Monday, July 19, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode #3 - Writing Annotations

 

Annotations creation

Job Description: Today I’m going to talk about writing annotations. You will have this job either as part of creating a dialogue list or spotting list, or as a member of a team in an English department. If you work in an English department, the work is often divided depending on the strengths of each person. So you might be asked to write annotations and not ever create a spotting list, just depending on deadlines and skills of the people in the department. When you freelance, you could be expected to provide annotations in addition to a DL or SL. But you are unlikely to be hired just to write annotations.

Some of the job titles which could include writing annotations are English Editor, Master English Transcriber, or just a member of the English department or international versioning department.

 

What are annotations?

Annotations are notes for translators which accompany the document they are going to be translating.

If you’ve ever gone to a country where a different language is spoken, you might have had the experience of opening a translation dictionary and seeing three or four different words to choose from. How do you know which one has the same meaning you want to use? Like if you are in a hotel looking for your booking, how can you be sure you aren’t telling the concierge that you are looking for some reading material? This is where annotations come into play.

After a dialogue list is completed, you’ll go through it looking for any words or phrases which could be mistranslated or which might not appear in a dictionary, like slang or informal words. You will provide context or suggestions on what the words mean.

You’ll explain what idioms mean. Like “it’s raining cats and dogs.” Other countries might not use that expression, so a literal translation of it could seem nonsensical. An annotation would need to be added to explain that it is an idiom, meaning it is raining a lot, and that if there is a similar idiom in whatever language being translated into it should be used here instead of using a literal translation to keep the flavor of the character and dialogue in tact.

Other things like humor, double entendres, words with one or more possible meaning in a dictionary or even things which are just said to be silly should be annotated to help ensure that the correct context remains in the translation.

You also might be asked to include relationships between people - like if someone is an older or younger brother or sister to another character, and you always need to include measurement conversions - like from Fahrenheit to Celsius or Miles to Kilometers.

We even once had to add an annotation to explain that when a character said “good night,” it was ok even though it was still light outside because it was late enough in the day and the character was going home from work for the night, to say “night” instead of “day.” So, there are some cultural things which might not even occur to you, but when those questions come back, you just add another annotation to make sure everything is clear.

Humor is an especially important thing to annotate because it can be so different from country to country.

Some companies will also require that you include an internal note of where you sourced your research. Did the spelling of an actor’s name come from an article in Variety or the actor’s IMDb page? Did you just look at Wikipedia and think that was good enough?

Ok, another story. When we were working on MI3, there is a scene where Tom Cruise’s character is climbing the Vatican wall. We couldn’t find anything on-line (again, years ago) about how tall the Vatican wall was, and we were specifically asked to include that information in a revision of the DL. So we had to call the Vatican to ask them about the wall, although I was find measuring how many Tom Cruise’s tall it was, the client wanted something more precise.

I also got really mad when we were working on Nanny McPhee and were asked to include an annotation for the word “stock pot.” There is only one definition for stock pot and it really bothered me to have to include a definition of it in the dialogue list. But, the client is always right. You add what they want and then you hold a grudge about it for 16 years.

Example: Here’s a transcription of part of the video I did on dialogue list creation. I’ve added some annotations to it, including one where I correct the spelling in a title I put up on the screen. Oops!

You can see that the annotations are included with each entry of transcription or spotting. This is a good reason to keep dialogue entries short, so that if a lot of annotations are required the translator doesn’t have to look too far to find them.

Qualifications: English proficiency. A lot of writers and English majors go into jobs in the English department. Although most jobs in an English department can be done by someone without a bachelor’s degree, getting past the HR gatekeepers without one can be hard.

Tests: As with all of the jobs in an English department, you will have to take a basic test which will include some proofreading skills and will probably have some of those annoying errors which are so common in English, like it’s and its or two, to and too. You might also be asked to write an annotation or two, just to prove you understand what they are.

