Monday, 21 August 2017


I spent part of the summer this year near Aldeburgh, a picturesque old fishing port on the East Anglian coast, now perhaps more famous for its annual arts and music festival founded in 1948 by composer Benjamin Britten. The venue on my last evening was Aldeburgh Cinema located on the town’s High Street, a period-piece picture palace founded in 1919 which, according to its website, “is one of the oldest, continuously running cinema houses in the United Kingdom. The auditorium retains several original features, including a number of beautiful art deco lights.” So what could be a more appropriate setting for attending the screening of Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed portrayal of the evacuation of Allied troops at Dunkirk in the early part of the Second World War? The film ‘Dunkirk‘ presents a harrowing account of the real-life drama that unfolded on the beaches of Northern France over the course of a week between 26 May and 4 June 1940. This fast-moving wartime spectacle has been acclaimed widely for its generally realistic representation of the historical evacuation. And by way of a quirky coincidence, on my travels home the next day I found myself sailing into the Dunkirk ferry terminal.
Fortunately, to my knowledge, no one in my family was lost during the Dunkirk evacuation. A cousin of my mother’s was captured by the German army near the French coast and saw out his war years in a POW camp. My father’s brother John, now 97 years old, was likewise part of the British Expeditionary Forces which had to beat a hasty retreat towards the English Channel from the rapidly advancing German troops – he was one of the lucky ones to survive and return to England. My uncle experienced an eventful war, eventually attaining the rank of Captain. He was recently awarded the Legion d’Honneur for his deeds after the D-Day landings. And towards the end of the war he was part of a Red Cross Unit as an observer at Belsen concentration camp which had just been liberated. A grim task indeed.
Thankfully my uncle wrote an account of his wartime experiences and below is his own first-hand account of ‘Dunkirk’. Prior to the evacuation, he had been stationed in Armentières, near the Belgian border, as part of France’s plans to bolster the country’s defences in anticipation of a German attack. For several weeks nothing happened and then the Hitler’s Wehrmacht, with 2,500 tanks at its disposal, backed up by a formidable air force, began its Blitzkrieg offensive. On the 10 May 1940, the Battle of France commenced. 

At this time the German armour was superior to the Allies and it was not long before we were being shelled and bombed. Our commanders decided that retreat seemed the better part of valour and as the Belgian army had already given up the fight, we had little option but to retreat. The French and Belgians were still using some horse-drawn transport and together with their refugees with carts and prams, the roads were extremely difficult to use and almost totally grid-locked.
However, running the gauntlet of shelling and bombing, occasionally jumping into ditches was little protection, but we managed to retreat in the direction of the Channel ports. The worst scenes were of dead animals in the roads and fields - cows and horses - along with dead soldiers and civilians.
Many of the units were split up, but the majority of the British army was funnelled in the direction of Dunkirk. Naturally many of the vehicles and men were lost in the shelling and bombing, which was increasing in intensity as we neared the coast. On many occasions we had to abandon the vehicles to avoid the dive-bombers, taking shelter on the banks of the canals, which in many cases were parallel to the roads. By the time my vehicle reached Dunkirk many thousands were already there and the place was heaving with troops from France, Belgium and of course Britain. They were milling about all over the town, trying to seek shelter in disused buildings and those which were still standing.
Along with two comrades I dodged from place to place and witnessed our last shelter bombed before our eyes - we were very lucky! Many vehicles were destroyed and those still usable were later driven into the sea or set on fire, weapons being smashed to prevent them falling into enemy hands. Chaos reigned but by degrees senior officers tried to muster troops into some sort of order and we eventually arrived on the main beaches. They were literally packed with troops although a great many were killed by the relentless attacks by the dive-bombers - again we were lucky to be alive.
I was still with my friend, Alan Chantler, and not having eaten for many days, we devoured a tin of sandy Skipper sardines which had been sent to me in a food parcel from home a few weeks previously - I remember that they were delicious but gritty! We were very thirsty, having consumed all our water the day before.
We had to keep moving about in an effort to avoid the bombing but it was more by great good fortune than strategy that we remained alive! By night time the beaches were lit up by burning oil tanks near the docks which blazed for days and nights.
Two days later, as daylight approached ,we saw all kinds of ships appearing on the horizon and as they drew nearer we realised that this was an armada of evacuation craft coming to the rescue.
A great many soldiers died on the beaches during those terrible days and nights and I count myself fortunate that l survived, along with others.
Senior officers gathered together batches of twenty soldiers at a time to join little boats and other craft for evacuation from the water's edge. It was an ongoing process and many were lost in the water together with civilian boats and their crew.
There was still a jetty (or mole, as it was called) jutting out from the harbour, and although there were great holes in the planks, it was still being used by larger ships. Included in these was a Naval destroyer called the HMS Malcolm and I was fortunate enough to be one of the soldiers to be marshalled towards this ship. With great difficulty we proceeded along the jetty, and when ordered, jumped down several feet onto the deck of the destroyer. The decks were so packed with troops that we were ordered not to move at all because had we done so the ship could have capsized, it was so over-loaded.
Within a few hours, and with some food inside us along with plenty of hot mugs of tea, we arrived at Dover - glad to be home again.
At the railway station, train after train left with returning troops, travelling to destinations unknown. Together with many others I arrived at Bristol and was bussed out of town to a camp at Alverston, north of Bristol. During my stay there I was asked by the local vicar to read a lesson at one of the thanksgiving services and within about ten days we were allowed to go on leave.

