As I approach a rather large birthday – my friend tells me that 60 is the new 40 – I am feeling quite apprehensive. People often say that no matter how old their birth certificate tells them they are, in their heads they feel like a teenager. Well, I don’t feel like a teenager – too many of my working parts are seizing up – but my mind is still that of a fifteen year old (without the great memory). I do remember though, what it feels like to be the youngest at everything. I started work when I was fifteen, having lost my father a few months earlier. I was really lucky in finding my first job. I thought I was going to work for a pet food company but in fact, I was employed as a shorthand typist in a public relations company whose largest client was a petfood company. Big difference!
PR in those days was less professionally snotty, billing-orientated and joyless as it is now. If you watch the t.v. series Mad Men, you will get a flavour of what it was like but the reality was much, much crazier! My first day was an eye opener. I sat nervously typing envelopes, with my head down, not daring to talk to anyone when a very suave, beautifully suited man flung open the door of the BIB (Budgerigar Information Bureau) office accompanied by two beautiful young men. “Hello, who’s this?” said Mr Suave, “I haven’t seen you before baby, what’s your name?” This was followed by a long silence until I realised with horror that I was ‘baby’ and he was talking to me. I looked up and got the shock of my life. Two of the fantastically beautiful Walker Brothers (a madly popular 60’s group) stood before me waiting for me to speak.
When I finally recovered my voice I told them my name, aware that my face was scarlet and probably unattractively sweaty. They stopped for a few minutes and I could see that Michael (the PR mover and shaker who brought them in) was a whole new experience and one I should have paid less attention to…. but that’s another story.
I loved working there, fifteen and naive, I had no clue what public relations was but went along with it all. We had a regular meeting at 11am. This took place in the press room which was a long room, filled mostly with a boardroom table in the centre and a long walnut cocktail cabinet along the whole of one wall. The Managing Director, whom we referred to as ‘Mother’ was a well respected, if fearsome, PR woman of the old school. She surrounded herself with hardened PR ladies, all sporting flowery hats and chain-smoking Gauloise. The gin and tonics were poured as soon as the meetings were convened and by 4pm several of the flowery-hatted, chain smoking PR women were carried out by Mother’s chauffeur, to be taken home to sleep it off.
I was soon to be promoted. Not because of my precocious ability to learn the business fast. No, mainly because the Press Officer on my account discovered she liked women better than men and ran off to the Caribbean with a woman journalist. I was the interim Press Officer but somehow I got on with the job and they didn’t replace me. A few months later my other boss, the Admin Manager fell in love with an Eastern European baron and she left her husband and decamped to Croatia. My days were busy and absorbing and in the evenings we often held press events and private parties. It was a blast!
Odd things happened at work. On one occasion I left the press room a little the worse for wear and almost tripped over a mini hovercraft travelling on a cushion of air down the corridor towards the gents loo. Another time I was attacked by a monkey at Olympia where we were exhibiting. And then there was the time I got trapped in my office with 100 budgerigars intent on committing suicide against the huge picture windows. Ah memories….
They do say that as you get older the distant past becomes clearer and the recent past difficult to recall. I hope not – there have been some wonderful times along the way! Nevertheless, as I reluctantly creep towards my 60th birthday, I do wonder if anything could possibly match some of those crazy times I had when I was fifteen.
Perhaps that is the consolation of being older – you remember the times with a rosy glow and forget all the heartache, soul-searching and tragedy that being young and impressionable brings with it.