Clowns Hysterectomy, Jokers to the right… (the joy of getting the song lyrics wrong)

All of us have, at some point, seen things that we can’t unsee, however hard we try.

I’ve found over the years that it’s almost as impossible to un-hear something. The worst offenders for things that get stuck in your head (after earworm) are misheard song lyrics. A short time ago, a friend of mine shared the meme below, which brought back some memories:

Ken doll

I first heard this as “Sandal in the bin’, and even once I’d read the entire set of lyrics on the CD single insert, I couldn’t get my brain to accept the true version of the song. It was as if the wrongness had imprinted itself in my mind and nothing could overwrite it.

I had similar problems with Rod Stewart’s “Fart Like a Tiger”.

Madonna was shocking for poor diction. I suppose it didn’t help that I was really young when ‘La Isla Bonita’ was released, and therefore not really au fait with currencies around the world, but once I’d heard “young girl with eyes like potatoes”, I couldn’t make “pesetas” work. And as for “Like a Virgin”, I was convinced she’d been touched for the thirty-first time… which struck me as less than virginal, even at the tender age of about nine. It was all very possible, of course. If said virgin was applying the ‘suck it and see’ approach to dating, then it’s perfectly possible that she’d clocked up 31+ fumbles before doing the deed. Just not particularly likely.

It wasn’t always my weird imagination at work. You listen to “Me Israelite” and tell me you don’t hear “me ears ‘re alight.” I was always convinced that Fats Domino found his drill on Blueberry Hill (he wasn’t a fan of pronouncing his ‘th’, that man), and that the Beatles sung “I wanna hold your gland.”

It’s not me honest, guv – it’s all these people who can’t enunciate their consonants.

Now that I can’t hear music much at all anymore, I’m rather vulnerable to dastardly friends fitting new lyrics to well-known songs, and over-writing my memory of how the song sounds. I was at work once when my colleagues were bickering about opera and how dreadful/wonderful it is with equal force. Opera’s advocate, Cookie, said you can put anything in an opera and it will sound good. Challenged to sing operatically about curry, he launched into “Nessun Korma**”, and that is now the version I have stuck in my memory bank. Thanks Cookie!

I need to point accusingly at Tony J Fyler, too, for re-penning that Pink Floyd Classic “Another Prick with a Wall” to the extent that I can’t hear the original version in my head anymore. Cheers Tony!

So… which song lyrics haunt you? I think most people have heard Bon Jovi belting out “It doesn’t matter if we’re naked or not” during Livin’ on a Prayer, so that doesn’t count. C’mon… hit me with your misheard lyrics 🙂

Tig xxxx

Nessun Korma
Nessun Korma
Nihili Naan bread
fuck-all pakora….


How to give odd advice and alienate people

Last month, Network Rail posted an awareness video on Facebook and Twitter to draw attention to the dangers of not being fully alert at level/railroad crossings (pick the term suitable to where you’re from.)

Here is the video in question:

An alternative link is here:

On the off-chance that Network Rail are shamed into removing this advert before you have a chance to look at it, here’s the upshot, in bullet form:

  • Deaf signing couple walking down the street, signing.
  • They pass beneath an open gate to a railway crossing, with no lights flashing.
  • The female of the couple realises that she’s lost something and frantically pats herself down while her partner looks on, concerned.
  • The gates come down and the lights start flashing.
  • The girl looks down the tracks in a sudden panic and the screen goes black.
  • A warning flashes up on the screen, which reads:

    “Lives can change in a split second. Look, listen and live. #Bossingthecrossing.”

There is no question that this is a controversial advert. I spent a few hours thinking about this after seeing it (I couldn’t stop thinking about it!) but after some considerable mind-chewing, I’m still falling on the side of the fence which says, “Network Rail, you’re an abominable set of ignorant, patronising nerks.”

It’s quite loud on that side of the fence, as clearly shown on Network Rail’s own FB page, which (at the time of writing) shows 28 angry faces, two likes, and one ‘wow’. And not one of the comments is complimentary, the general gist being, “we’re deaf! not stupid!”

