Thursday, February 02, 2023

The top part of Pridmore turned into painted iron and glass

Having re-read my way through all three-and-a-bit books about the Bastable siblings, I couldn't resist moving on to some of E. Nesbit's more magical (and brilliantly silly) children's stories - particularly her significant 1901 work, "The Cockatoucan". It's significant because of the nursemaid you can see in the centre of this picture. Her name? Pridmore!

Pridmore is a fairly uncommon name, an exclusively working-class one, and one that's historically been limited to the north and midlands areas. So when it comes to Victorian fiction (and for that matter modern-day fiction too), you'll never see a central character named Pridmore. You might, if you're very lucky, find the name applied to a servant... but even then, this one story by the great E. Nesbit seems to be the only time that's ever happened in history!

I don't know where Nesbit (the E stands for Edith, but she was always credited as E. so I feel I should just call her that) got the name from - this story, like all the stories back then, is set in London, where Pridmores were and still are vanishingly rare. Maybe she encountered a distant relative of mine, somehow!

She might not have really liked this relative, mind you. Pridmore in this story is a disagreeably strict kind of nursemaid, and the magical bird (which causes strange things to happen whenever it laughs) turns her into an Automatic Nagging Machine.

For before her eyes she saw an awful change taking place in Pridmore.

In an instant all that was left of the original Pridmore were the boots

and the hem of her skirt—the top part of her had changed into painted

iron and glass, and even as Matilda looked the bit of skirt that was

left got flat and hard and square. The two feet turned into four feet,

and they were iron feet, and there was no more Pridmore.


“Oh, my poor child,” said the King, “your maid has turned into an

Automatic Machine.”


It was too true. The maid had turned into a machine such as those which

you see in a railway station—greedy, grasping things which take your

pennies and give you next to nothing in chocolate and no change.


But there was no chocolate to be seen through the glass of the machine

that once had been Pridmore. Only little rolls of paper.


The King silently handed some pennies to Matilda. She dropped one into

the machine and pulled out the little drawer. There was a scroll of

paper. Matilda opened it and read—


“Don’t be tiresome.”


She tried again. This time it was—


“If you don’t give over I’ll tell your Ma first thing when she comes



The next was—


“Go along with you do—always worrying;” so then Matilda knew.


“Yes,” said the King sadly, “I fear there’s no doubt about it. Your

maid has turned into an Automatic Nagging Machine. Never mind, my

dear, she’ll be all right to-morrow.”


“I like her best like this, thank you,” said Matilda quickly. “I

needn’t put in any more pennies, you see.”


“Oh, we mustn’t be unkind and neglectful,” said the King gently, and he

dropped in a penny. He got—


“You tiresome boy, you. Leave me be this minute.”


Pridmore saves the day in the end. The only way to undo all the Cockatoucan's magic (which also included turning the King into a villa-residence, replete with every modern improvement, and the Prime Minister into a comic opera) is to make him laugh on the wrong side of his mouth, and Pridmore gladly obliges. "It was a terrible sight to witness, and the sound of that wrong-sided laughter was horrible to hear." I think we should all follow this shining example!

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Krakoa, east of Java

 I'm trying not to spend money recklessly at the moment, after a year of mostly being idly and deliberately unemployed and also surprisingly physically active for the TV cameras. So when I say I've bought 95 comics over the last couple of weekends you'll probably just nod and say "Yes, that's consistent with your usual behaviour when you haven't got enough money and are trying not to spend it recklessly." But when I explain that they were very reasonably priced comics by the standards of American superhero comics generally, and that I was entirely justified in buying them because certain other comics are extremely good, you'll entirely forgive and heartily applaud my splurging, I'm sure!

You see, I may have mentioned before that we're in one of those rare eras when X-Men comics are great, just at the moment. Ever since the epic House of X / Powers of X series starting in July 2019, the mutants of the Marvel universe, good and bad alike, have all been living on Krakoa the sentient island in the Pacific, and generally lording it over the non-mutant humans in a new kind of way. And yes, according to this map in the first issue, Krakoa (unlike Krakatoa) actually is located somewhere to the east of Java.

Anyway, the location isn't important - the mutants now have access to a system of magic gates that can teleport them all over the world and beyond. Also, they have the ability to resurrect the dead. All of this was established by that original twelve-issue series and it felt like one of those cases where the comics would write a great story setting up the status quo, spend a couple of months failing to tell any readable stories in it, then tear everything down again in the next epic.

