Monday, October 15, 2007

Speaking for your Country

Land Rover Expedition Time: 1st May 1998

I had a restless sleep. I was mulling over what I could say to F1 and F2. My instincts were to just tell them to p#$! off back home and that TH and I were better off without them. But, we needed that damn Series One Land Rover. I cursed the day that F1 had met F2. The expedition was blighted from that moment. Without her, it would have been just the three of us. We would have stayed together, rather than being in this sticky alternative position now. In hindsight, we should have just made the decision back in Tuba City to have just gone on without them.
Or, for the sake of nicety, we could have stayed together until we got to England and then permanently separated after the 50th Anniversary functions over there.

As TH and I would end up with all the work obtaining the visas and medical supplies in England, while managing the sponsorship relationships and doing the entire route planning, it would have been so easy to have left F1 and F2 to sort out their own arrangements. It was likely that they'd never manage this on their own, and we would sail across 'The Channel' unencumbered. But, we felt we had to have a Series One Land Rover. The whole marketing and sponsorship of the expedition was based on this one vital component.

Around three in the morning I resolved that we’d have to somehow make a go of it together, all four of us. That said, I wasn’t going to let them off too easily. They would have to comply with all sponsorship arrangements in future and call in regularly, if we ever separated.

By the time F1 phoned in the morning, I was calm but very firm – their lack of communication and consideration had disappointed more than just TH and I and had compromised the credibility of the expedition. They were to meet us early at the New Zealand Embassy for our special function and they were to wear their Land Rover sponsored clothing, which needed to be clean. I conceded on the photo shoot. F1 wasn’t to know that the Embassy staff had already been in touch with me. It was pouring with rain, and unlikely to stop. The outdoors area we had planned to have the photo, near the Embassy, was now out of the question. The Ambassador had wondered if we could postpone the shoot. Of course, I had agreed.

TH had already left to spend the day in Washington DC to have another look at the Smithsonian Museums. We’d agreed that we would meet at the Embassy ahead of time. I would wash the promotional clothes we had worn at Land Rover North America last night and bring them, cleaned and pressed, for him to change into. He went off happy that he wouldn’t have me in tow, and he could linger as long as he wanted over old planes, engines and machinery.

I was so tired and needed to catch up on some sleep. I also wanted to review the speech that I was to give that night. The Ambassador had asked me to speak for at least fifteen minutes on the expedition, our preparation, and what we hoped to achieve by the end of it. With the important trade guests invited by the Embassy, all my business experience and instincts confirmed that my presentation needed to be about the New Zealand "brand". That is, the "can do", innovative Kiwi attitude that can effortlessly deliver on whatever has been promised, while being sophisticated, yet comfortable in any culture. I needed exactly the right pitch and not come across as an obvious advertisement. To sound natural and "unscripted" takes a lot of effort and preparation. The pressure weighed heavy on me.

J and N drove me into the New Zealand Embassy, which is located on Observatory Circle (shown by the red pin).

I was keyed up like an over-wound spring. My speech was prepared, but I was apprehensive about meeting up with F1 and F2 again. Things had been pretty tense on the phone earlier in the day. I had this nagging feeling that they would somehow let the expedition, or me down.

TH had already charmed them at the Embassy, despite arriving dripping wet from his walk in the heavy rain from the train station. They had given him some of the promotional clothing from the Baltimore Trade Stand to wear, so he could get out of his wet clothes. He had that slightly hangdog expression when I walked in - the one that makes people love him and want to help. Fortunately, I had brought a complete change of clothes, a towel and a comb. He was soon looking his handsome self once more.

F1 and F2 arrived at the agreed hour. Instead of wearing her promotional Land Rover green outfit, F2 was in a purple dress. She looked tidy, but that was not the point. As soon as we were alone I hissed the question at her. Her answer was that she had thought she looked more presentable like this. Not a bad answer I suppose for someone with a complete lack of business or promotional sense. But, what annoyed me even more, F1 had not thought to question her or remind her of the direct request I had made over the telephone that morning. I sighed, maybe he just hadn’t noticed. That was his usual response to most things.

The evening had to go on, of course. And, I had to concentrate on being at my best and not waste energy on angry thoughts. Guests were arriving and TH and I had a lot of talking to do. We soon lost F1 and F2 in the crowd. In her purple dress, hopefully people wouldn’t realise F2 was part of our team.

It was such a great experience meeting up with so many Kiwis and a number of American business people. They were all charming and interested in our expedition. It was a very relaxed and easy function. Speech time soon rolled around.

The Chef de Mission (deputy ambassador) was the MC. His role was to welcome everyone, invite the Ambassador to say a few words, and then to formally introduce me. I stood at the front and concentrated on looking calm and professional. Inside, the butterflies were fluttering overtime. TH stood to one side. I made a quick eye contact with him. I love that look in his warm brown eyes that is just for me and helps me believe I can do anything.

The Chef de Mission was about to speak and I turned back to face the crowd. J and N gave me positive smiles, and the room quietened to an expectant hush. He started to say that the Embassy had some special New Zealanders tonight and, as such, he wasn’t going to speak for too long. In a brief pause, while he took his next breath, F2 suddenly called out a loud response, "Thank bloody goodness."

She had completely misjudged the deceptively relaxed nature of the occasion. I think the Ambassador and the Chef de Mission were far too professional to let too much show on their faces. But, in that tiny pause, I felt the shock wave between them and a flood of amazement around the rest of the room. Then, the Chef de Mission continued with his introduction of the Ambassador. I kept my eyes on him and I didn’t dare look at anyone else, in case I totally crumpled with embarrassment.

In his speech, the Ambassador said some wonderful things about adventurous and innovative New Zealanders. He frequently looked at TH and I, but never at F1 or F2. There was something in his eyes, when he turned to me, that told me he didn’t blame me for F2’s ghastly gaffe. It boosted my confidence once more.

I gave my best during my speech and the adrenaline took over. I hardly needed to look at my notes. I kept my gaze sweeping around different people in the room to include everyone. Well, everyone but two people, who were best forgotten.
I finished with a presentation of a gold enamelled Land Rover for the Ambassador, the extra one that "wonder woman" Meg from Land Rover Knoxville had given us, expressly for this moment.
The Ambassador and I shook hands, and posed for TH’s ready camera. The Chef de Mission invited everyone to stay on for refreshments and to talk with us.

Everyone came rushing up to TH and I. There were so many questions. It was almost overwhelming, but very exciting. Through the swirling crowd I saw F1 and F2 sitting alone. And then I saw dear, sweet N going over to talk to them, and to sit with them. He told me later that he did that to avoid further embarrassment for TH and I, rather than because he felt sorry for F1 and F2 being on their own.

The Chef de Mission approached me as the evening was coming to a close and the crowd had thinned. He asked me if I’d ever thought about making a career move into Embassy work. I knew then that the event hadn’t been stuffed up for them.

I thanked him for the offer and said that I had a job to do first – driving around the world. He said he expected me to complete my current mission, and gave me his card. He asked that, when I was getting close to arriving back home again, if I would give him a call. I promised I would. This conversation really made my night and confirmed again that the whole function had been a success.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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1 comment:

  1. Good stuff again Eventful Woman! Love the human interest bits. Not sure whether you'd be able to handle "embassy work" for too long though. :-)


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