It would be great to be a real brunette forever but a couple of years ago I felt the need to be honest with myself. The tinting was becoming a high-maintenance affair and the regrowth was shocking to see. Therefore, in 2017 I bravely decided to grow out my roots. It took over a year for me to have a full head of grey-ish hair. I don’t realise it would take that long and how higgedly-piggedly the grey would be. My fringe is distinctly grey but the lengths and tips of my hair are white, bordering on blond in places.
Relatives, friends and colleagues have divided opinions. Some like it, some hate it. A cousin, who hates all grey hair, came out straightaway and said, “I hate it”. At least it wasn’t anything personal. My hairdresser was really encouraging and liked it. Before the pandemic, I would ask her whenever she was cutting my hair about adding some colour and she would always say, “Just leave it like it is.” Other people have said that it suits me and complements my skin tone. Colleagues have been diplomatic. I can’t say that I was actually waiting for other people’s approval because I was very eager to grow myself an honest and natural head of hair. I knew that after decades of tinting my hair needed a well-earned rest. I saved some money too! The experience has taught me that it’s important to be comfortable in the skin that you are in. If you are happy with your choice, that’s all there is to it.
The only problem is that Lockdown No.3 prevents me from getting new professional photographs for my CV and website so updating them will have to wait. The other day I passed the studio of the photographer who took my original website photos but it was closed down. Sad.
How a virtual background gives me peace of mind
When the pandemic struck I never thought that I would have to turn my home into a studio. I thought that I would be able to perform remote simultaneous interpreting under the cover of a black screen with my name in white font. I was happy with that. However, some assignments became a bit more complicated and the time came when I had to show my face and my surroundings on screen. That to me was a home invasion. It raised two problems: how could I protect my privacy and how could I ensure that people were not distracted by my background in the same way that I was being distracted by other people’s real backgrounds? A virtual background was the answer. I played around with Zoom to see what I could do to improve things. The virtual background setting was and is a godsend because you can load up any location or interior and that’s it. Nobody looks at your bookshelves. Nobody is distracted and starts reading the titles of the books or folders behind you.
I have discovered Unsplash and take pride in finding some posh virtual backgrounds for certain clients and a variety of different backgrounds for others. Some customers really enjoy seeing a new background every time they talk to me. Sometimes I use the photo album of my trip to Peru in January 2020 and talk to my clients about the place they can see. Other times I choose a photo of something that I have been reading about. I use that to break the boredom of conference calls on Zoom. I confess that I don’t know if Skype, FaceTime or WhatsApp have a virtual background setting. Professional conference calls are almost always on Zoom.
Some photos are fabulous but they are spoilt by my fat head being in front of them. So here’s one below which is a full of tranquility and no fat heads.
Where does the time go? I cannot believe that it is over two years since I last posted a blog here. Much has happened in the interim but for the sake of brevity I will keep my summary down to three things.
Firstly, I became a Chartered Linguist in 2019. I put in the years and my experience paid off. It involves a lot of continuing professional development but during these lockdown days I have the time to do it.
Secondly, I went to Peru. My great grandparents and grandparents lived and worked in Piura and Lima. Therefore, it was a thrill to try to retrace their steps. I love genealogy. Then, I visited Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. It was sensational!
Thirdly, I did something that had nothing to do with work. I ran five marathons in one year! It was a major challenge but completely worth it!
Now that it has become obvious that the UK lockdown will last for a while I just wanted to remind you that I am working from home for the foreseeable future. My conferences, interpreting assignments and meetings are either cancelled, postponed, taking place online or remotely. You can still reach me here, telephone me or email me. I can still help you with translations, transcriptions, remote simultaneous interpreting, video-call interpreting and online teaching. Business as usual! Stay safe, stay home and save lives!
A few weeks ago, well on Monday 30th April to be precise, I was returning to my flat after running some errands when I spotted a wallet on the ground before my front door. There were two pound coins lying next to it. I picked them all up and looked around to see if there was a stressed-looking man nearby. No. I looked inside and found a Lloyds bank card and a Polish identity card. I went into my flat and promptly telephoned Lloyds who cancelled the card and complemented me on my honesty. They asked me to hand in the card at my local Lloyds bank. When I was doing so the customer service agent tried phoning the Polish chap but his telephone number was out of service so she wrote to him telling him that I had his wallet. Did he telephone me? No.
