Well, where to start? I've just come back from a week in China, filming an episode of the popular and awesome show 'Superbrain' in which contestants are pitted against each other in exciting brain-related competition. They're doing a series of international shows, Team China against Team Another Country, and this was Britain's turn. It says something about the organisation of mental sports in this country that the whole Team Britain was organised by the German TV company that did Die Deutschen Meister last year, since apparently there's nobody in Britain who could arrange this kind of thing, but never mind.
I was the captain of the British team (I didn't volunteer or get elected or anything, it was just decided that I was the captain, and the duties of the role only extended to announcing that I was the captain, without actually doing anything) which also included a strong lineup of James Paterson, Katie Kermode and Robert Fountain. We'd had cool video introductions filmed in London previously, to give us a taste of how the whole thing was going to be presented. Mine included magically summoning an umbrella into my hand, and jumping off a building to land on the pavement below. Also, buying comics.
Those wonderful TV people arranged for me to fly out a day early and visit my brother in Harbin, which was amazing. I hadn't seen him for a couple of years, since he's so settled out there now, so we had a lot of catching up to do (this involved staying up all night drinking beer and talking about Thundercats), as well as meeting the people he works with at the university who were all very keen to arrange for me to come back there in term time (Chinese new year holidays when I visited) and give a speech or maybe get a permanent job as a teacher there too.
Having slept about two hours in three days, I then flew off to Nanjing, where I was warmly and enthusiastically received by the TV people - I basically had my own personal attendants for all the time I was there; the director of my particular segment of the challenge and an interpreter who spoke really excellent English. There was also a steady supply of Chinese junk food - McDonalds, pizza and Chinese working lunch boxes - which was more than enough to keep me happy.
My challenge involved delivery boxes - each one had a 12-digit code number on it, and the audience members wrote down their mobile phone numbers on the receipts. I and my opponent then had two hours to memorise the numbers, and then one random code number would be shown on screen and the winner was the first to remember and dial the correct phone. My opponent was Li Lu, who as well as giving me a new teddy bear (Briar or Xiongda from the cartoon Boonie Bears) spent the week talking as if it was a great honour to even be in the same room as a super-brain like myself. In reality, she's the world number 36, and you don't get to be that without being pretty darn brainy yourself, and she was actually quite a bit better and faster at this challenge than me.
The Germans had already filmed their clash with Team China a few weeks previously, and despite Boris and Simon both sporting stylish beards (I've started a real trend there), China triumphed, so it was important to get revenge on behalf of Europe. On the other hand, the Chinese team then consisted mainly of double world champion Wang Feng, and he wasn't in this one, so perhaps we had it a little easier. The most important team task, though, turned out to be deciding on a slogan for us all to chant at the start of the show. After objecting to "Veni vidi vici" on the grounds that it's singular, past tense and all about conquering Britain, we settled on "To victory!"
And certain team members who shall remain nameless had great trouble remembering that two-word slogan, so I have to admit our rallying cry wasn't as good as our opponents'.
I had some quite extensive makeup before appearing in front of the cameras. Normally it's just a case of plastering a lot of powder on my bald shiny skull to stop the reflections of the studio lights dazzling everyone, but they really made a big deal of painting my face orange (on Chinese TV it's apparently the done thing for people's skin to look as pale as possible, and this makeup compensated for that) and fiddling with my eyebrows and everything. They even styled my hair, including hairspray, which is quite a feat when you consider my hair consists of just a few sparse strands on the sides of my head.
I had brought along my black turtleneck, thinking it'd look suitably smart and stylish, but although they did try filming with it (and even sewed up the big hole in the shoulder), they eventually gave up and picked me out a new suit - navy blue trousers and jacket, white open-necked shirt and colourful silk cravat. It looked frankly magnificent! I am so going to wear that kind of thing as part of my regular rotation from now on.
I won't spoil the results of the challenges, since it'll be available for the world to see on the internet when it's broadcast, but I'm sure it'll look awesome and be well worth the two solid days of rehearsal followed by about 14 hours continuous filming. I would love to do this kind of thing every week now - anyone else want me on their TV shows?