Saturday, October 04, 2008

I forgot Blue Peter, and also that Canadian thing

If the Canadian thing was ever on telly - they didn't tell me about it or send me a DVD if it was. I think they probably told me the name of the show at one point, but I don't remember it.

Anyway, I've done a healthy load of memorising today, and if I do the same kind of amount of work tomorrow, I might just start to think I'm in with a chance of winning the world memory championship. I'm still very much not up to speed - I did an hour numbers today and only got 900, which isn't even up to grandmaster standard, let alone the sort of super-ultra-grandmaster standard I expect of myself, but I was deliberately attempting more than I know my brain is capable of, just to see what my limits are and whether I can keep that concentration going for a three-hour period. And it all went pretty well. Also did a 30-minute binary and got the kind of score that would beat everyone except possibly Gunther if he's at his very best, so I was happy with that.

Of course, my trouble this year is that I don't know which of my main rivals are going to be at their best. I'm assuming Gunther won't be, just because I wasn't the year after I won the world championship, and he hasn't competed at all since then, and he hopefully won't be thinking he can beat me again (and positive thinking is 90% of memory competitions). What's Andi going to do? I'm thinking maybe something exceptional. Just how good is Hannes these days? He's the dark horse that's scaring me the most, after the German championship. And what about all these Chinese people I don't know? We really need to spend more time hanging out with the Chinese competitors, exchanging emails, chatting on forums and so on. The only one I'm in any kind of contact with is Haizhan, and he's not even coming this year. The memory world is seriously in danger of turning into an 'us and them' kind of situation. Maybe I'll learn mandarin and go to the next Chinese championship. If they let me in the country after my previous joke on this blog about overthrowing the government.

And speaking of jokes and governments... I know I have a rule about not talking politics on here, and I know I have another rule about not quoting news stories and commenting on them, and I know I'm nearly thirty-two years old and shouldn't giggle at things like this... but I love the headline "Mandelson Return 'A Risk' - Balls"

Friday, October 03, 2008

What TV shows have I been on?

I always seem to forget that episode of Child Of Our Time. I just remembered today that I was on it, and I never include that in the list whenever someone asks me which TV shows I've been on. Which doesn't happen as much as it should, incidentally. What's the point of being a star of probably more than ten obscure TV shows if people don't ask you to list them? So, I figured that since I must have fans out there who keep detailed notes about my celebrity exploits, I'd see if there's anything else I've forgotten. By my current reckoning, the list goes:

Central Tonight (a couple of times)
East Midlands Today (possibly only once)
Weakest Link
Child Of Our Time
This Morning
Richard and Judy
The Mentalists
Extraordinary Animals
Superhuman: Genius
The Panel (Ireland)
CaldeirĂ£o do Huck (Brazil)

Eleven of them! Are there any others? I have a feeling there might be, but my memory's letting me down...

(Note: tomorrow's blog entry will contain less boasting about how famous I am and more of 'that self-deprecating thing you do, you know, your usual patter', as the BBC documentary person I've been talking to kindly described it)

Ooh, ooh, that thing on Current TV, "He's The Memory Man"! Twelve!

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Multiple subjects

I don't think I really plugged Ed's book as much as I should have done yesterday. Rather than sort of mentioning it in passing, I could have pointed you to the website and told you all to check it out. Now that I've heard a little bit more about what it's about, I think I can safely guarantee that it's worth buying. As anyone who saw The Mentalists (and that's all of you, right?) knows, Ed is tremendous fun, and this book is going to be a great read for anyone, whether they're interested in memory matters or not!

You can listen in to what Ed and I had to say on Radio Derby today, here if you click on "listen again" and find the Aleena Naylor show for today (Thursday) and fast-forward to about 1 hour 25 minutes into the show. It was good fun, although taking time off work was inconvenient - busy there at the moment.

Which is particularly annoying when Harry Hill wants you to make a cameo in a sketch on his show, but they want to film it next Thursday, which is a day when I really can't not be in the office, because my boss is on holiday and there's stuff that needs doing that only I can do. Hilarious-sounding sketch, though. I'm really going to hate not to do it, if I end up missing out. And I'll tell you this, if I don't get to be on Harry Hill, which I would love, I'm not going to do this BBC documentary thing they want to do with me next week, which I'll dislike.