But one way or another, even though the first batch of comics spinning off the new set-up were unexceptional and then the pandemic stopped them altogether for a little while, the basic Krakoa premise really had legs, and they kept on producing stories set within it. And now, there are some totally awesome stories being told! The new epic that's just starting, "Sins of Sinister", I would have just dismissed as one of those 'spend a couple of months telling alternate-reality stories and then press the reset button implausibly at the end' things, except that this time the plot mechanism by which things will be reset has been spelt out clearly in advance and plays an integral part in the story, so that somehow makes me a lot more eager to read it.

And before that even started, the real masterpiece was "Immortal X-Men", which ties all the other comics in the range together and makes it all feel like a cohesive universe with a cast of hundreds all actively involved in one big, sprawling, fascinating adventure! Seriously, go out and read at least the last year's worth of X-Men comics, if you can find them.

Which brings me back to my splurging. See, Worlds Apart, the comic shop in Birmingham, was selling off its leftover comics (95p each or 10 for £5!), and I couldn't resist picking up a big pile of early Krakoa-era comics. Actually, 81 of them, over a couple of days, because I miscounted one pile and thought it was a multiple of ten, but well worth it! And then I went to a comics fair and got 14 more of the things from a 75p box for another tenner. But even though fifty pounds still sounds like quite a lot to spend on a pile of comics I just described as unexceptional, when you sit down and read proper old-fashioned paper comics (if you hadn't followed the trends in comic-reading, you might be thrilled to know you can get them digitally nowadays) all at once, you notice all the best parts. Even the ones that were widely dismissed as awful are really quite compelling, in my humble opinion!

I'm going to have to get a complete Krakoa collection now. Maybe after I've controlled my spending for a bit longer. Or at least not until I next see a big box with 'sale' written on it.

Friday, January 27, 2023

All Ages

That shot of my comic collection in Mind Games: The Experiment actually gives a glimpse of two more comics, apart from the ones I listed in the 'annotations' post (which, incidentally, seems to have got much fewer pageviews than the 'errata' post - I guess it really IS more fun to pick holes in things!) so I thought it was only fair to give them some time in the spotlight too.

Luckily, I haven't rearranged my piles of comics too much since they filmed that bit (it was part of the last bit of filming around my house, when they'd decided what story they wanted to tell and wanted to make sure there was footage to support it), and I can safely identify them from the blurry picture and their position in the cupboard - the one on top of the pile at the back is Last Hero Standing #3, from 2005, and the one out on the right is the Funny Stuff miniature edition that came free with Wheaties breakfast cereal in 1947. An eclectic kind of pair, so let's have a look at them!

I don't know why the third of this five-issue series is on top of one of my piles; all five of them are in the cupboard somewhere, but they must have got separated since last I sorted the things into order. This one is rather tatty all round, in fact, considering I bought it new when it came out in 2005, which maybe shows that it's more something I bought as a fun read and didn't think about much after reading it.

Last Hero Standing is an epic adventure in the MC2 universe. This was a family of Marvel comics launched in 1998, revolving around the flagship title Spider-Girl, about the teenage daughter of Spider-Man, with the other titles also following the theme of the next generation of the Marvel universe, fifteen years on. Yes, Spider-Man had a baby daughter, in 1996. She was quickly wiped out of existence in one of Marvel's periodic bouts of panic that readers will desert them in droves if they change anything about their characters, but Spider-Girl was conceived at a time when Baby May was still fresh in the memories of the type of creator and fan who cared about character development.

Although I'm that kind of fan in principle, I never liked the Spider-Girl comic all that much. Some of the short-lived supporting titles were better, and the idea of a newly-created universe of superheroes that was still connected in a way to the mainstream Marvel comics was definitely appealing. They're "All Ages" comics, meaning that the aim is to market them to new young readers. Marvel tried without great success to get the comics into shops where young readers might learn that they exist, but sales were pretty awful. Spider-Girl lurched along being reprieved from cancellation on a regular basis, but the wider universe wasn't able to support any other titles. By 2005, it was nice to see that the supporting characters were all going to get a moment or two on panel in a new limited series!

You see the general theme here on the first-page cast of characters. For example, Speedball is a goofy teenager in present-day Marvel continuity, so in MC2 he's a mature, grown up, respected hero. The established heroes of the present day are retired or otherwise less involved in superheroing than they used to be, and teenagers have taken over old mantles. It's the kind of thing you wish would happen in the 'real' Marvel universe, but you know never will.

