Thursday, December 30, 2010

More news from China

Dear Ben

Mr.Guo would like to explain to you why they hold the prize money, New Mind need to pay media publicity, for the hotel, for volunteers, ...etc a lot after the competition
they are really facing a cash flow problem now
but he guarantee as soon as the situation not that difficult, they will transmit the prize money to you
thanks for your understanding and i am really sorry for that


Sounds like it might be a while before I get to roll around in my huge pile of prize money. All those Ferraris and helicopters I bought on credit might end up being reposessed, which would probably be a good thing all in all - they're really cluttering up my spare room.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The lurgey

I'm off work today because I'm not well, and it's really annoying. Not just because I've just had four days off work and have done everything that there is to be done while lying around the house in your pyjamas, but because I like to think of myself as someone who never gets ill, and it's hard to maintain that belief when you're poorly. I'm probably going to have to register with a GP and everything, and that's a horrible inconvenience.

It's probably China's fault - I haven't been feeling 100% ever since I was out there. It'll be malaria. The blood donor people wouldn't let me give blood last week, because I'd been to what they call the 'danger zone'. That sounds rather groovy, like I've been trekking across a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, but if I've been to a danger zone I expect to mutate into a horrific monstrosity with superpowers, not just get an ear infection and diarrhoea.

Anyway, I've got New Year Resolutions that I'm just itching to put into effect, one of which is to write a proper blog entry every day and keep my many fans happy (if they're wanting a critique of Christmas television, an essay about the potential for a sequel to 'The Woman In White', diatribes about cartoons and not so much about memory competitions, anyway), so you'll be hearing more from me in 2011. If I'm feeling better.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A few football observations

I love this Premier League season! I particularly like the way that public sympathies have shifted over the last few years, so that a lot of people are now saying 'Yay, Man Utd are winning!', as opposed to 'Bah, Man Utd are winning again!'

Chelsea are really struggling to escape the gypsy curse that Ray Wilkins inflicted them with. When they sacked their assistant coach on November 11th (probably at 11:11 in the morning), they were in a dominant position on the top of the table. Now, with only one win in the eight games they've played since then (and that one being an irrelevant European game against MSK Zilina), they're languishing in fourth and have the ignominy of Bolton Wanderers nipping at their heels.

Bolton travel to Chelsea on Wednesday night, knowing that a win at Stamford Bridge would move them ahead of Chelsea in the league. Yes, they've played a game more, but nobody cares about that when they're getting excited about league positions. This would be an ideal time for Chelsea to record a convincing win (as all logic says they should) and break the curse, giving themselves a bit of renewed confidence going into the new year. If they lose, though...

If they lose, they might well end up in sixth, with Tottenham Hotspur also moving ahead of them if they can beat Newcastle (something which they historically tend not to do). This is another of the great things about this year - Spurs have spent outrageously large sums of money in building up their squad to potential-top-four standard, but because they haven't spent quite as much money as Manchester City, everyone's still cheering them on as the plucky underdogs. It's a great position to be in.

The money thing is interesting, too - at the start of the season, everyone was hoping that Spurs would once again pip City to the all-important fourth place in the league table. Everyone was resigned to the fact that equally wealthy Chelsea were sure to end up in the top four. But now everyone's seized on the possibility of Chelsea not making it, and if the pendulum swings just a little bit farther, soon the masses will be celebrating Man City's triumph over the rich boys. Mob psychology is awesome.

And poor old Liverpool have drifted into obscurity. Their poor run of form has gone on long enough that it's no longer a story that they're languishing in mid-table. Unless they do something dramatic, they've turned into Aston Villa.

Aston Villa, of course, have turned into relegation-strugglers, but nobody cares about that.

The thing about new year resolutions

Is that you have to make them significant. Consequently, to add weight to the resolution I'm going to make in a couple of days, I'm currently lying around drinking cherry coke by the gallon and scoffing toffee crisp clusters. I'm going to miss these things...

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Old Year's Resolutions

I've been really insanely busy with work just lately, but that's probably my own fault for spending so much time travelling around the world to memorise things lately. But I've been spending my spare seconds planning what to resolve to do in the new year, memory-wise. And that involves a sort of pre-resolution to spend the bank holidays after Christmas doing a sort of practice World Memory Championship so that I've got a record of what my scores are at the start of the year, and thus can improve them radically by means of all the training I'm going to do.

There will probably be other resolutions too, but I haven't finished resolving them yet.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

No snow

Not a single flake in Boston, nor in Beeston. And yet they cancelled all the football matches around the country. Wimps.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Home is where the Hart is

Ahh, the White Hart hotel, the only nice hotel in Boston. I think that's their slogan. Haven't been here for years, but it's nice to come back to the old town once in a while.

I spent the train journey making the first attempt at creating a list of 10,000 images, and... it's going to be a long, long job. Even the me of 2003, who was completely obsessed with developing the best memory system ever, might have balked at this task. Perhaps I could stick with the three-digit system and just practice with it intensively? But I really want a four-digit system. If only there was some way I could just skip the boring preparation and get immediately to the point where I've created and learnt all the images...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

How to really, really impress someone with your memory skills

Hi, can I speak to Darren, please?

He's just on the phone. What's it regarding?

He wanted to talk to me about a Japanese TV documentary. I'm a memory man.

Oh, yes. Can you leave your number, and he'll call you back?

Yes, it's 0115... 8...

01158...

I've forgotten. Um... [frantically hunting for my latest phone bill]


Eventually I told her a number, hung up, found the phone bill, called back to tell her the right number, and hung up again in deep embarrassment. And he didn't call me back.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

One Two Three, Sesame Tree

Here's something different to talk about: Muppets! Not something that I've mentioned nearly enough in my blog over the years. But I've got quite into "Sesame Tree" these last few weeks - it's the Northern Irish take on the Sesame Street franchise, and it's really quite fun.

Sesame Street has never really caught on in a big way over here - when I was of a suitable age for watching it, back in the early eighties, it used to be on Channel 4, although I never really paid much attention to it. Nowadays, it's been off British screens for a long time (I think it might be on some super-obscure cable channel, but not one that anyone watches), except for the not-very-good "Elmo's World" segment, which shows up on Channel 5. Performed by the genuinely-very-good Kevin Clash, by the way, against whom I won't hear a word of criticism.

But this hasn't deterred BBC NI from buying into the concept and adapting it for the unique audience of Northern Ireland. It's set in a big hollow tree, and stars Potto the giant purple agoraphobic monster (he's genuinely afraid to leave the tree, but this is played strictly for laughs, even in episodes with the moral that you should try not to be afraid of things), Hilda the hare and Archie the young squirrel (who lives upstairs with his unseen mum - the tree seems to be a block of flats).

Episodes follow a very rigid pattern, and each one revolves around answering a question from a young Irish child, which coincidentally is on the same subject as the cast are already discussing among themselves. These questions, nine times out of ten, boil down to whether or not people should be friends and work together with other people regardless of any difference of opinion. Politics and religion aren't mentioned, but clearly the hope is that Northern Irish kids will pick up on the subtle brainwashing and apply it to adult life in the future.

There's still room for plenty of fun and traditional muppet-style humour around the edges of the many identical sequences (like the looking in on 'what our friends in Sesame Street are up to', as an excuse for a brief American clip on a vaguely similar subject to the episode's theme) in every fifteen-minute episode, and the characters are all genuinely likeable and funny. There's something about Muppets, wherever in the world they get to, that is always watchable, and the performances in this incarnation are really great all round!

One episode had a guest appearance of Oscar the Grouch, which struck me as a strange choice, him being the most extremely American of the Sesame Street cast. And if you're going to fly Caroll Spinney out for some puppeteering (which everyone should do, at every opportunity), why not have him play Big Bird? I personally find Big Bird scary, but everyone else likes him!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

It must be Christmas time

I've been in Chesterfield today, working in the store there as part of the usual annual make-the-head-office-people-do-some-real-work-for-once initiative. Then I'm not working at all for the next two days, because on Saturday and Sunday I'm going to Boston to work in the store there. It's all terribly complicated, but it will give me time to plan a memory-training routine and/or a new memory system. I'll also try to think of something other than memory to write about, because I'm sure you're all bored with it by now.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Systems are doing it for themselves

Here's an interesting fact about me: I'm actually not all that good at memorising things. I can memorise cards and binary digits better than anyone else because I invented a cool system for doing so more efficiently, and have been using this system since 2003. On the other hand, the 'numbers' element of the Ben System (I'm officially calling it that now - people have stopped using the name so much, and I realise that I like it after all) is exactly the same as, if not worse than, the systems used by other people.

So I need to expand it. Turning four digits into one image is the way to go, I've known that for a long time but been nervous of trying to do it, thinking that it'd be too much. But now I'm pretty sure it has to be done, so I'm going to give it a try.

Consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel is too restrictive, so my current thinking is that each image will have a two-part name, the first part starting with one consonant-vowel combination, and the second with another. Thinking up all the images is going to be tricky; committing them to long-term memory is going to be even trickier. But I think it's within the bounds of possibility. I'll let you know how I get on.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

John Bull in a China shop

So, I arrived in Guangzhou airport very late on Wednesday night, local time. There was someone with a big board saying "World Memory Championships" to guide competitors, but there was also the Japanese film crew to give me a lift to the hotel, so I went along with them. Unlike a lot of film crews, the director Naoko is an old hand at memory competitions by now, and so knows the right questions to ask to get interesting footage. We had a chat about the upcoming competition on the half-hour drive (plus the extra fifteen minutes trying to get the car away from the vast traffic jam outside the airport), and then when we finally got to the hotel the camera crew scurried inside to film me arriving and pretend they hadn't been with me on the journey. TV documentaries are full of this kind of dishonesty, and I think I should protest about it some time. I'm fed up of pretending to greet people at my door when they've been sitting in my flat for an hour or so planning out the interview.

