Friday, August 25, 2006

City-trained priest faces sex probe

I've just been looking through the nooks and crannies of my flat for the little clock radio that I always take to the MSO with me but don't otherwise use. So it's had two years to gradually become submerged by all the junk I hoard. I didn't find it, so I'll have to take my big portable radio with me, but I did come across a pile of local newspapers chronicling my appearance at the first MSO in 1997. Nowadays, of course, I'm so used to being an international celebrity that I don't bother to keep all the newspaper articles about me, but in those days it was something new and exciting.

If you're wondering about the subject header, that's the banner headline in the Boston Target directly above a picture of me which was attached to the smaller article saying I was going to the MSO, rather than the story about the priest. Yes, the Target did a story just about the fact that I was going to compete - the MSO went mad with publicity in the first year, and pestered all the local news hacks with press releases about each of the thousands of people who'd registered. And since every day is a slow news day in Boston (the vicar in question lives in Southend and was arrested in Romania, but went to Lincoln Theological College many years ago) I got some pretty hefty coverage.

Here's a couple of scans of the breaking news stories after I'd won the silver medal in the one-day intelligence championship. God, I looked ugly in those days. The hair's arguably an improvement over my current style, but I genuinely thought the moustache gave me a sort of suave, Clark Gable kind of look.

The Lincolnshire Free Press covers the entire county! Posted by Picasa

This was a front page story, albeit in the bottom corner under the thrilling tale of a Boston couple who were no more than a couple of miles away when Princess Di died Posted by Picasa

Anyway, today I'm off to the tenth MSO, and then straight down to the British Othello Championships next weekend. As I've mentioned before, the MSO is traditionally a week where I don't watch TV, or check my emails, or let anybody know whether I'm alive or dead, so this will be my last update till September, I'm afraid. But it's good to get away from technology and go back to nature once in a while. Even if most people's idea of getting back to nature doesn't involve going to the University of Westminster to play board games with nerds.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Gee willickers!

I mentioned nearly a month ago that I was feeling inclined to write about why I love Sniffles, the relatively unknown Looney Tunes mouse from the late 30s/early 40s, and then have always had better things to write about of an evening. Well, no more!

Here's our hero, listening to the opening bars of "Mutiny in the Nursery" in his third cartoon, "Sniffles and the Bookworm"

Sniffles first appeared in "Naughty But Mice", in 1939. It's been said that Sniffles was the first character created by the great Chuck Jones, although I'm not so sure about how accurate that assertion is. Anyway, Sniffles is perhaps the last gasp of the original policy behind Warner Bros cartoons - to copy what Disney were doing as closely as possible. Sniffles is pure Disney, at least in his first appearances. He's a small, cute mouse, who explores a series of beautifully drawn big stages, in gentle but extremely entertaining ways. Cute was already becoming rather unfashionable in cartoons at that point, with Chuck Jones and his fellows leading the way in the wacky revolution, but Sniffles appeared in nine cartoons in the next three years - quite an impressive strike rate for someone who wasn't Porky, Daffy or Bugs.

You can see a classic adventure here at Dennis's blog, along with no end of other great cartoons. Look out too for Sniffles making friends with an electric razor in "Naughty But Mice" - it's genuinely beautiful.

Sniffles's voice varies quite a bit from cartoon to cartoon, and nobody's entirely sure who provided it. It was probably any one of four or five perennially-uncredited female voice actors working for Warners at the time, whichever one was available on the day. But they all do a wonderful job with his wide-eyed innocence and gee-whiz exclamations.

Then, in the last of his original run of cartoons, "The Brave Little Bat", Sniffles goes out for a drive in his adorable little clockwork car, which breaks down in spectacular fashion. He takes shelter in an old mill, where he meets a cheerful little bat with what turned out to be a highly contagious case of verbal dysentry. Batty's dialogue is hilarious:

Sniffles: Hello!

Batty: I heard you come in, why'd you come in for? I'm glad you came in, 'cause I get kinda lonesome in here by myself sometimes 'cause there's nobody here but me and now you, where'd you come from? I live up there and I'm a bat, are you a bat? Hello!

