Saturday, November 01, 2008

Intermission

Before I continue the thrilling account of the World Memory Championship, let's put in a plug for Chris Dickson's very entertaining blog, and especially the bit where he suggests we start a campaign to make me Sports Personality Of The Year. Actually, I don't think that goes far enough. What about the new year honours list? I defeated the evil Germans, after all - surely that's a sterling service to the British Empire that's worth an MBE?

Anyway, Chris is also kind enough to mention that comic I drew, and since by coincidence I've just finished another one (it's taken me about a year to draw this - I just never seem to find the time), here:

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Friday, October 31, 2008

Memories give me the strength I need to proceed

When we last saw Zoomy, UK Memory Champion, he was about to face the first day of competition, last Friday morning. I was staying at the same hotel as Phil, Chris and Jennifer, the people who do all the work of running the competition, and they were already at breakfast when I came down (good breakfast, too - as close to an English breakfast as you're likely to get in Bahrain, beef bacon is pretty much indistinguishable from the pork stuff, and next time I might get past the name and see what 'foul mesdames' taste like...). "Don't walk there this morning!" Chris cautioned, in a way that suggested he knew I wouldn't be so mad as to walk really. "I was planning to..." I said. And I did, too - it was a bit less than half an hour if you don't get lost, and it's nice to get a bit of fresh air (albeit swelteringly hot fresh air) and exercise before spending the whole day indoors, sitting down.

I passed Yip Siow Hong on the way, and he was out jogging! Now that's excessive. But you won't catch me taking a taxi to a memory competition every day, I've got a reputation as a cheapskate socialist to protect. I got to say hello on the way to a ginger cat who looked like he might be friendly but then ran away at the last moment. I'm normally quite good with feline body-language, but perhaps it's different in Arabic.

So I got to the conference centre in good time and picked my seat (we get to choose them in order of world rankings, so I technically get to throw anyone out of their place if I really want to, although I've never exercised this privilege - any desk at the front is fine with me). I ended up with Andi Bell to my right and Liu Ping to the left; both of them likely to be among my rivals. Ping was the best of the Chinese competitors last year (although Guo Chuanwei did better than him at the Chinese championships and wasn't quite on his best form at the 2007 worlds) but he's not really part of Team China - he shuns the team uniform in favour of his stylish pale pink jacket and doesn't generally join in their noisy and excited motivational chants that they broke into at unexpected moments between disciplines. Of my other expected rivals, Gunther Karsten was lurking a few seats behind Andi, dressed all in black - how good was he going to be this year? Chuanwei was dead-centre in the room, looking confident in Team China jacket, and Johannes Mallow was towards the back, looking very much like someone who'd startled the memory world with some amazing scores at the German championship and could spring a surprise or two here.

The room itself was spacious - more than big enough to fit the 44 competitors who'd turned up (once again just failing to live up to the most-entrants-in-history boasts of the pre-championship press releases, but comfortably more than last year, which I wasn't really expecting) - and rather noisy (there were board games tournaments in the room next door, the arbiters next door on the other side and the lobby just outside the room was the place where competitors gathered to discuss the competition so far), but otherwise excellent. Great sound system which worked fine all weekend, ample supplies of water on the desks, replenished regularly and efficiently by someone who deserves high praise but who I never even saw. The whole championship ran wonderfully smoothly, in fact - huge kudos to the people working behind the scenes to make it look effortless!

Those board games I mentioned were part of the "Festival of the Mind" (there's a Tony Buzan title if ever I heard one) which incorporated the memory championship. It also included little tournaments in chess, scrabble, dama, sudoku and possibly something else too, lectures from Tony and friends and an exhibition in the basement of various brain-related things which absolutely nobody seemed to visit.

Anyway, we didn't have time for that kind of thing, because we were off on event one of ten - Abstract Images. This is the newest of the ten memory disciplines, introduced a few years ago to replace the poem, which had proved impossible to offer fairly to all competitors in these multi-lingual times. It was Dominic's idea, and the idea was to provide something that uses natural memory rather than techniques. You get rows of five abstract shapes, and you have fifteen minutes to remember the order they came in. Then you get the shapes back with the images in each row in a different order, and have to number them. Five points for a correct row, minus one point for an incorrect one.