Anyway, the Mount River Resort Hotel is a very nice building, surrounded by mountain on three sides and with a big reservoir at the front. The side of the mountain had been decorated by the world's biggest mind-map (on a big giant sheet), and the lobby was full of smaller mind-maps too. It's completely in the middle of nowhere, making it a hopeless place to go for a holiday, but a great venue for a competition like this. It's got nice bedrooms, big conference rooms and a lot of genuinely good art dotted around the place. The army of organisers were out in force, even though it was midnight, and they got me checked-in, registered and supplied with 'uniform' in short order.

Yes, uniform. It's not uncommon to get free T-shirts at memory competitions, but this one went a step further and provided trousers, jacket and baseball cap. I wholeheartedly approve of this - I own quite a few T-shirts already, but few pairs of trousers, and although the yellow plastic is a bit garish, I'm sure they'll find their way into my regular rotation. I wore the cap on top of my hat. Someone else gave me a can of tea, which was horrible but had to be drunk because it came from the sponsor.

Someone also came up to me to ask bewildering questions about how many cards were in my packs, and whether I knew it was supposed to be 52. It seems that in China, the idea of removing jokers from the pack is unfathomable, and people will automatically reply "54" if asked how many cards are in a pack (or a 'poker', as they call it). This also caused confusion when I was interviewed by Chinese TV later. Being more than half asleep at this point, I brushed them off and promised to deal with it in the morning.

My room was a luxury suite, horribly decadent though that is, decorated with some really nice little abstract sculptures. I went straight to bed and hoped that the late night would help get over jetlag.

I proved to be wrong in this, since I woke up at midnight on all subsequent nights and had a hard time getting back to sleep, but never mind. I woke up on Friday morning at seven o'clock, mainly because someone had set up an alarm call for me, possibly by mistake. Still, that's a good time to get up, giving me time to go down for breakfast before the opening ceremony.

Having set foot downstairs, I was mobbed by a horde of Chinese people (and occasional foreigners) with cameras, wanting pictures taken with me. This carried on pretty much constantly for the next five days, without so much as a pause for breath, until I'd had my photo taken with the entire population of the country, twice. It's like being a celebrity. Everyone was polite and waited their turn, except the owner of the hotel, who just grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away from my adoring fans to say hello to me. I also got a chance to say hello to the rest of the competitors - a whole lot of Chinese (about 100 altogether), a big squad of Germans and a few miscellaneous others. Britain had just two representatives, me and Andi, although at least we could boast six world championships between us. That was six times as many as the German and Chinese teams put together!

The opening ceremony was long, bilingual and attended by a surprisingly large number of Chinese dignitaries. It involved giant party poppers. The content of the speeches was largely the same as ever, with extra emphasis on this being the first ever World Memory Championship in China, a fact which apparently has 'unparalleled connotation'. The translations from one language to the other maybe weren't quite perfect - I'm pretty sure that at one point Tony was introduced as the 'lifetime president of memory sports country', which sounds like a nice place to live.

In the afternoon, I had a chance to walk up into the town. From the hotel to Guangzhou city centre starts with empty wilderness, then gradually turns into the suburbs, full of little shops and people selling things from garages, and then the buildings gradually get bigger and you're in the city. It's really great to walk around and see the sights.

But then it was time for the first day of competition. We started, as always, with abstract images, and my having actually done some practice for once in this one helped me get a score of 294. Pre-competition favourites Johannes Mallow and Wang Feng set the top scores, with 365 and 360 respectively, opening up a lead over everyone else which they held all the way through the next three days. Li Wei, one of the 'new' Chinese competitors (by which I mean the people I hadn't spoken to before) got third place.

The competition room, incidentally, was big and sufficient for the 126 competitors, without seeming too overcrowded. The desks had been provided with flimsy stand-up cardboard partitions which fell over in a slight breeze, but some genius among the organisers had the idea of weighting them down by sellotaping those cans of tea to the bases, which worked perfectly. This kind of clever thinking on the part of the arbiters was much in evidence all weekend. To drink, for those who don't like cold tea, there were also bottles of something that looked like water but tasted nasty. It came in three varieties, all nasty, and had big posters placed around the room advertising its many good points. Some kind of energy drink, I think, but I can't remember what it was called.

As another example of the clever organisation, the top competitors were grouped into a 'hot zone' at the front centre of the room - everybody who expected to set a good score in any of the ten disciplines had to sit in this area, under the watchful gaze of Dominic (official cheater-spotter-in-chief), or not have their score counted. I didn't hear of anyone being caught cheating, so perhaps the elaborate anti-cheating precautions (something about photocopying the answer sheets and locking them in a safe so nobody could tamper with them during marking, too) worked. Or maybe people just don't cheat at these things.

So anyway, I was fairly happy with my images performance, and starting to feel more confident as we went into binary. However, my lack of preparation caught up with me there, and in the discipline where I always come top, I had a pretty lousy score of 3105. That's a thousand and more less than I expect to get on a good day, and turned out to be only the fourth-best overall (after Wang, Hannes and Gunther) when we got the final scores. Hour numbers, to finish the day, went about the same way, except that I never get the highest score in that one, thus leaving me even further behind.

When the scores were announced the next morning, several things became clear. Firstly, the weekend was turning into the Wang Feng Show - he had the top score in binary with 3555 (a long way behind my best score, so I'm still apparently the best in the world at that one if I bother to practice), and the top score in hour numbers with 2280 (new world record). Hour numbers seems to be a Chinese speciality - Liu Su had the second-best score, also beating the previous world record, with 2180. No non-Chinese competitor has ever beaten 2000. I got 1516, which is rubbish, but not as rubbish as I might have feared, having not done any training in the hour-long disciplines for a very long time. It was clear at this point that it would be Wang and Mallow fighting it out for first place, and that I needed to buck my ideas up if I was to have any hope of finishing in the top five or so. Simon Reinhard had the third-best hour numbers (1960) and was clearly on much better form than he had been in Germany. Gunther had had an unexpectedly bad hour numbers and was lagging some way behind the leaders, while Andi, despite having come to China confidently expecting to take home some of the prize money, clearly wasn't going to be in contention.

The first day's events had been an hour behind schedule before it even started, and in the best tradition of memory championships, got later and later as it went on. When the second day followed the same pattern, it was obvious that there was going to be a problem - CCTV News was scheduled to do a live broadcast of the hour cards in the afternoon (not the whole hour, obviously, just a snippet) at the time when it was supposed to start. Discussions rumbled on the whole morning about what to do about that. Meanwhile, we eventually started with the names and faces, about which the only interesting thing to say is that most but not all of the Chinese competitors are as bad as me at that. Simon got the best score (157), followed by Boris Konrad (140) and Zheng Caiqian (107). Wang Feng's score was just 47, mine was 64, Hannes got 72.

Speed numbers, and in the first trial I went for my usual safe 360, but had a mistake and ended up with a score of 320. It could be worse. There was then a long, long pause before the second trial - seeing that it was going to take much longer than planned to mark the first trial, I went away and got some lunch while everyone else was waiting around. This didn't seem to help my concentration, because I made a complete mess of the second trial and couldn't improve my score. I didn't wait until the end of the recall period, left early and went up to my room for a power-nap. Well, I was feeling tired and thought it might help. Other competitors had insisted on having a 90-minute lunch break, despite how far behind schedule we were, so I knew I had plenty of time.

I went back downstairs to find that Wang Feng had not just improved his already impressive score, he'd shattered the world record and memorised a perfect 480 digits. Dominic was staring at his recall paper as if unable to believe it, and I can't really blame him. 480 is within the bounds of possibility, but I've never managed it, even at my absolute tip-top best. Johannes was second with 393, and Li Wei bagged himself another third-place position with 324, just ahead of both me and Simon on 320.

Anyway, it was now past time to start the hour cards, the TV cameras were waiting, and we hadn't even done the historic dates yet. After a bit of consultation with the top competitors, it was agreed to do the dates the following morning, and crack on with the cards.

Knowing that I'd done surprisingly well in 30-minute cards in the last two competitions, even when I'd been doing badly in everything else, I had reason to be confident about this one. And this confidence proved justified - I attempted a safe-ish 30 packs, and recalled them all almost flawlessly, with just two packs that somehow didn't seem right, but I couldn't quite reconstruct a correct sequence. That was more than anyone else had attempted - like binary, my system and years of practice seem to still make me the world's best in this one. I went to bed at the end of the second day feeling a bit happier about the way things were going.

The following morning, we had the announcement that I'd broken the world record, with 28 packs. As Tony built up the tension with his announcement of the scores, the crowd of Chinese competitors (and I swear I'm not making this up) started chanting "Ben! Ben! Ben!" I felt quite bad about this. Clearly they'd been waiting all weekend for me to do something spectacular, and all I'd done for the first two days was produce mediocre results. Still, this one discipline out of ten at least gave them something to cheer about.

It was also announced that the live coverage on CCTV (there was also an interview with me, filmed during lunch on the first day) had been a rousing success. At first it was announced that it had been watched by 20 million viewers, which seems pretty respectable for a news channel (there are a lot of TV channels in China, about two dozen under the CCTV - China Central TV, not closed-circuit - label alone). A bit later, Tony told us all that in fact it had been watched by one billion people, a figure which was later revised in the press releases to 1.5 billion. Personally, I find it just a teensy bit unlikely that the entire population of China, plus an extra 200 million or so, chose to watch a news channel's reporting of a minority sport, but never mind. It sounds impressive in a press release, if you don't think about it too hard.

But anyway, I had won the hour cards with 28 packs, followed by Liu Su with 23.5 and Wu Zhenhui with 21-and-a-bit. Wang had 21 exactly, and Hannes 20. So, as we worked out the scores so far, I was a way behind the leaders, but not as far behind as I'd expected.

The postponed historic dates came next, and they went the way they always do nowadays - Hannes beating the world record with 120, and me not far behind with 101. However, our usual dominance was spoiled by Boris, who's clearly been practicing, who got second place with 104. Wang Feng, who despite some evidence to the contrary is human after all, only had 79. He was still quite comfortably in the lead, though.

