Saturday, May 25, 2013

Being CouchScribe

It is day-1 of the 1st test match of the Test series. The sun is shining hard today. The players are warming up. The captains are inspecting the pitch. They have a job on their hands today.

I receive my Couch Talk assignment from Mr. Subash Jayaraman (Mr. Cricket Couch). I play it once, listen to it, get myself accustomed to the accent of the guest, learn about the guest, and understand the discussion. I prepare for the task ahead- to transcribe the whole conversation.

The openers start the innings watchfully. The batsmen are keen on concentrating first up and see the new ball through. They are examining the pitch, the cracks and grass on it, and levelling them as they play on. The bowlers are getting some help off the pitch and have beaten the batsmen a couple of times already. It is an interesting start already.

I am not a stenographer. My typing pace is not as fast as people speak. I need to slow the tape down to a speed that is reasonably slow to memorize a good length of (running) words at a time and type, but also fast enough to keep it as a decipherable audio. Different speakers need different pace adjustments. Some speakers are slow and soft, while some are fast and sharp. I am well adjusted to Mr Subash’s speech, and am comfortable with his speech speed (~ words/min). So, it comes down to adjusting to the guest’s pace.
It is always a bit difficult to start the work, since it involves all the adjustments and it is just not all that easy to suddenly try to speed-type. So, either of those would make me rewind the tape back a couple of extra times to play-back and type it out.

Spin is being introduced for the first time in the day. It will be interesting to see how the batsmen will cope with the turning ball. They did well against the medium pacers today. But now, the pitch has dried up and the ball will turn a bit. How well can the batsmen play the variations? They will need some adjustments now.

Every subsequent guest on the show would bring in a new accent. I didn’t know that many existed. It was/is a learning experience for me. Sure, I have been to places in India and heard people from different places speak English; and have heard cricket, football and basketball commentaries. But, that was just very little of it. Every Indian’s accent is different from the other. Australian, British, South African, American... They can’t be generalised. I used to say “My cousin has American accent.” Or, “I listen to NBA commentators. I can understand American accent.” When I met Subash last year, he told me more about region based accents in the USA, and that what I hear on TV is probably the clearest ones of all.

The accent makes some pronunciations sound different. I have made several errors because something sounds one way when you hear it, but the speaker meant something else. Sometimes I don’t understand what was said. I would leave a blank, or would mark the text that I feel might be wrong, or confusing (because the phrase made little or no sense). I am thankful to Subash for painfully proof-reading 8 or 9 page long transcripts and correcting the errors in them.

Gawn. That is splendidly done by the bowler! A googly that the batsmen just did not read. It beat the bat, flew past the front foot, and crashed into the stumps. The batsman had no clue to that.

I have some weaknesses. (Yes, chocolate is also one of my weaknesses.) Case in point: some accents are hard for me to decipher. I think it was Dirk Nannes’ podcast, which I was transcribing and I just couldn’t do that. He has a Victorian accent, a really strong one. It was alright to listen to, but not so easy when you have to pay attention to every detail of it. Subash was kind, and he complete the rest of it for me. It is good to have a boss who can cover up for you! Ha!

Jarrod Kimber’s was tough, but I have been hearing him for a long time (Two Chucks), and I was able to manage that better than I though. Jarrod Kimber was a guest (along with Sampson Collins) on my first assignment. Some New Zealander accents are also tough.

And, some South African ones. I had a tough time transcribing Paul Harris. The playback button on my laptop got bruised that night. There were a couple of other South Africans on the show, and I have had my share of luck and gratitude there. Mrs and Mr Couch transcribed Firdose Moonda’s, and Ant Sims contributed a podcast (Niels Momberg) along with the transcript.

I am hoping Subash doesn’t bring in a Keiron Pollard or Chris Gayle on the show anytime soon. I don’t think they attempt enunciation of words.

The middle order batsmen have now picked up the pace. They are reading the bowlers and the pitch better now. Runs are coming in easy. They look like they will put on a big score before the session break, which they will very much need on this hot day.

Once your fingers are well flexed, and you are past 20-30 minutes of typing, it is easier to continue typing from then on. I get accustomed to the speech speed and typing speed by around half hour mark, by which time I would also know how fast I am typing. I used to take around 6 minute to transcribe 1 minute of the tape. Now, it has come down to 4. Of course, that is a variable. The speed has more to do with deciphering the tape than typing speed.

Taking a break is also important. Body would ache if you sit in the same posture for hours together. Fingers need rest, and that headphone needs to come off your ears for a while. A little break every hour or so does well. A long break would mean starting slow again, so, I try avoiding that as much as possible (except when I am late from work, when I break my work to over two days).

The players are practicing a bit before the break ends. The coach is giving some inputs to the batsmen, his batting technique is being polished. The fielding captain is discussing strategy with his bowlers. They will certainly need all the inputs coupled with hard work to win the next session of play.

Subash would tell me who is next on the show, and when. Then, he would send across the podcast and we would agree on a submission deadline. Sometimes, when it is urgent, he would share the load too. Once transcribed, I would send it over to Subash, who would proofread it, edit and publish.

I have received a lot of help and recommendations regarding transcribing. Subash recommended the transcribing software that I now use (Express Scribe). A friend of mine, Monish, recommended and shared transcribing software, techniques and information. I didn’t know you can get subtitles to some videos on youtube. Another friend, Zenia, and I have spoken at length about transcribing different accents. It all helps. I have enjoyed doing this, and would love to do better.

It has been an absorbing day’s play, and it is trudging to close of play. Both sides seem a bit relaxed now. Part time bowlers are bowling to batsmen who are playing for stumps. They are having a bit of fun before seriousness creeps in again later. Both teams will carry forward a lot of lessons to the next day’s play.

Finishing the transcribing work has almost always been easy. The questions are lighter. My ears can be relaxed, and still take in all that is being said. I slow down a bit towards the end, unlike how I wrote exams in school and college- where I would scribble at rapid pace to squeeze in an extra line or two of information that the teacher would later describe unnecessary. I will then proof read it once, and correct any errors that I am able to spot. I will laugh at myself for not able to speed-type some words properly even after so many months at it (Austrlaia, Paksitan, taht, etc). Once that is done, I would submit it to Subash.

I too have learnt a lot doing this work. First of that is trying to listen to what is being said in all completeness. I have learnt how each accent is different from the next, and how people speak the English language, especially when it is not their mother tongue. I have learnt (from Subash) about paragraph breaking, improving quality of the transcribed work for better readability. I have, at some level, been able to manage time better that how I used to, by planning out when to work on this, and figuring out how long it would take to finish the job.

I have also been able to listen closely to how Subash hosts his podcasts. He puts in a lot of efforts to get people on his show. The guest on the show will mostly have something to do with the cricket that is happening currently. But, the variety of guests on board is vast – fans, officials, players, ex-players, support staff, journalists etc. He has the right set of questions, and always manages to handle any turn or twist on the show. He makes sure the guest is comfortable on the show. He interviews people from Australia to India to England to the USA. He is there to host the guest at their favoured timing, no matter when it is. He also involves the listeners in the podcast, by inviting questions to be posted to the guest. So, the listeners are always there, waiting for their questions to be answered. The interaction fuels the podcast ahead. And they are not let down by the quality of it.

In Subash’s words, “It has been an absolute pleasure” for me to be a part of this. It is like the game of cricket itself.

Couch Scribe