The Birds!

So from 23rd April to 10th May I was in rehearsals for a play called The Birds. I mentioned it on here once or twice, but on 11th and 12th May we did it. We really did it. We put on an absolutely bonkers show with feathers, sequins and dance routines and got the audience on their feet every time!

I loved my costume. I can honestly say that, before this, the last time I wore a dress was 12 years ago. It was my mothers’… actually let’s not worry about which birthday it was, only know that it was a special birthday request from my mother. That’s what it usually takes to get me into a dress.

So imagine my trepidation when it was revealed I was not only going to be wearing a dress, it was going to be a flowing, ruffled tasteful ivory creation. Hmm. But, designed by Steve Denton and made by Bryony Tofton, it was fantastic! Because what went over it was a brilliant waistcoat made of sequins and feathers. And a crown.

Because I’m Eryr Euraid, baby, Queen of the Birds! For those who don’t speak Welsh, Eryr Euraid means ‘Golden Eagle’ and you’d better damn well do as I say, or it’s the mountain goat treatment for you. Look at those poor lickle goats.

And yes, I did watch this to help me get in character, as I was supposed to be the permanently angry / annoyed / regal Eryr Euraid and I was having trouble channelling this. Apparently I’m ‘too nice’ and ‘looked like you’re enjoying yourself too much’. For the record, that was meant to be an evil smile. These aren’t bad things to have said about one, I suppose, but not when you’re threatening to rip two of the other characters into tiny, little pieces.

This was my first real play, and I loved it. I loved being part of it and the camaraderie of the cast. It was also bloody hard work. I’m not just talking about the long days / weeks doing things over and over again in slightly different ways, or the fact that I can recall “peter piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where’s the peck of pickled peppers peter piper picked?”, “there’s a chip shop in space that sells space ship shaped chips” and “I’m not a pheasant plucker…”

The rest of the cast were hearing. Imagine it, three long weeks spending every waking moment with hearing people. I had interpreters for the rehearsals but I was staying in a hotel with the other non-local cast. No terps for the communal evening meals in various restaurants. The only thing that saved my sanity was the fact that all of them can fingerspell and sign a little bit, and the ones who for various reasons can’t, were willing to repeat things almost to infinity. Thank goodness for that.

I love the cast. They’re a bunch of amazing, cool, talented people, and they can and do fingerspell and make the effort to sign and / or patiently repeat things. Some even learned new signs from me, and tried their very best to remember them. The only thing I could have wished for is perhaps more awareness of how little I actually understand of what’s being said around me, which if there’s no terp and I’m tired, is very little indeed. The rule of thumb is – if you’re not looking directly at me within a distance of about 6 feet, I haven’t understood what you’ve said. So all that chattering to each other, amongst each other; my lip-reading skills are decent, but they’re not THAT good.

I did had a great time. It was a brilliant ride, and I’d love to do it again. It did no harm to my ego that in my first scene of the play, every Bird character had to bow and scrape to me. Who am I kidding? I loved that! Everyone should have a chance to be Queen for a day – and I did it for three weeks! Bow to me, peasants!

Overall, we adapted to each other very well, and we also came up with visual cues for me throughout the play. Case in point, my first scene, I had to come on while another Bird was singing beautifully. The two human characters were supposed to clap, thus attracting the attention of the chorus, at which point we’d chase them around before beating them up. Problem – we anticipated that the audience might clap too, and they did, every time. Kudos to you, Nightingale! Solution: Nightingale (who also answers to Andria) would smile and nod politely through the audience applause, then when the humans clapped, she would bow towards them. At which point I would notice them, and give the signal to attack. That’s because I’m the Queen, baby, did I mention? Don’t cross the Euraid!

And the director, Cheryl Martin, had the really cool idea to have the Birds as my chorus. This meant that as I signed my lines, the Birds had to say them, in harmony, hence my ‘chorus’. We even made a tape of the chorus doing their creepiest, meanest voices for the lines so that when it was played during the play, it would seem as if the voices of the chorus were coming from everywhere. I thought it was a great way to integrate my signs into the play, and illustrate Eryr’s authority, and I loved the idea of being followed around by a group of loyal servants whose only jobs were to bow to my every whim and voice everything I signed in creepy, birdy voices. I wonder if I could get my interpreters to do that…

Furthermore, every performance was BSL terped by Erika James, and had captions on screens all around the stage. I’m not sure what else we could have done to make this play accessible. And yet, how many deaf people came? Very few indeed. I won’t lie, I was disappointed. It’s at this point I’d like to thank Rosie and Ellie for coming all the way from London and Birmingham respectively to see the play – thank you! And thanks for the drinks, which really I should have been buying for you after you’d made that effort, and I’m glad you enjoyed the play! As for the one who said “oh, but if I’d known you were going to be wearing a dress…” what does that have to do with anything? I’M IN A PLAY YOU PEASANT! I digress.

We had amazing people working on the play, too, for example Ange Thompson who, as stage manager, was called upon to track down such things as a big fluffy penguin toy, a scroll, and some hearing-aid batteries (mea culpa). She was also in charge of my cues – and this was another brilliant thing – there were little boxes with two lights at eye level at each of the stage entrances, the green light meant get ready and red meant go. This was how I knew when it was time for me to regally enter the stage, and Ange, as well as looking after the captions, operating the chorus voices and various cues, was also in charge of cuing me. And she did it very well, bringing a new meaning to multi-tasking!