Training: But as with most things, you are unlikely to get a lot of training. You’ll will be given an example document, mostly for formatting, and probably there will be some kind of guidelines document with lots of examples of what kinds of things to annotate in it. However, it is pretty common when you first start doing this that someone with more experience will review your work and provide you with notes. So you’ll benefit from being fast at picking up what the notes are correcting in your work, and not taking the criticism too personally.

What kind of person is this good for: I really think it is helpful for someone interested in writing annotations to have studied a foreign language at some point. I’m terrible at French, but it was my minor in college and I love it. Having studied a foreign language helps you realize just how easy it is to pull the wrong word out of a dictionary, so you better understand why annotations are helpful.

Peu co├╗teux.

You also have to be interested in researching things and then able to distill that research into a short, easy to understand summary. Being clear when explaining things is vitally important. If you are the kind of person who often gets asked what your social media posts mean, or just get comments with question marks in them, this is probably not something you would excel at.

The downsides: You can’t really start annotations until the dialogue list is completed. You’ll need to be careful when scheduling that you keep in mind just because a project comes in on Friday and is due Monday that doesn’t mean you can start on the annotations on Friday. You’ll probably start on Saturday. Tight deadlines can be a drag when you need to do a lot of research for a specific project, so being a fast reader and fast typist are helpful skills to have.

Like everything in the English department, working nights, weekends and holidays is more the rule than the exception.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay: If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. It will be rolled into a job in the English department, so it is also unlikely that you will just have a job of writing annotations. But with work distributed within the department based on the strengths of the employees, you might be able to only do a little bit of transcription and spend most of your time writing annotations.

As far as freelancing, this is unlikely to be a specific standalone job. If you take work either creating dialogue lists or spotting lists, you might be expected to include annotations with your files. The amount of detail in the annotations varies, usually depending on the kind of project you are working on. TV shows can get by with fewer annotations because the same people work on them week after week and have probably already created their own personal translation dictionaries for things which reoccur week after week. Independent films which are just getting the DL or SL as part of a delivery requirement won’t require as many annotations as a studio film, like for Disney or Marvel or something. Don’t be surprised if a big studio comes back and says there aren’t enough annotations in a file or that a translator has requested more explanation of something.

Wrap Up:

I really enjoy writing annotations, provided there is enough time in the schedule to do the research. I hate when they are rushed, but it can be really interesting and a way to learn about all sorts of different topics and engage different though processes about what words mean and how they are used.


Wednesday, July 14, 2021

July Book Report - Susan Calman “Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate”

 If you don’t know who Susan Calman is, then you must not watch a lot of British panel shows. She’s the very short Scottish comedian who started out as a lawyer. She can stand up inside of a red post box with no problem. She loves Doctor Who and names her cats after strong fictional female characters. And she seems like a happy person.

But looks can be deceiving. Cheer Up Love is a memoir which follows Susan’s (I feel like I can call her Susan since I know her so well from seeing her on tv) life story framed around her depression. It is a book about how she deals with depression and what she wishes people without depression understood about people with depression and how to interact with them. Hint: It doesn’t involve telling people with depression to “cheer up, love.”

As a person who has struggled with depression for as long as I could remember, there was a lot in Susan’s story I could relate to. For Susan, and for me, depression has been a lifelong companion. Susan has personified her depression into something she calls the crab of hate. The crab of hate visits Susan, but also goes away sometimes. And it isn’t something she can control. It is external to her. External to logic.

I listened to this as an audiobook, read by the author. It took me several chapters to get used to the way Susan reads. She doesn’t have the natural “acting” quality to her voice. You can definitely hear that she’s reading. But I don’t think the book could have been read or performed by anyone else.

I highly recommend Cheer Up Love to people who are depressed, looking for commiseration and maybe some tips on how to cope, and I recommend it to people aren’t depressed. Her portrayal of what it is like to actually be depressed can maybe help the non-depressed people of the world understand depression a little better. Or, if nothing else, provide them with a list of things which they should never say to a depressed person.



