Saturday, November 19, 2016

What a memorable day!

Wow, this was awesome! Twelve brave British memory athletes gathered together today at the office of Peak to compete in the first ever national Memory League Championship!

Left to right, we have Katie Kermode, Clay Knight, Marlo Knight, Ben Pridmore (not competing, just taking the easy option of running the show), Nelson Dellis, a really big panda, James Paterson, James Ponder, Gordon Cowell, Henry Bole, Dan Evans, Dan Holloway, Richard Shanahan and Melodie Dequieros. The latter two are Peak employees who courageously gave it a try!

Not shown, but the awesomest of them all, is Simon Orton, who was keeping everything ticking over from Australia! Also deserving of a hearty round of applause is Dianne See from Peak, who's been kindly arranging everything about the venue!

You can see all the results here - we started with a pre-qualification tournament to sort the entrants into four seeding pots, then randomly drew one of each pot into each of the three groups. Then in each group it was all-play-all in a best-of-five match [first discipline randomly chosen from the five options with each player having up to two vetoes, loser of that chooses the second discipline, thereafter choice alternates - I'll write it up in more detail when I'm not so tired!] to give us a quarter-final lineup of the top two in each group and the two best third places.

The quarter-finals happen tomorrow morning, but today has seen some amazing scores and some thrilling matches; standing out in the first category a perfect 50 words in 53.45 seconds by Katie and 30 images in 14.90 seconds by Clay - they both came close to breaking the world record in other attempts too! In the 'thrilling' section were some fierce duels between Dan E and Gordon, and Dan H and Melodie - the latter two both new to the world of memory competitions and I hope having a whale of a time.

I do hope that this unprecedented gathering of British memory folk (not able to compete but watching the fun was Jake O'Gorman, with Phill Ash also at least hoping to drop in and say hello, and several others who just couldn't make this weekend too) will lead to greater things not just in this super-cool kind of memory competition, but in the more boring kind too!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Lest we forget

Remembrance Day was last week, but courtesy of the newspaper archive on, let's take a moment to remember 1916, when the Pridmore family made the front page of the Sheffield Independent. As described at length in my blog post five years ago, Arthur and John Pridmore had died at Ypres in 1914, and their brothers Albert and George Harry, as well as their sister Florence's husband John/James Palmer had all been wounded in action. Albert subsequently died in 1917, and George Harry in 1918. It's nice to see photos of them, but the caption gets John's initials wrong - the father was William Thomas, the soldier was John Thomas.

Albert's son, also called Albert, had died the previous year. Rather lost among the war news, he got two short paragraphs in the Sheffield Daily Independent, Tuesday 12 October 1915. His name and age are both wrong.

   At the Great Central Goods Yard, Sheffield, last night, Arthur Pridmore (17) of Brownell street, employed at the yard, was found lying on the lines where an engine had recently passed. His left leg had been completely severed below the knee, and he had sustained severe injury to his head.
   He was taken to the Royal Infirmary in the Fire Brigade Ambulance, and Dr. Cobb pronounced life extinct. The body was afterwards removed to the Public Mortuary.

Two days later, the newspaper reports the coroner's inquest.

Coroner's Jury & Young Boys on Night Work.
   The question as to the employment on night work of young boys was raised at an inquest held in Sheffield yesterday on the body of Albert Pridmore (14) of Brownell street, a wagon greaser employed by the Great Central Railway Co., who was killed at the Bridgehouses Goods Station of the company on Monday night.
   The evidence showed that Monday night was the youth's second on night work. He had finished one job on a goods train, and had then to go to a cabin to fill his grease box ready to grease another train. His body was found in the six-foot way, one foot being completely severed and in the four-foot way. He was apparently run over either by a train or a light engine. No one witnessed the accident.
   A boy who was working with Pridmore, George Bingley, aged 15, said they had finished greasing the train with the exception of one new wagon. An examiner warned them not to go between wagons, but to go round a light engine at the back of the train.
Discovery of the Body.
   Witness showed Pridmore how to grease the new wagon, and then, making sure that the train was not about to move, went underneath the wagon while Pridmore was walking around the end of the train. Witness went underneath the wagon because the time was approaching for the train to depart, and the work had to be done. He himself warned Pridmore to go round the train and not between the wagons.
   When witness finished greasing the wagon the train started, and looking up he saw a light flicker near the rear of the train. He took no particular notice of this at first, but when he found that his mate had not been to the cabin for grease he went to look if anything had happened, and found the body in the six-foot way. It must have been the deceased's hand lamp which flickered.
Lack of Experience.
   Another witness said he did not think the boy had sufficient experience to do the work on nights.
   The Coroner said the boy Bingley had admitted having broken the rules by passing underneath the wagons of the train. He (the Coroner), however, was not going to blame him. He thought the boy's explanation was a perfectly satisfactory one. He agreed that the deceased had not had sufficient experience, but he was not satisfied that he was following the other's example. As to the employment on nights of such young lads, the jury knew that we were not living in ordinary times, and that everybody was short of labour.
   The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, stating that there was no evidence to show whether the boy was run over by the loaded train or light engine, further adding that they thought that young boys who were engaged on the railway at night time, having finished their work, should be escorted back to the cabin by the men under whom they were working.

The world really has come a long way in the last hundred years, hasn't it?

