My Working World: D Is For…
A few months ago, I started writing this series – and it seemed like such a good idea at the time. I’ve worked in more than fifty countries and many, many cities in the past thirty-odd years. How difficult would it be to write twenty-six pieces, each beginning with a different letter? And certainly, for the first couple of months, everything was fine. There were loads of options for A and B. C was a little sparse, but I still managed to find five countries that I visited in the name of work. But it just goes to show the importance of preparation. Because this month, I am definitely struggling.
There are just four countries in the world beginning with D. And I’ve only worked in one of them. According to the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, there are around 150 cities across the world with populations of more than one hundred thousand; but I’ve only ever visited three of them – and then, not really for work. At this rate, I might have to resort to ‘rivers beginning with D that I have strolled along while working…’. But we’ll see how we get on.
My first, and only, business trip to Denmark came right back near the beginning of my career in the days before I became a consultant. At the time, I was running one of the sections in the sterile manufacturing department at Wellcome’s factory in Dartford. We were in discussions with another company about producing one of their high-value products under license, and my manager took me with him when he went to discuss technical details in Copenhagen. I quickly realised that as the supplier, trying hard to secure a potentially lucrative agreement from a prestigious new client, we were obviously going to agree to all sorts of things. And I remember trembling with fear when the other company quoted a reject rate that was way lower than the one I was currently seeing on my machines; and even more so when my manager happily agreed we could match it. In the end, the collaboration didn’t go ahead; and I have to admit to being privately quite relieved.
This has always been one of my favourite cities, not least because it is my father’s birthplace and therefore the reason why I am legally a citizen both of the United Kingdom and of the Republic of Ireland (which might be significant in the near future). I spent a number of summers there, both as a toddler with my parents and as a teenager, let loose on my own for the first time, safe in the knowledge that I was surrounded by cousins who would look after me (or so the logic went).
My only business trip there came just after I had joined the International Production and Engineering Division. It was a day return with a senior manager from a separate department and I have to confess having no recollection of why we went there; presumably we were visiting an equipment supplier. The tickets had been purchased by my own boss, who was always careful with the budget, and could see no justification for buying business class seats for a journey which was so short there was barely time for the stewardesses to get the drinks trolley out before we started our descent. I had no problem with this decision, but my companion was highly unamused – and insisted on upgrades. As a relative newcomer to the international scene, and a woman to boot, I was unwilling to argue with him – and so we both travelled in style. Which went some way to making up for the roasting I got from my own boss the next day for overspending on his budget!
I must be honest – this one’s a bit of a cheat. My first visit to Derby came in 2006. I returned two years later and have been every year since. But I’ve never worked on a pharmaceutical project there, as least not officially. This year, I will be heading there on Saturday 10th August for the annual Writers’ Summer School at the Hayes Conference Centre. It’s not actually in Derby itself, but in a small village called Swanwick, which still counts, as it’s in the County of Derbyshire. Anyone who reads my blog regularly will have heard about this amazing week ad infinitum (or even ad nauseum). It’s a week of fun, friends, laughter, and learning. And despite appearances to the contrary, especially during Monday night’s Fancy Dress Disco, it’s also a place where I do lots of work – but as a writer, rather than a pharmaceutical consultant.
I’m finishing with this one as it’s one of the most striking memories I have from my days as a consultant. Around 15 years ago, I was working on two major projects at the same time. One was an industry education programme in Jordan, funded by the European Union, and the other was a regulatory review across a number of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, funded by the Commonwealth Secretariat. Usually, I managed to keep trips to the two regions separate, but on one occasion, I left the rest of my team in Jordan while I flew south for meetings in Uganda and Kenya. Thanks to budget constraints (again!) and the vagaries of airline pricing models, it was more cost effective to return from Africa to UK via the Middle East, which meant an overnight stay in Dubai. I landed around 9pm, and had to be back at the airport for 4am the next morning, so was not at all impressed when my taxi driver tried to persuade me to take a detour to one of the many malls on the way to the hotel. My room was on the 30th floor and I remember standing looking through a wall of glass at the lights of this bustling metropolis and shoppers’ paradise, and being sickened by the display of opulence in front of me. The contrast with the level of poverty I had recently left behind in Kampala and Nairobi was just too much to take.
Well, readers, we got there in the end. One country and three cities beginning with D. I hope you enjoyed this piece. Next month we move on to E. And I’m now off to research some of the other letters of the alphabet. I see a particular problem with X, but that’s not due until some time towards the end of next year, so I’ve got plenty of time!