A Bit of a Worry

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Elasticated Waistbands are So Practical

When I first went to university 25 years ago, full grants and no loans hanging over us meant that part-time jobs were rare.

I was chatting to one of the youngsters at college, one of the proper students, when she mentioned that she attends pole-dancing classes. I know that some students end up working in the "sex industry" to supplement their income, but I hadn't realised that the training of new recruits was so well organised. "It's an exercise class." she told me "It really firms up your abs. You should try it". The latter comment was directed at another student sitting at the lunch table with us, rather than at me. "Ooh" her friend said, interested, "What kind of clothes do you have to wear to the class?" I suggested something easy to tuck money into, but they ignored me.

I'm lucky enough not to need a part time job, let alone one that requires such well developed interpersonal skills. I fear that I would be unable to compete in a market flooded with lithe 18 year olds. My options would surely be limited to fulfilling very specialised requirements for a niche clientèle or taking up a managerial role.

The Cross Cross Code

Navigating my way out of the car park at the Exalted Seat of Learning last week, as I turned into the autumnally leafy lane lined with honey-coloured stone buildings (OK, past the Gala Casino and into the Street of a 1000 Kebab Shops), a young gentleman stepped off the kerb directly into the path of my vehicle. Out of a simple desire not to have to dislodge 9 stone of greasy, sullen youth from out of my wheel arches, I honked the horn and hit the brake. According to the Highway Code the purpose of the horn is to "warn other road users of your presence” and this was genuinely how I intended it. There seemed to be, however, a breakdown in communication.

The message left my side as "There is, in my opinion, a strong possibility of my vehicle injuring your person and I am sounding this auditory warning device to alert you to your imminent peril". It must have arrived at his side in the form of the worst possible insult, comprehensively covering all the topics of family, heritage, employment prospects, and taste in clothes and music, all couched in perfect Jafaican. Accordingly, he stopped dead in front of my car and "flipped the bird", before huffing off about his business.

I managed to quell my mounting fury by doing what I do best - turning any topic to that of British Sign Language. How interesting that the handshape formed by the extension of the middle finger from the closed fist has for many years been completely neutral in BSL, appearing in signs like Holiday, Lazy and Pretend. However, it is not a legal handshape in American Sign Language because of its insulting connotations. Apparently though, British Deaf people are now starting to shun this "rude" handshape and use alternatives.

Perhaps that guy was just trying to tell me in halting, incorrect British Sign Language that, thanks to my saving his life, he will now be able to enjoy a lovely Christmas holiday.

Sunday, 30 November 2008

I'm Not at Liberty to Divulge that Information

In the unlikely event that I ever manage to qualify as a BSL Interpreter, I have just realised that my blogging career will be over before it’s even really begun. I suppose it’s obvious that Sign Language Interpreters are bound by a strict code of conduct to protect the confidentiality of their Deaf clients. I hadn’t realised quite how strict. I’ve been doing some background reading for my course - "Encounters with Reality: 1001 Interpreter Scenarios" by Brenda E. Cartwright.

If you have an interpreting assignment, you’re not allowed to divulge who the client was, the nature of the assignment, where it was held or any information that you've translated. You’re not supposed to say anything. At all. Ever. You’re apparently not even allowed to tell your partner why you’re leaving the house or how long you’ll be gone. It’s worse than being a spy. If I’m ever cut to pieces by a mad axe murderer, my husband is unlikely to raise the alarm for weeks anyway, so with this added cloak of secrecy, I’m doomed.

The Cat Complaints Commission

The Injured Party

I have come to the conclusion that my cat finds me unsatisfactory in every respect. As a caregiver, feeder, companion and playmate, I suck. If it were possible, I believe she would have no second thoughts about having me hauled up in front of some sort of Cat Complaints Committee or Ombudscat. How this would work, I have no idea. But there I would be, head hung in shame, standing handcuffed in front of a panel consisting of a bullet-headed, battle-scarred tabby, a very superior and dissatisfied Siamese, and a kindly but disappointed ginger cat. The list of charges would be very long indeed. The chair cat would point out the most serious of them by tapping decisively on a piece of paper with a precise foreclaw. They would be unanimous in finding me guilty. My cat would coldly avert her gaze as I was led away and we would never see each other again.

I think my husband agrees with the cat, but at least he has the ability to voice his complaints.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

I'm never going to be able to do this

Translation Worries

Since I’ve been learning British Sign Language, every time I watch TV or catch sight of people having a conversation, I’ve been driving myself mad trying to decode people’s hand gestures. Now we’re studying translation theory at college, I’ve found a new way of driving myself to distraction. As I watch TV or listen to the radio I’m constantly wondering how I would translate particular phrases into BSL.