All delivered rapid-fire without a pause for breath. Sniffles and Batty have an adventure escaping a cat (Sniffles's reaction to finding himself on a high roof beam is another must-see moment), and then that was the last we saw of him for a couple of years. He returned in 1943, having acquired Batty's speech mannerisms, in the altogether different "The Unbearable Bear"

Still directed by Chuck Jones, but this wasn't a Disney-style cartoon. The backgrounds are stylised and simpler, and the plot is fast, zany slapstick in the quintessentially Warner style - a fox burglar breaks into a policeman bear's house to rob it, but is discovered by Sniffles. ("What are you doing there? What are you doing with that safe? I know what you're doing, you're a burglar and you're burgling that safe 'cause burglars always burgle safes, why do they? Why are you a burglar? It's against the law to be a burglar 'cause burglars are crooks and I'm going straight upstairs and wake up the lady bear and tell her you're a burglar and she'll come right down and beat your old burglar head in...")

Thinking outside the box, the fox tells Sniffles that he's Robin Hood, you know, as robs rich blokes for the benefit of the poor. Sniffles is convinced - "Gee! Are you really Robin Hood? You don't look like Robin Hood but I guess you must be Robin Hood if you say you are Robin Hood 'cause Robin Hood wouldn't tell a lie. Hello Robin Hood, I'll help you rob the rich and give it to the poor and I'll stand guard and if anybody comes I'll warn you, like this!" (grabs a spoon and pan and starts banging it deafeningly loudly)

Then father bear comes home, drunk at three o'clock in the morning and not wanting to wake up his wife, who starts sleepwalking, and there's four-way chaos with Sniffles running around trying to help Robin Hood and chattering cheerfully away nineteen to the dozen. It's one of my favourite cartoons of all time, and as soon as I acquire the capacity to share my videotaped cartoon collection with the internet, I'll share it with you.

Sniffles only appeared in two more cartoons, and by the last one, "Hush My Mouse", in 1946, innocence was definitely fading. In the post-war era, Warner Bros were embarking on their golden age, but 'outwit the hunter' cartoons were hugely en vogue, and even Sniffles got in on the act. His chatter and naivete seem to be an act here, as he tricks a stupid cat trying to collect mouse knuckles for his exclusive restaurant. Then he disappeared, apparently unable to compete with the influx of new Looney Tune stars. He's continued to pop up now and then in these nostalgic times - he had a Tiny Toon Adventures counterpart (Little Sneezer), which is more than can be said for some more famous toons, and he made a wonderful guest appearance on an episode of Sylvester and Tweety Mysteries as recently as 1999, playing a Manx mouse. He never did lose the constant babbling. It's a problem that I can identify with...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Back to normality

Just for today and tomorrow. Which means that I basically have to fit two weeks of work into two days, with the year end accounts coming up as soon as I get back from the MSO. In among that I also need to tot up the BOF's accounts for the AGM in a couple of weeks - I'm going down to Crawley straight from London, without a trip back home in between, so I need to not only get the treasurer's report done before I go down there, but remember to take it with me.

All of which means that I had to work late tonight, and haven't got the time to write a great deal here. Sorry, fans!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I, quite genuinely, Haven't Got A Hat

As an example of how mentally and physically exhausting I find the world memory championships, I left my hat on the train last night. And I didn't even realise until this morning! Nobody seems to have handed it in, either, but I'll check again in a couple of days (I've got the day off on Friday). It would be terribly anticlimactic to lose the poor thing like that, after all these years.

