Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Day in the Life

Once upon a time I led a fairly “normal” life. I went to work Monday to Friday, getting up early, walking my dogs and cat, cleaning up and making myself presentable for the world before, for the eight years before I moved to Germany at least, driving a couple of miles to the local station to catch a Manchester-bound train full of harassed commuters (except for the times when they closed the lines for work, twice in less than two years, totalling nearly a year in all, when I mostly joined the harassed drivers on the motorway rather than travel to another station). I would then work a full, sometimes over-long, day before doing the journey in reverse, walking the dogs and cat and having a short evening of relaxation before bed. (In previous years I had also mucked out a horse before work and, in the summer, ridden after work. Then there was a long, horse-free pause before I acquired my German equine companion.)

You might wonder why I walked the cat. I had two terriers, pretty much cat-sized, who were initially brought up with my two older cats. They sadly passed away at the respectable ages of sixteen and seventeen, leaving a cat-sized gap in the house. So I went to a rescue home with one of the dogs, to ensure that I found a suitable candidate that wasn’t scared of dogs, and brought home a year-old cat who had recently had the kittens that she had had far too young weaned off her. After the initial settling in period, during which she was spayed, she looked around her, spotted that I regularly went out with the dogs for some mysterious reason, and decided she didn’t want to be left out. For ever after she accompanied us on our walks early in the morning and late at night. It was only when I chose to walk later, at the weekends, that she hid from the other dogs and their owners taking exercise and stayed at home. Meanwhile, while I was at work, the dogs shared the cat-flap for access into the (secure) garden when I was not around. But all this is by the by.

My life now is just a little bit different. To earn a crust I have to resort to all means possible. Which, apart from my writing, means that I teach and I translate. The latter only recently as the majority of my German has been slowly and painstakingly learned in situ. This means that I have had to learn to juggle, metaphorically, to ensure that I do all that needs to be done as well as getting a little time for fresh air and exercise for me and the dog and horse – the poor cat having sadly succumbed to cancer a few months ago. And, of course, my writing has to be squeezed in as well. But that is going rather more slowly than I would like at the moment due to the volume of translation. Yesterday I was told one of the teachers at the after-school place I spend an afternoon a week in wants to cut back on her hours. My boss was very pleased to tell me about this; inwardly I cringed. At the moment fitting it in would be a problem, but if the translation work eases off I’ll need the teaching work. What to do?

Anyway, last night I finished my latest translation and today was the day when the OH checked the final chunk that he had not to date seen. He’s German, he speaks fluent but hopelessly grammatical and incorrect English although his vocabulary is excellent, streets ahead of my German vocabulary, and has a fair bit of technical knowledge. Which, seeing as I’m translating technical stuff and I’m no engineer, is a good thing. Except, perhaps it’s not. Today we spent five hours going through the work I had done; he checked everything and I retyped everything he had corrected with the red pen I had thoughtfully supplied him with. The row started when I realised he had added a chunk to what I had written.

This translation has been made rather more difficult than it should be because the original text was in French. The English is at times reasonable, sometimes dodgy, at other times complete nonsense and, just to complicate things further, sometimes isn’t. Isn’t English, that is. There are sentences that start off in English and suddenly carry on in French. Whole sentences not translated at all. And headings that purport to be English but bear no relation to an accurate translation of the original. I know a bit of French, but have had to resort to looking online for translations of the technical words and phrases, of which there are many. So, by the time I passed over the first draft to him, I was feeling somewhat fraught at the whole experience.

Anyway, I found the extra words. I remarked that these hadn’t been in either the English (which in that sentence was a mercifully acceptable and accurate rendition of the original) or in the French. But he said what he had written was more accurate technically (it was about the degree of tightening or untightening of a screw – I forget which, but the original didn’t mention how tight or loose the screw should be). I pointed out that my job was to translate, not to rewrite nit-picking bits about just how tight the screw should be. After all, the engineers doing the job can probably work that out for themselves. He told me that it was better the way he had written it. I told him I needed a translation in accurate German of the text I had been provided with, not a rewrite of the details. We discussed another sentence where he had cut something out that he told me was unnecessary. I put it back in again because it was in the original and I felt that it is not my place to remove things. He threw a sulk.

Now, my German isn’t too bad, but it’s not brilliant either. As the OH and I had agreed when I took on the job and he committed to helping me with my grammar etc., I could turn out a job which would probably contain all the required detail, but would look like one of those many manuals you get that you just know have been translated from the foreign by someone with an extremely poor grasp of English. Well, maybe it would be a little better than that but it would still look like it wasn’t written by a native. My aim is to turn out an accurate version of the original in good German. Without either adding or taking away bits of the text I am working from.

