Saturday, July 01, 2006


So immediately after Portugal knocked us out of the world cup, I start trying to learn Portuguese. Makes me seem like some kind of traitor. It does remind me, though, of a fundamental fact about myself - I hate learning languages. I just find the things so darn difficult to do. Makes me wonder why I devoted a big chunk of my teenage years to languages, but hey, I was weird when I was younger.

Still, did you know they don't use the letters K, W or Y? That means I'm already three twenty-sixths of the way to mastering Brazilian Portuguese! Which is my aim over the next eight days, before I fly out there on the 10th. If there's one thing I hate more than learning languages, it's going to a foreign country and making people talk to me in English.

Remind me again why I agreed to do this TV thing?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Senile dementia

I left the house without my briefcase today, and didn't realise I'd forgotten it until I got to the train station, too late to go back and get it. And then at work while going out to buy a sandwich (the most important function of my briefcase is carrying my packed lunch), I quipped to a colleague "I seem to be getting very short-sighted in my old age. No, not short-sighted. What's the phrase I'm looking for? Means forgetful?" It took me five minutes to remember 'absent-minded'. This isn't a very impressive display of memory from someone who's hoping to win the World Memory Championship in a month and a half.

In my defence, I think forgetting my briefcase in the first place came about because I wasn't wearing my usual office clothes. I decided to go casual on casual day for a change, so that I could wear my Germany shirt. Because having spent quite a lot of money on it, I thought I should try to get as many jokes out of it as possible. It'll be outdated after the World Cup, after all.

In other news, my washing machine just behind me here is making some very loud banging noises. I hope it doesn't blow up or anything. It's a good seven and a half years old by now and it's never completely broken down yet, so I shouldn't complain. Generally speaking, my posessions all stop working much earlier in their lives than that, I seem to have the touch of death with technology.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

P-p-p-pick up

Sainsbury's have a half price offer on 18-packs of penguin biscuits. 89p, which is a pretty good deal really. Interestingly, they haven't got a similar offer on the packs of 9 on the shelves next to them, which are still 98p a pack. I felt like buying a 9-pack just to make some kind of ironic point, but then I realised that that doesn't make the slightest bit of sense, so I didn't.

I'm watching Andy Murray playing tennis at the moment, and his horrible mother's in the crowd. I saw her being interviewed last year when Murray had just won a very impressive game, and rather than saying anything nice about her son, she immediately launched into a list of his deficiencies as a tennis player and observed that they'd have to work on them before he'd be any real good. Although on the other hand, maybe if I'd had a mother like that I'd be practising speed numbers like I said I would right now, instead of wasting my life watching Wimbledon.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Bom-dia, meu nome é Zoomy.

I'm almost certainly going to Brazil in two weeks, touch wood. Which is extremely scary and I don't think I want to do it any more. But I'll get over it.

This is of course another distraction from training for the world championships, and I've had a lot of those lately, what with the football. And general laziness, to be honest. I had a real buzz of motivation earlier in the year, but for the last few months I've been steadily declining back to 2005 levels of don't-feel-like-it-ness. Well, not quite that bad (seeing as for most of 2005 I didn't look at a pack of cards or sheet of numbers that weren't pi at all), but getting there. I did have a go at speed numbers tonight, but considering there wasn't even any football today I should have done a lot more, really.

Never mind, this weekend I've got no plans (although come to think of it I haven't been to see my grandma for aaaaages, so maybe I should do that too), so if I can drum up the willpower to do it, I can do an hour numbers and cards and maybe come up with a definite plan for how much of each to attempt at the worlds.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More pretty pictures!

What you can't see here is that the lights on the face really flash and everything. Posted by Picasa

Just for the purposes of comparison, for the benefit of those poor people who didn't watch Battle of the Planets. Posted by Picasa

Monday, June 26, 2006

And a picture too...

 Posted by Picasa

An epic travelogue

So, if memory serves (and remembering something that happened more than five minutes ago isn't my forte, as I think I've demonstrated this weekend), I set off on Thursday night for the first stage of my journey, and the great challenge of finding my hotel. A cursory search of the internet hadn't revealed any of the various hotels actually at Birmingham airport, so I'd booked a room at the Holiday Inn a couple of miles down the road. I decided to walk it, seeing as it was nice weather and I don't like getting taxis. And it was a very pleasant walk - the area around the airport is for some reason absolutely crawling with rabbits, it's like walking on some kind of bunny carpet (I didn't actually tread on any, don't worry). But the number of rabbits I saw on the walk was inversely proportional to the number of Holiday Inns, since it turned out not to be where I thought it was, and after a couple of hours of walking around I found my way back to the airport train station and got a taxi like a normal person would have done in the first place.

