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raining cats and dogs

I was going to call this blog post “Best laid plans”, but as things got progressively worse last week, I decided “It never rains but it pours” was much more fitting. And coincidentally it’s actually pouring with rain outside as I write, the first real rain we’ve had in ages in this South-East corner of England.

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you take two steps forward, and three back? Well, my last seven or so days have been just like that – in fact, make that the whole year. This is fast becoming my annus horribilis in healthcare terms, both mine and my pets’. Back in March I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament on the ski slopes and am still waiting for a reconstruction operation, as regular readers may recall. Then just a few weeks before I was due to go on holiday in September, I managed to pour a hot cup of tea (Lapsong of course, so no milk!) all over my midriff one Sunday evening, ending up with very nasty blistered burns and an emergency dash to A&E. Sigh.

This time, it had all started to go wrong the previous Friday, when I’d just returned from my morning dog walk and noticed a small crowd gathering on the pavement outside my house. I thought I’d better go out and see if I could help – we have notoriously dreadful mobile reception around here, and I thought my landline might be needed. It turned out to be a lady who had tripped over a raised manhole cover and was lying face down on the pavement, in considerable pain and unable to move. By this time there was already quite a crowd of people ministering to her, including a former nurse and an AA man who did a sterling job of providing the fourth emergency service! I took out ibuprofen, blankets, ice packs, water, tea and a chair, but we didn’t dare lift her just in case she’d injured her back. A passing ambulance car stopped at one stage – on its way to another call-out – but couldn’t do much as they didn’t have the stretchers or equipment to lift her safely. The ambulance finally arrived after well over 3 hours, and took the poor lady away to hospital. I didn’t stay out all the time, but it was hard to settle to anything with all the drama going on, and I ended up achieving virtually nothing workwise all day. To say nothing of it being a sad reflection on the current state of the NHS, of course…


I’d already had a slow week, having arrived back from my trip to the US to attend my son’s American wedding celebrations the previous Monday and had been feeling jet-lagged and sluggish ever since, so this really wasn’t what I’d intended doing with my Friday. But needs must – in the end, I decided to give the day up as a bad job, mow my lawn (a good idea as it happened, as it drizzled the whole of Saturday!) and go and catch up on the shopping I had to do in town. The translations I’d intended to do on Friday would have to be slotted in over the weekend for their Monday deadline. I try and avoid working at the weekend as a rule, but one of the benefits of working from home is that you can make up slack at other times if you really have to.

On Sunday morning I came downstairs to find that my older dog, Poppy (13), could barely stand, and was completely dizzy and confused. Her eyes were flickering very rapidly from side to side, and her head was permanently tilted to one side. She’d had something similar a few months ago, but it had passed within a matter of minutes. When I’d mentioned it to the vet afterwards, he’d said it wasn’t a stroke, as I’d feared, but an “episode” that older dogs can be prone to, and just to keep her calm and let her recover. This time, she was getting rapidly worse, not better, shaking like a leaf, panting, and very miserable. Time for a trip to the emergency vet in the nearest town (why do these things always happen on a Sunday or the dead of night?!).

To cut a long story short, I ended up leaving her with the vet overnight: she had what’s known as “old dog vestibular syndrome”, an inner ear/balance problem – no-one seemed to know what had caused it, and it will take a while for her to recover this time, but slowly and surely we’re getting there. She’s still very wobbly, and I have to carry her up and downstairs, plus the first few days it was quite a challenge persuading her to eat. She’s not a great eater at the best of times, having a dysfunctional pharynx, so urgent measures were called for in the shape of puréed chicken and vegetables in homemade chicken broth. Result! The patient’s recovery turned a corner when she started lapping up her invalid diet, thank goodness. Inevitably all this toing and froing, lifting and carrying, nursing and cooking took up a lot of time, so work got pushed to whenever I could fit it in – usually late at night.