Friday, 17 February 2017

The Jungle Railway – a train odyssey through Malaysia

14 years ago, I found myself aboard the slow train that runs down the spine of the Malay Peninsula. If you're looking to get places quickly, then the Golden Blowpipe isn't for you … 

Saturday 9 August 2003 
The alarm on R’s watch stirred us from our sleep soon after 4 am, but there was no sign of our 4.15 wake-up call. After dressing and finishing our packing, we drifted downstairs to the reception, still in total darkness at this time. I recognised what I thought was the outline of a member of staff, presumably asleep, slumped over the desk. When I called out, I heard a thud, which this time came from underneath the counter, and moments later the receptionist appeared, upright, rubbing his head in a daze. In the meantime, his colleague behind the desk was also now awake, who, it turned out, was the driver of the taxi we’d ordered the night before. Before long we were speeding away from Safar’s Inn and out of Kota Bahru towards the station at Wakaf Bahru where our 350-kilometre train adventure would shortly begin. 
When we arrived at the railhead, there was scant sign of life and after consulting one of the notice boards, it became apparent that the times of our train been altered as of 1 August “for the convenience of travellers”. Instead of a 5.45 departure, we would have to wait until 6.52 to climb aboard!
To kill time, we paced up and down the platform waiting for dawn to break and signs of human activity. Above the horizon I noticed Orion in the night sky – not visible in temperate latitudes at this time of year. Then, slowly but surely, things started to stir in and around the station buildings. First to turn up were a couple of talkative schoolgirls in headscarves. A Chinese porter appeared on the scene to load sacks of fruit and vegetables onto trolleys. Some time later, a mother-daughter combination, who had the concession for the station buffet, opened up their kiosk where we were able to enjoy an early morning cup of coffee sweetened with condensed milk. Gradually backpackers started arriving and at 6 o’clock, the station master appeared unhurriedly opening his office for the early morning travellers. Eventually I acquired our tickets for the 10-hour journey to Jerantut for the outrageously cheap price of 12 ringgits 60 sen each, just half the price of the taxi-ride from Kota Bahru!
The train which was to take us south through the interior finally arrived at the (re)scheduled time and we climbed on to the air-conditioned carriage in the centre of the train. Whoever regulates the air-conditioning on public transport in the tropics is usually over-zealous and we soon discovered that it was a few degrees cooler than was ideally comfortable. This had us and our fellow Western travellers rifling through our backpacks for sweaters and long trousers, not something that would be normally required in these climes.
The long haul to Jerantut takes just over ten hours and calls at 68 stations (often little more than halts). That’s a stop every 10 minutes or so. Some stations along the line serve as a passing point when oncoming trains can cross. For the first part of the journey the train follows the valley of the Sungai Kelantan, after which the province is named, before entering the interior proper. The two most important ports of call en route are Gua Musang and Kuala Lipis. 
As the train journeyed southwards, the carriage started to fill with passengers, all locals, hauling local produce to sell at markets down the line. Hawkers walked up and down the carriages selling liquid and solid nourishment – boiled eggs, various fruits and rice – to passengers, one of whom was keen to engage us in English conversation. Hamzani was on his way to Gua Musang from Tumpat. Though he was good at asking questions in English his ability to understand answers was wanting, but he was friendly and prepared to let us share his food including salak fruit (cone-shaped with a scaly red husk and a firm and slightly sweet flesh), papaya and quail eggs.
Since the temperatures inside carriage had been set too low, quite absurdly, it was necessary now and again to take a stroll to the vestibule at the end of the carriage for the warmth of the outside air. As we approached the halfway mark of the journey at Gua Musang, the train was brimming with travellers and their wares and soon my efforts to offset the chill in the carriage became thwarted by assorted boxes of durian obstructing the entrances. Chaos ensued whenever a train stopped to allow yet more people on and the gangways between carriages became completely blocked, but strangely no-one became agitated. At one point I managed to graze the back of my leg on the prickly rind of a durian, but it was easy to forget the discomfort and the stench coming from this enigmatic fruit, being offset by the warmth and stunning views out of the open carriage doors.
I was joined for a while at the end of the carriage by a Dutch backpacker from Zeeland, surprised by my fluent Dutch. She told me that she and her friend had been travelling in Malaysia and had journeyed up to the beaches of Pulau Perhentian, off the coast to the east of Kota Bahru. Their plan was now to go trekking in the Taman Negara and thence to the Cameron Highlands before returning to Singapore. She was planning to travel independently to Australia from there.
The station at Gua Musang