Wet Welsh Weekend of Memory

Tomorrow it's the super-exciting Peak UK Memory League Championship! So I should really write up the super-exciting competitions from last weekend, or things will get terribly confusing...

They happened at the wonderful Broneirion, a real proper country house on top of a mountain (or at least a really big hill) in Wales. As well as the competition room, which was called Brownsea Island, everyone was staying overnight in a bedroom with a name - mine was Caradoc, and I think the coolest was Gordon's, Uther Pendragon. King Arthur's dad, you know. Also, there was a dining room, drawing room, billiard room and library. The library had books in it, but the billiard room didn't have a billiard table. The bathrooms had extremely Victorian fittings, including an absolutely enormous bath, big enough to lie in at full stretch!

I hired a car for the weekend to get me down there. I still hate driving, but it was a nice little mini thing, and I didn't crash it into anything at all. Came close a couple of times, but that doesn't count. I got there in good time in the morning - I was supposed to be picking Silvio up at Shrewsbury station along the way, but he'd got on the wrong train and was at Wolverhampton when I arrived at Shrewsbury. I advised him to get on a train to Newtown, the second-closest station to the competition venue (the closest is Caersws, and I didn't want to try to pronounce or spell that to someone with a limited understanding of English, let alone Welsh). He did, but the train then broke down, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere for hours.

My fellow arbiter Nick, meanwhile, was also lost in the British train network somewhere and running late. There were some people who did get there in time, though - Søren, Dan, Gordon and Dai. So we got started with the first ever Numbers and Cards Championship! Dai, though, had to leave early on because he wasn't feeling well, but Silvio eventually arrived and joined in in the afternoon. Gordon also skipped the first round of speed numbers, because Scotland were winning the rugby 21-15 and he needed to give them his moral support in the closing minutes. Australia got a last-minute try and conversion and won 22-21.

But since most of the disciplines were either brand new or subtly different from the usual way they're done, everything was Officially (to the extent that that means anything these days) a New World Record - and a senior record (Søren), a Danish record (Søren again), an Italian record (Silvio),  a Scottish record (Gordon) and a Welsh record (Dan). The only completely new discipline was speed numbers - memorise a 100-digit number as fast as possible - and Silvio took the honours for that with 2:26.46. Which was good, because nobody got them all right in the first trial, and I wouldn't have liked to announce that the Official World Record is 98 digits in five minutes.

The interesting innovation in cards was that all the recall was done by rearranging unshuffled packs. The consensus seemed to be that this is more difficult than writing it down, but I personally think it's easier. We need to do this at more competitions in the future, and see what other people think.

All the exciting things in these pictures happened during the course of the day - the first one is a giant wasp that Nick heroically killed and stamped on when I told him to gently usher it out the door or window.

Other things that happened included a psychological discussion or two - it's generally mathematically agreed that you should guess exactly two digits on the final line in binary, to have a good chance of getting a potentially all-important extra point. We speculated on the idea of guessing an extra word at the end of words memory, but I said all that would come of that was giving the arbiters a chance to psychoanalyse competitors based on the first word that came into their heads.

But Freud would have had a field day with our entrants this weekend - in one discipline, Gordon made a mistake by confusing two mental images, his mother and himself. In the same one, Søren confused his wife with his sister. And I should probably spare the blushes of the one who mis-memorised one of the names and faces, and instead of "Rodd" wrote "Schaft"...

But a good time was had by all in the Numbers and Cards! Søren was the worthy winner! And after that we all went to the dining room for an excellent meal, before following the Victorian tradition and withdrawing to the drawing room afterwards. Had there been any ladies present, naturally we would have made them leave the dining room first while the gentlemen stayed behind for port and cigars. Still, the drawing room had comfy armchairs, a genuine log fire (that pumped out a heck of a lot of heat!) and a piano which Gordon made me envious by playing beautifully. He tells me it's just a matter of practice, but somehow I've just never been able to do that with musical instruments.

I retired to bed, and got up bright and early the next morning to have a giant bath before the Friendly Championship kicked off. To make it a special occasion, I brought the Brazilian Mystery Cloak. Well, nobody's seen it for a while, and I think I need to make it my Official Memory Championship Organizer apparel.

There were also a bunch of national records, personal bests and so on to be fought for here - notably, this was the first ever competition to have 15-minute binary digits (the IAM's hopefully very temporary replacement for abstract images), so there was a world record up for grabs! Søren officially grabbed it with 876 on his way to a very impressive overall victory!

We also had a great lunch on the Sunday (the food all weekend was delicious!), and the competition even finished ahead of schedule, like no memory competition in history! Really, the whole thing was a lot of fun, and I hope we can do it again next year. Some time in May, maybe. Stay tuned!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Friendliness in the manor house

I've just got back from a totally wonderful Friendly Memory Championship - the 11th annual competition, amazingly enough! I had sort of resolved not to do it next year, and move on to new and exciting things, but I think I'm so attached to it now, it'll just have to go on forever. Next year, then, probably May time!

I'll blog more about the details when I have a moment to gather my thoughts (warning - this may be a good long time coming), but the venue (as found by Dan) was absolutely wonderful - if you're holding a similar kind of event, or just want to go to a wonderful old-fashioned country house, book yourself a weekend at Broneirion!