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Be Careful what you wish for ...

Tuesday, August 05, 2008
Category: Sunday Express

What did you want to be when you grew up? Every little girl has her fantasy job, and some of us even achieve it. But living the dream can be a sever reality check- as these two women discovered 

Annie Nelson, 33 lives in Birkenhead, Auckland’s North Shore, New Zealand

But was brought up in Basingstoke, England. She’s married to Tony Nelson.

And they have one son Ted, 3. Annie trained to be a nun but is now Deputy Principal of Birkenhead Primary School

For almost as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a nun. My childhood was very traditionally Catholic- I am one of eight children, I went to Catholic schools and even a Catholic college; it was a very traditional childhood, a bit like Angela’s Ashes I like to think. We had the obvious money trouble that comes with a family of ten and an order of nuns nearby, The Daughters of Charity, were an amazing support to the whole family. I’m number five in the eight, and the younger of the two girls. The Daughters always cared about us: they delivered food, Christmas presents and even ice cream money. I always felt like I was cared for and even in a sense belonged to them. They sent me off safely to College with a holy statue, a card and £10. They are wonderful people and I had a strong sense that I wanted to give something back to them and wanted to help others who had been in the same situation as me.
People’s reactions to my decision were very mixed: my mum was really pleased, but my dad was a bit more reticent and my brothers and sister reacted the way siblings in big families react to anything, and that is to laugh and tease you. However, a great friend of mine had turned against Catholicism and she wrote me a very strong letter advising me against ‘doing the devil’s work.’ as she called it. Naturally we lost contact for a while but we got back in touch a few years ago. Many other friends questioned me and said that I’d be able to help people in other ways. I tended not to argue back but now I know they were right.

My parents were keen that I go to college when I finished school and then if I still felt the same way I could join the order. My resolve didn’t waver and In my last year of college, I took steps to enter the order when I graduated. I began to have regular one to one meetings with a sister and we talked about the future and my next steps. At this time I also spent a lot of weekends meeting and staying with various communities around the London area. Once the summer holidays of my sabbatical year were complete, I worked and lived in Victoria with a very strong group of sisters running The Passage, a shelter for the homeless.

I really enjoyed it and I worked very hard – but never as hard as the others, and it was tough. After spending a month or so there I worked in a school for children with hearing impairments. The house was a very small community and the sisters were powerhouses of energy, enthusiasm and commitment. They were all incredibly inspiring women.

Before I became a nun I’d expected hard work, long days and early nights, and time filled with people, doing worthy jobs for people who needed it. Some of that was correct; I worked the doors of a night shelter, I served breakfasts to the homeless and managed to get to Mass on a very regular basis. Despite all this, life was crowded and lonely. It was ordinary and in a way just like family life - we ate together, prayed together and talked together- we’d even watch Countdown together like my Mum and Dad did. I’d read the numbers and letters out to the sisters who couldn’t see the screen very well. Funnily enough these would be my bleaker moments because I found that funny and there was no one to “catch” the moment with.

I realised very quickly that it wasn’t for me. I felt supervised and never relaxed. In one of my initial interviews I was told that if it was right I’d feel at home and I didn’t ever feel like that. I missed freedom of choice. I realised that life is a gift, it flies by and if you spend a minute regretting decisions then it is an insult to God. You have to believe that you are in the right place, and if you aren’t then you must either make it work or make it better. Dad insisted that coming home was for the best, the convent wasn’t a place for me. He believed that my gift would be to have a husband, children and teach. And so I left.
For a while I felt embarrassed by starting something and not finishing it, it’s always difficult to believe you have failed at something, but I’m really glad I met all those tremendous women. I often think of them, and before moving to New Zealand I had intermittent contact with one or two of them. Before I left one of the sisters advised me that maybe I would never have the feeling of being at home anywhere and wouldn’t settle at anything. I almost believed her until I met my husband. The feeling of being at home comes from being with the right person and knowing that you’re in the right place. It was an amazing experience that taught me how to go the extra mile, but I also learned that attitude can be found in many places, especially if you’re prepared to look.

Former air hostess Samantha Taylor , 31 is single and lives in Muswell Hill, She now works in the Beauty industry.

When I was a little girl I remember the teacher asking me to draw a picture of what I wanted to be when I grew up and I drew a picture of an air hostess carrying a tray- I always wanted to be an air hostess. It was for a number of reasons- I remember watching old Doris Day and James Garner movies where he was the dashing Captain and she the beautiful immaculately groomed air hostess. This image was reinforced for me because at that time one of my mother’s friends was an air hostess and she was impossibly stylish and chic and I grew up with this idea that it was the ultimate in glamorous jobs and I had this image in my head of what life as an air hostess would be like and never really entertained the idea of doing anything else.

When I was 19 I was offered a job with Qantas airlines and at first it lived up to my expectations – I was flying all over Australia and earning really good money for a 19 year old. It was great fun meeting all sorts of new people and learning new skills and I loved when I was introduced to people telling them I was an air hostess but very quickly the novelty wore off and the realities of the job hit home.

Working with so many females definitely has drawbacks and the amount of backbiting that goes on is incredible. There are a lot of women working with a lot of eligible and not so eligible pilots and many of these girls didn’t care what they had to do to attract their attention and you can imagine what went on. I found that very tiresome and after a while pathetic. There really wasn’t much sense of sisterhood, it’s much more of a dog eat dog world to work in.

And of course the combination of eating all that flight food and going out boozing all night meant the weight really piled on me and I was spoken to a couple of times about it – not in an official capacity as such but it meant that I was more or less on a permanent diet. And flying definitely interferes with your sleep patterns and your relationships too – you often don’t finish work until midnight and can be working again at 5 in the morning; or if you have a day off you can be on call and phoned at three in the morning and asked to be on the tarmac in an hour. There’s always a feeling that your life isn’t your own.

I thought it would be very jet set and glamorous the reality is it’s not glamorous at all- flying in Western Australia with mining destinations meant that you’d have a plane load of rude drunken miners trying to grope you, also a lot of men proposition women flight attendants which is pretty degrading too. Once we had a man on the plane who dropped money on the floor and when one of the other air hostesses picked it up she asked around whose money it was and then she walked into the galley and he gestured with his head towards the toilet intimating that she’d picked up the money and had to play the game. People leave their manners at the door on a plane – especially men.

It’s pretty dead end in terms of career prospects too- you can’t really work your way up and nor can you really transfer your skills other than in a customer service role so in a funny way it’s pretty dead end. I always thought that I would end up working on long haul flights, that was my aim but after four years I just wanted to get out of the industry and get my life back. I now work in the beauty industry and I’ve never regretted leaving the industry at all. I just now watch those old movies with a more cynical view.

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