After a week I emailed the Polish Consulate and told it about the lost identity card. The Vice Consul informed me that the card had to be revoked and would I mind posting the card to the Consulate? No. In the meantime, the Vice Consul would attempt to contact the Polish chap and give him my mobile so he could collect his wallet. Did he contact me? No.
I searched for this man on Facebook and found someone who looked pretty similar to him. I waved at him on Private Messenger and sent him three happy messages saying that I had found his wallet. Did he reply? No.
Yesterday, tired of being this man’s personal secretary and not caring whether this man was in hospital, on holiday or back in Poland, I went to my local police station and reported the found item. The money in the wallet came to £99.31. Apparently, in four weeks’ time if this Pole does not claim his wallet I am entitled to claim the money for myself. However, I only have a tight two-week window to do so and I must claim the money between 9.30am and 4.30pm. The police are canny, if you ask me.
Skipping round the May Pole
On the assumption that this Polish man never reclaims his wallet and that I am entitled to this windfall, I find myself wondering what should, or could, I spend the money on? Do I spend it on something simple, sensible or practical? Or do I blow the money on something extravagant, frivolous or singular? Decisions, decisions.
What has this got to do with translation, interpreting and city guiding? It goes to show how honest, hard-working and modest I am!
My colleague, Idoya Cols and I, are photographed at the VAWP Conference.
Last March I was interpreting at the Violence Against Women In Politics Conference with my colleague Idoya Cols (pictured above). The conference had support from all the British political parties and there were numerous accounts of how politically active women have been put through the mill just for being themselves.
One of the most moving accounts was given by Victoria Donda, MP and President of the Human Rights Commission, Argentina. Her mother was politically active during the Argentine dictatorship 1976-83 and she was interned in a detention camp when she was five months’ pregnant. Idoya was interpreting Victoria’s speech. Victoria explained that she was born in the detention camp, “but I survived and I was able to recover my identity.” Victoria paused to compose herself. I felt a big lump in my throat and there was a spontaneous round of applause for Victoria in the conference room. If I had been interpreting Victoria’s words I think that I would have had difficulty in keeping my voice neutral. Idoya was great and remained calm. It was quite a demanding conference for us as interpreters, emotionally and intellectually. When the conference came to an end and the moment came to bid Victoria farewell I felt very grateful and privileged to have met her.
At the end of the day Emma Little-Pengelly, MP and Shadow Spokesperson on Equality, Democratic Unionist Party, was invited to make the closing remarks on the first day of the conference. She talked about a TED talk that she had seen Monica Lewinsky give back in March 2015. I only got round to watching it this week and although the talk is three years old now Monica’s comments about social media, humiliation and shame remain very relevant, unfortunately. The link is below.
Interpreting for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other clients in Westminster over the last twenty years has provided me with a wealth of experience. I feel very privileged to have been able to interpret for so many visiting dignitaries, Ministers of State, Secretary of State and even a Prime Minister. However, these assignments cannot fill this blog or any other space where I choose to write because the meetings and visit programmes that I worked on included conversations that were private and confidential. Respecting such confidentiality is key if people are to speak candidly and achieve real understanding of contentious issues. British interlocutors and visiting guests of government also feel that they can trust the people in their immediate circle around them. Trust and respect are essential for an honest interpreter. The other benefit is that people relax and so they feel that they can speak their mind. Again, this is conducive to free and easy communication. Since the interpreters’ motto is “Universal Understanding” you must work to guarantee that the interpreting conditions are the best that they can be.
I do not regret not “spilling the beans” on this conversation or on that meeting because that was not and is not part of my job description. Also, in the early years I have had to improve my interpreting skills and there were meetings or visits where I learned to up my game the hard way. I was harshly criticised or I did not take control of the situation. Equally, there were other visits where I was showered with praise from start to finish and the compliments boosted my confidence for weeks on end.
