Saturday, October 08, 2005

Where's me washboard?

I thought I should mention that my washing machine worked perfectly today. It would be terribly unfair of me to complain on my blog when it doesn't work and then not mention it at all when it does. Three cheers for my washing machine!

What's wrong with England's football team lately, anyway? Is there some kind of rule saying that just when our cricket team start playing really well, the footballers have to get much worse? Okay, Beckham certainly didn't deserve the red card, but we didn't really deserve the penalty either, and never looked like scoring at any other time. Without Beckham against Poland we probably won't have a chance (the team always goes to pieces, seemingly as a matter of principle, whenever he's not playing), but hopefully the other results will make the Poland game academic.

In more interesting football news, Boston Utd won that game last night that I was thinking of going to but didn't. We had five players booked and two sent off, and apparently there was a fantastic goal by Joachim and a hilarious own-goal to put us 2-0 up, so it must have been fun to watch. Ah well.

Operation: p.a.r.t.y. (prepare apartment ready to ya-ya) is proceeding apace - I've picked up my pile of clothes and put them all in drawers for the first time ever. That'll make a bit more space to swing a cat in my living room, and if I move the settee out of the way, there should just about be room for everyone to fit in next Saturday. Otherwise I haven't really done anything all day, but that doesn't matter. I'll buy some cooking gear tomorrow, but since I've unexpectedly got Thursday and Friday off next week, I'll have plenty of time for preparations. Yay!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Exterminate! Exterminate!

I love the new Doctor Who. I've just been watching episode 12, "Bad Wolf", and even the stupid storyline that takes up the first half of the show (the Doctor and companions find themselves in lethal versions of Big Brother, The Weakest Link and What Not To Wear) can't stop it being a classic. Who would have thought that when the BBC finally relented and brought Doctor Who back, that they'd do it so absolutely right? The writing's excellent, the special effects are something special and, most importantly of all, the regular actors are brilliant. Who would have thought Billie Piper would turn out to be so good? Or, let's be honest, that she'd turn out to be anything other than awful? Christopher Eccleston will be sadly missed, he's been a wonderful Doctor. And John Barrowman as Captain Jack, probably the best of the lot. This is what British TV's been needing all these years.

Sorry, I just felt a need to enthuse. Anyway, the whole fame-and-fortune thing is still going on. I'm meeting the producer (who, from his emails, seems to be a very nice guy) next Saturday morning (ie before people start arriving for the party) so he can try to sell me on the documentary idea. I'll see what he's got to say, at least. But I don't know what's in it for me, really, seeing as I don't consider appearing on TV to be much of a reward for the inconvenience it'll put me to.

I'm feeling slightly guilty tonight. As I've mentioned before, my dad always insists on sending me birthday presents, by post, weeks in advance of my actual birthday. I always try to resist the temptation to unwrap and eat the inevitable big bar of chocolate, but I usually fail. I haven't eaten it all yet, so there might still be some left by next Friday, which would essentially qualify as being good, wouldn't it?

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home

There's a ladybird wandering around my living room. Do ladybirds hibernate or die in the winter, or are they around all year? I don't remember. This one's still up and about, anyway.

I had a phone call this evening from a TV producer who wants to make a documentary about me. This being a phone call, I said he could, and then quickly sent him an email afterwards to say I wasn't sure about it. I checked up on him, though, and he's a very reputable and well-respected kind of TV producer, who does serious academic documentaries and is a vocal opponent of dumbing-down on telly, so it would probably be quite a good film if we did make it.

He says in his email that "I want to do for memory what the documentary film Spellbound did for spelling". I'm not sure how that works, exactly - Spellbound took something that's an enormously popular American institution and made people in Britain aware of its existence. Memory competitions can at best be charitably described as a minority interest. But if he did make a hit film about it, wouldn't it be cool? People in the memory world have been talking for ages about memory becoming popular with the masses, without ever really believing it will happen.

Trouble is, at least with spelling bees you get to hear the people spelling the words. What people don't appreciate until they've been to a memory competition is that they can most accurately be compared to an exam - it's all written, it's almost all done in total silence and there's very little in the way of visual effects. I just can't see it making a compelling documentary.