We arrived at Gua Musang at 12.50. Here the scenery changes dramatically and the undulating jungle countryside gives way to a landscape which is studded with impressive limestone outcrops. The train stopped here for the best part of 15 minutes, so it was a joy to get off and have a walkabout.
Beyond Gua Musang, the railway crosses the state border into Pahang. On my next excursion to the end of the carriage, I got into a stifled conversation with 18-year-old Din. His English was even worse than Hamzani’s but he persevered. He managed to explain that he was on his way home from Gua Musang to Kuala Lipis. We exchanged names by way of writing and I had to show him the date on my Dutch residence permit to show him of how old I was. He was going home because he’d ran out of money. A 5-ringgit note was all he had in his wallet. The conversation eventually ran dry and I went back to my seat when he disappeared into the toilet.
7 hours in and the journey was now becoming tedious. A few stations later we were joined by a party of headscarved student teachers who were on their way to a training camp further down the line.
Kuala Lipis is the next town of any significance on the route. Not that it’s of any great size. When the British held sway in Malaya, it functioned as an administrative capital for the surrounding region and consequently has some interesting colonial buildings.
Several tour agents got on here. Jerantut is a major stopping off point for tourists wanting to trek the Taman Negara and many operators hawk their travel and accommodation services to the backpackers well in time before they arrive at their destination. They seemed to be attracting enough punters, perhaps including our Dutch backpacker.
To break the monotony, I went to the buffet car and had some coffee (again sweetened with condensed milk). I stayed there awhile gazing out of the window watching the luxuriant tropical scenery pass by. South of Kuala Lipis the track follows a route alongside the muddy Jelai river passing through some lush, green, wooded countryside.
Finally, we pulled into Jerantut at around ten past five, where we were met by my brother who had driven over from Kuala Lumpur to pick us up. We took some photographs and waited for the train from Singapore bound for Gua Musang (which was late) to cross, before we started on the two and a half hour journey to KL. It had been a long and eventful day.

