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…

 

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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.

 

 

 

Apparently, I’m not very quiet

My saga began on Saturday morning, when I had to unload the fridge in order to reload it with shopping. You know how that game of Fridge Tetris goes…

  • realise that what’s on the counters is not going to fit in the space permitted without some Escher-like genius
  • remove some suspect items from the fridge and bin them guiltily, making a point of not checking the scoff-by date
  • check condiments for anything which needs to be hoovered up within two weeks of opening
  • realise that you’ve created all of 80sqcm of space
  • remove more items
  • realise that there is nowhere to put them
  • feel your hearing aid get sucked into a feedback loop when the fridge starts beeping impatiently at you
  • rearrange veg drawer
  • decide that the cold meats can go in with the sealed raw meats (so long as they’re on top)
  • breathe a sigh of relief
  • revert swiftly to panic when the food on the counter starts sending ‘put me away!’ in your general direction
  • rearrange fridge, all items snugly deposited
  • step back and admire work from the top of the armful of stuff which is going to go in tonight’s dinner
  • trip and nearly kill oneself on a rude little cucumber.

I did all this with my hearing aids out, and when I finally picked myself up off the floor, my husband and son were looking at me with astonishment, wondering how such a basic task could take so long, and involve so many, many interesting words.

I nearly told them to pack the damn fridge themselves (and many more interesting words might have been used), but I refrained. See, I’d learned the art of calming myself down earlier in the year, to prevent the usual volcanic eruption that bursts from me when people tell me to calm down when I’m hopping up and down with frustration.

So, for a while, silence reigned.

I’m reasonably convinced that I managed to sustain a dignified level of noise management until this morning, when I had a fight to the death with the packaging of one of the Co-op’s high-security sandwiches. I thought at the time that I was alone in my struggles until the sandwich was taken from me by a kindly octogenarian, who opened it effortlessly. Cue a red face from me, and many spluttered thanks and apologies (probably sotto voce, ironically enough) before I drove home to enjoy my treat.

Seriously – a packed sandwich is a treat for me these days; it’s just cheaper to buy one prawn cocktail jobbie every now and again than to buy more prawns than I know what to do with.

This afternoon, a battle with a Tesco’s ice cube freezing bag drew a small crowd among my son’s friends, who had been making a great deal more noise upstairs playing FIFA, until they realised that other live entertainment was taking place downstairs.

I want to hear from you… deaf or not…

Share your inglorious experiences of making considerably more noise than you thought you were. If this episode involves a bed, so be it.

I just don’t want to feel like the only noisy penguin on the Arctic shelf!

I shall sign off for now, wishing you a very merry Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

Twelve Days: an epic epistolic saga of unmanageable gifts

I’d already posted this over on the Erotica Readers and Writers’ Association website, but it’s pretty safe for work – until the twelfth day 😉

Hope you have fun reading.


On the first day of Xmas, my true love sent to me… a wanker with a spare key.

Dear Darling

I hope you landed safely in Riyadh and that you got a decent night’s sleep after the rough journey.

I found the sweet little note you left on the kitchen table—you have twenty-four gifts organised for me? Wow! One day at a time, eh? It’s a good thing I work from home; I can catch all those delivery men.

However, as grateful as I am for the imminent arrival of lovely pressies, I would’ve really appreciated it if you could’ve warned me about ‘Spud’ (what’s his real name?)

I realise that you’ve served together and that he needs a place to stay for a couple of weeks, but he gave me a bloody great shock by arriving while I was in the shower. Literally! He apologised for needing the loo in an emergency, but he didn’t show much sense of urgency while washing his hands and face. That man cleans himself at the speed of a sloth giving himself a pedicure. Thank goodness for frosted shower glass! Let’s hope this has just been a case of first-day teething problems. I’m sure he’ll settle in.

Right – I’ve got dinner to make, so I’ll email tomorrow.

