Friday, October 14, 2005

Happy birthday to you, Cliff!

The great Cliff Richard reaches pensionable age today. Many happy returns are also in order for Roger Moore, the late E E Cummings and the very late Battle of Hastings.

And I'm tired out. I set my alarm clock for half seven, same as usual, and ignored it as I always do, only to be dragged out of bed five minutes later by my dad phoning with birthday greetings. He'd been at work for four hours, so it was the middle of the day by his standards, and he'd assumed I'd be going to work today. Even when I do go to work, I'm never out of bed by 7:35, but the early risers of this world just don't appreciate that.

Anyway, I've spent the whole day since then buying supplies and making preparations for this party. I've baked a cake, or rather two cakes since I didn't have a cake tin big enough for all the cake mix I'd prepared. They're not going to win any beauty contests, but I'm hopeful that they'll be edible. Also made a trifle and jelly and blancmange, and found my Back To The Future board game (free with Smith's Crisps back in 1985) - if there's anything else you need for a great party then I certainly don't know what it is.

I found a bunny-rabbit mould for the blancmange in the Co-op, which I just had to buy. A pink blancmange bunny and green jelly grass was an essential part of birthday parties for the first ten years or so of my life - see, that's another good thing my mother's done, in accordance with those resolutions yesterday. Had a perfectly civil conversation with her on the phone this afternoon, if anyone's keeping track. I was even doing my best to nudge it over the line into 'friendly', but we generally stuck to 'polite'.

It's a good thing I phoned Grandma to get that number, actually, because she was distraught at not having sent me a card or phoned me, due to an incident with marmalade and her address book. I filled in the bits that had been obliterated by orange sticky stuff and promised to come down and take her out for a fancy meal when I get my redundancy money.

My brother had called earlier, also assuming I'd be at work but phoning me anyway with the intention of leaving a message (he hasn't got a phone at home so has to call from his office or a phone box - we don't go in for mobiles in this family) so I signed him up for this lunch date and gratefully accepted his generous promises to buy me a card and present if and when he has any money.

I don't know if other people can have conversations with their family without it sounding like something out of a sitcom (or, in my mother's case, some kind of deep BBC2 drama). Still, which would you rather be, weird or boring? No contest.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Twenty-nine tomorrow

Which inspires me to look back over the last year and think "What have I achieved while I was 28?"

Not all that much, really. The year when I was 26, I quit my job, grew a beard, spent a lot of time wandering around wondering around the subject of what to do with my life, spent a month in Cambridge learning how to teach foreigners English, came up with some revolutionary new techniques for memorising numbers and playing cards, lost a lot of weight, got a new job, quit it, went to Kuala Lumpur and muscled my way into the top echelon of memory people.

When I was 27, I got a better new job, moved to Derby, made what I think was a real contribution to stopping the whole 'memory sports' thing splitting into warring factions, won the world championship (and the 'world cup' that would have been another world championship if I hadn't suggested the name change), played some uncharacteristically good othello and qualified for the world championships of that, and was on The Weakest Link.

What have I done while I've been 28? Played in the world othello championships that I'd qualified for in the previous year of my existence, and did quite badly. Found that I couldn't motivate myself to try to win the world memory championship again, decided to memorise pi to 50,000 places instead only to give up on it when someone else did it better, entered the world memory championship after all and did quite badly in that too. Got made redundant.

No changes of job, address, facial hair, no world champion titles, a definite sense of lack of achievement in any of the areas that matter. Am I just being pessimistic? It just seems like the pace of my life has been slowing down as I inch my way reluctantly towards thirty.

So what am I going to do with the final year of my third decade on this planet? I think it's time for some new year-of-my-time-on-this-planet resolutions!

Well, there's going to be a new job, for starters. And unlike the last one which mainly relied on me doing really easy things that everyone else thought (wrongly) were difficult, this one is likely to involve actual work. Making a go of that is going to be a big achievement, I think.

There'll probably be a new address if I stay working in Burton too. Consider me officially resolved to get a nice place and keep it relatively clean and pretty-looking.