So the next page I was handed had far fewer red marks. In fact hardly any. The odd “der” was changed to “die” or whatever (for those unfamiliar with German, they don’t have just one word corresponding to our “the”. Oh, no. They have a whole range depending on whether the subject or object is masculine, feminine, neuter or plural and what case the word should be in Something I really haven’t perfected. Yet). I looked at the page. I looked at the OH. And I asked him what he was playing at. He grimly informed me that he wasn’t going to change anything any more because I didn’t want him to. I told him that wasn’t what I had meant. Etc. This continued for some time. He went into his martyred mode. I tried to explain exactly what I wanted and he blocked me out. It’s no wonder it took five hours to get the job done…     

At last we managed to reach a compromise. Which involved him doing what I wanted (my sort of compromise, that), mainly after I pointed out to him that any errors in translation would be on my back not his, and I wasn’t going to take the flak for his amendments. And then he started commenting on whole sentences and paragraphs which I had translated well. The first he told me was perfect and he duly wrote “perfect sentence!” beside it. Then I was handed a sheet of paper which had the words “nicly done!” (sic) written on it. Of course I couldn’t let this go. “What do you mean, nicly done?” I had to ask. I have to admit to being quite pleased with myself that I had done some stuff both perfectly and nicly, given the fiendish nature of German grammar (I spend ages sometimes working out the order of complicated sentences, only to have the words shuffled around when my work is checked), but until I have honed my language skills I shall have to continue to ask for help if I don’t want my words to look like one of those examples that are the butt of linguistic jokes everywhere.    

Finally, grumbling about five hours having been spent on all this, the OH went into the garden to rake up quantities of leaves, of which there are many quantities at this time of year. I spent a further hour and a half inside preparing for the lesson I had scheduled for late in the afternoon before driving off to take said lesson. Oh, boy, am I glad that the next translation to be done was actually written in English.

PS I’ve just realised the date. So, to anyone in the US who might be reading this, I wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Today I had a “Thank God I’m not Liz Jones” moment

Before I tell this tale, I think I’d better take a small diversion to answer the question that you may be asking: namely, “Who the hell is Liz Jones and why don’t you want to be her?” If you are a Daily Mail reader in the UK you already know so please forgive me for this, but if you are unfamiliar with the British press in general and Liz Jones in particular you need to know the background. Liz Jones is a “journalist” and “writer” who has various columns in the Daily Mail and its sister paper, The Mail on Sunday. The reason I have put those two words in inverted commas is that she is a very poor example of both. Liz Jones has a weekly “Diary” in the Sunday version of the paper in which she catalogues her sad and sorry life. The Diary is supposed to be factual, but who knows to what extent it really is. She bemoans the fact that she has no friends and that her family no longer speak to her, which facts appear to be a direct effect of her reporting every dealing with anyone close to her in minute and possibly (allegedly) inaccurate detail. She moved five years ago from London following the break-up of a short marriage, to Somerset where she proceeded to report on the locals and alienate them. She is a “fashion guru” who believes women should never be seen in public without being fully made-up and dressed in designer gear. She is on a stupendous salary compared to that of many of her readers yet constantly complains that she is broke. This may well be due to the addiction to the aforementioned designer gear, to the fact that she decided to “rescue” large numbers of animals (and leave them under someone else’s tender care while she was working in London), to the fact that she spent £26,000 on a bat sanctuary, another £26,000 on a new floor, and possibly multiples of £26,000 on various other “essentials”, apart from the large mortgage she took out on the country pile. She claims to be hugely insecure about her body (having had a breast reduction years ago) and face (the face-lift was more recent) yet appears in numerous photographs dotted about her columns. Her life in Somerset was so awful she put her house on the market some time ago, two or three years ago, I think: it has recently, after many hitches, sold, and she has moved out – to the jubilation of her neighbours. Whoever bought the house, which Liz readily admits stinks of dog wee (“wee” being one of her words) because her dogs are not house-trained, deserves a medal. Although it is a beautiful house from the evidence of the pictures.  

All this is mere background: Liz also frequently writes about occasions when she has to shout at shop assistants to get attention (she has trouble with her hearing but that doesn’t excuse sheer rudeness) and is, as she reports, astoundingly rude to many people she has dealings with. Call centre operators get short shrift as does any poor innocent worker in a shop that doesn’t stock her preferred coffee.