Monday, July 12, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - Episode 2 - Spotting List Creation

 As always (or soon to be always), here's the video followed by the original script I wrote for myself which may or may not be what I actually ended up saying.



Spotting list creation

Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about the job of Spotting List creation. The job title for this could be “English Editor,” “Spotting Editor,” “Spotter,” or more generically part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department.

When I worked in an English department, I didn’t have to really do much spotting, but I am aware of the basics of it. This is mostly a job for the theatrical team and not the TV team. You can start with the dialogue list as a template, but the spotting list doesn’t include every little thing that the dialogue list does.

You will mark an in-time and an out-time for each entry, hopefully the software you are using will calculate the duration and you write down not only who is speaking, but who they are speaking to.

The spotting entries are ultimately used as a template for subtitles. If you have seen a movie that has been subtitled, you have seen some of the constraints of a spotting list.

The spotting entries are restricted by how many characters they can have which will fit on a screen in the average font size, and the duration of an entry is restricted by good old-fashioned film. If I recall correctly, a spotting entry can only be eight seconds long and should always be at least one second long. Different companies will probably have their own rules about subtitle duration. As for characters, I think a subtitle can have 80 characters (smaller than a tweet) on two lines.

The spotting editor has to make a lot of decisions about what should be included in the subtitles and what shouldn’t be included. If someone coughs, that isn’t included. Think of it this way: for a dialogue list/dubbing, the entire English part of the soundtrack is removed and replaced. For spotting, the soundtrack is left in the original version and subtitles are added to enhance the experience for someone who doesn’t speak the original language. The film still has the coughs, the burps, the heavy breathing, so none of that needs to be included in the subtitles.

The spotting editor also needs to decide if a line of dialogue should be re-worded to either make it shorter to fit in the subtitle or to get the point across a lot faster. If someone says “no-no-no-no-no-no!” the subtitle file might just say “no-no!” Keep it simple and enhance what is already happening.

Likewise, the walla isn’t generally included in the subtitles, but call out lines will be.

You’ll also have to watch the subtitles back and make any adjustments to their placement on screen. The subtitle file needs to include notes about when a standard subtitle might fall right over a sign on the screen, which the viewer should be reading. And most of the time, the subtitle file will also include these text items which are important to the story so that they are included in the translated subtitle file.

Because subtitles are meant to be read, the reading speed also needs to be considered while writing them. You don’t want people to panic because the subtitles are too short, or spending too much time staring at them when important things are happening in the action.

NDA

What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a spotting list, gets sent to a translator for subtitling. That way every translator is given the same record of the spotting, including timings, and it isn’t up to them to try and figure out the English version before translating it into whatever language they specialize in.

It also gets included in something called a combined continuity and spotting list, or CCSL, which I’ll talk about more in a different video, when I talk about what continuity is. But the biggie, is that it gets sent to a translator.

Many spotting lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.

Example: Here’s a little example of what a spotting list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.



Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. More so than on a dialogue list, you will probably have to use software supplied by the client, which will have the ability to calculate the durations of the subtitles, saving you a lot of awkward math. Their software should also superimpose the text on the movie as you write it, so you can sit back and watch it, checking for errors in placement or speed.

Tests: You will, most likely, have to take an English test to get this job. The tests are almost always “open book,” meaning you can look up things on-line or in the style guide the company you are testing for uses (Chicago/AP). And a house dictionary.

The test will probably also include some proofreading items - finding spelling errors or when the wrong character is identified as the speaker of a line.

Training: This job isn’t given a lot of training, unfortunately. If you freelance, you are kind of on your own and expected to already know the basics of how to find the in-time for an entry and how to match the format in a sample they will supply. If you work at a company, they usually say they will train you, but everyone is too busy to really do it, so again, you’re on your own. The faster you are at figuring things out and self-directing, they better off you’ll be.