Anyway, what other things happened on the last day of the world championships? We ran about five or six hours behind schedule, as usual. They really should stop using that timetable, because it really is impossible to stick to it. Ed helped keep things running smoothly by getting stuck in a lift at one point. When the prizegiving ceremony finally got underway, they announced the correct scores this time (in the individual category, at least - the team scores were wrong), but gave the wrong medals to everyone (there's bronze, silver and gold for each of the ten disciplines, with the discipline names written on the back. Impressively, I ended up with the gold for abstract images, and the gold AND bronze for names and faces! I certainly didn't expect that!). We swapped them among ourselves afterwards. I hurt my hands clapping so much. Clemens got so used to going up and getting medals that he forgot he only came fourth in the hour cards, and was halfway up to the stage for that one too before he realised.

Afterwards there was a celebratory dinner at Simpson's on the Strand, which I couldn't go to because I had to get home - by the original schedule I would at least have had time for a drink, but as it turned out I had to dash off straight after the prizegiving (Andi left before it, as usual). Tony Buzan, who seems to believe that all the competitors are millionaires too, had arranged a special cheap price by the standards of this poshest restaurant in London of only £25 each for the meal. I'm sure we were all very grateful - there was talk of people organising a rival dinner at a more reasonable price, but I don't know if that happened.

So that's it for another year. After today's trip to sunny Rotherham, it's back to work tomorrow for a whole two days before heading back darn sarf for the MSO. It's a tough life, isn't it?

Monday, August 21, 2006

It was nearly complete, it was nearly so sweet

Well, evil has triumphed over good, as Josh perhaps a little over-melodramatically put it, and Clemens remains the World Memory Champion. Lots to write about, but it's late and if I don't go to bed right this second, I'll never be able to get up in the morning and I've got to go up into the wilds of Yorkshire for a meeting at one of our companies. Had I known I was going to hand in my notice, I would have booked today off rather than arranging something like that for the day after the world championships.

Anyway, in brief I got 27 packs in the hour cards, which is huge and very cool - that put me fractionally in the lead with three events to go. I got a respectable 156 in words, Clemens and Gunther got roughly the same, Joachim got a massive 203 but Boris kept the world record with 214. But then I messed up all three trials on the spoken number, which is always a real possibility with me, and Clemens got his usual massive score, putting him safely in the lead and Gunther safely in second place.

That left me having to try for a very quick time in speed cards, and hope that Clemens didn't get a half-decent score. He did get a half-decent score (50 seconds) in the first attempt, whereas I didn't manage to get anything (tried 33 seconds but didn't come close to getting it right). What I should have done then is record a slower time and snatch second place, but I went for a very fast one again because a) having no chance of winning the title I might as well go out with a bang, or b) Andi was sitting next to me and quite obviously aiming to beat my record, although c) none of this occurred to me at the time until Gunther pointed it out and I was just set on a pattern of trying to go as fast as possible. So anyway, I messed it up again. And Andi did beat my record. And Joachim recorded a perfectly acceptable time to beat me for third place.

So in the end, it was exactly the same as last year, Clemens-Gunther-Joachim-me-Boris, only with much higher scores all round. Frustrating, because I was pretty darn close to my best form this year, and it just wasn't good enough. Still, it's given me a target to aim for next time round.

Anecdotes and rambling to follow tomorrow, assuming I'm awake. Memory competitions tire me out, and I don't think eight hours' sleep tonight is going to be enough...

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Once More, With Feeling

Last night's entry was a bit dry and full of scores and statistics, I thought. There's a lot more to the WMC than that. I've just been to KFC with Boris, Joachim, Corinna, Daniela, Daren and James K (after Burger King with a similar group last night - junk food is brain food), and the conversations we have on that kind of occasion, as well as throughout the day, are fantastic. You'd be surprised how much there is to talk about on the subject of memory when a bunch of enthusiasts get together.

Anyway, today went pretty well, all in all. You may recall from last night's cliffhanger that Gunther was miles ahead, but with his best events behind us, and a whole pile of us fighting it out for second position. It turned out I only got 1440 on the hour numbers, which is disappointing - on the lower end of my estimate. Gunther, Clemens and Joachim all scored in the 1700s. Andi got exactly 1800, but Dr Yip topped the lot with 1820. Phil described it as a surprise, but it isn't really - he was always red hot on the numbers, and even now when he's only here to bring this year's batch of little disciples to experience the competition and hasn't been doing much training himself, he's still very good.

