Thursday, April 06, 2006

The early marketing career - abduction in Amsterdam

So, for a quick change of scene, how about the time I was almost abducted in Amsterdam? I know, to look at me now (which you can't, thank God), you may not believe that I could look quite trendy in my younger years. OK, I've never exactly been the height of fashion (I remember it took me a long time to come to terms with flares, by which time they were out of style again), but on the odd occasion I bought an outfit that worked. It was the mid 80's, and I was working for a large computer company. We were at a conference in Amsterdam (the ratio was usually around 200:1 male to female), and enjoying the 'Gala Dinner'. I did enjoy myself, and was having a wonderful time when two local computer representatives impressed upon me the importance of being shown the sights of Amsterdam by resident natives! They each took an arm and started to escort me out of the hotel. I'm not very good at saying the right thing at the right times, and even now I can look back just a few years and cringe at my naiveté. However, on this one occasion I had a mild inspiration - 'I must just go fetch my handbag..' I lied, and disappeared into the UK contingent's heaving, drunken mass. Perhaps they were to be no more trusted than the willing Dutch who were so proud of their city, but nonetheless, I returned to my room at the conference hotel quite safely. I must admit I do seem to remember playing 'hide and seek' around some ancient monument with the Australian contingent and my colleague, Gina, but it was all innocent enough. In fact, innocent was a very appropriate word for me - and it got me into trouble on occasion.

Conference in Birmingham. Bob spent the evening convincing me he had a 'broad minded' wife. I didn't respond as anticipated - I splodged him with some cream from my dessert. Having failed to convince me that neither his wife nor my husband would object, his response was to deposit his entire dessert (strawberry gateaux) in my face. Following a collapse of sensibilities he kept brushing at the cream on his trousers muttering "What will my wife say..." It does make me smile to think of it now. So she would be broad minded eh - but not about the dry cleaning? I went on so many conferences, with so many men, and so many opportunities (well, poor dears, away from home and desperate!). But here I am, and I can surely swear before any deity you care to name that I never did misbehave - well, not sexually, that is. In fact, here I am, married for many years, and I've never even slept with anyone other than my husband. Do your eyebrows raise? Do you smirk at my circumstance? Or are you not at all surprised? I have had all reactions in times gone by. My marriage, my husband, my family, they'll come later in more detail. But now, I'm talking about my 'Adventures as a Conference Assistant'. I say, have I just found a title for this tome? Perhaps not, it was an exciting and fun time, but not the most important part of my life.

But from Amsterdam to Nice, and the Director of one of the UK offices drunkenly walking the walls on the beach at midnight to cheer me up. If his wife could have seen him .. .. I did like that hotel, the Napoleon or something. Unfortunately, as any business traveller will tell you, so many hotels, airports and conference centres merge into one and their distinguishing marks become blurred. Nice was not exciting, particularly. Like Brighton only with sun. The beaches were still littered with the homeless and dog shit by midnight. Helsinki, however, was my inauguration into this travelling life (oh how glib I sound, it was only twice a year for goodness sake!). 1985, and I a mere 25 (and a young one at that), and travelling away from home on my own for the very first time (well, almost), How I loved flying. I was looking out the windows, peering into the cockpit, generally behaving like a child. The sight of the clouds from above was magnificent. The sun lighting clouds from above gave them a landscape all their own. It was a breathtaking, beautiful sight, and one I still enjoy tremendously whenever I can get to fly.

It was always hard work at conference, and we were on duty most of the time. On our first social evening in Finland, the secretary of the local Director invited us round to her house for supper. About eight females, and eight males. She had a lovely house, and we all had a sauna before supper. She had an instant camera, too! It annoyed me, I must say, that the photos of the girls went round the dinner table, but not that of the boys. Still, by then I was too drunk to really care. Between the house and the sauna was a small patio, with a swing. I like to think of myself as broad minded, but oh - as soon as the local Finnish driver came out onto the patio where I chatted with our Finnish host, my hands quickly dived across my chest (yes we were all in the buff or whatever euphemism you like to use for plain naked). I was more embarrassed at being embarrassed, than by my nudity. It obviously didn't bother the Finns. When the phone rang, Anita just marched into the front-room, bold as - well, bold as a Finn, and answered it. The English lads went a bit quiet. I remember being sobered up by a kind colleague from South Africa. I think being away from home was rather traumatic for me then, though I can only see fond memories from here.

Talking of the Finns, I enjoyed their company terrifically. As soon as they left their own country, they started to drink. One time on Rhodes, I was in a bar Gina and our Australian colleagues (Gina always had a bit of a thing for an Aussie named Walt), and in came the Finnish contingent. They smiled, and linked arms across shoulders, went down on one knee and proceeded to serenade us with Finnish folk songs. But in Finland, I found them the most hospitable, likeable people. And they spoke such good English, it's enough to shame us (but then our linguistic abilities as a nation are a shame to all Europe). Even the dustmen in Finland spoke English. I learned to say 'thank you' and 'cheers' in Finnish, but said them rather too well, I fear. Using a learnt word once was enough to encourage them to think I could speak the language, and ensuing communication was disastrous. However, I have always had a secret pride in my ability to mimic, if not actually speak, other languages and accents. It's got me in trouble a few times I'm sure.

I learned this talent from my father. Actor, writer, and musician, he was a talented man. He was innovative in his appreciation for science fiction (scripts rejected by the BBC who felt the subject 'inappropriate for the viewing public'), and an excellent mimic himself. He would use a variety of accents in everyday speech (indeed I do myself, to the alternating chagrin and amusement of my friends and colleagues and exasperation of my children), and he was the idol of my life. He was big, strong, always smiling, and - unlike many fathers (but not unlike many actors), nearly always around. Both my parents were at home a lot - my mother working from home and my father seeking work or writing. I think guiltily of those days and how I now leave my children and do a nine to five - but I don't really remember playing with my parents, or interacting with them apart much apart from holidays. I remember playing on my own a lot - using my imagination and our ample store of music to act my way in a fantasy world. Cappriccio Italien was a daring battle, and I would leap around the dining room, under the table, and behind the piano, executing many a daring deed to the strident sounds of Tchaichovsky. My father also adored Beethoven, and so my night-time routine involved the playing of 'The Flying Dutchman' (on a reel to reel tape recorder), and the Ring. Now I've gone and time warped again from '85 to the sixties, but hey, I'm not being marked on this essay!
Post a Comment