Random words came next, and the words this time were unusually difficult ones - long and uncommon words, which I'm all in favour of, but it's not what we normally get. The translations, incidentally, were apparently very good. The difficulty level was consistent across all languages, and I didn't hear any complaints about spelling mistakes. Simon didn't seem to have any problem with the difficulty level, winning by miles with 271 (new world record, I think), ahead of Boris with 199 and Zheng with 183. The two leaders and I all had roughly the same score, not far behind that.

These scores weren't announced until quite late in the day, though - by this time computer problems and the hurry to keep up with the schedule had made score-reporting suffer rather, and competitors could be seen making calculations with pen and paper to see what the actual scores were. This, again, always happens at the world memory championships, and it's just part of the fun.

Then came spoken numbers, and again it went quite well for me. I got a perfect 100 in the first trial, a pretty good 123 in the second and a slightly-more-pretty-good 150 in the third. There's usually at least one of the three where I mess things up and forget an early digit somewhere. Wang Feng, again, was even better, getting the top score yet again with 200. Gunther, who'd had an unexceptional championship, was second with 161.

And so we come down to the speed cards. The final discipline, everyone's favourite, and the promise of an exciting conclusion! After a lengthy period of working out the scores, complaining that the officially-announced scores weren't right, getting them fixed and so on, we could see the situation was like this:

1) Wang Feng 8247
2) Johannes Mallow 7989
3) Simon Reinhard 7609
4) Ben Pridmore 7579
5) Gunther Karsten 6067

In other words, I was safe in the top 4 (unless Gunther was going to do a time faster than 20 seconds, which he wasn't). So there was no point in me doing a 'safe' time of one minute or so, I might as well just go for something fast. But how fast? I was just under 45 seconds behind Wang (that is, if he completely failed to memorise a pack both times, and I did a pack in just under 45 seconds, I would win), whereas a 25-second pack would still not be enough if he did anything under a minute. It made more sense to concentrate on beating Simon's time and taking third place, and maybe in the process stealing second from Hannes, who's not as hot as the other three of us when it comes to speed cards. But how do you plan to beat Simon's time when he's capable of 22 seconds? I decided to just go for 30 seconds or so, and see what happened.

What happened was I stopped the clock at 32 seconds, but got the recall wrong. Simon, trying for 25 or so, also didn't get it. Hannes did a safe 1 minute or thereabouts, and Wang... did 27 seconds without showing the slightest sign of pressure. Really, he never showed any sign of pressure all through the three days, he was consistently brilliant all along, and he's a very worthy world champion.

Safe in the knowledge that he was already the unassailable champion, he followed it up in the second trial with 24.21 seconds - now that's just showing off. I decided to go slowly and carefully and just make sure I got some kind of time on the board. My continual failures at speed cards was starting to get on my nerves. I went very slowly, as it turned out - 37.56 seconds - but the recall went smoothly and easily, and I got it all right. That breaks that pattern, at least, and maybe in the next competition I can actually do a fast pack again. Luckily for me, Simon had again failed to memorise his pack, landing me in third place overall. Hannes had 46.01 seconds for a comfortable runner-up position.

Full scores can be seen here, if you're interested.

So, we have a new world champion, with a score far higher than ever recorded before, and a new number one on the world ranking list (Hannes held that position for a world-record shortest period of three weeks). I'm down to number 3, for the first time since before the world championship 2004. My third-place score, incidentally, was higher than the score I won the world championship with last year - it's not that I'd got worse, it's just that I hadn't got better as much as you have to do in memory competitions if you want to stay at the top.

All through the competition, I'd been comparing Wang's scores with the scores of best-possible-me, that mythical figure who gets the score I would be capable of in each if I was achieving what I know I'm currently capable of under optimal conditions. I think Wang beats him by a slender margin of about a hundred points. I believe that I can win the title back next year with a lot of hard work and a new system for numbers, but I'll talk about that in more detail in future blogs.

All that was left was the closing ceremony, which started about an hour and a half later than it was supposed to, and went on for a long, long, long, long time. The room quietly emptied as it dragged on past midnight - I stayed to the end, but I was pretty much asleep in my chair. The problem was a) that everything was done in two languages, and b) the translator was sadly a long way out of her depth. I did feel sorry for her, but it was not a riveting spectacle.

There were, however, lots of medals, trophies and big cardboard cheques - mine added up to $11,200, which is pretty incredibly awesome for a third place and an unusually low number of top-three finishes in individual disciplines. It always astonishes me when people are prepared to give money to people who memorise numbers. It just seems contrary to all common sense, but I'm not complaining. (I haven't actually got the money yet, so I will be complaining if I don't, but that doesn't change the fact that I'd gladly do this kind of thing for free if the prize money wasn't there).

Very nice trophy, incidentally - we're back to the silver-effect cups rather than the stylish glass things, but this one was a nice-looking one, with red, white and blue ribbons too. The 'permanent' trophy from last year didn't make a reappearance, though. The medals were also nice, and fancier than the usual ones. Ray Keene said to me "I think that's jade, you know," which made me think "oh yes, that makes more sense, I was wondering why they were decorated with green plastic..."

The team competition, which was taken very seriously by the Germans and Chinese, was eventually won by Germany. I'm thinking that the rest of the Chinese team will be inspired by their world champion's performance and will fight back next year. Team Britain (me and a half-hearted Andi who completely skipped two disciplines and didn't make much effort in some of the others) managed third place, and (Andi having already left by that point) I waved the certificate around with a certain amount of embarrassment.

Here's a news report about the competition.

After that, it was a day of exploring Guangzhou, and then a day of travelling home. I did get to share part of the journey with Andi, giving us the opportunity for a chat about the strange media interviews you occasionally get when you're a world memory champion. There aren't many people you can talk about that kind of thing with. My mind was already plotting new systems and how to come back and win next year. It's early days yet, but I think that motivation problem might have been solved...

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Language!

No time to write a full report of the world championship tonight, I'm afraid - it's the office Christmas do, in (funnily enough) a Chinese restaurant. Having eaten genuine Chinese food for the last week, I'd prefer somewhere else, but never mind. The account of the other things I've done for the last week will have to wait until the weekend, assuming I can still remember it then.

But among the things I've resolved to do before the next world championship (and there are many such things, and a lot of them involve memory training) is learning Chinese. Even if the next world championship isn't in China after all, it's a thing that I feel I should do. All through the WMC, Chinese competitors' names were horribly mispronounced by the non-Chinese-speakers, and the non-Chinese-speakers had their names similarly mangled by the Chinese-speakers. Everyone needs to have some kind of crash course in pronunciation before next time, it will make communication so much easier.

We need to ask Martian Kid for help, I think. The best cartoon I found on Chinese TV (I had surprisingly little time to watch cartoons all weekend) was an educational show involving five children called AA, EE, II, OO and UU, with the appropriate vowels on their shirts and hats, who have surprisingly exciting 3D-computer-animated adventures with a Martian kid, a robot and their enemy, a purple bear. Interrupting these adventures at regular intervals are 2D segments titled "Martian kid teachs your English" (sic), in which the audience are taught a few English words and the cast enact scenes illustrating them in memorable ways. I tried to use it to learn some Chinese words, but didn't get very far. The sports-themed one, having illustrated the English names of a wide range of games (but not memory), intriguingly ended by presenting the phrase "Both are hurt", without elaborating further. Is that really the number one phrase you use when talking about sporting contests?

Also, I've had 32 pageviews here today from Moldova, which I think deserves a hello. Hello, Moldova!

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Have you heard the one about the Englishman, the Chinaman and the German?

I haven't, but I'm pretty sure the Englishman has the worst of it. But I'm home now at last, after two long flights (Guangzhou-Dubai and Dubai-Birmingham, setting the clocks back four hours for each one), I've had no sleep for a day and a half by my body clock, I've had about half a dozen breakfasts in that time, and I'm very confused about what time and date it is at the moment. There will be sleep, followed by full reporting of the 19th World Memory Championship as and when I can fit it around the excessive work I'm going to need to do at my day job for the next two days.

In summary, Wang Feng is awesome. Johannes Mallow is also awesome, and I was a lot less non-awesome than I expected to be, so I'm a quite satisfied bronze-medallist right now. Thanks for all the messages of support and congratulation, everyone!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Birmingham Airport again

They're still playing the Beautiful South in Burger King, but now they've moved on to the obscure early albums rather than the greatest hits. Some Birmingham-based burger-baron has really excellent taste in music.

Anyway, I'm off to China. My plane's only 25 minutes late (so far) this time, so that's probably a good omen. Sorry I haven't blogged at all for the last eight years or so, but I've been busy. Not busy practicing memory, busy doing other important things. Sleeping, mostly.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fascinating comickery

I found the Topper Book 1973 in a charity shop today and was intrigued to see among the adventures of Nick Kelly and Cedric, Desert Island Dick, Mickey the Monkey, Tiny the World's Biggest Dog, Beryl the Peril and the always awesome Whizzers from Ozz, there are two "Nancy" strips by Ernie Bushmiller, and one "Captain and the Kids" retitled "The Bustem Boys on Bunkum Island" but still with Rudolph Dirks's signature - both American and both dating from the forties or fifties. I had no idea these things had shown up in D C Thomson annuals. The internet seems only barely aware of the fact, too, so I thought I should share the news with everyone who reads my blog, just in case anyone cares.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Cough, cough, whine, whine, I want sympathy

There's some kind of horrific virus rampaging through our office this week, and everyone's either off with the flu or manfully carrying on with their work and memory training despite runny noses and coughs. I think everyone who does the latter deserves some kind of medal, or possibly deserves locking up somewhere as an incurable loony.