This is a copy of the response given by Network Rail to one of the more vociferous complainers:

“Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to write this email.

Secondly, we apologise that you feel the advert is distasteful as this wasn’t our intention to be insensitive. This particular film is part of a larger safety campaign for a wide number of pedestrian level crossing users including cyclists, dog walkers, young people, parents, and people with sensory impairments. We wanted to be inclusive so we created these targeted films to relate to our varying audiences and increase engagement, not alienate them. In addition to this we engaged a profoundly deaf colleague, Paul, and he provided valuable input before signing off the storyboards and film. Paul said “this scenario could happen to anyone from any walk of life.” Furthermore we have been working with the following charities and organisations for them to support our safety message so we best reach our target audiences:

RAD (Royal Association for Deaf people); RNIB (Royal National Institute of Blind People); Ramblers Association; Scope; Mencap; Dogs Trust; Sustrans, and ROSPA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents).

Finally, the purpose of our campaign films is to raise awareness about level crossing safety – it has nothing to do with ethnicity, sensory impairment, religion, or sexuality. It’s really important for us to ensure that everyone is safe around level crossings and therefore we hope you might now look to support this campaign.”

I’m sure they mean it. I used to work for the Home Office, within the Honours system. I know how much time I spent making sure things were as fair as humanly possible, while having to listen to people sneering about how the whole system was an old boy’s club whenever I went to the pub. I have a great deal of sympathy for any underling or official who’s worked like a slave to get a number of ambassadorial bodies to comment positively on a borderline project.

I can also appreciate the following basic points:

  • The earlier adverts had shown people putting themselves at risk from sheer stupidity, and no doubt they wanted to make it clear that danger also occurred to the blamelessly vulnerable.
  • There are inattentive wazzocks across all walks of life. Deaf people are not immune.
  • Level crossings are not as safe as they look.
  • Trains move faster than we think.
  • Train drivers suffer lasting trauma from accidental human impacts.
  • The folks at Network Rail are human and simply do not want people to die on the railways.

All this, I get.

But even with this burst of philosophical support, the advert is still so wrong on a number of levels. Lemme break this down.

Procedural Reality

  1. Crossing gates come down earlier for non-stopping trains than for stopping trains.
  2. If NR are seriously trying to say that you will get splatted within seven seconds of being caught between the crossing gates, then they have global safety issues to reconsider. Surely, with such a short lead time between gates coming down and trains roaring through, there should be inward-facing flashing lights, not just ones directed towards oncoming traffic?
  3. ONE deaf person has been killed on a level crossing in 30 years. One. We don’t represent the vulnerable demographic of people likely to be slain by trains.

Deaf reality

  1. We can’t hear, so we tend to pay MORE attention to our surroundings for residual hazards, not less. But thanks, y’know, for the vote of confidence.
  2. We might not be able to hear. And indeed, we might have a moment of panic about the whereabouts of our vital possessions while crossing a level crossing, but… IF A TRAIN IS ONLY SEVEN SECONDS AWAY, WE WILL FEEL THE SODDING VIBRATIONS AND LEG IT.

Wider Perception of the deaf

  1. From the mildly deaf to the profound, we ALL spend more than enough of our lives hearing the phrase ‘are you deaf or something?’  This advert does not help, with its closing warning about looking, listening and living.  Deaf people can still listen. It’s hearing we can’t do.
  2. Signers have excellent peripheral awareness. They need it. The chances of them not spotting gates closing just feet away are really quite slim.
  3. Gate visibility aside, and referring back to part 1, deaf people are NOT stupid, and more likely to confine their mad, panicked hunts for missing valuables to one side of a level crossing as a matter of self-preservation.

I could rant about this all night, but I’m not going to. I think I’ve set out the key problems with this ad, and I sincerely believe that adverts like this set back public estimations of deaf people by twenty years all over again.

We have enough obstacles in being taken seriously as intelligent, contributing members of society without this nonsense.