Incidentally, in the sentence after talking about Spellbound, the producer offered to come up to "Darby" to meet me. Just a slip of the keyboard, or did he run his email through a spellchecker before sending it to me? Even if he did, that puts him in a class above the guy from Endemol who emailed me before the world championships, if nothing else. I've never seen so many spelling and grammatical mistakes in one brief paragraph, and I've dealt with no end of illiterate types in my time!

In other news, the committee of the British Othello Federation have been discussing the latest amendments to the BOF rules by emails today. The changes came about because Anjar, who run the world championships, have decided to encourage more women to play othello by organising a Women's World Othello Championship alongside the main one. Basically, each country can now send as well as the usual team of three players (of any gender), one extra female player. All the players will compete together in the first two days of the World Championships, then the top four extra-female-players will have their own semi-finals and final for the WWOC title while the top four normal-team-players compete for the WOC. Simple enough?

Not if you're trying to phrase your national othello federation's rules in such a way as to avoid suggesting that we approve of gender-based discrimination (we can't stop Anjar applying it, and it would be just plain petty to refuse to send a participant in the WWOC. The French federation, incidentally, are just plain petty and proud of it). From the original draft referring to a "British women's champion", we've progressed to "When a special event is promoted to accompany the Main World Championship Tournament, the UK shall choose its representative(s) as the highest ranking qualified player(s) in the National Tournament. Should such player(s) have, or potentially have, qualified for the Main Event, they shall choose which Tournament they will play in expeditiously so that whichever place they vacate can be filled by another player. Ties for such places will be resolved in the same way that ties for the Main Event are, by a one-round playoff."

Or words to that effect.

We've got five active female othello players in this country, incidentally. And of those, one is Italian, one Australian and one American. Anjar are right, we really do need to get more women playing the game.

Hazel's last day at work tomorrow - she's using up her saved-up holiday time to finish early. I'd do the same if I had any holidays left to take - I'm actually busy there just at the moment with the month-end accounts, but there's a sense of futility to everything now, and everyone just wants to get it over with. Sixteen working days to go...

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

I can't think of anything to write about, so...

"In other news, Sunderland was atomised earlier this morning by some kind of cataclysmic explosion," mumbled the newsreader on the radio in his annoying nasal tone. "The government declined to comment, on the grounds that it had better things to do. The weather today will be fine, with scattered showers, except in the Sunderland area where scientists predict heavy cloud and plagues of locusts."

"This is terrible!" Cecil intoned, throwing his cup of tea at the wall and jumping to his feet.

"What is?" asked Phillip, who hadn't been paying attention.

"Sunderland! Incinerated! Locusts! Scattered showers!" bellowed Cecil, becoming quite agitated.

"But we're not in Sunderland," said Phillip, pouring himself a third bowl of porridge.

"Sunderland is my home town!" screamed Cecil.

Phillip disputed this, pointing out that he had known Cecil for forty-seven years, significantly longer than either of them had been alive, and in all that time Cecil had never once mentioned visiting Sunderland, let alone living there. Cecil retaliated by noting that he had never mentioned NOT being from Sunderland, an argument that Phillip refuted with seventeen dramatic reconstructions of occasions when Cecil had done just that, starring Cliff Richard as Cecil, Diana Dors as Phillip and Samuel L Jackson as the man who came round to mend the gas fire in the middle of one of the conversations.

Critics admired the unusual directorial techniques Phillip had used to stage a sequence of unavoidably repetitive dialogues, but considered the graphic sex scenes an unnecessary distraction from the central thrust of the narrative. A glaring historical inaccuracy involving a dodo wandering past the window in a scene set in 1987 was also considered a failing of the performance. In reply, Phillip protested that he had had to stage the re-enactment at literally a moment's notice, and thought he had done a passable job under the circumstances. He conceded, however, that it was not the highlight of his career, and promised to do a better job next time.