As a fan of Derren Brown, it has crossed my mind whether there would be any special challenges in translating any of his work. His TV and stage shows are mostly delivered in deceptively simple everyday language. However, consider the following two videos:

In the first he gets a volunteer to successfully name the subject of a caricature painting covered by a cloth:

In the second, Simon Pegg is apparently influenced to change his mind about the birthday present he wants:

As a lay person I would have no idea whether the actual words he uses are key to achieving the effect or if they are a clever “cover story” for a slightly more mundane magic trick. If the former is the case, the phrases used would be rather difficult to translate into a signed or foreign spoken language such that they still achieved the same effect. The translator would surely need some sort of "inside information" about how such effects are achieved. Even if the latter is true, the second video is full of bicycle puns like “handlebar none” and “recycle the same two tyred bottles of wine” which I would struggle to translate into BSL.

It occurred to me that Derren’s shows must have been dubbed into foreign languages, because they have been sold abroad. Does anyone from Derren’s team have to be involved in the translation process? Is it ever necessary to reveal magical techniques in order to effect a proper translation? Or would they always favour keeping magic confidentiality over a more effective trick for the Deaf/foreign audience?

Stan Boardman Hates Germans

al Correctness

I've been learning British Sign Language for nearly two years now, and have just started on a three year course to become a sign language interpreter.

As far as I can see, BSL is a very direct language and has little patience with circumlocution and political correctness. I'm told that in medical settings the Deaf are likely to be totally direct in their use of very graphic signs to denote bodily functions in comparison with the hearing and their shamefaced euphemisms.

Until fairly recently, political correctness and BSL had not made each other's acquaintance. Nowadays though, Signs like gay (limp wrist), Chinese (pulling at the outer corners of the eyes with the forefingers), Africa (washing the face) and Indian (thumb tip between the brows) are rapidly being phased out.

However, signs linked to Germany seem to have been overlooked. The sign for German or Germany still resembles a World War 1 style spiked helmet. I still can't quite get used to the sign for Hitler being two fingers of the left hand held below the nose to resemble a small moustache, accompanied by a Nazi salute with the right hand, a sign that any schoolboy of yesteryear would have recognised instantly. I've seen this sign used by sign language interpreters in a number of completely solemn situations and always wonder what the hearing members of the audience make of it.

This brings me to my worry of the day. When there is a sign language interpreter present in any setting, and the speaker says something rude, it is almost inevitable that all the heads of the hearing section of the audience will instantly snap round to watch how the interpreter will sign it. For example, the sign denoting an embryo being implanted during IVF is eye-wateringly graphic. I just can't see myself ever being able to keep a straight face.

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Derren "Lovely" Brown

Trick or Treat Series 2 Episode 2 "Kitten"

In this episode Derren Brown regresses a very sweet young woman back to childhood to weaken her impulse control, causing her to press a big red button which she believes will electrocute a kitten.

The kitten, standing on a perforated metal plate in a large glass box, looked well fed and content and to be honest, I've seen cuter. With all the resources of a TV production company at their disposal couldn't they have found a frailer, tinier kitten with more imploring eyes?

I was having difficulty taking it seriously. I didn't really believe the kitten was in any peril. I was absolutely certain they would not be allowed to kill a kitten on TV. Derren apparently already has a legion of stalkers, does he really want the Animal Rights people after him as well? Or even worse the Cats Protection people? As a paid up member of this organisation, I'm telling you, don't mess with the kind of people who have the nerve to go out in public with cat motifs appliquéd to their clothing.

I found myself thinking, "I hope that kitten went to the toilet before being put in there - one widdle and he's toast!" and I imagined the sooty outline of a vapourised kitten on the wall of the glass container.

Of course, she presses the button and the kitten does not die. But here's the really sinister bit. Near the end of the episode we see Derren lifting the kitten out of the container with infinite tenderness, cooing "Baby!!" and then enjoying a kind of group hug with participant, Lauren plus kitten. Derren, eyes soft with tender kitten love, tickles the kitten's fur with a crooked index finger.

I wonder what the fans who loved Zombie Shoot-em-up and Nail Up the Nose will make of this new, snuggly, kitten fondling Derren?

Might this be the advent of a more human TV image? He seems stuck with the persona he has adopted, or was asked to adopt, in his TV shows - unsmiling, emotionless and casually cruel. In WhatsOnStage he says, "I also find it faintly embarrassing being that guy on TV. It’s not me and I don’t think I’d truly like to meet that person on the street. When people like David Tennant come on the TV show, people I warm to, I’m frustrated that the me they interact with isn’t really me, because I have a job to do. I’m more me on the stage." Later in the same article - "I think the biggest life skill anyone can learn, what matters more than anything else and gets you further than anything else, is just to be lovely."

In DigitalSpy after confessing to the very human frailty of being afraid of spiders, he says "'I'm not that scary - in fact, I like to think I'm disappointingly nice."

Or maybe his current contentment in his personal life is the reason for this new, softer, lovelier Derren. In future episodes will we see him skipping through summer meadows, painting rainbows and laughing at clouds? Probably not.

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