If you’re not deaf, but annoyed by proxy, then please SHARE. Share on Twitter, Facebook, Blogs and casual conversation. Let’s drive this kind of thinking back into the ‘unapproved’ pile, where it belongs.





Enjoy the silence…

No, I’m not going to inflict Depeche Mode on you. It’s tempting, though. I remember it as being a damn good song, and I’m sure I could find a clip on YouTube somewhere…

Even so, that’s not what this post is about.

I was somewhat bemused today to pick up little man Bas (nine years old now) from school, to find him gesturing with perfect clarity and shared meaning to a teacher as he waved goodbye. All fine in principle, except that the gestures didn’t resemble Sign-Supported English (SSE) in any way, let alone BSL. I kept my distance, curious, as they exchanged hand-flurries, and waited for him to bound up to me before voicing my “what the hell was that about?” bewilderment in slightly more warm and maternal tones than might be apparent in this blog.

Here’s the thing… I’m only now learning to sign, and I’m still shit at it.

I’m learning sign language online gradually (for free and at limited speed), because although I’ve become increasingly deaf within the profound bracket for some time now, it’s only been in the last few months that my left ear has become useless through infections, making me fear that my stronger right ear might go the same way. So, to get ahead of the worst case scenario, I’ve been doing an online course in SSE, which is good enough for me to pass on enough useful signs to Bas for us to engage in mutually acceptable pre-school communications:

  • I want toast
  • cereal, please
  • I can’t find my shoes
  • seriously, where are my bloody shoes?
  • Why are you asking ME where your shoes are, you shoe-deserting berk?
  • what’s for lunch?
  • I think what you mean is, ‘Mummy, please could you help me pack my lunch?’
  • What do you mean you don’t have Peperami?
  • But I LOVE Marmite
  • If we don’t have Peperami/Marmite, then you can’t have it! Stop raging and pick something else!
  • Just popping for a pee, join you in the car…

By now, my son has some grasp of situational signing, but he’s hardly a hardened signer, and he won’t be one until I’ve found a British Sign Language (BSL) course which is both affordable and taught at a time and in a place which makes family engagement possible.

Anyway, I seem to have veered off on a tangent…

My point is this: I’m slightly terrified of other parents thinking, courtesy of Bas’ wild improvisational SSE, that we use BSL at home as a matter of course. It’s been put about by friendly mums that I’m profoundly deaf (so that people email, rather than try to call me), but there are quite a few people who still assume that profound deafness = fluent, native BSL signing. It’s almost like I’m letting the side down by still speaking. The curious looks, as I continue to largely rely on lipreading, make me feel paranoid and hemmed in at times.

Anyway, today, Bas sustained his peculiar silence until we’d left the school gates, and then explained, with no gaps between his words, “I did a sponsored silence today and raised loads and loads! It was fab! Everyone was in on it! I mean, I might have accidentally spoken a couple of times, but I don’t think anyone held it against me.”

I frowned, trying to remember if a sponsored silence event had been mentioned. I really had a good memory dig, and came up blank. I’m pretty good at school events, so this one had me scratching my head.

“Sponsored silence? Since when?”

“Oh, I mentioned it this morning as a possibility for cancer research, and my tutor signed up immediately. Said he’d put a tenner in, and set up an online page, and that he’d tell the other teachers that I was trying to keep quiet all day for a good cause.”

“Hmmmm,” I said, suppressing my unmotherly instinct that his teacher had leapt onto a rare opportunity to teach a class uninterrupted. I could picture the teachers in a huddle, agreeing on the principle of the sponsorship feat in a heartbeat, but squabbling over the most noble cause.

I love my son to the ends of the earth. I do. He’s a kind-hearted, bright lad with lots of ideas. He has innumerable human qualities, but sustained periods of quiet reflection aren’t generally within his comfort zone. Offering an opinion on anything that moves is generally more his forte.

“He was really helpful, because I was allowed to stay silent ALL DAY,”  Bas added keenly, skipping alongside me on the pavement.