What kind of person is this good for:

People who are a little bit more freewheeling than the dialogue list people. You need to be confident to make changes to the text as needed to enhance the experience, without changing the meaning. That’s a confidence I don’t have. I have no trouble writing down exactly what I hear, but second guess myself too much even just changing a word from “gonna” to “going to.”

You also need to not get too offended if changes are made to your files.

The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.

In an English department workflow, the dialogue list usually happens first and then the spotting list happens. This is true on the first pass of a project and on the revisions. So while a dialogue list editor might have to go into the office on Thanksgiving, the spotter can usually wait until the day after. And the spotting list is usually given a little bit more time to complete than the dialogue list is.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay:

If you are part of an English department, your job will not only be creating spotting lists. You will need to be able to do some of the other jobs within the department, like dialogue list creation, annotating and proofreading.

If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. I was salaried when I did this for a company, and that is a bad deal. If you have a choice, stay hourly. My mistake was accepting a promotion to supervisor, which they would not pay hourly.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I don’t accept freelance work of this kind because it isn’t financially viable for me. Even though I type very quickly, my level of attention to detail kills me in the number of hours/pay ratio department. Most freelance work will either pay you a flat fee for a reel or TV show, or give you a price per run-time minute. So a 22 minute reel could pay anything! But you should be told the rate of pay in advance and then can decide if you can fit it in to your schedule, if it is worth it to try or not.

($5x21min=$105)

 

Wrap up:

I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Spotting Editor is something you would be interested in pursuing. Or that at least it helps you get a little bit better understanding of this job. Things people do from nine-to-five in Hollywood.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.

 


Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Hollywood 9 to 5 - my new YouTube series Episode 1 - Dialogue List Creation

 I know. It's hard to keep track of all the different things I do on YouTube. The newest one is all about day jobs in Hollywood, in the entertainment industry, which don't involve becoming rich and famous. Here's the video:



And I mentioned in the description of the video that I'd upload my original script for it here, so here it is:

Dialogue list creation

Hello. Today I’m launching a new series of videos where I’m going to talk about some of the non-glamourous, nine-to-five kind of jobs available to people who want to work in the entertainment industry. Maybe you want to be an actor or a writer, but you need income until it happens (used to be health insurance), or you just love TV and movies and will do anything to work on them.

I’m going to start the series with jobs I’ve actually had.

Job Description:

Today I’m going to talk about the job of Dialogue List Transcriptionist, which is often called an “English Editor,” “Script Editor,” “Master English Transcriber,” or part of the “English department” or “International Versioning” department. Lots of companies like to have a slightly different name for the department.

 I did this as part of my job for about 8 years. Basically, you watch a tv show or movie and you write down exactly what each character says. You put a starting time (sometimes an ending time - if you are handing your work over to someone who does audio description) to when they speak, put their name, and then write what they say. For a dialogue list, this is very thorough. You’ll include filler words like “um,” or you might write “grunts.” You’ll include if they clear their throat or cough or giggle. Basically, if you hear the character make a noise with their mouth/throat/voice, you write it down. And you need to be as precise as possible. So, like, if a character goes “no-no-no-no-no!” part of your job is to actually count how may times they said “no” and write it down.

You’ll also need to break up long sections of dialogue into smaller groups. So if someone has a long speech that lasts for several minutes, you’ll make a few entries at naturally breath points to help the page not look overwhelming.

If a character speaks in a foreign language, you usually have to include that also, but in most instances you report back to whoever you are working for, alert them to the foreign language area, and they’ll provide you with a transcription of the dialogue in that section. You aren’t required to also know every foreign language which might pop up.

Although, I have worked on two different movies where the foreign language was Martian. In one, the Martian was provided to us by the client and we just had to make sure we were putting it in the right place. In the other, we were asked to do our best to phonetically transcribe the Martian.

