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Being amused by small things

Sometimes quite minor things can amuse me because of their strange and surreal qualities. One of these is TV subtitling, aka captioning, or closed captions.

You know the button on your TV that turns on subtitles for the hard of hearing? We have that on quite a lot, not because we’re hard of hearing but because it means we don’t need the sound on when we’re trying to be quiet, like enjoying the first coffee of the day. Usually at such times what we’re watching is a breakfast news programme.

Today I saw two news items that attracted my attention.

One was about giving blood. One of the people being interviewed, I think either an official of the NHS blood transfusion service or an award-winning donor, was talking about the process of giving blood and transcribed as saying: ‘It’s just like having an eagle peck in your arm, it’s painless.’ Oh yes?

The other was an item about the reduction in funding to museums and the possibility of  museum closures. One museum slated for possible closure was the ‘National Robbery Museum’ and another was the ‘Liverpool Chakra Museum’. I’ve never been to either, but it sounds like I should visit them both soon… I’d like to see a chakra museum; historical and curious chakras might be very interesting.

Of course the problem arises because of the way subtitling is done. Many dramas are professionally subtitled prior to transmission and what appears on screen is perfectly formed. Some live transmissions are transcribed in real time by someone sitting at a keyboard somewhere. I have a mental image of someone sitting in a darkened cubicle in the lower sub-basement of the TV station, wearing headphones the size of footballs and pounding the keys of a computer that was fresh and shiny in the late 1970s, but that’s just being fanciful. And sometimes the transliteration is done automatically by an audio-to-text programme that mostly gets things right, and maybe there’s someone who can add in corrections if they spot errors.

I have great respect for people who do these transcriptions because at many points in my research career, I’ve been involved in transcribing interview tapes, met court clerks who knock this stuff out at trials, and I know the kind of skill and speed that’s required to do this work in real time. So I think I can be forgiven for the occasional laugh-out-loud moments when either they, or the voice recognition software, gets it wrong.

As far as I know there isn’t a National Robbery Museum – the Met Police have a ‘black museum’ of implements used in famous murders, and the prison service has a museum of implements used in riots, escapes and so on. I’ve seen those (many years ago now), and indeed the Museum of Justice in Nottingham. And there isn’t a chakra museum either, though there is a witchcraft museum in Boscastle, Cornwall, which is interesting for a range of reasons including the social and folk history it reveals, and I’d recommend visiting it if you’re ever in the area.

Meanwhile, and wearing my fiction-writing hat for a moment, if you ever read a story of mine that has a robbery museum or a chakra museum in it, you’ll know where I got the idea from…

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