Tuesday, 13 June 2006

Now what?

In my first post on this blog Oh, to be a freelancer! (the previous ones came from my weekly thread on MUA) I wrote about my relationship with the agency that supplied me with work for 18 years and what used to happen with the one piece of work I was still doing for them. This year it’s been different. No early phone call. No threat. No warning that it might be more difficult than usual or that the deadline might be shorter and do I really want to do it, anyway? Nothing.

So I emailed the woman the other day. Today there are two messages on my answerphone and an email saying she’d like to tell me about ‘what’s happening’ over the phone. I’ve emailed back to say I’d rather read about it. (She’s always wrong-footed me that way: forcing me to react to bad news there and then, and I don’t react well to bad news).

I know what’s coming. I know there will be no British Tourist Authority brochure this year, or any other year. That’s one third of my very small income gone. The surprise will be the reason why. Did she decide it wasn’t worth her while giving me work this year – after 18 years of bons et loyaux services? Did the British Tourist Authority refuse to pay for the proofreading again and did she tell them – on my behalf – to go jump in the lake? Whatever the reason, since the work should have started in three weeks’ time, I would have expected to be told long before now. I think after 18 years of etc. etc. I deserved that courtesy. I never missed a deadline in all those years. Because I never went on holiday in the summer, like all the other French translators, I was always there to answer questions – at any time of the day. (It very often seemed to me I wasn’t a freelancer, but a tele-worker.) Before the advent of email, I used to deliver the work personally (the agency is at the other end of London) whenever a deadline was especially short. Oh, I don’t know what else I used to do to make her work easier. Now this.

But I'm a freelancer so who cares.

Updates (14 June): I now know ‘what’s happening’ with the brochure: it’s not good but it’s not as bad as I feared. The BTA has decided to just update last year’s copy, which involves spending an awful lot of time fiddling about with PDFs and stuff. At least I won’t be totally idle in July, but how do you cost adding 23 words here, seven there? The woman knew about it a little while ago, but she was about to go on holiday so she decided to tell me on her return.

I decided to leave this Slap up because, although I may have been a bit unfair to my employer, I know she wouldn’t think twice about doing what I thought she had already done and if not this time then maybe next year.

‘Paying it forward’, isn’t that what it’s called? LOL!

(26 July): Just heard from the agency that the brochure has been cancelled. The English copy to translate should have landed on my desk over two weeks ago. As it happens, because I don't work full-time any longer, I didn't turn down any other translating jobs in order to stay available during that time and for the next four weeks, but someone else might have. All they said was “Sorry!” ‘Sorry’ doesn’t do it when you’ve lost a third of your income with no hope of making up the loss.


  1. Well, I care, not that my caring makes it any better.

    A lesson to us all in courtesy?

  2. Your kind words won't put money in my purse but my soul is all crumpled and ruffled; it needs soothing and smoothing down and they are helping. Thank you! :-)

    "How can people be so inconsiderate!" she cried, in the wilderness.

  3. Hi. Just read your post Bela. I don't know what else to say except that it stinks and you deserve to be treated better. Not that this solves anything...but I feel really badly that you are being treated so shabbily. It sounds like you go out of your way to do a good job...which makes the sting worse. Take care and please be extra kind to yourself in whatever ways bring you pleasure/comfort.

  4. I am so sorry J, and hope the news will turn out to be better than you're expecting. You are quite right to have expected more notice if you're not going to get the work this year.

  5. How can you be a voice in the wilderness? You keep me enthralled daily, with your wonderful blog! I enjoy your wit, and insight. I also admire your feminism. You've had a few months of hell, and I hope it is followed by a summer filled with things you love.
    Echoing others posters, please be good to yourself.
    Carole / madamex

  6. Aw, that's rotten. Please tell us what happened when you get the missing information. In my experience, people usually put off communicating when they don't yet have a definitive answer, so it's not necessarily the case that she has bad news but didn't have the courtesy to let you know ASAP. Of course, it would have been nice had she been courteous enough to tell you that things were still up in the air, wouldn't it? As for their failure to appreciate your work ethic, well, no good deed goes unpunished, does it? Hrmph.

  7. You have my sincerest sympathy Bela - that really sucks. The indecent lack of courtesy just adds salt to the wound of not getting the work. So sorry, B.

    I won't try to make you all cheery and happy, but may I give you a little laugh for the day? I saw this site and thought it was wackily amusing (scroll down especially to the "Just how out of control is it getting" post.) I figure you might get a chuckle out of it.

  8. Thank you so much, T! As you can see from what the Addendum, I jumped the gun a little bit and I don’t deserve all the sympathy you lavished on me, but it’s so nice to know you care.

    Your wishes worked, R. :-)

    C, I don’t know what to say. I blushed like mad when I read your lovely comment. I’ll try and be worthy of your compliments. Thank you.

    WW, I’m amazed by your insight! And, yes, you feel exploited when you go the extra mile and are not rewarded for it.

    K, thank you for the link: how do you find this stuff? You have such a great sense of humour! I will check it out tomorrow.

  9. Ah, J - I'm so glad it's not as bad as you first feared. But still, the part of your frustration that comes from not being given information in a timely fashion is always valid. People think they are sparing us worry, I guess, and so avoid telling us the bad news until it's a sure thing...forgetting that we have budgets to plan, other options to work on, etc. So, slappity-slap away!

  10. I think she was scared to face you and put it off as long as she possibly could. It's not just rudeness to delay information that impacts income, it's cowardice. I have slapped her in absentia. xoxo

  11. re addendum: charge by the hour for that sort of thing

  12. Thanks, D! She knows that job is only one of three big translation works I do every year and I certainly would need more than three weeks to try and find something else to do instead. In fact, I don’t think it would be possible. It’s the principle of the thing, you know.

    M, that woman isn’t scared of me; I’m scared of her. In the past 18 years she’s ‘sacked’ me twice just for turning down a piece of work, when I was totally snowed under. That’s the kind of person she is.

    Yes, GSE, that’s what I usually do in those cases and that’s what I’ve arranged this time too.

  13. The company I work for as a freelance editor/layout person has assumed my loyalty to such an extent that they decided as a fait accompli to undertake a major new book redesign despite their only designer being on maternity leave now and their managing editor going on maternity leave at the end of July. I have to do the first book in the design, refine and modify the template, and make sure it's OK for all the freelance editors following me. If I had refused that job, basically they'd be f***ed, but they didn't ask me whether I minded taking on such a big role in their plans, or have an alternative idea for if I hadn't been available. Talk about being taken for granted! Not as bad as your story, Bela, but it fits with your previous experience of being treated like an employee.

  14. Hmmm... all those new mothers and mothers-to-be... what would they do if women who are child free weren't there to bail them out, eh?

    But that's beside the point. Yes, employers are on to a good thing, aren't they? They have our loyalty without having to provide any of the facilities they provide to their in-house employees. If I'd been working for the same company for 18 years and retired I would probably be getting a pension.

    Today, someone at the BBC - for which I've also worked for 18 years - asked for my phone number (they asked for my mailing address the other day)!!!


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