I've been moaning for years that the images program is hugely not what it was supposed to be - the shapes are all well and good, but nobody looks at the shapes, because they're coloured in with one of a very limited number of textures, so you can just memorise those. While I was moaning about it, Gunther was practicing and working out the best system to do them, so he's better at it than anybody else. And he refuses to allow them to change it unless and until he no longer has a huge advantage. So lately I've been practicing too, and trying to catch up with him, but (as is always the way with these things) he keeps getting better too. He's recently lobbied to increase the number of rows provided from 50 to 60, and so a world record was expected from him here. It's 1000 championship points for 50 rows (250 images), so my aim here was to be less than 500 points adrift of Gunther (knowing I can usually make that up on things like binary and dates, where I'm the one who's much better than everyone else) and roughly on a level with everyone else.

[For the uninitiated, note that each discipline in a memory championship has two kinds of points to it - a 'raw score', for example 250 images, and a 'championship points' score, also known as a 'milennium standard' score, although I think that's a silly phrase and don't use it, which converts the raw score to a number proportionate to a 'milennium standard' that is worth 1000 points. So everyone is theoretically at least shooting for 1000 championship points in each discipline, which might be 250 images, 2500 digits, 100 dates, or whatever.]

I attempted forty rows, more than I've tried before, and it went pretty well. Gunther looked pleased with himself, Boris Konrad looked contented too - I should have mentioned him before, he's the second-best in the world at this one - and everyone else looked like they were waiting for the 'real' memory disciplines to start. The ones with numbers and cards, allowing the use of super-duper memory techniques, are the ones that most people come to these competitions for.

It takes time to get the results of each discipline, so we went into the second event of the day, binary digits, not yet knowing how the images had gone. Here we have thirty minutes to memorise as many 1s and 0s as possible. They come in rows of 30, and you get 30 points for remembering a complete row, 15 points if you recall a row with one mistake in it, zero for any row with two or more errors. I'm comfortably better than everyone else at this one - I've got a groovy and brilliant system for it that took a lot of work to prepare but gives me a huge advantage now it's ready and waiting in my head. Gunther is the second-best in the world. Almost all his best disciplines come on the first day of the world championship, so I knew if I was close to his score at the end of the first day, I'd be well placed.

I didn't do as well as I'm capable of doing here - for some reason I haven't quite been at my best all during my training this year, but I knew I'd still got a half-decent score by my standards; I was thinking in the region of 3700, which turned out to be very accurate, as did all my predictions this year. Memory people generally know what score they've got, more or less, but it's still nice not to be surprised.

The results of the images came in - Gunther had indeed set a new world record score, 276. Boris was second with 208, and I was very satisfied with a third place 188. That's a personal best for me, and I found out back at home that it's a higher score than anyone except Gunther and Boris has ever got, which I didn't know. But it's still cool. Boris was still disappointed, he'd been hoping for something better. That put me just 350 championship points behind Gunther. Not that the championship scores really matter at such an early stage after such an atypical discipline, but the top ten went:

Dr Gunther Karsten 1104
Boris Konrad 832
Ben Pridmore 752
Chuanwei Guo 684
Yuan Wenkui 660
Zhu Shao Min 636
Johannes Mallow 504
Su Ruiqiao 500
Dorothea Seitz 480
Mia Korkemeyer 460

The schedule had called for lunch after the binary, but it wasn't twelve yet and we had time to accommodate names and faces too. Now, as everyone knows, this is my weak spot in memory competitions. I'm rubbish at it. You get 110 photos of people's faces, each with a name underneath, and have fifteen minutes to remember them. Then you get the photos back, in a different order, and have to fill a name in underneath. One point for a correct first name, one for a correct last name. I suck at it, but my only consolation is that Gunther sucks at it even more. All I can really do with names and faces is sit back and get it out of the way, letting the likes of Andi and Boris get the good scores and just making up for it later.

After that, we went to lunch, which was again a very nice buffet, followed by an optional speech from Tony about which foods science has recently demonstrated are good for the brain. My own opinions about this being at odds with modern science, I decided to skip it.

