A Travel Vignette

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From an English Travel Diary (1987)

Princess Anne and Wellingtonia Trees

A Bob Djurdjevic Column, September 1987

DOGMERSFIELD, England - During my September 1987 visit to Amdahl's European headquarters in Dogmersfield, Hampshire, Peter Williams, the head of its European operations, proudly explained that it was Princess Anne who dedicated the building.

"How did you manage that?" I inquired.

"I wrote to her and asked for it," he replied.

"Oh, come on. Who do you think you're kidding?" I said. "Once again from the top -- how did you manage to get Princess Anne to dedicate Amdahl's new European headquarters?"

"Well," Williams confessed, "I am a University of London graduate. And she is on their Board. And we have an Amdahl mainframe installed there." Put the three factors together, and you have the making of a royal affair...

And a proud affair it was. Complete with striped tents and speeches on the lawn outside the building. In the lobby of Amdahl's nearly palatial Dogmersfield Park building, located in Hampshire some 60 miles west of London, there is still a plaque and a book with Princess Anne's signature commemorating the opening which took place in June 1986.

Amdahl's Williams explained how they prepared for the event. Since there is a goodly 200-yard walk between the main building and the lawn where the tents had been erected, Williams had to think of something to say to the Princess along the way. And so, during the rehearsals with Amdahl's secretaries at his arm, Williams thought that he would inform Princess Anne that the tall tree (at the left hand side of the picture) was "the biggest 'Wellingtonia' tree in Hampshire!"

wpe14.jpg (10745 bytes) By the way, these "Wellingtonia" trees look awfully similar to the California "redwoods" which abound in the San Francisco area. In fact, I'd swear (as an admittedly lay biologist) that they were identical to them. So, when I inquired if the British "cousins'" name suggested that the Duke of Wellington may have "imported" them from California at some point in the past before proper customs inspections became mandatory, my "humor" was greeted with sullen silence on my British hosts' part. Ooops...

Well, whether the Duke of Wellington might have gotten past today's customs officials at Heathrow or not, we'll let the future British generations decide. But, when the walking scene was played out live in June 1986, with Princess Anne at Williams' arm rather than an Amdahl secretary, he got a rather unexpected answer to his claim that the formidable tree on Amdahl's side lawn was "the biggest in Hampshire."

"Are you sure?" asked the Princess.

"Well... maybe not," replied the shaken U of L graduate.

"You see," the Princess continued, "I thought I'd seen some bigger ones at my Mummy's estate in Windsor."

No doubt she may have. But, "Is Windsor in Hampshire?" I inquired. "I thought it was in Berkshire?"

"It is," said Williams. "But, you don't say that to a princess, do you?"

"Why not?" I wondered, but didn't say it out loud. I was learning, I suppose. Is there only so much forthright talk that the British royalty can take?

I recall that in 1977, for example, during my first visit to Britain, I was told "not to try this rah-rah American stuff" on the employees of IBM U.K. "We have a stiff upper lip, you know," I was warned by the then executives of IBM U.K. who brought me into the country as a sales motivator and an instructor to a group of their sales people.

For the first afternoon of that five-day course, I followed their advice. It didn't work. None of the British sales people were interested in learning anything that this foreigner, and a perceived "Yank" to boot, had to say. I then changed my tactics and began to treat them as people, rather than as British. It worked. By the end of the week, even their IBM bosses ended up acting as if they were the sales support staff, rather than the other way around. And, everybody loved it... I've got letters and gifts from them to prove it, too.

What can be learned from the Amdahl U.K. opening ceremonies? First, if you make a claim, make it stick. And, don't be afraid to do it even with royalty. Second, don't sell the British Royals short. Don't assume that they will accept your claims at face value (especially if the face value is "zero!")

Princess Royal: "Wholly Apocryphal" Story

In November 1988, I wrote to Princess Anne (pardon me -- the "Princess Royal") asking her if she would care to comment about the accuracy of the story as relayed to me by Amdahl's European chairman. She replied a week later (by hand of a certain Lt. Col. Peter Gibbs, her Buckingham Palace's private secretary) that "it was wholly apocryphal."

Not being British, Protestant, or very good with my Bible studies, I had to consult the dictionary to figure the Princess Royal's answer. Webster describes "Apocrypha" as "the 14 biblical books included in the Vulgate but considered uncanonical by Protestants because they are not part of the Hebrew scriptures." "Apocryphal" is described as "any writing of questionable authority of authenticity."

My next challenge was to try to figure out which part of the story Princess Royal found "apocryphal." So, I sent a copy of her reply to Amdahl's Williams with a note "I am perplexed?" attached to it. He telephoned me within a few days. He seemed ill-at-ease as he explained that in Britain, it is not customary to publish the Royals' private conversations.

I concluded from Williams' remark that he stood by his story but that he would not wish to embarrass his Princess Royal by breaking the British etiquette. Considering that the story had little value to our computer clients, we chose not to publish it at the time (1988). But, since this is the U.S., not Britain, and since I can vouch for the authenticity of every word it contains -- however "uncanonical" some of them may seem -- here it is... (royal) "warts and all."

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