Last Hero Standing, like all the MC2 comics, is the brainchild of Tom DeFalco, a real old-school writer who was passionate about this kind of thing. In fact, this kind of "event" miniseries is the antithesis of what MC2 was traditionally all about - good, old-fashioned self-contained stories in each issue with continually building subplots in the background. This is like an infusion of modern Marvel into the new old-fashioned universe, and probably not what DeFalco would have preferred to write if sales figures had permitted it. But the idea attracted me to the limited series, at least!

The creators of this issue are credited as "Tom DeFalco & Pat Olliffe - script, plot & pencils". I assume that means the traditional arrangement where they create the plot together, Olliffe draws it and DeFalco writes the words, but it's not laid out in the traditional way with 'script' under the first name and 'pencils' under the second. Scott Koblish is credited with "finished art".

Reading this one issue on its own isn't the best way to get into it - the five-issue series is really designed to be released as a trade paperback, or one of the popular little digest books Marvel had some success with around that time. But in the last couple of issues various heroes have been mysteriously kidnapped, and now they're starting to mysteriously come back with shiny black eyes and a new 'grim and gritty' attitude full of enthusiasm to take a more proactive approach to crimefighting. One of them is Spider-Man, who goes out and gets seriously violent with robbers in the street and then picks a fight with superhero Darkdevil.

And meanwhile, Spider-Girl has stumbled through a dimensional doorway along with fellow legacy heroes J2, Wild Thing and Thunderstrike, plus Captain America. And they're fighting an army of Asgardian trolls! The artwork in this comic is really sensational, both in the big battle scenes and the quieter moments. It's what all superhero comics should be like! Captain America isn't happy with these new heroes (he comes across very nicely in MC2 comics as someone who's past his prime but still trying to do his best) and thinks J2 and Spider-Girl have run away and abandoned them, when of course they're just going to save the day. They discover that Loki, arch-foe of the Avengers, is behind everything, but back on Earth he's already put his plan into action! To be continued with a big hero versus hero fight!

It's a pretty good comic all in all, but it didn't manage to generate any better sales for Spider-Girl or the MC2. It's about time they brought them back for another try - I think the general mood of comics is heading back that way.

One thing that seems less likely to make a return is the days when you could get a free comic with your breakfast cereal. But in spring 1947 in America, that was a reality!

A free comic book with your Wheaties! There were four different ones available, two from DC Comics, and two from Fawcett. Which is an interesting arrangement, and the choice of titles to release in miniature form is interesting too - Fawcett went with their two biggest titles, Whiz Comics and Captain Marvel Adventures, but DC went for Flash Comics and Funny Stuff.

Those two titles were both ones that had previously been produced by All-American comics - originally a part-owned sister company, briefly an entirely independent enterprise (at least on paper) but now bought out in full by DC/National. But at this point it was still basically being run as a separate company, with Sheldon Mayer the editor in chief, and he was probably the one to choose which comics to tape to double-packs of Wheaties.

Normal comics of the time had 52 pages, counting the covers (which were made of superior paper). These miniature giveaways, a bit more than half-size, had 32 pages, all on the cheapest newsprint, and you'll never find them in mint condition because they were attached to the cereal boxes with two strips of tape at the top and two at the bottom, and detaching them must have been quite a struggle for Pauline Howe, who's signed this copy on the cover and filled in her name and address on the coupon to send off for Wheaties premiums inside.She wanted the parachute ball kit (one Wheaties box top and 10c) and the navy signal mirror (one Wheaties box top and 25c), but perhaps she didn't have the money. The offer expired December 1, 1947.

Despite the poor condition, the Wheaties comics with superheroes in them command the usual ridiculous prices second-hand, but Funny Stuff can sometimes be found for an almost reasonable sum, because it was full of funny animals!

And funniest of them was Blackie Bear! Fascinatingly, he gets the cover and the first six pages of this miniature edition - in the regular monthly full-size Funny Stuff, that honour almost always went to The Dodo and the Frog. Since they made their debut in #18 (cover-dated February 1947), Blackie had only made the cover twice, and he normally had to be content with playing second fiddle. Which was a shame, because he really was the best of the bunch in Funny Stuff every month, so it's nice to see him and those pesky cubs getting their moment in the spotlight on Wheaties boxes!

