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Typing in motion. Franny Barrett

Typing in motion. Franny Barrett

How would you describe yourself? Who is Franny Barrett?

I am from a family of 4 children (2 brothers 1 sister) brought up in the Liverpool area. We are of Irish heritage as are half the population of Liverpool. I had the traits typical of ‘middle child syndrome’, and always seemed to be the one who was in trouble. As soon as I was told I ‘must’ do something I tended to do the opposite.  

I work as a Speech To Text Reporter (Palantypist) for people who are hard of hearing and deafened.

Tell us about your career to date. How did you get to become to be a Palantypist?

My first full-time job was a Labourer in a timber yard. I enjoyed this but ended up getting made redundant so I headed back to the Job Club. For any younger readers, the Job Club was a service/venue funded by the government to get help people find work. One of the key rules of the Job Club was attendance every day. It meant that I got to see the new jobs as and when they came in.  

My original job as a Palantypist was working as a Court Reporter at Liverpool Crown Court. You may be wondering at this stage what a Palantypist does? Let me explain... Palantype is the name of a system of typing using a phonetic shorthand code on a special keyboard. There are no markings on the keys so it was a memory based process of learning for me. The Palantypist is the person doing the typing - namely myself. The process means that I produce live/real-time subtitles. These can be accessed via a laptop screen for an individual or projected on to a large screen for many users. An acceptable typing speed for a Palantypist is 260 words per minute. In the courts a Palantypist records all the evidence in real-time.   

Technology at the time was cumbersome. I would use a small box-type keyboard with a slot for a floppy disk. I was often asked to provide a transcript of proceedings. The process to produce a transcript was all time-consuming. It meant that I would ‘book’ a slot in the office on the one desktop computer shared with about 20 colleagues. Fortunately, after a few years, I got a new computer from the company. These were the original Amstrad laptops which were very large and heavy.

Up to date Palantype equipment consisting of an adapted keyboard and laptop for connectivity

Up to date Palantype equipment consisting of an adapted keyboard and laptop for connectivity

To train as a Palantypist I travelled from Liverpool to Manchester daily by train at college. Each afternoon, I would return to Liverpool Crown Court to apply the skills I was learning. It took me about 18 months to become proficient but I never thought I would get that far. The company gave me financial incentives to motivate me to improve my typing speed. I found working in the courts fascinating due to the many murder, fraud and assault cases I covered.

The day came when I passed my Palantype exams and I was over the moon. The deaf and hard of hearing community around this time became aware of Palantype services. For this community the potential of this service was tremendous. They could book a Palantypist for meetings, conferences and events and they then had real-time access to spoken conversations in a written form. I decided to leave the courts and work on a freelance basis providing support to this wonderful community. It is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Whats a typical day in the life of a Palantypist?

It’s quite hard to describe a typical day as they are all so varied which is what I love about my job. One day I may be providing live subtitles at a large conference centre hundreds of miles from home and the next, I may be covering a small meeting within walking distance. I average 100 miles a day driving and so always have a ready supply of audiobooks and podcasts which I listen to whilst travelling. The 2 factors which make me love the job most are the variation in the work, (ie client, subject matter, venue) and also the fact that everybody I work for is so grateful for the service I provide which makes me want to provide the best possible service I can. 

This contrasts with working in the Courts where, for months on end, I would do editing and dictionary work in my lunch time and after work in order to provide a daily transcript only to get to the end of the trial where I would be lucky to get a ‘thank you’ or ‘well done’.

Franny (on the far-right of the photo) providing Palantype support at the meeting. The service user reads the laptop screen as Franny types.

Franny (on the far-right of the photo) providing Palantype support at the meeting. The service user reads the laptop screen as Franny types.

What motivates you as a self-employed person?

Apart from my labouring job, I have always been self-employed, even when I worked in the courts. At first, this worried me as everybody else I knew had permanent jobs but, after a while, I realised that self-employment gave me a stronger work ethic than most people. It also encourages the entrepreneurial spirit in me.  

Life as a Palantypist is very sedentary due to travelling long distances, by car or train, and then sitting at a computer for long periods so I try to balance this out with cycling, football, and a healthy diet. Being self-employed I have to stay as healthy as possible so that I do not fall prey to many colds and viruses.

If we googled your name, what would we see?  