Actually, I think the last time I had a cold was last year around Children in Need time, because I remember whining about it then. So I was probably overdue for some kind of infection.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

This is what I wrote last Sunday

Pen-and-ink, Sunday morning

Well, that was irritating. Having got passable-ish scores in dates, words, speed numbers and names on Saturday, I found myself tussling with Gunther and the unexpectedly even-more-awesome-than-last-year Christian Schäfer for second place. Hannes, who was in a league of his own all weekend, was miles in front.

So it came down to speed cards, and although I calculated that I could win with a time of 20 seconds or so if Hannes completely failed to remember anything, I decided to just go for a fast-ish time and finish second. Losing to Christian (who sadly can't go to China because he's got to go to school) would be embarrassing, and losing to Gunther would make all those Mentalists-watchers say "Ahh, the arch-rival beats you again!"

First trial went faster than I expected, I stopped the clock at 22.77 seconds, and nearly-but-not-quite recalled it correctly. Second time round, I played it safe, took 35 seconds to look through the pack, and was nowhere NEAR remembering it! After I put the pack down and stopped the clock, I realised that I'd memorised the last two images as 'murble burble' or some such gibberish, and had no idea what they were supposed to be.

I think this is three memory championships in a row in which I've failed to memorise a pack of cards on both attempts. Speed cards used to be my forté, it's really infuriating.

So, in the final analysis, Hannes won by miles and miles and miles, knocking me off the top of the world ranking list in the process. Gunther came second, just ahead of Christian, and Boris overtook me in fourth place. Lots of world records, as usual (by contrast, there are always very few world records broken at the world championship) and we now know who's the hot favourite for Guangzhou.

I can't remember the last time I came fifth in a memory competition. 2005? 2006? 2006 was also the last time I was beated by a schoolchild (Joachim). 2008 was the last time I wasn't number one on the ranking list. I need to work on my memory, it seems.

[Right, now this is me writing on Wednesday night, back in the present day. I'm less grumpy now than I was when I wrote this, and I can correct a few technical errors - Hannes's new world record in 30-minute numbers was 1284, not "1240 or so" (this is the fault of the German language for saying four-and-eighty, not the fault of my memory), Christian's awesome performance in Cambridge wasn't "last year", it was only back in May, the last time I came fifth (actually, sixth!) in a championship was Germany 2006, the MemoryXL championship that wasn't technically the German championship, where I was utter rubbish.

I have, however, been training quite a lot since I got home, particularly in images and binary, which I think need the most work. But if I'm to have a chance of winning the WMC, I need to practice the hour-long disciplines, and when am I going to have the time? It's Children in Need on Friday and I'm answering phones until two in the morning, so I'll spend the whole of Saturday in bed, and next weekend it's either the Othello Christmas tournament or a Christmas Fayre playing ukulele with the club, depending which I decide to do (incidentally, it's still November next weekend. What's with all the Christmas things?) and the weekend after that, we'll be half-way through the World Memory Championship, so it'll be a bit late for practice then.

Hannes is my tip for the WMC - Simon (who came 7th in Heilbronn) seems to be out of shape too, but you never know who might turn up on top form, including multiple Chinese memorisers on their home turf. Bet on me to finish second - I'm more optimistic now than I was a couple of weeks ago, but I'm still being realistic.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Two hours of pushing broom

Reminiscences of Germany will continue tomorrow, if I've got the time. For now, here's a conversation I've had with China (in the person of Chuanwei Guo):

China: I've booked you a single room in the hotel for the competition.
Me: Is that a single room, or a suite?
China: It's a single room. I can book you a suite if you want, but you'll have to pay money.
Me: No no, that's okay, I was just asking because we were promised suites as prizes for finishing in the top three last year.
China: Yes, it is a suite.

This competition has turned me into the kind of person who complains because he isn't being given a luxury hotel suite for free!

On the other hand, watching repeats of Allo Allo tonight, I successfully remembered the name of the second actor to play Captain Bertorelli with no more than five minutes of brain-racking. I really am a memory champion! Roger Kitter, you know.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's last Friday again



[Pen-and-paper blog, Friday night.]

So, what have we learnt today?

1) I'm not nearly good enough to win the world championship; and
2) I'm much better at 30-minute cards than I always think I am.

You might remember that in London in July (or whenever it was. August.) I attempted a super-safe 12 packs in 30 minutes and finished the recall with plenty of time to spare. Well, today I tried a normal-safe 15 packs, and I STILL finished recalling them with half an hour left. Which suggests that I could have gone for 18 and had a sporting chance of beating the world record.

And that's quite strange, really, because I was nowhere NEAR world-record-breaking levels in the first four disciplines today, and the cards came at the end of a long, long day when I wasn't entirely sure I'd be able to stay awake until the end.

So, to start from the beginning, I eventually got to Heilbronn last night (my train was half an hour late, too, which very rarely happens in Germany) and got a good night's sleep, although I have a feeling that I woke myself up by snoring too loudly. This morning I decided to pass on the hotel breakfast (cold meats and suchlike - typical German fare) and walked into the city centre (it's officially a city, I believe, but it's a small one) to find a McDonald's. And I couldn't! What kind of town doesn't have a McDonald's prominently in the town centre? I passed TWO C&As looking for one!

So, after that disappointment, I went back to the Experimenta, venue for the 13th German Memory Championship. It's a smaller-scale kind of affair this year, no free T-shirt, less of a gigantic press conference to kick it off, and an unusually low turnout in the junior competitions (probably because it's not the summer holidays). But the adults' championship is super-ultra-mega-world-class, as always!

The seats were arranged with me and Simon at the front, Hannes, Cornelia and Gunther behind us, and Boris, Christian and Jürgen behind them. As Boris put it, the score you need to finish eighth in the German Championship would win any other national competition outside Britain and China. It's true, because there were several more rows of up-and-coming German memorisers behind the top seeds.

Incidentally, I don't know exactly what the Experimenta is. Some kind of science museum, it seems, but the memory championship took place on the fifth floor in what seems to be a school chemistry lab. Ample space for the 19 competitors, horde of efficient and experienced arbiters and German and Japanese media (Naoko from NHK again - looks like last year's coverage really did go down well!)

The timetable was different this year - instead of just the three "marathons" on the first day, we had abstract images and spoken numbers too. It was an ambitious schedule, and true to form it ran more than an hour late by the end, meaning the day took about twelve hours from start to finish.

The first event was images, and I got what I think is actually a personal-best 232, although that's nothing to be proud of as several of my rivals topped 300 and Gunther beat his own world record with 350. Two lessons for us here - 1) I should have spent less time whining about the whole discipline and more time practicing, and 2) We need to change the 1000-points standard, fast. It's becoming as silly as historic dates was, back in 2004, only it's much worse this time because it isn't ME getting the stupidly large number of points.

In 30-minute numbers my lack of preparation really showed - I accidentally skipped a journey-and-a-half (teleporting myself from Sleeperz hotel to the Lubbock Room as I went around Cambridge) and got horribly confused. Ended up with a score of 913, which could be worse, but if I don't get over 1000 in this one it counts as a rotten performance to me. Hannes performed splendidly, though, narrowly beating his own world record (again) with 1240 or so.

Spoken numbers (in German) was Simon's turn to shine - beating someone else's (Gunther's) world record this time, with an awesome 240. Simon had been below par, just like me, in the first two disciplines, and said he hadn't been training at all either, but this showed he's still up there with the world-beaters. I, meanwhile, was frustrated. In the first trial I memorised the whole 100 digits without a hitch, I thought, but when it came to write them down, I couldn't remember ANYTHING! I had to leave the first 24 spaces blank before I picked up the thread and recalled anything. Some of the missing images came back to me within the five minutes, but not all.

So with three world records in three disciplines, people asked me if there'd be another in the binary. No, I said confidently, there won't. The me of 2008-2009 is the unquestioned world's best at binary, but the me of today isn't quite up to his standard. I think I got a mediocre 3000-and-something, so if there's going to be a world record (we haven't got the results yet), someone else will have to get it. I hope they don't. I take great pride in being the best in the world at memorising ones and noughts.

And then, finally, it was the cards, at which I was unexpectedly awesome. I've probably caught up a little with the leaders, but I'm sure to still be a long way back. Not going to retain my German Memo Open title this year, it seems.

Still, it really is the taking part that counts. And it's been fun!

[Postscript - the McDonald's is tucked away sort of down a back street. That whole global domination thing still needs work.]

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The wanderer returns

Getting back from Germany to Birmingham was no trouble, but getting a train back to Beeston was a long story. Big signal failures in the Rugby/Milton Keynes area, apparently, meaning that all the noticeboards had the ominously non-specific "Delayed" alongside every train. Although the cancelling of trains from Birmingham to Nottingham was for unrelated reasons, it seems. Still, I got home in the end. I've written two blog entries' worth of scrawls on paper about the German Championship - one long and optimistic one after the first day, one short and sulky one after the second - and I'll transcribe them when I get a moment.

But now, I should go to bed. I remember deciding that I need to be in the office early tomorrow, but can't for the life of me think exactly why. So that'll be a pleasant surprise.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I want my sundrenched windswept Ingrid Bergman kiss

They're playing the best of the Beautiful South in the Burger King here. Best pop group ever. Anyway, time to catch my plane, but I just felt slightly guilty about not praising Lew Stringer's comics to the skies in my last post. Seriously, he's kept me ceaselessly entertained for 26 years and I think he's very much the Beautiful South of British comics. Which is a compliment, if anyone wasn't sure.

One trip to Birmingham later...

I've been meaning to blog more regularly, anyway - I've got out of the habit of it lately. Anyway, going through security, they searched my bag because it was full of suspicious devices (twenty packs of cards, nine speed cards timers and an old-fashioned alarm clock). I'm surprised this doesn't happen more often, really - I quite regularly travel around the world with these weird things in my bag, and most of the time they just sail through the x-ray machine without anyone batting an eyelid.