Very often the people who are pressuring you to divulge information or tell an anecdote know nothing or very little about the interpreting process. Therefore, you have to educate such people or let them down gently. Alternatively, you may be dealing with peers who wish that you prove exactly who are interpreting for so they have a measure of the regard in which you are or are not held. You have to stand firm here and simply be discreet. I also think that “bragging” about who you interpreted for is something for the immature and star-struck. The more VIPs you interpret for, the more you calm down.
It is precisely because I have been interpreting in and around Westminster for so long that I am now on speaking terms with certain British interlocutors and clients. It means that we are able to reflect on past guests, meetings and visits. That has helped me put things into perspective. If I am to continue enjoying such privileged work I must continue to provide clients with the degree of discretion and professionalism that they have seen from me to date and expect to see in the future. So you can see I am not the only one who strolls around my secret garden and enjoys the sweet scent of the roses.
Backing up your computer files and data cannot be done often enough in my opinion. To that end I would like to sing the praises of Crashplan and Crashplan Pro. I first heard of Crashplan through a colleague who recommended it to me, as well as other software. The recommendations were not so appropriate for my needs but Crashplan was just right. I was keen to get some sort of back-up software in place because the same colleague warned me, “There are two types of people in this world: those who back-up and those who mean to back-up……” Since those chilling words I have had two ACMs (awful computer moments) and on both occasions Code 42, the company behind the Crashplan software, has saved me. Email
The first grisly moment was in October 2016. My computer was attacked by a crypto-virus after I carelessly opened a spam email. Fortunately, my local computer repair shop, Blue Gnome Computers, gave me good advice over the telephone and were able to book in my virus-infected patient very quickly. The full service took a while but as I had backed up all my computer’s content to Crashplan I was able to repopulate my clean computer with my original files and programmes. There remained a small batch of invoices that was lost forever and I was unable to set a profile photo on my computer but apart from that my ACER made a 90% complete recovery.
Last summer I opted to upgrade to Crashplan Pro because I do use my computer for buisness affairs 80% of the time. Last week, my ACER did not switch off properly for some reason and the next time that I tried to switch it on all that I got was a blue screen. I was terrified. So, once again, I rushed my patient to Blue Gnome. Another service was performed. The good news was that no files were ever compromised but while my ACER was in ‘A&E’ again I used my lovely Samsung S7 mobile phone to access essential files on my computer and prepare VAT accounts. Such was my efficiency that I sent my accountant the information that he requested one day earlier than expected. He and I were quite chuffed with that.
I have extended my love of backing up to my mobile phone. I have a MEEM now. It is a charger and USB stick combined so your phone is backed up while it recharges overnight. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether the back-up has fully worked until I lose or break my S7 but it brings me peace of mind. It’s a bit like insurance really: once insured behave as if you’re not insured. So, once backed-up, keep on backing up.
First Impressions of Trados
Back in 2008 when I first bought Trados 2007 I had high hopes. Unfortunately I found the software very difficult to get on with. The illustrations for the icons and commands were quite arbitrary and meant nothing to me. I did not understand the logic of the procedure. The Trados training which should have unravelled the impenetrability of the software was worse. I paid a lot of money to walk away with a headache and felt quite, quite confused. The useless trainer informed me that I need to practise with Trados 2007 everyday for 15 minutes in order to get the hang of it. I tried but I gave up and continued translating with Word.
Six years later a translating opportunity came up which I did not wish to lose and it meant buying Trados Freelance Studio 2014. Although I was initially apprehensive, I researched the new software much more than Trados 2007 and I was delighted to see how much it had improved. I took a big breath and bought Studio 2014. I did not make use of all the add-ons. I just restricted myself to being familiar with TFRS 2014 and quite soon I was getting a lot of translation work. So, it paid for itself. Recently, when a client informed me that it needed its team of translators to upgrade to Trados 2017 I was more than happy to do it. Apparently, the latest software is much better than Studio 2014 but I have not yet had the time to dig down into it and discover its treasures. I look forward to doing so.
For those of you interested in discovering Trados’s user-friendly software, here is the link: www.sdltrados.com