Tuesday, June 25, 2019

I still don't like modern technology, though

Did you ever hear of such a thing as a TV that tells you your remote control's batteries are running out and you should change them? Look here, television, I'll change the batteries AFTER the remote control stops working, and no sooner! Yes, even if that means leaving the telly on the same channel for weeks until I get round to going out to the shops for some new batteries. I don't take orders from my television set.

I'll just switch it off and go out and do something less boring instead, since that classic lyric is back in fashion.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Down under

I've mentioned before that all video games created since roughly 1995 are rubbish, and I stand by that belief resolutely. There are exceptions to this rule, like Sonic Mania Plus, which I mentioned the last time I made that sweeping condemnation of a quarter of a century's hard work by game designers, and another one I think it's only fair to mention is Undertale.

In the old days, you see, video games had lastability. You could go back and play them again and again, because it's always fun to do. Shoot all the space invaders a bit more quickly every time, or whatever. You can always defeat Dr Robotnik over and over again, because you can have fun along the way, take a different route around the levels, challenge yourself in different ways. A lot of modern games, though, tend to be basically like watching a movie, and not a very good one either. You press a button now and then, but it's mainly just about sitting a watching the story. And once you've finished the game, there's no point in playing it again, because you already know what happens.

There's one game, though, that I finished three months ago, and would quite like to play again. But it's difficult, because one of the characters told me that restarting the game and playing it again would be tantamount to killing all my friends, after I'd given them all a happy ending. That's the kind of game Undertale is.

When the game first came out, back in something like 2015, I tried to avoid hearing anything about it, because it sounded like something I might want to play some day, without spoilers. So when I eventually noticed that you can get it on the Nintendo Switch now, and that I own one of those things, I had to finally give it a try. And I'll avoid any kind of spoilers here, as much as possible, in case you want to try it too, but wow, Undertale is the most amazing game. It remembers you.

You can go through the game and kill the monsters and win, but on the other hand you can also try talking to them and sorting things out more peacefully, and win in a different way. And when you start again, some of the monsters have a sense of deja vu, and act a bit differently this time round. And some of them remember everything, and tell you all about it. It's the kind of game where actions have consequences, as well as the kind of game that's often screamingly funny and entertaining to play! If you haven't played before, you really should go out and give it a try.

Meanwhile, until I find a way to wipe my own memory so I can play through the game again, I've been spending a lot of time catching up on all the fan comics, music, animations and other wonderful things Undertale has inspired in the last four years! But save them until you've played through the game. Spoilers!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

I also like cricket

In a sort of occasionally-watch-test-matches way, at least. But this last couple of days I've tuned in to the world cup and quite enjoyed it, so maybe I'm turning into more of a modern cricket fan.

But could we persuade a couple of West Indies players to change their names? Whenever I see "C. Brathwaite", I assume it's Kraigg, even though I know he spells his name with a K. I'm not sure what I'm mentally spelling Carlos with...

Friday, June 21, 2019

The lost decade

I like tennis at the moment. I recall blogging here, at some point in the distant past, that tennis was rubbish, but it's got better since then. One main reason for that is the continued dominance of three comparatively elderly men, which is always nice to see in any competitive sport (mind or otherwise).

As a general rule, I like useful pieces of trivial knowledge, like the fact that nobody born in the 1990s has ever won a non-senior/junior/wheelchair/female men's singles grand slam tournament (tennis is a sport where you have to specify exactly what kind of people are allowed to compete in the competitions you're talking about), and dislike it when that kind of thing stops being true. So I'm pleased to see that the latest new star of the tennis world, Felix Auger-Aliassime, was born in 2000. Now he can go on and win Wimbledon if the 1980s generation finally get too old for it, and that line at the bottom of the chart can remain at zero and provide a trivial piece of interesting small talk forever!

(Although of course the real reason is that there aren't as many best-of-five-sets matches nowadays, so the younger generations take longer to build up the necessary stamina to play in them, and Young Felix hasn't really shown any signs of being an exception yet, but possibly that's another thing you're not supposed to mention in tennis. Tennis people are sensitive.)

Actually, the one I feel sorry for in all this arbitrary grouping into decades is Kei Nishikori, who was born on December 29, 1989. If he'd come along three days later, he would have had the added motivation of trying to be the first 1990s man to win a grand slam, and he'd probably have won dozens of them by now.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Family fun

I haven't talked family trees on this blog for a long time - when the 1921 census comes out in January 2022, I'll have to get into the whole extensive research again. The Pridmore branch of the family had been seriously reduced by the war and disease since 1911, but I still have plenty of relatives to dig up.

Meanwhile, here's my favourite historical document - my great-grandparents' marriage certificate!
Great-granddad is being a bit creative when asked his father's name and occupation; he was actually the illegitimate son of Eliza Pridmore, unmarried domestic servant, and an unknown father. He's only a tiny bit creative, though - it's not that much of a stretch of the imagination to invent a father called William Pridmore, labourer. If you're going to invent a father, couldn't you give him a cool name and say he's some kind of secret international spy who couldn't come to the wedding because he's busy doing important government work in South Africa?

I think we can forgive the white lie, though - not only was he a man "of full age" marrying "a minor" (they were 21 and 17, so it's really not quite as bad as that makes it sound), but their first child was born a bit under four months later, so the reason for the hasty wedding was probably well known. Under the circumstances, when the curate asks "Father's name?", not many people would be up to replying "No idea, sorry."

His mother Eliza, who was also illegitimate, didn't have any qualms about leaving those two boxes blank when she got married fifteen years earlier - but then, she was also illiterate, so probably didn't much care what got written down on the paper. This is the kind of thing I love about researching the ancestors, and there are still a lot of them I haven't fully explored!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

And while I'm recommending things

If you've got Netflix, check out Memory Games! The documentary following Nelson, Yanjaa, Simon and Hannes around the world of memory competitions!

I don't actually know how the whole Netflix thing works, and I've always thought that I should probably find out some day, so maybe this is a good reason to finally get up to date...

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

An oxymoron worth checking out

There's a website called Raffolux, which offers "exclusive raffles for everyone", that apparently very few people know about but which is (I'm reliably informed) a real and actual thing that gives you a good chance of winning cool prizes. Joe from the office, who is young and tends to have his finger on the pulse of cool things, won a hairdryer from it. And assures me that it's the kind of hairdryer that people with hair who like it dry think is really cool and desirable. I'd recommend buying a ticket or two. It says it gives money to charity, as well.

