Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ode to Oadby

Yay! I won an othello tournament! I was going to leave that revelation until the end of the blog post, but I'm too excited. Admittedly it wasn't a big, big othello tournament - the Oadby regional only attracted five people and no clocks to time the games with (Geoff was meant to be bringing them, but he was ill), but even so, it was a great event. And more importantly, I won it!

Actually, I wasn't playing all that well and probably deserved to lose, but still ended up winning all my games. And that's what counts, after all. That gives me a good head-start in this year's British Grand Prix, especially over the people who didn't turn up (the BGP title, and its accompanying entry into the world championship, generally goes to the only half-decent player who goes to most or all of the five regional tournaments in a year - maybe that will be me this year!)

Or maybe I'll end up coming last in all the others. If I was a betting man, I'd go for that.

Friday, March 13, 2009

3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds

I'm wondering if I should go to the Speed Memory World Championships. This is a different thing entirely from the World Memory Championships, if you were wondering. We use the word 'memory' to mean something entirely unrelated to what these people are talking about. Memory, of course, is a concept that encompasses a whole lot of things, and to be honest, we really should change the name of the WMC to something a lot more specific - it'd stop me being constantly mistaken for someone who's an expert on teaching people how to remember where they left their car keys.

"Speed Memory" is basically a photographic memory kind of thing - looking at a small handful of numbers or other information for 2 seconds or so and trying to recall them perfectly. It's a discipline that basically is only done by one guy, Ramon Campayo, and he's the one who sets the rules and regulations for this championship - which is organised in an old-fashioned "challengers' tournament to decide who gets to compete against the reigning champion" format. It would be fun to take part and try my hand at it, because I've never done this kind of thing before. On the other hand, it's in Munich, the week before the German Memory Championship in Hamburg, and I can see myself taking a week and a half off work, touring around Germany, and ending up using all my holidays long before the end of March, like I did this time round. And working five days a week, every week for months on end is no fun at all, I tells you.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Five million channels and nothing on

It's true, you know. Sometimes I find myself flicking through the channels after watching a fairly uninspiring Man City v Aalborg game, and find not a single thing worth watching on any TV station! I should set up my own station and broadcast something good, 24 hours a day. I'll call it "The Good Programmes Channel" and it'll be quite popular.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The worst thing about holidays

Is coming back home and going to work all jet-lagged and tired. I want a big long holiday. At least a month, in some exotic foreign place! And then maybe go back to the office when I get bored with having fun...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New Mork

That title is meant to represent 'more New York', only phrased in an entertaining way. I've got a feeling it didn't really work.

Anyway, to continue my random reminiscences about my holiday, Ronnie White, who was comfortably the best of the competitors there and unquestionably deserved the win, has some interesting training techniques. Wanting to prepare for the inevitable distractions you're likely to suffer while memorising at the US championship (there's more hustle and bustle there than at any other competition I've been to), he memorised packs of cards in unusual locations, with his nephews and nieces climbing all over him and, most brilliantly of all, underwater. Seriously, he says - with plastic cards and a snorkel. There really should be a world record for underwater memorisation. There probably is, actually. There's a world record for everything nowadays.

Also at the US Championship was Tom Groves, a British memory competitor from the very early days of the sport, who now lives in America. Tom has the honour of being the first person to describe the basic principles of memory techniques to me, and being the first person (some time later) to convince me that they actually do work. I decided to give it a go, and the rest is history. So it was good to see him again, and I did my best to persuade him to come out of retirement. I'm becoming the old man of memory sports, and we need some of the real old-timers back in the game!

Outside the competition, I bought volume two of the complete Popeye comic strip, which I'd been looking for for quite a while. 1931 was a bad year for Castor Oyl - having been downgraded from funny-man to sidekick, the former star of "Thimble Theater" was finally dropped altogether from the storylines in favour of Popeye - but a great year for comics in general, and Popeye and Olive in particular. Popeye wearing a skirt and being mistaken for a particularly ugly old grandmother is a highlight.

It's not a New York reminiscence, but Steven Gerrard's incomprehensible scouse mumblings after a game always make me giggle. I'm sure he's making some valid and interesting points, but I can never make out a word he's saying.

