A young woman is slumped on an armchair. Grey bags sprout under her eyes by the second. In a hoarse voice she hollers sentences to the elder woman sitting next to her. The older woman sits propped on a chair, her behind at the very edge of the seat, her head is cocked to one side, pushing her ears as close as they would go to the monitor standing on a low table before them, albeit the fact that the speaker is on a chair on the opposite side of the table.
The tired young woman is me and the elder woman is my Grandma. This scene is repeated every Wednesday like clockwork when it is my turn to guard Grams by night. It is a thing my cousins and I have been doing since Grandpa passed away ten years back.
Grams is the stereotypical small, sweet old woman; the kind who bakes cookies and would feed you to death if you let her. She is more than partially deaf but would never admit to it. Her self-diagnosis is; “It’s not that I don’t hear, it’s ‘cos I can’t understand what you’re saying!” In the mean time she cannot hear the shrill sound of the doorbell cutting through the house like a knife and every time we speak we have to repeat our sentence seven times, each time louder than the last, with the result that every conversation in her house inevitably turns into a shouting match.
Grams’ house doesn’t offer internet access. We tried to convince her to get it, my cousins and I, but she was afraid that she wouldn’t have space for it; “Where would I place the thing? Would it fit under the stairs you think?” *sigh*
No internet means no entertainment these days and so, in order to while away the time when it is my turn to spend the night, I have entered into the habit of taking a film with me and show it to her on my laptop.
Now this was a much bigger undertaking than I initially assessed. First of all, Gran does not speak any other language accept her Maltese mother-tongue. Therefore, in order for her to follow the proceedings of the unfolding plot, I have to translate everything from English to Maltese.
The other problem is her hearing which, as I already explained, is nonexistent. Consequently I have to translate every piece of dialogue a substantial number of times, which results in me having to stop the film often and punctuate the pauses with my translations and thus the film takes three times its intended running time.
There was another variable that did not come to me when I first started on this project. When I am tired I get cranky. A minor problem in my daily life which I have learned to deal with, but this becomes a major problem on Wednesday evenings. I get to Grams’ house at around 9.30 p.m, because – you know – I have a life! So the film usually starts at around 10.00 p.m. By then I would already be tired after a long day at work and I’d be craving bed. But Gran would have been anticipating the film all week so I can’t deny her that little pleasure. So I start the film anyway, knowing that I have to repeat all my sentences, but in order to counteract for my inevitable crankiness I take shortcuts in my translations.
Take a current example. Due to our mutual love for Period Drama I have opted to show her Downton Abbey, at an excruciatingly slow pace I might add.
“Now,” I would say. “Carson is going to come—“
She nods, encouraging me to continue.
“The Butler is going to come in and ask Robert, the rich man,” I add for her benefit, “whether he wants Thomas to help him change.”
“What did Batman say?”
“Butler not Batman.”
“That’s what I said! Batman!”
And that is how every character in this world acclaimed series has been re-casted with the following names:
Robert Grantham stars as Rich Man.
Cora Grantham is His Wife and alternately, The Mother.
The Lady Dowager is The Old One.
Matthew is Matthew (she remembers him because he’s her favourite) and Mary is Mary (easy name, reminds her of the Madonna). Then there’s The Middle One and Sibby.
The Downstairs Team translate to; Pointy Ears, The Cook and Housekeeper. Batman is Carson, naturally. And O’Brian, because Grams hates her especially, is Sour-face.
Too often therefore conversations in the Downstairs area are held between Sour-face and Batman and that is how the award-winning series has been rewritten.