Monday, June 17, 2019

That film with the aliens

I'm going to America for the 4th of July, and not for memory-related reasons either. It's absolutely ages since I went anywhere exotic and it wasn't for a memory competition or something to do with being a memory master. I'll probably forget I'm not there to remember things, and go around memorising everything and expecting people to tell me I'm clever when I recite it back to them.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Play your didgeridoo, Blue

What's the best new pre-school cartoon out there, I hear you ask? That would be "Bluey", an Australian work of genius that hasn't officially reached these shores yet, but is apparently on its way to CBeebies eventually.

Actually, 'pre-school' probably isn't the right word; the central character is six years old, but you know what I mean. She's an anthropomorphic dog living in Australia with her parents and younger sister, and the episodes are an absolutely brilliant seven-minute slice-of-life, with really great animation and some absolutely hilarious writing (by a guy called Joe Brumm). I'm an enormous fan!

The dad is a real character, so this is a very appropriate subject to blog about on Father's Day. Make sure to watch it if and when it appears on TV in your country!

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Oh, right, the blog!

I realise I haven't posted anything here for a long time, and I do apologise to all the people out there who in my imagination are hanging on my every word and eagerly awaiting a daily update. I'll do my best to keep in touch in future!

Blogger.com tells me I've had a comment left somewhere by Basem, but doesn't say which post it was left on, so I'll reply here - yes, I'm Ben Pridmore from Moonwalking With Einstein, and it's nice to meet you! Good luck with memory training!

I'll post something fascinating here on a daily basis now. Did you know that if St Vitus's Day be rainy weather, it will rain for thirty days together? It's mostly not raining today, though - it's sort of overcast and occasionally a tiny bit drizzly, but does that count as rainy weather? St Vitus should have just stuck to dancing, and left the weather-predicting to Swithin. He obviously wasn't very good at it.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

French memories

This will be fun - the French Memory Championship in October, just before my birthday! Well worth a trip across the channel!

The fourth installment of the French Memory Open Championships will take place on the 12th and 13th of October 2019 at the ENSEA (Engineering School of Electronics and Telecommunications) in Cergy-Pontoise, north-west of Paris. The competition will be in an IAM National format and will be overseen by Francoise-Marie Thuillier, the main organizer and Idriz Zogaj, the arbiter in chief.

As was the case in a number of recent competitions, the memorization will be done on paper and the recall will be performed digitally (using the standard-memory site) for all the disciplines apart from Speed Cards. The modalities of registration and the entry fee will be announced before late. The competition is open to everyone, regardless of previous experience, whether you're there to break records, advance in the world rankings, a total beginner looking to get inspired by discussing with the French National team members (who scored a silver medal in the rankings by nations at the past World Championships in Vienna) and other international competitors or talk hippocampus-hacking all weekend long with like-minded mnemonists. Feel free to contact the IAM in case you have any questions about this particular event or memory training for competitions in general. À bientôt !

Friday, April 26, 2019

No spoilers

But I have to say, I feel very lucky to live in a universe where the Marvel Cinematic Universe exists.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

And now it's going to rain for the next week and a half

I'm still really impressed by the four days of summery sunshine over the four-day weekend, immediately changing back to grey unexceptionalness as soon as people go back to work. But anyway, I've just had an email from the Gold Coast hotel in Las Vegas, who have been sending me emails ever since I gave them my address in January 2002, advertising misleadingly low 'room rates' (which, in true American fashion, don't include tax, or 'resort fees', or tax on resort fees) and it makes me think I'm way, way overdue for another holiday there.

I should just book a week in the Gold Coast right now, and see how much the place has changed in the what must be about eight years since I was last there! I bet it isn't raining in Las Vegas!

Monday, April 22, 2019

Memory leaguing

Those following my cycling updates will be pleased to know I did indeed bike from Derby to Nottingham today, completing an impressive four-day sequence of healthy outdoor pursuits. Now tomorrow I have to go back to the office and vegetate some more - I'm really going to have to quit that job some time soon and become a full-time (or couple-of-hours-a-day) recreational cyclist.

But to look on the bright side, it's nearly May, and Memory League May is with us again. Get yourself a free three month subscription to Memory League by following the instructions here!

If you've never even heard of Memory League, check out the site and give it a try. It's fun! If you're already familiar with it, join the latest season of the Online Memory League Championship! It works like this:

 The Online Memory League Championship is a competition open to everybody. Competitors are divided into groups of around six players (with each division consisting of two groups) - 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 group 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 relegated to the division below, and the top two in each division are promoted to the division above. There are play-offs between the runner-up in each group and the second-last in a group from the division above to determine promotion and relegation.

 The top four in the first division go into play-offs for the grand title, followed by a grand final to determine the League Champion!

 This season will last five weeks, starting at the beginning of May and ending at the end. Or at least that's the plan! Everybody who takes part will need to be prepared to play five matches in May. So if that works for you, please sign up on the forum!

Sunday, April 21, 2019

I'm fitter than I thought I was

I was only planning to go as far as Kings Norton on the bike today, but once I'd got there I thought I might as well carry on all the way to Birmingham, so I did, even if it meant missing the first half hour of the football. And as a bonus, on the train back someone told me I look just like that guy who can remember everything, and was even more impressed when I confessed that I actually AM that guy!

This whole less-cake-more-exercise thing is working out surprisingly well, actually. Tomorrow I might get the train up to Derby or Nottingham, and bike the old route between the two, just to finish off an Easter weekend of pedal-power. By next weekend, I'll probably be running marathons.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A bunch of fives

The people in charge of weather have shown unusual good taste and made this four-day Easter weekend into four days of gorgeous summer sunshine, after months of general miserableness. So, since it takes a lot of really devoted denial to pretend I haven't put on any weight over the winter, I decided that this Easter will be dedicated to a lot of healthy exercise and a sharp reduction in the volume of sweets I stuff my face with on a daily basis.

Luckily, Redditch is a great place to live if you like to cycle along handily-signposted long-distance cycle routes. It's the place where National Cycle Route 55 splits off from the main Route 5, giving me a choice of three directions to go, starting practically right on my doorstep. Yesterday I went all the way down to Stratford-upon-Avon (and then got the train back, which probably takes longer than cycling since you have to go all the way to Birmingham and back out again, but which is fine because that means I can drop into the comic shop while I'm there), today I went to Bromsgrove and back, and tomorrow or Monday I'll complete the triad and venture up towards Birmingham by the more direct route. That will hopefully make it easier to close the buttons on my work shirts when I go back to the office on Tuesday.