There are so many people who were involved in this, I’m afraid to start naming them all in case I leave any out! But I think you all did a great job, and this was a great opportunity and experience, and I’m really glad I was able to be a part of it. I love you guys.

Long Live The Birds!

Signs of madness, hope and coolness!

Signs of various kinds are brightening the world at the moment, let me tell you all about them!

I’m in a play! It’s called ‘The Birds’ and it’s based on the Ancient Greek comedy of the same name by Aristophanes. I’m not sure how much I can reveal, but the rehearsals have been brilliant, and the play is mad and funny. How many plays have you seen where the cast burst into song whilst transforming into other creatures? None? Then come to this!

It’s completely bonkers and a good laugh, but it doesn’t pull any punches in its’ analogies between the ‘Birds’ and the political situation today. I don’t have many lines but I’ll have a certain… regal… air. Bow to me! The cast are great, and I can vouch for their comedic talents. Have I whetted your curiosity yet? Then come on down to The Sherman Theatre on 11th and 12th May! All BSL terped of course, plenty of signs of madness to be seen! And I don’t just mean the terp… 🙂

The theatre blurb says to expect the unexpected as Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School present their unique version of Aristophanes’s Greek comedy The Birds, directed by Cheryl Martin.

Expect the unexpected all right!

‘Signs of Hope: Deafhearing Family Life’ tells the story of a narrative inquiry with three deafhearing families. For many people, deafness represents loss and silence. For others, being deaf is a genetic quirk; an opportunity for learning, spiritual adventure and reward. (Yes, I lifted that from the official blog). The author, Dr Donna West, spent time – a lot of time – with three families, and this book is the result. What makes this book unique is the poetic and performative narratives at the heart of it; she has effectively communicated the families’ and individuals’ hopes and fears in an artistic, nuanced way.

I had the opportunity to attend a seminar Dr West gave about her research a while ago, and as part of it she showed us a poem that one of the deaf children, referred to as Bella, had written / created. It was a powerful analogy between penguins and a particular experience of deafness – you’ll have to read the book if you want that to make sense! But it inspired me to create a sign language poem based what I’d read, entitled ‘Bella’s Penguins’, that’s how expressive it was. This book may be well worth a read not only for its study of the experiences of a deaf/hearing family, but also for how these experiences have been described and narrated.

It will be launched at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol on the 25th April, see the official blog for more info! All welcome, BSL terps laid on.

And lastly, after being blown away by the leader of the United States being able to sign (and his wife!) my inner geek is geeking out at a video that looks like it’s gonna go viral – it’s up to 1.9 million hits so far! What video?

Sir Paul ‘needs no introduction’ McCartney has only gone and produced a video of Natalie ‘Star Wars’ Portman and Johnny ‘that’s Captain Jack Sparrow’ Depp signing his song ‘My Valentine’.

Signing!

True, it’s American Sign Language, not British (and that sign is not ‘tampon’, it’s ASL, and it’s the correct ASL sign for ‘appear’. Forgive me for giggling though!) but the actors used are themselves American, so maybe if this video gets popular enough, Sir McCartney will come back to his roots and do a BSL version with some Brit celebs, though how he’s going to top Natalie ‘just call me the Black Swan’ Portman and Johnny ‘cool is my middle name’ Depp I’ve no idea. Love to see him try though!

Natalie Portman definitely has a natural style, I’d love to know if she’s signed before rehearsing for this video, and how much rehearsing it took. Johnny Depp has a certain moody stare that will no doubt set some hearts fluttering but whilst his hands aren’t as fluid as Portmans’, he still carries it off in style (is there anything he can’t carry off in style?).

Love it!

Signs of madness, hope and coolness indeed – I always knew signs could express anything, but it’s time the world knew it too. Go Sir McCartney!

What will it take? How about a collapsed trial?

I had originally planned to make my next blog post all about my impressions of America from a deaf perspective, but events have overtaken me somewhat. Whilst I faithfully promise to tell all about being a deaf tourist in the most deaf-aware country I have ever visited at some point, today I want to talk about the latest hoo-ha surrounding the Ministry of Justice’s wonderful new scheme for court interpreters.

Just to give some background, the system for finding an interpreter for court used to be that someone would contact some qualified interpreters from a national register who had usually also undertaken further training for legal interpreting and ask them if they were available. If they were, said interpreter would be paid a flat fee of £85, a quarter-hourly rate after three hours, and were paid for travel time and expenses.

Maybe this old system wasn’t perfect, but even the judges accepted that it worked. The problem? It was expensive. Enter Applied Language Solutions, who bid for, and remarkably, won the entire interpreting contract for the Ministry of Justice in a deal designed to save £18 million.

(Edit: I will henceforth refer to Applied Language Solutions as ‘Applied’, apologies to Accredited Language Services of New York, for inadvertently messing all over their trademark ALS for the first 12 hours this post was live. Oops. For the record, they have nothing to do with this. On with the motley!)

What did Applied do to achieve this target? They slashed interpreters’ fees to a three-tier system of hourly fees of £16, £20 and £22 with no travel payments and reduced expenses for what is, let’s face it, a very tough job. Then they wondered why nobody wanted to work for them. Indeed, the whole business with Applied has sparked protests and a campaign against them that even Unite has joined.

I first commented on this in a blog post entitled British Special Language, where I mocked a couple of large ‘one stop shop’ interpreting firms for their lack of knowledge of those they were serving, lamented the new court interpreting contract, and hoped they would sort out the mess soon.