So I had to demonstrate the timers and explain what I was going to do with them, which prompted the security man to notice my Blue Peter badge and remember seeing my humiliation on the show three years ago (you don't think of security guards as being Blue Peter fans, but I suppose they can watch whatever they like when they're off duty). So he asked for a very quick demonstration (there was a very long line of people waiting to have their bags poked and prodded), and I obliged by memorising ten cards... and getting the fifth one wrong. It worries me that this security man now has an even lower opinion of my memorising skills than most people. Ideally you want airport security personnel to be so in awe of you that they'd never dream to examine your belongings too closely, but I don't think that's ever going to happen.

Anyway, nearly time to catch my new plane now, only another hour and a half to kill. I've already read the Dandy in Smith's (I decided to subscribe to it to show my approval of the new format, so there's a copy waiting for me at home) and tutted about the joke in Desperate Dan being stolen from the Simpsons and the joke in Postman Prat being stolen from an old Postman Plod (among other sources). And as for Korky the Cat, it seems it really is aiming for the kind of mild (to say the least) humour that hasn't been seen in comics since the days when a drawing of a cat was, in and of itself, entertainment. But is that such a bad thing, now I come to think of it? The target audience isn't jaded 34-year-old comic aficionados, it's 21st-century brats who don't read comics, and actually the new Korky might really work for them!

The Harry Hill strip is, fascinatingly, a Halloween special, suggesting that the relaunch was meant to happen two weeks earlier than it did, but Pre-Skool Prime Minister and Robot on the Run continue to be worth the cover price on their own. And also, the pop culture references in the past two weeks have taken in Avatar and Ben 10, rather than just programmes aimed at adults, so I think they're more attuned to the audience than I gave them credit for in my original lengthy review. I hereby retract certain of the mildly-critical things I said about the Dandy!

I know nobody cares, but this puts me in mind to review one of the old Beanos I've got lying around the house. I've very probably got one from exactly 25 years ago (the era when everything in the world was universally better in every way, because those were the days when I were a lad) and I feel like critically examining it to see if it really was better. I'll do that when I get home.

Sorry to ramble, but I've paid for thirty minutes on the internet and I'm darned if I'm going to let them go to waste. But maybe I'll spend the remaining nine minutes seeing what other people have to say...

How to pass five hours in Birmingham airport?

My flight was cancelled, so I'm sitting around here until two o'clock. Or I suppose I could go out to Birmingham and see the sights - unlike "Nottingham" airport, the city's only ten minutes away on the train. That sounds like a better plan, actually, now I come to think of it. Ignore my whining, everyone, and if you're going to be in Heilbronn, I'll see you when I eventually arrive!

PS It's raining, too. My life is full of things to whine about.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I want to know what codes one and two are

In the Co-Op down the road, if there's a big queue, someone behind a till says "Code Three" on the tannoy, and all available assistants come and start serving people. Once when I was in there I heard a "Code Two", but nothing seemed to happen. I suppose I could ask them what these codes mean, but they probably wouldn't tell me. People who talk in codes tend to be very protective of their secrets.

In other news, the World Othello Championship kicks off in Rome tomorrow. Unless you count the traditional night-before draw for the first round as being the kick-off, in which case it already has. Cheer for our plucky British lads and lasses (in which categories I'm counting Geoff even though he's Danish, and George and Elisabetta on the tenuous grounds that they lived in this country for a little while once). I fervently hope that they all win.

Meanwhile, I'm going to Heilbronn, nearish Stuttgart I think, tomorrow, probably (I only booked my plane tickets last night, and I haven't had a confirmation email yet, so I might not be allowed on the plane). Although I have been doing a little bit of practice lately, I haven't practiced a 30-minute anything for ever such a long time, so my stamina will be sorely lacking. Cheer for me anyway, please, but don't be surprised if I end up a long way behind the eventual winner. The competition is on Friday and Saturday. And hey, it's the German Championship, so I'll get a free T-shirt, if nothing else.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

I am AWESOME!

Two consecutive days of what I like to call 'excessive' memory training, and I still fitted in a full day's work at my real job and the watching of a full football match in the evening. Another two months of this and I'll be back to World Memory Championship-winning form!

What's that you say? World championship just one month away? Well, never mind, I'm still awesome.

Monday, November 01, 2010

You know what I like?

Pot Noodles. I've just rediscovered a taste for them. I have a feeling that I've written a blog entry about this before, some time in the past, but I don't care. I can do what I like, I'm the World Memory Champion, and I've done a whole load of training today! If I can keep this up for the next week and a half, I might just get good enough to come fourth in the German championship.

PS: ABSTRACT IMAGES PRACTICE PAPERS!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ultimatum

Okay, it's November tomorrow. German Memory Championship in two weeks, World Memory Championship three weeks after that. More or less. The last possible minute for starting some serious training came and went quite a long time ago, but an excessively-heavy memorising schedule starting tomorrow might still raise my scores from 'embarrassing' to 'almost respectable'. So that's something to aim for, at least...

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fine and Dandy

The Co-Op down the road was sold out of the newly-relaunched Dandy when I went in on Wednesday night, so I only had a chance to read it today. And since one page of it made me laugh out loud in the middle of W H Smith's, I thought I'd buy it and subject it to a full critical review on my blog too!

A very quick summary of what I'm talking about, for the benefit of foreigners: The Dandy is a children's comic, first published in 1937 and still going strong-ish today. It was very popular among kids at the time, but ever since the 1950s it's for one reason or another played second fiddle to its sister title The Beano, which launched in 1938 as a companion to the Dandy but ended up becoming the most popular and well-known kids' comic in Britain.

The Dandy, meanwhile, chugged on cheerfully in its own way, and by the time I learnt to read in around 1980 had settled into a role as the slightly louder and less subtle of the two comics, which absorbed the best characters from DC Thomson's other comics when sales of those comics slumped low enough that they weren't making money any more. I never really read it - I was a Beano fan through and through.

For the last few years, the Dandy's life has been one of constant reinvention and relaunches as the publishers frantically try to get kids to buy it again. The latest incarnation, a fortnightly half-comic-half-magazine called "Dandy Xtreme" seems to have been unsuccessful somehow (gosh, I wonder why? I mean, "Xtreme"? Fifteen years after it stopped being possible to use that word unironically?), and so the new launch this week has gone (sort of) back to basics!

The Dandy is now weekly again, has 32 pages of cheaper paper (I still can't think why anyone believes kids would pay extra for glossy paper, but that's been the official DC Thomson policy lately), of which only one page is an advert and the rest is all funny pictures. And what's more, it's hugely influenced and dominated by the work of Jamie Smart!

Jamie Smart, who's been mentioned on my blog a fair few times in the past, is the funniest thing to happen to British comics in a long, long time. He joined the Dandy about five years ago with a side-splittingly hilarious strip called "My Own Genie", surreal and silly and so much better than everything else in the comic (which at the time, following the latest 'new direction', consisted almost entirely of fart jokes and bogeys), and was funny enough that he eventually was handed the Dandy's most enduringly popular character Desperate Dan, to reinvent in his own style. And for the last couple of years, the only things worth reading in Dandy Xtreme have been Desperate Dan and usually Cuddles and Dimples.

But now, well, the whole comic is like a Jamie Smart strip. Rather than self-contained stories, there's doodles around the pages, joke adverts, silly puzzles and a sort of unifying theme of insanity running through it. It's excellent stuff. Although there's another unifying theme that isn't really a Jamie Smart hallmark and which knocks the comic down a notch or two in my estimation - pop culture references. This comic makes reference to Harry Hill (in a big way), Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Ant and Dec, comparethemeerkat.com, the Queen, Noel Edmonds, Jeremy Clarkson, the Stig, Kylie Minogue, Aled Jones, Alan Sugar, Bruce Forsyth, the Go Compare singer, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Jamie Oliver, three other TV cooks, Kat and Alfie, Barack Obama and Peter Kay. Some might say that's a little bit excessive.

The Beano and Dandy have always done this to a lesser extent, and half the time when I was actually a child rather than a grown-up who reads children's comics, I had no idea what the reference was to. In the new Dandy, they're everywhere! Well, not quite everywhere - Jamie Smart's own stuff is refreshingly free from them, but still. Also, there are still quite a lot of left-over farts and bogeys from the Dandy's previous incarnation. Seriously, people, kids don't actually like that stuff in comics. Grow up.

Let's look through the comic in detail! The cover - the new "Dandy" logo is excellent, a sort of modern version of the classic logo. Jamie Smart's brilliant little doodles are dotted all around the cover, but it's dominated by a big picture of Harry Hill (drawn by Nigel Parkinson), with the words "Exclusive! HARRY HILL! Read his new comic inside!" just to highlight the main appeal of the comic to people who've never even heard of Jamie Smart. Other little captions draw attention to the fact that Cowell, Clarkson and Edmonds can be seen inside, that the comic is now "100% funny!", that it's "New!" and that it's "Only £1.50!" - still more than a comic needs to cost, but an improvement on the recent pricing policy. This week's Beano is £2.25 and packed full of adverts.

Pages 2 and 3 depict the launch party of the all-new Dandy, with a contents page, more assurances that you won't find Harry Hill's new story anywhere else, cameos of most of the other new characters making their debuts here, and lots and lots of Jamie Smart silliness to giggle at.

Pages 4 to 7 are the main feature - Harry Hill's adventures in TV Land, written by the man himself and drawn by the always funny Nigel Parkinson. It's really quite good - Harry Hill is a funny man, although I'm not sure whether the target audience really know who he is or like him all that much, seeing as he's more of an adult comedian who just thinks he appeals to children. It's still funny - jokes about Simon Cowell's trousers were passé ten years ago, but his trouser factory staffed by "boy-band slaves" is a great scene. It might catch on.

Page 8 is "The Mighty Bork", in which a little blue alien comes to Earth and demands ice cream. Artist not credited. It's filler stuff, and this is an introductory story which doesn't give much clue as to what's going to happen in future issues.