Cecil, meanwhile, had appointed himself Prime Minister, and vowed as the last surviving Sunderlander to put right all the wrongs of the world. Phillip ventured to suggest that even if Cecil had been from Sunderland, surely there would be other survivors of the disaster, especially considering that it was the summer holidays, but Cecil brushed aside any such allegations and laid out a surprisingly intelligent strategy for improving the social services, modernising the entire country and bringing about a perfect socialist utopia. Phillip had to admit that it would make the world a better place in every way, but felt obliged to attempt to stop Cecil anyway, because of his inaccurate claims about his place of birth.

At this point, Samantha, who had overslept as a result of drinking too much absinthe the night before, came downstairs and asked if there was any porridge left. This reminded Phillip not only that he had eaten it all, but that it was time he was leaving for work. He asked Samantha to thwart Cecil's benevolent plans for him, put on his clothes and hurried down to his office. Cecil refrained from filling Samantha in on what had happened, knowing that she would take Phillip's side, and put his economic plans into operation while she was distracted by having to make some more porridge and phone her work to tell them she'd be late in.

Phillip had a tiring morning's work - as a mousecatcher, you can often spend days at a time with no mice to chase, especially in a modern office building like his, but on this particular occasion there was a whole army of extremely large rodents gnawing their way through the payroll department, and Phillip was run off his feet. So it was only when he stopped for a lunch break and looked out of the window that he noticed the sweeping social and economic reforms that Cecil had initiated. With everybody in the entire world now having a more than ample share of the planet's resources and there being no more war, injustice or prejudice of any kind, Phillip worried that a lot of people would sympathise or even agree with Cecil's actions if he didn't do something to stop it immediately.

He phoned Samantha to ask why she hadn't done as he asked, but she replied that she'd got her foot caught in the oven door while making porridge at breakfast time, and hadn't been able to leave the kitchen. Phillip hurried back home, hoping that he could get back to work before the end of his lunch hour, freed Samantha's foot and, pausing only to get dressed again, made all possible speed to the ruins of Sunderland in order to rebuild it and sort out this whole terrible situation.

On the outskirts of Sunderland, they were met by Cecil. Knowing that if Sunderland was rebuilt, he would no longer be able to be Prime Minister and all of his good work would be undone, he attacked Phillip and Samantha with a garden fork, wounding several passers-by before impaling his own foot and sticking himself to the ground. Thankful for Cecil's limited experience of using gardening tools as weapons, Phillip and Samantha quickly put Sunderland back together and hurried back to their respective jobs, putting their clothes back on along the way.

And so the world was saved from a golden age of happiness and unity. Phillip was three minutes late getting back from lunch and was given a formal written warning, Samantha's employers failed to notice that she'd been absent for the whole morning and gave her a lucrative promotion, and Cecil returned to his uneventful life as an escapologist. The end.

Sorry about that. Something might happen tomorrow that I feel like writing about...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


Forgive me if I cut short the usual three-volume epic tonight. I suspect I've been spending too much time lately staring at a computer screen. Either that or having music on all day at work. Probably that, actually - I've been staring at computers for roughly 16 hours a day, every day for the last ten years or so, so I should be used to it by now.

Besides, nothing's happened today. Back at work, actual work to do there seeing as it's the month end (although only a couple of hours' worth), nothing new. Although I'm watching a particularly good episode of Animaniacs that I've somehow never seen before - twelve years old, but newness is in the eye of the beholder.

Monday, October 03, 2005

It's a good life, if you don't weaken

Brian K Vaughan is the writer of a lot of very good American comics. Runaways, about a group of teenagers who discover their parents are secretly supervillains, Y: The Last Man, about the aftermath of an unexplained event that killed every male animal on Earth, except for one man and his pet monkey, and Ex Machina, about a former superhero who becomes mayor of New York. Apart from writing his own brilliantly different comics, he's a big fan of sequential art in general, and thinks people should read more of it. Specifically, that they should stop reading superhero comics exclusively and check out some other less-known genres.

So he set up a competition on his website, recommending ten graphic novels, and asking everyone to pick one. The ten lucky winners drawn out of the hat would get one for free, out of BKV's own pocket. As if that wasn't generous enough, a comic shop got in touch with him and offered him a good deal on his bulk purchase, so Brian decided to buy a graphic novel for every one of the 122 people who entered the competition in the first place!