Two months later, what’s happened? After weeks of adjournments and delays caused by no-shows or poor interpreting by those willing to take Applied’s fees, a trial has actually collapsed thanks to an interpreter supplied by Applied. It’s going to cost £25,000. Now that’s an expensive interpreter.

For me, it’s not so much that the interpreter made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. And phonetically, there’s not much difference between ‘beaten’ and ‘bitten’. No, it’s that the interpreter then admitted to the court that they had realised their mistake, but had said nothing.

They realised they had misunderstood, and interpreted something wrongly, but did nothing about it. The mistake was only discovered when the prosecution cross-examined the defendant. The judge had to order a retrial.

That has to be one of the clearest ethical breaches in interpreting that I have ever heard of. Quite apart from anything else, an interpreter in court has to swear that:

“I swear (or… promise) by Almighty God (or other god recognised by his or her religion) that I will well and truly interpret the evidence that will be given and do all other matters and things that are required of me in this case to the best of my ability.” (Evidence Act 2008, Schedule 1)

Applied seem to be employing interpreters for court who are apparently completely ignorant of “contempt of court”. For clarification, it’s:

Contempt of court is essentially where somebody is deemed to have interfered with the administration of justice. This may take several forms but each of them will result in justice itself not being properly carried out. It is for this reason that contempt of court is seen as such a serious offence and which results in possible prison sentences.”

So tell me, what does an interpreter have to do to be arrested around here? How about break an oath and cause a trial to collapse?

And what about contempt proceedings against Applied for employing hopeless interpreters? Apparently, thats not going to happen.

The Attorney General has said that Applied cannot be done for contempt, but there may be provision under the ‘wasted costs’ orders. £25,000 for a new trial seems like a wasted cost to me. And apparently, it may be possible for defendants who have had to stay in custody thanks to Applied to pursue civil claims against them. In fact, one solicitor says he has two cases where they are “discussing” pursuing false imprisonment against Applied. Dear, oh dear.

RPSI linguist lounge, a not-for-profit website run by registered public service interpreters (RPSIs) for registered public service interpreters, is awash with horror stories about Applied. The Anonymous Interpreter tells how the new system is probably saving money, but not by any ethical means.

And yet, Applied seem to be clinging on. I wonder for how much longer, and what it will take?

We’re approaching the end of April, and apparently, the Framework Agreements under which Applied has its contract will be up for review. In honour of this, RPSI have organised a demonstration on Monday 16th April outside the offices of the Ministry of Justice and the Houses of Parliament.

I’ll be following what the Ministry of Justice chooses to do about this shambles with interest, and so, I suspect, will many others.

Interpreters, whether they be for spoken or sign languages, deserve better than this. So do our courts, and the people who have to find their way through them.

Signing Hands Across The Water!

Well it’s about damn time.

It’s been a little while since I updated this blog, and a very surreal few weeks. I know we’d been building up to it for months now, but there’s a big difference between planning and fretting and worrying… and actually going to Heathrow and boarding a plane.

There are various excuses I can offer for not updating for a week after I arrived back on British shores, from jet-lag to attending a Dr Who Convention on the Sunday (having landed on the Friday and still adjusting to British time – madness but isn’t madness fun?) to a post-trip sleepy blues downer for a couple of days, to attending Uni on the Weds, and running various catching-up with real-life errands for the last couple of days before finally finding a nice quiet weekend morning in which to draft my thoughts on the festival. Actually that does sound quite reasonable doesn’t it?

And not at all like not wanting to commit my thoughts on the festival to permanent record, thus drawing a line under it and moving on to the next thing. I don’t want to do that. I want to steal the Doctor’s TARDIS from the convention props display (damn, a missed opportunity there, if only I hadn’t been half-asleep) and go back and do it again. And again. And again. Hell, you’ll have to call the Doctor to help me get out of the time loop I’ll have accidentally trapped myself in.

Signing Hands Across the Water was AMAZING. I still can’t believe how lucky I was to share a roof with five other sign language poets, plan a workshop with them, do said workshop, and perform alongside them. How did that happen? Pinch me!

Thanks must surely go to everyone who organised it, I know it wasn’t all done with me in mind, but I had an absolutely incredible time and I hope everyone who was involved with, or came to watch, the festival did too. See the Signing Hands Across the Water website for a more objective view of events and a more complete list of people who deserve thanks!

And don’t forget the facebook page for some cool pics, watch out for that crazed grin 🙂

Swarthmore College was like no college I’ve ever seen. The college grounds seemed to be sharing civil-war era buildings and houses with Scott Arboretum and an amazing number of plants and trees, including cherry blossom trees that had already started to flower in the unseasonable warmth of Pennsylvania. Did I mention the lovely weather? And the beautiful buildings and grounds?

The guesthouse, ooh. So posh. So posh. And it tickled me that I, as the slightest poet in terms of height and build, had been given the biggest room with the queen-size bed. Oh yes, please, thank you very much. And the food, mmm. And the company! We had a welcoming ‘feast’ for most of the people involved, the crew if you like, and what a great bunch of people. Poets, terps, a few organisers, some volunteers. Lovely, all!

We soon got down to work though, and Friday was the panel discussion, where all the poets discussed various aspects of sign language poetry, from the current situation in USA, UK and beyond, similarities and differences between different types of poetry, and issues of translation of sign language poems, which was something that came up a few times throughout the festival. It was a free exchange of ideas and thoughts, held in front of an audience, it was an interesting experience and very thought-provoking. Even if I did spend most of the time squinting off-stage at the ASL – BSL relay interpreters…

And let me take this moment to thank the interpreters who were terping between various languages, some ASL – BSL, some English to ASL etc., but they made sure everyone kept up, including myself. Anyone who thinks that ASL is similar to BSL or that it’s possible to understand foreign sign languages from the get-go just because one uses a sign language, I challenge them to give it a go and try to follow a fast-moving discussion of the finer points of poetry in full flow in a sign language other than their own. Especially when they’ve only just mastered “Hi… my name is F, no, D, D-O-N-N-A…” in said language.

