Monday, June 11, 2018

Let women not try to turn themselves into men

In honour of 100 years of women's suffrage, here's just one of the many brilliant treasures you can find if you read through the archives of The Argosy, the Victorian magazine edited by my favourite underrated writer, Mrs Henry Wood. In March 1873, she devoted five pages to Alice King's essay on why allowing women to vote would be a terrible idea all round.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

It has a lot of zeroes, but no other digits

If you type my name into Google, one of the searches it suggests is "ben pridmore net worth". As in, somebody has tried to search for that at some point. I like to think it was the writer of the Sunday Times Rich List, just checking to see if I need to be on it.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Here we go again

Remember all the UK-based TV-wrestling excitement a year and a half ago, around new year 2017? ITV ran a really cool World of Sport Wrestling special and intended to make it into an ongoing series, and so the WWE organised a rival UK Championship special on their internet network?

Well, the whole thing's happening again now - after the ITV series plan all fell through, they've apparently managed to work something out now and produced a ten-week series, and so the WWE are proudly announcing the "second annual UK Championship special" on the Network.

And I still don't really see why they're acting like rival productions, when they're aiming at entirely different kinds of audience - ITV is for casual Saturday night viewers who want a bit of fun; the WWE Network is for people who take wrestling REALLY seriously. In other words, the one is for people who think TV wrestling is real; the other is for people who also think TV wrestling is real, but in a more complicated way involving doublethink. Couldn't everyone just work together and produce both?

But speaking as a person who thinks everything is real and likes watching wrestling, I'm looking forward to both. I see that WWE have stolen a large chunk of the wrestlers who did the ITV show last time, including Dave Mastiff, which is good for them - last year's UK Championship contenders were all a bit on the wimpy side for wrestlers. But ITV retain Grado, who's the best actor of the lot by far, so the ITV show should still be more fun to watch for the casual viewer.

And they're probably just pretending to think they're rival productions, anyway, for the benefit of people who think everything is real.

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

World Cup fever

It really doesn't feel like twenty years since Fat Les, but perhaps that just shows how old I'm getting. I might have to announce my retirement from international football after this World Cup.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Return to the Glass Cube

Just over ten years ago, we had a memorable memory competition in the Wolfson Seminar Room North at Trinity College, Cambridge. You can read all about it here! Today, I ended up back in that big glass box, for the Cambridge Regional othello tournament.

The air-conditioning is working now, which is good because it's lovely and sunny again today, but there are lots of signs on the lift, saying it's working again now but was out of action for a long time because people were holding the doors open. Anyone who does that in future will get in big trouble, but in my defence, those signs weren't there ten years ago and we needed to keep the thing quiet for a minute or two in order to do the spoken numbers.

In any case, there was a small and select group competing today - me, Imre, Steve and Roy. Imre won  the double round robin comfortably enough, but the interesting thing was that both of my games against Roy were draws! Draws are unusual in othello; to draw both games against the same opponent in a tournament is Ripley's Believe It Or Not kind of stuff, to othello players at least.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Happy birthday Sam Selvon

He's today's google doodle, because it's his 95th birthday, apparently (though he died in 1994). We had to read a book of his short stories for GCSE English, back in the ancient times when he was still alive, so he has my undying gratitude for actually being quite a good writer, unlike some of the people poor GCSE students were forced to read the works of.

The thing is, though, having clicked on the doodle and seen google's array of photos of him... he looks absolutely nothing at all like I thought he did. I must have seen a picture of somebody else at some point, and thought it was Sam Selvon, because my instant reaction is "hang on, why did I think he looked completely different?"

I wonder who I've been thinking is Sam Selvon all these years?

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Behold... the universe!

In many ways, I am Groot. By which I mean, I'm somebody who refrained from watching Marvel movies, on the grounds that superhero movies generally aren't very good. I might just have been mistaken about that, but be fair, I'm old now, and I stand by that opinion as it relates to all superhero movies made before 2008.

Even so, it took a combination of circumstances to persuade me to give them a try. For one thing, I really loved Infinity Gauntlet and its many sequels when the comics first came out. I was hugely into Warlock and the Infinity Watch for a while, even if with hindsight it was pretty rubbish. Possibly you just had to be there. Possibly I hadn't read enough GOOD comics at that time. After reading Thunderbolts in 1997, Warlock definitely lost his (orange) lustre. But to a teenager with a limited experience of good superhero comics, it was pretty awesome, so I'll always have a soft spot for it.

And then I saw someone share a hand-drawn flow-chart on Facebook showing how the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe movies connect together, and it stimulated my nerdy impulses. With all appropriate credit to "Geek Out Huntsville" and whoever doodled this thing... here's a shining example of how to persuade me to do something:

Seriously, how could anyone resist something like that? So I bought seventeen DVDs, and every evening for the past three weeks, I've watched a superhero movie. Except last Saturday, when I was doing something else. And I capped it off today by going to the cinema for the first time in years and watching Avengers: Infinity War.

[Yes, Black Panther isn't available on DVD in this country yet. Yes, I illegally downloaded it. Sue me. I'll buy the DVD as soon as it comes out, in a couple of weeks. I feel entirely morally justified in this.]

And, in summary.... wow. Big letters. WOW. In fact, WOW!

Yes, I really really love the Marvel Cinematic Universe! Even despite occasional clunkers (Thor: Ragnarok), the whole wonderful system of interconnecting adventures totally blew me away. It's genius, pure and simple, and I can't get enough of it. Every new movie from now on, I'm first in the queue, probably having watched all the previous DVDs again to refresh my memory for it. Heck, possibly even buying new copies of the DVD and/or sending any spare cash I find lying around the place in an envelope to Hollywood, because I don't feel like I'm rewarding the awesome people who make these films enough by just paying for them the once!

It's a good thing, really, that I wasn't watching them from the start. Iron Man is okay, Hulk is pretty good, Captain America is fun, but it was a sort of slow and uncertain start for the interlinked universe - it really only came together properly with Avengers Assemble [note to foreigners - that's what it was called in this country, so as not to offend John Steed and his partners. They're easily offended.]. That's where we really start to get the sense that not just the world, but the whole universe is one big picture, and we can get to see a little bit of it at a time with every new movie. That's the point where at least two movies started coming out every year, too, because who could bear waiting a whole year or more before the next one?

The universe really moves from good to great with Guardians of the Galaxy in 2014 - hilarious, brilliant and thrilling and exciting too! And a fine example of how the whole thing can move away from adapting old comics - just pick a bunch of forgotten space-themed characters from Marvel's long history, put them together and do something fun with them!

And then we get Avengers: Age of Ultron, which might still be the best movie of any kind I've ever seen, ever. But then, I've always been a sucker for Joss Whedon. And the MCU kept up the pace with Ant-Man, and then Captain America: Civil War, which was especially gratifying, because it was so very good when the Civil War comics were pretty atrocious. But this treatment of the same basic idea really made sense, and produced a masterpiece!

