This Day and Age : A Poem by David Wolfenden

This Day and Age

By David Wolfenden

“Come in”, with a gentle voice called the old sage
After hearing the knock, bookmarking their page,
And moving around to the side of their desk.
The client harrumphed and clearing their chest;
Said, “Excuse me, Astute one, I’m here for our session.
An odd one this week, please, I need your impression
Of how to prepare for this new online practice.
I’m a little bit anxious. To be honest, the fact is
That my training to date hasn’t been in 2D
And this flat-screen malarkey is getting to me.


I really would welcome your veteran view
Of this honoured career I’ve now entered into.
I see your great age, hear your squeaking knees;
I’d really like to ask you please
For some help getting set, and I mean no offence,
But you sure are a Terper of experience.
I’m in need of some tips to begin this great journey
As it wasn’t all taught this last term at my Uni.
It makes me feel queasy now I’m starting out
Beginning to freelance – for I have some doubts.


I cannot with ease brief the Chair of the meeting,
Nor with my co-worker arrange a pre-briefing,
Nor make use of the training I’ve role-played galore
To ask, “You been worked with a Terper before?”
You log on, and bam! You’re there in the room!
You’re off like a shot on a platform like Zoom.
There’s no time in my head to just set up the scene,
Write glossaries, either. I’m just so darn keen
To ensure that I try hard to do my best work
In Audience Design, and not look like a berk”.


The old one reached forward and lit up a pipe
Removed their eyeglasses and gave them a wipe,
“Let us think, then, my dear, of these interesting things,
Of these strange new Demands that this locking-down brings.
Let us have a good chat about The De-Brief
And yet even though it’s my honest belief
You know much of this stuff yes, its true, my young one,
You’ll probably see by the time we are done
That your generation needs no techy teachings
Of screenshots and mobiles, Applications and such things.


As for the subject of “job preparation”
I think a couple of things are worthy of mention.
To feed your co-workers through screens, as you know,
Takes over the mike and thus kills audio.
But a free call, instead, through WhatsApp or FaceTime,
With earbuds blue-toothed to the open phone line,
Unmuting your end when you proffer a feed
Can slyly and most unobtrusively lead
To working the same as in previous years
By whispering gently in each other’s ears.”


Excited, the youngster reached down in their bag
And scrabbled around for a pen and notepad.
“I’ll jot that tip down to remind me, you see,
We could also discuss who kicks off; them or me?
And if I called early with my morning drink
We could still have a gossip! Important, I think.
Especially now when we feel so divorced
From each other. Sometimes my smile feels so forced.
Coz it’s hard to feel networked or part of a team
When you’re working remotely facing Covid-19.


But there may be some face-to-face work in the offing
I’ll be Covid Secure, but I’m worried about my coughing
It might cause a new outbreak or worse, I would say
If I’ve many more face-to-face jobs that same day.”
Seeing the concern in the Novice’s eye
The sage had a ponder whilst reaching up high
To the bookshelf, returning the earlier text,
And refreshing the teapot, said, “You sound perplexed.
And not the first person to focus their thinking
On the perils inherent in multi-site working.


Robert Adam described, very eloquently”,
The elder continued whilst sipping some tea,
“In a DIN webinar just from June 24
If you missed it, it’s still found online, I am sure.
He spoke of The Terpreter Super Spreader
Especially freelance, so we need to be clever.
A change of clothes handy, a shower between jobs;
And masks to keep folk from the spray of our gobs.
Take a look at his film on ASLI org dot UK
And make some notes then, from what he had to say.”


“I will, thank you much. But now I digress
What of my workstation? My broadband, I confess,
Was bought on a tariff that was not designed
For two video connections at any one time.”
The senior smiled kindly and poured them more tea
Saying, “There is a thought that occurs now to me
I’d have thought that in 2020/21
The most accessible way to get terpreting done
Will be online platforms and via those apps
So upgrade your network else trade could collapse.


