Charlotte

I posted earlier (my first post) about my job as a P.A to a financial director in the 1980s and, as I have time on my hands, due to this lockdown, I thought I would post again and say a bit about my life for younger readers on this site so perhaps they can learn from me as I’m now 56. I guess I settled for a relationship where the man was in control: there was a twelve-year age difference, he earned a really good salary, and he was an Alpha Male, very confident and self-assured so it was inevitable he would make decisions. What got me thinking about his was that last December my husband and I went to a reunion dinner for retired staff for the company where he used to work, which was a multinational finance company with a Head Office in London, (such things seem a long, long time ago now!). It was a lunchtime affair and it was a lovely meal and a really nice occasion – there must have been thirty people there, and I got to catch up with loads of old friends who I’ve not seen for ages. Anyway, I was sitting next to a lady who had worked with my husband for quite a long while. She took an interest in what I was wearing and said “it’s all designer, isn’t it?” I agreed that it was so she asked me how much my outfit had cost so I told her I was wearing my favourite Christian Louboutin shoes which cost about £500; a brand new Saint Laurent silk lame blouse which cost £1,500 and a Gucci black leather skirt which cost about £2,000. The lady then took my hand under table, squeezed it and said, “Your husband lets you spend whatever you like on your appearance because he knows you have to do as your told.” I couldn’t really argue with her because I knew in my heart she was right. The thing was I came from an average, working class, quite conventional family i.e. my dad was in charge which wasn’t uncommon in the Sixties and Seventies – he got served first at the dinner table and my sister and I had to help mum and wash up etc – also, we were told to be “ladylike”. I was the youngest of three, with a brother two years older and my sister was five years older – she passed her eleven plus and went to a grammar school and got a First Class Honours degree at University followed by a good career whereas I left school at 16 and went to secretarial college – we were always being compared and called “beauty and the brains” which, even to this day, has created a rivalry between me and my sister. I was often praised, by both my mum and dad, for my dress sense and being feminine whereas she was “told off” for always wearing jeans/trouser and no make-up – which happened even when she was at Uni, if we went to a family event. I remember when I was 15, we went to a family wedding (me and my brother, mum and dad – sis was at Uni) and I choose an outfit for myself for the first time (with a little help from mum!) – a nice summer dress, a hat and high heeled shoes and I got tons of praise, I felt so sophisticated and adult. At secondary school the English teacher hated me and would often make loads of jokes at my expense (to get a laugh from the class), one day I answered him back and made him look small and so, at the end of the lesson, he took me to the Headmistress (deputy) – it was a co-ed school with a Headmaster in charge, of course – and she slippered me over her desk. Another time I was with a group of boys who set a fire alarm off – the Headmaster caned the boys and the Headmistress caned me: I got two extra strokes of the cane because she said she wanted “to make an example of me” as “the boys had said they had been showing off in front of me.” I went to work at 17 (1981) as a typist in a typing “pool” – sometimes guys would pat and pinch my bum. I told my female manager and she just shrugged her shoulders and said “so what?” It also happened on the tube and in pubs and nightclubs (I am not going to get into the thorny issue of boyfriends which is a whole story in itself!). Then, I got a job as a P.A in a local company to a director called Mr Wright. One day I lost some important data we needed for a report (in those days there was a computer room and computers were backed up each night on tape!) the computer guy spent ages looking for it on the back up tapes and then I found a hard copy and went to tell him. He was about my age and he went mad – telling me I had wasted all his time and I sat around filing my nails and prancing around the office in short skirts – he also said some personal stuff, I went back to the office and was very upset so Mr Wright got on the phone to the computer guy and told him to come upstairs to his office. I remember him bellowing at him DON’T YOU EVER SPEAK TO CHARLOTTE LIKE THAT AGAIN! After that the computer guy hated me and the women would say “don’t upset Charlotte she tittle-tattles to the boss!” Then, when I was twenty-two, I worked as a P.A in London for this large multi-national finance company, the Director I worked for, who was in his fifties, and who had two daughters about my age, used to say, “I like it when you feel uncomfortable, Charlotte, because when you blush you look so pretty.” Another time I was running upstairs and a manager was stood at the top watching my breasts bounce. When I got to the top, he smiled and said, “go back and do that again”. Later, I met my future husband who worked for the same company. When I married him, in 1990, I gave up my job and became a “corporate wife”. I was expected to manage/organise the household, attend functions (where I would make polite conversation), organise dinner parties and look glamorous (checking with my husband about what I should wear if it was a corporate event) but I like fashion and spend a lot on hair and beauty treatments so that wasn’t so bad although whilst I was doing all that I was also raising four children (two boys and two girls)! In addition, I was expected to be genteel, a good listener and not have emotional baggage (which I’ve not got) as I was an emotional support to my husband – in fact, my husband always says that I’ve been wonderful and very supportive to him. We lived in Frankfurt for a year and New York for six years which I really enjoyed. I’m not complaining, generally things have been pretty good, my husband has been a good father, the children are fantastic – my life really – and we’ve had a very nice life and now he’s retired our lives are very happy, we have lovely holidays/cruises and a good standard of living but I look at my two daughters, who are aged 27 and 23 (they both have degrees) and I wish, when I’d been young, I’d had their level of self-confidence and I wish I’d been more assertive – my life might have panned out differently – so what I would say to any young woman today is that EDUCATION is very important, it is the key really to giving you life choices.