Thursday, March 21, 2019


Two entirely unrelated people today have mentioned the chronicles of Narnia, with particular reference to Edmund's love of Turkish delight, in conversation with me. It must be an omen of some kind, but I can't quite figure out what it's omening. I'll have to go and look in the wardrobe.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Time marches on

I really don't like seeing a football headline saying "Brighton are in the FA Cup semi-finals for the first time in 36 years". I remember the previous time, you see. It happened in my lifetime. That can only possibly mean that I'm old enough to remember things that happened 36 years ago, which is a very disturbing thought.

It's Brighton's fault. If they'd won the cup every year since 1983, the sports pages would just say "Brighton are in the FA Cup semi-finals, just like last year", and I don't particularly mind remembering things that happened a year ago.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Do the math

Some time back in the late nineties or early 2000s, when England had four teams in the Champions League quarter-finals and someone complained in my hearing that the draw was obviously a fix because two of the English teams were drawn against each other, I quickly played about with Excel in order to add some mathematical accuracy to my counter-argument that that person was extremely stupid, and worked out that the chance of all four games being one English team and one foreign team was only twenty-two-and-six-sevenths percent.

But that figure seemed so obviously not right, because I would have thought it was exactly 25% if it was anything, that I assumed I'd done something wrong, so I never did come back with my brilliant rebuttal of the whole 'fix' calumny. However, I just did the same thing with my more advanced version of Excel, and it still only says 22.857142 recurring percent, so either I'm very consistent in doing something wrong after all these years, or the universe really is so badly aligned that the chance of all four English teams ending up in different games doesn't work out to a nice round number.

Somebody out there please do some maths, because otherwise I'm going to have to devote hours to doing the whole thing properly.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill

And there's no need to activate the aura of negativism (if anyone gets that reference, award yourself a promotion to colonel), because I'm still as wildly impressed and entertained by the Marvel Cinematic Universe as ever! Captain Marvel is great, and I'm going to use it as a good excuse to re-watch all twenty previous movies preparatory to seeing Avengers: Endgame. There might maybe exist some more productive uses of my time, but I don't care. Excelsior!

Friday, March 01, 2019

Memory québécois

I was going to add last night that I could put on a red wig and play Dot Cotton, since they've been very awkwardly filming scenes without June Brown in which Dot is just off-screen for the last couple of weeks of episodes. It's the part I was born to play.

But on the subject of my bad memory, everybody should know about the Quebec Memory Championships coming up on March 23! It's an innovative and really well-designed memory competition that should really be emulated all around the world. And you don't actually have to go to Laval University to compete, because you can take part, just for fun, as an 'honorary competitor', in the sense that they'll send people the memorisation papers and let you do it yourself. So I'm certainly going to do that, and I just thought I should publicly announce my approval of the whole thing here for the world to see.

Although most people will have stopped reading when I implied that I want to be Dot Cotton, but never mind.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Dreams of stardom

 I started watching EastEnders again for the first time in many years, when I heard Dr Legg was coming back. I still don't know what half of the characters in it are called, but it's fun to keep in touch with everyone on Albert Square. It even inspired my subconscious mind last night and gave me a dream that I was sitting in the café when Dr Legg (or possibly Leonard Fenton) came over and said he'd had an idea for a new scene with the two of us, which they could add into the episodes before he died, so we had a conversation which I think involved baking pies.

I've always sort of wanted to be on EastEnders, or even better, Coronation Street, as long as it was in some kind of role that required an absolute minimum of acting but basically just involved me sitting in the background of important scenes. And getting my picture in those soap opera magazines a lot, obviously. I'm available, casting people. Send me an email.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

And now we know what happened to our old friend the Over-Mind!

To tell the story of the Over-Mind, the character who appeared in Defenders comics for a short while in the early eighties and then just disappeared without trace, you actually have to chronicle the appearances of his/their component parts over the prior decade or so of comics.

The Over-Mind first appears in Fantastic Four #113-116, over the summer of 1971. Written by Stan Lee, with assistance from Roy Thomas and Archie Goodwin, and drawn by John Buscema, very much in the style of Jack Kirby, the Over-Mind is a giant (looking about eight or nine feet tall, though it's never entirely consistent from one panel to the next) bearded man with fancy armour and helmet (with long red hair underneath) and staggering mental powers. He started life as Grom, the mightiest of a warlike alien race called the Eternals (no relation to the Eternals created by Kirby in 1976, who went on to be more important to the Marvel universe), who eventually picked on a much more powerful (and gigantic) civilisation called Gigantus and were obliterated. The Eternals' last act was to transmit the brain-power of the last billion survivors of their race into Grom's body, and send him out to crush the entire universe.
He causes trouble for the Fantastic Four over the course of four months of their comic, before the rather anticlimactic ending when The Stranger (another giant alien of staggering power who'd been popping up as a deus ex machina in Stan Lee's comics here and there since 1965) comes along, says that he's the combined form of the people of Gigantus, and uses his vast power to shrink the Over-Mind down to microscopic size, giving him his own empty universe to crush, trapped forever within a single mote of dust.

Meanwhile, the superhero Nighthawk (real name Kyle Richmond) had first appeared in two issues of Avengers in 1969, in which the Avengers (Marvel's mightiest heroes) face the Squadron Sinister (a team of villains inspired by DC's mightiest heroes). Nighthawk is the Batman analogue. He reappears in a Daredevil story in 1970, trying to discredit Daredevil and take his place as a hero - it was probably unintentional on the part of Roy Thomas, who wrote these stories, but they do set Nighthawk up nicely as a spoilt rich kid who desperately wants attention and could do a lot of good if somebody would just point him in the right direction. That's how it worked when he was added to the cast of Defenders in late 1973, turning against the Squadron Sinister when they go a bit too far down the evil insanity path, and ending up the everyman hero who was the heart of the Defenders team from that point onwards.

A year later, Steve Gerber took over as writer of Defenders, and that's when it became a truly great comic. In #32, which came out in late 1975, he chronicled Nighthawk's origins for the first time in the course of a storyline in which he has his brain surgically removed and someone else's put in his body (the story also involves the more conventional mind-swaps by means of Dr Strange's magic powers too!) - the origin mentions in passing his college girlfriend Mindy, who he ended up killing in a car crash.

(he didn't actually wear his superhero costume all his life; these scenes are symbolic rather than literal)

That's our prologue to the story of the Over-Mind. Now we can skip ahead five years, and enter into the works of J.M. DeMatteis.

Just before taking over as the permanent writer of Defenders, DeMatteis wrote Marvel Team-Up #101, in which Spider-Man teams up with Nighthawk. Kyle Richmond is giving a press conference about the ongoing government investigation into his financial dealings (an unresolved plotline which DeMatteis inherited with the Defenders comic and doesn't seem to have had any particular idea what to do with) when he's attacked by a robot double of Mindy, screaming "Why did you murder me?" Peter Parker happens to be there in his capacity as a press photographer (a much better justification for Spidey's presence than most team-up comics managed!), and the two heroes join forces to investigate the robot's invitation to a 'class reunion' at Grayburn University.