But I don’t think I did too badly, and by the end of the weekend I was able to communicate in basic ASL and hold conversations in a sort of mix of BSL / ASL. For all that ASL and BSL are different, shared experience of signed languages does, I think, help a lot, and with patience and understanding people can communicate across different sign languages far more easily than they can spoken languages. And for the heavy discussions, read; the heavy lifting, we had a crack team of terps. Cheers guys!

Saturday was the workshop, we had about 30 participants, and it went really well – the morning was spent looking at various aspects of sign language poetry, each poet bringing an element of their own style to the mix, in my case a look at (split) identity that I had spent two months fretting about that was over in twenty minutes. But I like to think I made an impression nevertheless! The afternoon was spent helping the participants craft their own poems, some even agreed to have their poems recorded, and they can be seen on the website, great stuff! I hope all the participants took something away from the workshop, I know I did.

Saturday evening was the big show! It was amazing, from the group hug, to Richard Carter’s singer’s dramatic suicide, to Debbie Rennie’s powerful tale of murder, narrated by interpreter Debbie Taylor, to John Wilson’s visually funny cycle of life of a Christmas tree, to Flying Words Projects’ (Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner) incredible timing in a double act that must have taken ages to perfect. It was a visual feast of different styles of poetry, some visual, some heavy BSL or ASL, some with voiceover and some without. It really was something to see, and I’m glad – and privileged – to have been part of it!

I did three poems in the end, after changing my mind once or twice; I had originally intended to do three of my more ‘visual’ and therefore hopefully more ‘accessible’ poems, but after some thought-provoking discussions with the other poets about language and identity, I decided to perform ‘Who Am I?’. This was my first poem, originally created at a time when I was going through something of an identity crisis, and I wanted to perform this poem to show that identity is not always clear-cut or simple, and not all, indeed few deaf people are born with confident ‘deaf identities’ ready-formed. It all seemed to go down really well; I can honestly say I don’t think my ego has ever been stroked quite so much! The audience and atmosphere were brilliant, so positive and up, and I met some really great people. It was all over too soon!

The last event of the festival was a panel on the Sunday morning, where all the poets discussed their work, and a big Q & A session with the audience that expanded on translation issues, perceptions, how we got into poetry and how we create our poems. I really enjoyed this session, and again it was all over too soon!

For me, at the big performance, it was interesting to note that the ASL poets had some kind of voiceover, whilst all of us BSL poets had none. This and the discussions in the panels the previous and following day really opened my mind to the various issues surrounding the translation of sign language poems. Should they have a voiceover? If so, should it be a full rendering of the poem, line for line, word for sign, or just a spoken word here and there to back up a specific sign? Should the person speaking the lines be on the stage with the sign language poet, or sitting out of sight with the mic? If there is a voiceover, is it pure sign language poetry? Can a voiceover ever do justice to a poem? Can sign language poetry ever be written in English (or other written language) form and still have the same effect? I have all these questions whirling around, and I’m feeling inspired!

One thing that really brought the translation issue home to me though, was a friend telling me about a hearing friend of theirs, a member of staff at the college, who had attended the performance. This hearing person had never seen sign language before, ever, and gave a review of ‘My Cat’ that was completely unexpected. Now, ‘My Cat’ / ‘My New Cat’, is one of my more ‘visual’ poems, I had thought it was fairly accessible, but apparently not.

It seems that this hearing friend had liked my “poem about the cat” but had been confused because “it turned into a devil with horns and it had feathers, and then it died, but she seemed happy about it dying?” By the time my friend had finished recounting this hearing person’s interpretation of my poem, I was crying with laughter, and verging on hysterics.

As I said when I recovered, I like to be flexible about how people interpret my poems but that was more random than I’d ever imagined. Loved it! In fact, I may create a new poem based on the ‘devil cat’, watch out for a Halloween special!

For the record, the ‘devil cat’ was licking its own arse, the ‘horns’ being its legs akimbo, the ‘feathers’ was long fur, and the twitching was the cat dreaming, not its final, anguished death throes.

But when I’d calmed down and had a think about it, I wasn’t sure which I would prefer, a voiceover / translation that would give non-signing members of the audience a clue of what the poem was about, or risk them taking away interpretations of it that were so far left-field of what I’d intended that they were in the next county. This hearing friend had apparently enjoyed the performance despite not understanding much, so did it matter? Does it matter? Lots to think about!

Thanks to The Cooper Foundation and their deep pockets, Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence (visiting Cornell Professor at Swarthmore), Dr Donna West, Dr Michiko Kaneko, Martin Haswell (great website and videos), poets Peter Cook & Kenny Lerner (Flying Words), Debbie Rennie, Richard Carter, John Wilson and one other, the terps Doreen Kelley, Mike Canfield, Kyra Pollitt, Christopher Stone, Debbie Taylor (voicing Debbie Rennie’s poems) and Christopher Tester; Nick Furrow for good food, the participants, the volunteers, the audience, and many more besides that I probably don’t even know about, thanks to everyone who had a hand in this – I’m going to use this word again – AMAZING festival.