It's the cubs who are the real stars. Rather than talking, they communicate by holding up wooden signs, with hilarious effect. In later years, just before funny animal comics died out once and for all, the 'sign language' was dropped and they started using speech bubbles like everyone else, thanks to some lazy artist, but I don't see how anybody could get tired of Blackie failing to realise that the adult authority figure he's talking to is actually just the cubs, one on the other's shoulders, wearing a trenchcoat and 'talking' to him by holding up two signs, one from the sleeve and one between buttons at waist height.

Blackie is followed by six pages of Henry the Laffing Hyena, who's made a poor choice of career...

Six pages of J. Rufus Lion, who's got a Wheaties-themed adventure about box top collections!

Six pages of the Three Mouseketeers (who shouldn't be confused with the more famous Three Mouseketeers who appeared in DC comics only a few years later but are entirely different; and nor should they be confused with the contemporary adventures of Marmaduke Mouse, who also worked for King Louie)

And just three and a half pages, filling the remaining space after the other animals and all the Wheaties promotions, of the usual stars of the series Dunbar Dodo and Fenimore Frog!

These guys are the headline stars whenever DC trawls the archives and tries to interest readers in a funny-animal revival today, but in 1947 they were at best the second-most important stars of DC animal comics - the Fox and the Crow, who were licensed characters and no longer owned by DC, were the big names. If DC would bring back Blackie and the cubs instead, it would probably go down better!

Personally, I might have liked this one more than the adventures of the Flash or Captain Marvel if I'd ended up with it stuck to my Wheaties boxes!

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Everything made out of numbers and code

 I'm a computer! I'm a computery guy! And last Thursday evening, while I was too busy writing about that documentary which I've all but forgotten by now, I was taking part in the first battle of the Excel Esports Season

It's a series of monthly Excel spreadsheet modelling challenges - remember the world cup last year in which I put in a poor-to-moderate showing? Well, this time I was very much the same, but with glimmers of hope.

See, it was a tight 30-minute challenge, and in that time I worked through the first two of the five tasks, and the first two of the three bonus questions, and I was less than a minute away from finishing the third task when my time ran out. I thought that was halfway decent if unexceptional, but it seems that only one of the competitors around the globe got a really good score - all of the others were roughly around the level that I achieved.

Or WOULD have achieved, if I hadn't misread the bonus questions and thought they said "including the examples" when in fact they said "excluding the examples". If I'd done that properly (which wouldn't have taken any more time at all), I would have got a score that put me right up there with the leaders of the chasing pack behind that one runaway star!

This, I think, gives me hope for turning the whole Excel Esports thing into a thing I'm actually good at. I mean, it turned out that I'd made a fundamental mistake in my calculations for the third task, so it would actually have taken me a lot more than one extra minute to sort it out, but apart from that my fundamental stupidity in not double-checking that I'd read the question right gives me hope that with a bit more practice, and some more effective time management, I could eventually aspire to become the world champion in this field!

Next battle is February 16th - let's see how it goes!

You know it's easy to be a clever smart boy like me, if you could do it all digitallyyyyyyyyyyyy...

Friday, January 20, 2023

Groovy shoes

By far the coolest part of the whole experiment is that I got a pair of custom-painted shoes, bespoke designs just for me, by Greg Itahara! They're extremely cool, and have a cartoon squirrel and a brain on them. What more could anyone want?

I got these shoes just last week, as part of the advance promotion for the film, which also involved me teaching a masterclass in memory to a bunch of media people and other miscellaneous people associated with the documentary (Geoff, my personal trainer, was there).

I have to admit, that green lighting makes me look awesome. And everyone seemed appreciative of my "masterclass" in how to memorise words, names and images in the Memory League style. (Yes, I taught people how to memorise names. They were all better at it than I am.)

And everyone had a go on Memory League and loved it! I'm hopeful that we've won a few converts to competitive memorising, either directly or indirectly.

Thursday, January 19, 2023


 If you've watched Mind Games: The Experiment and are wondering about the little details you see, here's a FAQ*

*At the time of writing, I have had very few questions asked me even once, let alone frequently. Most of these are totally made up.

00:00:30 Nice outfit, shame about the shoes
That's my first training session - brand new sports gear, hadn't got my Asics trainers yet. I exclusively wore those velcro-fastening slip-on shoes until I got used to the trainers. Now I can't wear anything but the professional Asics footwear! Also, bending your leg like Geoff's doing is beyond my capabilities.

What's with all the branding? 
ASICS is the brand. It stands for Anima Sana In Corpore Sano. Which is almost but not quite what Juvenal said, but MSICS would just sound silly. They gave me lots of shoes and other clothing.