Background information 
One of South-East Asia’s premier rail journeys is the 15-hour passage through the lush jungle and rainforest-clad east coast of the Malay Peninsula. The Express Timuran (formerly known as the Sumpitan Emas or Golden Blowpipe) cuts a swathe through this verdant landscape and the journey is as interesting as the destinations it connects. The rail line operates under the authority of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) and is a simple but important means of transportation for the people who live in this largely untouched part of the country. The trip on one of KTMB’s trains may not be as lavish as some other routes, particularly the Eastern & Oriental Express (E & O), which runs between Singapore and Bangkok, but the east coast jungle route is a more true-to-life travel experience offering a window onto the heart of the Malaysian social landscape.¹
It took indentured Tamil workers eight years to build the five-hundred kilometre jungle railway from Gemas, south-east of Kuala Lumpur, to Tumpat on the north-east coast. The line has been in full operation since 1931 (the first section from Gemas to Kuala Lipis was opened in 1920) and much of its rolling stock has not been upgraded since. Initially it was used for freight – first for tin and rubber and later for oil palm - before a passenger service was opened in 1938.²
Wakaf Bahru, which marks the northernmost point on the line today, is a fifteen-minute minibus ride from Kota Bahru, the state capital of Kelantan, in the north-eastern corner of mainland Malaysia. At 94%, the Malay are the dominant ethnic group in the state and Islam the chief religion, though like all major cities in the country, there is a sizeable Chinese community and a smattering of Tamils and Siamese. The city is a showcase of classical Malay history and culture has a 300-year-old mosque and an abundance of museums, craft shops and a central market that must be one of the most colourful in Asia. 

The indoor market at Kota Bahru


Background information (sources):
¹ Malaysia Airlines In-flight magazine May 2003
² The Rough Guide to Malaysia

Other links:

See also: Vietato attraversare i binari

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Geen Excuus!

If you’re an outdoorsy type like me, you probably mourn the passing of summer each year. The fine weather and the long days have a mesmerising effect on me, luring me en plein air. By the time the autumn equinox arrives I’ve generally burned off enough calories on long evening walks and cycle rides to offset those that have accumulated in the pub during the halcyon days of summer. September then slips into October and before you know it, the clocks have changed. By the time November kicks in, sunset times have slid from 7.30 pm to just gone 5, helped admittedly by some daylight-saving adjustments, with temperatures plummeting similarly. In my experience the encroaching dark and cold have a numbing impact on the spirit. The lethargy, much like the calorie intake, starts to mount ...

In my younger days it was easier for my mind and body to counteract the darkening mood that descends in November and December, the two months of the year that see an unremitting loss of daylight. As the years go by, my alter ego demands I stay in bed a little while longer, prepare more lavish evening meals washed down with a glass of wine (or two), or curl up on the settee with some comforting tea and biscuits. Leading a sedentary existence as a translator working from home, if I’m not careful, languor can lead introspection and melancholy.

On reaching one's mid-forties, there’s a growing realisation that youth is no longer on your side. Bluntly put, you’re halfway to oblivion. Many will go to great lengths, not entirely in keeping with their character, to retain their sense of youth: plastic surgery, a fast car, an armful of tattoos and a hair transplant are among some of the more clichéd responses to this phenomenon. Myself? I discovered the Winterlauf, the perfect antidote to seasonal gloom and declining years.

The Winterlauf, or ‘winter run’, is an annual race organised by the Aachener Turn-Gemeinde (ATG), an Aachen-based athletics club. With the inaugural run being held in 1963, the Winterlauf follows an 18-kilometre course through the forested Eifel region on the city’s outskirts and takes place on the first or second Sunday of December. You could in fact question the name, since it’s only one week into the meteorological winter and two before the solstice, but one thing’s for sure, with only 8 hours of daylight, the days are dark and the weather all but predictable.

This year's Aachener Winterlauf, the 54th, was held on December 4. Registration to take part in the run opens in mid-September and such is its popularity that the 2,500 places are snapped up within 24 hours. It’s hard to determine quite why demand is so high. Having done multiple runs myself, it’s probably safe to assume that once you’ve completed one, you’ll keep coming back for more, however hard you try to convince yourself otherwise when you cross the finishing line each time.

Each year follows more or less the same pattern and after having now completed 14, I can mentally picture every twist and turn.