Interestingly, Nighthawk's college days are specifically dated to 'twelve years ago', and the year 1968. Spider-Man seems to imply that he wasn't at college during that time, but of course by this point Spidey had been appearing in comics for nearly twenty years, and writers were already having to be very vague about exactly how old he was. The whole college is populated by robot hippies, protesters and riot police, enacting an exaggerated representation of the sixties, and attacking the superheroes. Nostalgia for the sixties, as I mentioned last time, is a feature of J.M. DeMatteis's works - he was thirteen years old during the Summer of Love, and I always get the impression that he resents being just too young to have had the full sixties experience.

Anyway, the villain behind the whole thing turns out to be... Mindy, not dead after all!

She's worked up an insane hatred of Kyle over the past twelve years, and used his father's money to orchestrate this revenge. But she can't finally go through with killing him when Spidey forces her to accept that she did love Kyle once. She gives herself up, and Kyle calls 'an exclusive sanitarium in New England' to take care of her.

Another year goes by, during which DeMatteis writes the epic 'demon drama' in Defenders which I raved about in my last blog on the subject. At the start of it, Nighthawk is sidelined by some kind of magic spell that leaves him paralysed during daylight hours. And with one thing and another, it takes him until Defenders #102 to get out to New England to see how Mindy's getting along. There, it transpires that the sanitarium is run by a man called August Masters, posing as a doctor but really working for a shadowy government agency called the Central Information Bureau, and they've gathered together people with psychic powers to use for their own nefarious purposes. Mindy, as it turns out, has particularly great psi-potential, and is the central focus of their experiments. There appear to be four other psychic patients/prisoners involved, although they're never drawn particularly clearly, and they're all hooked up to machinery channelling their mental energy. It is revealed (confirmed by Clea, Dr Strange's consort who's one of the Defenders) that it was Mindy's mental energies that caused Nighthawk's paralysis. And then Masters turns her on him to get rid of him once and for all...

But when Mindy hears Kyle screaming, she calls off the attack and turns it on Masters and his machinery. The place is ruined, but her mental state is worse than ever, and she's left catatonic. Masters cheerfully shrugs off the damage and tries to persuade Nighthawk to keep quiet about the whole thing in return for the CIB getting those government investigations and charges against Kyle Richmond dropped. Kyle angrily refuses and contacts the authorities and press, only to find that Masters gets away with his psychics and staff, and the whole thing gets hushed up anyway.

At the same time, J.M. DeMatteis was writing Captain America, and the very same month that this Defenders comic came out, a story with a similar theme appeared in Captain America #264. Captain America finds himself in a world that keeps changing in strange ways, from a perfect utopia into nightmare scenarios. It turns out to be all the work of one Morgan MacNeil Hardy (the bad guy behind the events of Spider-Woman #33 a year earlier, also written by DeMatteis), who wants to restore America to the beautiful and decent place he believes it to have been when he was a boy, back at the turn of the century. To that end, he's found four people with psychic powers and is using them to reshape reality itself.

The problem is, the psychics' own ideas as to what would make a perfect world are interfering with Hardy's - and since one of them is a racist who thinks black people need to be put in their place, another is an elderly German who thinks things would have been better all round if they'd won the war, and another is a young boy who's understandably become very down on adults generally and thinks it would be better if grown-ups didn't exist, the result is chaos. The most level-headed of the psychics, a woman called Ursula who worships Captain America, is able to point Cap in the right direction through all the madness to the centre, where he's able to confront Hardy about the folly of imposing your own view of what's right on others, and put an end to the whole thing. It's a really great story, this one!

At the time, there's no suggestion that the two stories are connected - quite probably, they just started life as DeMatteis writing two different stories around a favourite theme of his, and they happened to both be published simultaneously. The next month in Defenders, Kyle Richmond finally comes to the end of his government investigation and is let off with a warning not to be so careless with his taxes in future. August Masters appears in the corridor outside the courtroom and smirkingly takes the credit for Kyle's reprieve. But the rest of the comic is taken up with other members of the 'non-team' that was the Defenders - it was normal for characters to drift in and out of the main storyline and for people like Nighthawk to show up in one-page interludes keeping the subplots bubbling along.

The next month is more of the same - Kyle gets two pages to celebrate his freedom with those Defenders who aren't involved with that issue's central story, only for them to be kidnapped by CIB agents. Daredevil, who happens to be there in his civilian identity, identifies that they're lying about being government employees, but they get away with all the heroes nonetheless.

And the month after that, we don't see them at all, as the many other Defenders deal with their own problems (a lot more demons!). But the final panel tells us to check out Captain America #268 before returning for Defenders #106...

Captain America has had three unrelated adventures since dealing with Hardy and his psychics, but in this issue he gets a psychic summons from Ursula, realises that the two surviving telepaths from that story have been kidnapped shortly after returning to their own lives, and heads to Colorado to try to find what's happened to them. The two are named here as Ursula Richards and Philip Le Guin, from which we can probably deduce that J.M. DeMatteis is a fan of Ursula K Le Guin and Philip K Dick - or possibly it's just the letter K that makes them special? Anyway, Kyle Richmond, along with Hellcat, Gargoyle and Valkyrie, find themselves prisoners of August Masters. He cheerfully admits that the CIB never existed (in fact, it's referred to as the CID throughout this comic, which gets a giggle from British readers at least), and he's part of an organisation of people with former government connections who are keen to engineer world war three, wipe out the Soviet Union forever and thus make the world a better place. Hardy, he says, was part of their group, but went rogue with his own reality-reshaping plans. They all report to 'the Professor', who doesn't appear in any of these stories but eventually shows up in some other DeMatteis comics further down the line.

They have Mindy, as well as Ursula and Philip and an unspecified number of other psychics in the background, and an army of soldiers who for no fathomable reason are dressed as ancient Roman centurions. There doesn't seem to be any sense behind these costumes, there's not a line of dialogue offering any explanation for them, and I can only assume it was some kind of miscommunication between writer and artist that they just decided to shrug off and ignore. But Ursula and Philip manage to wake up the Defenders, they join forces with Captain America and free the psychics - but then Masters threatens to blow the whole place up, and the heroes surrender. Mindy, picking up on Nighthawk's mental suggestion, sends a psychic message to Dr Strange, and so it leads in to the next issue of the Defenders comic.

