Co-op own brand mint humbugs are delicious! Possibly the best humbugs I've ever tasted! Go and buy some, and share them with me!
Secondly, go and watch channel 4 tomorrow (Thursday) night at 9pm - a Cutting Edge documentary about narcoleptics, directed by Nick "The Mentalists" Holt.
And now our feature presentation - let's talk about the World Memory Championship! The "official" list of registered competitors now stands at 63 people (33 of them Chinese), which even if the usual 50% of those are no-shows would be a decent turnout. Who knows, if Team China really is that big, it might even do what the press releases inaccurately promise every year and have the most competitors ever! (Despite annual 'biggest ever' claims, the record still stands at 46 entrants in 2003 - and even then the press releases after the event claimed it was 53.)
So let's have a look at a few of the names that stand out on that list of 63. And let's start with Astrid Plessl, returning to competition for the first time since November 2004! She's still ranked number 5 in the world, it's just a question of how much she's been practicing since all those years ago. She came within a whisker of winning the world championship in 2003, really deserved to win it in 2004 instead of me, and was for a couple of years one of the absolute best. She always merited more than that lengthy list of second places in competitions (just one win to her name - Austrian championship 2003, in the middle of four runner-up medals, each one behind a different winner! Andi in the WMC 2003, Gunther in Prague 2003, me in the WMC 2004 and then Clemens in Austria!) and it'll be great to see her back again.
And to forestall the many queries I always used to get on the subject, I don't know if she's seeing anyone right now, but I doubt I would be able to set you up on a date with her. Of course, I haven't seen her for four years, she might be a hideous toothless crone by now.
Let's move on. Also registered is good old Andi Bell, three times former champion, unquestionably the best in the world in 2002-2003, but not quite able to keep up the championship temperament since then. I'm hoping that if he's prepared to travel all the way to Bahrain (an idea that he scoffed at the last time I spoke to him), he's planning to win. I don't think he'd make the trip if he didn't believe he could end up on top, it's just a question of whether he really is as prepared as he thinks he is. If he's on form, and doesn't give up half way when things aren't going well, you'd have to bet on him for a top three position (something he achieved for nine consecutive years from 1995 to 2003). If he's really at his optimum performance level, you'd bet on him to win.
Running down the list from top to bottom, we see Ronnie White, the American who, not aware that anybody had ever set a world record for memorising numbers before, claimed on national TV to have broken a record by memorising something like 23 digits. Since being enlightened as to the existence of memory championships, he's been promising to come to one for quite a while now. I'd say there's a sporting chance he'll be a no-show again, but I'm still hoping to meet him. He sounds like a nice guy.
A strong German team includes reigning champion (but how out of practice is he, and how's his motivation to try to win it again now that he's finally achieved it?) Gunther, German Champion Johannes (who I'm still extremely worried about, since he seems to have improved hugely since last year, and he was pretty good to start with), Boris (always hovering somewhere near the top of the scoreboard) and many more - Germany are my bet for team champions this year again.
Dai Griffiths and James Paterson are listed as representing 'Wales', while the rest of the British competitors are down as 'UK'. Well, if they've seceded, then I'm jolly well going to be Team England this year, and squish them like... I want to say Edward I, but whichever king it was who particularly squished the Welsh.
Yip Swe Chooi (the venerable Dr Yip - memory sports is a first-name-terms kind of thing, but there's something about Dr Yip that just demands the title) will be there again, I'm glad to see, although he doesn't seem to have an accompanying entourage of little students any more. He's capable of blowing anyone away when he's at his best, despite the comparatively lowly world ranking of 17th. One of these days it'll all come together for him and he'll be the shock world champion.
And now we're into that list of Chinese names. I don't know any of these people, and we really need to rectify that this year. Liu Ping was the pick of the bunch last year, with Guo Chuanwei not far behind, but I couldn't even tell you which ones they were if I was confronted by the whole Chinese team (admittedly this is more because of my difficulty with names and faces than because I've never spoken to them - we did hang out a little bit last year). But, the need for more international socialising aside, either one of them could be a winner this time round with only a little improvement on their 2007 results.
And let's mention Chen Yu Juan. She has been 'officially' stripped of her time in the speed cards last year (or at least it's been taken off the statistics website) after the widespread accusations of cheating, and it'll be interesting to see how she does this time round. Personally, I'm hoping she can prove her detractors wrong and do something amazing.
I think the top ten this year, in no particular order, will be made up of me, Andi, Astrid, Gunther, Hannes, Boris, Ping, Chuanwei, Lukas and Ed. But I'm rather hoping that someone I haven't even considered will come through and amaze the world. It's always great to see a new superstar!