Thank you!

Now can someone steal me a TARDIS…?

Shit people say… to Sign Language Interpreters

In the midst of my preparations for – or rather avoiding my preparations for – Signing Hands Across the Water, I’ve been collecting some information for this post for a little while now.

When my ‘shit hearing people say… to deaf people’ blog became a surprise hit, I pondered on other possible themes for the meme (ooh, poetry, and I wasn’t even trying) and a chance comment by a Sign Language Interpreter made me think… what DO people say to Sign Language Interpreters?

So I asked a few terps, all of whom shall remain anonymous, and wow. Seriously, wow. I’m assured that most people are not like this, but as the saying goes, there’s always one…

“How long did it take you to learn Braille?”
It’s depressing and fascinating how many terps gave an example linked to Braille, from “do you speak Braille?” to “I’ve always wanted to learn Braille.” What is this obsession with Braille???

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert silly word that is usually easy to interpret*
Grow up.

*Let’s see if the interpreter can interpret THIS… Insert rude word that then gets a laugh – at terp*
No, really, grow up.

“Who do I look at, you or them?”
Sigh.

“Oh no, don’t interpret that!”… the answer is usually “I just did.”
Sign Language Interpreters usually interpret simultaneously. You cannot call things back. And also – Booyah!

“They look a bit angry don’t they?” (Of someone who is just signing)
Do they look angry? Does their face look angry? Believe me, you’ll KNOW when they’re angry.

“Are you the signer?”
Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the sign lady?”
No, they’re the Sign Language Interpreter.

“Are you the madam interpreter?”
They’re not a dominatrix! Notice the lack of studded whips and fluffy handcuffs. They’re a SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the sign gesture person?”
Nearly, but not quite. It’s SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETER.

“Are you the hand waver?”
Oh, for the love of…

“Excuse me, do you mind not interpreting this? This is a private conversation.” (while on the phone and speaking loudly enough to hear)
Excuse you, if the deaf person was hearing, they’d hear your little tiff with your soon-to-be-ex, just like every other hearing person in the vicinity, in fact I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a few people are listening. Why shouldn’t the deaf person have the same access to this salacious gossip? Now leave the poor terp alone.

*When asked for more prep (since they had hardly provided any at all)*
“Oh, why? You’re not going to be miming that as well, are you?”
Words fail me. Or should I say mimes…?

“Oh, you work with deaf people? Oh, that’s so nice / wonderful / kind of you.”
Yeah…

“Hi, we need an interpreter, we have someone who is hearing-challenged…”
Deaf. I’m deaf.

“Oh, I used to know someone who was stone deaf.”
And your point is?

“Where’s the interrupter?”
We’ve gone over this.

“Oh how terrible it must be to be deaf… but I’d rather be deaf than blind.”
That remark would be random at the best of times.

“Do they always use hand signals?”
No, sometimes we use flashing lights, vibrations and touch. Or sometimes we use the medium of dance. Get down, baby!

Speaking of dance…

“Did you train at a dance school?”
Look, it was a sarcastic comment, OK? We don’t really communicate in dance. Except under special circumstances involving nightclubs and hot non-signing people.

“If you lose your job, you can become a tictac man!” *laughs*
I actually had to have this one explained to me; apparently at the horse races, the guys taking bets can communicate odds at some distance with special hand signals to each other. Oh, I see. Ha ha ha.

“If you lose your job, you can get a job as a plane marshal! You know, the ones with the orange flags?” *laughs*
Ha, bloody ha.

“Can I get one like you?”
Get one what? Can you clarify exactly what you mean, before someone calls the police?

“That must be almost as difficult as doing foreign language interpreting.”
Erm, simultaneously interpreting from one language to another, something that’s usually only attempted at the UN, and Sign Language Interpreters do it every day… Almost as difficult, yeah.

“How brave that poor deaf person is.”
I know. Just this morning, I rescued a hamster from a house fire.

“How long have they been suffering from deafness?”
OK, that’s enough, I think I’ve seen enough now.

Or have I? If you’re a Sign Language Interpreter, for your sins, and you have some strange / weird / just plain stupid thing some random person has said to you about interpreting that I’ve missed, don’t keep it to yourself. Get it off your chest in the comments below!

You never know, as well as giving us all a good laugh, we might make a few people think. But let’s do it for the laugh 🙂

Sunday sermon – redefining or equalising marriage?

So the ConDems are doing one thing I agree with. One thing.

They’re seriously considering legalising same-sex marriage. I support this. Why shouldn’t two people who love each other, are of legal age and genetically unrelated get married? Why not? Beyond those bars (legality / age / maintaining genetic diversity) does it really matter? Why does anyone care? Surely there are bigger things to worry about? Like how this country is going to hell in a handbasket; a handbasket being carried by the ConDems, but I digress.

Various church and public figures have denounced the idea of legalising same-sex marriage. Most recently at the time of writing, Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien has described the government’s plans as ‘madness’. Normally, I would agree, but again I digress.

The quotes I find most interesting in the article are:

“Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child. It would create a society which deliberately chooses to deprive a child of either a mother or a father.”

Didn’t they say the same thing about divorce? Last I heard, nearly 50% or so of marriages end in divorce…

“Other dangers exist. If marriage can be redefined so that it no longer means a man and a woman but two men or two women, why stop there? Why not allow three men or a woman and two men to constitute a marriage, if they pledge their fidelity to one another?”