If a character mouths something, you need to include that. And, although it isn’t actually dialogue, you include anything on screen that the viewer will be expected to read. Signs, letters, subtitles.

You also need to include all the background dialogue. So if a scene is set in a bar, you’ll add an entry for the walla. I’ve worked on at least one project where the editing room supplied a track of just the walla to help pick it out and transcribe it. Sometimes you can say “overlapping chatter,” other times you’ll created a new character and write down their shoutout line, which is distinct from the crowd.

You’ll also frequently encounter dialogue which is difficult to understand. You’ll need to be able to admit you don’t understand something and let other people know. Sometimes, a shooting script (the version of the script the actors used when they learned their lines) will be provided. It can often help solve mysteries of garbled words.

In Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, Jack Sparrow gives a speech about cuttlefish which included the word “flippercanoriuos.” Well, we had no idea what he was saying. We asked our contact at Disney. He asked the sound editors and… no one knew what the word was. We unfortunately had to deliver our DL with that word as “indistinct.” Years later, the internet helped us figure it out, but it was too late. I have no idea what the dubbed versions of the movie went with.

You will often have to include if a character is off camera or on camera when they are speaking. The translator uses this as a way to know how much they might have to match lip flap when they do their translation.

Turnaround times and Number of versions - TV maybe 2. A movie, maybe 10. (Mary Alice Young on Desperate Housewives)

NDA

What is the reason this job exists: This list, called a dialogue list, gets sent to a translator for dubbing. That way every translator is given the same record of the dialogue in a movie and it isn’t up to them to try and figure out the English version before translating it into whatever language they specialize in.

It also gets included in something called a combined continuity and spotting list, or CCSL, which I’ll talk about more in a different video, when I talk about what continuity is. But the biggie, is that it gets sent to a translator.

Most dialogue lists also have to have something called annotations included, but I’ll talk more in depth about annotations in another video.

If you work at a company that has a large English department, this list might also get sent around to people who do closed captions and spotting lists, so they don’t have to always also start from scratch.

Example: Here’s a little example of what a dialogue list looks like. This is just from my video, to give you a basic idea of format.

Qualifications: English fluency, fast typing. If you are working from home, you’ll need a computer with a fast video processor and probably some basic software like Word and Excel. Many companies have their own software they want you to use, often web based, so you need to be good at learning new programs. Oh, the space bar makes the video play in this player, but the 5 on the number pad does it in this software. Be flexible. You won’t get paid for not understanding how to use the programs.

Tests: You will, most likely, have to take an English test to get this job. The tests are almost always “open book,” meaning you can look up things on-line or in the style guide the company you are testing for uses (Chicago/AP). And a house dictionary.

The test will probably also include some proofreading items - finding spelling errors or when the wrong character is identified as the speaker of a line.

Training: This job isn’t given a lot of training, unfortunately. If you freelance, you are kind of on your own and expected to already know the basics of how to find the in-time for an entry and how to match the format in a sample they will supply. If you work at a company, they usually say they will train you, but everyone is too busy to really do it, so again, you’re on your own. The faster you are at figuring things out and self-directing, they better off you’ll be.

What kind of person is this good for:

People who have a good attention to detail and can get obsessive about things can do well in this job.  A lot of writers get into it, or people who majored in English in college. A degree is often required, but the testing is the most important determining factor on hiring someone.

If you are the kind of person who knows that when you say “the back yard of my house,” back yard is two words, but when you say “I’m having a backyard barbeque,” that backyard is one work, this might be a good job for you. And if you are the kind of person who can be told “this is how we spell ok in these parts” and you’ll remember it and stick with it, you should do fine.

The downsides: A lot of projects have tight deadlines.

Starting on the dialogue list is dependent on the editing room getting copies of the latest version out, it is not at all uncommon for a dialogue editor to receive files the afternoon before a three-day weekend and then to be expected to work over that three-day weekend. During the eight years or so when I worked in this field, I think I had to work most Thanksgivings, and if not the actual day then the Friday and weekend after.