Then we got the results of the binary digits, which is always the first indication of who's on form and who isn't. And it seemed that I more or less was - a score of 3730 - and Gunther wasn't quite. He got 2460, when he's normally above 3000. Dr Yip was on form, though, in second place with 2865, and Hannes was right behind him with 2840 - personal bests in both cases. The Chinese army, Guo Chuanwei, Su Ruiqiao, Liu Ping and Yuan Wenqui, all had scores over 2000 too, and Andi rounded out the top ten with 2013. Andi can do better than that - he genuinely had come to Bahrain believing he was in with a good chance of winning, but he's been out of serious memory competitions for quite a while and he clearly wasn't quite up to the form he had five or six years ago. Su and Yuan, on the other hand, are scarily young and clearly going to be dangerous if they improve on this year's performance.

Announcing scores is a very formal thing at memory championships, with a real ritual to it - Tony Buzan reads out the top ten in reverse order in his wonderful, sonorous, booming voice (generally mispronouncing the names of any non-English competitors) and everyone gets a round of applause (from everyone except Andi, who always sits motionless and scowling throughout), then the whole room goes out to the lobby to read the results posted on the noticeboard and see where they and their rivals are placed. The gap between me and Gunther had narrowed to a mere 34 championship points, which is better than I'd expected. I already had nearly 400 points on third-placed Chuanwei, although there was a long way to go yet.

And a major milestone on that long way was the afternoon's entertainment - Hour Numbers. This is one of the two 'marathon' disciplines; a whole hour to cram as long a number as possible into your brain. Scored like the binary, except in rows of 40, which makes it rather easier to make a mistake and lose all the points for a whole lot of numbers that you really have memorised properly. Gunther holds the record for this (1949), but I was quietly hopeful of maybe just beating it - I'd been doing very well in training.

During lunch, Andi, who has an annoying habit of offering me advice as if he's an old pro and I'm a newcomer, surpassed himself by advising me not to drink too much coke since we had an hour of memorising and two hours of recall to come. I treated this with the contempt it deserved, but in the afternoon I was rather grateful that the arbiters let competitors take a quick comfort break in between memorisation and recall, otherwise there would have been a very embarrassing situation for everyone involved, and probably a lower score in the hour numbers for me too. But, without too much bladder-related distraction, I was quite happy with my result. Gunther was reportedly rather less so, and was heard muttering that perhaps he wouldn't come back tomorrow.

We didn't get the scores until the following morning, but I'll let you in on the secret now to round off this first day report. In names and faces I'd come eleventh, with a mediocre 70. Gunther, as usual, was a little bit below me, in thirteenth with 62. The good scores had come from Boris, winning comfortably with 123.5, Corinna Draschl second with 101, then Dorothea an impressive third with 86. After them came Andi, James and Hannes, all making up a bit of ground on me, with Chuanwei just half a point ahead of me (you get half a point for a name that's phonetically correct but spelt wrong - I'm not sure how spelling works if you're getting your names in simplified Chinese characters like he does, but presumably there are arbiters who know).

In the hour numbers, I had the best score, a personal best of 1800, and I still wasn't happy. I'd thought there was an outside chance of a world record, dagnabbit. But Gunther had indeed underperformed, getting only 1352. The big threats to me were Ruiqiao with 1710 (yikes, he's going to be one to watch out for next year), Dr Yip with 1640 (he's always good with numbers, and he was clearly on form), Hannes with 1631 (in every discipline he'd elevated himself over the course of a year from the chasing pack to the top-flight competitors. I did the same, many years ago, and I'm going to need to make another quantum leap upwards soon if I want to stay ahead of these Johannes-come-latelies), Andi with 1580 (not his best, again, but you can never write him off) and Chuanwei with 1440 (a way behind me, but he's consistent at everything and I have a habit of messing one or two disciplines up every year).

The top ten championship scores after four disciplines looked like this:

Ben Pridmore 2853
Dr Gunther Karsten 2644
Johannes Mallow 2345
Chuanwei Guo 2302
Boris Konrad 2156
Su Ruiqiao 2054
Andi Bell 2041
Yip Swe Chooi 2034
Yuan Wenkui 1961
Edward Cooke 1759

Three British, three Germans, three Chinese and a Malaysian (no, Team China, you don't get to count Chinese-Malaysian Dr Yip). Boris had had a somewhat disastrous hour numbers, only getting 688, and would have to do something impressive with two of his best disciplines already gone, but was still up there. Hannes and Chuanwei were both lurking, but I was very happy with this position - being a couple of hundred points ahead of Gunther after day one and five hundred ahead of anyone else is better than I'd hoped for and started to put me into the ever-dangerous "if I don't make a mess of everything, then I might just..." kind of mindset.