It's fun to watch people before and between events. The Germans tend to juggle - it's a national tradition (meaning Gunther does it and everyone over there thinks it must be great if Gunther does it), and it's meant to aid concentration. Others sit around chatting or staring into space, concentrating fiercely, depending on temperament. I'm a chatter, mainly. Ed always arrives at the very last minute, if not later. Some get there an hour early, just in case. There's the usual what-are-you-going-to-attempt-here kind of speculation, announcements like "Can anyone lend Daren a stopwatch because he's forgotten his?" (you'd be surprised how often this happens at memory championships. Clemens glanced at the four timepieces on his desk but decided he couldn't risk three of them breaking down. Someone found a spare one in the end.)

Names and faces, the first event of the day, went extremely well by my low standards. I scored 96, a personal best, and I think the 12th-best score on the day. Gunther did badly, as expected. Clemens broke the world record, Andi did well too, and Josh did a very impressive 156. Cornelia continues to be consistently very good at everything.

Speed numbers next, and I went for a safe-ish 324, and got 284, the best score in the first trial. Andi was the last to return to the room for this one, and Phil said (over the microphone and sounding probably a lot more venomous than he intended) "Congratulations on making us all wait, Andi." We were already running late by that point - memory championships always run late, by at least a couple of hours. There are no exceptions to this rule, and certainly not today. There was a bigger holdup between trials of the speed numbers when Joachim and Gunther asked for their scores to be double-checked (Gunther's was correct, but they'd genuinely made a mistake on Joachim). I tried a mad 468 second time round, but made a mess of it and didn't improve on my first score. It was still good enough to be the third best, but Gunther and Clemens both beat me. Operation catch-Gunther not going as smoothly as I'd hoped.

But never mind, event six is Historic Dates, my trump card. By this point Clemens had almost but not quite caught Gunther up, and I was lagging about 700 points behind them. Worryingly far, in other words - the standard is much higher than last year, and there's a lot more competition. But, after another lengthy delay when it turned out they hadn't made enough copies of the English-language version (expecting the Hong Kong contingent to want it in Chinese, but they didn't), I did produce a whopping 96 - a new world record and lots of lovely championship points. After announcing the results, Tony came to me and said "So, do you want to change the scoring system because you're just too brilliant?" (the scoring system was genuinely wrong back in 2004, thank you very much, and I think the new one's fair enough - and anyway, I need all the points I can get this year!)

So, after six of ten disciplines, here's the leaderboard:

1) Gunther Karsten 4459
2) Clemens Mayer 4423
3) Ben Pridmore 4103
4) Joachim Thaler 4090
5) Cornelia Beddies 3608
6) Andi Bell 3581
7) Boris Konrad 3222
8) Ed Cooke 2654
9) Corinna Draschl 2416
10) Yip Swe Chooi 2128

My original plan was to be in the lead by this point. As an illustration of how much tougher it is this year, in 2005 at this point I was winning, with a score of 3471.

Final event of the day was hour cards, and it was obvious that I'd have to do something good to have a chance going into the final day. Luckily, I think I did. Attempting thirty packs, more than anyone else, I did write down thirty plausible full sequences in the recall period. A couple involved educated guesses, but I would hope that I got at least 25 right. If I didn't, I'll be annoyed with myself, because it will be silly errors. But the buzz is that Gunther did disappointingly, and Clemens isn't all that great with cards, so if I've beaten both of them, it'll be a great finish.

Andi didn't recall any - he realised he wasn't going to get a good score and so left. But he is more here than he has been for the last couple of years, and talking in terms of definitely coming back on top form next time round. Which can only be good for the WMC.

Tomorrow it's random words, spoken numbers and speed cards. The first two of these I can do good scores on, but often don't. Clemens is very good at spoken numbers, and I'm going to need a top-notch performance to beat him. And I need to get a pack of cards in somewhere close to thirty seconds to make sure of it. I love the WMC!