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Dogs in the bluebells

Everyone has a different take on the lockdown experience. None of us knew what to expect when lockdown was announced on 23 March, just as none of us have any idea what’s going to happen next, either workwise or in our personal lives. Will work pick up? When can we get our hair cut? When can we have larger family gatherings again? When will foreign travel be back on the cards? Who knows?!

It’s taken me a while to get around to writing this latest post; as I said in my last post back in March, I’ve been lucky enough not to have experienced any downturn in work requests, so have been working flat-out as well as having family at home to keep me well and truly occupied. My son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter (plus dog) were supposed to be moving house the week lockdown was announced, so decided to come home to a house with food in the cupboards and childcare on hand for a demanding one-year-old! As distraction therapy to combat the worries caused by the harrowing daily news coverage, that takes some beating… It was an unexpected blessing, of course, to spend so much time with my granddaughter, especially when others have been denied that pleasure, but I wish I hadn’t been trying to juggle so many other things at the same time! I’m also extremely grateful to live in a beautiful rural area, so getting out for my daily dog walk/exercise hasn’t been an issue.

Granny and Zoe in the daisies

But life has certainly been very full-on over the past 10 weeks. Household chores that you never give a second thought to in normal life, like shopping, have suddenly become all-consuming. Although I’m fortunate to live in a small village with two excellent small supermarkets, plus great independent stores such as a farm shop, deli, organic wholefoods store, butcher, fish van (twice a week – still!) and a pop-up vegetable stall, doing the shopping suddenly takes an age as you queue outside each one, meet lots of friends and acquaintances in the process and, before you know where you are, a couple of hours has gone! Dog walking can likewise take forever if you bump into a fellow dog owner and spend ages chatting – at the requisite distance of course. Everyone is sorely missing the day-to-day contact and keen to chat, so it just seems rude not to.

Sorting out online shopping deliveries for me and my elderly parents is equally time-consuming – I’ve managed to get alternate weekly deliveries for both of us, to different addresses. As far as I can work out, this was mainly by dint of being an Ocado Smart Pass holder and a night owl, meaning I was still up when the latest slots were released! Or perhaps my rural location came into play? People in the cities certainly seem to have found it harder to get online deliveries. With my parents, there’s then the added time required to review the list with my Mum before the cut-off time and go through, adding and deleting items, with the extra hassle of so many things not being in stock. We’ve gone from toilet roll shortages (what was that all about?!) to a dearth of paracetamol products, hand sanitiser and wipes, and now flour and yeast have been in short supply for many weeks as everyone turns to lockdown baking to keep themselves amused (of which more later).

Another first is that I keep hitting my monthly allowance for ‘phone calls – unheard of in normal times! I’ve been ‘phoning my parents more than usual to make sure they’re still on an even keel, of course. I’ve also had lots of other chats with friends and family by ‘phone, What’s App and various other technological wizardry, as well as online quizzes, webinars and coffee mornings special mention to the fabulous ITI office team who have done a great job dreaming up these online offerings to keep us all focussed, socialised and in the picture. With my ITI Board and Professional Development Committee hats on, meetings have continued apace, albeit virtually where they might otherwise have been in person. I’ve even invested in a new webcam for my desktop PC for all the new Zoom meetings (previously just audio, but it seems more important than ever to actually see other people nowadays!). My laptop has an in-built webcam, but it’s hard to see everyone and the agenda/slides on a small screen if you’re taking part in a larger meeting.

Then again, this is the busiest time of year in the garden, so I feel I’ve been chasing my tail trying to get everything planted on top of everything else. Not remotely important in the scheme of things, yet gardening is supremely good for the soul and I always feel better after a few hours spent on the plot or out in the fresh air in my small garden at home. And while fresh produce has held up in the shops, despite the panic-buying at the outset, it’s good to know my table will be well stocked for the foreseeable future.

Allotment haul

Likewise cooking and baking: there’s been plenty of opportunity for experimentation with a full house, and it’s surprising how fast the fridge empties when there are four of you rather than just one! I think my son certainly appreciated the constant deliveries of coffee and cake as he was working away on his Zoom team meetings in my spare room…

Kaffee und Kuchen

My daughter-in-law is gluten-intolerant, which made finding supplies of gluten-free or spelt flour even more of a challenge, but thanks to a neighbour who bakes even more than me and has a regular online flour delivery, we managed to secure a plentiful supply. When my yeast stocks started to dwindle at an alarming rate, I decided to experiment with sourdough using starter from a friend and a no-knead recipe from my younger son in Boston – with excellent results. So much so that I may continue making it even after the crisis comes to an end…


Another bonus of this enforced lockdown has been the true community spirit that has developed, not only between colleagues, as you’d expect, but between neighbours and even strangers in the village. There have been numerous swaps going on: flour for compost between me and my neighbour, seeds for willow canes and rhubarb, asparagus for strawberries at the allotment, sourdough starter and tips between family members and friends, knitting patterns between like-minded friends and colleagues. It would be so nice to see this continuing in our new life post-Coronavirus….

And as for work: hard to say for sure why so many colleagues have been so badly affected whereas others haven’t. I was asked to be a panellist on the ITI’s Covid Webinar last week, which presented interesting figures from the latest ITI Pulse Survey and findings from Nimdzi’s language industry research, as well as shared experiences. ITI members can find the recording by logging into ITI and looking at the webinar library. To my mind, luck certainly has a part to play, as no-one could have predicted something on this scale taking out sectors as diverse as tourism, aviation, luxury goods, retail and manufacturing in one fell swoop. Health & safety and intellectual property have held up for me, but also some specialist marketing jobs and work for large corporate clients. All I can recommend is making sure that you specialise in more than one area – or perhaps very different areas within a specialisation. Working with a range of clients is also key, especially if you have a mix of agencies, direct clients, individuals and government/international organisations on your books – easier said than done, I know.

Another thing you could do if work is still thin on the ground is think about starting a revision club with one or more colleagues working in the same language pairs. Simon Berrill has written and spoken about this on many occasions, notably here, but it’s long been recognised that working with a reviser is best practice. This needn’t be an added cost, something new translators are understandably cautious about undertaking, especially in these uncertain days. You can do it on a quid pro quo basis, keeping a record of how many hours you’ve revised for each other in a simple spreadsheet. Even if you aren’t working on many paid jobs at the moment, you could still set up a revision partnership and get a system going, which will definitely stand you in good stead for the future and get you into the habit of brainstorming with a colleague.

Mentoring schemes are something else you could investigate: many of the ITI language networks offer them and for a very reasonable fee you can be mentored for 6 months by an experienced MITI or FITI colleague. At the other end of the scale, if you have more time than usual on your hands, you could consider becoming a mentor to give something back to the profession and gain an insight into life as a newbie translator in these times.

And keep on networking, either via regional or language networks or online forums – never forget how important referrals and recommendations are in our profession. If you can make a good impression, even via an online presence, that’s half the battle. I’ve had far more requests than I could accommodate these last two months so have either outsourced to trusted colleagues or, for languages or specialist areas outside my comfort zone, referred my clients on to other translators, sometimes by posting on e-groups/forums. I hate to borrow the government’s “Stay Alert” mantra, but if you keep engaged with the profession, even during this lowest of low periods, you never know what might come out of it. Even blogging, chatting on a forum or writing an article for the Bulletin could reap rewards – you never know unless you try.

My son and family have moved into their new house now, against all the odds in these strange times, so my usual working-from-home status quo is resuming: just Leo and me. Here’s hoping that we can all turn the corner soon, and that work and normal life will start to pick up across the board.

Leo at the gate