Secretarial: I Work For: We're weird and wonderful and getting under your skin

ANNIE CARTER IS PA TO CHARLES SECRETT, DIRECTOR OF FRIENDS OF THE EARTH
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The Independent Culture
Mine is a happy story. When I was younger, I was very career and money orientated. I tried my hand at a weird and wonderful selection of jobs - owning a catering business, running a karaoke roadshow, event management and managing big, themed pubs. I gave the pubs up when a prostitute on crack punched me in the face and broke my nose. I then moved into the corporate sector as a PA, but soon became despondent because money alone didn't really do it for me, so I decided to move out of the profit-making sector into the charity world.

This job vacancy appeared just at the right time. I went through two very thorough interviews, Charles and I definitely checking each other out to see whether we would get on. I was quite nervous about not having had any real environmental background, apart from my own conscious awareness of certain issues. But I felt like one of the family when he called a few hours later to offer me the job.

I soon realised that the arguments for building a sustainable life made a lot of sense - in fact, it has become a lifestyle for me. The idea that this is a slightly wafty, airy-fairy place full of hippy, green weirdos couldn't be further from the truth. Friends of the Earth operates in a more professional and effective way than many of the profit-making companies I've worked for. There's a really good cross-section of people, ranging from those who joined FoE when it was just a handful of campaigners in a basement, to recent volunteers. Working here is not about what you look like but who you are, which is a joy - when I got the job I had a ritual giving away of all but one of my suits. We have 120 people in the office and a network of 240 invaluable local groups. Rather than marketing a product, we are promoting a wide number of issues which effect every single person in the world, and we have to be flexible. I may get weird and wonderful calls telling me about various inventions that are guaranteed to solve all environmental crises, but I would never pooh-pooh anyone's passion for the environment.

Prioritising issues is incredibly difficult. Some days Charles will have five or six unanticipated media interviews to give, each one on a different subject, and I have to make sure he has all the information to hand. Life can be stressful and Charles certainly has his moments, but then don't we all?

Emma, Charles' secretary, and I cope by laughing, screaming and sometimes crying when the workload becomes this surreal. But just when you despair it suddenly dawns on you how brilliant it is to have so many demands because it means that the issues are getting across to the public and government. We know that we get under the skin of the reprehensible multinationals and make them squirm. Charles deals with a lot of senior politicians, persuading them that environmental solutions make economic and social sense. Our work is all about transforming society. It can be very hard and demotivating when government doesn't respond effectively but we have to keep up the pressure none the less.

As a citizen you have the right to voice your views and show your support, which is why we are encouraged to take part in peaceful, law- abiding protest. I was quite fatalistic before I came to work here but I feel a hell of a lot better having seen how much influence FoE has. People always tell me about their own environmental agendas and what they are actively doing, such as recycling, energy conservation and not buying GM foods.

Emma provides me with a tremendous level of support, allowing me space to schedule Charles's time effectively. I am also involved with operational matters, including handling the diary and assembling briefings, organising speaking engagements and facilitating our board of directors.

The job is made a lot harder by our limited resources and antique computers. To think of some of the technology in my old job! Charles is a disaster when it comes to IT. It is uncanny - he can actually make our computers crash by walking past them. He also appears to operate in a different time continuum from us which we call "Secrett Mean Time". The amount he manages to pack into one day is incredible and often very hard to keep up with. It can be affected, however, by Manchester United's performance, so goodness knows what will happen if they aren't in the FA Cup this year.

Genetically modified food and our Real Food Campaign is my principal concern at the moment. The fact that the Government and multinationals want to push this issue forward in order to make money sickens me because it doesn't take into consideration either the health of people or the wider environmental impact of the technology. Yet the huge protest demonstrates the power of citizens voicing their concerns. I for one don't want to feed GM foods to the baby growing inside me.

My unplanned pregnancy highlights even more how I need to forge a safe and stable world for my new family. Everyone here is thrilled and Charles has been great. There's been no question about taking time off for doctors and no pressure on me to decide what I will do once the baby is born. I dread to think how some of my past bosses might have reacted. I really couldn't be in a better place, or doing a better job to help make sense of this baby. I seem to have started a trend, because lots of my colleagues are now pregnant. It's what FoE is all about - creating life and watching it flourish.

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