Doctor Strange didn't really capture my imagination very much, but Guardians 2 was that rare thing, a sequel just as good in every way as the first, if not better. And Spider-Man: Homecoming was nothing short of awesome! Never yet has anyone managed to capture the essential feel of the early-sixties Spidey comics that made the character so popular in the first place, until this film finally gets it right! I love it. An inspiration to teenage heroes everywhere.

As I said before, Thor: Ragnarok is the one that really didn't work - you just can't help wishing for the serious drama it was obviously originally conceived as, buried beneath some laboured attempts at comedy. Still, we all make mistakes, and Black Panther (deadly serious, that one, maybe even a little bit too much so) gets things right back on track again, all building up to Avengers: Infinity War.

And (slight spoilers coming, by the way - now that I've seen it, everybody else has no excuse for not having watched it yet), this is the whole universe in one film. I'm pretty sure nothing so epic has ever been attempted before. Despite my aforementioned nerdishness and compulsive desires to count things, I can't even enumerate how many established characters show up in this one, all contributing something significant and playing their own part in a galaxy-spanning adventure! The way it cuts between different conflicts going on at the same time, all part of the same whole, is breathtaking. Few people will get the reference, but it's Space Thunder Kids, only a real movie that makes sense!

And the ending is genuinely awesome. What's going to happen next? I'm a fan now, anyway. Without the extensive baggage that the comics have, and the ability to apparently do absolutely anything with special effects nowadays, it's official - superhero movies are better.

Monday, May 07, 2018

The answer to the ultimate question

That most famous of (former) British othello players, Aubrey, has apparently published a paper proving that the answer to the Hadwiger-Nelson Problem is not 4. Since I don't understand the question, let alone the answer, I'll have to take his word for it, but I do rather like the idea of there being a mathematical problem to which it was previously thought the answer might be 4, but is now known not to be. It's either 5, 6 or 7, the clever mathematicians now agree.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Memory League May!

May is the coolest month, if you like playing on Memory League! If you play at least three games (against an opponent or in training) on at least 28 days of the month of May, you get a free three months' subscription!

The way it works is that you can play for free, three times a day, but if you have a subscription you can play unlimited games. It's a good thing to have, because three matches or training sessions is really just enough to whet your appetite - they only last a minute, after all.

I'd advise everybody to do "MLM", as the cool kids are probably calling it, unless that already means something else, which I have a feeling it does - because at the start of June, we're going to kick off with the next season of the Online Memory League, and it helps if you have a) a full subscription and b) plenty of practice if you want to compete in that!

 The Online Memory League Championship is a competition open to everybody. Competitors are divided into divisions of around twelve players - new players this season are put into divisions based on their leaderboard position, so you will be playing against people at the same kind of level as you.
 In a season, each competitor will play each of the others in the division once, with one match per week, on a schedule drawn randomly at the start of the season. Players can be flexible about when they play their matches, depending on availability and circumstances, but should try to stick to the schedule as much as possible. You will need to communicate with your opponents - leave messages on the Memory League website, or the Art of Memory forum, or the Facebook group "World Memory Championships". We can help you get in touch with people - just send me a message if you need help!
 Matches will consist of six games - each player chooses three different disciplines, with the choice alternating. The first player on the scheduled match list chooses the first discipline; the schedule will be arranged so that each player gets a roughly equal distribution of 'home' and 'away' matches. Draws are possible, both in individual disciplines and in the match as a whole.
 If the match is a 3:3 draw, the players can (if they both agree to it) play a one-game 'decider', which can be any discipline they choose. If they don't both agree to play the decider, then the match is a draw.
 The league table gives two points for a match won, one for a match drawn. Players on the same number of points are ranked by number of disciplines won.
 At the end of the season, the bottom two in each division are related to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the 10th-place in the upper division versus 3rd-place in the lower, and 9th-place in the upper versus 4th-place in the lower to determine promotion and relegation.
 The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title. 1st versus 4th and 2nd versus 3rd, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!
 Seasons last three months. We hope to get everything completed after 11 weeks, but it's okay if there are some minor delays. :-)

Friday, April 27, 2018

Wow, that was good

It's been nothing but memory-talk here on the blog for the last couple of weeks, so let's move to the physical side of things - WWE offered former subscribers like myself three months of the WWE Network for 99p with no commitment, so I availed myself of it to watch the Greatest Royal Rumble. It's their big showpiece to sell the whole wrestling thing in the Middle East, I assume (live from Saudi Arabia), but as a sideline, a good way to entice European viewers too, with a five-hour spectacular starting at 5pm on a Friday night, British time.

78 "superstars", by my count, if you include not-really-wrestling-but-participating people like Paul Heyman, were all shipped over to Jeddah along with Mr McMahon and the usual crowd of commentators, referees and so forth. No women, obviously - the WWE's idea of presenting women is sort of diametrically opposed to Saudi Arabia's, but perhaps one day they'll both find some kind of mythical middle ground between the two and join the halfway-sane parts of the world. In the meantime, without the traditional abysmal women's match, it was non-stop action from start to finish! And I was very impressed by how much character the many wrestlers managed to put across in a show with a minimum of talking!

You can forgive the occasional bad bits, like the hopelessly confused ending to Roman Reigns and Brock Lesnar, because for the most part it was enough to keep me entertained all the way through, which is saying something for a five-hour marathon. It's enough to get me back into watching WWE, or at least it would be if the WWE Network allowed you to watch Raw and Smackdown replays in this country - Sky TV keep a jealous hold on them. So I guess I'll have to wait until I start paying for normal-TV again before I become a full-time wrestling fan. Great 50-man Royal Rumble, though! If you didn't watch it tonight, at least check out that part, if you can.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

No, good sir, I'm on the level

While watching the action from Gothenburg on Sunday, I entertained myself by creating a spreadsheet to quickly calculate IAM levels when you copy the scores from the stats website. Having added everyone to the list, I think there are 15 illustrious people who have reached level 20:

Memory legends, one and all! It'll be interesting to see who else gets up that high or higher over the next few years...

Sunday, April 22, 2018

All hail to the champion

Finishing off with a perfect 50 words in 52.70 seconds, Simon wins the Scandinavian Open! Followed by a great second place performance from Sylvain, with Jan-Hendrik winning a thrilling third-place match against Marcin!

All in all, it sounds like an amazing event, in the unusual surroundings of a shopping centre in Gothenburg! Count me in, next time!