Which is how I come to have a copy of "It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken", by Seth, an autobiographical story chronicling his attempts to track down an obscure cartoonist of the 40s and 50s called Kalo. This being before the internet was full of this kind of trivia, it involved a lot of going round and digging up old magazines, looking up names on electoral registers and phone books, and so on. We also get to see Seth's relationships with his friends, family, cats and the various people he meets along the way.

I do actually read quite a bit of non-superhero comic stuff already - aside from the Beano and Dandy (although the latter's not really worth reading nowadays), I'll buy anything by James Kochalka or Alan Moore, and dabble in other writers from time to time. But even so, "It's A Good Life..." didn't really click for me, somehow. One-panel cartoons are Seth's primary obsession in life, but they've never really been my thing, and somehow he doesn't manage to sell me on why he finds them so fascinating. And his self-pitying narration gets on my nerves a bit, as does his habit of saying something trite and obviously thinking he's being profound.

Even so, this is the kind of thing I should like. Every criticism I can think of, whether it be the content, the writing, the art, anything about it, could also apply to Kochalka's stuff, which I adore, so I'm not really sure what my problem is. It might be an acquired taste - I'll read it a couple more times, check out some more of his work and see if I change my mind.

Incidentally, Seth was called Gregory Gallant before he decided to change to the one-syllable name he currently uses. The biography at the back says "Looking back, this may have been a youthful error ... however, little can be done about it now." If I was called something as cool as Gregory Gallant, I'd never even consider changing my name!

The weather's a bit miserable - there was a partial eclipse of the sun up there beyond the clouds this morning, but nobody around here had any chance of seeing it.

I had a really weird dream last night, involving a new variant of the game othello. Weird because I can clearly remember all the details of this game - the settings and people involved in the dream changed from one moment to the next, but throughout it someone was demonstrating this new game to me and I was pointing out its many obvious flaws. The rules stayed consistent, though - it was played on a board with 14 rows and 8 columns, with the starting position in the fifth and sixth rows, and the central two columns.

You could play a disc on the left-hand column at any time, and add a line of discs of your colour horizontally or diagonally back to a disc of your colour anywhere else on the board. And on your next turn you could move that disc (the one that the line of discs from the edge pointed back to) somewhere else on the board in a straight line, provided there were no other discs in the way, rather than placing a new one.

I don't think it would work as a real game if you tried to play it, but I'm just impressed that I dreamed up a whole new game like that. It was called Othello Camouflage, I think. Othello Something-completely-incongruous-beginning-with-C, anyway.

I've just been practising memory stuff - hour cards, which is always the one I can get into the easiest. I think it's something about the tactile aspect of picking up the pack of cards and flicking through it, as opposed to just looking at numbers on a piece of paper, but I can do the cards much more easily without getting distracted. I'm still not as fast as I was before the 2004 world championships - I could do 30 packs in an hour then and just about look through each one four times. I was only trying 24 today and didn't quite finish in time. Still, that's the kind of thing that comes back to me with practice. I might have a go at an hour numbers tonight, if I can find the time. Probably won't, though.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Cordon bleu

Thinking about this plan of mine to cook party food, it occurred to me that I have no idea where the supermarkets keep flour and things. It must be in there somewhere, but I've certainly never noticed it in the two years I've been shopping there.

That being the only thought I've had all day, what else am I going to talk about tonight? Oo, I know, how about memory things? After all my enthusiasm for training immediately after the WMC, I've been rather neglecting it lately. It's hard to get back into the habit of concentrating for long periods of time after taking time off - it takes a real effort of will to force myself to carry on with it when my mind starts to wander, and I must admit I didn't really manage it today. But I'm off work again tomorrow, and I'll give it another go.

If there's nothing on telly, that is - luckily for me, today's all-day-cartoon-fest on Boomerang was Tom and Jerry, and not even I can watch a whole day of Tom and Jerry cartoons without it starting to get a tiny bit repetitive. And Cartoon Network's two featured cartoons this weekend were Ed, Edd & Eddy and The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, neither of which I've ever really got into. I've always felt that Billy & Mandy was the kind of thing I should like, but somehow it's never quite clicked for me. I don't know what it is, but I don't think I need another cartoon I can never bear to miss, so I'm not that worried.