I worked for several years in the research department of a large trades union. It was my first job after my daughters started school and I shared it with Maureen who also had children, unlike most of our colleagues within the department. Maureen was one of those incredibly serene, unflappable people who was wonderful to work with. Just as well, really, since we were the jugglers of Research, trying to cram full time work into part-time hours to prove our worth, whilst fielding the inevitable calls from school. The one that particularly sticks in my mind was an office lady ringing me up to say, ‘Could you please collect your daughter? She’s fallen off a log.’
Maureen and I built our joint career together, starting as research assistants and fighting our way to become trades union officials. Along the way we had to put up with a lot of rubbish, such as other officials sticking their heads round the door of the department, seeing me or Maureen and saying, ‘Oh, no one in!’. I always had a feeling that as mums and part-timers we were never taken quite as seriously as the hungry, straight-from-university, twenty-somethings who began to fill up the department, hoovering up experience before moving on to the next job. At times, I got pretty fed-up about our treatment, but Maureen always managed to remain calm. ‘No-one died,’ she’d say, with a tranquil smile.
Maureen’s words came back to me after my stint on the Choc Lit panel at the Romantic Novelists Conference 2010 on Saturday. The talk that I had practised in my study went straight out of my head when I looked up and saw... faces! Where did all those people come from? I thought that caring about my subject would make it easier, as opposed to talking about some old employment nonsense, but in fact it made it twice as hard! I’m afraid I stammered and stuttered through my piece before staggering off wondering how it had all gone so wrong. And Maureen’s words came back to me. So what if I’d made a bit of chimp of myself? I got through it. No-one died.
Painting is 'The Tomb of St Basil - Westminster' by Tom Tomos