And as for computers, I have been advised
Apples older than 7, PCs older than 5
Should be upgraded now. You’ll find if you do
That start-up from cold will be shortened, it’s true,
And programmes run faster; they’ll go like a dream
The video’s great from an up-to-date screen.
I come now from the garden all covered in muck
To boot-up and change top and with some good luck
I’m logged in and settled, and ready to go
In six minutes! Not bad for someone so old!”


The novice grinned silently. “Gardening! Oh, please!”
As they put down their notebook and pen on their knees.
“I’m concerned I’ll be working from home most of the time
How should I relax from assignments of mine?
I used to wind down on the journey back home.
But now, clients seem never to leave me alone.
They stay in my head. For example just where
In front of the PC, sitting on my work chair.
That’s where I interpreted someone had died,
And also, two weeks back, a client had cried.”


“I’ve just finished reading a most helpful source”,
The sage said to the youngster, “That I fully endorse;
Caron et al have given this thought
‘Lockdown Stories’ in Newsli: get a copy, you ought.”
Thinking of other supportive suggestions
The sage thought about some more regular sessions,
“Supervision four-weekly, or more often instead
Can give you a safe space to settle your head.
You could also go run around the block when logged-out
That’ll help clear your mind. You can let it all out.


New Demands are appearing (see Pollard and Dean)
Trying out new Controls in the interpreting scene.
Online pre-meets with co-workers and Chair
To see if the platform leaves your name in a square
When you switch off the camera whilst taking a break.
Or do all their windows shift round by mistake?
If the former, then switch it on just when the time is right
To swap shifts. If the latter, you rest in plain sight.”
“Alas, I, and my classmates as well, so it seems,
Just haven’t had practice at terping through screens!”


They then quoted from ASLI’s Best Practice Guideline
That experienced terps be exclusively online.
“We’re Under New Management now, so I think
Since I know my own clients, I get how they think
And I worked with them hitherto in their workplace
So I do know their background; their team know my face.”
“With such background data”, it appeared to the sage,
“I concur with your thoughts and agree, at your age
It’s no problem for terps with such preparation
To offer good craft in this new situation.”


“I now ask about lighting my face on the screen
To ensure that I’m clear and NMFs can be seen.
Natural light seems to me, in theory, now viable
But the weather in Britain is rarely reliable.
Should I invest in box lights that photographers use?
Selfie-rings or up-lighters, there’s so much to choose
From out there. Can you help me to make a selection?
Which collection should warrant my closer inspection?”
“The way these new cameras deal with the white balance
Compares your face with your background and runs some adjustments.


If your background is black, selfie ring will do fine.
If you’ve beige behind, Youngster, it’s probably time
To surf “Lighting Kits (Sofbox)” they’re really quite sound
And can be home delivered for £70.
I see that, like me, you also wear glasses.
Reflection on the camera is bright in most cases.
So hanging some muslin in front of the light
Will provide your viewer with a more comfortable sight.
As long as you’re soundproofed, a built-in mike’s slick.
If not, blue-toothed earbuds should do the trick.


Before I forget, though, it just wouldn’t be fair
For me, not to mention your own office chair.
You’ve probably got one that’s comfy for short-term
But hour after hour, cheeks are likely to burn.
So upgrade that soon, or you’ll be in a fix
The important word here, though, is Ergonomics.”


“What of the future? Great interpreter-wise?
Are freelancers facing their market demise?
Will all of the work go VRS / VRI?
With face-to-face rarely?” they asked with a sigh.


“Remote work has so much to say for itself”,
The old sage replied from beneath the bookshelf,
“Assignments seem short with Zoom’s 40-min span,
Therefore more concise, more efficient, and can
Led to tighter agendas, and Chairing handled with ease.
Such assignments are likely to stay, do you see?


And for disparate teams to agree on a date
In their schedules to meet without being late
Due to traffic or earlier things over-running
The Web is a boon. So I see the day coming
With most of these happening also online.
But we all are adapting in this tricky time.


With PPE terping where it Covid Safe
And transparent visors in front of our faces.
But the long and the short of it seem pretty clear
We do not yet know; ask again in a year.”


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