Page 9 is the first of several pages of quarter-page, 3-panel strips - a feature of the Dandy in its very earliest days, but not the kind of thing that have been seen lately. "Simples! 101 Ways To Use A Meerkat" is funny, the Phantom Pharter isn't, "Noel Or No Noel" over the course of the issue uses up three of the limited number of ways to contrive a phrase that rhymes with 'Deal or no Deal', so I hope it's not going to reappear in every issue, and "Dr. Doctor!" is an old doctor-doctor joke with weird artwork that doesn't really match the joke that the words are telling.

Page 10 is "Kid Cops" by Lew Stringer (another comic creator I've mentioned once or twice before as being one of my heroes). Bobby and Sergeant Nick are the titular characters, who take revenge on the man from the council who's designed a new fun-park that's safe but no fun. Reminds me of "Kids' Court" in the Whoopee in years gone by, which was funnier, but this is good too. Lew Stringer seems to be working with someone else's character designs for the lead characters, it doesn't look like something he's made up himself, which is a bit strange. I think this is going to be one of the more readable parts of the comic, all in all.

Page 11 treats us to a full-page wanted poster for the Phantom Pharter. Enough said, but there's some non-toilet-humour Smart-style silliness around the edges at least.

Page 12 is "The Bogies", a carry-over from Dandy Xtreme which the new-look comic could frankly do without.

Page 13 sees a new take on Dandy stalwart Bananaman. Artwork by him-whose-name-I-can't-remember is not good, and it's not really funny. Maybe it'll improve, because old Mr X can be funny when he really tries.

Page 14, "Count Snotula" by Duncan Scott is, well, more bogies. It does end with the title character being punched in the nose and bleeding, which is quite surprising.

Page 15 is a fake advert of the new iDad, which is actually quite funny. Something different that the Dandy hasn't done before!

Page 16-17, the middle pages (usually reserved for the most hyped strip in a comic bar the front-cover star) is Jamie Smart's "Pre-Skool Prime Minister", which is wonderful. Premise: When everyone grew tired of grown-up politics, a radical new approach was taken... In this issue, the entire world declares war on Britain because they think it's a bit ridiculous to have a four-year-old PM. So does the Defence Minister, but the PM resolves this by launching him out of a big cannon. It's a must-read, believe me.

Page 18 is a Halloween-themed Jamie Smart puzzle page. His art alone makes it worth reading. A maze (Scary Cynthia owns four snakes, but which one is eating her foot?) winds its way around the page, mixing up the other puzzles. You don't get this kind of thing in other comics.

Page 19 is more of those 3-panel strips. Use a meerkat to clean your chimney (not many kids live in houses with chimneys that need sweeping any more, you know), more Phantom Pharter, "squeal or no squeal", and a fun fact about the chicken that crossed the road. Incidentally, the black banners containing the title of each of these strips have lots of little speech bubbles saying ha-ha, hee-hee etc written in black on a black background, which I suspect might have been intended to be more visible than they are.

Page 20, "Shao Lin Punks", a sort of manga-style silly strip is another piece of bland filler by an unknown artist.

Page 21 gives us "Little Simon", the adventures of a young Simon Cowell, by Nigel Parkinson again. It's okay for what it is.

Page 22 is cut-out Celebrity Halloween Disguises, without as many doodles around the edges as I might have expected.

Page 23, "Robot on the Run" is the page that made me laugh in the newsagent's - the artist is Alexander Matthews, but if it's not written by Jamie Smart then it's a perfect and hilarious imitation of his unique sense of humour. The world's first robot is reactivated in the year 5173 (in Ipswich) and, on learning that crisps don't exist any more ("Do you still have crisps in the year 5173? I can't eat crisps being a robot, but I like to look at them. Especially the ones with ridges." "I'm afraid not. Crisps were banned more than a thousand years ago when a really big one fell on the President of the World and slightly hurt him."), goes on the run. I love it.

Page 24 is Lew Stringer's "Postman Prat", who attempts to deliver a skateboard, a dozen eggs and a priceless vase, with predictable results. Slapstick is always funny, but you have to wonder if this is going to be the theme of every week's story...

Page 25 is a peculiar "What's in Cheryl's Hair today?" picture - Harry Hill's style of comedy that I suspect will be a bit lost on young readers.

Page 26 is the funniest advert for subscriptions to a comic that I've ever seen, by far (and Viz has done some good ones over the years). It's that man Smart again, permeating the whole Dandy with his silliness.

Page 27 is "George vs Dragon" by Andy Fanton of occasional-Viz-artist fame. A sort of Road-Runnerish chase strip, which might become a bit of a classic.

Page 28, "Pepperoni Pig" by what's-his-name is the adventures of a pizza-delivery-pig pursued by the Big Bad Wolf. Rather silly, if unexceptional.

Page 29 is our last page of three-panel comics, notable for featuring no Phantom Pharter, his place being taken by "Korky the Cat". Korky is an interesting character - his popularity peaked in the early-forties heyday of funny-animal comics, but he's hung around the Dandy in one form or another ever since, somehow. This latest version, reduced to a quarter of a page, bad art and the kind of joke that was old when the Dandy was new, is weird.

Page 30 is Desperate Dan, unchanged from the Dandy Xtreme but now fitting in much better with the rest of the comic. He desires a giant sausage. It's silly and funny, as always. I honestly can't get enough Jamie Smart.

Page 31 tells us what's coming next week, with more silly doodles running around the page.

And the back cover is the comic's only advert - for a Ben 10 video game. Even this page is invaded by a meerkat doodle in the bottom corner.

All in all - good stuff! I think this has made me a Dandy buyer (as opposed to a reader-of-the-Dandy-in-newsagents'-so-I-can-complain-that-it's-not-funny-any-more), and I'm sure it'll do the same for jaded youngsters around the country! Just phase out the Bogies, the Pharter and the celebrities, and we've got a winner!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

More news from China

I can't remember whether I linked to the awesome promotional video for the World Memory Championship. I have a feeling that I forgot to, but you can see it if you go to the website here. While you're there, go on, register to take part in the championship if you haven't already - the hotel is inexpensive, and you can probably get cheapish flights, too (I'm supposed to be getting my flights and accommodation for free, so I haven't checked. I have accountants who pay for it all.)

I also notice that I've had lots of pageviews from China today - beating perennial second-placers the USA into third (although the majority of my blog's views come from my dedicated army of weird British friends, as always). I thought you couldn't even see Blogger from China, but maybe I was wrong. Hello, China! I'm looking forward to visiting you! I'm going to do really terribly in the competition, but this is not down to any kind of disrespect for your country!

(I really do worry about offending people by coming to a memory competition and not winning in spectacular style. I'm not sure whether that's vanity or excessive politeness.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ukulele, I kelele, we all kelele

I tell you, I'll be the World Ukulele Champion yet. But perhaps not the World Memory Champion this year. Still, maybe I'll get back into training tomorrow. I did shuffle some cards yesterday in preparation...

Monday, October 25, 2010

Time to dig out the hot water bottle

Cold today! Can we have the World Memory Championship this weekend instead? It's 25 degrees in Guangzhou at the moment, apparently. I mean, I'd lose horribly and be embarrassed about it, but at least it'd be hot outside.

Anyway, I feel that I have to wildly rave about today's episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures, featuring Jo Grant. It was just awesome, and Doctor Who fans everywhere are loving it, I'm sure.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rude words

The TV channel 'Gold' bleeps out the word "bastard" whenever it appears in the old seventies/eighties sitcoms they repeat. I just think that's weird - I thought swear-words were less offensive nowadays, not more. It's just "bastard", too, they leave "sod off" and, I think, "bugger" intact. Perhaps someone at Gold is just over-sensitive about that word. Perhaps the editor-in-chief there is in fact a bastard themself? I should write to them and ask.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

News from Germany

Okay, I'm sorry for the hiatus in bloggery. I didn't want to blog anything until I'd done some proper memory training, as promised in my last post, but now I've just given up on the whole idea, because it's obviously not going to happen. I'm almost as bad now as I was in 2005, when I didn't look at a pack of cards or a page of binary digits for a whole year, and it's all the more unfortunate since I've already agreed to take part in the two major memory competitions of the year, in Germany and China, over the next couple of months. I'm just going to "pull a Doctor Mindbender"* and then maybe find some motivation to win the title back next year.

*"Pull a Doctor Mindbender": To only fail and humiliate oneself - a phrase in common use among me and my brother, ever since we saw the Action Force cartoon 'Arise Serpentor Arise' in which Cobra Commander predicts that Doctor Mindbender will do just that. I sometimes use the phrase in everyday conversation, forgetting that it hasn't yet made it into the Oxford English Dictionary. See also:

"Tune in the geo-analyser": To take credit for an action that has in fact been carried out by someone else - after the scene in the Thundercats episode 'Lord of the Snows', in which Tygra proclaims "I'll tune in the geo-analyser" and then stands motionless in the middle of the room while Panthro, seated at the controls, tunes in the geo-analyser. This phrase can (and should) be used in the most highbrow and educated discussions - for example: "Magellan posthumously tuned in the geo-analyser, but in fact the first people to circumnavigate the globe were those members of his crew who didn't die half-way around."

But to return to more sane topics, can I please urge everybody to take part in the German Memo Masters, on 12 and 13 November in Heilbronn, Germany? You don't have to be German, nor a Memo Master, to take part, but it's a huge, important and fun memory competition, it's usually the one single event in the calendar with the most world records and the closest competition between the world's best memorisers, and translations into the language of your choice are available at request. Drop an email to Klaus at info@ggk.de for any details (in German, English or maybe even another language or two if you're lucky) and once again, please do come along. They're looking for more international participants!

Meanwhile, here's something fun - Japan are now the Unofficial Football World Champions, having beaten Argentina in a friendly game, and it seems likely that this prestigious and fascinating title will be passed around small Asian nations for the next few months, which is quite awesome. Sadly, you can't really do a UFWC-style thing with memory competitions - or rather, you can, but it's no different from the official world champion.