Stay tuned for the Day Two Report, tomorrow, probably. Unless I don't feel like it. This one was a bit boring, to be honest...

Memories are made of this

Okay, no Memoriad for me. But my feelings of guilt about dropping out at the last minute are assuaged by the glorious prospect of four more whole days of rest and relaxation. I can't remember the last time I had that (yes, I've only been employed again for three and a half months, but my memory has trouble stretching back that far).

So let's stretch my memory back a week or so and remember the World Memory Championship, Bahrain 2008. It all started, for me at least, on the Tuesday night - having realised at the last minute that it's not actually possible to get a train from Beeston to Manchester Airport early enough in the morning to catch the flight I'd booked, I realised I was going to have to spend the night in a hotel. A little bit more internet research revealed that every hotel in Manchester and the surrounding area was fully occupied (that was the night of the Man Utd/Celtic game), and eventually the closest place I could find was an expensive suite in the Novotel in Sheffield, which was at least half way there and allowed me an early-morning train to the airport.

I've never stayed in a suite before - I don't see the point, personally. Surely the fun of a hotel room is getting to lie in bed watching the telly? Why would you want an extra little room with a settee? Inviting other people to come and hang out with you, you say? Sit on the bed, the floor, any chairs/desks etc provided! Sheesh, what kind of people book suites in hotels? Anyway, I resolutely ignored the suite part of it (and the hundred-and-something-quid cost), lay in bed watching Man U thrash Celtic, and got a good night's sleep. After a quick call to Etihad Airways, anyway, having just noticed in the small print on my e-tickets that they have a policy of cancelling bookings that aren't reconfirmed three days before departure. Still, the person on the phone put my mind at ease on that point quickly enough.

Next morning, I got the train to the airport without incident (except for a surprising announcement on the platform at Manchester Piccadilly station that the train to the airport, which I and my fellow passengers were already sitting on, had been cancelled. Someone had pressed the wrong button on the hi-tech announcements system, apparently, and the staff had to go around assuring people that yes, the train did in fact exist and was about to depart) and had time to hang around the airport and find another book to read on the journey (picked Animal Farm, seeing as I don't own a copy, to go along with the ones I'd brought along, Frankenstein and William Sleator's Singularity).

As for the flight, I think it deserves a quick glowing recommendation/advert: Fly Etihad - the airline of the United Arab Emirates! They have the best range of in-flight entertainment of any airline I've flown with! Lots of good films old and new, and a huge choice of sitcom episodes, plus a few decent cartoons. Also, they give you free socks (possibly they're special socks that prevent deep vein thrombosis, but I don't really care. I approve of people giving me free socks, and immediately swapped my holey ones for these intact (if a little small) ones) and a good meal.

Got off the plane in Abu Dhabi, which was extremely hot, and bumped into James Ponder (how typical, you go all the way to Abu Dhabi and the first person you see is someone you know) who'd just come in on a similar flight from London to catch the same plane out to Bahrain. Realised that I'd left my hole-filled original pair of socks on the plane. We flew into Bahrain, which was also baking hot, although it was after dark (the idea of holding the WMC later in the year was to make the temperature less uncomfortable for us poor Europeans, but I didn't notice any difference from last August. Still unbelievably hot and humid!) and my big rucksack was the first bit of baggage on the carousel! This is a very good sign - I'm always the last to get my bag, I think the workers in airports around the world see it coming and decide to hang onto it just for a laugh. Or maybe to ransack it for memory-champion souvenirs, I don't know.

Anyway, we split up again to get taxis to our respective hotels in different parts of Manama. James warned me in advance that there's a current scandal of taxi drivers ripping off tourists, and mine did indeed refrain from using the meter and try (and succeed) to charge me more than James said was the going rate - but since it was still less than you'd expect to pay a taxi over here for the same distance, I didn't mind too much. I was staying in the Ramada Palace Hotel, which was very nice, fancy-looking, not too expensive and air-conditioned. They didn't have a single room available for the first night, so put me in another big posh suite. I'm turning into a suite kind of person, I can tell.