Record collection

One thing I forgot to mention yesterday (I'm really not good at remembering things about memory competitions) is the new world records and amazingly great results at Memory League disciplines - Simon blew people away with 17.77 seconds in cards and 16.85 in numbers; Jan-Hendrik did an astonishing 45.09 seconds in names; Marcin topped the charts with 16.81 in images, and though we didn't have any perfect 50s in words (it's very difficult to do), those three each did a 46 in the course of the first day.

They're currently at lunch on day 2 - when they resume, the semi-finals will Simon against Jan-Hendrik (could be epic - if J-H is the names/words master then Simon is at least the vice-master, if there is such a thing, and definitely the master at cards and numbers), and Marcin against Sylvain (also epic, because Sylvain's definitely got the beyond-expectations-underdog vibe going now)! Stay tuned!

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The league of memorisers

One thing I forgot to do yesterday was put a link to the Memory League website, where you can watch everything that's happening in Gothenburg this weekend. The group matches have been played today, and the format of the competition is I think ideal now - 16 competitors, with Idriz taking the place of the goldfish, in four groups. Everyone plays head-to-head matches against the other three in their group, with each match consisting of one go at each of the five disciplines. Then the finals tomorrow start with the people who finished second in a group playing off against someone who finished third in another group, for the right to play the winner of a third group in the quarter-finals.

Our matches tomorrow will be Simon against Konsti or Selim; Jan-Hendrik against Florian or Martin; Sylvain against Niklas or Hordiy; and Marcin against Jan or Paweł. So a lot of exciting games to look forward to!

In other news, since the summer's suddenly here, I cycled up to Birmingham today - first time I've done that this year. I've got a new bike, too, which I haven't mentioned (even though I know you all care so deeply about the trivial details of my life) - the old one fell to bits irreparably, and now I've been trying to remember how long I've had it. It wasn't particularly new when I moved to Belper at the start of 2014, I know that much. I should have written it in my blog. Perhaps I did, but I can't be bothered to check. Still, I'm confident that this blog entry will help Future Zoomy when he wants to know exactly when (give or take a couple of weeks) I bought this latest bike!

Friday, April 20, 2018

Next stop Scandinavia!

Well, not for me, but for international memory competitions - this weekend, the Scandinavian Memory League Open Championship is happening in Gothenburg, Sweden. I wish I could be there, but it was that or Canada, and I've already been to Gothenburg. But 15 competitors are coming to the championship organised by Idriz Zogaj and Sylvain Estadieu, and they've just held the draw for the group stage, conducted by special guest, former World Memory Champion and all-round awesome guy (no, not me), Jonas von Essen! It looks like this:

Group A:
Simon Reinhard
Florian Minges
Hordiy Ostapovych
Daniel Andersson

Group B:
Jan-Hendrik Büscher
Konstantin Skudler
Paweł Milczarek

Group C:
Jan Zoń
Sylvain Estadieu
Selim Aydın
Rickard Liu

Group D:
Marcin Kowalczyk
Niklas Månsson
Martin Nilsson
Ceyhun Aydin

There's a lot of memory league talent and experience in there - most of the competitors are regulars on the Memory League site and online league. Niklas goes by BurningDesire or Niklas Hendrik, incidentally - I had no idea his name was actually Månsson, which just goes to show what happens when you only know people on the internet.

You can never bet against Simon in these things (although apparently there'll be a dummy player, "maybe a goldfish", in group B, who might spring a surprise), but keep an eye on Marcin - he's very dangerous! It's going to be an epic contest, all weekend.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Happy birthday, Superman!

DC Comics are celebrating Superman's 80th birthday today, and I suppose it's as good a time as any (the copyright date of Action Comics no. 1 is April 18 1938, though it probably didn't hit the stores until a couple of weeks later - and of course the story had been written and drawn years earlier, and repeatedly rewritten and redrawn as Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster tried to get someone to publish it), so let's all take a moment to cheer for the world's greatest superhero!

A lot of people talk about Superman as if the guiding creative philosophy behind him is "Wouldn't it be nice if I could fly?". That's a long way off beam - if you read the earliest comic stories, it's obvious that Superman is all about "If I could hit people without them being able to hit me back, I could make the world a better place!". Which is a worthy kind of view too, I suppose, but it's not what most people think of when they think of Superman.

He's not about saving the world from natural disasters, let alone Lex Luthor's evil schemes, at first. In that first published story (which reads like what it is; a chopped-up newspaper comic strip arbitrarily cut down to size to fit in a comic book - most comics were like that at the time, the only difference here was that Superman had never been actually published in a newspaper strip; they'd all rejected it!) he applies his ability to hit people to save a woman wrongly accused of murder, beat up a wife-beater to teach him a lesson, rescue Lois Lane from the unwelcome attentions of a thug, and get half-way through exposing a crooked senator. It's almost comically rough around the edges, but you can still see why it was such a sensation right from the start!

Where would the world be today without Superman? And why can so few people write good Superman comics nowadays? Any old idiot can (and regularly does) write Batman, but the modern approach to Superman all too often takes the Batman approach of "have him be beaten to a pulp but still somehow win in the end", which requires a flood of enemies of ridiculous power-levels. A good Superman story has Superman be by far more powerful than the bad guys, but still keeps the reader's interest by being clever and exciting! You can't really get away with the 1930s approach of him making the bad guys confess by threatening to kill them (it's surprising that that ever stood up in court...), but you can still make him the unequivocally-moral-and-good hero who's entirely indestructible and tell a good story if you really put your mind to it!

Monday, April 09, 2018

On the way home

I really wish I didn't have to go home today. Is there a way I can stay in Canada that won't cost me a) any money or b) my job?

It's great here - even the cold weather feels nice and bracing now, rather than bone-chilling. I could quite happily live here. And it's been a good opportunity to catch up on the latest cool cartoons I haven't seen, what with not watching telly back at home. Can you believe I hadn't seen The Loud House before this holiday? It's great.

Anyway, it's time to leave the land of maple leaves and possible coyotes, but I'm sure I'll be back just as soon as time and money allow...

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Canadian Memory

I'm here on Westminster Bridge and there are dinosaurs. No, hang on, I'm in Edmonton, and there aren't enough dinosaurs, but there has been a really cool memory competition, which I'll tell you all about after this interlude.

Brilliant song by Jay Foreman, and absolute genius video by Bec Hill. And not enough people seem to appreciate just how wonderful this video is, so please do watch and appreciate it!

Anyway, here in Alberta, it's cold and snowy and the only dinosaur to be seen at the IAM Canadian Open Memory Championship was a superannuated former world champion testing his hopelessly-rusty memory skills against the cream of Canadian cleverness!

I got a lift to the venue (Westlock Elementary School, something like 55 miles to the north of Edmonton and so considered a quick drive by the people in this very big country) courtesy of Hua Wei Chan, along with Francis Blondin. "We've met before," Hua Wei pointed out when I said it was great to meet him in person, "the Mental Calculation World Cup in 2008, remember?". Of course I didn't remember, this is me we're talking about, but never mind. Everybody else at this competition was someone I've only talked to online, so there wasn't any danger of being laughed at for not remembering what they look like.