On the morning of the race, entrants assemble from 8.30 onwards at the ATG’s clubhouse in one of Aachen’s leafy southern suburbs. From there, a fleet of buses takes the runners on a 30-minute ride to an isolated and invariably muddy car park in the middle of the forest. This, in itself, is a major logistical exercise, with 20 or so buses shuttling back and forth to ferry the 2,500 or so participants to the starting line located on a minor road between the villages of Zweifall and Mulartshütte. The shuttle service continues until just after 10, so the trick is, especially if the weather’s bad, to sit in the warmth of the clubhouse changing room and jump on the final bus.
The mood is one of animated apprehension as the mass of runners funnels out of the car park and is corralled up the road to the starting line. There's much muscle-flexing and nervous banter as people jockey for position ahead of the 11 oclock start. As the pistol-shot sounds, the excitable chatter is replaced by the sound of 5,000 training shoes hitting the tarmac. Unless you’re at the front, the first kilometre is slow, with the pack weaving in and out, everyone trying to find their pace for the gruelling 18 kilometres ahead.
After the first kilometre, a steep 100-metre climb separates the wheat from the chaff. At the top, the runners – not quite so bunched now - are having to find second breath. From Kilometre 2 to Kilometre 6, there’s a slow but pronounced descent before the route picks up the old track bed of the long disused Vennbahn, a former railway line built by the Prussian state railways to carry coal and iron ore. After another slow climb up to the abbey town of Kornelimünster, contestants are at the halfway stage and the route opens out onto Brander Feld, a seemingly never-ending stretch of exposed plateau on the ouskirts of Aachen.
Most runners reach the Aachener Wald, the forest above the city, without having to break their run, but now they are confronted with an unexpectedly stiff and muddy 1.5-kilometre ascent through the woods. Once this has been negotaiated, the finish is within sniffing distance - it’s a question of gritting your teeth and trying to forget the pain. If you’ve got any legs left, it's a quick sprint down the final hill to the finishing line.

I’m one of five regular running buddies who’ve been taking part in the race for the past 15 years. We go by the unofficial name of Geen Excuus. We differ in age by just 5 years and are all the wrong side of 55, yet most Sundays throughout the year, and often midweek, we toil up hill and down dale, come rain or shine. Family commitments, injury, illness, even the occasional hangover, might sometimes get in the way, but on the first Sunday in Advent there's really 'no excuse' for crying off – the Winterlauf is the one event that no one wants to miss!

The build-up to the race starts in earnest around mid-September when our work-outs – normally an hour - get extended week-by-week. But we’re neither fanatical nor meticulous in our training methods: our one single aim is to increase our distance, whilst minimising the pain. Running is supposed to be fun and our only battle cry is Doorlopen!* If we’ve managed to hit the 18-kilometre mark by mid-November, the Winterlauf will be plain sailing! Well, at least that’s the theory, the point being that by the start of December, most of us are all in reasonable shape and ready for the main event.

In the week leading up to the big day, we're on tenterhooks. What’s the weather forecast? Will I need my rain-gear? Will that niggling twinge go away? Should I stay teetotal the night before? And - I jest not - how will my ‘insides’ behave on the day? Once we’re on the bus to Zweifall, there’s a schoolboy excitement which only dissipates once the race gets underway. Strangely, for a group that runs together every week, as soon as the starting-pistol fires, we’re on our own. Of course, there’s over 2,000 other runners to keep you company, but from here on in there’ll be no mates garrulously urging you on and as you tick off the kilometres, it’s a question of manning up and making the best of it. The Winterlauf can throw anything at you: rain, wind, snow, ice, mud, you name it, we’ve had it. And despite all this, in the 15 years we’ve been running the race, none of us have failed to stagger over the finishing line with competent times. And together, with our almost 300 years, we’ve managed to clock up over a 1,000 kilometres.

There’s a feeling of euphoria once we’ve crossed the line. The organisers dole out mementos each year, always with a running theme, the most prized of which is the buff scarf. The day wouldn’t be complete without the traditional post-race pizza at La Finestra in downtown Aachen, helped down by some well-earned Weizen. Once I’m back home, you can usually find me slumped on the settee like a heavy sack of potatoes for the duration.