00:00:54 What's that at the left of the screen?
That's a shelf of video tapes belonging to my brother. Can't quite make out which ones,unfortunately.

What's on your shirt? I can't make it out!
The black one with the red circle says "I'M HUGE IN JAPAN"; the blue one with black writing says "I AM FROM SPACE"

00:01:20 Are you playing chess underwater?
Yes. It's part of the Mind Sports Olympiad, I was persuaded to go along and give it a go, but I think I need more practice (without a camera crew present) before I become a serious player. Also, I need some kind of prescription goggles to allow me to see the board underwater. I played one game and dropped out, it was all a bit of a disaster, which is probably why there's only one brief clip in the whole documentary.

00:01:41 Bandana?
Yes, red bandana. It was very sunny, I have a bald head, my trademark hat is very hot in the sun and also not prone to staying on my head when I'm exercising.

00:01:55 What are all your books?
I can't really list them all here. There's a lot of classics, a lot of comics. See how many you can recognise from the spines! The one they really show a lot, sticking out from the bookcase, is Wonder Woman newspaper comics.

Are those Mega Drive and Master System games? And an old-fashioned television? And VCR?
Yes. I live in the past. I've got a more up-to-date telly, and a Nintendo Switch, off-screen.

Wish you could afford a table for the floor lamp.
Two lamps normally live on the floor in that corner of my living room. This isn't a case of TV people moving things around and putting them in strange places - in fact, they picked one of them up and put it somewhere more sensible, to make the lighting work!

Do you have to wear shorts all the time?
Yes. My hairy legs and knobbly knees need the fresh air.

00:02:03 When was this?
It's old footage, isn't it? It's the world memory championship 2007, as recorded for The Mentalists. That would be the moment Ed described as me, "ludicrously stupidly", attempting to memorise 36 packs of cards in an hour and not succeeding. 

00:02:59 Where's that athletics track?
Halesowen. There's one a short walk away from my house, but apparently it was cheaper for us to go to the one at Halesowen. One time when they wanted to film, someone started playing music on the speakers, and when the TV people asked them to stop, the people in the gym laughed and turned it up louder. Then when they realised it was TV people and not some random nerds complaining about the noise, a hugely muscular man came out and apologised, turned the music off and chatted about the whole project. We really did go there at the crack of dawn. I was working during normal daytime hours.

00:03:04 Everyone else on this documentary is so good-looking and you're the only one who takes his shirt off?
The public wants to see this kind of thing, I promise you. If you don't, you're just weird.

00:03:53 You can only do three push-ups?
I did five, thank you very much. But yes, that was awful. There was a time in my younger days when I could do twenty at a time, and I was confident ten would be simple enough to start with. Now, though, I can do thirty!

00:07:02 Twenty-two moves?
Now, if I'd done the three-disc version and then the four-disc version, and added the scores together, that would have made 22. But I'm certain I (and by extension probably everyone else) only did three discs. These numbers may have come from some other test, but I'm not sure which one it might have been.

00:10:37 Is that where you live?
No. It's a beautiful establishing shot of beautiful England. Then we cut to inside my real house, which is much shabbier. We're watching The Mentalists on my old-fashioned video tape.

00:10:52 The Broons?
And Oor Wullie. Much-loved, long-running newspaper comic strips. Those are my collection of collected editions.

00:10:53 The Guinness Book of Records?
Yes, the 2014 edition, because that's the one that had a picture of me in it. I'm not in the book any more. I don't normally sit there looking at it, while a video of my past glories plays in the background. That makes me look rather sad and nostalgic...

00:11:13 Booyeah!
That's me breaking the 30-second barrier for memorising a pack of cards, in 2007! A great moment! And James Ponder in the background, just like he was in that clip of the world championship! He should get royalties. For that matter, so should I!

00:11:20 Nice photo.
That's the original hat, too. November 2003. This again is footage from The Mentalists. As is the cards scene afterwards, and the "legendary" bit - which I normally only say with some kind of prefatory comment that makes it clear I'm not serious.

00:11:42 An eighteen year absence.
So, yes, I was absent from memory competitions when I won the world championship in 2008 and 2009. That's how good I used to be! But see the previous blog entry - it's a mistake, but not as inaccurate as I was thinking at first.

00:11:45 Books
The Wonder Woman book mentioned earlier is blurry in the foreground. You can see Mickey Mouse newspaper comics and a Magic Eye book more clearly.