In Defenders #106, Dr Strange gets his brain zapped by Mindy's message, and calls in some help from his regular collaborator in mysteries like this the Son of Satan, who's in love with Hellcat amongst his many other problems, and the Beast, who... well, there's no reason at all why Doc should call the Beast, but it had just been decided that he was going to be added to the cast of Defenders, so there he is. They're joined by Daredevil, who's realised that someone has wiped his memory of what happened when he went to Kyle Richmond's party and come to Doc for help, and the four of them set off to Colorado to rescue their friends. Masters is continuing with his plan, and this is the best look we ever get at the other telepaths involved in it - there are three of them, apparently two men and one woman.

And those six telepaths eventually come together, get inside the mind of Kyle Richmond, and thwart the entire scheme. The whole base is blown to smithereens (fans of Kurt Busiek's Thunderbolts comic in the late nineties, like me, have to pretend that it was only one little tiny bit of the base, which is a stretch, but that's a different story) and that's the apparent end of Nighthawk, Masters, Mindy, Ursula, Philip and the other three.

The Defenders then get caught up in further adventures - during the course of them, the Hulk, Son of Satan and Sub-Mariner are swept off into another dimension in #109, where someone off-panel says hello to them, much to their surprise. Dr Strange sets off in search of his missing teammates, and when he finds them, they're with none other than... Nighthawk! In an interlude in #110, we go to Washington DC, where the scattered crowd are afraid of the president... Kyle Richmond! In a one-page interlude in #111, Nighthawk tells his friends that explanations will have to wait, and shows them the unconscious form of Squadron Sinister leader Hyperion! And then in the final half-page of the issue, we see President Kyle Richmond again, in conversation with... the Over-Mind!!

As the final line promises us, this has all been the prologue to the big spectacular comic storyline of 1982. And although we seem to have reached the point where J.M. DeMatteis is under editorial orders to stop doing things like making Patsy Walker into the daughter of Satan and devoting a whole wonderful issue to the mental struggles of Devil-Slayer, he still takes a concept like 'dozens of superheroes having a big fight' and interweaves it with the most convoluted plot you could ever hope to encounter.

As an aside, you can see why people in the early eighties thought comic continuity was getting too complicated. This storyline has a fair few asterisked footnotes explaining that it happens after that year's Avengers Annual, which hadn't been published yet, but before the dramatic changes to the Hulk that had happened in his own comic recently (written by Bill Mantlo without any real communication between him and DeMatteis), and presumably before the 'four months later' epilogue of Defenders #110 involving Dr Strange, so we all know he has to come through this summer spectacular unscathed. Not that there was any doubt about that, either, since he was also appearing in his own comic, written by Roger Stern without any real communication between him and DeMatteis.

But luckily, we don't have to worry about any of that kind of thing, because from this point on we're focusing on the Over-Mind, which limits us entirely to the Defenders comic! Here's the reader's digest version of the story that spans issues #112-114. After the events of that Avengers Annual, the Beast has invited various Defenders to a party to celebrate his moving into the New York brownstone Kyle Richmond had bought a while ago for homeless Defenders (currently inhabited by Valkyrie, Hellcat and Gargoyle). Hellcat misses this whole summer spectacular because she hasn't yet come home from her adventures in #111, but in attendance are the Beast, Valkyrie, Gargoyle, Silver Surfer, Vision and Scarlet Witch, plus Beast's girlfriend Vera and Hellcat's housekeeper-and-mother-figure Dolly. When they unite in concern for the missing Dr Strange, he's able to reach across dimensions and bring them (except Vera and Dolly) to help him, the Hulk, Sub-Mariner and Son of Satan with Nighthawk and his situation. So that's a lineup of eleven Defenders.

They are, as it turns out, on the alternate Earth that is home to the Squadron Supreme, an alternate, benevolent, version of the Squadron Sinister who had met the Avengers a couple of times before. There are twelve of them, including Hyperion and their own version of Kyle Richmond / Nighthawk. The Nighthawk of our world found himself there after his apparent death, and doesn't know why, but the world is in a bad state. The alternate Kyle Richmond had become the President of the USA since we last saw him, and at first all was great, but then the Over-Mind arrived, and became President Kyle's ever-present sidekick. It soon became clear that they were taking over minds, killing opponents and eventually taking over the world. The entire Squadron Supreme except Hyperion are now under the Over-Mind's control, and the surviving people of the world are living under terrified subjection to Kyle Richmond and the USA. So it's going to be the eleven or twelve Defenders fighting the eleven or twelve Squadron Supremes and eventually teaming up to defeat the big baddie, the Over-Mind - an epic but standard kind of summer spectacular superhero story.

At least, that's the situation the Defenders think they've found themselves in. But there are other complications. August Masters has found himself on this world too, and is being driven insane by the mad distortion of his American dream. There's a cloud of energy floating around Earth which shapes itself into the form of Mindy. And it's President Richmond who does all the talking - the Over-Mind just lurks behind him and quotes his catchphrase "From beyond the stars shall come the Over-Mind, and he shall crush the universe!" over and over again.

To cut the long, complex and brilliant story as short as it's possible to cut it, the real villain is Null, the Living Darkness, another combined-evil-of-an-extinct-alien-race being who the Defenders had fought before. He found the Over-Mind in his mote of dust and brought him back to Earth, ending up on the alternate Earth just by mistake but not caring - he just wants to destroy the universe, it doesn't really matter which one. He's sucking the mental powers of the Over-Mind, whose own mind has been shut down by his own traumas, to fuel his universe-destroying powers.

The President Kyle Richmond who's been appearing in this story is in fact just a construct created by Null to incubate in. The Nighthawk Kyle Richmond who's been talking to the Defenders is (although he doesn't know it himself), actually President Kyle. The six telepaths, mainly under the control of dominant mind Mindy, flung their minds across the dimensions to the alternate universe when the base exploded. They tried to save Kyle, but by mistake saved August Masters instead. Mindy, horrified, imprinted President Kyle with her idea of Nighthawk Kyle's mind and memories and had him try to save the world. With me? I don't blame you if you're not. It's three whole issues of this kind of thing:
Brilliant, believe me, but you really have to read it. It ends with the knowledge that poor Kyle Richmond of our universe is dead, as he has been all along. And the six telepaths have ended up in the vacant gigantic body of the Over-Mind. They (long before specifying your pronouns came into fashion, this version of the Over-Mind was a 'they') return to our Earth with the Defenders in #115, but most of that issue is taken up with a tribute to Dr Seuss, of all people, featuring only the Valkyrie, Sub-Mariner, Gargoyle and Beast.

