For most of my married life I’ve been known as, “A trailing spouse.”
Doesn’t it sound awful? It sounds derogatory. I often wonder why no better term could have been coined for something which would become almost a career vocation for many expats.
My job was to organise our international moves (12 in all), find schools, Doctors and dentists, cope with the emotional fallout when the kids left friends on distant continents, and smooth the way for Dave as much as I could when he faced stressful new work situations. I was the back-up team, who wrote freelance travel features in her spare time.
But once I was a secretary.
Way back in the 1970’s the job had a sort of sexy, slinky, swanky aura to it, and when you trained at secretarial college your teachers intoned, well you never know which mogul you might end up working for, maybe a Prince or a Rockstar – Hah!
And in real life back in my 19 year old day, if you didn’t go to University, well it was a bit of an accolade to be a PA Secretary.
Rumour at secretarial college said you could get 25 British pounds sterling a week as a PA. A small fortune! I envisaged a sports car and speed boat and weekends in the south of France by my 21st birthday.
Can you believe it … at secretarial school we learned how to address an envelope neatly by hand with a fountain pen, how to lick and place stamps dead squarely in the top right hand corner of an envelope, how to square the address in the middle of the envelope, and how to arrange flowers for our boss’s office.
I learned Pitman’s Shorthand and could scrawl 120 words a minute along with 90 words a minute touch typing on an Olivetti electric typewriter. Or was it the other way round. I can’t remember, although it was important at the time.
What I do remember is that my touch typing came in handy in Namibia in the ’80’s when I worked in Windhoek for a newspaper with a zealous editor who blasphemed his way through the (very long) day and expected me to type his stories as fast as he spoke – dodging the spittle and omitting his swear words of course.
I could ‘ting my return on the typewriter as fast as the best of them. In other jobs I knew what to buy my bosses’ wives for their birthdays. I made sure tea or coffee was served, appointments were diarised, flowers were fresh. Gosh, wasn’t I the little wife at work. But that’s how it was, no questions asked.
I earnt 25 Pounds sterling a week as a ‘Temp’ in London, which at the time was a good wage. I worked for the female boss of a fashion house in Oxford Circus, for the marketing manager at a Magazine consortium in London, and if my memory serves me correctly, for a graphic designer near Hyde Park.
In Australia I worked for a female director of a corporate gift company, for the owner of a tour company in Alice Springs, and for a delightful manager in an insurance company in North Sydney who turned a blind eye when I was writing up my backpacking travel diaries during work hours!
Nowadays I don’t know anyone who’s a secretary. Is it just another job which has fallen foul to the ravages of time and new intelligence.
I wonder what other now defunct jobs there are in this brave new world of ours?
Women Over 50 with stories to tell
Would you like to be featured in this series – “Once I was a ….” I’d love to hear your stories. Please let me know in the comments.