00:12:04 Are you the man being questioned?
It's an unrelated article. That's me with the cool moustache, though.

00:12:15 Very sceptical.
Amusingly, this bit was filmed right at the end, because they didn't have useable footage of me saying that (though I said it all the time, apparently off-camera, when we were starting up), so it's a tiny bit fake. But never mind!

00:21:25 Ahhh, England.
Pretty, isn't it? The camera crew travelled around the local area to find nice bits to film.

00:21:57 What's on that shirt?
"I am the man who arranges the blocks"

00:22:17 Lost a memory competition to a monkey?
A chimpanzee, actually. And I demand a rematch. Search for Ayumu.

00:22:41 Where are we now?
Oxford Street, London - the big Asics shop! Definitely unfamiliar territory for me.

00:23:58 An IQ of 159!
See, that sounds very boastful. This sentence was prefaced by saying that I took a Mensa IQ test at the age of 17 or 18, and for a short while went around telling everyone my score, and having to explain that it was a good score to get.

00:25:00 The Ben System
Yes, the first two cards there are indeed a shark, but the next two are a bar, and I guess me saying that must have been edited out.

00:25:45 The hat!
Yes, this documentary is sadly lacking in hat footage! It just doesn't seem to go with the athletic gear, somehow...

00:26:13 That's a lot of comics.
And that's only a small corner of my comic collection. It's very poorly organised - I drag piles of comics out to the front when I'm in the mood to read them. What we can see here are complete runs of Alpha Flight, Tom Strong, Metamorpho, Avengers Forever, House of X/Powers of X, New Warriors and Maison Ikkoku, and not-quite-complete runs of Micronauts and Defenders. I recommend reading all of them! Ooh, and then it pans down a bit to Runaways. Read that one, too!

00:26:17 What are those?
If you don't recognise He-Man figures then there's really no hope for you, I'm afraid.

00:26:36 Fish, chips and mushy peas
Yes, see the previous post. I didn't actually eat this; it's stage-dressing. I'd just had lunch, and then we ordered another meal so I could say the things I'd been discussing off-camera again. And so I immediately veered into an entirely different subject. I'm terrible to work with.

00:34:15 Forever Redditch!
A sneaky bit of advertising for the town I did most of my walking in!

00:35:24 What's the app?
It's called Runkeeper, and I really do recommend it!

00:47:00 The mid-study assessment
Yes, I really did get a lot better at it! I surprised myself - towards the end of the twelve minutes I said I wasn't likely to reach those flags, and I actually got well past them. My walking speed has outpaced my wildest expectations! As I recall, I did 18 push-ups in that session, and the dialogue saying 20 was from another filming session. I did 22 at the final assessment, in the pouring rain, which didn't make it into the final film.

00:51:00 The Mind Sports Olympiad!
It isn't really the biggest day in the memory sports calendar, but it is still very cool! That's the shirt designed by Phill Ash for the world championship 2014. And yes, Donatello is the coolest turtle. That's Daniel Evans, Susanne Hippauf, Nick Papadopulos, Klaus Jerrold, Ewelina PreĊ›, and I think we get at least a glimpse of Daniele Vergine. I don't know who told me his name and I couldn't understand it. It might have been Dan Evans. I'm very bad with names, even of people I've known for decades.

00:54:30 What was your time?
I don't remember. It was very slow. That's me making sure Nick knows what to say and do - he does, of course, know perfectly, but I get very possessive about this competition even when I'm not arbiting.

00:56:25 What's on that shirt?
That's the lucky shirt - Pocket Dragons! This one has been drawn on and signed on the sleeve by Real Musgrave, creator of Pocket Dragons.

00:56:33 Who won the gold and silver?
I think it's shocking not to show it. Or for that matter the other medal-winners! One of these days, I'll manage to get another proper documentary made about memory competitions, not just about me doing exercises! Suffice to say Ewelina, Susanne, Daniele and everyone else were much better than me all round.

01:10:09 The results are staggering
I don't really know how any of those things are measured. You'd have to ask Brendon and his gang. But I'm sure there was a lot of science behind it.

01:12:30 A 5k race??
Yes indeed. Well, a parkrun. I walked, but I did 5K in around 45 minutes. Which is a fast walk, and probably wasn't quite completely the slowest time on the day! I'll probably do it again, when the weather's nice!

Did you meet the other mental athletes?
Not until after filming. Kassa and Ryoei at a publicity shoot a while before the competition, Sherry not until last week.

