Secretarial: Alice in wonderland

I WORK FOR... ALICE SQUAREY IS PA TO RICHARD BURGE, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF THE COUNTRYSIDE ALLIANCE
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The Independent Culture
I'm a country girl. I grew up in a Dorset vicarage. My country pursuits included fishing, stalking, beating and hunting. My mother used to hunt and I inherited the passion at an early age. I clearly remember my first hunt, I was seven years old and it felt like three Christmases rolled up in to one. My pony shook with excitement for the next three days.To see man, horse and hound work so closely together is one of the greatest pleasures imaginable. It's a very honest and natural event.

Growing up in the countryside was like seeing a jigsaw puzzle fit together as my understanding of nature and man's management of the environment began to slot into place.

My father is a vicar and he used to host exchange visits with a parish in the East End of London. I saw young children who had never connected a bottle of milk with a cow, or a sausage with a pig, begin to learn the rudiments of how the countryside works. They first questioned and then accepted it all. Today, one of the Countryside Alliance's main tasks is education and we are involved in many rural educational programmes for children who simply have never experienced, and are therefore unable to understand, the rural practices with which I was privileged to grow up.

I was a member of the British Field Sports Society before it merged with the Countryside Movement and the Countryside Business Group to form the Countryside Alliance. I was also one of the 300,000 people on the Countryside March last year. But I had never become actively involved in the Alliance's work.

When a friend told me about this job, I felt that it seemed to offer an ideal opportunity to work for a cause which I believed in as well as a means of furthering my career. I had been working at the Foreign Office for three years and had decided that it was time for a change.

When Richard Burge joined the Countryside Alliance in February of this year my workload multiplied. We still joke about how my life has never been the same since. He is a Shropshire lad but has spent a large part of his working life abroad - he says it isn't until you live away from England that you realise how much you love it.

He isn't a hunter, although he does like fishing and beating, and is passionate about issues affecting the countryside.

The relationship between a Chief Executive and his PA is an unusual one because the PA predominantly controls her boss's working life. Richard's diary is tremendously complicated. For example, trying to arrange a meeting with eight equally busy executives can be quite impossible. Daily games of diary tennis with other PAs are rife. My primary role is to keep Richard's work happening, organising his travels and who he's going to stay with.

Richard has a scientific mind, unlike mine, although I am quite organised by nature. Yet we both share a sense of the ridiculous, laughing in the midst of a frantic day when someone telephones, inviting him to a Harvest Supper in the year 2000. We tease each other about our political beliefs - he is a Labour voter, I'm a Conservative. I also joke about his coffee addiction, I've never seen anything like it - he gets through about 10 cups a day.

We are a small office with a family feeling, everyone working extremely hard for our cause. We have a London Social Club for members of the Alliance under the age of 40, and occasionally a group of us will join the regional staff at game fairs, country shows and point-to-points. The thought of spending weekends in London, shopping and sitting in cafes, does not appeal to me.

All the staff share a strong desire to protect and promote the countryside. That feeling has been strengthened through the determination to win this war and achieve ultimate peace.

I get a lot of enjoyment from writing letters, particularly in response to those from people employed in the countryside, such as gamekeepers and ghillies. But other supporters and members of the general public also have valid points to make. The letters are often full of advice on current issues, such as the Right to Roam and how the new legislation can be implemented to work for both farmer and walker alike. These letters offer a chance for the writers to air their views and get their feelings off their chest.

Since the continued campaign by law-breaking hunt saboteurs and the Government's threats to the livelihood of those who work on the land, an impenetrable wall of support has built up for all those who depend on the countryside. I have come across farmers throughout my life whose income and jobs have been increasingly held back by legislation. It is desperately frustrating to see what an insecure life it is for them.

When I tell others about my job I get a variety of responses. One person confused us with the Alliance and Leicester Building Society. Others express doubts about what we are doing, but once our objectives are explained they often end up joining our campaign. Recruitment is important and I never miss an opportunity. I love working for the Countryside Alliance and will remain here certainly for the foreseeable future, fighting for what I believe in: that fundamental civil liberty - freedom of choice.

What really concerns me most is that those in power, who have been given the opportunity to create laws which affect the whole country, seem unwilling to really get into the countryside to see for themselves how their decisions can redesign the lives of the people who work on it.

Sadly, such changes rarely bring improvements to their lives.

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