Saturday, February 04, 2006

What kind of butterflies grow from trains?

That's the final line of a Tony Buzan poem. It just about qualifies as 'profound', as per my promise of the last couple of days. If you're still not satisfied, you might like to read this down a really big hole. Anyway, it leads in to what I actually wanted to talk about...

So, one of the traditional events at memory championships is memorising a poem. Usually a Tony Buzan one nowadays (he's the founder and leading inspiration of the world memory championships, has done a lot of great things in the field of learning and education and expanding the mind's capabilities and believes he's a great poet too), but the first few world championships had poems specially written by Ted Hughes, and it was one of the few disciplines with some kind of real-life application. But since the world championships became genuinely international, and especially now that all the good memorisers are German-speakers, it's become increasingly difficult to translate the poem in a way that's equally difficult to memorise in multiple languages.

Because of this, the World Memory Sports Council, which basically consists of Tony and the couple of people who do the actual work of running the world championships (god bless 'em), has decided to replace the poem with something new. So Phil Chambers, the guy who does 99% of the work (and I'm never sure what exactly he gets out of it, putting in long nights shuffling cards, calculating the scores, arranging a million and one little details, but I'm very grateful) contacted the top five competitors of the moment (me, Clemens, Gunther, Astrid and Joachim) and the rest of the WMSC to ask for ideas and suggestions. We kicked around lots of different ideas for new disciplines, and in the end put it down to a vote between four different ones.

I don't think this was intentional, but Phil in all good faith suggested a simple enough idea - everyone involved in the discussion would vote on their favourite new discipline, with Tony having the casting vote in the event of a tie. This of course created the possibility of all the competitors voting for one thing and still losing out to the WMSC's favourite choice. And that's exactly what happened. After some wrangling, we all voted for Gunther's word-pairs suggestion, while Tony, Phil, Dominic O'Brien (eight-times champion who's not actively competing any more), Chris Day (the other person-who-does-the-actual-work) and Ray Keene (chess grandmaster who if he actively does anything for the WMSC besides being Tony's friend, I don't know what it is) picked Dominic's "abstract images" idea.

So now we have a situation where the WMSC have 'consulted' the leading competitors and then ignored them. Doesn't create much good feeling all round. Not that I really mind in principle - I don't actually like the idea of the competitors being able to choose the rules in the first place (what other 'proper' mental sport does that? But it's been the norm in the world of memory in the past, especially during Dominic's heyday) - but what bugs me about the whole thing is the part of Phil's results-announcing email saying "Tony Buzan has asked me to thank you on his behalf and let you know how pleased he is with the extremely high level of mentally literate discourse."

Tony has a tendency to think of himself as a god-like figure, revered by all, and no doubt really feels that those patronising words would be well-received by people who are being told that their views have been acknowledged and ignored. And Phil genuinely does revere Tony, so that thought no doubt never crossed his mind. That's the thing about this - nobody's setting out to do anything but be considerate of others, and it's still ended up with all-round bad feeling. Not Andi Bell levels of bad feeling, but Gunther especially is in a bad mood over the whole thing. Coupled with the decision to hold the WMC this year in Kuala Lumpur, the WMSC aren't hugely popular at the moment.

It'll all blow over, of course. But it's fun to watch while it's going on...

Friday, February 03, 2006

Profound and fascinating

I promised to be profound and fascinating tonight, but I forgot that I'm going out with work people, so I haven't got time. Tomorrow, definitely.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Twelve for a pound, not six

I turned my computer back on specifically to say that.

A moral dilemma

Should I eat those hot cross buns in my kitchen cupboard? I've got three of them left - they were six for a pound in Sainsbury's, so I bought two packs. But then I felt more like my usual bacon butties for breakfast the last few days, and stuffed myself with my usual teas in the evenings, so I haven't eaten them all yet. They're a bit past the sell-by date now, and a tad on the stale side, so I really should have them tonight if I'm going to. But I can't decide whether I really want to or not. I don't generally eat things for the sake of eating them - I could always feed them to the birds tomorrow morning, although the pigeons round here get more than enough already, and they bully the little sparrows and things so they don't get anything.