We drove through the snowy fields, and not for the first time in North America someone expected me to be impressed by large, flat, open agricultural spaces, because we don't have landscapes like that in England. I need to bring all these people to the part of Lincolnshire where I grew up; believe me, it's exactly the same. But we arrived at the definitely different and non-English-looking little town of Westlock, arriving in good time at the school and meeting the competition organiser, Darren Michalczuk. He's a teacher there, and so was able to provide the awesome venue and a group of his pupils to take part in the competition too!

Having the whole school to play with, we had a venue possibly better-equipped than any memory competition I've ever been to - the competition was in the music room, the arbiters were in Darren's classroom down the hall, and there was something that all competitions need but very few have, a breakout room (the staffroom) where competitors could go and chat out of earshot of the competition room, AND another room (the surprisingly enormous school library) where people could go and prepare themselves in silence. No clustering in the hallway outside the competition room door for us here!

Apart from Darren and Hua Wei, there was a vast army of arbiters, whose names I was told but can't remember - Darren's wife and her brother and sister kept things ticking over smoothly, lots of other people were around too (most of them parents of the kids, I think), and Big Brother was watching them and us in the form of Florian Dellé in Costa Rica and Simon Reinhard in Germany, via video links.

This competition was a guinea-pig for several IAM innovations, you see, and one of them was the 21st-century miracle of remote arbiting. With multiple laptop cameras scrutinising us around the room and live communication with the inexperienced arbiting team, the experienced arbiter Florian was able to see that things were done the right way. It's all very hi-tech, and to the best of my knowledge it worked out okay. The whole thing was conducted in an efficient and correct way with no more than a minimum of chaos and confusion, thanks to Darren and the team keeping it all under control nicely! We had a timer on the big screen as well, which isn't a totally new innovation but impressed the Canadian competitors so much that I thought it was worth mentioning.

We started with 5-minute names, which is always a good thing to start with, because it gets it out of the way early and I can safely forget about it. I used to be mediocre at names, but not having done any training outside the "American" names on Memory League, I'm worse than ever at the "International" names we get in competitions. It's probably worth mentioning that the photos had backgrounds, which they're not supposed to (unless they've changed the rules again), but it didn't really help me much, and I got a score of 12.

So now we could start the 'real' memory disciplines, with 5-minute binary. Again, I'm rather out of practice at this, but I've done a couple of trial runs in the last few weeks, and got a little bit faster and better each time. I got a 625 here, attempting 820, which is a fair way short of my olden-days best, but not a disaster. New IAM innovation number two made its debut here - people can now request pre-drawn lines on their memorisation papers. I preferred not to; drawing the lines myself is a part of my whole routine, I think it would just confuse me to have them already on the paper.

After that came the quarter-marathon that is 15-minute numbers, and again I'm too out of practice. I went through three journeys' worth of digits, 702, reviewing them several times, and it felt like they were sinking in perfectly fine, but then I had a lot of gaps in recall - this was something that happened all through the day, and it's really down to nothing but lack of practice. I ended up with a score of 487. Then we did the all-new 5-minute images, which I still haven't trained at enough and got 104 - most of the other competitors, having done some practice with it, were significantly faster and better than me at this one. And then it was 5-minute numbers, and I got my ironic comeuppance for complaining that the new pre-drawn-lines idea was a recipe for disaster and something was sure to go wrong with it, by being the one and only person who something went wrong for - I accidentally got a memorisation paper divided into two-digit groups, which is really confusing for a person with a three-digit system. But never mind! Teething troubles happen, and we did get two trials of this one! In the second trial, I went for a should-have-been-safe 240, blanked on one image and ended up on 200.

Darren was low-key about announcing scores, in a deliberate strategy to keep the kids motivated - the scoring system is extremely harsh on complete beginners, and he's planning to focus on how good it is to remember lots of numbers, even if you end up with no championship points because of blanks and mistakes - but Simon was updating the world via Facebook with a running commentary. I was in a closely-fought contest with Braden Adams, who matched my scores pretty neatly all the way through, setting new Canadian records (this being the first "official" Canadian competition, it was easy pickings) with every discipline! Our other adult competitors, Francis Blondin and Ezequiel Valenzuela, had also travelled the length and breadth of Canada to be there, and put in some great performances too, as well as getting to experience the wonders of live competition, so rare in this part of the world!

The kids, meanwhile, also had a lot of fun - leading the pack was Mackenzie Michalczuk. From personal experience, I can definitely say that having your dad for a schoolteacher as a ten-year-old is an essential ingredient to set you on the road to becoming the World Memory Champion, and it's probably even more so when he's a memory-competition enthusiast as well! So we all need to watch out... unless it works out like me not being interested in my dad's Young Ornithologists Club, and Mackenzie going on to become the world champion birdwatcher.

Anyway, the afternoon session gave us spoken numbers, and I did half-way okay at it, getting 39 in the first trial and 63 in the second. Still all those blank spaces that shouldn't have been there, though. But then we went on to 10-minute cards, and not a problem this time - attempting a safe six packs, I managed to get them all right, though a couple, including the first, were full of blanks again that I managed to fill right at the very end of the recall time. I always do okay with cards, even if I'm out of practice.

That just left the comparatively relaxing dates and words, before the grand finale speed cards. Dates went okay, I got 68, but it was infuriating how many of them I nearly sort-of remembered, but couldn't quite place. Practice would fix that. And words was a complete shambles - huge amounts of blank spaces, and it's harder to run through a mental list to jog your memory there. I ended up with a score of 13, which I was probably lucky to get. Half of one column, and half of an incomplete one.

So then speed cards, and in the first trial I did 33 seconds or so, but didn't really come close to getting the recall right. Francis took the Canadian honours here, with just over a minute, while Braden did a 1:23 that put him on top of the leaderboard. So I had to come back with a decent time to take the overall win, and I somehow managed to cobble together a 33.96-second pack, with a two-seconds-to-spare relocation of a rabbit (ace of diamonds, nine of clubs) when I realised I'd put it in the wrong place entirely. So I just barely ended up the winner, but this is the kind of event where scores don't really count (to me), and it's all about having a good time. Which I think we all did!

We came away loaded with goodie-bags and good wishes, from a wonderful, friendly competition! I even saw a possible coyote on the way back to Edmonton! (Hua Wei: "There's a coyote in the field there," Me: "Oh, wow, that's awesome! I've never seen a coyote in the wild before!" Hua Wei: "No, actually, I think it's a fox. Coyotes are smaller." Me: (thinks) "Well, I'm going to count it as a coyote. I've seen foxes. I saw a coyote!")