Probably not much. I don’t have a social media presence and gain business through word of mouth. You may arrive at my website which is need of updating.

When people look at me, they would never guess that I...

do any exercise lol! Despite the exercise, there is still lots of room for improvement.

What makes you unique?

I have not had a day off in my whole working life of 30 years. This does not make me unique but it puts me in quite a small club. When I first started work I could not afford to lose the money but, after a while, it does not occur to you to take time off. Also, I would never like to let anybody down as I realise how important the service is to my clients and how much they rely on me.

This also does not make me unique but I try to avoid all news which tends to be all negative. I can’t see the point in wasting time watching or listening to it unless it's essential or relevant.  

Also, I don’t have any social media accounts. It is tremendous for many people to stay in touch whilst traveling abroad etc or to share breakthroughs in medicine or technology but most of it is for people to exaggerate their lifestyle. It can also be very addictive and distracting. If people want to achieve anything worthwhile they need to limit their use of it.

What’s your favourite line from any movie?

I don't know the lines but my favourite movie moment was the Dennis Hopper / Christopher Walken scene in True Romance. The dialogue is all jovial banter but the real unspoken undercurrent is that Dennis Hopper loves his son so much and would never give him up, even if it costs him his life. The humorous banter belies their real roles, which they are both acutely aware of, of fiercely loyal father and ruthless murderer.

If you could have been told one thing that you weren't told when you were a teenager, what would you like to have heard?

Appreciate everything and everyone in your life right now.

Whats the most fun thing about your career?

Meeting so many different people from all walks of life in all areas of the country. I have learned so much from the clients and organisations I have worked for. You gain a much wider perspective when you get to glimpse other people’s lives and careers and see how different organisations work together. You also get to hear all points of view. For instance, I have worked for lots of unions, all three of the main political parties at national level, government departments, tiny to huge charities and massive corporations which tends to give you more insight into how people think, work and develop in all levels of society. 

What advice would you give people who want to get into your field of work?

There are no courses to learn Palantype as far as I am aware. There are distance learning Stenograph courses run by Mary Sorene. Whilst training, you need to have determination and be relentless. Once trained, you need to be reliable, self-motivated and conscientious.

How would you describe your creative style?

Most of the time I am on automatic pilot. I am juggling my to-do list and do not get much time to do anything creative. It is a facet I need to try and encourage in myself. A lot of the work I do is based on productivity and results which runs in opposition to being creative where it is all about the act rather than the result. I can be very creative in working out how to construct words or short forms into the Palantype dictionary system. My daughter is fantastically creative and I am always impressed by the things she makes so maybe I should get her to coach me!

Are you Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter? Please explain why.

Most definitely Spring. I always believe in a fresh start, room for improvement and lifelong learning. Everybody can do something to improve their current situation whether that be health, career or finances.

If you were to create a slogan for your life, what would it be?

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. (Benjamin Franklin)

If you could visit any place in the world, where would you choose to go and why?

If I was choosing a place a place for myself it would be cycling or hiking in the Far East but this would not appeal to the rest of my family. As part of this holiday, I would aim to visit places with animals so, it would be a variety of expeditions. These would entail whale-spotting, turtle-spotting, Komodo dragons, scuba-diving and snorkeling!

For a family holiday, I loved Disney World in Florida. Their customer service, efficiency and attention to detail was second to none. We went for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday in 2010 and ended up going again in 2012 and 2014; it was that good. The only problem now is I don’t know anywhere else that can even come close to it as a family holiday.

If you could cut one thing from your daily schedule, what would it be and why?

Diary management and quotations. It takes up a large part of my time and I get no job satisfaction from it at all. I may start using a virtual PA (Personal Assistant) for some of this as I use a digital on-line diary.

What motivates you?

Being of service to people who need my skills. Also, lifelong learning and providing for my family who mean everything to me.

If you were to write a book about yourself, what would you name it?

The secret of getting ahead is getting started (Mark Twain)

Name one thing that drives you crazy.

People discussing ideas (complaining/procrastinating/analysing /gossiping) without ever taking action.

What's the naughtiest thing you have done in school?

Diverting a line that was delivering tuck shop supplies from going to the tuck shop to a window in the toilets. I never got caught. They had an ID (identification parade) but I never got picked out. We were only in the first year of secondary school but the fifth formers, who were in the toilets, ended up with all the spoils! I had a great trade in buying and selling dinner tickets and was a budding Del Boy.