I kind of object to hot cross buns being on sale in the first place, at this time of year. Things are less special the longer you stretch out the period of time when they're available. Of course, I endorsed the sale of them by my purchases, but you see I respond to simple commands like "Buy these things! They're cheap!" Not that six for a pound is really all that cheap, come to think of it, but the supermarket made a big deal out of it as if it was. I can't resist a big red sticker.

There are more important things I could be talking about, I know. I was planning to go on at length about the new event at the memory championships, and the various competitions to come this year, but I like to strike a balance between interesting things like that and pointless drivel like this. Tomorrow I'll be more profound and fascinating. Probably.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

They need all the help they can get

Boston United's website is lamenting that the team is 72nd (and last) in the Coca-Cola "Win A Player" league table at the moment. It's not entirely surprising - we have fewer fans than any other league team. In fact, the town of Boston has a significantly smaller population (I'm talking about a factor of ten or more in most cases) than any other with a team in the league. Except for the tiny little village of Rushden, but they're going to get relegated anyway so they don't count. So really, it's quite impressive that we're doing so well at the moment (on what the manager optimistically describes as the fringes of the playoff places).

What really pleases me at the moment is the transfer window activity. Or lack of it - the most important thing is that the board had the foresight to turn down a very generous offer from Milwall for Julian Joachim. Getting Joachim to sign for his home town's club on a free transfer was one heck of a coup - his Premiership days are behind him, but he's still way too good for Boston United - and it shows intelligence to refrain from cashing him in to make a bit of quick money, in favour of hanging on to him and letting him bring in the extra money that comes from the team winning a game every now and then.

We still have a stupidly small squad, especially with Noel Whelan and Nathan Abbey being released from their contracts (Whelan to go and get help for his alcohol problems and Abbey because we somehow ended up with three goalies and he was never much good anyway), but that's probably a good thing for team spirit, and always means the youth squad get more chance of a first-team game than at any other club in the country.

My great claim to fame is that my mum taught Julian Joachim at school, you know.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Just a band, you know

One thing I don't think I've mentioned enough on this here blog before is that I really, really love the Beatles. I'm listening to "With The Beatles" at the moment, my little collection of CDs is roughly 50% Fab Four, and I'm quite certain I spend as much time listening to their music as to every other piece of music ever recorded put together. I'm never any good at explaining why I like or dislike things, so I'm not even going to bother here, but the wonderful, imaginative music just strikes a chord with me - the early stuff that the band themselves were embarrassed by after a few years just as much as the genius later works. The whole collected musical history of the group just has a unity to it that seems too perfect to be accidental.

And yes, John Lennon is very high on my list of idols. My good friend Jimi summed it up very nicely once - he said that Lennon was, at heart, a complete bastard who really tried his hardest not to be. I think that's something we can all aspire to.

Monday, January 30, 2006

I've got a dirty mind

So I was just about to start blogging about journeys, mindful that I keep dropping memory-jargon like that into this thing without bothering to explain it for the benefit of my overwhelmingly too-sensible-to-know-all-about-memory-jargon audience, when the phone rings. Nobody calls me at ten o'clock at night, because they know I go to bed early a lot of the time, so I was wondering who the heck it was, but it only turned out to be filmmaker Nick. And maybe it's just the thought of late night and phone conversations, or maybe I'm just in a silly mood tonight, but at one point he said "Another thing I want to do with you is...", and I suddenly thought "He sounds like he's talking on a phone sex line!" and had to spend the rest of the conversation trying not to giggle at everything he said. I think he's just got the kind of voice that you'd expect to hear on one of those lines, not that I'd know.