And so we have a new character in the ranks of the Defenders - generally referred to as the Over-Mind, but actually the combined personalities of the six psychics. #116 establishes that they have moved in with Dr Strange temporarily (a slightly weird decision - you would have thought the Defenders' brownstone would be a better location, considering that there's no mention of the Over-Mind in Dr Strange's own comic and you'd think having a nine-foot giant telepath who's actually six people around the place would be something you'd have to mention). Dr Strange is gloomy because Clea has recently left him, so the Over-Mind take it upon themselves to show him the various relationships of the Defenders as they go about returning to their lives. The two of them just telepathically watch as five couples (Vision and Scarlet Witch, Beast and Vera, Hellcat and Son of Satan, Valkyrie and Sub-Mariner, Gargoyle and Dolly) either get on well or not. Dr Strange is left reassured at the end that love can be a good thing.

Defenders #117 is the one that fully defines the new Over-Mind and establishes them as a new central character of the Defenders comic. Some of the team gather together to pay a final tribute to Nighthawk again, and the Over-Mind changes into the form of Mindy to say goodbye to him one last time. She explains that the new merged mind of the Over-Mind has brought her more clarity and balance, but they now realise that they must make peace with their six pasts before they can move on. They turn into Philip and try to return to his friends and parents, who have all been told Philip is dead and are terrified when he returns to them, acting scarily different. He/they tearfully depart, knowing they can never return. Then Ursula, at first saying she doesn't have any real past or connections to lay to rest, gets into a cathartic rage against the slums where she grew up, and gets it out of her system. And we're told that the other three telepaths go through the same kind of experience, but it's not shown on the page, and they remain the nameless ciphers they've been all along. We do at least get to see their faces again in the conclusion to the story:

The next issue of Defenders is all about the Son of Satan. The one after that is a fill-in story written by Steven Grant, set some time in the Gerber era with a brief framing sequence. The next time we see the Over-Mind is #120, in a couple of pages of interlude when they help the Defenders (Beast, Valkyrie, Hellcat and Gargoyle) locate the Son of Satan and set out to help him against the Miracle Man. In #121, the Over-Mind is among the other Defenders who deal with the Miracle Man in another story about magically trying to make the world a better place but finding it's not so easy. The Over-Mind doesn't contribute very much to the story, but is an integral part of the team. The letters page prints a letter responding to #117 by strongly objecting to the Over-Mind being added to the comic. It also announces (following on from an article in Marvel Universe magazine) that #126 will debut an all-new look for the team.

Defenders #122 starts the storyline building up to that. The Beast starts thinking he wants the Defenders to be a more conventional superhero team. His friend Iceman comes to visit. Hellcat and the Son of Satan leave to get married. Valkyrie also departs, but only temporarily. The Over-Mind and Gargoyle are still there, and the comic ends with them all going to dinner together and sharing a toast to friendship.

… And that's the last we ever see of the Over-Mind.

Nor, indeed, does anyone mention them again.

The Defenders are re-formed into the New Defenders (a couple of decades before Marvel decided it was a good idea to put 'New' in front of the titles of all their comics!) and, importantly, Carl Potts takes over as editor and the style of the comic changes quite drastically. J.M. DeMatteis remains as writer until #131, but it's obvious he isn't being allowed to write his own brand of stories any more. The Over-Mind isn't mentioned in any of the various editorials about the new-look comic - one letter printed in #126, about the story in #122, says among other things that they are a boring character and 'will have to go'. They were, as it turns out, already gone and forgotten by that point. The editor's reply to that letter doesn't say anything about the Over-Mind at all.

It's really striking that the character, so recently introduced but the culmination of a whole lot of past plotlines, is so completely and totally dumped all of a sudden. There obviously wasn't a place for them in the kind of Defenders story that Marvel wanted to produce, just like there wasn't a place for the amazingly weird kind of stuff that J.M. DeMatteis liked to write. But it's baffling that it wasn't considered necessary to write them out of the series, just to stop writing about them!

Someone remembered the Over-Mind, at least - Mark Gruenwald, the Marvel continuity expert who'd contributed some ideas to the Squadron Supreme story, gave them an entry in the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe in 1985, ending the biography with "He then mysteriously disappeared from their ranks, using his mental powers to blank out their memories of his presence among them. His current whereabouts and activities are unknown."

That was probably what prompted the new writer Peter Gillis to drop a passing reference into the dialogue, but not the pictures, of the giant-sized Defenders #150 later that year. The Defenders don't mention the Over-Mind again after the Gargoyle's chirpy comment here.

A few people have used the Over-Mind in more recent years, but not with the personality of the six combined telepaths. They're a character you could do no end of fascinating things with, and I really hope some day we get some more stories like those epic DeMatteis Defenders sagas...

Saturday, February 23, 2019


Our company has just moved offices to the building next door. Among the changes was taking down the big letters on the wall spelling ASPIRE (which is an acronym for the company's official values). They were going to just throw them away, since they don't match the new company branding, so I rescued them and took them home. I argued that there could be no end of situations where I might need some two-foot-high blue capital letters, and I'm glad I won't be caught unprepared if that happens.

See, now I've got the letters P, R, I and E, I'm half way to being able to write my surname in giant letters on the roof of my house, in case anyone wants to locate me from a satellite in orbit. While I was in Sweden, I was looking for a company whose official values spell MORD (murder), but couldn't find one. Possibly they keep quiet about it in case of legal repercussions.

But even without those letters, I can still think of plenty of uses for the letters I've got. If I ever open a zoo and want to label the "APES", I'm all set. Or if I open "A PIER" at the seaside and need to label it in big letters so that ships at sea can see what it is. Or even two "PIERS" that are unusually close together and so can be labelled by means of big letters somewhere in between them. The same thing works if I just put a "PEAR" on the beach instead, and save a bit of money. There are no end of other things I might want to do with the letters, although I'm not the type to command people in giant capital letters to praise me.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Look how organised I am!

No more pile of miscellaneous small change from all around the world cluttering up my cupboard! Now whenever I'm going to a foreign place I can make sure I've got a few coppers in my pocket (this is important to me, because I like to buy a can of drink and bar of chocolate as soon as I get somewhere, and don't like breaking into a big banknote like a tourist) by just grabbing the appropriate cup and pouring it into my bum-bag!

Unless I go to Russia, because it turns out I had eleven currencies and only ten plastic cups. So that 50 rouble note that Dai (I think) gave me will just have to wait. You can probably get a can of coke for 50 roubles, it's a handy thing to have in your pocket. I've never been to Russia, but that's more my fault than anyone else's - a Russian TV show wanted me there for the last couple of years, but I didn't have the time to do anything about it. But some day, I'll spend that fifty!

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Beware the Six-Fingered Hand!