I was in trouble a lot in school and got expelled at one stage which was then downgraded to a suspension. I had fallen behind in most lessons by the time I took my GCSEs. So I stayed on into the ‘Sixth form remove’ class where you could re-sit them. This was a better learning environment where the classes were much smaller. I was able to ask questions without getting ridiculed. I got more out of this one year than the previous five and actually started to enjoy learning.

What do you miss most about childhood?

Having no responsibilities in the years when a summer felt like it lasted forever!

What one thing (modern convenience) could you not live without?

Can I have 2 things? Podcasts and Netflix. I still listen to my audiobooks on Audible but there is so much choice with podcasts I can’t resist. I can listen to the most amazing people who are experts in every field. They tell their stories (all for free) whilst I travel between jobs. It is inspiring and motivating to listen to people who are changing the world and the future. Compare this to listening to local radio in which people discuss what colour wheelie-bin they prefer. There is no contest! (James Altucher is my current favourite Podcaster) 

I find Netflix fantastic as it is a library of information I can access whenever and wherever I want. I stay informed with what is going on in the world through documentaries rather than the news.

What inspires you at the moment?

There are definitely downsides to the Internet and technology. But, the impact in the last 20 years has been mind-blowing. Every industry has been affected. We now have smartphones in our pockets that are more powerful than the supercomputers from a few decades ago. If we can use technology to improve people’s health and well-being and use alternative energy sources which do not destroy the planet we will have a bright future. I believe that in the future a combination of breakthroughs in medical intervention and improvements in CI technology will eliminate deafness.

One of the former members of CICADA (Cochlear Implant Club and Advisory Association), Geoff Brown, was an inspiration to me. After he retired as a chemist for ICI, he started, built up and sold a successful bookbinding business, was a founding member of Stagetext and designed, built and maintained websites for many charities. He also brought up 5 children as a single parent, was a Methodist minister and grew all his own vegetables. So when somebody tells me they are too old to learn something new I tell them all about Geoff.

Franny today grappling with a snake :-)

Franny today grappling with a snake :-)

Your five favourite movies? Why?

  • The Green Mile: I find it a haunting film but it makes the impossible seem possible.

  • Goodfellas: A very violent film but the banter and soundtrack make it a classic.

  • Shawshank Redemption: This one is in everybody’s top 10. It shows how hope, ingenuity and persistence can change anybody’s circumstances.

  • Catch Me If You Can: Frank W Abagnale was a very clever audacious con man. He pulled off some unbelievable crimes without ever using violence.

  • Avatar: The first film I saw on IMAX and I am still not sure if it was the film or the technology I loved most. I went to see it twice on consecutive nights.

What is the best thing you have done in your life?

Having children. It has made me a completely different person. Children make you realise that, counterintuitively, you receive so much more by giving than receiving. Your priorities and values all change after having kids.

Favourite colour?

Green for life!

Five songs you’d play on a road trip.

What question would you like to be asked in an interview but I haven’t asked you?

What are my favourite books/podcasts/podcasters?  

For other people this may be blogs - including yours. I like to know what inspires and influences people. It would be an idea to read out your blog into a podcast as many people, like myself, do not have much spare time for reading but I can listen to it whilst exercising or travelling.

Tell us a funny story about an event that happened in your career.

Many years ago I met and chatted with Bert Massie, who is now sadly deceased, at a couple of events in Manchester. I then saw him soon after at a retail park in Liverpool. I was dressed in civvies rather than my smart attire. Bert didn’t recognise me and quickly put up his car window and locked his door as I approached. He obviously thought I was a robber. We had a laugh when I reminded him who I was. I did get to know him a lot better over the years and saw him at many other events.

What skills and techniques have you applied in your career?

Hard work, focus, determination, reliability and flexibility. I would say the most important thing in learning anything is to persevere. By no means was I a natural at Palantype. It often felt that I had to put extra work in to stay at the same level as colleagues. Almost anyone can do anything if they keep on plugging away at it, especially when they are not in the mood. Additionally, when training, don't judge yourself harshly. Put the work in and the results will come.

My mum said let's go to Dublin's 'Fair City' for the day...

My mum said let's go to Dublin's 'Fair City' for the day...

Writing Deaf history. Josephine O'Leary

Writing Deaf history. Josephine O'Leary