But back to NY, and the US Championship takes place on the 19th floor of the Con Edison building. The funny thing about it is that the lifts go from floor 1 to 11 and then straight up to 19. The contents of floors 12 to 18 are cloaked in mystery. I suspect that's where they plot to take over the world.

Also, Men's Health want to do a "stylish, sophisticated photo shot" of me, to accompany the interview they did the other week. With a real photographer with his own website with pictures of Bafta winners and everything!

Monday, March 09, 2009


Now, how am I going to do this? Lots and lots to write about my New York visit, but doing it all in chronological order is so passé these days (I did that when I went to NY in 2006, and I hate to repeat myself). I'll just randomly talk about incidents, I think, over the next few blog entries, unless something else comes up.

Firstly, I should report that scary internet acquaintance number 1 and his equally scary-sounding friend turned out to be the most fun people I've ever met! Seriously, my existing friends should prepare themselves to be bumped down my favourite-people list a couple of places. I might even start referring to them as Dee and Ry, rather than continuing to describe them as scary strangers, that's how much I like them. And likewise, I had an enormous amount of fun with scary internet acquaintance number 2 (or, as I might want to call him from now on, John) - we went to the enormous FAO Schwarz toy store, as featured in the movie "Big", and played on the giant lighting-up piano! And saw sea-lions playing in Central Park, which I didn't realise was a thing you could do in New York. AND had a genuine New York hot dog from a cart and found to my surprise that it tasted quite nice!

Also, the city is teeming with squirrels! There are a whole lot of them in Central Park, who come scampering up to see you in case you're bringing them nuts, and another gang who hang out in Union Square, who I spent an enjoyable time feeding cashews early on Saturday morning.

I got recognised by one (geordie-accented) person in the city while I was seeing the sights, and two people on the plane home, one of whom was American. Obviously my fame is becoming a global phenomenon. I've just had another email from David Blaine's people, saying he wants to talk to me, too. I'm going to say no thanks, but it's very flattering.

While I'm talking about memory-related things, let's mention my pretext for a holiday there in the first place, and congratulate Ronnie White for winning the US Memory Championship! He really was on another level to the other competitors, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he does in the future. He's also got a book out, if you're one of those people who collect memory books - called "The Military Memory Man" and subtitled "An Afghanistan war veteran shares his secrets of memory techniques", or something along those lines. Personally, if I'm looking for a good book on memory, the author's war record isn't the first criterion I use for making my decision, but presumably that kind of thing goes down well in Texas. Ronnie, although a very nice person, is what the Americans call "conservative".

By one of those funny coincidences that make me suspect that my subconscious has got a mind of its own, I randomly picked a book from my bookcase to read on the plane (couldn't make up my mind, so thought to myself 'I'll move my finger along the shelves, and see where it's got to when I've counted to ten'), which turned out to be "Are You Dave Gorman?" I'd completely forgotten this, but during their travels chronicled in the book, Dave and Danny stay in the Roosevelt Hotel, just like I was doing. It's a very nice place, if you ever want to go there. Right next to the awesome-looking Grand Central Station, which certainly lives up to the 'Grand' part of its name (and also the 'Station' part, although that's less of an exceptional thing to say about it. It's a little bit too much to the south of Manhattan to really justify the 'Central' name, though...)

It was in Grand Central, in fact, while I was heading back to my hotel on a break from hanging out at the US Memory Championship and being told by everyone present how great my memory was, that I heard someone say "Hi, Ben," and turned to see who it was. I was a bit surprised by the casual (and midlands-English-accented) greeting, as if from someone who'd expected to see me there, since I didn't recognise the woman at all. "It's Kelly, from Boots," she explained, and I said "Ah, yes," as if that made everything clear.

I still have no idea who she is. But the important thing is that the American memory competitors and hangers-on think my memory is wonderful, so who cares if it turns out that I work alongside people who I completely forget as soon as I'm away from the office?

Finally for today, a conversation between two American women I overheard in Times Square one night, talking about one of the many, many groups around there of shouting people informing the world about their religious beliefs:

"They were wearing, like, Jewish symbols, but they were reading from the Bible. Shouldn't it have been the, you know, the Jewish thingy?"

"The Torah?"

"No, that's not it..."