This result will have the effect of dramatically lowering my position on the (to my mind slightly flawed) IAM Active Rankings, but I suppose it's motivating because I could theoretically improve it again by going to another competition and getting a better score...

Additionally, this competition was the first one to give out certificates for the all-new IAM Levels system! Check it out, I'm Midnight Blue!

This is due to my past achievements rather than anything I did at the IAM Canadian Open Memory Championship, despite what the certificate says. It counts the best score you've ever got in each discipline, and your level is the average of your best ten individual-discipline levels, with at least one and no more than four from each of the five sections, as below.


It's still hoped that Memory League competitions (of the type where people get together in the same place and compete, rather than playing online) will get more widespread and frequent, and this system is sort of based on that assumption, but I'd expect they might have to change the standards if they do.

It's possibly more exciting for people who are improving and achieving new personal bests in competition, but in any case, assuming I could get back in shape, mentally speaking, how could I get up to the slightly darker blue heights of level 21? Or even to the lofty purple levels above? I'd need to gain an extra 7 deci-levels (because each individual discipline level counts as a tenth of an overall level) from somewhere...

I could gain 3 if I improved my 5-minute numbers score to the 468 that was my "no good reason why I shouldn't achieve it some day" optimum score back in the days when I was in training. I should aim for that, definitely. 32 packs in hour cards was also well within my grasp back in the old days; there's another 3 deci-levels there. Speed cards, too, I could do a 23-second pack and get the one more deci-level I need to level-up. So it's entirely possible, even without Memory League. And if we do get more ML competitions and they don't change the standards, it'd be easy to bump myself up a few levels in images (gain 2 deci-levels with 15 seconds) or names (it's not beyond me to get a freaky 21 or so; 4 more deci-levels in the bag there).

So that can be my new goal. Well, one of them. Another is to create an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the IAM levels, because I just like creating Excel spreadsheets with complicated formulas for the fun of it. It's all good.

Christopher Clark, BBC News, Westminster.

Thursday, April 05, 2018

Codex canadensis

Here I am in Edmonton, Alberta! It's VERY cold, but also nice and sunny and a really great city! There's a truly excellent comic shop just around the corner from my hotel, and a West Edmonton Mall full of things that I've spent the morning wandering around. I'm extraordinarily jetlagged and sleep-deprived, but I'm sure I'll catch up with the dream schedule before Saturday's competition.

Anyway, among the things to be found at Happy Harbor Comics is Runaways #8, so let me just remind you all at length that you should be reading it. The eighth issue of a modern comic is sort of the difficult second album - nowadays, the first six issues generally have to compromise the first trade paperback, and so the seventh will have a lot of recapping of what's gone before, so it's hard to judge how good or bad the second arc will be until you get to #8. And it's generally bad. Pretty much all the writers of superhero comics today are perfectly capable of writing a six-part story introducing the characters and setting, but often really quite terrible at the doing-something-with-it part that comes next. I don't mean to sound like one of those comic fans who says all comics suck, but, well, they sort of do.

Rainbow Rowell, though, is quite possibly an exception to that! I can safely say that after the getting-the-gang-back-together story that took up the first six issues, it's continued on in an entertaining and well-written way that still has that much-appreciated feel of genuinely 'getting' the characters without just rehashing the old stories. I still like it! And maybe, if the TV show gets renewed for a new season and Marvel doesn't mind the comic's low sales figures, it won't be cancelled after #12! It really shouldn't be; it's actually a great comic!

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Live from Gatwick Airport

And a very boring airport it is too, hence the blogging. But still, I'm on my way to Canada!

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Hardly worth getting out of bed

But even though tomorrow's a whole hour shorter than the average day, I'm going to do some more extensive old-school pen-and-paper memory training. I'll be on something approaching half-decent form by the time I get to Canada, hopefully!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wilkie Collins's missing person

Here's a fun trivia question for anyone who's as big a fan as me of the works of Wilkie Collins - he was strangely fond of giving supporting characters in his novels a title of distinction coupled with an unusual surname starting with "Ben". Scattered among his books you can find Father Ben----, Doctor Ben----- and Captain Ben------. Anyone who can fill in the blanks and name the books deserves a special prize, which I'll provide once I've looted it from a revered Indian idol. I'll provide the answer below, after a brief spoiler-space filled with ramblings about 1860s English literature, so if any genuine Collins-lovers happen by this blog, look away now, until you've remembered the answer.

When it comes to Victorian fiction, I think I'm what the people back then would call "modern" in my tastes - I can do without Charles Dickens, in fact, but if I'm ever exiled to the Desert Island Discs island, I'd have to take some kind of mega-compilation of the entire works of Wilkie Collins and Mrs Henry Wood. The two of them comprise everything you really need to read if you want the best writing of that particular era. I don't know if either of them would have wanted to be grouped together like that - Mrs Wood especially, who in her late-1860s editorial reviews in the Argosy magazine was repeatedly rude about Collins and the "sensation" writers he inspired. She certainly didn't consider herself to be one of that breed, and is probably turning in her grave at the way most modern commentators (if they mention her at all) lump her in with those types. And of course, those reviews couldn't have been anything to do with the way her own brief star was in decline at that point, while his was shining ever brighter and brighter. Anyway, one thing I'm going to do one day, maybe, eventually, is a fully detailed analysis and commentary blog dedicated to the Johnny Ludlow stories. Look forward to it, if I ever have the time and energy to write it!

But to return to Wilkie and his Bens, the answers are the scheming Jesuit Father Benwell in "The Black Robe", the horrible (but strangely likeable) vivisectionist Doctor Benjulia in "Heart and Science" and the entirely nice and benevolent Captain Bennydeck in "The Evil Genius", who comes back at the end of the book and marries the wayward girl.

In that respect, Captain Bennydeck is another of Collins's recurring themes. He shares more than just a rank with the unfortunately-named Captain Kirke in "No Name"; they both also share the extremely common plot function of the good man who is absent from the main action of the story (for virtuous, self-denying, heroic reasons, of course), only to return at the climax and sweep the heroine off her feet. Bennydeck, in fact, is at least a presence throughout the book even when he's not around; Kirke makes just a brief token appearance early on, before popping up at the end and providing the happy ending. The whole trend started with Walter Hartright in "The Woman in White", but Collins revisited it over and over again in later years.

The one I find particularly strange, is the good man who doesn't return! There's something a bit strange about the novel "Man and Wife", and I don't mean Wilkie Collins's obsession with marriage laws or the evils of sports (a subplot in the book repeatedly asserts that anyone who participates in athletic events will inevitably die young of complete physical breakdown and also become an evil, immoral villain), it's the disappearance of Mr Kendrew.

