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boy scouts

“Be Prepared” – I have a dim and distant memory that this is also the motto of the Scouting movement, not that I was ever a Guide, or even a Brownie – I’d much rather have had my head in a book, even in those days. Still, it’s not a bad principle on which to base a freelance career, and I’m sure we all like to think we are prepared for every professional eventuality. But are we? Often, it’s only when push comes to shove that we realise how unprepared we actually are…

I had just such a situation last Tuesday, when the power suddenly went off out of the blue. We very rarely have power cuts in my neck of the woods nowadays, so I assumed it would soon be back on again – after all, it was a lovely sunny day, early afternoon, so hardly peak time. As luck would have it, I’d just received back a translation I’d outsourced to a colleague, and which I was intending to proof-read next before returning to the client by close of play. I acknowledged (or thought I did!) receipt of the job to my colleague, then came downstairs for a quick lunch, only to find the fridge light off. It took me a while to realise it was a power cut, but I assumed it would soon be restored and went outside to have my lunch – no power required for crackers and cheese!no electricityOn returning to my desk 20 minutes later, the power was still off. No problem, I thought: my laptop was powered up, with a full battery (although in hibernation mode, as is my wont as a conscientious green translator), so I’d just access the job that way. No joy. With the power down, there was no wifi, and as it had been “sleeping”, any e-mails there might have been wouldn’t have been picked up until it awoke from its slumbers. Drat, drat and double drat. Normally, if I have a wifi issue I can’t resolve, I can piggyback next door’s BT wifi as a BT customer via the BT wifi hotspot scheme which gives you two hours’ access to other BT wifi hubs before you have to log on again – useful when changing providers. No such luck, though, so clearly next door’s was down as well. I checked on my ‘phone and iPad too, thinking I could access it there, but same problem. The power must just have gone off the minute after the e-mail had arrived.

Even living out in the sticks, as I do, albeit in a fairly affluent village 50 or so miles from London, you’d think we’d get decent mobile reception in the 21st century, but you’d be wrong. Without wifi, I have very dodgy mobile ‘phone reception and no data whatsoever. And yes, I’ve tried changing provider, but they all seem to be as bad as each other…. Even the landline needs power to work, as I have a modern ‘phone handset system with one base and four handsets, but they don’t work without electricity. (Note to self: buy a cheap old-fashioned handset for just such an occasion!).

Eventually I managed, by dint of leaning out of the window in my study, to get enough signal to call my electricity supplier and try and find out how long this was going to go on. All the time, the clock was ticking with my deadline, needless to say. I also managed to text my son, who happens to work for this particular client, to ask him to let them know I had an issue – so that was one weight off my shoulders, at least. After being cut off several times thanks to erratic signal, I finally got through to my supplier, only to find that there’s a dedicated number to call in the event of power cuts in the UK: 105. Who knew? Certainly not me – probably shows how long it is since we last had one… duly noted for future reference. On ringing 105, I managed to find out that it was a local outage, affecting just 80 households, due to someone with a digger going through a main power line and short-circuiting the rest. Oh, and sorry, it would be off until at least 6-7pm while they tried to repair the problem – aaagh! No good at all for my imminent deadline, no matter how helpful the power network operator. He suggested trying an internet café – in a country village?! No such thing, and as I said, mobile data is very erratic at the best of times.


In the end, I had the brainwave of taking my laptop and going hotdesking at a friend’s just up the road. They have a small alternative medicine practice and a free office I could use to finish my job that afternoon. Huge relief: connected to wifi, at last, I found that the power must have gone off even as I sent my acknowledgement, as that hadn’t been delivered either. Mission eventually accomplished, I managed to return the job, duly proof-read, by 5.30 and return home by 6pm to find the power had just been restored. Phew!

So what lessons have I learned? Well, all the back-up systems in the world don’t help if you have no power and no internet access.  I have two computers, a desktop model that I usually use for work, and a laptop, almost as powerful, that lives in the kitchen and can serve as standby if necessary. I back up my computer to the cloud each day with Mozy, and keep important files on Dropbox or OneDrive, via my Microsoft 360 subscription, but in this particular case, I had no means of accessing a file which had just arrived and was only on my desktop. I suppose if I’d managed to print it out, that might have helped, but again my desire to be green means I print very rarely these days – and for an external editing job, I find it easier to edit on my widescreen monitor with the two documents side-by-side, making any changes as I go.

I didn’t need Trados in this case, but I have a Trados Freelance Plus licence, which allows me to use the program on two computers – so had I simply had a problem with one machine, I would have been covered. Without power, of course, both were stymied. I do keep some TMs and termbases on OneDrive, so I can access them from any machine, but confidentiality issues mean I don’t do that for most of my clients. Instead, I try and keep relatively up-to-date copies of TMs on both computers and can download files up to a day old from the Mozy back-up if need be. Yet again, without power, none of this was any use. An external hard drive might be another option, but again, no use without electricity.

All of which goes to show how dependent we are, not just on technology, but on electricity itself. I remember the dark days of the Winter of Discontent in the 70s, when we had three-day weeks and regular blackouts – meals by candlelight and no television were quite common, although hardly normal. Our jobs were less dependent on technology in those days, though, and working from home was a rarity, not that I was of working age at that time (she hastened to add…).

When we moved down to the South-East from Scotland back in 2003, we had no landline for 3 weeks, as a joyrider had crashed into the telegraph pole outside the house the weekend before and it took that long to fix! That was bad enough, with no mobile reception at all, but I was only working part-time and had notified clients that I would be unavailable for a few weeks due to the move anyway. Even then, I recall going to the local library in the next town to keep in touch with clients as time moved on and we still had no ‘phone. The stuff of nightmares….

How many of us hand-write our translations these days, or send them by post? Very few, I would guess. And our systems just aren’t set up to function without power. I didn’t have to let my client down in the end, thank goodness, but I had a very hairy afternoon worrying that I might have to. Short of having a generator, hardly practical in a smallish Thirties semi, I’m not sure what else I could have done to protect myself. Thank goodness for friends in the vicinity! Any suggestions? Here’s hoping it’s several years before it happens again….