And didn’t the Church of England via Henry VIII introduce the concept of divorce in the first place? Talk about redefining marriage! And as for redefining marriage as a heterosexual, monogamous union, see below.

“The cardinal has added his voice to those of leading figures in the Coalition for Marriage, a group of bishops, politicians and lawyers opposed to the changes. The group’s supporters include Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury. He urges people to respond to the government’s consultation on the proposals by signing a petition in support of traditional marriage.”

Traditional marriage? When they talk about traditional marriage, which tradition do they mean?

The distinctly non-feminist tradition?

Ephesians 5:23-24
New International Version (NIV)
23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Exodus 21:22
New International Version (NIV)
22 “If people are fighting and hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely[a] but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the woman’s husband* demands and the court allows.

(*My emphasis)

Or the tradition where children – usually daughters – would be given away to be someone’s wife?

Genesis 29:20-23
New International Version (NIV)
21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to make love to her.” 22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and Jacob made love to her.

Judges 1:12-13
New International Version (NIV)
12 And Caleb said, “I will give my daughter Aksah in marriage to the man who attacks and captures Kiriath Sepher.” 13 Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, took it; so Caleb gave his daughter Aksah to him in marriage.

Or the tradition where a childless widow could be ‘given’ to a man’s brother/s?

Matthew 22:24-35
New International Version (NIV)
24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

That’s right. After the poor woman has been passed on like chattel around seven brothers and finally dies, Jesus doesn’t condemn this. He just says there will be no marriage at the resurrection, which now I think about it, kind of challenges the ‘forever’ aspect of marriage as well.

Or the tradition where men could have more than one wife, or even a harem?

How many wives did King David have again?

1 Chronicles 3
New International Version (NIV)
1 These were the sons of David born to him in Hebron:
The firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel:
the second, Daniel the son of Abigail of Carmel;
2 the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith;
3 the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
and the sixth, Ithream, by his wife Eglah.
4 These six were born to David in Hebron, where he reigned seven years and six months.
David reigned in Jerusalem thirty-three years, 5 and these were the children born to him there:
Shammua,[a] Shobab, Nathan and Solomon. These four were by Bathsheba[b] daughter of Ammiel. 6 There were also Ibhar, Elishua,[c] Eliphelet, 7 Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, 8 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet—nine in all. 9 All these were the sons of David, besides his sons by his concubines. And Tamar was their sister.

By my count, that’s seven wives, plus concubines. Busy man.

Or the tradition where a rape victim is compelled to marry her attacker?

Deuteronomy 22:28-29
New International Version (NIV)
28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[b] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.

Wow. Just… wow.

Or the tradition where enemy soldiers can marry female prisoners of war?

Deuteronomy 21:10-14
New International Version (NIV)
10 When you go to war against your enemies and the LORD your God delivers them into your hands and you take captives, 11 if you notice among the captives a beautiful woman and are attracted to her, you may take her as your wife. 12 Bring her into your home and have her shave her head, trim her nails 13 and put aside the clothes she was wearing when captured. After she has lived in your house and mourned her father and mother for a full month, then you may go to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 If you are not pleased with her, let her go wherever she wishes. You must not sell her or treat her as a slave, since you have dishonored her.

That’s great. Capture her, marry her, and if you don’t like her, put her out on the street. That’s romantic stuff. Mills & Boon, eat your heart out.

But really, taking pot-shots at the definition of ‘traditional marriage’ isn’t my main point here. Indeed, it can be said that you can find quotes in the Bible to condemn or support most things. There are certainly passages in the Bible that are less misogynistic.

No, my main point is equality. D/deaf and disabled people are a minority. LGBT people are a minority. Now imagine being disabled / D/deaf and LGBT at the same time. That’s an even smaller minority, even more isolation, and even more opportunities for discrimination. Until disabled / D/deaf people are treated as fully equal and LGBT people are treated as fully equal, those of us who are in the middle of that particular Venn diagram are never going to feel as if society fully accepts us for who we are.

These church leaders and public figures are right about one thing – marriage is a union between two people who love each other, want to spend their lives together, and want to express that in a universally recognised way. But saying that it’s exclusive to one man and one woman and supporting that argument by saying that it’s always been that way is clearly a fallacy.

One day I may well get married. I might meet a deaf BSL user, or a hearing person who’s either willing to learn basic BSL or doesn’t mind that I disappear into the deaf community once in a while. Someone who isn’t scared off by my deafness / walking stick / operation scars / obsession with science fiction. Of course, it goes without saying that they must like cats. If they can cook as well, well then that’s fantastic. And if I can find that special someone who loves me for me and wants to marry me, aids, stick, cats, scars, warts and all, why does it matter whether that person is a man or a woman?

Why?

Petition for Equal Marriage
Bible quotations from BibleGateway.com

Signing Hands Across The Water!

Later this month, I’ll have the privilege of joining three other BSL poets – Richard Carter, Paul Scott and John Wilson – in flying over to Philadelphia, to take part in Signing Hands Across the Water, an international sign language poetry festival. We’ll be joined by three American Sign Language poets, the double act of Peter Cook and Kenny Lerner of the Flying Words Project and Debbie Rennie, and from March 16th – 18th we’re going to be putting on an amazing festival!

For the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of the Metaphor in Creative Sign Language project, brainchild of none other than Dr Rachel Sutton-Spence, and Dr Michiko Kaneko (who organised the first BSL poetry event in Bristol, the BSL Haiku Festival way back in 2006) ably aided and abetted by researcher Dr Donna West. As part of this project I’ve taken part in research and performed at Bristol Sign Poetry Festivals at Bristol Deaf Centre. Thanks to this opportunity, I’ve had the chance to develop my skills and confidence in creating Sign Language poetry and am really honoured to be part of Hands Across the Water – and I hope that this festival will encourage and inspire others!