Donna


On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me… two dirty gloves

Hi love, quick text to say thanks for the first pressie. I love the pre-loved gauntlets. They’re very robust. I’m sure that if I ever need to handle a batch of thermite cacti then I’ll stay very safe, lol. Am we getting a stove? I’d love a stove. Some of our neighbours have applied to have one installed and they keep going on about not having to pay for heating anymore. Warm nights by the fire sound ideal to me—especially with that dodgy door leading out to the roof terrace.

Spud made an effort to apologise for springing in on me yesterday by bringing home burger and chips from Tony’s Takeaway. It was a nice thought but—alas, like the gloves—the chips had clearly been ‘pre-loved’ between Tony’s place and my front door.

Hope you’re getting through your first day okay. I know it’s always rough when you go back on tour. xxxx


On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me… three French hens!

Evening Dan

I hope you had a good day setting up and that you won’t get sent out to some grim fox hole straight away.

I now understand the gloves! The three French hens arrived in the early afternoon, and I needed the gloves to round them up and get them out of the kitchen. Damn, their claws are sharp! They also move surprisingly fast once released from a cage. For the time being, they’re hanging out on the roof terrace. I had to nip out this afternoon to buy them a hutch (no idea what you call an enclosure for hens), and spent a good couple of hours trying to build it.

Spud isn’t hugely fond of the hens, I’ve noticed. He complains (without a hint of irony) that they’re ‘messy.’ Hmm. Sorry. I WILL try to stop complaining about my sudden house guest. If he could replace some of the red wine he’s been working his way through, then that would be grand.

Are the hens safe with pizza, by the way? I’ve noticed that pizza certainly isn’t safe around THEM.

Much love. I’ll try to call tomorrow.

Donna xxxx


On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me… four calling birds

Hi Dan

Just a quick note to say thanks for the calling birds. I’m afraid they turned out to be quite temporary presents. Spud left the door of the roof terrace open when he went for a smoke and the birds made a swift exit, stage left. The hens didn’t follow them, you’ll be glad to hear. Mind you, it’s probably a good thing that we don’t have seven birds roaming around the apartment. My neighbours slipped a passive-aggressive little note under my door this evening, asking me if the ban on pets had been relaxed.

You have the greatest imagination for gifts but I’m not sure our flat is really designed to accommodate quite so much wildlife 😉 (gentle hint).

Right, I’m behind on my work so I’d better spend a few hours catching up. Love you lots

D xxxx


On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me… five gold rings!

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me… Six geese a-laying

Dan

I know things got heated on the phone, and I’m sorry we argued. But I did try hinting that I couldn’t take on any more animals. Goose eggs might be great for Christmas, but the bloody geese aren’t. They’re like miniature forces of destruction. I’ve already had to sell two of the five gold rings to cover the cost of repairing my furniture and getting the carpet professionally cleaned.

It’s all very well telling me to put the geese on the roof with the hens, but these geese:

  1. are unexpectedly murderous – we only have two French hens now
  2. aren’t having any of this sit-in-the-cold rubbish. They like being warm, it seems.

We managed to get all six of them outside, but after their streetfight-showdown with the hens, they lined up by the doors, giving us death stares through the glass. Even Spud was freaked out in the end. Sorry love, but tomorrow morning, those geese (and the hens) are going straight to the park on Millbank, where they can squawk, cluck and screech to their hearts’ content.


On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me… seven swans-a-swimming

======================================================

OUTGOING TELEGRAM OFFICE: RAF_LN

DESTINATION OFFICE: SdA_Rh

Attn: Captain Daniel Forrester

======================================================

Stop it with the bloody birds STOP 

Swans are fucking evil STOP

Send me one more bird (or creature) and we’re finished STOP

======================================================


On the eighth day of Christmas my weirdo sent to me… eight maids a milking

Dan

I’m tempted to email your CO and ask him to send you for a psych-eval.

What in the name of the fat noodly fuck am I supposed to do with these maids? WE DON’T HAVE ANY COWS! We don’t even have any room for them to sit anywhere, let alone stay here. They’re just wandering around the flat, clenching and unclenching their fists, looking lost, libidinous and weird.

Spud’s cheered up for the first time in a couple of days. He’s convinced he can get at least four of them to ‘milk’ him. He’s an annoying git, but I’ve seen the ‘goods’ and can understand why he thinks he’s a two-maid job.