It's been a while since I rambled on about old comics - I was thinking about writing a blog post about Bob Haney's Metamorpho, but it would be more in keeping with the theme this essay would take if I continually promise that Metamorpho will soon be appearing in his own blog post, only to leave the poor readers disappointed. So coming soon - Metamorpho, that epic hero of the 1960s who somehow never entirely caught on!

Then in the middle of that thinking, I came across Brian Cronin's series of comic articles on cbr.com, which I heartily recommend to anyone who hasn't read them yet, and a couple of them on the subject of the Defenders made me think "I should ask him to write about the bizarre disappearance of the Over-Mind from the Defenders comic in the J.M. DeMatteis years; he might know more of the story behind it, and I can't really be bothered to research the whole thing..."

Which of course led to the next thought "I should re-read the whole DeMatteis era of Defenders, I haven't done that for years!" And despite being partially distracted by further tangents like "I'd forgotten my Defenders collection is mostly in the bad kind of plastic bag, stuck down with sellotape that's impossible to remove - I really should do something about that", I've spent the whole of Saturday reading the wonderful "Demon Drama" (as it was called in an editorial on the letters page of #111, promising that it was now over and they'd be going back to telling superhero stories), and I feel I have to urge everyone else to do the same! I've just discovered, much to my surprise, that at least someone at Marvel Comics feels the same way, and released the whole thing in an Epic Collection in 2016. It's enormously worth reading, believe me!

When J.M. DeMatteis took over as writer of the Defenders comic at the end of 1980, it had sort of been drifting aimlessly for quite a long time, ever since the end of the iconic Steve Gerber era in the mid-seventies. It was Gerber who properly established the Defenders as Marvel's "non-team", changing them from a team-up comic of Dr Strange, the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner (with recurring help from the Silver Surfer) into a loose association of Marvel's broad range of superheroes, who'd drift into and out of the storylines as they went along. The core of the team were established as the Hulk (who had to be there in every issue to keep the sales healthy), Nighthawk and Valkyrie, and later Hellcat (these three were the ones who the storylines revolved around).

But DeMatteis immediately returned Dr Strange to prominence, shunted Nighthawk into his own separate little sub-plots, brought in more of Marvel's mystical characters like the Son of Satan, Devil-Slayer and new creation the Gargoyle, changed Hellcat from the happy-go-lucky girl-comic-star-turned-superhero into a cat from hell, minimised the Hulk's appearances and relegated the Valkyrie mainly to standing in the background of group scenes. And he launched into a truly epic storyline in which this new team confronted demons, monsters, Eternity, Satan himself, psychics, evil government organisations keen to start the third world war, a whole lot of nostalgia for the good old hippy days of the sixties and general existential horror for all the characters. It makes me laugh that the first DeMatteis issue was criticised on the letters page for being too much like the Justice League of America. This sequence of Defenders stories is unique and brilliant, and really everyone needs to read it at some point in their lives.

Now today I'll read the second part of the DeMatteis years, the bit which does include the Over-Mind, and maybe gradually work back towards my original thought of Metamorpho...

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The Scandinavian Open

So, I finally made it back to Sweden, after promising to get to a memory competition there for I can't remember how many years! Lund is a studenty kind of town, which maybe explains why every other shop there is a hair salon, but it's a fun and convenient half-hour train ride away from Copenhagen airport, and it's got a great competition venue in the local high school, courtesy of Martin Nilsson (who along with Idriz Zogaj was organiser, host and also competitor). Our first day of competition was in the school dining room - the morning was taken up by a championship for students, which was won by newcomer Victor Bull, who had the advantage of already having started to learn memory techniques. He joined in the 'elite' competition afterwards, and the 2nd and 3rd place Alva Nihlgard and David Andersson returned on Sunday for the knockout phase too.

Victor, incidentally, is one of those names I'm doomed to never remember. His username on Memory League is 'Viggo', which for some reason made me get the idea in my head that his surname is Boggis, even though I know perfectly well it isn't. And then I was subconsciously correcting myself into thinking his first name is Dennis... I really don't know why my brain works like this, but I'm always going to think 'Dennis Boggis' any time I see him now. I don't know if I've encountered a Victor or Dennis Boggis before now - possibly in a Roald Dahl story, because he was very fond of that name.

Anyway, the Saturday afternoon started with a first round where we each had one trial of the five disciplines and were ranked in order for group stage seedings. We were using the 'international' names in this competition, rather than the usual local ones, which made it a lot more difficult than usual (although I'm pretty much resigned to losing names matches whatever the names might be, so it didn't make much difference to me). Otherwise, everything was the same as the normal Memory League events - 52 cards, 30 images, 30 names/faces, 80 numbers and 50 words, with one minute maximum to memorise. I was feeling very slow for some reason, and completely messed up the words, which is probably just a lack of practice, but managed to narrowly grab the second seeding spot ahead of Martin. The top seed was Konstantin Skudler, and our other competitors were Florian Minges, Victor and Idriz.

So I ended up in a group with Martin and Victor, and we had an all-play-all. The competition was following the great memory sports tradition and running late - the janitor came in (in the middle of one match) to tell us we had to be out of the school by five o'clock, which meant that the final round relocated to a conference room in Martin's office nearby. It's nice to have a backup venue, just in case! Anyway, the matches were six disciplines, in the style of the online league championship (each player chooses three disciplines), and I beat Victor 5-1 in the first match, losing one images game - nobody had told him that I always lose at names, or otherwise it would probably have been 4-2. Then Victor and Martin had a 3-3 draw, and finally in the backup venue I beat Martin 4-2, giving me the top spot. I was speeding up and getting my brain working right progressively through the day - all weekend I impressed everyone by always getting the cards correct, with times around 30 seconds, but I was much too slow on images, and generally terrible with words. Against Martin, though, I managed a 40 words, so I was hopeful of improving on that the next day.

Konsti had won his group, with Florian second and Idriz third. On Sunday morning we re-convened in the school's main hall, which has a really awesome lectern kind of thing, and also one of those pencil-sharpeners fastened to a table, where you turn the handle. I've never actually seen one of those in real life. There was a big screen for spectators to watch the action, too! Alva and David from the students' competition rejoined us and played off against the group third-places to see who'd play who in the quarter-finals. I ended up against Alva in mine.

The best part of memory league competitions, of course, is the surprise events. These ones were created by Simon Orton - who had been running everything remotely from Australia into what must have been the early hours of the morning when the first day over-ran, and he and the surprise events were entirely awesome. In the first one, we had an images event, in which all the images were squares with one or more playing-card-suit symbols in the corners. As usual, we had five minutes to think of a strategy, and mine really wasn't very good. I need to get better at ad-hoc strategies like this. I did still beat Alva with a score of 7, but simultaneously Florian had got 13 in his match against Victor. We both won our matches (best of 5) 3-0, with a 29.95 second pack of cards and 39 words from me, very satisfactory.