But anyway, I'm finally catching up with some of those moving-house tasks I've neglected in the nearly-a-month since I've been here. The gas here is supplied by eon, and the electric is supplied by edf, so I decided to play the field a little before putting them both under the same supplier so I can get some kind of discount. And I was expecting to end up ditching eon, because they supplied me at my last place and I had no end of hassle with them. eon now think I'm called Benjimin, and had my address slightly wrong, while edf just call me B Pridmore, and have the address slightly wrong in a different way.

But in the calling-to-set-up-a-direct-debit stakes tonight, with eon the phone was answered immediately by a friendly and helpful operator, who took all my details, fixed the address, would probably have fixed the name had I remembered to mention it, and sorted out all the technicalities without any hassle. Rather strangely interrupted the proceedings to tell me I was speaking to Janice halfway through the conversation, but otherwise a perfect example of customer service. edf, on the other hand, I gave up on after ten minutes of an endlessly-looped weird cover of "It's not easy being green" interrupted every thirty seconds by an assurance that my call will be answered.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

It's good to be home!

It's weird, but having two days in Sheffield immediately followed by two days in Birmingham feels like being away from home for much longer than when I go away to one place for a week. I feel like I haven't set foot in my flat for years! Maybe it's having gone to Paris the weekend before, and being at work all the time I've been at home...

Anyway, it's going to be extremely nice to have a weekend off. Or a weekend of memory training, as it should hopefully be. And also a weekend of catching up with all the other things I've been needing to do for weeks now. I definitely have to get a haircut, because it just looks stupid when it gets to this length, and the three hairs on top of my head are long enough that you really notice them (and point and giggle).

But before any of that, I'm dashing away from work for a couple of hours tomorrow for an interview on Radio Derby. 11:30-ish, if you want to tune in. Ed Cooke's promoting his book on local radio stations, and Derby thought they'd have a word with their more-or-less-still-local memory man while they were on the subject.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


If I don't perfectly remember something I've made an effort to memorise, like for example a store's credit claim values, I'm annoyed with myself. The people I'm showing off to, however, are usually just as impressed by an imperfect recall as they are by a perfect one. It's rather irritating, really. I'd like to raise public expectation of memory performers, so that they won't be satisfied with mediocre achievements. We need a nationwide media campaign, with the message "If someone doesn't memorise every single thing they said they would, throw rotten vegetables at them!" That way I'll feel properly appreciated if I do get things right.

Incidentally, my memory stuff today mostly did go perfectly. And it's nearly done with now!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Making an exhibition of myself

Well, here I am at the Hilton in Birmingham, being a professional memory man for the next two days. Ahh, only 48 hours until I can go back to being a professional analyst with a weird hobby. Still undecided what to wear at our stand at the healthcare exhibition - business suit with hat and enormous red tie, probably, although I did bring the Brazilian Mystery Cloak and I might try that out if I'm feeling adventurous. I can't wear my normal office uniform, because I can't memorise when I'm dressed like an accountant. It's a strange psychological hangup of mine...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A weekend's othelloing

Sheffield is just far enough away that there isn't a train early enough on Sunday mornings for me to come home half way through a two-day othello tournament, but close enough that I didn't have to get up too early on Saturday morning to get down there, which was nice. Also nice was the fact that a whole three people recognised me from the telly and said hi while I was on my way from Beeston to Sheffield - the woman serving baguettes at the Upper Crust at Derby station, a man on the platform at Derby where I was waiting for my delayed connection, and a boy on the train itself. I'm getting quite a bit of "my kids saw you and thought you were great" lately - surprising though it is that children would want to watch a documentary like Superhuman Genius, maybe we've encouraged a whole new generation to get interested in memory!

Although to be honest, I was more impressed when the aforementioned boy's younger brother, who didn't recognise me from the telly, asked if he could try on my hat. I'd rather inspire a new generation to start wearing hats than to enter memory competitions. Just imagine, a whole country full of hat-wearers, and all thanks to me! Wouldn't that be groovy?

Anyway, I eventually arrived at Sheffield and found my way to the Heeley Institute, where I've been once before, many years ago, and didn't arrive more than fifteen minutes late (which in othello circles counts as being quite early). We had the AGM, which passed without memorable incident, and then launched into the 32nd British Othello Championship.

With Graham Brightwell being somewhere overseas, the chance of a final not contested between him and Imre Leader for a change was significantly improved. And with Joel Feinstein and Garry Edmead being more or less retired these days, Imre was the only representative of the four players who between them had won every British championship for the previous twenty years. Against him were an impressive lineup of fourteen other othelloists, many of them significantly better than me, so my hopes weren't high. But all in all, I played quite well. On the first day I lost to Davids Beck and Hand, but didn't feel like I did anything monumentally stupid. I probably did, but I didn't know about it, and that's the important thing. But I beat Yvette in between David-games, and in the fourth and final game of the day I took my revenge on nine-year-old Tani Turner, wiping her out in a brutal kind of way. I'm not proud of myself here, but it was kind of fun.

