Since my career as a freelance translator is still a sporadic event, some might even say an imaginary one, I have been prostituting my suspected talents by driving around the country in a white van setting up cameras at road junctions for the purpose of traffic surveys. As may be inferred even from such an obscure and evasive description, it is an occupation of devastating banality, tedium and loneliness. But that’s not the worst part.
Getting up at 3.30 a.m. and braving the elements to reach some God-awful town which could arguably only be improved with the intervention of guided missiles requires a particular kind of resolve and strength of character.
Then there is the public. There is something about a video camera in a public spot which gives the otherwise equable British public the heebie-jeebies. They come in various guises but can mostly be slotted into three main categories:
1) those who read George Orwell’s 1984 and due to their previous abuse of psychedelic drugs are no longer able to distinguish between fantasy and reality. These generally well-meaning folk tend to believe the information recorded is to be used for sinister government ends and scoff cynically when told otherwise;
2) unashamedly nosy busybodies, often belonging to a local parish council or other kind of residents’ committee (committed to keeping certain individuals out of their neighbourhood, I would imagine). With the Daily Mail neatly tucked under their arm, they demand to know why they weren’t personally informed that a camera was going to be placed within a 10-mile radius of their property. These are frequently followed shortly afterwards by their neighbour, with whom they have been at war ever since a couple of stray leaves from his unkempt hedge crossed over into the other’s property;
3) those living outside the margins of the law, anxious that their chosen clandestine way of life may suddenly become exposed. These include benefit fraudsters, dishonest spouses meant to be somewhere else, organised crime personnel, rapists, Conservative politicians, murderers, tax-dodgers, speeding motorists and petty thieves. Apologies to any I may have left out.
Sod’s Law would have it that this last category constitutes the vast majority of those keen to make my acquaintance. They stand there, legs apart, in a show of bravado designed to conceal their anxiety, and use a hostile and aggressive interrogation technique until they feel reassured that their criminal activities won’t be affected by my cameras.
Apart from when I’m in the middle of sorting out some tricky technical problem and time is of the essence, I don’t mind taking the time to explain that there is nothing sinister behind it, and to implicitly let them know that whatever illegal activity they’re engaged in, to please carry on, don’t mind me.
It’s all part of the job. No doubt, come the next Big Brother auditions, they will all be queuing up for days for a chance to live their lives in front of the cameras.