Probably the naughtiest girl in school, I avoided being expelled by the skin of my teeth, although a wonderful teacher at the Engish Girls High School in Istanbul, Miss Locke, inspired my love of travel and history. I had ended up there when Daddy was ‘lent’ to the Turkish Navy by the Royal Navy, to help teach naval matters. Much to the relief of teachers I left when I was 15.
Not having a vocation, I picked up jobs through friends of friends, so started out helping run fund-raising events for charities like the Red Cross, Lifeboats, etc. Eventually I realised I wouldn’t have any friends left if I continued; they would run a mile if they saw me coming as they thought I would be selling tickets for something, so I drifted into working on Exhibition stands – originally selling Optimist dinghies (that was a lovely start). Exhibitions took place from Baltimore to Birmingham, and I got used to meeting people like Chancellor Kohl, The Queen Mum and others.
I ended up helping organise international conferences for up to 4,000 people. One achievement was moving thousands of delegates by coach from London to Hever Castle in Kent. The Chief Constable looked at me and said. “I suppose you would like me to make north Kent a one-way system for the morning?” I nodded, and he did.
Waking up in yet another hotel I had to phone Reception to ask where I was. That was a wake-up call; I had worked all over Europe, touched North American and even the Middle East, and had enough of living out of a suitcase. So I settled in London,and ran a group of multi-lingual exhibition staff called Union Jills. Our brief from the Government was to promote British exports in Britain and abroad, from fork lift trucks to containers. I had just enough travelling to keep me on my toes, and we had a whale of a time. Working 12 hour days took its toll, so I thought it would be easier to set up my own company, Dundas International Conferences and Promotions, with the help of my brother.
Needing trained staff, we set up training courses. These were bought by the United Nations and eventually Oxford came hunting for an exam in ‘Tourism’ English, as spoken by hotel staff, airline pilots etc. The first exam was so successful they asked for my CV to promote it abroad. I sent them one, they phoned to say “you’ve left out your Degrees”. ‘But I left school when I was 15’. Stunned silence – until they decided not to mention this.
Since then I have enjoyed taking courses, but purely those that interest me. Sold my company, and became a journalist writing about everything from Antiques to Dogs.
Learning how to cope when trains and planes were delayed, floods swept away roads and how to sort out problems with officials at Borders gave me the training to ‘handle’ the NHS, and my languages enabled me to get cancer care in the best country where it could be found. So it was easy to set up my website, and help others hopefully through the minefield that is our treatment.