I grinned cheerfully on the basis that a day of impromptu silence and fundraising couldn’t really raise any harm. “So,” I ventured, anticipating a nice quiet drive without repeatedly reminding him that I could only talk and lipread at the traffic lights (or in jams), “how about another tenner to remain silent until the England Match?”

“God no,” he spluttered, rolling his eyes as he made a sharp right turn towards the sweetie shop. “Today was a killer. Tell you what, give me a tenner, and we’ll sponsor Harry’s silence tomorrow.”

I just smiled as he got stuck into the noisy business of trying to negotiate sweets as well as funds for a small slushie.

I’ll cough up for Harry’s silence when I see a sponsorship form, and not before!




Subtitles from the planet ‘Thwart’

Some years ago, I was given a book called The Flavour Wheel, which is a brilliant guide to becoming a better home cook. It’s like an encyclopaedia of flavour combinations, and I’ve used it as a guide for developing the food equivalent of a ‘capsule wardrobe’ for my stock cupboard – a capsule cupboard, if you like.

Armed with the guide (and the many herbs and spices I’d invested in), I started watching cookery programmes for meal ideas, only to encounter a rather significant problem…

The subtitles.

Subtitles, I love you dearly for all the joy you bring—most of the time. You make it possible to follow shows like Grimm, where the shape-shifters are exceptionally challenging to lipread (and where the handsome human hero isn’t much easier – although I concede I’m not really focussing that much on the script). You add intrigue to the news by declaring the “one minute’s violence” to be held at the funeral of Khomeini Arafat.

But where cookery programmes are concerned, it’s sur-titles I want, like you get at the opera, high above the stage.

I have no idea why TV chefs feel the need to work in kitchens where multiple, concussive copper pans dangle from ceiling hooks, but surely this is the place to put the closed captions? Over the sodding pans? Do we really need to see the ceilings, the lush Mediterranean paintings, or the shelves stacked with expensive and elusive ingredients? No! These kitchens might be masterpieces of interior design, but what I really want is to be able to see what’s going on at stove level.

I think this picture gives you a good idea of the problems!

cooking subtitles

Here’s a quick canter through some of the common frustrations with captions on cookery programmes:

  • the captions faithfully relay “and this is what the underside of the salmon looks like,” while entirely obscuring the underside of the salmon
  • the chef announces that the oven should be ‘ferociously hot’ (yes, very helpful, Nigella) but the great black block hides the entire temperature dial
  • “See the colour on that flame?” [Er, no.] “That’s the only way you’re going to sear this meat properly.” [Marvellous.]
  • “…and this [Entirely invisible knife-action] is the only quick way of chopping a butternut squash…”

I’m sure you get the idea. The alternative style of captioning (no black background, but the italicised white words have black borders) is much less invasive, but becomes a problem when the kitchen is so painfully white that the ‘Vanish’ product development team probably goes there to pray.

I’ve experimented with turning the subtitles off to see how I cope with following the footage, but there are problems with this approach.

Chefs, like toddlers, aren’t easy to lip-read. Gordon Ramsay propels himself up and down on the balls of his feet. Nigella Lawson is just too coquettish to follow (all grins and no consonants other than ‘p’ and ‘s’). Rachael Ray doesn’tleaveanygapsbetweenherwords. For lip-reading purposes, I favour Keith Floyd, whose magnificent consumption of wine forced him to enunciate well between slurps, and Nigel Slater, who likes… to give… each syllable… serious thought.

Then there’s the editing of the footage, which isn’t really performed with lip-reading in mind. This kind of sequence isn’t unusual:

“Now, this dish [close-up of pile of ingredients next to empty pan] makes the best of the freshest, most seasonal ingredients, such as [close-up of perennial bell pepper] or parsnips, such as here [close up of dubious veg which is manifestly not a parsnip]. So, what we want, if we want to re-e-e-e-e-ally draw out the sweet flavours of the parsnip, is actually a whole tablespoon of this beautiful spice right here [cue jaunty shaking of anonymous snap-lock storage jar with orange seal and label with a hand over it] and it’s important to put that in during the middle of the cooking so it perfectly balances the intensity of this vital spice [jaunty shaking of identical-looking jar, also with obscured label]. Right, let me show you a special trick for chopping these parsnips.” [Close-up of cactus in window.]


