Saturday, June 5, 2010

Peek in the Past—USA, Here I Come—Almost!

Although they may not sound like much to do with writing, the work and travel years of my life were influential, contributing much to material I would use later in books.

My initial secretarial jobs are still vivid memories. I worked first for ICI Pharmaceuticals near Alderley Edge, Cheshire in their Medical Services Department. Talk about throwing myself in the deep end. Medical terminology in shorthand was not taught at secretarial college. Getting that right, took mental scrambling and practice. And patience from the various doctors who dictated. One of them specialized in tropical diseases. Try writing Neurocysticercosis in shorthand and later remembering what in the world your hieroglyphics meant.

It was many miles from home to ICI, and there was no bus. If I couldn't catch a ride, I  cycled for at least an hour through winding country lanes. I’d progressed to owning a sports bike in those days. The Snowball imaginings from childhood were replaced with new daydreams—about a young man who also cycled to ICI and worked in the research labs. Unfortunately for me, he always overtook, zooming past (his hobby was speed racing) with no more than a “Good morning!” floating back on the breeze.

Next, came a receptionist job in a (now demolished) hotel at Milford-on-Sea near Bournemouth, Hampshire. That place was a joy, situated as it was, right across the road from the cliffs and beach. With the New Forest within cycling distance, I wandered the countryside on my days off, soaking in the sea air; loving the views, the wild forest ponies, the green smells, and the melancholy cry of gulls. I was something of a loner back then. Not so anymore. At least, not when it comes to travel. These days, I’m a weekday keyboard loner.

There was so much to see in Hampshire: beaches, castles, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest, rivers, a motor museum, The Downs, cathedrals and abbeys . . . I’m beginning to sound like a tourist guide. But best of all, Hampshire was the birth place of Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens, two of my literary heroes. I actually share the same birthday as Dickens--well, day and month at least :-)

By strange coincidence, I recently recorded something about Dickens for one of Seth Adam Smith’s YouTube videos, which can be heard by clicking HERE.

Nice timing, Seth. Thanks! (I promise, he knew nothing about this Writing Fortress post when he asked me to narrate.)

Back to the past. After leaving Milford-on-Sea and returning to my home in Hale, I worked for a while in a tiny office up many floors in a Victorian building in Manchester. That, I did not like.  I’ve never been a city person. It was like going from sunshine to thunder. I can still smell carbolic floor-wash from the stuffy, closed-in office with its grim sash window that let in way too much traffic noise. I blame subsequent allergies on that archaic building.

So yes, after ten gloomy months, I was glad to see the ocean again. On a ship. Heading for America.

More when it's my turn to blog again, first Saturday in July.


Braden said...

I love it! Anne, ever since I started reading Agatha Christie as a kid, I've been an Anglophile. Dickens is my hero, too, and I have really loved reading these recollections.