Let me finish my account of the world championship now, before the next one comes around. As you may recall, I had a very comfortable lead going into the final discipline, but decided to play it super-safe, just in case. In Speed Cards, as I'm sure you know, the aim is to memorise a single, shuffled pack of cards as quickly as possible. You get two attempts, and the best time counts. If you can't recall the whole pack in order, it doesn't matter how fast you were, you only score a handful of points.
I knew that if I set a safe time of around a minute in the first trial, my rivals Gunther and Hannes would have to do something like fifteen seconds, which is (to the best of our current knowledge, anyway) utterly impossible. One minute is a piece of cake, normally, and so it proved here. The only problem was with the timing device - we use clever timers that start counting when you take your hands off them, and stop again when you put your hands down again after memorising the cards. They also turn themselves off if they've been left alone for five minutes, and I think this is what must have happened with mine, without my noticing. Unless there was a fault with it - I was about 90% sure at the time that I'd seen the lights come on when I put my hands on it, but I couldn't absolutely swear to it. Sadly, no TV cameras were watching the timer this time round. Luckily, the ever-alert Phil Chambers was watching, and quickly checked with his watch when he saw what had happened. If it had been vital for the championship, there might have been a problem, but as it was, an estimated 59 seconds (it was two or three seconds faster than that, really) was acceptable to everyone.
That settled the championship beyond any doubt whatsoever, although I still insisted that nobody say so to me on pain of being glared at - I hate to jinx things. What was still interesting was the fight for second place, and the fight for tenth, to see who would get the prize moneys. In the end, Hannes had mistakes on both attempted packs, and Gunther's 49.3 seconds was comfortably enough to secure his silver medal. Liu Ping, having last year become one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds (without allegedly cheating), now became one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds more than once, winning the final discipline with 39.09 and bumping himself up to 7th place in the championship. Lukas Amsüss, who's another of those Famous Five, came third with 50.84, although it wasn't enough to break into the top ten in the overall championship.
Speed Cards at the World Championship tends to be a little disappointing - it's not often we see world records in that one, because everyone tends to be tired out after three days of hard-working memorisation. Still, I was annoyed with myself when my attempted 25.61 was a complete disaster. I got the first card wrong - somehow I was convinced that there had been another image on my journey before the one that turned out to be the first. Ah well.
I was also annoyed with myself for not getting a single new world record at the world championships! Yes, I'd won the championship, got personal best scores in four of the ten disciplines, had extremely good scores in all ten of them (possibly the first time I've ever done that at the worlds), set the highest ever championship points score and blown everybody away, but the no-world-records thing still bugged me. It's the first time since 2002 that I haven't set a new record at the worlds, I think.
Everyone told me not to be silly and start celebrating, so I did, keeping the disappointed mumblings to a minimum. Final scores:
1 Ben Pridmore 7908
2 Dr. Gunther Karsten 6859
3 Johannes Mallow 6145
4 Guo Chuanwei 5779
5 Andi Bell 5382
6 Boris Konrad 5213
7 Liu Ping 5145
8 Su Ruiqiao 4871
9 Dr. Yip Swe Chooi 4707
10 Edward Cooke 4610
11 Yuan Wenkui 4520
12 James Ponder 4423
13 Jürgen Petersen 4043
14 Corinna Draschl 3926
15 Dorothea Seitz 3868
16 Lukas Amsüss 3862
17 Zheng Caiqian 3440
18 Stephanie Bünter 3434
19 Zhu Shao Min 3405
20 Mia Körkemeyer 3200
That just left us to pass the time until the evening's prizegiving ceremony. The dress code for this was 'smart', which brings out an interesting range of clothing from the competitors. Dominic O'Brien always wears his dinner jacket on the final day of competition - if it was me, I'd spill something down the shirt at lunch and not have a spare one for the evening, but he never seems to have that problem. Tony Buzan dresses in one of his sensationally cool self-designed suits, as he always does. The rest of the arbiting team wear suits and ties. As for the competitors, the ones who could fit jackets into their bags wear them, the rest wear their smartest T-shirts and jeans. Just for a change, I had also brought my work clothes - I knew Andi would be there dressed as scruffily as possible, as a matter of principle, so me dressing untidily wouldn't be unique or cool. I wore my big red tie, and of course my hat, so I wouldn't look exactly like I do at work.
Actually, nobody at the championship believed that I wear a suit and tie for work. They can't picture me dressed like that. Conversely, the people at work can't picture me dressed in hat and T-shirt-with-funny-picture-on-it. Anyway, on this occasion, my attempt to look smart and yet unique was undermined by the way that the entire Team China were dressed in identical black suits and red ties. Still, never mind. Conformity is cool too.
As for the prizegiving, that was fun, as these things always are. The boss of those wonderful sponsors, Intelnacom, came along despite the fact that rescheduling the prizegiving had made it clash with his sixtieth birthday party. This, and the fact that they gave us $30,000 and I ended up pocketing $11,300 of that, prevents me from poking fun at his speech like I normally would.
There were other prizes too - a titchy little glass trophy (I normally complain that the trophies are too big, but this year I felt it was too small. I really am a terribly ungrateful person, and clearly impossible to please. I suggest that the organisers of all future championships refuse to give me any prizes, just to teach me a lesson), lots of medals (gold, silver and bronze for each discipline, and for the championship, and for the junior and kids divisions - Konstantin won the kids, I forget who won the juniors, but it was probably Dorothea. The medals were also smaller than last year's, by the way) and for the winner (me) a super-enormous giant print of a painting by Tony's friend Lorraine Gill.
This picture isn't my kind of thing at all, but several other competitors said they wanted it, so I decided to get rid of it in the least ungrateful way I could think of, and auction it off, giving the money to charity. I'll let you all know when that happens - I need to get a camera and take a picture of it, because it's ten times too big for my scanner. It'll go to the Alzheimer's Society, assuming my contact there is still there and is happy to accept the money.
I won't bore you with the details of the following day, which I spent very enjoyably lounging around doing nothing or exploring Manama, or the journey home, enlivened by discovering a really great Canadian comedy called Corner Gas - check it out some time, it's very funny. Oh, and I got another pair of plane socks and once again accidentally left my original holey socks on the plane. And it was extremely cold when I got back home. I want another trip to Bahrain! Now!
Looks like I'll have to wait till next November, though - or at least that's the current plans. Meanwhile, all that remains is for me to thank everybody who helped run the competition, everyone who took part, and everyone who's said congratulations to me! Let's hope next year is just as much fun!