So, I reverted to subtitles, which at least have the merit of being entertaining at times, especially in live transmission. I’ve seen the ingredients of a ratatouille listed as tomatoes, onions and cor, jets! (courgettes/zucchini). 

I’ve seen instructions to cook lasagne at 12,000 degrees (possibly a Vesuvian recipe). I think my favourite attempt at subtitling was in an early series of Nigella, where the diligent captioner did their best to run interference on her mysterious system of measurement. Evidently: a smidge is ½ a teaspoon; a lashing 1½ liquid teaspoons; a dollop 3 tbsp; a splish is half a splash, and ‘ferociously hot’ is anything over 200°/390°. Always good to know.

These days, I’ve given up. I stick to recipe books for the useful information such as quantities and cooking time, and just watch for the cutting and food-prep techniques. But just for fun, next time you’ve got a chef on your screen, try either cutting out the sound or turning off the subtitles and then see if you can reproduce the recipe at home.**




** the author takes no responsibility for any chaos, injury or insurance claims that might ensue if you take the latter part of that instruction seriously…


A shocker

It was late in the day of an already-trying week. I was in the playground for the afternoon pick-up, where several little ones storm the roost before their older siblings emerge from their classrooms.

I saw rather than heard a few of these teeny beings (some toddlers, others nursery age) getting into a tangle in the corner. I observed two of the mums turning exactly the moment that their own children cried out. I admired this parental precision. Once the errant toddlers had been hailed and hauled into place, I casually admitted “I could never do that. I have no idea what my son’s up to unless he confesses or someone complains.”

“Should you be a parent, then?”

I was… dumb-struck.

Sure, I’d make a terrible penguin, but in many respects, I’m still a good parent. I play footie with him. I do his homework with him. I find furtive and cunning ways of smuggling fruit and vegetables into his diet. I read with him. I create with him. I listen to him, worry with him, and strategise with him about the worries he has.

Yeah, I can’t hear him. I’d make a terrible penguin. The ability to pick out one call of distress above all others is a great and sacred thing. I agree with that on some level.

But I’m not raising a sodding penguin, am I?

comments and hugs welcome. hugs exceptionally welcome.


The tale of the dirty knight and the clean scumbag

A true story from 20 years ago…

Your date is supposed to protect you from harm. When I’m walking and lipreading, I’m not looking at the ground. Or ahead of me. I’m paying attention.

This means that I’m vulnerable to plunging down unmanned manholes. This manhole was unmanned because the man who was supposed to be manning it had sodded off into McDonald’s without leaving his warning sign up.

Thankfully I only dropped seven feet to the first platform, but bashed my elbows, ribs, forehead and shins on the ladder on the way down and was feeling rather delicate in both body and soul.

My date appeared periodically at the surface of the hole, but was laughing too hard to be of use to man or beast.

My hero of the hour was the guy who was working on the manhole, as it happened. He zipped down, helped me out—full of apologies, turns out his little warning triangle had been kicked away to one side—and relocated me on terra firma with a nice warm bomber jacket to wear until the shock wore off.

My date’s laughter made me think of stinging nettles and throwing knives.

Manhole guy punched him quite comprehensively in the face, in a way that made me think of Arthurian Knights and other snoggable men.

Manhole guy then closed up and drove me home.

It was such a shame his other half was called ‘Brian’.

But he restored my faith in nature, that day.

Manhole guy, Matt, if you’re out there, thank you.

Answering the question I’m so often asked…

I got a FaceBook message the other day from someone I haven’t been in touch with for a while. I’ll call him ‘Wilf’. We were friends in a ‘real life’ writing group which has since dissolved since the library kicked the group out. While things were going strong, Wilf and I had something of a vigorous debate about the ‘wisdom’ of me including a few deaf characters in my various stories.