Memory things? I'm not sure what to resolve, just yet. To keep in training is a good one, whether I go for the WMC or not (and I think I probably will). Next weekend, I'll make sure to do a proper training session, and keep in the habit of doing it whenever I get a chance. Will I go for pi or not? Seems a shame to waste all the work I did earlier this year, but then again at least half of it has drained out of my brain already, so it'll mean a lot more work. Oh, what the heck. Consider that another resolution. I'll be checking my progress against this ill-advised list for the next year, so I'll regret it later, but yes. Recite pi to 50,000 places, maybe next March. Depending when or if Boris does his speed cards contest thing.

I think this also calls for a general resolution to do something new and spectacular. Getting a book of some kind published would be good.
Be it How To Be Clever, Jayce and Alex, or something else entirely. In fact, I hereby resolve to write not just HTBC, but something else entirely too, and make a decent effort to get someone other than my circle of friends to say it's good.

Also, I need to resolve to be nicer to my mother. I know it's a bad idea to write about that here, since as previously mentioned she's almost certainly reading it, but what the heck. Got a card and present from her this morning, with a letter attached - and none of this "I wish it was easier for us to relate" stuff either, a nice friendly letter. Seems she's been part of a study on synaesthesia by University College, London. "I have it quite strongly," she says, which is news to me, but as you might have gathered we're not big on communication in this family. I haven't, but synaesthesia has been a frequent subject of discussion in memory circles. Daniel Tammet says he's synaesthetic, and so did the famous (and, according to Oleg Stepanov, wildly overrated) Russian memory man Shereshevsky. But none of the 'real' memory people, as far as I know, do.

By 'real' people, I mean the ones who do well in memory championships, of course. I make no claims that this relates in any way to actually having a good memory. Anyway, I'll give my mum a call tomorrow, if I can summon up the nerve. Although I'll have to get the number from Grandma, obviously.

Incidentally, it's Neil Aspinall's birthday today. Tends to get overlooked in all the John Lennon hoopla that goes on at this time of year, but I've always thought Neil seemed like a really great guy. Maybe not the Fifth Beatle, but at least the ninth or tenth.

Two and a half hours (and, if we're being technical, three minutes, since I was born at 12:03am) of being 28 left. Is it too late to do something spectacular? The only thing I can think of is to take all my clothes off and run screaming down the street, but it looks a bit chilly out there. And there's no streetlights, so I might tread in something nasty.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Now we're cooking on gas!

Am I leaving it too late to make a fruit cake? Most of the recipes out there seem to expect you to make the thing weeks in advance of eating it. They don't explicitly say that it will kill you if you don't, so it's probably okay. Anyway, Crispy's promised a cake anyway, I'm only making one because I had one of those irresistible urges. And I'm making a trifle and jelly and blancmange and things, and I'm sure it's not possible to go wrong with those.

No more work till Monday! Things I need to do before the party on Saturday:

Pick up that pile of books in the bedroom and arrange it a bit more tidily.

Hoover the place so it's not quite so obviously filthy.

Acquire some beanbags and cushions and things so there's something for everyone to sit on (apart from the floor).

Go shopping and buy the bits of equipment I didn't think to buy earlier (a whisk being the main one) and the ingredients for the aforementioned cake. Also booze.

Make the aforementioned party goodies.

Move the sofa into the bedroom so as not to get in the way. It's uncomfortable and falling apart, so sitting on it probably isn't an option at the party.

Meet that TV producer guy and find out whether I want to be in a documentary or not.

Hmm, just had a phone call from Step asking me exactly what day my birthday is, and how old I'm going to be. Sounds like he's planning something. Perhaps he's going to check my horoscope for Saturday to make sure I'm not going to be struck by lightning or some other party-cancelling calamity before he gets on the train. Ah well.

The picking-up-books-and-then-hoovering thing was going to be tonight in my original plans, but I've decided to watch the football and generally not bother instead. England are playing reasonably well, for a change, although they haven't managed to score a goal yet, 25 minutes in.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Bedtime story

I really can't wait to finish work at Parkhouse. There's just nothing to do there. I've gone home for lunch the last couple of days - I don't normally bother, seeing as it's a 20-minute cycle ride each way, and 40 minutes travelling is a bit much for 20 minutes sitting at home - just to have a bit of time away from playing on the internet or otherwise doing nothing. Still, just another couple of weeks and I get to go to my scary new job and see if I can remember how to do actual work.