After that, I got the plane in the morning without any difficulty. The usual funny look at the passport control because my picture looks like a completely different person, but no trouble. The departure lounge seems to have got more interesting since I was last there, and I had two good books to pass the time with anyway, The Marlows and the Traitor, and Kavalier and Clay. Then I had a day of looking around Düsseldorf (which I didn't think much of) and Essen (really nice!). I bought a Germany football shirt to wear for a laugh at the competition. I know I don't normally buy clothes, generally wearing the same old falling-to-bits ones I've had since I was a teenager, but I'm not above spending huge amounts of money on a single garment every now and then if I think it'll be funny. And I like to think I've got a reputation for wearing interesting T-shirts at memory competitions, so I need to keep that going even now that everyone's seen my entire wardrobe.

I also bought a teddy bear in a Germany football shirt, just on a whim. He's called Ballack, and he seems to be getting along well with Hi-Fi, Tom Jones, Treelo, Iago, Dragon and Shelley, the rest of my stuffed toys who I really should blog about some time soon. I thought about taking him to the competition as a mascot, but decided that two Germany shirts would be overkill, and anyway he wanted to stay at the hotel and watch TV. I found the Essen Holiday Inn without much trouble at all, although negotiating the constantly-shifting roadworks and diversions and working out which direction cars were likely to be coming at you from while crossing the road was a bit of a challenge.

The weather all weekend was absolutely baking hot and sunny, the kind of temperature where it's seriously uncomfortable to be in the direct sunshine. My hat comes in handy for stopping my bald shiny skull getting sunburnt in this kind of situation, but it's horribly hot and sweaty wearing it. Still, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and I'm too superstitious to stop wearing it to memory competitions now. Somehow I don't think I could memorise anything without it sitting on the desk (or, if there isn't room, on the floor) in front of me.

Anyway, I found the competition venue without any trouble at all, considering I got off at the wrong one of Hattingen's S-Bahn stations and so the map I'd carefully printed out beforehand was of limited use. As well as the Speed Cards Challenge, the Schulzentrum Hochhausen was host to a speed-stacking competition and other sideshows. This is something that the German competitions do very well, and the British ones do terribly. The WMC is always accompanied by Tony Buzan and his friends and relatives giving lectures on self-optimisation and things to gullible businessmen and charging the kind of prices that make your mind boggle. German competitions are accompanied by the kind of shows and contests that people actually want to come to, and this is probably why lots of people there like 'memory sports' and nobody over here does.

Boris did a fantastic job organising everything, by the way - very much putting my shambolic Cambridge effort to shame! There were only ten competitors in the SCC at the end, which was a bit disappointing. Possibly the clash with Germany's football game in the afternoon had something to do with it. Clemens wasn't there, but there was me, Gunther, Steffen Bütow and Alisa Kellner among the participants. For the first round, I was up against Florian Dellé, and stuck with the strategy I'd come up with in advance - just go for a fast time and then if it goes wrong, go a bit slower in the next two heats (it was best of three, head-to-head, if you remember). Actually, I needn't have worried - as usual in these things, when I'm actually in competition, my recall is much more accurate than when I'm at home. I did 32.03 seconds (a bit better than my existing world record) in the first heat, and something like 34 seconds in the next. So I'd won pretty comfortably, and got to sit out the third heat. Watching Steffen against Alisa was entertaining - there really could be something in this as a spectator sport, you know!

For the second round against Franz-Josef Schumeckers it was the same kind of thing, I had another couple of times in the low 30s, including a 31.03, and won it without any difficulty. Nobody else was doing much under a minute. I was up against Steffen in the third round, and he decided to forfeit it and save his mental energy for the final round after lunch. That annoyed me a bit, to be honest. But I decided to go for a super-fast time rather than doing nothing, and made a complete mess of it twice in a row.