So then it was Thursday morning, the day allotted in the schedule for press conferences, competitor briefing, arbiter training and a posh opening ceremony/dinner. I hadn't brought a copy of the schedule with me, so wasn't sure when exactly these things were supposed to happen, and hadn't brought a map or the address of the competition venue (the Gulf Hotel/Conference Centre) with me, so I decided that a good strategy was to just go out, walk around the city and see if I stumbled across the right hotel.

I walked out into the sweltering heat (it was just about bearable if you stayed in the shade, so I spent the morning dashing from shadow to shadow) and pointed myself in the general direction of a big pointy building that looked like it might be the Gulf Hotel. Actually, as it turns out, most of the big, glassy, expensive-looking buildings in Manama aren't hotels (I've possibly been conditioned to assume that by visiting Las Vegas), they're offices - lots of big companies have their Middle East headquarters there. I'm still not sure what the big pointy building I was aiming for is, since I got distracted on the way there, but I'm pretty sure it's an office of some kind. It certainly turned out to be in the opposite direction to the Gulf Hotel, as I found out later.

I really do love walking the back streets of an extremely foreign city, and I spent a good couple of hours seeing the sights, while still keeping an eye out for anything that might be a Gulf Hotel. Had an expensive can of coke in a rather cool and crowded market place (it's hard to pretend you're not a clueless tourist when you're the only white person to be seen and don't speak a word of Arabic) and an extremely cheap one in the cool shopping centre, then I wandered all the way down to the Diplomatic Quarter, where last year's hotel was, just to prove that I can still find my way to places and to have a drink in their nice Harvester's pub (just coke again - championship the next day, and going to an Islamic country and having a beer in a British-style pub by yourself is a bit sad) before setting out back to the city. Eventually giving up on the chance of finding the venue by random wandering (or, indeed, of finding my own hotel ever again) and went into the Sheraton, pretended I was staying there and asked for directions. It turned out that the Gulf Hotel was right out over the other side of the city, and the doorman recommended that I take a taxi, but I explained that I disapprove of taxis and would rather walk, and anyway I was already as hot, tired and sweaty as it's possible for a human being to get. So he gave me a map and I successfully followed it for what must have been about an hour's further walking to the Gulf Hotel, out near the big fancy palace.

The hotel is surrounded by a big stone wall with only one opening, and I managed to walk around three and a half sides of the complex before finding the entrance, but I eventually made my way into the conference centre. I was warmly greeted by Chris Day and the good people of MICE Management (which, incidentally, is the best-named company in the universe, especially when they're organising a memory championship and thus enable Tony to make a convoluted joke about elephants, memory and mice) who appreciated the way I'd arrived at exactly the right kind of time, about fifteen minutes before registration officially started, so as to avoid the rush. I didn't mention that it was equally possible for me to arrive six hours early or not at all, and just cheerfully took the credit.

I love the feeling of a memory championship just starting to happen - all the memory people you know and don't know gradually arriving, all the organisers running around trying to make things happen the way they should (Phil Chambers, as ever, was non-stop all weekend, much appreciated by everyone, Dominic O'Brien was always doing something and Jennifer Goddard had the job of shepherding a small army of arbiters around the place, telling them where to go and what to do). It's always fun to guess who's going to turn up and how many competitors we're going to get - reports of Astrid's return turned out to be greatly exaggerated, but Andi had definitely been seen (not at the briefing, of course, he never comes to those, but at the airport), and Ed, who wasn't on the list although he'd told me a month before that he was coming, had showed up assuming nobody was going to tell him he couldn't compete just because he hadn't filled in a registration form. The Chinese arrived in a big mass as usual, all dressed in identical Team China jackets - I can proudly report that I can now pick most or all of the top Chinese competitors out of a lineup and even have a vague idea of some of their individual personality traits; it's still a bit them-and-us, but I think we intermingled a little bit more this year. The presence of Hugh (despite the name, he's Chinese) the official Team China translator, helped with that somewhat. They want to invite me to China to give talks and things, but I don't think I can any time soon - I've only got three days of holiday left at work to last me till the end of March.

