After 25 years here, my predecessor took early retirement, enabling her to work part-time at a safari park and look after her donkeys. Luckily, we had a month's overlap and she was able to introduce me to all the staff and the systems. My previous job had taught me a little about animal health and pharmaceutics, which was useful to my new job, but I found the working environment was a complete culture change - the very nature and importance of the work here means that a great deal of attention to detail and accuracy is required.
This position represented a considerable promotion. It was interesting to see how things work at the top. I must admit that when I first came to the Commission, I wasn't used to working in such exalted circles, but now I take call from Buckingham Palace and Ministers' offices almost in my stride. Yes it's pressured - I rarely take a lunch-break and often work a nine- to 10-hour day, but I'm one of those individuals with a sense of humour who likes to crack a warped joke to keep me going when the going gets tough.
Although similar in age, my two bosses are very different characters. Gwyn, the Director General, is a Welshman and a rugby fanatic, whereas the Chairman, Don Curry, is a Northumberland farmer and a lay preacher. The Chairman is the gentler of the two, but they are both a delight to work for and we all get on extremely well together.
Gwyn was previously "Mr Reebok", having been a driving force in making the sports label a brand leader before becoming Marketing Director here. He became Director General in April, and we needed time to get used to one another. He realises the special qualities that are needed between boss and PA and how one needs to mould around the other. You develop a rapport by helping each other out, for example he's just been asking me to help him master electronic mail. Working for two bosses means juggling diaries all the time. I don't know how they would do their jobs without a mobile phone. As a farmer, the Chairman has to spend as much time on his farm as he can, and it's not unusual for him to call me from his combine harvester or even while going through a car wash.
My days are very varied, I spend a lot of time talking with Government offices, securing appointments and I also look after the management committee and organise itineraries etc. A huge amount of time and effort has been put into restoring confidence in British beef, and consumption here is now back to pre-BSE levels. If we can do it here, there is no reason why, with the right work put into promotion and education, we can't do the same throughout Europe.
I was very much involved in an Inward Mission hosted by Prince Charles, in which people within the European meat industry were invited to see the whole process of beef production, from watching the animals out in the field to seeing the finished product on the shelf. Prince Charles' involvement was a real plus. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to go to the event because I was needed back in the "control room", but I was delighted when Don quelled my nerves by ringing me to tell me it was a great success.
I know from my previous boss that the BSE crisis was an awful time for the staff here to live through, and that morale at the time was very low. BSE had such an impact across the board, as a lot of people were scared off by media stories, and it all got a bit out of control. During the height of the scare, a consumer who owned a leather suite rang in to find out whether it was safe for her to sit on it. But I believe it is up to the individual to choose what they want to eat and that they shouldn't be told what they can and can't do.
It's been wonderful to have the ban lifted on sales of British Beef and our celebration banquet in Brussels last Wednesday, marking the first British beef to be served on the Continent since 1996, was a very high point for us. It was a great success with guests expressing their confidence by eating British Beef. I'm proud to say that despite the crisis, beef has never disappeared from my own diet, and that none of my friends have ever objected to my serving it to them.