To summarise the story briefly, it starts with a prologue - two women, Blanche and Anne, swore eternal friendship as children despite the difference in their social class. Blanche married the baronet Sir Thomas Lundie and had a daughter also called Blanche; Anne married the horrible cad Mr Vanborough and had a daughter also called Anne. The prologue describes an eventful evening's conversation between Vanborough, his friend Mr Kendrew and a lawyer, Mr Delamayn. Delamayn confirms that due to a legal loophole, the Vanboroughs' marriage is invalid. This pleases Vanborough, who wants to forge a parliamentary career for himself and wants a wife with better connections, who'll help him attain his eventual goal of a peerage. He heartlessly discards Anne and their daughter without any compunction, much to the horror of Kendrew, who ends their friendship immediately. How Kendrew, a decent, moral, principled man, became friends with Vanborough in the first place is unnarrated, and just has to go down as one of life's mysteries.

The second part of the prologue then briefly summarises what happens to everyone over the next twelve years. Anne dies, naturally - a broken heart was always a fatal condition in Victorian novels. Blanche (Lady Lundie) takes young Anne into her household as young Blanche's governess and companion. Lady Lundie later dies, leaving Sir Thomas to remarry before dying himself and thus giving the rest of the novel a comic-relief supporting character in the second Lady Lundie. Vanborough marries Lady Jane and enters parliament, but doesn't prosper simply because nobody likes him. Delamayn also enters parliament, prospers wonderfully and eventually is made Lord Holchester. Vanborough eventually commits suicide.

And as for Mr Kendrew, the prologue goes into detail about him too.

"How the husband’s friend marked his sense of the husband’s treachery has been told already. How he felt the death of the deserted wife is still left to tell. Report, which sees the inmost hearts of men, and delights in turning them outward to the public view, had always declared that Mr. Kendrew’s life had its secret, and that the secret was a hopeless passion for the beautiful woman who had married his friend. Not a hint ever dropped to any living soul, not a word ever spoken to the woman herself, could be produced in proof of the assertion while the woman lived. When she died Report started up again more confidently than ever, and appealed to the man’s own conduct as proof against the man himself.
He attended the funeral—though he was no relation. He took a few blades of grass from the turf with which they covered her grave—when he thought that nobody was looking at him. He disappeared from his club. He travelled. He came back. He admitted that he was weary of England. He applied for, and obtained, an appointment in one of the colonies. To what conclusion did all this point? Was it not plain that his usual course of life had lost its attraction for him, when the object of his infatuation had ceased to exist? It might have been so—guesses less likely have been made at the truth, and have hit the mark. It is, at any rate, certain that he left England, never to return again. Another man lost, Report said. Add to that, a man in ten thousand—and, for once, Report might claim to be right."

And then we go into the real action of the book. It can be summarised pretty quickly - Geoffrey Delamayn, second son of Lord Holchester, grows up to be a celebrated sportsman and unspeakable cad. He gets young Anne, virtuous governess who just has that one little moral lapse, "in a scrape". She insists that he marry her; he doesn't want to; she threatens to kill herself; he grudgingly agrees to a private marriage. She goes to take a room in an inn nearby, presenting herself as a married woman in order to get a room. Geoffrey is supposed to join her there and make an honest woman of her, but is suddenly called away by news that his father is ill. He sends his friend Arnold (also young Blanche's fiance) to the inn to explain things. A storm forces him to spend the night there, claiming to be Anne's husband. When Geoffrey finds out that this maybe, possibly, means that Arnold and Anne have got married under Scottish law, he's delighted and uses this as a good excuse to abandon her.

The main characters - Geoffrey, Anne, Blanche, Arnold and Blanche's uncle Sir Patrick Lundie - then fill the required length of a Victorian three-volume novel by running around at cross-purposes for ages and ages, always telling each other everything except the one important piece of information they need to know in order to take a sensible course of action and resolve everything. The novel then redeems itself at the end with an absolutely wonderful climax, real edge-of-your-seat stuff of the type that only Wilkie Collins could produce, following which the good end happily and the bad unhappily, and Sir Patrick marries Anne. Old men marrying young women was a good thing in those days, except in the works of radical moaners like George Eliot.

But where's Mr Kendrew? Surely the prologue is setting things up for him to be the one who comes back to marry poor Anne in the end? He's never mentioned again after that prologue, and instead Sir Patrick (who isn't mentioned at all in the prologue) fills that role. I think Wilkie Collins just made a mess of the prologue somehow, assigning the wrong roles to the wrong men - in the main story, Sir Patrick's legal knowledge and background is an essential part of the plot, while Lord Holchester (the former Mr Delamayn) shows no traces of ever having been a lawyer, being just a grumpy old peer with a scoundrel for a son. I'm convinced that he intended the lawyer of the prologue to go on to be the lawyer of the story, only to realise after the prologue had been published (the novel was serialised in Cassell's Magazine) that he'd somehow turned the lawyer into Geoffrey's father and the layman into the potential future husband of Anne. What an unfortunate cock-up, but never mind. Take another draught of opium, Wilkie, and invent someone new. Sir Patrick.

I know this isn't the kind of writing Wilkie Collins is famous for (indeed, he was widely derided by his fellow authors of the late 19th century for actually knowing how his novels were going to end before he started to write them!), but he was still a Victorian writer, and he wasn't above making it up as he went along if he had to. "Armadale", as John Sutherland explains at length in one of his wonderful essays, was obviously written on the fly without the extensive planning that Collins preferred. "Jezebel's Daughter" is even more glaring - he tries to write it as the personal witness testimony of the narrator, but after half a novel of David being present at every important event and conversation, seeing and hearing everything on both sides of the villain's schemes but telling nobody what he's witnessed, Wilkie seems to realise how stupid the whole thing is and packs David off back to London, saying that the rest of the novel he knows from reading people's diaries in later years. It's not very good, that one - we could even leave it out of my Collins/Wood compilation if we wanted to save a bit of paper. "Man and Wife", though, I recommend to everyone - if you haven't read it, do check it out and see if you agree with me about the strange case of Mr Kendrew...

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturdays like they used to be

What do you think I've been doing all day today? Well, I'll tell you, we won't make it a guessing game (because you'd probably guess no end of appalling things, I know what you're like). I've spent all day doing practice runs of each and every discipline from the upcoming Canadian Open! Yes, all ten of them! I shudder to think how long it's been since I did a full national-standard memory competition in one day. It's the kind of thing that doesn't happen much nowadays; people tend to split the real events over two days, unless they're very cool people like the organiser of my Friendly Championships.

But in days gone by, I used to happily spend an entire Saturday doing memory training. It would more usually be the hour disciplines, but let's take things one step at a time. My scores were pretty terrible, and by the time I'd got to the spoken numbers my brain was absolutely good for nothing, despite which I'm happy about today. I haven't actually done any paper-based memorising since the French competition last year, not even in training. In fact, looking at my handwriting in the words discipline, it occurred to me that I never write with a pen any more! Paperless offices, emails, phones, they take away your ability to write. I need to practice my penmanship a little before I get to Canada, just to make sure my words are halfway legible.

