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Sound Solutions On A Covid-19 Trial

Back in May I blogged about my first Covid-19 trial in which I was essentially an observer because the defendant on trial had such good English. I noted all the new changes made to make a courtroom Covid-free and anticipated that when I had to interpret for real in those conditions it would be quite demanding. Well, last week I found out just how demanding it was.

I was asked to interpret for a defendant on trial who had no or very little English. The regulations had changed so there was no screen in front of the judge or the barristers but the jury remained socially distanced, with screens in front of them. The courtroom was so short of space in the jury area that three jurors had their desks set up on the floor of the court, next to the barristers’ horizontal benches. There were hand sanitisers, tissues, sterile glove boxes and bottled water everywhere.

Everyone was wearing a mask save for the clerk, the judge and barristers when they were speaking. Once inside the dock the defendant and I were allowed to take off our masks although the custody officer always kept his on.  I sat with a seat between me and the defendant. He was unvaccinated which made me nervous. We had an ample supply of polystyrene cups, a big water jug and our own sanitiser.

The first day of the trial was a shock to the system in many ways because I thought that it was a one-day trial when in fact it was listed for seven! I had to sort things out with the List Office quite quickly and by the end of the day I was completely booked for the trial.

The next shock to the system was the sheer number of sound problems that I encountered in the dock. Firstly, the air conditioning was humming very loudly. Secondly, I could only hear the judge when she spoke and not the court clerk, defence counsel or the prosecutor. Thirdly, the custody officer kept jangling his keys. Maybe it was my perception. The court clerk blithely tried to start proceedings by identifying the defendant but I could not hear her so I informed the court and I asked for the clerk to speak into a microphone. I am delighted to say that the court resolved this by giving me a Sennheiser RI 150 mono infrared receiver in the form of a stethoscope headset. It was my new best friend for the rest of the week! I heard the clerk beautifully. The barristers were audible even when they had their backs to me and I heard the witnesses perfectly. It was so nice not to finish the day without a raging headache from straining to hear what was being said. What a godsend. I hope that HM Court and Tribual Service retains this practice after the pandemic.

The next problem was organising the area around my neck. I had to wear my interpreter’s identification badge which was on a ribbon round my neck. It was constantly in the way when I reached for different things. Then, I needed to have my reading glasses at hand. Sometimes I folded them and hung them on my t-shirt. Other times I put them on the seat next to me. Obviously, there was the Sennheiser which had to dangle from one ear as I needed to monitor myself. It was odd doing that with a Sennheiser receiver rather than one of the comfortable mono-aural headsets that I have at home. I am glad that I didn’t have to wear a mask because it would have obstructed the area around my ears, muffled my voice and generated a lot of heat.

After that my problems were standard occupational hazards: interpreting for two hours without a break, avoiding increasing the sound of the Sennheiser to prevent my own voice from going up, compensating for the back-ache that sitting in the same position gives you, sight-reading a statement in English with my glasses and Sennheiser on, reading the statement so the defendant could see while keeping a metre’s distance and remembering during my much-needed breaks to look up terms that had escaped me.

During the trial there were Covid-19 developments. The complainant had to self-isolate so she gave her evidence over the cloud video platform. She used headphones so the reception was very clear. Later in the trial, the prosecutor had to self-isolate too. A relative of his had tested positive for Covid-19 and although he had no symptoms he had to dial in using the cloud video platform as well. The reception continued to be great. There was no feedback or echo because he knew to use decent headphones, Airpods I think. He performed his cross-examinations digitally and gave his closing speech that way too. The prosecutor admitted that it had been a first for him. It was a first for me too.

I am very grateful for the use of all this technology to solve audio, medical and logistical problems. Normally, these sorts of changes take forever to be introduced into courtrooms so it was very refreshing to see how swift the courts can be.

 

My First COVID-19 Trial

Last month I experienced my first trial under Covid-19 restrictions. I was in the fortunate position of having been booked “out of an abundance of caution”, as the defence barrister put it, to make sure that the defendant understood everything but his English comprehension was very good.  Therefore, I found myself observing the courtroom changes and wondering how well I would be able to work if I had to interpret every stage and in full.

The social distancing meant that the courthouse was at 20% capacity. Few courtrooms seemed to be in use so the trials being held were in courts that were well-spaced out from another. For example, I was working in Court 10 but Court 9 next to it was not being used. That provided the advantage of not being overheard by parties to another case. The emptiness of the seating area meant that you could read quietly or eat your packed lunch in peace.