I’ve spent the money from gold ring #3 on minibus hire so Spud can drop the maids off at various railway stations tomorrow.

I missed my publishing deadline, by the way. Thanks a bunch for keeping me so busy.

D x

Ps: please, please tell me that there aren’t any cows coming? That should be a stupid question, but I wouldn’t put anything past you anymore.


On the ninth day of Christmas my dickhead sent to me… nine ladies dancing

Dan, allow me to summarise. Nine ‘ladies’ dancing in the corridor = eight morally offended neighbours = 7 formal complaints to building management = six rude messages left on my voicemail = five equally irate messages left on their voicemail (I’ve blamed you, by the way) = four dancing ladies being arrested = three arrested ladies demanding I pay their bail = 2 hours sleep last night, and one furious EX-FIANCÉE.


On the tenth day of Christmas my ex-dick sent to me…  ten lords a-leaping

You immature tosspot! The last thing I need while I’m packing is a bunch of drunken peers flinging themselves around the flat. I don’t know WHY I even answered the door.

I’ll be as glad to leave Westminster as I am to leave you. Spud was my hero today. Using a cattle prod, he persuaded all ten lords to make themselves useful by carrying all my boxes down to the moving van. It seems that Spud doesn’t like being leapt upon any more than I do.


On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me… eleven pipers piping

Joke’s on you, buster. When you get home, you’re homeless. We’ve been evicted. Spud has found a two-bed apartment in Lambeth. I’m moving in with him.

Have fun sweet-talking the bailiffs and reclaiming your worldly goods from SCARY_BLOKES_STORAGE.com.


On the twelfth day of Christmas, your ex-girlf sent to thee… twelve drummers coming

Hi Dan!

Thanks for your call. I couldn’t make out much of what you were saying—you really ought to shout more slowly when calling overseas—but I gather that you objected to the early-morning bukkake shower.  Spud and I both felt that, after so many angry messages, we ought to try showering you with love and affection. I’m only sorry we weren’t there to see you receive your unexpected bounty. And in answer to your question, yes, the drummers will follow you around, alternately drumming and coming for the rest of the day.

I trust there will be no more xmas gifts from you.

Be well

your ex, Donna xxxx

Your ex, Donna xxxx

The Curse of the Him-bo

In my writing group, we dedicate every sunday to posting ‘flashers’, which are microfictions of 200 words or under.

It’s bloody difficult! But I gave it a go this Sunday, and thought I’d post this just for fun. 200 words on the nail.

Oh – and for those needing a slang translation, a ‘himbo’ is a male bimbo (good-looking and well-built, but with nominal substance between the ears).

 

============

Trains will pass through this station in the imminent future. I won’t recite ALL the details, because you can find them on the departure boards. This is an on-time service from Brighton to Gatwick. Don’t leave your baggage anywhere stupid, or we’ll blow it up.

Greg rolled his eyes as the PA system fell silent. “Malc’s gonna get himself fired one of these days.”

“So… he didn’t get laid last night?”

“He got cock-blocked by an off-duty bouncer.”

Barry grimaced sympathetically. “Dangerous Dave?”

“No, some him-bo with tats.”

“Bugger, poor Malc. Never chooses well.” Barry sighed. “Who was he trying to pull, anyway?”

“Girl called Phili.”

Barry grinned. “Frisky Phili?”

“Mate, you’re the nickname obsessive.”

“Describe her.”

“Curvy, tall, long blonde hair.”

“Pricy threads? Sluttish chuckle?”

“Er, yeah…”

“Oh dear.” Barry snickered, rummaging for his phone. “Dear, oh dear…”

Greg watched as Barry sent a rapid text, cackling to himself. He sipped coffee until Baz was ready to share the joke. “Well?”

“I’ve just told Malc—”

The PA system boomed into life. “Next train ahoy! Have a fantastic day, you lovely, lovely people!

Greg blinked up at the speakers. “Told him what?”

“That Frisky Phili is Dangerous Dave’s bird.”