Then the other two quarter-finals had their surprise event, which was a similar kind of thing, but this time the symbols were a circle, a square or a triangle. Konsti clearly has a knack for surprise events, winning his one with a score of 17. He and Martin both won 3-0 too, against David and Idriz respectively.

So the semis were Konsti against Martin, and me against Florian. Our surprise task for this one - names and faces, except that instead of faces, it was the backs of people's heads! Actually, this really didn't make a big difference to me at all, since I'm famously incapable of recognising faces anyway. And in fact, I won, getting six right compared to Florian's five! Florian did go on to beat me at normal names, but then I won cards (28.95 this time) and images (stopping the clock at 33.42, compared to his 33.49!) to go through to the final. Konsti, meanwhile, had won 3½-½.

That gave us a break while we watched the third-place playoff. Their surprise task was a doozy - words, except that the 'words' were strings of between one and six binary digits. It turned out to be a draw, which caused a bit of confusion, because the loser of the surprise event chooses the next discipline, and nobody had written a rule specifying what happens when the surprise is a draw. Idriz thought of a number between 1 and 100, and asked them both to guess it. They both guessed 50, cleverly playing the odds. So it was 'guess what hand Victor's holding a coin in', which Martin won. But Florian went on to win the next three very close games, to seal third place.

And so to the grand final! Our surprise task here was images, but all the images were of Simon Orton, pulling silly faces. Brilliant. But Konsti got to grips with it much better than I did, and won easily. So I knew I'd have to do something special in the non-names discipline he'd pick, and I really didn't. I don't normally get affected by pressure in these events, but something must have rattled me in words, and I only managed 24. It wouldn't have made much difference, though, because he scored 45, which is more than I do except on occasional freaks when everything goes right. And since I'd also been lucky to win in numbers when Konsti stopped the clock before me but mis-remembered one image, I can't really complain about losing 4-3.

Hooray for Konsti! As people cheerfully pointed out, he was one year old when I first entered a memory competition. And now he's a very well-deserved winner, who I'm going to have to try to get my revenge against next time! Looking forward to the next memory league championship!

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Stopping the tide

We've just had a post-tournament meal in a restaurant on Knut den Store street, in fitting tribute to the man who united England and at least the little bit of Sweden that includes this city into his empire. I'll write about the competition as and when my laziness permits, but gigantic congratulations to Konsti, who won with a really impressive performance, and enormous thanks to Idriz, Martin, Simon and the whole gang who made it happen!

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Lund on nights

Here I am in Lund, after the first day of the Swedish Open Memory League Championship 2019. Today was really more about playing and having fun, whereas tomorrow's the knockout phase where you really don't want to slip up, but I did win my group, and I was consistently okay-ish throughout, having started a long way off my ideal pace, and warmed up as the day went on. I'll chronicle all the excitement in more detail after the event, but it's always good to be among memory people - we've just had a meal in a very nice restaurant conveniently and coincidentally right next door to my hotel, so I didn't even get lost on the way here!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

We're on our way to Lund

Did you know that if you're looking for hotels in Lund, Sweden, the internet thinks you're stupid and trying to say 'London'?

But despite this, I'm all booked for a trip to Lund next weekend for the Scandinavian Open Memory League Championship! Now I just need to do a bit of practice, and we'll be all sorted!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

It's the thirteenth of January

I really don't think I should be seeing TV adverts for Santa's Lapland, urging people to book a visit to Santa and make next Christmas special. Surely nobody starts planning their Christmas activities until at least March, do they?

Wednesday, January 09, 2019


It's the Scandinavian Open Memory League Championship on February 2 and 3, and I'm going to go to Lund and join the fun! Lund is in Sweden, but the bit of Sweden that's right down at the bottom, so the way to get there is to fly to Copenhagen and then cross over the really big bridge between Denmark and Sweden. I think the first half of it is called the Øresund Bridge, and then when you get halfway across, it transforms into Swedish vowels and becomes the Öresund Bridge. Scandinavia is a confusing place; I hope we don't have to memorise that kind of thing in the competition.

But hey, you should come along too, everybody! Memory League championships are always a lot of fun!

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Thundercats are on the move, Thundercats are loose

I've just bought a lovely bundle of Thundercats comics on eBay - the ones with the pull-out map of Third Earth in the centrespreads of six consecutive weekly issues that came out around the time of my eleventh birthday in 1987. I did buy them at the time, but naturally pulled out the giant map and assembled it on the wall, whereupon it presumably eventually fell down and got thrown away, I don't remember.

Anyway, isn't this map wonderful? And I couldn't find this specific version of it on the internet, so I thought I should share it with the world. Those six issues of the comic also have a six-part story written by Simon Furman, as always able to respond to a request like "write a story made up of six eleven-page instalments that revolves around a map of Third Earth in some way" and produce a work of genius, scripted by Ian Rimmer and drawn by various artists who never really made the Thundercats characters look like they did on the cartoon - somehow, I always felt like that was more of a problem with the Thundercats comic than it was with Transformers or He-Man, but I don't know why. Anyway, this story kept me entertained at the time, so what more could you ask for?

These comics also feature the first appearance of "One Cat and his Cod", the half-page strip by Lew Stringer that was a requirement in all Marvel UK comics at the time, thanks to the masterpiece that was Robo-Capers in the Transformers comic. The Thundercats one, though, was written by Ian Rimmer, and revolved around some really terrible jokes and existential discussion - Dave the cat and Bjorn the cod briefly wonder why they can talk, but conclude that it's because they're characters in a comic strip. And as a back-up strip there was Power Pack, which had already been the back-up in the old Star Wars comic, but hey, Power Pack was always good. Well worth 35p a week in the old days, or £15 for ten comics today!

I'm not sure about the advice to buy two copies of each issue, in order to remove the centre poster without losing two pages of the story - they printed a letter asking why they didn't put adverts or the letters page on the reverse sides of the centre pages, and the reply explained that adverts are booked for specific pages of the comic, and they just didn't want to put the letters page there. It then reiterated that buying two copies was the way to go - "expensive, but worthwhile!" - thanks, guys. Luckily, it's the 21st century now, and we have scanners, and blogs. I can keep my comics intact and still share the map with you all!

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

It's a new year again

Two thousand and nineteen already? Who would have thought it? And I can't help thinking I should be doing something new and exciting this year, but I really can't think what it should be. I'm sure it'll come to me eventually...