Then we went out for the traditional Saturday night meal, at an Indian restaurant where the highlight of the evening was probably Ali's anecdote about being taken to a similar place by an Indian colleague who picked out all the mildest things on the menu because he doesn't like spicy food. To which Tani replied, very loudly and while the waiter was collecting plates "What's the point of being Indian, then?"

Then back to the hotel (on the way, walking through the back streets of Sheffield, Imre asked if anyone knew where he could find a croissant shop), which was very nice - I got a room with three beds for the price of one, a TV that worked if you leaned the severed aerial cable against the socket it was supposed to go in and a skylight in the bathroom (which made me a little worried about passing balloonists ogling me in the shower). And a full English breakfast, which is a must for any hotel I stay at. And we all got back to the Institute in good time for the second day of competition.

I lost to Iain, beat Roy and lost to Guy, again without being under the impression that I was playing badly. Meanwhile, David Hand was beating everyone, Imre was doing exactly the same thing as last year (losing two of his first three games and then winning all the others) and Michael, Other David, Iain, Guy and Geoff were also fighting it out for a place in the final. There was quite a lot of excitement, all in all, and I'd write about it if I could remember who beat whom and how. But I can't, so you'll just have to wait until Geoff posts all the games on the forum, and play through them, and make your own deductions about which were the most interesting.

Anyway, being around the middle of the leaderboard, I got the bye in round eight, leaving me on four points with one game to go. David H had lost one game, to Iain, and was a clear point ahead of Imre and Michael, each on six, then David B and Iain on five. So with the top two going to the final, anything could still happen.

The final round had Michael playing Iain, the Davids each playing someone who wasn't mentioned in the list above, don't ask me who, and Imre against me. "You wouldn't be so nasty as to beat me, would you?" he asked. "That's the thing," I replied, "I was sort of rooting for you to get to the final, but now..."

But even though I have a startlingly good record against Imre, I didn't expect anything amazing. Still, the game started quite well for me, and then he played a move that was so very, extremely, obviously bad that I assumed I had completely missed some subtle point and was in fact about to lose horribly. But no, it turned out after the game that it was just a silly mistake. And then I thought I'd lost after all when he took the diagonal, but I managed to find the rather clever way to make sure I'd be able to cut it, and the rest was simple. 47-17 to me. That makes six times I've beaten Imre in competitions, which is probably a higher proportion of wins to losses than practically anyone.

The Davids both won, and we all crowded around the table where Michael and Iain were still finishing their game. It looked to me like Iain was on top, but either he went wrong somewhere or he'd never been on top after all, because Michael finally won. So Adelaide was spared the headache of working out a four-way tie-break for second place (she refuses to use a computer or even a calculator for this kind of thing, believing that it's more fun to do it by hand - this would doubtless have caused friction when David B and Roy, who both brought laptops with them, calculated the Brightwell Quotients themselves and got different figures) and the final was much more Handy than ever before, David Hand v Michael Handel.

I left before the game in order to memorise the wastage figures for all of Boots's Scottish and Irish stores that'll be coming to the conference on Tuesday, but I hear that David won. Congratulations! A new name on the back of the permanent trophy! (the name of each winner is on a little metal shield stuck to the big wooden shield, and they ran out of room on the front of the trophy in the late eighties. At the present rate, we will also be out of space on the back in another ten years or so)

David also won the third-place play-off - Other David, that is, who beat Imre - and I ended up joint fifth with Roy, Iain, Geoff and Guy. Which is a definitely cool kind of position to end up in. That means the British team for the world championships in Oslo will be David H, Michael and British Grand Prix winner Iain. One of these days, with a few more flukey results going my way, I might end up there too, who knows?

But one world championship I will be going to is the memory one, of course. And, I hear, so will Andi! Fantastic news! Last year's was the first Andi-free WMC since 1994, so it'll be good to see him there again. And if he's shelling out for a trip to Bahrain, it seems to me there's a good chance that he's been practicing and is really going to try to win. Also, Gunther will definitely be there, it seems, so it's going to be a good competition. If only I can find the time for a little bit of training...

One final memory note, hot off the presses (thanks, Dai) - congratulations to Tansel on winning the Australian Memory Championship!