Having put the Winterlauf to bed for another year, my aching limbs decide they've deserved a break from exercise for at least a couple of weeks. By that time, we’ve broken the back of winter and - at least as far as daylight hours are concerned - it’s all uphill from here. Not only do I get the satisfaction of having completed yet another Winterlauf, more importantly, all the hard work, and not least of the camaraderie, have helped keep the autumn blues at bay.

Three cheers for the Winterlauf

*doorlopen = keep on running

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Life of Riley?

When I took my first tentative steps in the industry over 25 years ago, I never dreamed I would carve out a long and rewarding career in freelance translation. But neither did I imagine it was going to be so difficult to explain what that livelihood involved, especially to those with no affinity with the profession. Some people are more receptive however: a certain meeting of minds exists with other communication-based self-employed professionals, for example, graphic designers, journalists and photographers. They operate in similar circles and face similar business-related problems. But in terms of understanding the specific skills we need for working in translation, amongst people outside our realm of work there is a marked disconnect between perception and reality. Many visualise translation as being the simple conversion of text from one language into another. In other words, if you've done languages at school, pretty much anyone can do it.

So what is the big deal about translation?
In a recent blog I attempted to put to bed some of the myths surrounding freelance translation, focusing on the range of skills we need. This time, three more bubbles are burst, all of which, I dare say, freelancers in other professions will be able to identify with. 

It’s such an easy way to earn money 
If you’re happy having less job security than someone on a zero-hours contract, you don’t mind working long and unsocial hours, and you can cope with the stress of not knowing where the next job’s coming from, being a self-employed translator is the kind of job for you. Whilst businesses, say, in the manufacturing sector can plan ahead on the basis of reasonably stable supply and demand forecasts, no such continuity exists in a service industry at the end of the supply chain like translation. We place complete trust in our customers – direct clients, agencies and colleagues – for giving us a regular supply of work and hope that the gleanings from this will be enough to finance our regular outgoings: hardware and software, office equipment and stationery, telephony, gas, water and electricity, transport, accountant’s fees, mortgage/rent, income tax, social insurance, professional liability insurance, property insurance, sickness and disability insurance and car insurance, professional training and conferences, etc. That has to be accounted for even before we have any money to put in our own pockets.
If you’d rather not work until you drop dead, it’s wise to set aside some savings too, so that you can enjoy a few years’ retirement. Even then, savings plans available to the self-employed compare miserably to the type of ring-fenced pension schemes common in the public or private sector.
And unlike salaried employees, you can forget about fringe benefits like paid leave, never mind a ‘thirteenth month’. Holidays don’t come cheap. Effectively, if you take a fortnight’s break, you’re potentially missing out on two weeks’ earnings.
Believe me, the list of fixed and variable overheads is daunting! It’s not unusual for an experienced freelance translator to have to stump up, on average, fixed monthly costs of between €2,000 and 3,000 even before the work, of which there’s no certainty, comes in. In essence, it’s a business philosophy based on blind faith.
Things can be a lot trickier for those starting out in the industry. Beginners will need to quickly develop a broad client base to avoid being dependent on just one or two customers. Losing one might mean kissing goodbye to a sizable chunk of earnings at the end of the month.
Not all of us are adept at staving off panic when we hit the doldrums, nor for that matter, at dealing with sudden deluges of work, but it’s a talent a seasoned translator will have to learn. Not veering off course and keeping on an even keel, however heavy the weather, is what’s required. 