Once I get to Canada, incidentally, I need to find a way to get from Edmonton to Westlock. It's 45 miles, apparently, but Westlock doesn't seem to welcome visitors who use public transport - the internet suggests the best thing to do is get a bus to a middle-of-nowhere place nearby and then a taxi the rest of the way. I'll see if I can hitch a lift with a competitor or passing lorry-driver. I don't really want to go to the trouble of hiring a car and having to remember what side of the road they drive on in Canada.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Back to school again

I don't mention nearly enough that I went to school with Robert Webb. It's an important claim to fame, you know. Nobody's heard of any of the things I've done, but everyone knows the one from Peep Show who isn't David Mitchell. But the point is, I've just been binge-watching "Back", starring Mitchell and Webb, on 4OD, having discovered at the weekend that the series exists (I don't watch telly nowadays, you know), and I absolutely love it! It's absolutely hilarious, and I urge anyone who hasn't yet heard of it (ignorant fools though they obviously are) to go and check it out!

I went to school with that one there, you know.

Sunday, March 11, 2018


As well as splashing out on plane tickets this month, I treated myself to something I really should have bought long before now - the collected edition of "Meltdown Man", the under-appreciated series that appeared in 2000AD in 1980-81. It came up in conversation with my brother recently, and I just had to get it to remind myself how cool it was. It's a real classic - tough SAS sergeant Nick Stone (remember the SAS-worship of the early eighties? Comics were jam-packed with tough SAS sergeants!) is caught in a nuclear explosion and finds himself flung into another world, where humans rule with eugenically-enhanced animals as their slaves. He gets straight to work setting things to rights.

For fifty consecutive issues, writer Alan Hebden handled the difficult task of fitting a weekly adventure into just four pages of comic (you have to get a lot of action into each page to do that!), aided by the downright awesome artwork of the type that only Massimo Belardinelli could produce. Two hundred pages of this kind of thing, all under one cover!
Honestly, it's that good, you can stare for hours at the artwork, even after getting through the epic storyline (complete with extremely weird and unsatisfying ending) - just look at the effort that's gone into that bottom panel!

 Belardinelli, seen here eating his synthetti while drawing Tharg's latest commission, was probably the greatest art robot ever to grace the pages of 2000AD. It's only in recent years that people have started to really rave about how good he was; maybe it's just the unappreciated-in-his-own-lifetime effect - he died in 2007, had retired long before the internet came along, and at his peak he never got the praise that some of the other droids did. Maybe it's because he was part of the furniture of 2000AD from the start, but took a while to warm up - he's there in the very first prog (indeed, the only creator credited in the first issue, having had the sense to write "Art - Belardinelli" on his artwork!), drawing the Dan Dare strip that was intended to be the main feature. He got the job not by being particularly good, but by being Italian; it was a lot cheaper to hire European artists than British ones back then. His first work is quite bland, but on Meltdown Man he really came into his own, and showed what a flair he had for drawing weird creatures!

There's Nick Stone on the far left, with the eyepatch, along with just a few of the other characters Belardinelli drew over the years! But his real talent wasn't characters themselves, it was the insane amount of little details he'd cram into every single picture - some artists only look good in colour, but Belardinelli was the old-fashioned type who was at his best when just using a whole lot of black ink on newsprint.

Splundig Vur Thrigg!

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Whither Canada?

As I've mentioned once or twice before, Alpha Flight is an all-time favourite comic of mine. And the localities the superheroes visit in the course of their adventures have always been on my "I must go there some day..." list.

So when there's a memory competition announced in Westlock, Alberta (not too far away from Edmonton), I can't help jumping at the opportunity to go there and meet the rapidly-growing Canadian memory community! The championship is on April 7th, I'm going to fly out there a few days before and see the sights of Edmonton, it'll be great! It's been quite a while since I did this kind of thing with the competitions in New York, not to mention quite a while since I went anywhere exotic and expensive, but my paying-off-my-debts campaign really has reduced them to minimal levels by now, so I don't mind splurging this once and taking another month to get totally financially stable.

I can't believe I've never been to Canada before. I've been all over the place, you'd think I would have found a reason to visit before now.

Friday, March 02, 2018

The path the others wish to go has been obscured by drifting snow

Wow, twice in one winter we've had huge deep snow! It's the kind of thing that gives me a good excuse to say "when I were a lad", because when I were a lad you could count on getting days like this once a year, and in really exceptional years it would stick around for weeks. Nowadays, it's much more exceptional.

I don't mind snow so much when it's thick and soft underfoot like this - the problem is when it's packed solid and icy, so you can't walk anywhere without falling down. On my way home from work on Wednesday night, before it had really started coming down thickly, I was walking down the hill and pushing my bike rather than trying it the faster but more lethal way, and slipped on the ice and fell down in a heap. But my knees, which I can usually rely on to do horrible things any time I move them unexpectedly, were perfectly okay with it, so maybe I should be a bit less careful of falling down in future.

I've been working from home the last two days, anyway, which is a very boring way to spend your time, especially if you're trapped in the house with no snack foods. I've got plenty of real food, but if I haven't got a bag of sweets in the place, I feel well and truly starved. So I've been out to the corner shop tonight to stock up, and it's a real wade-through-the-snowdrifts kind of a walk.

Still, the BBC weather solemnly promise me that by Monday it'll be 5°C and not a snowflake in sight, so maybe I'll be able to go to work in the morning without too much ice and mayhem.

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Another reason I need to play more othello, which I forgot to mention in my blog yesterday (to be fair, I wrote it after coming back from the traditional Saturday night Indian meal, which I also forgot to mention, but was very nice and came with booze) is that talking with Emmanuel and Matthias over lunch, we established that they've been to more countries for othello reasons than I've been to for memory-related things.

I think my total is 14, including the UK - Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, Turkey, USA, Brazil, China, Japan, Malaysia, Bahrain. Are there any others I've forgotten? I bet there are. So I should definitely try to play the other EGP tournaments and add places like Poland and the Netherlands to my mind-sports passport-stamp collection.

In any case, today wasn't very spectacular for me, although it started out okay with a very fun and complicated game against Benkt which I was probably losing all the way through but felt like it could have gone either way and ended up 33-31 to him. I then beat Remi Tastet, son of Marc, and lost not too heavily to Tom, leaving me on five points and hopeful of getting to six and beating the 50% target I always aim for at these things. But then I made a complete pig's ear of my final game against Bruce, and was completely slaughtered, to finish on only five, and well below the half-way mark.