Dr Sutton-Spence is currently Cornell Visiting Professor (Professor! I must remember to bow when I see her :)) at Swarthmore College, and the festival is being organised as part of her work there. She shoots, she scores! Of course, there are lots of other people involved in organising this incredible event and I’d just like to take this moment to thank them all – thank you!

Naturally, I’m nervous, this festival has been a comfortably long way off for ages, then all of a sudden… all of a sudden it’s March. It’s March! When did that happen? Two weeks from now I’m going to be on stage at an international Sign Language Poetry festival! Quick, someone pass me a paper bag… *breathes*

There’ll be workshops, public conversations and a big evening performance by all the featured poets. It’s shaping up to be an amazing celebration of Sign Language poetry, the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a while, and I really hope that this is part of a resurgence of interest and development of this beautiful art-form!

Plus, look at this cool banner! Martin Haswell is a genius. How can a festival with a banner that cool not be amazing?

Come on down!

I’m feeling so inspired, I’ve come up with a poem in honour of the event;

Professor Rachel Sutton-Spence,
A researcher most rare,
Sign language poetry champion
And linguist extraordinaire

Swarthmore College, Philadelphia
Seven poets will gather there
For workshops and performances
Beautiful poetry they will share

Signing Hands Across the Water
For all who want to see
What are you all waiting for?
Everything is free

Just register your interest
Come along, pull up a chair
And watch Sign Language Poetry
Flying through the air!

Whether or not this is an example of the quality of poetry – English or Signed – that people can expect from me at the festival: no comment. 🙂

The Birds! The Birds!

So I’ve been alluding to a play that I’m in later this year. I haven’t revealed much, partly because I’ve not known much myself, but last Friday and Saturday I was at a long development weekend with Disability Arts Cymru’s Unusual Stage School. I can now reveal that…

It’s called The Birds, based on a comedy by the same name by the Ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes (and not the film by Alfred Hitchcock, in case anyone was worried). The original has the birds of the title rebelling against the evil humans who catch, torture and kill birds by creating their own city in the sky and blocking all messages to heaven, thus cutting off communication with the gods and holding humanity to ransom until their demands – generally, better treatment – are met.

Given the parallels, it probably comes as no surprise that it’s being adapted with the disabled in mind. Last Friday I saw a first draft of the script written by writer / director Cheryl Martin with (unnecessary I thought) apologies to Aristophanes; it was funny, imaginative and occasionally scathing! The read through was fun, as were the development workshops, and Cheryl’s going to revise and develop the script some more now. Certain references will probably be taken out or amended on the basis that no-one wants to be sued. It’d be great publicity but…

Actually on the other hand, maybe we should keep them in. A bit of publicity is what we need right now! Tickets have gone on sale, it’s on at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff on the 11th and 12th May; if you feel like watching a surreal, feathery subversive take on the modern world and treatment of the poor birdies / disabled, this is for you!

The theatre is accessible, guide and hearing dogs are welcome, tickets are bookable online, and for the play we’re going to have at least basics of script projected on screens all around the theatre, a BSL interpreter will be signing the whole thing, I’ll be doing visual poetry, and the director – Cheryl – has already started considering where it’s all going to fit in in terms of access and artistic flair.

Oh, if only more directors and theatres could be like that. I’m hoping this play can be held up as an example of how full access to theatre can and should be done.

We even have a great designer on board who’s taken our measurements and promised to come up with some fantastic bird costumes, so if for nothing else, come along to see me and various talented malcontents dressed up and having fun in our featheriest, birdiest finest!

And possibly saying litigious things 🙂

I just really, really like (accessible) theatre…

Well that’s it – I’m officially a bit mad. Why else would I bounce across to Cardiff in the morning for a university seminar, then across to London to watch stabbings, mental breakdowns, a brilliantly twisted future and a visual story I could have watched all night?

At least it was an interesting day. I got up at just before 7 and got to bed around 1, having caught the late train back to Bristol. Sometimes that’s just the way it works out, when you have rehearsals on the Friday and Saturday, (more about that in a future post!) ruling out Thurs night as well, leaving Weds and a bonkers travel schedule. Why? All for the love of theatre. This is how much I love theatre. Specifically, this is how much I love theatre that I can access.

Deafinitely Theatre’s 4Play is a showcase of four short plays written by Deafinitely Creative competition finalists. I was lucky enough to be one of the featured writers last year, and I wanted to come and see what they’re up to now.

I wasn’t disappointed. The first two plays were quite dark, the first, A Sweet Slice of Life written by Stephen Collins I found a bit hard to follow I admit, but it makes more sense now I’ve read Charlie Swinbourne’s review at Disability Arts Online. That’s not to say it wasn’t powerful and bloody surreal; and if I know Stephen’s work, then his objective has probably been achieved.

Confusions of a Shadow Boxer by Matthew Gurney had an amazing twist that I didn’t see coming, and gave food for thought. The next two plays were much lighter, and being a sci-fi nut, I really enjoyed Lianne Herbert’s TwentyFortySeven, which turned the future on its head with a deaf-led government. Some moments were hilarious, with just enough dark undertone to keep it real. The last play, Absence in Time by Vitalis Katakinas was completely visual, with no BSL or speech, but still perfectly clear – and funny. Judging by some of the laughter, the audience were wetting themselves. Job done.

