The UK Championships are up and running - if you're not following Florian Dellé's live blogging, then you jolly well should be.
There are 18 competitors, I think, from all around the world, and the number of competitors was enough to force a relocation of the championship from the basement room of Simpsons-in-the-Strand to a conference room in the Strand Palace Hotel across the road. I can't imagine how small the original venue must have been, because the new, bigger alternative has no room to swing a cat. Luckily, the UK Cat-Swinging championships aren't until next week, and memorising numbers doesn't take up quite so much space, but even so, we're quite closely packed together in a little room in the basement.
The Japanese TV crew and a couple of very enthusiastic photographers (who for some reason wanted all the lights turned out except a big spotlight at the back of the room in order to take pictures of all the competitors at their desks - possibly they saw what we all look like and decided that a shadowed effect would be the way to go) added to the crowded feel of the room, but despite the delays all the photography caused, we finished more or less on schedule. Not that it was necessary to do so, because we're not sharing our digs with chess players any more, and can spend the whole day tomorrow memorising at our leisure, without having to hurry.
A lot of the competitors are people I've met once or twice before, and knowing how good I am with putting faces to names and vice versa I was quite happy with myself when I walked into the venue and thought "There's Rick de Jong... no, it's not, it's the one who looks a bit like Rick but isn't... Dave Billington!" and was able to say "Hi Dave" with confidence as if there had never been any doubt. And I was particularly gratified when the first thing he said to me was that at least I knew his name, because Gaby Kappus had greeted him with "Hi, Rick, it's good to see you!"
They don't look all that similar, but there is a definite resemblance. However, my confidence in my name-remembering ability was a little dented when, in front of the Japanese cameras, I introduced Ameel Hoque to them only for him to say "No, I'm not Ameel, I'm Toby Caldwell. I'm new." Kanako from Japan said "But you called him Ameel!", just in case any NHK viewers had missed it and we all had a good laugh at how stupid I am.
Then a bit later, when we went into the competition room, Toby came up to me and said hi, and I laughed "Hi, Toby - see, I remember your name now!" To which he replied "What? I'm Ameel, don't you remember me? Who's Toby?" In my defence, they've both got beards. And hair. And faces. And I think they were both wearing clothes. How do you expect me to know who's who?
Anyway, I might not remember what my friends look like, but I can still remember how to memorise things. This is a competition I should be pretty confident of winning - the world's best aren't here and the next-best memoriser here is Ameel, the world number 44 (well, Dominic O'Brien and Gaby Kappus are here too, but they're arbiting and not competing). And I won the two disciplines we've had results for, words and binaries, and got a passable score in 15-minute numbers, I think. A bad score in names and faces, naturally, but I've given up all hope of doing well at that. Anyway, I'm safely in the lead after two disciplines, with Ameel in second and Florian third.
Also in attendance is Eva Ball, the UK Schools Championship winner and possibly the first British junior ever to compete at a memory competition (unless I've forgotten someone). She protests that she's no good and hasn't done any preparation, but she got the second-best score in words and an entirely acceptable result in binary to lie somewhere comfortably in the top ten overall. We have regular internationals like Rick, Florian, Pierre Berbinau, Tomasz Krasinski, Idriz Zogaj, Dagfinn Hammar and Kranthi Raj, comparatively new internationals like Mattias Ribbing, Marco Lombardo and Håkon By, and a British contingent made up of me, Eva, Ameel, Dave, Toby, Richard Bowdler (who competed for the first and only time in Cambridge 2006, so it's good to see him back - I can now add him to the list of people I've enticed into becoming regular memory competitors by virtue of organising that competition!), Bilal Arshad (new from Cambridge this year) and newcomer Antonio Campo who despite the name is from Wales. A good turnout!