I hadn’t thought of this tendency of mine as a matter where wisdom had to be applied, to be honest. Wilf’s view was that I ought to rein those characters in or write more hearing characters if I didn’t want to be thought of as a ‘one trick pony’.

This led to a heated group debate, and was probably one of the reasons we got booted out of the library. Now, I could understand where Wilf was coming from; although he’d never read anything I’d written apart from the odd snippet read out loud, his automatic assumption was that the character’s deafness was part of the plot. It never was. I did try to explain that these characters were deaf because people sometimes are just deaf, and that it wasn’t any more complicated than that.

“So, what happens when Ryan’s hearing worsens, then?”

“It doesn’t,” I replied.

“How come?”

“Because he isn’t going deaf. He’s already deaf. The story is about his relationship with his father.”

“Does it get better, then?”

“His relationship with his father?”

“No!” Cue elaborate rolling of eyes. “His hearing!”

“No, his hearing has nothing to do with the plot. But it does complicate his relationship with his father, who isn’t the most patient man in the world.”

“Oh. Why make Ryan deaf, then?”

I didn’t roll my eyes. You’d be proud of me. I was very calm. To begin with. But when he started asking me if Ryan was really me, in disguise, I got fed up and accused him of writing his hero, the blue, three-boobed Duke of Narg as a fictional manifestation of himself. He looked at me as if I were mad. Of course it wasn’t him! How could I think so? Well, the Duke of Narg had perfect hearing. So did he. So there must be a direct correlation.

He told me off for being facetious.

Okay, maybe that was a little facetious, but I was running out of debate steam in all honesty, and it seemed the quickest way of showcasing my indignation.

So why do I include more than the average number of deaf characters?

There is an element of writing what I know. When I write hearing characters (which happens more than 90% of the time), I have to remember:

  • To make sure that I include sound effects
  • That they (hearing characters) can talk on the phone, do FaceTime or Skype
  • That they can hear each other in different rooms
  • That I don’t have to engineer their spatial relationship so they can see one another’s lips
  • That they don’t need to be talking in good light
  • That they can hear their name being called
  • That they don’t have to hit a fatigue wall because they’re not lipreading
  • The list goes on and on. It’s actually quite hard work for me, putting myself in the shoes of someone who can hear.

When I write deaf characters, they tend to have severe or profound losses, and they are always oral (non-signing). I do try to keep the tone light. I’m not writing about deafness to make any political points; I’m just trying to show what normal life is like, and to show the range of experiences different people have. I have yet to write a signing deaf character, and that won’t happen until I’m familiar enough with British Sign Language to do justice to a character who will essentially be not just speaking but thinking with an entirely different grammar and who lives in an entirely different world. Until I can treat BSL with authenticity, I won’t try to tackle it.

There’s quite enough of a challenge trying to convince readers that there is such a thing as a profoundly deaf person who doesn’t sign. We exist. We’re just not widely heard of because people associate ‘profound’ loss with entire loss, rather than people with a loss at the very top of the continuum. I can hear a little with my aids in but nothing short of a gong being clanged next to my ear with them out. That’s quite profound enough for me, thanks very much 😉

My current project is the novel-length follow-up to Single-Syllable Steve (link below). I barely touch on the details of his deafness in the initial short story because it’s written from the heroine’s point of view, and she doesn’t realise that he has a hearing loss until late in the story.

A Brotherhood of Bouncers, the sequel, is divided between the perspectives of Steve and his hearing girlfriend Celeste, and shows a lot more of the finer details of love either side of the hearing line. It is a rom-com with the bedroom door left open, and it has been absolutely liberating writing the truth about deaf sex, covering both the joys and the infuriation.

Any questions? Similar experience of being told you’re overusing a niche, personal experience in your writing? I’d love to hear from you.

Until then, I bid you a pleasant Monday evening.