Congrats to all the writers, actors and directors on a great show, thanks for making my train tickets worthwhile! Was good to see some of the people around as well, even if I was babbling nonsense as I dashed out of the door to get back to Paddington.

4Play is on at RADA Studios until Saturday 25th February. It’s important to know this was formerly The Drill Hall, that way you won’t follow the directions on the bloody ticket and end up going round to the Malet St entrance of RADA…

Today has been spent mostly sleeping or napping. Tomorrow I’ll be going to Cardiff for rehearsals for – ah, no. I think I’ll wait and see what’s going on first (I’m still not sure yet, these are the first rehearsals) and update on Sunday or Monday. Mind you I’ve built it up a little now, can only hope people won’t be disappointed when I reveal that…

British Special Language?

British… Special… Language.

This is what Language Empire apparently thought BSL stood for. The average layman in the street might not know that BSL means British Sign Language, and this is a very sad thing. But Language Empire is a professional organisation that provides interpreters for a whole host of languages, including BSL.

British Special Language. They’ve replaced that with British Sign Language on the page now, so someone must have brought it to their attention, but they seem to have forgotten about the URL.

http://www.language-empire.com/services-british-special-language.php

It gets better – according to the logos that they proudly display on their front page, Language Empire has contracts with the JobCentre, ATOS, DWP, Community Legal Service, NHS, Tribunals Service, BUPA, Metropolitan Police, etc. You’d think with such a multitude of lucrative contracts, they could make the effort to learn what a simple acronym stands for.

It gets even better. Look again at that page. What the hell are those hands doing? That’s not the BSL alphabet. That’s taking the piss.

Also:
“BSL and other special disability communication professionals”
Beg pardon? What are you talking about?

“Language-Empire provides British Sign Language & Special Disability Interpreters”
Uh… I hope you mean fully trained, NRCPD accredited BSL interpreters. 

“Language Empire will only hire BSL and special disability interpreters approved by the `National Register of Communication Professionals working with Deaf and Deafblind People.”
Oh, you do. Well, thank goodness for that. For a moment there I thought you were a bunch of amateurs who decided to include BSL in your language interpreting portfolio because you heard you could make money.

But I wish they’d stop calling interpreters, note-takers, lipspeakers, STTRs and deafblind interpreters “special disability interpreters”, it’s making me twitch. I mean, what does that even mean? I’ve never seen ‘special disability interpreters’ advertised anywhere else, ever. How did they get so many contracts to provide BSL interpreters?

The same question could be asked of ALS, which on their page for British Sign Language Interpreting Services, (kudos to them btw for getting that right, and how sad it is that I’m applauding such a simple thing) though it appears a little more well-informed than Language Empire’s page, makes a reference to ‘St Vincent’s variety’ of BSL. What? Some discussion amongst deafies on twitter seems to suggest that St Vincent’s is a deaf school, which if true, then you might as well name every variation of BSL that comes out of any deaf school, i.e. ‘Mary Hare variety’. But I wouldn’t recommend doing that, not unless you want to start something.

Anyway. Lip-speakers are not a variety of sign language interpreting, nor are written translation services. That said, despite a couple of slips here and there, the ALS page comes off a lot better, and certainly not as howling as ‘British Special Language’.

But I will say this – “For meetings and events longer than 2 hours at least two interpreters are necessary.”
Er, if you make a BSL interpreter interpret on their own for two hours solid, they’ll have a brain meltdown. Believe me, I know. I saw it happen once when one half of a pair didn’t turn up, and after two hours the poor thing was a mess. The cut-off point that I’ve been told is an hour, max. Anything more is cruel. Don’t make me report you to the RSPC… I mean ASLI.

No, the problem with ALS seems to be a distinct lack of popularity. With… well, everyone. Despite reported issues going back to last year:
Row erupts over police interpreters – Feb 2011
Police rip up contract with interpreter agency – Mar 2011
Ministry of Justice in line of fire over interpreters contract – Jul 2011

ALS somehow landed a contract in August 2011 to supply interpreters for the criminal justice system in England and Wales, starting a few weeks ago. The entire system. For dozens of languages. The idea apparently being “if we give all our money to one organisation, it won’t cost as much”. Right.

Here’s how things are going so far:
Courts given green light to hire own interpreters as ALS struggles to cope
Court chaos follows interpreter change
Lawyers slam government’s court interpreting system
Ministry of Justice admits ‘teething problems’ with interpreting system

And of course, for every screw-up, that’s more money that it costs to fix it, and trials aren’t cheap. That’s why you pay for a service in the first place; to try and get it right first time. Pay less, get less. Spend more fixing it. And what happens to the defendants in the meantime? I hope they can clean up this mess, somehow, and soon.

How have we come to this? Big super-massive spoken language agencies whoring, I mean hiring out BSL interpreters? Three words; one stop shopping. Here’s what the Anonymous Interpreter thinks of that: Words that strike fear into the heart of the Sign Language Interpreter.

Furthermore, the LinguistLounge, which appears to be part of ALS, or Applied Language Solutions, proudly has a video that explains the provision of BSL interpreting services for the Ministry of Justice contract.

It doesn’t have subtitles. Or BSL interpretation. *Buzzzzz*

They do helpfully provide a script, and it’s full of vim and vigour and go get ‘em attitude, which I’m having a hard time equating with the slating they’re getting.

All I know is, if I need a BSL interpreter in a new area, my first stop is the ASLI directory. At least they know what BSL stands for.