Also because of global production, having a deadline of 9 pm on a Sunday night isn’t unusual so that files are ready for someone in India as soon as they get to work Monday morning, or to be trying to finish something in London’s overnight so they have something ready in the morning.

The pay:

If you are part of an English department, your job will not only be creating spotting lists. You will need to be able to do some of the other jobs within the department, like spotting list creation, annotating and proofreading.

If you can get a job at a company that does this for big studios, you can make enough to survive, but you won’t be getting rich. I was salaried when I did this for a company, and that is a bad deal. If you have a choice, stay hourly. My mistake was accepting a promotion to supervisor, which they would not pay hourly.

Like with so many things, it comes down to who you work for. I don’t accept freelance work of this kind because it isn’t financially viable for me. Even though I type very quickly, my level of attention to detail kills me in the number of hours/pay ratio department. Most freelance work will either pay you a flat fee for a reel or TV show, or give you an price per run-time minute. So a 22 minute reel could pay anything! But you should be told the rate of pay in advance and then can decide if you can fit it in to your schedule, if it is worth it to try or not.

($5x21min=$105)

 

Wrap up:

I hope I’ve helped you figure out if Dialogue Transcriptionist is something you would be interested in pursuing. Or that at least it helps you get a little bit better understanding of this job. Things people do from nine-to-five in Hollywood.

 

If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them below. Don’t forget to subscribe so you can see all my videos and learn more about what people in Los Angeles who aren’t rich and famous do.


Thursday, June 17, 2021

The Sparks Brothers Documentary

 Or is it just an excuse to share the latest song I've posted on YouTube?

Johnny Delusional Cover


I basically had no idea who Sparks were until I got to work way down the post-production stream on The Sparks Brothers documentary. It is really good. It is a love letter to the Mael brothers and you'd have to be pretty stubborn to not come away with Sparks as your "new" favorite band, at least for a little bit.

I have been a fan of Franz Ferdinand for a long time, but for some reason I decided to not buy the Sparks collaboration album, F.F.S. But I've bought it now and I love the song Johnny Delusional in particular. So much, that I decided to do a cover version. I've also been doing tap lessons on YouTube, so I did a tap to accompany myself on the song with., 

Anyway, go see The Sparks Brothers, which comes out in theaters on June 18, 2021. In the future from when I'm writing this you will probably be able to find it streaming somewhere. Then buy some of their music to support them. Don't just watch their videos on YouTube, but put some actual money into their pockets.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Back Story by David Mitchell (not that one) - June Book Report

 

I say “not that one” because most of the time when I would tell people what my June book was, they would say something like, “Oh, he’s a great writer.” Or “Cloud Atlas is great.” Or “That’s some pretty heavy reading for you, Camille.” No. Not that David Mitchell. The other one. The one who you might know from YouTube “David Mitchell Rants” compilation videos. Or, if you are like me, you’ll know from Peep Show, Would I Lie to You? and Upstart Crow. That David Mitchell. The funny one.

Once again, I did not read my June book. I listened to it. Read by David Mitchell himself.

I am a big fan of David Mitchell Rants videos. And of David Mitchell’s Soapbox. And of Would I Lie to You? I’ve seen all of Peep Show and Upstart Crow, but I’d hesitate to call myself a fan of those. I’ve seen the shows once, and that might keep me for the rest of my life. Not that I’d intentionally avoid seeing them again, I just don’t feel the need. But if new episodes do appear, I’ll watch them. How’s that? I can listen to David Mitchell ranting for hours, over and over again.