I watched the Booker Prize award ceremony last night, since for once I'd read one of the books on the shortlist, Kazuo Ishiguro's "Never Let Me Go". It didn't win though, which is probably fair. Much as I love the book, it's probably not his best work (the problem with having written "The Remains of the Day" and "The Unconsoled" is that it's a very hard standard to keep up), and so I'd say there's a good chance it's not the best book of the year. Besides, he's won it before, which none of the other shortlisted writers had. So now I'll need to go out and read John Banville's "The Sea" and pretend I'd heard of it before it was cool.

His acceptance speech was fun - it's hard to thank your agent, publisher and family and not make it terminally boring, but Banville managed it. Considering he was a surprise winner, it's funny to note that he had his speech prepared on a little bit of paper in his pocket. I wonder if all the others had prepared a little speech too? And what they did with their notes afterwards?

Of course, it's not the Booker Prize now, it's the Man Booker Prize, 'Man' being the name of the sponsor. It's silly enough having the prize for best book being called the 'Booker', but calling it the Man Booker makes you wonder if there's a Woman Booker Prize too.

Apparently it was a split decision on the judges' panel between Banville and Ishiguro, with the chairman, John Sutherland, casting the deciding vote. John Sutherland is an enormously clever man, with great taste in literature, so I'll take that as a recommendation to go out and read "The Sea" as soon as possible.

It's no secret that one of my many, many ambitions in life is to be a great writer (I'm still determined to get "The Adventures of Jayce and Alex" published one of these days), but Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the people who makes me realise that I'm just never going to be that great. I think it was Stephen King who once said that there are writers who have great ideas, and writers who can write well, and only a very few who fall into both categories. Ishiguro and King are certainly both among them. I'm not sure which I am, but I'd be inclined to say 'neither'. I mean, look at the last five paragraphs of this. It's all disjointed and doesn't flow at all, dotting about from random thought to random thought on the subject.

I need to go out and read some of the rubbish that makes it to the bookshops, just to reassure myself that any old idiot can become a published writer.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Wave World Municipal Children's Miniature Golf Emporium

I was going to write about a really weird advert I've just seen, but then I remembered I'd decided to write about something other than TV tonight. So the reason why it inspired the title of this post will have to remain just one of those mysteries. Until tomorrow, at least.

Instead, let's talk about pictures of me. Always an entertaining topic, I'm sure. Sam's comment today about having to get a passport-sized photo for a railcard reminded me that I'll have to do the same. Not for a Young Person's Railcard, obviously, seeing as how I'm such an Old Person, but for a monthly season ticket to Burton-on-Trent when I start a new job.

I haven't got many pictures of myself, but I do have, somewhere, a collection of old passport-size mug shots that I've had taken over the years for one reason or another and obviously only used one or two out of the four. They date back to when I was about 17, and it's fun to chart the progression of my facial features over the last ten years or so.

There's my largely unsuccessful attempts to look like a long-haired layabout, the unflattering moustache that I genuinely thought looked good on me when I was 20, the debut appearance of the hat looking all shiny and new in 1999, the gradually disappearing hair on top of my head over the years, culminating in the latest ones, from early 2003, with stupidly long beard. I didn't grow the beard because I thought it looked good, incidentally, it was just the realisation that the time I spent shaving every morning could more profitably be spent lying in bed a bit longer.

It'll be fun to add a new set of photos to the collection. While I'm at it, I might see if I can replace the one currently in my passport. It dates back to mid-2000 and really doesn't look anything like me any more. I get all kinds of funny looks whenever I travel abroad with it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Snooker loopy, nuts are we

I realise that this is the third post in a row where I'm talking about something I've been watching on telly, but what's the point of having weekends if you can't switch off your brain every once in a while and just soak in the radiation from the idiot box? It hasn't even been about cartoons either, which I think displays a refreshingly broad range of interests from me.

Anyway, it's good to see the new season of snooker back on TV. I think it's a peculiarly British kind of entertainment, seeing men in evening dress gently hitting balls around a table with a stick, and getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to do it. I think a lot of the appeal comes from the way it looks so darn easy - you sit there and think 'well, I could do that, no problem!'

Actually, it's harder than it looks. It's always been one of my many dreams in life to become a great snooker player, but I'm prepared to admit that that's one of the ones that will probably remain unfulfilled. I suppose with a few years of practice I could still get good, but I think that's more time than I can really afford to put in, especially since I can't fit a snooker table in my flat.

Ho hum, back to work tomorrow. A three-day week, what's more! Who knows, maybe something not on television will come up that I'll want to blog about?