Drawing Blanks

Drawing blanks, I do a lot of that lately. I blame mommy brain, that is a real thing, I swear! Diapers, potty emergencies, nightly awakenings, endless school runs, the constant need to buy, wash and find clothes, worrying if everyone is safe, have taken over my once so carefree brain.

The biggest blank I have ever drawn, however, was when I was 23, young and carefree, so no excuse, except maybe being overly courageous. Ah, the conviction of the young that they can do and know it all!

I was living in Ireland and earned some extra money with translating texts from Dutch to English and vice versa. This was surprisingly difficult as my English was quite good, but translating was something different, maybe that is why there is a 4-year college degree for it. Still, I got by and enjoyed it. So when the lady from the translation agency called one day to ask me if I could also interpret in court, I hesitated a little but then she said the magic words: “20 pounds per hour” and I bluffed: “sure, no problem!” 

I figured that talking English was never a problem, and to give an idea of how much 20 pounds was in those days: I earned 60 pounds per week in a part-time job and the rent of my damp basement studio with shared bathroom was 45 per month.

So the lawyer prepared me for the court case. A Dutch shipping company was sued by an Irish guy who fell through a hatch on the ship while working for them. Then I met the people I would translate for. One of them was an older ship captain with a white beard, just like you would imagine. He was nice but mumbled a bit. 

I sat in the court room for 2 days at 20 pounds an hour and thought I had won the lottery, they even bought me lunch. On the first day, a representative of the shipping company asked me if I was a sworn translator, as translators/interpreters get sworn in by the courts in the Netherlands after finishing their degree. I replied “no that is not how it works here, we have to swear in at every court case”, which was the truth. I just did not tell him the other part of the truth: that I had never done this before…

The day came that I had to go up and translate for the ship captain. The court room was exactly like in a BBC drama, the walls clad in oak with a robed and wigged judge high up in his wooden throne with the witness box, placed slightly lower, next to him. I stood next to the captain and swore to translate the truth and to the best of my abilities with my hand on the bible. I had asked the captain to cut up his sentences and allow me time to translate these. 

The first question of our barrister to the captain was if, in his opinion, the situation on board was safe regarding the hatch, the position of it, etcetera. The captain thought for a while and gave a long, slow mumbled answer about how he thought it was safe, that the plaintiff had worked for many years on board and on and on. He never saw my eyes begging him to stop talking and allow me to translate. I listened to his answer with slightly building panic but I thought: I’ve got this, it was not a complicated story. I turned to the judge to translate and there it was; the BLANK with capitals, nothing in my brain. I Iooked into the packed courtroom, at the barrister and –crickets-. I heard the clock ticking loudly in the silence and figured I had landed in a nightmare and willed myself to wake up. But there was no waking up unfortunately. All I could do was turn to the captain and ask: “sorry, can you please repeat that?” He looked at me, frowned and said: “yes, it was safe”, and that is what I translated. The barrister frowned, the judge frowned and there were frowns and murmurs in the courtroom as obviously some truth was lost in translation. I would have loved for that hatch to have appeared so I could have jumped into it to disappear right at that moment!

However, the court case went on, I fumbled through some more interpretations, some even went quite well, but I left with a lesson learned and so did the plaintiff. He lost the case after a private detective showed pictures of him working in the yard and lifting heavy things, proving that his back injury was not that serious after all. To quote Amborse Bierce: The hardest tumble a man can take is to fall over his own bluff.


Richmond, VA

Marielle is a traveler, world citizen, mother of a magic toddler and two wonderful step children, party organizer and admirer of life in general. Lately the urge to put her life and thoughts on paper has struck and it comes up with bursts and bouts like a hesitating geyser. Sometimes hot, high and steamy, sometimes disappointingly cool and low, but always gratifying.