I bought Back Story (audiobook) several years ago when Audible convinced me that my life would be better with a subscription. One book credit a month for a low-low price of maybe $7.99 at the time? Fine. I have been known to spend over $4 on one glass of tea and to lose considerably more money on one impulsive trip to a casino. Potentially supporting some authors for such a low price seemed like a good idea. And then I never listened to any of the books. I found myself after several months with credits I hadn’t used. Audio files unpurchased. Those I had purchased were never started or even downloaded. I had listened to half of Colin Mochrie’s Not Quite the Classics (ready by the author) and got annoyed that my Amazon Dot thingy had such poor sound quality. I couldn’t hear the book and say, walk on the treadmill, or clean, or do dishes, or any of the other active things I wanted to do while listening to a book. That was why I was listening and not reading, so I could multitask. And Alexa just wasn’t doing her part.

Last month, Audible convinced me that even though the price they were now offering of $14.99/month wasn’t great, the two credits on offer for giving it some good considerations were. I downloaded Sabriel, for my May book which I hadn’t been able to bring myself to start actually reading, and then downloaded a copy of a friend’s book (The Resurrectionist by A.R. Meyering). I was reminded that I had a hidden little library of things just waiting for me. The technology for playing the audiobook was a little bit better suited to my lifestyle now. I could listen through my phone, which also meant I could listen in the car. I don’t drive a lot, but at least once a week I go on a 60-mile roundtrip and it was nice to have something beside the radio to listen to.

Back Story is sort of a mid-life autobiography. Usually, when I think of an autobiography, it is something that someone writes when they are nearing the end of things, looking back on a full life. Well, David Mitchell is perfectly happy to give you an update on how his life was by the year 2012, when he was just turning 38. FYI, we were born in the same year, but it is still a little frustrating to hear how far he had gotten by the time he was 38, now that I’m listening to the story from the ripe old age of 47.

The story of David’s life is hung on a framework of going for a daily walk through London. He talks about where he is now on the walk and then goes off on stories inspired by the things he sees and passes. “Oh, this pub reminds me of the time I got drunk in a pub at Cambridge,” etc. He manages to make a one hour walk around London into nearly 9.5 hours of reminiscing. This is not a complaint. The stories were interesting and there is no better way to hear them that having David Mitchell tell you himself. His writing is conversational, like he’s really there telling you these things. Although I fully know that the words were written and edited and critiqued before getting to me, they seem so natural that the experience of listening to the book feels almost like listening to a podcast or watching a series of extemporaneous rants on YouTube. In other words, a delight.

There are some people who are just naturally gifted at ranting, and David Mitchell is one of them. I’d like to throw a shoutout to a friend and former co-worker Shannon for also having this skill. Not that the book is all ranting. It’s stories. It’s life. It’s how success happens to one man who knew from a very young age what he wanted to do and to be.

If you are a fan of Olivia Coleman, keep an ear open for the time David Mitchell made her pee herself on stage. If you are a romantic, prepare to be swept away with David’s retelling of falling in love with his wife, Victoria (who is also well known in the UK and appears on many panel shows). If you want to know why David Mitchell doesn’t ever read anything by David Mitchell, the answers are provided.

I’m not familiar enough with London to fully visualized David’s walk, but I know a little bit. I feel like I’ve gotten to know David Mitchell a little bit after this book. And I think we would get along pretty well. He’s not as much of an upper-class snob as his TV personal plays up.

I enjoyed the experience of having this particular author read his own book to me and I’m considering downloading more of his books. Maybe I’ll download books by some other writer/comedians who I enjoy, like Richard Ayoade, so they can read to me, too. Just considering at this point, but who knows what tomorrow holds.



Saturday, June 5, 2021

Lost Cherry Luxuries

 According to Google, when converting milliliters to ounces, 1 US fluid ounce is the same as 29.5735 milliliters. For practical reasons, many converters equate 30 milliliters to one ounce. This, of course, is for liquids. When converting solids, measured in grams, to ounces, one ounce is 28.35 grams. More precisely, Google tells me that one ounce is 28.3495 grams, but I don’t want to quibble.

