The Way I Was: Summers of love in Switzerland: The work was hard, but the living was easy, as Janet Reger tells Nicholas Roe

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Indy Lifestyle Online
LOOKING at this, I remember how I used to moan about myself in those days, as we all do when we're young. You know: 'My nose is too big, I'm too fat, and my ears are the wrong shape . . .' Now I think: 'Gosh, I wish I still looked like that.' But there you are. It was a nice time of my life, which is why I've chosen this picture.

It was taken in the mid-Sixties, probably between '63 and '65, and I'm in my late twenties, living in Zurich. I'd met my husband when he was in Munich, which was his home town. We were madly in love and planning to get married, and when this job offer came along in Zurich, I thought, 'Oh, I'll take it. At least it's near enough for a quick trip at the weekend so we can see each other.' But when I got to Zurich I loved it so much, and so did he, that we decided to stay.

I lost my job just before my daughter was born and there was no way we could support a child without my income, too, so I decided to design as a freelance from home. I was very nervous about whether I was good enough at first, but it took off pretty quickly.

I was very organised. I had a big table that pulled out of a wallspace, with shelves and things behind it where I kept the files and sketches and bits of paper and all the things designers need around them. Then, when I finished work, I just lifted the table and closed it and it looked like a rather beautiful door in the wall. My daughter was meanwhile playing under the cutting table.

It never felt as if it was a glamorous life but I suppose, looking back, it was. We had a lovely home, we went out quite a lot, we'd go to the mountains most weekends in winter and in summer we'd go down to a nice lake if the weather was good.

Zurich is a beautiful city and the moment the sun came out I used to have a feeling of being on holiday, however much work I had to do. In that period of the Sixties, the shops were full of absolute luxuries which you didn't see elsewhere in Europe.

I used to work a seven-day week, from eight in the morning sometimes, but then, if I was tired, I would take the day off or go away for the weekend. My life was a mixture of cooking, mothering and freelance designing, and it sounds awful when I say it like that but it was a lot of fun.

I worked for so many different companies in so many countries, and I really did get to know Europe very, very well. I loved the travelling. When you're freelancing, people want ideas, ideas. I had clients in Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, I was continually using all the ideas I had which I really enjoyed and I loved working in all these different factories, some of them really tiny with just a couple of machinists. It was a wonderful experience and obviously a very good period for me career-wise.

Returning to England after eight years was a shock. I had been all over Europe and lived in one of the richest cities and suddenly came back to an England which had improved a lot but, even so, wasn't like Switzerland. My caretaker in Zurich lived in the same block as me with furniture nearly as good as mine; when I moved to London, the caretaker lived in a grotty little basement. It was depressing.

But I'm happy to be living in London now. I live in a totally different sort of environment from the family one. I live on my own and it's a very single life. Each has its advantage. I feel I'm looking at another person in the photo. It was another era, another way of life.

Janet Reger's husband died in 1985. 'Janet Reger, Her Story' is published by Chapmans, pounds 5.99.

(Photograph omitted)

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