After lunch (which was pizza, and free of charge for competitors, another coolness. I live on pizza and McDonald's when I'm in Germany - there are always people selling cheap slices of pizza in train stations and elsewhere, generally reheated several times, often burnt and always delicious. Haute cuisine!) it was time for the grand final, which was me against Gunther. After those failed attempts at breaking the record, I was concerned that I might make a mess of things, so decided I needed a new strategy. Gunther, I reasoned, would assume I was going for a 30-ish-second kind of time, know he couldn't beat that, so would hope that I made a mistake and take it slowly, and make sure of getting his own recall correct. That would give me leeway to go more slowly, say 1 minute, and be certain of winning. So I did, and I have no idea why - I know from experience that going through the pack twice makes me no more likely to recall it correctly than only going through once. Strange but true. My time was about 1:00.91, I think. To my alarm, it turned out that Gunther had done about 51 seconds. He'd expected me to do the sensible thing! I'm deeply offended. Haven't I spent my whole life not doing the sensible thing? And now that for once I have, it was anticipated by my opponent? Luckily, though, he got the third card in the pack wrong, so it didn't matter. I went back to doing the silly thing for the second heat and got it perfectly right in about 36 seconds, without any trouble.

So I won, and to be perfectly honest, I won without breaking a sweat. It sounds disrespectful to the other competitors, I know, and I really should be keeping my big mouth shut here, but I would have liked to be challenged a lot more than I was.

Anyway, the final ceremony included the finals of the speedstacking - very exciting and one of those things I've been meaning to get into since learning of the sport's existence last August, although I imagine it would be hugely frustrating to keep making mistakes at crucial moments; a blindfold Rubik's cube solver (extremely cool); an attempt by Boris at the two-packs-of-cards memorisation record (much better than my own disastrous attempt in 2004, but still unsuccessful, unfortunately); a magician, and a whole lot of trophies. This, again, is normal for a German memory competition. In Britain we get a speech from Tony Buzan, maybe about how great he or one of his friends is, and a quick presentation of medals.

So, thanks to the generosity of the sponsors (Volksbank Sprockhövel - if you want a bank in Sprockhövel, check them out! Assuming they are a bank, I'm not entirely certain about that) I went away with two trophies (for winning and for the best time), and a solid gold pack of cards (seriously cool!). Of course, once again I hadn't brought a bag big enough to take them home with me as well as Ballack and my clothes and things, but I managed to cram them all into my rucksack without leaving too much behind in the hotel room (my notepad, since there wasn't anything written in it and I can easily buy another one, and my jumper, since I've got about half a dozen more at home and I only wear one at a time).

I skipped the get-together at Boris's house for the football game. Rude of me, I know, but these competitions tire me out tremendously and I just didn't feel up to it. I went back to the hotel and was fast asleep by eight, not even disturbed by the sound of Germans celebrating their victory. Which reminds me, a German interviewer at the competition asked me what I thought the result would be, and I said 2-0 to Germany. Should have put some money on it, really.

Coming home yesterday was fun - the boiling hot weather lasted right until the split second I got on the plane, when it turned into the most amazing thunderstorm, with torrential rain (the plane was sitting in the middle of like a square mile of concrete and it was all under an inch of water by the time the rain stopped), vicious wind and some really great lightning. The pilot assured us that if the plane was struck by lightning it probably wouldn't kill us, but we weren't able to take off for an hour and a half until there was a break in the weather. Luckily, I was still immersed in Kavalier and Clay. It's one of those books that can still utterly absorb you even on re-reading it. And then when we finally did fly back to Birmingham, there weren't any trains from the station because of engineering works. In fact, there are practically never trains from Birmingham International station, and I'm not sure why they still call it a railway station except out of some sense of tradition. But the replacement bus service wasn't as slow or late as they usually are, so I shouldn't complain. Incidentally, in Germany the trains really do all run on time. I was hugely impressed!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Did I remember to set the video for Doctor Who?

Did I heckers. Now I'll have to wait till they show the whole series again on BBC3 to tape the rest of them. Anyway, lots to write about the weekend, but I'll save it for tomorrow because I've only just got back, later than planned, and I'm going straight to bed. I've got the day off tomorrow, so assuming I wake up at some point (I'm completely exhausted for some reason) I'll be able to blog at length then.