Many of the things I enjoy in life require that I learn these conversions, although I haven’t. Instead, I look them up whenever I need to figure out if something is a good deal or a bad deal. In solids, I use ounces and grams when buying my jewelry supplies. Silver is measured this way when bought wholesale. It would be unusual for, say, Tiffany’s to list the price of a bracelet per gram. They price things as things, including not only the cost of supplies but also labor, design, research and development, advertising, office overhead and CEO bonuses, amongst other things. But if you take that same item to a pawn shop, you might be surprised when they pull out a scale and base the price on the weight of the metal. Although if you took in Tiffany jewelry, you would be surprised because they wouldn’t do this. JTV jewelry would probably be priced based on the scale. I think we all know that the cachet of something being from Tiffany’s means it will cost more than the sum of its parts.

My pandemic hobby of perfumery is also measured this way. Although, confusingly, some companies will tell you the amount of liquid you are buying in ounces while some with stick to milliliters. A small, purse size of perfume will often be either 9 or 10 milliliters, or .3 ounce. While larger bottles, although often really measured in milliliters, will be described in ounces. Common sizes are 100 milliliters (3.4 ounces) and 50 milliliters (1.7 ounces), which is why the ounce numbers are unusual. Many cosmetics are measured this way.

More expensive perfumes aren’t necessarily seeing the cost translated entirely in the juice (the perfume oils in the alcohol liquid). The higher-end fragrances I have tried also spend a fair amount of money on the packaging. An expensive purse/travel spray ($60-$100) will be in a nice, sturdy case. A less expensive one ($30) will just be in a glass vial.

I took my most recent perfume acquisition, a 10 mil bottle of Tom Ford’s Lost Cherry, over to a friend to get her opinion of it today. At $75, that little bottle of perfume is priced at $225/ounce. Compare that to silver, at around $28/ounce as of writing, and gold, at just under $1900/ounce today. That bottle of perfume is on the high end of the cost of printer ink, but not outside the realm of possibility.


Although I’d like to pretend I’m find with spending $225/ounce for perfume, that is high for me. I might be able to justify buying something extravagant like that occasionally, but I have trouble getting past “what would my dad think” to really enjoy the expensive thing, whatever the expensive thing might be. Which is why I got on the waitlist for the $75 version. But that is still expensive enough that when the perfume arrived, on a Thursday afternoon, I debated if I should spray any on my arm or not. There was no one around to smell me. I was just a couple of hours away from my nightly shower. My cats probably wouldn’t care how good I smelled. But I sprayed it. Just one spray.

To me, the scent opens with cherry liquor, which quickly dries down to a blend of brimstone and cherries. You might be thinking that brimstone isn’t a great thing for a perfume to smell like, but when I say brimstone I mean the Sulphur/fire/wood combination which fills the air after a match is struck. A fire in the fireplace or on the beach, both of which tease the idea that roasted marshmallows are in the not-to-distant future. For me there is a specific memory of when my mom taught CCD and we needed to prepare for a craft where we were going to make crosses from wooden matchsticks. My mom didn’t want to light and douse hundreds of matches, so I got the job. She sat me down in the back yard with some safety supplies (probably an ashtray and some sand) and boxes of matches. Strick each one, blow it out and knock off any of the remaining bulb of Sulphur so the matchstick was smooth. Repeat.

From the few sprays I’ve allowed myself of Lost Cherry, this is the scent that lingers for me… Brimstone and cherries.

My friend, before I told her the name of the perfume, said “powdery.” After I said cherries, she could smell them. She liked it, but I don’t think she was as enamored with it as I am.

I will complain, though, that the atomizer unscrews on this spray. This might seem like a good thing, especially for people who want to make small samples of the scent to sell on eBay, but for me, this is a disaster waiting to happen. My life is the convergence of cats, clutter and occasional clumsiness, so an expensive perfume which could open and spill onto the floor is anxiety-inducing.

I have made this perfume purchase in June, but I think the perfume is better suited for autumn or winter. I’m not sure I’ll wait, though.