Daren and newcomer Heidi, not to be outdone, sported Team South Africa T-shirts. It's a little bit harder to be a team when there's only two of you, but they managed it. Idriz, the only Swedish competitor, was wearing his zogaj.se cap and shirt. Chester Santos, who finally won the US Championship back in March, came along to his first World Championship, we had Dagfinn from Norway, Dr Yip from Malaysia and the usual crowd of Germans were joined by junior champion Dorothea Seitz, who I decided after a moment's consideration to talk to as if we'd spoken before - I know we were in the same building at the 2007 German championship, but I couldn't be sure whether we'd actually properly met. She seemed to think we had too, so it was okay. Also there was nine-year-old Konstantin Skudler, German Kids Champion, who had written to a TV company telling them he wanted to go to Bahrain but couldn't afford it and got a free trip with accompanying camera crew following him around (as were his parents, who by all accounts he'd dragged along to the competition entirely of his own volition, rather than being pressured at all by them to compete). The Chinese team had the similarly-aged Zhang Dianshuo, who made a point of saying hi to me whenever he saw me. Since his English ran to three or four words, and my Chinese vocabulary consists of no words whatsoever, our conversations weren't very in-depth, but he still seems fun.

The introduction and briefing followed the same kind of format as usual, with a couple of additions - an extra-long speech from Tony emphasising how much work the arbiter/organiser team do for no money and out of the goodness of their hearts, and a long speech from Dominic about sportsmanship, fair play and how cheating is bad. The first of these was a deliberate attempt to forestall any protests about the last-minute schedule changes - the original schedule called for the prizegiving dinner not to take place until Monday evening, despite the event finishing at Sunday lunchtime, and despite loud protests that this meant everyone would have to spend at least one extra night in an expensive hotel, they'd insisted that it was necessary to do it that way. Then, five days before the competition, they'd been forced to reschedule the prizegiving to Sunday night when the convention centre told them they couldn't have the room on Monday after all, and had rearranged the competition timetable in an attempt to leave more time between the finish and the awards, thus proving that they could have done it that way in the first place if they'd really wanted to. Despite this, I don't think anybody was planning to complain at the briefing anyway - these things do happen, and the revised schedule was by no means unacceptable in and of itself, and anyway everybody had already complained over email in the days before the competition.

The cheating speech was to highlight that Dominic, in his capacity of chairman of the Ethics Committee, or whatever his latest title is (great job though the WMSC do, they have an amazing talent for forming new committees and sub-committees and giving themselves official titles, considering there's only half a dozen of them) was going to come down like a ton of bricks on anybody who showed the slightest inclination to look at the memorisation papers after they'd been told to stop, kept writing after the time was up, or made any attempt to cheat in any way. They even had two CCTV cameras, which he promised could pick up any unethical activity of any kind. I don't know if they actually worked or if they were just there to scare people, but I'm all in favour of making it clear that cheating isn't acceptable, even if we haven't really had any problem with it in the past (I heard rumours, possibly made up, that someone had been caught communicating with a hidden microphone up her sleeve - it all seems a bit far-fetched and unlikely to me, but perhaps some people really do think you can gain fame, fortune and glory by cheating your way to an above-average score at the world memory championships?)

I had a splitting headache by this point, possibly from sunstroke, so decided to skip the posh dinner (I really dislike posh dinners, although as it turned out this one was a non-posh, no-waiting-around-between-courses buffet which I would have really enjoyed, but never mind) and went back to my hotel for a room service snack (I also, generally, disapprove of room service as being unnecessarily extravagant, but the Ramada Palace has a really nice choice of inexpensive meals). Or at least I eventually went back to my hotel - not remembering how to get there, I walked right past it and all the way back to the Sheraton, where I asked the same helpful doorman how to find the hotel I was actually staying at, still without giving away the fact that I wasn't staying at the Sheraton. Having eventually got to my posh suite, I had a very early night and woke up bright and refreshed at exactly the right kind of time in the morning. Interestingly, while I often feel headachey or unwell immediately before a memory competition, I'm always 100% fighting-fit on the day itself, and this year was no exception. But I'll pause this account here, and tell you about the actual competition just a little bit later. Thanks for your patience and thank you for choosing Zoomy's Thing; we know there are other blogs out there and we value our loyal customers.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pros and Constantinople

Sorry about not doing the promised memory-writing last night. I was so tired that I went to bed at half past seven, and then woke up at half past three this morning (possibly posessed by the spirit of my late father, who always slept those kinds of hours, probably as some kind of revenge for writing yesterday about wearing my old coat instead of the leather jacket that he bought me). I got up, had a bath, had breakfast, checked my emails, went back to bed and slept again for another few hours. And I've spent most of the day lounging around doing nothing, which was great.