So, back to the main topic. At the weekend I went riding wearing my winter jacket – no designer label, bought a couple of years ago from a catalogue produced by a major horse supplies company. For the purposes of practicality, I bought a jacket with zips on the pockets so I can keep keys, money, mobile phone, gloves, tissues, horse treats – you get the picture - secure. Not so long ago I went on a nice ride with some friends and the owner of one of the cars found, when we returned to the field, that she had lost her car key somewhere along the way. Unfortunately the other car driver had given her key to the first car driver, who had locked the second key safely in her car. We had to wait an hour or so before we were rescued. I like to minimise the risks of a similar scenario. But, going back again to where I was, I found at the weekend that one of the zips on my jacket was broken. Everything of value had to be transferred to another pocket. Then someone mentioned to me that there is a shop in Gotha where they mend and replace zips and don’t charge the earth. Great, I thought. I work in Gotha on Tuesdays (Gotha is the Gotha part of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, where Prince Albert came from, by the way. In case you were interested). I can take the jacket in and, if I’m very lucky, I may get it back by Wednesday, when I pass by Gotha on the way to working elsewhere and could pop into town if necessary.

Today I emptied all the other pockets of the jacket, brushed it off (I wore it riding this morning and haven’t had time to wash it) and took it into town with me. The shop is conveniently situated on the road I walk down to get to work. Couldn’t be better. I walked in and was greeted by a smiling woman standing behind the counter. I produced the jacket, apologised for the fact that it was slightly grubby (I had wiped off the slobber my horse had deposited on it earlier, so it wasn’t too dirty) and showed her the problem. Oh dear, she said, it was a tricky one. They couldn’t put in a zip of the right colour and it would cost a lot. £26,000 at least. No, ok, I tell a lie. She quoted €14. But still. Now, had I been Liz Jones, the appropriate reaction here would no doubt have been to stamp my foot, shouting loudly that this was not good enough and what has happened to customer service nowadays? Keeping a snarl on my face the while. Although, I suppose, had I been Liz Jones I wouldn’t have taken my designer jacket into such a shop in the first place. In fact I would have thrown it out and bought a new one because the zip on one of the pockets was broken. However, assuming the theory that she would take her jacket into a shop to have it repaired, she would have thrown a major wobbler at being told that a new zip was possible but impractical and wouldn’t look 100% right. But no, I restrained myself. The smiling woman then asked whether I really needed a zip. I explained that it was my riding jacket and yes, I needed secure pockets to hold the already mentioned keys, mobile phone, cash etc.  Hmm, she said (or the German equivalent thereof), since £26,000 (sorry, €14) was a lot of money for a zip that didn’t even match, would I put up with a couple of buttons or similar, making the pocket secure enough for a mobile phone or a glove. Yes, I said, I could live with that. Good, she said. And could I come back in a little while? I said that I was working round the corner until five and would happily come back then. Are you English? she asked? Yes, I said. And do you live here in town? she asked. Nearby, I replied. Then we said our goodbyes and I left, promising to come back later to collect the jacket. As I went out of the door I could hear her excitedly telling a couple of colleagues who were seated busily making repairs, She’s English, you know. I left with a smile and went off to teach bored teenagers who would rather be anywhere other than stuck inside learning English after school.

Later on I went back to the shop and the smiling woman recognised me immediately. She retrieved my jacket and showed me the two press studs that had been neatly sewn on the pocket and looked absolutely in keeping. My mobile and a glove will be perfectly safe in the pocket once more. Then I took out my purse, looked at her with that sort of “how much” look that needs no words and she waved me away. She really waved me away and didn’t ask me for a single, solitary Euro cent. Now there’s a shop I’ll go back to the next time I have a broken zip, and I’ll be happy to pay what it costs next time. As I left the shop, with a big smile on my face, my first thought was along the lines of the milk of human kindness and all that. And my second thought was – Thank God I’m not Liz Jones.      

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Surfeit of Dogs

Due to having rather too much work of the kind that is guaranteed to pay money for me to keep up with settling the bills, as opposed to the writing kind of work that has no certain pay cheque attached to it, I’ve been a bit lax about writing blogs of late. But since I have just finished something and am taking a short breather before going on to the next thing, I decided I had better squeeze in a new post. I don’t want to get out of practice.

My house (actually it is a flat, but never mind semantics) has been invaded. I am playing host to two small dogs for a few days and they have taken over my space and my time. My own dog, a mixture containing some German Shepherd, at least a little Husky and I’m not sure what else – she was given to me and I never saw her parents, but she is a lovely dog whatever her breeding – is settled in her ways and has her own place and routines. One of the two visitors has stayed here before, but although the other has been here for the odd evening this is the first time she has stayed overnight. The owners, who have gone away until the weekend, have four dogs and share them out amongst friends when they need dog-sitters. One of the other usual volunteers is herself on holiday (that is another story. She and her husband went to New York for a fortnight a week ago. I believe they have upped sticks and moved on to Niagara Falls, but I’m sure they will have some interesting hurricane stories when they get back) so this time I have not one but two extra mouths to feed, and dogs to walk.