Are you all going to be world champions?
Probably, some day soon. Except me, maybe.


 The thing about a documentary is that you take remarks out of context and string them together to make a good story, but I rather worry it might give the wrong impression to people who actually know me. I'm a little concerned that when memory sport people hear me saying I'm a legend in the memory sport community and everyone always flocks around me for autographs, shorn of the surrounding jocular dialogue, they might think I'm more than a little big-headed. And I'm disturbingly certain that my late mother's partner (who I don't think reads this blog but who might well end up watching the documentary) will think I'm being horribly dismissive of my mother when I only give her the most slighting of passing references as a preface to talking about my father...

In fact, since I'm in such an E. Nesbit mood lately, I think an Oswald Bastable quote would be extremely relevant at this juncture: "Our Mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her you only show that you do not understand people at all."

Having got that out of the way, let's talk about what I'm eating in that scene. I don't like mushy peas, as everybody should know, and would never order them in a pub. What actually happened was that I had a pub lunch with the film crew - I can't even remember what I had, but it certainly wouldn't involve mushy peas - and then they bought me another meal to pretend to eat while I chatted to the camera, and chose fish and chips because it looks so very nice and English. It wasn't intended to be a chat to the camera all about my dad, but that's how it turned out in the end, with no prompting at all from the director, and I rather like it when unintentional stuff like that turns out to be everyone's favourite part of the film. It's just a shame there was that little pile of mushy peas sitting there the whole time, making people think I eat them. Horrible stuff. Garden peas, if you're serving me fish and chips, everybody!

And then there's the matter of my getting on the podium. You see, while my physical transformation was an absolutely wonderful, miraculous result of the experiment, the documentary really wanted to back it up with me going to a memory competition and showing a similarly improved performance. And the problem with that is that there WEREN'T any memory competitions! I don't honestly know if the WMSC even exists any more (the only one I'm even vaguely in touch with is Phil, and last I heard he'd become Chief Arbiter Emeritus, which is a fancy-shmancy way of saying he's no longer actually doing it), and the IAM had rather gone into hibernation during the pandemic, though it's picking back up again now. I would have had to go far overseas to take part in a real memory competition - the only thing we had over here was the MSO memory event, which I traditionally organise myself (although, again, not since before covid).

Nobody else being able to take charge of the whole thing, we contrived a sort of halfway house where I put the little event together and took part in it too, and the documentary managed to make a big thing about my competing at the MSO memory competition for the first time in ages. Indeed, they got a tiny bit mixed up - what I said (and repeated myself often, explaining it in full detail) to the researcher was that the last time I actually competed in memory at the Mind Sports Olympiad was in 2004, which led the documentary to say I'd been out of the whole memory sports scene for 18 years.

I laughed at that, but then I explained that, although I'd been competing fairly regularly up to 2019, it was 2009 when I last considered myself totally seriously in training for memory competitions. And that really was THIRTEEN YEARS! Perhaps the documentary wasn't so laughably wrong after all...

But let's talk about my aim being to 'get on the podium'. I have NEVER gone into anything with the intention of only finishing third, and I hope I never will! Let's face it, that was how it ended, and so the script said that's what I was aiming to do from the start. In fact, I'm still aiming for the real goal, of actually WINNING competitions!

(Similarly, Kassa points out that he's beaten hundreds of grand masters - this is a common thing to happen when one is a high-ranking international master, although god knows I've never come close to winning a game against a GM or IM when I've played them. His aim, which he's getting ever closer to achieving soon, is to become a GM himself)

And what on earth was that bit about my taking 22 moves to do the Tower of Hanoi? They must have got a number mixed up somewhere, because I only did the basic three-disc version, and I did it in seven moves, of course. You don't get to my age and level of associating with nerdy puzzle-lovers without learning how to do the Tower of Hanoi.

Still, the important point to take away from Mind Games: The Experiment is that I most certainly improved my physical performance, probably also improved my general mental state, and got some really cool trainers too!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Mind Games - The Experiment

Watch it, if at all possible, on Prime Video! Then come back here and read all about it from my perspective!

The whole crazy adventure started in March last year, with an email from Etan, the big boss of the Mind Sports Olympiad. He told me, and a lot of other regular MSO competitors, that someone was "producing a documentary about exceptional people which includes the mind sports olympiad and I've recommended you. Might each of you be willing to have a chat with her?"