Freelancing means you can work whenever you want 
Even some of my closest friends seem to think I went into semi-retirement when I gave up paid employment and that was well over 20 years ago. Evidently, having given up a nine-to-five job I had so much more time on my hands, so I guess it was hard for them to imagine what I was doing all day. Indeed, the life of a freelance translator is solitary and follows no fixed regime. For many, this lack of routine is unnerving. To them, the notion of not being accountable to a boss, not having to commute, not being tied to office hours and not needing to observe any particular dress code amounts to pretty much the same thing as not having to work at all. True, there’s no one to tell me when I have to turn up to work every day. My journey to work only involves negotiating a flight of stairs. And if I really wanted to, I could sit at the computer in pyjamas and slippers all day.
Without question, being a self-employed translator means having flexibility, but it comes at a price. Since there’s no one to boss me around, I have to do this myself (and believe me, I’m not naturally gifted at that). Not everyone has the iron discipline to cope with the irregular ebb and flow of work or the ability to adapt to the pace of work when bound by tight schedules. Old-timers like me will have learned intuitively how to judge the time needed for a specific volume of work, taking into account the subject matter and the format. Nevertheless, some evenings and weekends, I can find myself slogging away at the computer playing catch-up after having badly underestimated a project’s time frame. Good forward planning is recommended, but it’s not always an option when several direct clients all arrive with work at the same time. Those same friends who were under the impression you were loafing around all day, will shake their heads with incredulity when you tell them you’ve had to cancel your plans for meeting up with some measly excuse about having to finish a translation.
But its not only during busy spells when discipline and perseverance are needed. During slack periods too, when you emerge from enforced confinement, it’s important to get all the other essential jobs done, such as invoicing, payments, procurement, marketing and all those other things us jack-of-all-trades translators have to do. 

I suppose you take your laptop out into the garden and work there in the summer 
Whenever self-styled digital nomads post pictures of themselves or their laptops on social media against the backdrop of a palm-shaded beach or a sweeping mountain vista with a long, cool drink at arm’s length, boldly claiming they are ‘at the office’, I can’t help thinking, who are they trying to kid? Are they seriously trying to tell us that they can work AND relax at the same time?
Now don’t get the idea that I’ve never succumbed to an overwhelming desire for idleness. I sometimes think ‘Lethargy’ is my middle name. In fact, I subscribed to the work/relaxation theory for a while when I moved into my present house about 15 years ago. At the time, I was still in the habit of printing out my translations and proofreading the hard copy. The long, hot summer and the lure of a lounger on a shady veranda proved irresistible. But no sooner had I finished my first page of annotations when another irrepressible urge would come over me and half an hour later I’d find myself slumped on the lounger woken by the rhythm of my own snoring. So, I learned my lesson.
Let’s face it, the work/relaxation thing isn‘t going to succeed in many lines of business. A train driver, a production-line operator or even a professional footballer needs absolute concentration if they are to please their employer/customer and deliver a top-class performance. That’s no less true in the freelance translation business: the last thing I need when I’m trying to drum up motivation is the distraction of a swimming pool or cocktail bar. Shirking on the job is simply counter-productive.
There might be much to complain about in the translation world, but undeniably the laptop, smartphone and Wi-Fi have helped revolutionise and emancipate our profession. Without too much trouble, it’s now possible to work away from the office at a location on the other side of the globe. In an airport lounge, on a train, at a hotel and, yes, even from a holiday home - as long as we can maintain access to our resources and remain in contact with customers, we can choose to work anywhere. But we should never lose sight of the fact that concentration is what we need most of all to deliver quality work. That necessitates closing ourselves off from the disruptive influences around us. Working on a train, for example, isn’t going to happen if there’s a constant stream of announcements within earshot.
My first experience of working ‘away’ from the office was when my late father was suddenly taken into hospital with a life-threatening illness about ten years ago. It meant dashing back to England and spending weeks near his side. In the years that followed I would spend weeks at a time in my parental home combining care with work. Having a laptop and access to Wi-Fi were lifesavers, much more for my dad, but also for me. It was convenient, but hardly ideal.
Wi-Fi, mobile telephony and laptops have allowed us to cut the umbilical cord we once had with our offices and, perhaps more than most, I have taken advantage of location-independent working in recent years. Nevertheless, to feel happy about producing work which is up to scratch, I still need a place which allows me the space for total immersion (work, not the swimming pool, you understand).
When all is said and done, I tend to perform best when I’m shut off in my own private space, seated in a comfortable, ergonomically designed office chair surrounded by my things - peripherals, books and other resources (including essential tea and coffee-making facilities) - where I have maximum control over potential distractions. In short, my own office.