On the other occasions I have hosted visitor number one the weather was warmer. Ten days ago we had temperatures in the 20s (Celsius, of course. Not Fahrenheit – they don’t do Fahrenheit in Germany, although the temperature scale was named after someone with German antecedents. Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit, in case you’ve ever wondered) then early last Saturday I opened my front door to let my dog out and was greeted by two inches of snow. That has melted, but it is still pretty chilly. So my wood burning stove is burning merrily and keeping the flat warm and cosy. My dog has never been allowed in the sitting room, where the fire is (although it is next door to the kitchen and the heat permeates through the open door), but the two visitors have taken up residence on the sofa in front of it. Number one visitor occasionally growls, mainly because she suffers from the Napoleon complex that haunts many small dogs. She is noisy – the noisiest of my friends’ four dogs, as well as the smallest – and can be aggressive with strangers. As well as with other dogs who want to take her toys off her. She is also fiercely loyal to those people she had decided to attach herself to and will guard their possessions, growling at all who approach as she sits by a pair of shoes or a rucksack belonging to one of the girls who stays sometimes with my friends. So now she lies on the sofa warning her companion away from the chew bone she has adopted. My own dog’s nose is rather out of joint as a result of this invasion.

Last night, I took all the dogs out – no letting them run free in the garden, since the fence is not totally secure for such small dogs (have I mentioned their size before? Sorry. But to explain, number one is a Chihuahua x Dachshund and number two is Bichon Frise x Jack Russell, both rather hairy, both very cute) so I have to get up and dressed early as well as going out late with them all – then brought them back in for the night. My dog has her bed in my large hallway, and number one visitor understands the system. Number two, however, made it quite plain that she wasn’t happy with that. She barged her way back in from the hallway and took up residence once more on the sofa. So I gave in to her. I’m now worrying whether tonight number one visitor will decide that she is being discriminated against and insist on joining number two visitor on the sofa. Or, worse still, she will decide to move onto my bed, since I keep the bedroom door open in order to keep the room warm. If she stays on the sofa, I shall probably be kept awake by intermittent growling, but I’m not keen on having her on the bed; that may encourage number two visitor. Coupled with which, I would then start feeling guilty about shutting out my own dog. And that would never do.

To give my own dog a bit of time away from the interlopers, and because I can let her run free without worrying about her, which I obviously can’t with the other two, I took her when I went to check on my horse today (no time for riding, sadly) but left the other two behind. I returned home to be greeted by barking. Number one visitor, of course; number two is not generally a barker. Settling at the computer, where I can swivel round to the table piled with dictionaries (standard German-English / English-German, Technical English-German, Technical German-English) and files of machine operating instructions that I am translating, I had to fend off dogs who wanted to sit on my lap. When this failed I had to type with one hand. After a satisfyingly productive time I decided to walk all the dogs before it got dark. The clocks went back last weekend. I swear that last week it wasn’t dark until seven, but now it is more like five o’clock. How can this be when the clocks only moved back one hour? Anyway, it seems that half the dog owners in the village had the same idea. I am fortunate in that I can go out of my back gate into the local park and from there I am soon in the fields, so I don’t need to walk along the roads. Which was a good thing as the two visitors were whizzing around causing the three leads to plait themselves. I wasn’t able to let my own dog off the lead, which would have made the situation at least a bit easier, as walking along the field were several of the more aggressive of the village’s dog population. Having been supplied with a very short lead for number one visitor, I had substituted it with an extending one of my own (which used to belong to my one of own small dogs, now sadly no longer with us) and she hurtled around from side to side and forwards and backwards until she reached the full extent of the lead and sprang backwards, then she repeated the exercise. Number two dog, who is rather more mature, and my own, bounded around with almost as much enthusiasm but a little less velocity.  

It will soon be time for bed and before that I will be going out again. It is drizzling now. Or it was an hour or so back, but since the forecast is for heavy rain it may be worse by the time I go out. I really like my friends’ dogs, and I’m happy to look after them for a short while, but it will be so nice to get back into my own routine and not have to go out in all weathers in the pitch dark. (Before you jump to the conclusion that I am a cruel dog owner who is too lazy to walk her dog, that is far from the truth. On the days when I don’t ride, I make sure we go for decent walks. On riding days we can sometimes be out for many hours, so my dog is extremely well exercised.) The two visitors now have started a growling duet. I’m not sure what that is all about, so I suppose I’d better go and check on them. Next time I manage to post, I should be back to the normal complement of dogs. Or dog, to be more accurate. She will be happy about that, I’m sure.