You've probably noticed I'm not in Istanbul. I spent quite some time weighing up the good and bad points of going or not going, and ultimately the option that involved not getting out of bed won. And so then I did get out of bed and went to Nottingham, just so that the world wouldn't think I'm lazy. But I only spent a couple of hours there, before coming home and changing into my pyjamas again - it sounds weird, I know, but I really DO need to spend a day in bed after a memory championship (which I didn't do yesterday, because I went out to do an interview with Radio Derby and spent most of the day hanging around in the city). Sitting around for three days remembering numbers physically exhausts me.

I might still find the best last-minute price and fly out there tomorrow - tomorrow is just the optional sight-seeing tour of Istanbul, the competition's on Saturday and Sunday - but I think it's more likely that I won't. Haven't completely decided yet, but here's my thinking behind it at the moment:

It occurred to me today that my number one reason for going there is because there's a pretty good chance that I would win $4,500. And if I'm doing something mainly because it would involve getting money... it just offends my sensibilities somehow. I got lots of money from the World Championship, enough to pay off those credit cards that keep sending me rude letters and have a bit to spare for future credit card splurges, so I don't need an extra two or three grand. And I'm very much not a professional memory man. Sure, there's also the hanging out with people aspect, but it's only Gunther, Andi and Boris from the memory world, and I saw them last weekend, plus the mental calculation people, who I mostly don't know all that well. And there are people right here (okay, mostly on the internet), who I haven't hung out enough with over the last couple of months. And then there's the wanting-the-Memoriad-to-be-a-big-success aspect, but I don't really think my presence or otherwise is going to make an impact. It's always going to get a lot more coverage in Germany than over here, so it'd probably be a good thing if Gunther or Boris win gold medals. Besides, I took too much of the prize fund at the WMC, it'd be greedy not to let them have a share.

And there's the rather embarrassing reason not to go - I find that I genuinely care about my job. And if I fly back from Istanbul on Monday and go into the office on Tuesday, I will be rubbish for the rest of the week. I will make a horrible mess of the monthly wastage analysis, which I care about even if nobody else does, and I'll be falling asleep at my desk and wishing I was at home. Whereas if I spend the next four days lounging around, I'll be fed up with being at home and positively delighted to be at the office!

So, it's about 75% probable that I won't go to the Memoriad after all. We'll see how I feel tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I really, really will write about the World Memory Championship! At great length! Tonight, or tomorrow, or both!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

And it's cold, cold, cold, and we'll soon be old

Naturally, the British weather decides to punish me for going away to sweltering-hot Bahrain by being horrifically cold when I get back. But I found it quite a pleasant change to go out early this morning (I'm still three hours ahead of GMT) in the chill. Besides, I wore my old coat that I haven't worn for years, and was amazed by how warm, cosy and snuggly it is! Why did I stop wearing it? I've always worn my leather jacket in winter, and many years ago I realised that I just had this coat lying around but never did anything with it, and resolved to give it away to someone at work who was collecting winter clothes for the homeless. I put the coat in a safe place so I'd remember it, and like many other things I've put in a safe place over the years, never saw it again until I moved house. But now I think I'm going to start wearing it again, it's great! And it's reversible, so if I ever become a criminal and stop being a nationally-famous memory man, I'll have a perfect disguise!

Still, I imagine most of my readers didn't tune in to this blog to read about my coat (it really is a great coat), so don't worry, memory talk coming later tonight. I just wanted to record that I'm wavering about my decision to fly to Turkey tomorrow. I'm utterly exhausted, and another weekend of travelling and memorising followed by going back to the office the day after I return will literally kill me. I really do want to go along and support the Memoriad, but it's not going to do my mental and physical health any good at all. I think I'll just see whether I can get out of bed tomorrow morning, and if I can't, send my apologies.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Brief trailer

I've just got back, I've got squillions of emails and messages to read through, and it's after midnight, Bahrain time. Tomorrow, assuming I get out of bed at any point during the day, you can expect a full travelogue!