That's mean. I say all kinds of horrid things about Nick in this blog (the word 'evil' crops up quite often, doesn't it?), but it's just my way of mentally dealing with the idea that I'm quite excited despite myself by a film being made about my mnemonical exploits. And he's a very nice guy to work with too - if I didn't want him hovering around me with a camera, I wouldn't have told him I was going to New York, would I?

Anyway, when I said 'journeys' last night (the first time in that sentence, not the second time. God, I'm a terrible writer), I was talking about the mental journeys I use to keep the information I'm memorising in sequence. What I do is have a series of backdrops, in order, pre-prepared in my mind, and at each one of these settings, visualise images that I've made from the numbers or cards I'm looking at. These images, of course, are also pre-prepared, and I'll go into detail about how that works another time.

But what it all boils down to is that I have lots of these journeys, each consisting of 26 different points. Some of them are around houses or buildings I've worked in, one point in each room, and some are around streets, with a point at each corner or place of interest. I have twenty-five-and-a-half journeys at the moment (the half is one where for some reason I could never remember what the last few points look like, so I eventually gave up and just used it as a half-length journey for whenever I need one. It's around the little villages between Boston and Tumby Woodside, taking the scenic route - through Anton's Gowt to Gipsey Bridge and down to Bunker's Hill. Don't you love those Lincolnshire village names?), but I need a minimum of 34 for a full world championship, so I need to dream up some more, or I'll have to use some of them twice (which causes problems because if I reuse them too soon, I remember the images I put in them last time).

I've come up with three more today - one around the new office at Burton (which might be a problem in the future, because half the building is still, well, a building site, and I don't like it when my mental journeys no longer match what the places look like in real life), one around Meadowhall in Sheffield and one in and around Ace's parents' house in Nottingham. But while racking my brain for other places I know that I haven't made a journey from yet, I thought of Peterborough, and dragged something up kicking and screaming from the dark crevices of my long-term memory.

I used to have journeys around Peterborough, and I'd completely forgotten them. After the 2004 world championships, when I stopped practising, a lot of my newer journeys faded out of my mind. Several others I extended and used for pi, which kind of ruins them now so I can't use them any more, but a few I just forgot completely. Going into the world championships last year, I remembered a few of them, but the Peterborough ones had slipped my mind completely. I'm trying now to put them together again, and it's hard work. I remember individual locations on them, and a few short sequences, but not how it all fitted together. I can't remember how many there were, but it might have been as many as three - I think there was one based on the route into town on my motorbike, from when I used to go to college there from Boston (an hour on a little motorbike in winter is no fun at all, by the way). It's coming back to me now as I write this, which is part of the reason I'm babbling on at such great length.

And another two, I think, around the Queensgate centre and around the town. It'll come back to me. Of course, I could just think up a new journey that wouldn't exactly match the old one, but where's the fun in that?

Sunday, January 29, 2006


I'm now the age my dad was when I was conceived. This isn't just a mathematical curiosity to me, it makes me think about how I'd always assumed my life would go. I've always thought that the age of thirty is about the right time to have children, and just always had it in the back of my mind that I would at that age. Now that I've got there, of course, I still don't feel grown-up enough, even if anyone wanted to help me out with the technical details of procreating right now.

It kind of bugs me, actually, that I'm probably never going to have offspring. Although the idea horrifies me on lots of different levels, there's still part of me that likes the idea of passing on my accumulated wisdom and ideals to some poor impressionable child. A sort of drive to make some kind of concrete contribution to making future generations not quite as unpleasant as they would otherwise be.

And it's Monday tomorrow and I've got to go back to work. I haven't done a lot of memory practice this weekend - just a half-hour binary (3650, a bit below the record but better than anyone else has ever done in competition). I'm going to dream up a few more journeys this week, on train journeys (effective time management, you see), and drum them into my head with a bit of training in the evenings. With a night out with the work people on Friday and then othello the next weekend, I'll not have a free and non-hungover weekend for a while, so I'll need to keep in shape.