Sunday, November 15, 2009

The London Charivari

Just a lot of random things of interest that have happened over the last few days:

As I mentioned earlier, the competitor briefing on Wednesday night went very smoothly indeed. There weren't nearly as many questions and debates about the rules as usual. This is mainly a testament to the organisation of the event, but possibly also due to most competitors' minds being distracted by questions about paper flowers. The briefing being held on November 11th, all the vast contingent of foreign visitors, newly arrived in the country, sought out the rather more scarce British representatives to ask what the poppies were all about. It must be a bit strange, really - you come to a foreign land for a competition, you've read all the guidebooks telling you about everyday life for the average Brit, and then you step off the plane to find everybody wearing a paper poppy in their lapel. Foreigners may want to click here for an explanation.

Foreigners were certainly abundant at the World Memory Championship, as usual. There were 63 competitors, or 64 if Rich Bowdler was in fact there - he was listed on all the score printouts and even had points credited to him in the Hour Numbers, but I didn't see him all weekend. Was he there, or was he a figment of someone's imagination? I never had the time to ask. Twenty of these competitors were German, sixteen were Chinese, whereas Team England could only muster seven or eight entrants, depending on how Bowdlerised it was. The rest came from an eclectic mix of globetrotters, most notably Sweden and Norway, who had a real tussle for fourth place in the team rankings. There was also James from Wales, who probably doesn't count as a foreigner, but was his own one-man national team since Dai wasn't there.

All the articles in newspapers and on the internet (of which here are a few) say there were 74 competitors, but that's presumably what the early press releases said, before everybody had arrived and they'd actually counted the number of people there. Even so, 63 or 64 is nothing to be ashamed of - it comfortably beats the all-time record for the number of competitors, and in terms of average quality too, this championship was light-years ahead of the previous record-holder (2003, 46 competitors but most of them being young Malaysian beginners).

The prizegiving ceremony was as much fun as usual, lots of medals and certificates and applause, and it was interesting to see a wider assortment of competitors sharing the medals between them this year. I was only first place in two of the ten disciplines, second in another three and third in one. I didn't even end up with the top score in Speed Cards - Wang Feng beat me by half a second in the second trial! Just a few years ago, a time under 40 seconds was a remarkable achievement, now it's a pretty commonplace kind of thing.

The head honcho of next year's World Championship in China gave a speech - very impressively, since he apparently speaks no English and was reading from a script - telling us all what a great event it was going to be. It does sound like it'll be a good one, although I need to improve a LOT if I'm going to have any chance of winning again. I can't keep relying on scraping through with a good speed cards.

I got some great souvenirs, too - check it out:

A cool knotty-thing from China, and a pack of My Neighbour Totoro cards from the Japanese film crew! I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Japanese team are by far the best documentary people I've ever worked with (and I did really like quite a lot of the other ones I've worked with before). I can't wait to see the final product, although I will have to wait until January.

There is also a new permanent trophy for the World Memory Championship - a hefty great bronze statuette by some 19th-century sculptor who, in Ray Keene's words, was regarded as better than Rodin in his day. I can't remember his name (and nor could Tony Buzan when he presented me with the trophy), and I'm not much of a sculpture expert - if there are any such people out there, could you suggest who it might have been? I think it started with B. And could you tell me whether 'regarded as better than Rodin in his day' is actually a good thing to be? Wasn't Rodin a classic example of unappreciated-in-his-lifetime?

The statue is of a winged woman, possibly Mnemosyne but probably just some woman with wings, and I only 'won' it in the sense that I was allowed to lift it up and show it to the TV cameras. It's like the Wimbledon trophy, Ray explained, although I think the Wimbledon trophy is on display at Wimbledon all year round, whereas this one presumably just goes back to wherever it normally lives - Ray's house? Some museum somewhere? Some other championship for which it also serves as the trophy? Anyway, in all seriousness, it is a very nice piece of work, and I can see why Mr B the sculptor was so admired by Rodin-haters.

I did genuinely win (and was allowed to take home) a very tasteful and stylish glass trophy, much nicer than last year's, proclaiming that I'm the World Memory Champion. I also collected my UK Championship trophy which I'd left behind in August when I went home early. And that one is a really beautiful work of art, I really love it. Trophies nowadays are so much cooler than the ugly tin cups I won in memory competitions in the olden days, and I'm very grateful to the organisers.

So, for those who haven't been paying attention, I'm now the World Memory Champion for the third time, equalling Andi Bell's achievement and second only to Dominic O'Brien's eight titles. And without meaning to detract from Dominic's genuine awesomeness, it was so very much easier to win the World Championship in his heyday that I don't think anybody's ever going to equal that record now. There are just so many very, very, very good memorisers out there now!

Numerologists might be interested to note that my wins follow exactly the same pattern as Andi's (1998, 2002, 2003) - the second win was four years after the first, and then the third was the year after that. Andi never won it again, of course, which might be seen as a bad omen for me, but then Andi by that stage of his memory career was publicly calling the organisers corrupt, dishonest and suchlike and trying to set up his own breakaway championship, and I haven't quite gone that far just yet, so maybe I'm still good for a couple more world titles.

I would like to win a team title too, though. We need more English memorisers! When the top ten in this year's championship came up on stage at the end, I was flanked by five Germans and four Chinese. England was a distant third in the team standings - there are Englanders out there who are quite good at the whole memory thing but who didn't come this year, like Andi, Ed, Katie, James Ponder and so on, but still, let's recruit some more people this year and stop the newspapers talking about the Germans and Chinese taking over 'our' sport!

That will do for now, I think. I'm sure you're all getting tired of world memory championship news by now. Let's just finish by saying a big thank you to all the other competitors for making this the toughest and most exciting competition ever (it's replaced 2003 as my favourite WMC of all time), a huuuuuge thank you to all the arbiters and organisers, especially Chris Day because I called him 'Phil' while giving my speech at the end of the prize ceremony (it was late and I was tired) and Phil Chambers because I confused him with Chris Day. Names and faces will never be my speciality, I'm afraid.

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