?” Of course I can. Then, after I put the phone down, common sense kicked in. Lommis is about 120 km from where I live. I no longer have a car, and trains don’t run at that time of day. Darling Daughter and Son-in-Law live close enough to Lommis, but … they were in Lucerne.

Number One Granddaughter flew to the rescue: “You can stay overnight with us.” The Balloon Pilot offered to pick me up from Granddaughter’s home, but the great-grandchildren decided they would like to come and see Granny float off into the blue so Granddaughter kindly offered to drive me the ten-minute distance to the airfield. In the event, the great-grandkids were securely in the Land of Nod at 4.30 am on Saturday, so it was only my Granddaughter and I who left just before sunrise.

19748410_10154581431286811_6821676555048024159_nHow quickly and efficiently the set-up and take-off all went. Excellent teamwork by the pilot and her assistant, aided by four passengers: 3 senior citizens and a delightful young man who must have wondered if he’d accidentally strayed into a Pensioners’ Outing. It turned out he was indispensable, being tall, able-bodied and strong enough when physical strength was required. He also took some great photos, being armed with a professional camera and the eye to go with it. Thank you, Andreas, for sharing so many of your shots with the rest of us.

And so, as the sun rose above the horizon, so did we.

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Photos by Granddaughter No 1

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Copyright http://www.artaro.ch Thank you, Andreas, for this lovely photo.

Thurgau is a relatively unknown but nevertheless very attractive canton; arable farming country with colourful rolling fields, orchards, vineyards, woodlands, smooth-flowing rivers winding through rich pastures, and traditional half-timbered houses and barns dotted here and there among the boring quadrangular modern builds. Tourists in search of spectacular scenery don’t come here: no raging waterfalls or towering cliffs, just gentle rises and falls. From a bird’s eye perspective, it almost looks flat.

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Typical Thurgau scenery somewhere near Weinfelden

My last balloon trip, six years ago, took us from Kriessern across the Rhine and the southern end of Lake Constance into Austrian airspace, then over Lindau in Germany, to a remote field outside a Bavarian hamlet.

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View towards the Alpstein on the horizon. The heart.shaped pool is the Märwiler Weiher.

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This was now quite different scenery. In the distance, we could see the sun gleaming on the surface of Lake Constance, and gilding the river Thur below us. Cattle, sheep and goats grazed. Deer ran through the woods and across fields, kite and buzzard swooped beneath us. Perfect ballooning conditions.

After almost an hour we began our descent, alarmingly close (I thought) to the treetops and wheat fields, and scaring a company of horses peacefully grazing in their paddocks as we came roaring over their heads.

A field of sunflowers craning their necks to the east like soldiers on parade appeared to be where our pilot was aiming for, but no, we sailed over them and side-stepped an apple tree that loomed in our path.

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Copyright http://www.artaro.ch Thanks again to Andreas.

We touched down, bounced slightly once, then rested on what seemed to be a specially constructed landing strip next to the road. Long grass on either side of us in this pasture, but a lengthy stretch several metres wide had been mown just where we landed, to the exact dimensions needed when our balloon sank gracefully to the ground. A man using a scythe under the apple trees on the opposite side of the road continued his work, as though balloons landing in front of him was an everyday occurrence. Perhaps it is, and that really is a landing strip. Our pilot’s assistant was waiting for us with her car and balloon trailer, having tracked our journey from take-off.

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Teamwork again, as we squashed out the air and folded the balloon, rolled it up, packed it into its bag and dragged it to the trailer. Thank goodness for Andreas’ youthful strength! The burner and its mount were quickly dismantled, packed neatly into the basket and all stowed away very quickly.

Then came the solemn ceremony of the baptism of balloon passengers. This involves reciting the balloonist’s prayer, receiving a special nobility title plus certificate, and having a lock of hair singed as a token of the adventure. I had already been through this procedure twice, so was exempt this time. (I am Duchess Catherine Above the Clouds, and Gräfin Catherine Schwebefee über Fussach, which means approximately Countess Catherine, Floating Fairy over Fussach. Some fairy!)

The other elderly lady was wearing hairspray, so singeing her hair might have been dangerous, and the elderly gentleman had a large bald patch, so nothing to singe. These two were just doused with mineral water. Only Andreas had a suitably full head of hair so he alone underwent the singeing ceremony, and then we shared a bottle of champagne and munched on croissants. It was, after all, only just after 7 am so definitely breakfast time!

Then back to our starting point, where Granddaughter and three great-grandchildren were patiently waiting. (No, they hadn’t been there all the time. Mobile phones are a useful invention!) And home again, for my third breakfast of the day, this time at a more conventional hour.

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Getting good at squeezing into confined spaces!

Thank you so much, to everybody who made this possible, not least those who paid for it! It was a wonderful belated birthday present, and the opportunity to spend a little time with my younger generations was a great bonus. These are memories I shall treasure.

 

Beano and Circuses

“Have you heard of the Beano system?” asked my friend K.
“No, what is it?”
“Some sort of fancy system for playing music … The G’s told me their TV was a Beano, too,“ she began, and the penny dropped.
“You mean B&O? Bang & Olufsen?”
“Oh, is that what it is? Well, I guessed it must be something exclusive because the G’s have it installed in their new house.”

This sums up my friend’s awareness of famous brands. She chooses the things she buys on the basis of whether she likes them, and whether the price is within her budget. She doesn’t notice prestigious names. That doesn’t mean that she doesn’t sometimes flaunt a Hermès scarf or Coco Chanel sunglasses, but when she does it’s because she found them in a second-hand store and thought they were pretty. Frequently, she has never even heard of the particular label.

Yesterday she was setting out for a trip to Paris, wearing a very attractive colourful dress with silver splodges across the front and this time she did know the brand: Desigual. She knows that name, because she likes their quirky flamboyant designs, and has several (pre-loved) Desigual items.

I asked if it washed well, or would the silver dissolve in the washing machine. She didn’t know, she hadn’t yet washed it, but there was a strange sort of plastic disc attached to it that she had been unable to remove. I looked at this plastic disc embedded in the hem of the dress, and read that the garment had been made from fabric used for a costume in the Cirque du Soleil.

“Wow, that’s amazing!” I cried, impressed. “How lovely! You got a real bargain there.”
She looked uncomfortable.
“You mean it’s made out of rags from some old circus performer’s outfit?”
She doesn’t like circuses.
“Not any old circus. The Cirque du Soleil,” I repeated.

Blank.

Never heard of the Cirque du Soleil??

I tried to explain, and Google brought up the information that her dress was the result of a 2011 partnership between Desigual and Cirque du Soleil. No, not so exclusive after all, but it had certainly sold originally for more than 15 franks on the flea market.

I’m sure it impressed her Parisian daughter-in-law, who works in L’Oréal’s marketing department.