1:  10.  pts [903]   TASTET Marc (2) {FRA}
  2:   8.  pts [911]   BERG Matthias (5301) {DEU}
               [855]   WETTERGREN Niklas (150009) {SWE}
               [831]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
  5:   7.5 pts [840]   KORTENDIJK Albert (5012) {NLD}
  6:   7.  pts [874]   EKLUND Oskar (150016) {SWE}
               [840]   SCHOTTE Tom (2795) {BEL}
               [825]   PLOWMAN Guy (320) {GBR}
               [814]   LAZARD Emmanuel (11) {FRA}
 10:   6.5 pts [862]   KASHIWABARA Takuji (839) {FRA}
               [727]   FREIBURGHAUS Kim (150060) {SWE}
 12:   6.  pts [838]   LEVY-ABEGNOLI Thierry (3598) {FRA}
               [805]   PRASEPTYO Linda (5159) {NLD}
               [792]   ROSSLER Daniel (70002) {DEU}
               [762]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
               [759]   STEENTOFT Benkt (1301) {SWE}
               [751]   SNEEK Marcel (5083) {NLD}
               [680]   MURAWSKI Stefan (5324) {DEU}
 19:   5.5 pts [818]   DE GRAAF Jan C. (4012) {NLD}
 20:   5.  pts [734]   JOHANSSON Erik (1493) {SWE}
               [729]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
               [669]   TASTET Remi (50053) {FRA}
               [661]   BRAND Richard (2341) {GBR}
               [646]   WIDMAN Linnea (150055) {SWE}
               [642]   PLOWMAN Luke (2069) {GBR}
               [610]   PLOWMAN Mark (100027) {GBR}
 27:   4.  pts [682]  -JORDAN Yvette (2093) {GBR}
               [599]   KLATTEN Linda (120116) {NLD}
               [586]   TASTET Sophie (50081) {FRA}
               [559]   BRAND Sophie (100026) {GBR}
               [547]   PLOWMAN Jessie (100029) {GBR}
 32:   3.  pts [539]   BRAND Henry (100023) {GBR}
 33:   2.  pts [500]  -JORDAN David (100040) {GBR}
               [483]  -PLOWMAN Anya (100037) {GBR}
 35:   1.  pt  [466]   BRAND Lucy (100025) {GBR}

That gave us a final between Marc and Matthias, a third-place playoff between Niklas and Imre, and a children's final (new innovation!) between Remi and Mark (Luke doesn't count as a child any more; I forget what the age limit is but he's all grown up nowadays). I'm sure these games have happened by now, but I had to leave to get the train (and rail-replacement-bus between Leicester and Nuneaton) back here.

But there'll be more othello to come this year! It's my latest resolution!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The old combination

"You don't remember me?" said Matthias Berg, who is a) someone I've met multiple times before now, and b) a really big deal in the world of international othello tournaments. "Of course I do," I lied unconvincingly, "I'm just making sure to ask everyone's name, because you know what my memory's like..."

Yes, it's the delights of the Cambridge International, the awesomest othello competition on these shores every year, attended by a whole host of Europe's finest players! And after the slight awkwardness of me having to get everybody's entry fees and pretend that I know who they are, it's a whole lot of fun! 35 players in all (you can see them all listed below if you want to keep up with the gossip), and other people hanging around but not playing included Adelaide, David Beck, Akke-Lien and assorted other Plowmen and Brend (that's the plural of Brand), making it a crowded gathering in the Old Combination Room at Trinity College.

We've got stylish new trophies, thanks to the generosity of the manufacturer, as well as the perpetual trophy, which needs a tiny bit of updating (the winner of each year is inscribed on a little shield - the winners from 2001-2008 are on temporary paper shields, after that they're not on it at all) but is still extremely groovy!

I was drawn against Erik Johansson, who I genuinely hadn't met before, in the first round, and managed a 40-24 win even though I hadn't played for so long. Then I was comprehensively beaten by Daniel Rößler and Matthias before lunch at the usual really nice university cafeteria. But in the afternoon, I won three out of four; beating Jan de Graaf, Linnea Widman and Marcel Sneek, with the only fly in the ointment being a tremendous thrashing by Takuji Kashiwabara in round 5.

At one point I had a proud 100% win record against Takuji, having beaten him in 2003 and then never getting drawn to play against him again. I don't remember if it was still going until today, but it's definitely gone now.

But that leaves me on four wins out of seven, with another four rounds of swiss to play tomorrow, and I'm just slightly above the half-way point on the leaderboard!

 1:   6.  pts [497]   EKLUND Oskar (150016) {SWE}
               [449]   TASTET Marc (2) {FRA}
  3:   5.  pts [501]   BERG Matthias (5301) {DEU}
               [459]   SCHOTTE Tom (2795) {BEL}
               [458]   WETTERGREN Niklas (150009) {SWE}
               [449]   LEVY-ABEGNOLI Thierry (3598) {FRA}
               [432]   LAZARD Emmanuel (11) {FRA}
               [424]   LEADER Imre (79) {GBR}
  9:   4.5 pts [475]   DE GRAAF Jan C. (4012) {NLD}
               [391]   FREIBURGHAUS Kim (150060) {SWE}
 11:   4.  pts [433]   PRASEPTYO Linda (5159) {NLD}
               [418]   PLOWMAN Guy (320) {GBR}
               [409]   ROSSLER Daniel (70002) {DEU}
               [398]   KYTE Bruce (2078) {GBR}
               [383]   STEENTOFT Benkt (1301) {SWE}
               [371]   PRIDMORE Ben (4019) {GBR}
               [351]   TASTET Remi (50053) {FRA}
 18:   3.5 pts [441]   KASHIWABARA Takuji (839) {FRA}
               [387]   KORTENDIJK Albert (5012) {NLD}
 20:   3.  pts [390]   JOHANSSON Erik (1493) {SWE}
                       SNEEK Marcel (5083) {NLD}
               [353]   KLATTEN Linda (120116) {NLD}
               [344]   WIDMAN Linnea (150055) {SWE}
               [325]   TASTET Sophie (50081) {FRA}
               [321]   BRAND Richard (2341) {GBR}
                       MURAWSKI Stefan (5324) {DEU}
               [317]   PLOWMAN Mark (100027) {GBR}
               [311]   PLOWMAN Luke (2069) {GBR}
               [291]   BRAND Sophie (100026) {GBR}
 30:   2.  pts [336]   JORDAN Yvette (2093) {GBR}
               [285]   BRAND Henry (100023) {GBR}
               [269]   PLOWMAN Jessie (100029) {GBR}
               [253]   PLOWMAN Anya (100037) {GBR}
 34:   1.  pt  [252]   JORDAN David (100040) {GBR}
               [248]   BRAND Lucy (100025) {GBR}

I really need to play more othello. I think I might make this my new project - applying memory techniques to the game, and seeing how much I can memorise! We'll see how it goes...