In other news, I'm suffering cherry coke withdrawal symptoms. I think I'm going to have to go out and buy some.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

News from China

Sorry I haven't blogged for the last few days - I've been either wallowing in clinical depression or just being lazy, I'm not quite sure which, and haven't been getting anything done.

But anyway, Yuan Wenkui has kindly sent me the full results from the Chinese Memory Championship, and it makes interesting reading. The Chinese, in a very sensible policy that other countries should adopt, have a national championship in exactly the same format as the world championship, so it's easy to see who's on form and likely to do well in December.

The only world-championship-threatening score was from Wang Feng, who won comfortably with 7723 points (ever-so-slightly worse than my winning scores in 2008 and 2009 but better than anyone else has ever done, I think) - his closest rival was Yuan, more than two thousand points behind. The likes of Su Ruiqiao (who, even though he finished behind Wang at last year's WMC, I tend to think of as the biggest danger) don't seem to have been there.

Although it's hard to be 100% certain who was there, because the results spreadsheet and website, naturally enough, use Chinese characters, and I can't find a website that translates Chinese names into the Roman alphabet. So I used a couple of online translators designed for translating text, which naturally render any Chinese name that's also a common word as that word rather than the name. One competitor is apparently called either 'front blue' or 'Blue expensive', while another is 'the week presently to advocate' or 'Zhou is now the main', depending on which translation service you use. The entrant who one translator sensibly calls Fang Zijie is called 'prescription outstanding' by the other. Still, I managed to work out who all the top competitors really are without too much trouble.

Anyway, Wang Feng (who is young, handsome, cool and would be adored by the Chinese media if he does win the world championship in December) was apparently satisfied with his performance in everything except the hour-long marathons. He was aiming for a world record in hour numbers but only ended up with 1480 (which is exactly the kind of thing that I always do, too), and attempted 22 packs of cards but finished up with 15½. These are both perfectly acceptable scores, especially the hour numbers, but we can probably safely assume that he could do better. In binary he got 3048, which is significant because few people get over 3000, for some reason; in names he got 99, which is of course better than I ever get (and judging by the relatively low scores, the names and faces weren't particularly easy ones); 249 in images, 340 in speed numbers, 70 in dates, 132 in words, 136 in spoken numbers - a very consistently good performance all round - and finished with a flourish with 25.73 seconds in speed cards!

This is the kind of performance that I can beat if, and only if, I'm at my very best. And, as I keep whining, I'm nowhere near my very best at the moment. If I can buckle down and do some really heavy training from now until December, then it's possible, but I'd have to work really, really, really hard at it. So let's see how I get on...

No, that sounds too negative. Positive thinking from this moment on! I WILL do lots of training this weekend, and I'll tell you all about it in my blog!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

I should also be Liverpool manager

Or else a sports journalist. Everyone's quoting the statistic that they're having their worst start to a season for 57 years, meaning 1953-54 when they finished bottom of the old first division and were relegated, but to my mind their worst start was the following year, when they were in the second division and, struggling with the novelty of being outside the top flight for the first time since 1905, ended up in 11th place.

The really fun thing is that for the following six years after that, Liverpool fell frustratingly short of being promoted back to division one. It was two-up-two-down in those days, no play-offs, and they came 3rd, 3rd, 4th, 4th, 3rd and 3rd before finally getting back up in 1962. Imagine if history repeated itself! Would the Man Utd fans be able to sustain their jeering for so many years?

The annoying thing, statistically speaking, is that they've only been in the top flight for 47 consecutive years, rather than the 48 that it was last time round. Unless they survive the drop this season but do even worse next year, I suppose.

I used to be a Liverpool fan when I was young, because they always won. Consequently I feel betrayed now.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Cheesecake and cherry coke

I'm sadly and hopelessly addicted to these comestibles at the moment. It's not a good thing. Perhaps I should move to Sweden, where cherry coke seems to be unheard-of. I occasionally go through lengthy spells of just drinking water - the first time, I think, was back in 2003 or so, when I had no job and even less money and realised I was spending a small fortune on coke - but I always end up getting back into the habit again. There should be carbonated-caffeine-patches that you can stick on your arms.

I'm also extremely fat, and I still haven't got all that much money (been spending too much on books and Sweden lately) and coke does give me heartburn and is probably ushering me into an early grave, and I'm fairly sure there's an inverse correlation between the amount of coke I drink and the amount of memory training I do, but I don't seem able to stop. Cheesecake is yummy too.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

I should be England manager

Watching the tail-end of "Can England Win The Next World Cup", and Gary Lineker thinks we need to invest in coaches and things to develop new players for the future. What nonsense. We've got plenty of good players, we just need to pick a team based not on who's an individual superstar, but on the best combination of eleven players who can work together well. I'm telling you, give me the job and we'll win every time. Also, it will save money, because I work for peanuts.

On another note, I should be prime minister. I could do both jobs, international football tournaments are held during the parliamentary summer recess.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Trousers

There are a couple of trouser-related things I felt that I should record in my blog. Because let's face it, there isn't nearly enough information on the internet about my trousers, and we urgently need to redress the balance.

On Thursday, as part of the team-building exercises that have been taking up a lot of my time at work lately (and which I won't comment on in case someone from work is reading this), we went out to a pub for lunch, and I had the hottest, fresh-from-the-microwave lasagne I've ever been stupid enough to put in my mouth. "Gah! It's melting my tongue!" I quipped after noticing the temperature just after putting a forkful in my mouth, much to the amusement of my colleagues. I then put my knife down in a way that somehow caused it to cartwheel up in the air and flick a huge amount of lasagne down my shirt and onto my trouser leg. "Gah, now I've got lasagne all over my trousers!" I observed. "AAAAAH! BOILING HOT LASAGNE!" I then yelled quite loudly as the temperature penetrated the thin fabric and forced me to wipe it off in a painful panic. Really, you can't take me anywhere, and my boss would be well-advised to remember this in future.

Another thing about my good work trousers is that there's a big hole in the bum, and people were starting to notice it at the office. So today I put on my best casual trousers (which incidentally have an even bigger hole in the bum) and went to the finest purveyors of clothing in Nottingham (excluding shops that don't give all their proceeds to cancer research) to buy myself some new ones. I found a nice and stylish pair of work trousers in a shade that matches my jacket, and a good pair of casual jeans-type-things-that-aren't-technically-jeans-as-such to wear in non-working situations. However, the latter turn out to have huge holes in both pockets, so I either need to fix them (not really going to happen) or only wear them on occasions where I don't need to carry any money, keys etc with me.

I would take them back to the shop and ask for my £3.65 back (along with maybe an explanation of how they chose that weird price), but the till was manned today by a woman who seemed to be in her eighties and who couldn't work the fancy electronic till, despite the alternately helpful and unhelpful instructions from two other workers crowding around her, so the simple sale transaction took about half an hour and I dread to think how long a refund process would have taken.

Still, a woman in Burger King recognised me from the telly and said hello, without even commenting on the state of my trousers, so perhaps I'm just attaching too much importance to the role that trousers play in every aspect of my life.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Curse the Swedish Mafia!

My bank saw fit to stop my debit card working, because I'd gone to Sweden without telling them and spent somewhere in the region of £25, so they assumed my card had been stolen. I did explain that going into the bank and explaining that I'd still got the card had caused me a lot more inconvenience than I would have suffered if the card had really been stolen by Swedish master criminals, but they assured me that the swift and decisive action by the fraud team (judging by the phone call made by Charlotte at the bank, this team is based in India and speaks very little English) was for my own protection and I should be jolly well grateful. I feel like I ought to demolish the bank with a bulldozer or something, just to show them how annoyed I am. I'd close my account and move my money somewhere else, but I'm pretty sure that every bank in the country uses the services of the same non-anglophone fraud team.

Also, there's a TV advert for Andrex that describes it as "soft, strong and unbeatably long," with small print at the bottom of the screen saying "excluding longer lasting/double roll products". So, it's unbeatably long if you exclude anything that lasts longer? I'm going to describe myself as the world memory champion, excluding those with better memories, from December onwards!

And what's more, it's the weekend and a friend in America has sent me DVDs of all but two episodes of Pocket Dragon Adventures to watch! And I've got the other two on video, so as and when I get round to working how to convert videos into DVDs, I'll be able to circulate a complete set around all the other Pocket Dragon fans in the world! (Except that there are only the two of us, as far as I know)

I know that last one wasn't really a complaint as such, but I wanted to finish on a more cheerful note.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Hold that tiger

Just for those readers who come to my blog hoping to find posts championing racism in reprinted comics, I thought I'd share another minor-adjustment-for-logistical-reasons from the Oor Wullie compilations, which came to light as a result of my recent splurging on old comicky things.

Original from February 9, 1941 (as reprinted in a 1989 wartime souvenir special I found on eBay)


As reprinted in "The Broons and Oor Wullie - The Early Years" in 2006:



I mean, really. Is this any the more acceptable for tippexing out the words "Hold dat tiger"? Judging by how often it shows up in Betty Boop cartoons, the Tiger Rag was a very popular tune of the time, and I hadn't really thought of it as being one with any racial connotations until I saw this comic. But the inclusion of a black kid in this one is interesting, because by this point Wullie's gang had settled down to just Bob and Soapy, and we very rarely saw them hanging out or forming bands with anyone else. For a while, a year or so earlier, it looked like Joe (who wore glasses and a flat cap) would become a permanent sidekick, but he didn't quite have enough staying power, and the gang remained exclusive until Wee Eck muscled his way in a bit later on. And nowadays, political correctness being what it is, Primrose is a fully paid-up gang member too - how long before Scotland's modern multi-ethnic society demands representation again?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Glass Box of Gothenburg

So, I flew into Landvetter airport on Friday afternoon, to find someone waiting for me with a sign saying "Mr Ben", who chauffeured me to the tournament venue. As venues go, it was just plain awesome - just inside the main entrance to a gigantic book fair full of people who crowded around our glass box to watch what we were doing. It was like being in a zoo, or at least in the kind of zoo that Ayumu lives in. There was also full coverage in Swedish newspapers and radio broadcasts and things, so perhaps everyone in Sweden will want to take part next year!