I said yes, of course, as I always do in this kind of situation. I'd just been thinking it had been ages since anyone asked me to be on TV! But when I'd learned a bit more about the documentary, it was pretty obvious it wasn't going to be my kind of thing.

We are making a feature documentary film where we dive into the everexpanding world of esports and mind games, witnessing these increasingly popular global events . 


Serious players and specialists in their own fields will allow our cameras to follow them in preparation for the biggest tournament of their lives.   But the question is whether they can improve their already amazing game by margins and become even better at what they do. 


Funded by a sports company who want to test the ancient proverb (and their own motto), healthy body equals healthy mind, there will be an added layer of preparation for these big competitions. 

By dedicating more time in their diaries to physical exercise & personal training, could this set these competitors apart? 


Over our film period we will see how their brain function is affected by more regular physicality.  


Behind the film a team of scientists are testing the principal on 100 people around the world and, working this data into our narrative, we’ll finally be able to answer, prove or disprove the ancient principal at the heart of this film.  

Healthy body equals healthy mind, indeed. Exactly the kind of thing I've scoffed at all these years when people like Tony Buzan espoused it. Also, Juvenal didn't even SAY that - he said people should aim to have both, but not that one leads to the other. And also also, it's "principle", not "principal". I laughed.

But I couldn't help thinking it might be fun, and I replied to that effect - perfectly candidly, saying "I'm really not the physical training/exercise type myself - quite apart from being 45 years old with dodgy knees, in fact I'm famous for telling everyone that a junk-food diet is the key to success in mind sports! But on the other hand, I'm quite keen to get back into serious training for memory competitions, and it would be interesting and different to see if a disciplined combined physical and mental training routine could help me catch up with the likes of Andrea (who's already pretty fit and healthy, I think)." And I went on to say that there was no chance at all of me beating him, nor much chance of there being an MSO memory competition that I didn't organise myself. Full disclosure of how unsuitable I was as a subject for the documentary!

So, naturally, they signed me up for the study straight away. And yes, I like making documentaries. Especially when the crew turn out to be as obliging as this one was. I was impressed with them right from the start - they sent me a whole lot of Asics sports gear, and asked me to go into a shop somewhere before filming started to have a 'gait analysis' to determine what kind of running shoes would work best for me. I can't run. Dodgy knees; it's an actual medical condition and not an excuse. But I replied "I'm going to look and feel a complete twit going into a sports shop and asking for a gait analysis, whatever that may be. Do you want to get it on film?" And they did, and it turned out to be one of the best sequences in the finished documentary!

Knowing that the producers had got a handle on my eccentricity right from the start, I was happy to throw myself into whatever they wanted me to do. Some of it worked, some of it didn't, but it was all a bit of a laugh. They did take me to a physio at one point, suspecting the whole dodgy knee thing was all in my head, and he told them it wasn't, so nyah. That bit didn't get into the finished product.

But by then I'd been introduced to my personal trainer, Geoff, and been given my exercise regime! I looked at it and laughed scornfully again [at the regime, not at Geoff; he looks really cool and sporty and impressive], thinking there was no way any of this was going to happen. It was expecting me to walk, several times a week, for gradually increasing lengths of time. In new trainers that felt like I was walking on stilts and liable to fall down at any moment. I was still recovering from a knee injury when we started, and the thought of building up to a 50-minute walk and climactic 5km to finish with seemed very silly.

But the trainers soon started to feel very comfortable, the walking was surprisingly enjoyable, and the 'strength training' exercises too. And like I said in the documentary, I had an app that told me I was getting better at it every time, as well as some good old-fashioned paper printouts on which I could circle every completed session. Before long, what had seemed like something I would simply never do became something I was really enjoying!

So yes, it's true. Ben Pridmore, that denouncer of people who say physical exercise helps you win memory competitions, has changed his mind. I mean, not that it helped me win a memory competition, as such, or improved my mental performance in measurable ways - quite the reverse, actually, since I was so excited by the training regime I couldn't summon up any real enthusiasm for memory stuff - but it unquestionably DID put me in a more positive frame of mind, and in that sense has certainly helped my memory-sports performance going forwards! From now on, it's a nicely balanced physical and mental regime in preparation for tournaments in 2023 and beyond!

Following this post, we'll have a list of "errata" (which I wrote first, because picking holes in things is always the most fun), and "annotations" of interesting points in the documentary, followed by pictures of the very coolest thing I got out of the whole experience, so please stay tuned to this blog in the coming days!