In the courtroom itself, there were perspex screens between everyone. Masks had to be worn unless you were speaking.  The judge had a microphone behind his screen on his bench so he was very easy to hear in the dock but unfortunately so was his keyboard! While I was glad that he could type people’s evidence so quickly it was a pity that he didn’t swing the microphone away from his laptop while he was writing.

The jury had individual screens on three sides of them, making each one look like they were in a kiosk. Thank goodness that they didn’t speak! I felt sorry for them because getting to and leaving their seats was a very cumbersome process.

The barristers had screens around them on three sides but they didn’t have microphones and their backs were to me, as usual. In the dock I could hear them but softly. When I needed to interpret their words my voice masked their comments. I had to work consecutively and was glad that I had my trusty notepad with me! Simultaneous interpreting was not an option.

The dock was modified so that there were screens between all the seats and the defendant and I were expected to wear masks. Therefore, when I needed to interpret something it had to be done consecutively. Often, I preferred to lean back and speak to the defendant without the screen so that he could hear me properly.

The witness stand had a perspex screen around on three sides so the witnesses and defendant could give their evidence without a mask. The judge requested that they remove their masks so that everyone could clearly see their faces while they were communicating. I thoroughly approved of this. There was no screen for the interpreter, just a chair for me to place one metre away from the witness stand. I took off my mask too in case I needed to interpret.  In the end, the defendant didn’t understand two key points in the cross-examination so I interpreted the prosecutor’s questions for him. I was glad that I was there.

In conclusion, it was most helpful to be in the courtroom essentially as an observer. Now I know what to be expect for the next trial. I anticipate that it will be quite demanding.

 

 

At last, new photos!

At long last, I have new photographs for my website! I have been wanting to refresh them for some time but the pandemic put paid to that. The photographer who I used eleven years ago is no longer round the corner from me. I went past his studio a couple of weeks back and found that his establishment had been taken over by another company, offering a completely different service. I like to think that that photographer has just moved location and that his business is still thriving somewhere else.

The photographer that I used for this photo shoot was and still is Lawrence White at Westend Portraits in Richmond. He’s clearly very experienced and was great at putting me at my ease. We were able to experiment with a prop, my glasses, two changes of wardrobe and different backgrounds. We played around with another type of surface too. I was rather enjoying myself.

Initially, I was just interested in buying six photos but the ‘shortlist’ of photos that Lawrence sent me was so good that I ended up buying eighteen! I am very pleased with Lawrence’s work and I would have no hesitation in recommending him. Thank you Lawrence!

March 2021, a year on

 

Last year I had no idea that one year on we would still be in the throes of this pandemic. As it progressed I remember discussing the matter with friends. Back in the summer one of my friends highlighted a recent press release from the WHO which anticipated that it would be 2022 before we had a handle on the virus. She was aghast and I felt condemned when I heard it but thinking the forecast through it made sense. Here we are now, in 2021 the year of the vaccine. Will 2022 be the year of the recovery?

Over the course of the last twelve months so many things have happened to me that it beggars belief. I am glad to say that one calamity that did not befall me was contracting COVID-19. Was it because of the precautions that I, my family and friends took or sheer luck? Recently, I was vaccinated and I am hoping that in two weeks’ time the vaccine will have kicked in and become effective at protecting me. I can’t wait to get my second jab! I still think that it will be another year before we can even contemplate disposing with masks, sanitiser and the two-metre rule. I would dearly love to be wrong.

 

Terp Summit 2021

Although I wasn’t able to attend a lot of the presentations at Terp Summit https://terpsummit.com, the ones I did attend have helped tremendously in improving my home office and making it as comfortable as possible for remote simultaneous interpreting (RSI). I particularly enjoyed the presentations given by Naomi Bowman, Maha El-Metwally and Barry Olsen. I have already ordered more tech and office supplies to change my RSI set-up. The summit was also great for talking to other interpreters in the chatboxes and offline about mixers and headsets. Judy Jenner’s presentation on price quotes was superb. It has made me review my terms and conditions and adjust them. I have already succeeded in getting a client to pay me for recording an assignment. I am grateful to all these people but most of all to Sophie Llewellyn-Smith for coming up with this project and the fantastic idea of The Interpreter’s Toolkit for Success. It contains all the presentations given over the summit’s three days and you can access them for a year. This will definitely keep my continuing professional development going for some time! A big thank you!

The March of Time

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. 

Virtual Backgrounds

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.

March 2018 – 2020

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!

COVID-19 UPDATE

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!

£99.31

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!

 

 

 

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