Here's an interesting thing about Sweden, incidentally - they show a lot of British and American programmes on TV over there, subtitled. And funnily enough, on the Simpsons, even Bumblebee Man's Spanish is translated into Swedish! So any watcher unversed in both languages would think that Bumblebee Man is speaking the same language as all the other characters.

Anyway, suffice to say that I was hopeless all throughout the competition, much as I'd expected. And Simon Reinhard was entirely non-hopeless, so he beat me hands down. This is probably a good thing for me, because while I was generally poor in London, I didn't have any complete disasters, and I did have at least one in Gothenburg - in ten-minute cards, I tried for eight packs and ended up only getting one.

They arranged the speed cards for maximum spectator entertainment, with me, Boris and Simon in one group, lined up in front of the glass windows, and all the others (nine of them) thereafter. It was still technically possible for me to win if I did under 30 seconds and Simon didn't memorise anything, but we all just went for fast times without any of this namby-pamby "playing it safe" stuff. However, we possibly disappointed the watching masses when we all three of us failed to remember a pack of cards twice in a row. They were cheered up again, though, when Swedish newcomer Florian Minges did a pack in an extremely groovy one-minute-nineteen or so.

Full results can probably be found on the all-new statistics website here, along with the world ranking list and all the awesomeness of statistics from 19 years of memory competitions!

I must say, that I'm really hugely fired up, enthusiastic and motivated today... about playing the ukulele. Last night has really put me in the mood to be musical. I don't seem to have any enthusiasm about memory training, though...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A lapse of memory

Actually, my account of the Swedish memory championship will have to wait until tomorrow, because I'd forgotten that tonight's the night I was planning to go to the first meeting of the Nottingham Ukulele Club. Who would have thought that there were so many people in Nottingham who are interested in ukuleles? The room was jam-packed! I'll become a musician yet!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Swedish Book Store



My account of the Swedish Memory Open will have to wait until tomorrow, because it's late, but the innovative venue in the middle of Scandinavia's biggest book fair certainly got us more spectators than any memory competition in history! It's just a shame I was so rubbish, really. Still, I picked up enough Swedish from all those books to be able to communicate with any Swedish dog (voff! vov!) or cat (mjau!). Next time I visit, I'll try to improve my grasp of the language to two-year-old human levels.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Unprepared

Flying to Gothenburg tomorrow (must make some effort to call it Göteborg while I'm there), haven't packed bags, worked out where exactly I'm going or done any training. So can't blog at length. See you Tuesday, unless you're going to be there this weekend.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ultimate Grand Master!

You become a 'Grand Master of Memory' by memorising 1000 digits in an hour, 10 packs of cards in an hour, and a single pack of cards in two minutes. It's comparatively easy, and lots of people have done it.

What nobody has ever done, yet, is become a Double Grand Master (a title which I have just this moment made up), by successfully memorising 2000 digits, 20 packs of cards and a 1-minute pack. That should be my ambition, really. I'm constantly frustrated by my inability to get 2000 in hour numbers, and it really gets annoying after a few years. So perhaps I'll devote my every waking hour to achieving that. Or maybe I'll just spend all my time lying around doing nothing, as usual. We'll see.

Possibly I'll change the definition of "Double Grand Master" by making it 1000 digits in 30 minutes, and 10 packs in 30 minutes, because if I do that, I'm one already. I'll put the initials after my name.

(Having written that, I had to go and look up who else is a DGM. It's me, Gunther, Hannes and Cornelia. Simon, the Deutsche Gedächtnis Meister, only has a best of 985 in 30-minute numbers)

In other news, I need new trousers. The pair of trousers that I think of as 'my only decently wearable pair' are actually decidedly indecent in the rear, thanks to a big ripped hole where I caught them on something sharp protruding from my bike. I ought to get some more before I go to Sweden. I don't like buying clothes, I tend to just hope that people will buy them for me...

Monday, September 20, 2010

But you're such a charming, handsome man

A reader has complained that it's a long time since I blogged about being handsome. I actually don't think I've ever blogged about that, but if that's what my loyal readership want, who am I to complain? I am, after all, quite devastatingly handsome. And an article in the Washington Post agrees! Well, the (mostly) flattering article doesn't technically call me handsome, but it does say I'm "smartly clad in a fedora and a faded cartoon T-shirt", which shows a degree of sartorial appreciation unusual in anyone, let alone American newspapers!

Anyway, if I haven't mentioned it before, I'm taking my handsomeness and cartoon T-shirts to Gothenburg on Friday, there to test my faded memory techniques against some people who are really quite good at it and will doubtless kick my ass, metaphorically speaking. It promises to be a great weekend!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Groundhog Day

It's a really wonderful film. One of those ones you can watch over and over again, appropriately enough.

Actually, life is just like that when you're voluntarily unemployed. I was just thinking that I've been a productive member of society for much too long now - I'm starting to come across as a normal person. Perhaps I ought to abandon all worldly posessions and go and live in a cave for a while. A nice warm cave with central heating and an internet connection, obviously.

On the other hand, someone mistook me for a student today - I was out cycling this morning and noticed huge swarms of people crowding into the university campus, so I rode through there and someone with a microphone asked me if I was a fresher just moving in. Which was quite flattering. Must have been the Blue Peter badge.

Speaking of which, I suspect my new nice badge fell off the back of a lorry - the person who sold it to me on eBay is obviously selling lots of them under multiple alisases, it's some kind of master criminal organisation, I can tell. But still, I don't care, I've got a badge again!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Couldn't resist it

I've bought a new Blue Peter badge on eBay. Actually, I've ended up buying two, because I was outbid on the really nice new one and so bought an older and nastier one but then the winning bidder on the nice one dropped out and so I ended up with two. So now I can wear my nice badge with pride all day every day, and keep the nasty one in a safe place in case I lose the nice one again. Now everybody will envy me forever!

I've also been buying old comics on eBay, heedless of the fact that I'm going to Sweden next weekend and they've just changed the pay date at Boots from the 20th to the 28th of the month. But never mind, I'll just beg for krone on the streets of Gothenburg before the competition.

Friday, September 17, 2010

My unshakeable philosophies of life

I have two fundamental principles that I follow in every aspect of life, which flatly contradict each other but which I still nevertheless tell people to follow, whether they ask me or not.

First philosophy - read the instructions, dimwits. I've developed a reputation for being an expert at computery stuff at work, just because whenever someone turns to the office in general and yells "I don't know how to make this thing on the screen change colours!", I click the 'help' button and find out how to do it, and then pass the message along. Moral - anyone can be a genius, if you just make the effort to find out how to do something yourself rather than asking the nearest genius how to do it.

Second philosophy - don't read the instructions, dolts. I became the World Memory Champion precisely by not reading the various books and websites available on the subject, but by looking at the things you have to memorise in the World Memory Championship and inventing a new way of doing it that nobody had thought of before. So don't come to me asking for every tiny detail of my system, work out your own version.

And there you go - do what I tell you, follow both those simple philosophies and ignore everything I've told you tonight, and you too can be as clever and awesome* as me.


*Awesomeness currently scheduled to last until December, when someone beats me in the World Memory Championship by being much more awesome than me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Bloggery

Sorry I haven't blogged anything for the last few days, but I just seem to have got out of the habit of finding a bit of time in the evening to ramble incoherently about whatever's on my mind. I'm sure everyone missed it terribly. But I'm forced to wonder what my loyal band of bloglings want to read on this thing, anyway - someone found this blog by searching for "funny chickens drawings" the other day, which made me feel terribly bad about their inevitable disappointment.

I should do some funny chickens drawings to compensate them, but I can't think of any particularly good punchlines. I'm sure my googler eventually found the Far Side or Perry Bible Fellowship or at least a photo of an unusually ugly chicken.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Last Night of the Proms!

Lord, grant that Marshal Wade/ may by Thy mighty aid,/ victory bring! We really need to re-insert that verse into the national anthem. It's not quite as cool as the obscure verse of the French national anthem that denounces Bouillé and his complices, but it's still a lot of fun. Frustrate their knavish tricks! Crush the Scots! Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles!

(There was some brandy left over from putting in the fruit cake I baked earlier, and I foolishly drank it tonight. Much stronger stuff than I thought it was.)

As fast as you can

I said I'd make a cake for some kind of work-related charity cake stall, so that's been my excuse for not doing anything memory-related today. It's cooking now, and filling the whole flat with a pleasant cakeish aroma. I'd make a good baker - it's a profession that requires the wearing of silly hats and the eating of lots of tasty foodstuffs. Why have I wasted so many years being an accountant-slash-memory-champion?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Crabbit auld girn

Just to complain a little bit more about the new Broons/Oor Wullie collection, because I can't read an extremely entertaining and enjoyable compilation of long-out-of-print comics without whining that I want more from it... This latest volume is larger than the fourteen previous ones, in the sense that the pages are physically bigger. I have no idea why - the reprinted comics are the same size as ever, there's just more white space around the edges. But the number of pages is sharply reduced again - the first one, back in 1996, had 126 reprinted Dudley-Watkins-drawn strips, then they settled into a pattern of roughly 120 every year until 2006, when it shrank down to around 100 per compilation. This year's has 83. Yes, I counted them.

I mean, are they trying to test just how little work they can put into these books and still get people to buy them? If so, I'm worried, because I'll continue to buy them however small they get, and I'm sure everyone else who buys the things will do the same. It's not like they're running short of comics to reprint, because Watkins drew a LOT of them - by my count there are about 1800 still to appear in these annual collections. Aren't they satisfied with another fifteen-to-eighteen years of income before they have to test the waters with a Watkins-themed Beano or Dandy compilation? Heck, by that time I'll be crying out for a Ken H Harrison tribute book...

Well, there'd better be more than a hundred in next year's book, or I'll have no alternative but to whine in my blog again. And I don't think anyone wants that!