Sad Poppy

While all this was playing out, I had an ongoing saga with a bank transfer from a longstanding French client that should have been processed while I was away, but strangely kept on being rejected. This went on and on, with both my client and I getting equally frustrated. It transpired that the problem lay with my bank, First Direct, having changed its IBAN and BIC codes a year ago when HSBC and First Direct were forced to separate due to changes in the banking code. I had notified all my clients last year when I was first informed of the change and have been receiving payments without any issues in the meantime. Apparently First Direct had been accepting the old codes for a year, but stopped with effect from mid-September. My client’s French bank didn’t seem to be able to change the BIC code associated with the IBAN code and the transfer kept defaulting to the old code and being rejected as a result. In the end (after much head banging on both sides), I set up a Transferwise Borderless account and asked the client to pay me that way instead – bingo! Very impressive, but as you can imagine, I really could have done without the extra hassle this week of all weeks…

bang head here

That same evening, just as I’d sorted out my banking woes, and was desperately tying to catch up on everything I needed to do before going to yoga (to destress and if possible relax!), my food processor (for the invalid diet, of course) chose that very moment to disintegrate in my hands. Sigh again. I was starting to think that this really wasn’t my week – what on earth had I done to deserve this catalogue of disasters?! Needless to say, I didn’t get to yoga.

And then, to top it all, my other dog, Leo (7), a usually bouncy labrador, had been suffering since mid-week from a progressively upset stomach, with associated chaos to clean up in the kitchen every morning. By Saturday morning, I decided he would have to go to the vet too, as despite being put on Poppy’s invalid diet, he didn’t seem to be responding. Whether he was ill in sympathy with Poppy, or had eaten something noxious, as labradors are prone to, I have no idea…

Cue another weekend trip to the vet (although fortunately Saturday mornings aren’t classed as emergency out-of-hours with the associated exorbitant fees – thank goodness for pet insurance!). Gastroenteritis diagnosed, antibiotics and probiotics prescribed, plus a continuation of the invalid diet. Phew. Fortunately, he’s responded virtually immediately and seems to be on the mend, thank goodness.

Leo and the toadstool

And the reason for the post? Quite apart from sharing my woeful week, I thought it worth passing on the lessons I’ve put to good use during this stressful week. As freelancers, we do have the advantage that we can catch up if our day doesn’t go as planned. We can work in the evenings and at weekends to make up for lost time. But sometimes, when things go really pear-shaped for a longer period, it’s OK to just accept that you can’t do it all and to go with the flow. Colleagues with young children and elderly parents, not just ailing pets, will know only too well that illnesses and accidents can and do happen, and obviously take priority over work, especially if you’re coping alone.

These are my key takeaways from my week from hell:

1. Try and keep clients in the loop: you don’t need to tell them all the grisly details, but they are much more likely to be sympathetic if you let them know as soon as possible that there’s a problem.

2. I didn’t miss any deadlines, but I did end up working later in the evening than I’d have liked. That made it essential to make sure I allowed time to do a final freestanding check the next morning before I sent the finished translation back. This is good practice at the best of times, but all the more so if you’re working under stress, when it’s only too easy to miss that repeated word or overlook a sentence or clause.

3. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, at this time in particular. It’s very tempting to think you can squeeze in that juicy little job for your favourite client, but when you’re already behind, just don’t do it. Pace yourself!

4. Offer longer deadlines than you think you’ll need – you may be glad of the extra time. And renegotiate existing deadlines early enough if you really need to.

5. Be systematic with your workload: if you have a number of pending jobs, make sure you do them in the right order. Don’t be tempted to do one with a longer deadline because it looks easier, or you like the subject matter more. Therein lies a recipe for disaster…

6. Try and cut yourself some slack. You can’t do it all, so just accept that it is what it is and make time for yourself if you can. I may not have got to yoga, but I did manage to sit down with a cup of tea, a welcome piece of cake and catch up on Bake-Off – sometimes that’s all you need.

Courgette tea bread

Now if anyone can tell me how to prevent the world conspiring against me, I’d be very grateful. Or perhaps I’d better just lie low until 2019….