Saturday, July 15, 2006

That's better

After spending all yesterday yawning as well as feeling the usual post-memory-performance urge to resign and run away to join the circus, I stayed in bed till after midday today. Now I feel all refreshed and ready for the challenge of sitting down and getting on with training for the WMC. Absolutely have to do at least one hour-long discipline tomorrow, and then next weekend I'll try to do a full practice WMC (ie all the disciplines except things like words and dates that don't need so much work). Then there's three more weekends before the championship - my brother's coming over for one of them and another might be taken up with hanging out with other people, so time is running short. And if I work at it properly, I might still have a chance of winning. Touch wood.

I also need to clean this flat up. I've got a shiny new gas oven (should have titled this post "The New Gas Cooker Sketch") and it looks out of place amongst the filth and clutter of the rest of the living-room-cum-kitchen. It also shows temperatures in celsius, which is irritating when I'm used to gas marks. I like gas marks, they're so completely stupid. Who would invent a scale of cooker temperatures that have nothing to do with any temperature scale? And for reasons I haven't quite figured out yet, it plugs in to the electric mains. It's got one of those buttons that makes an electric spark to light the hob, but then so did the old one and that didn't plug in. I suppose I should read the manual, but I don't really want to know that badly.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Rio: incipit secunda pars

To resolve last night's nailbiting cliffhanger, Alberto phoned me just about the instant I'd stopped writing. Alberto Dell'Isola Rezende Medeiros, is interesting not only for having more names than most people, but also for being at the forefront of Brazil's emerging gang of memory enthusiasts. He's also the person I have to thank for the trip - he persuaded Globo not only to put him on the show and fly him to the world championships next month, but to bring me out there too. As usual with people I've only known through emails, he is in real life absolutely nothing like I'd imagined - I was thinking earnest young student rather than fun mid-twenties maths teacher. It turns out that he likes all the important things in life - cartoons, the Beatles, classic arcade games and so on, and is a really great guy to hang out with.

So, on Tuesday afternoon Globo sent a car again to take us both down to the Village. VerĂ´nica, the other person I have to thank for the trip since she made all the arrangements and is also a lot of fun, escorted us to the studio dressing room where my outfit was waiting. Presumably operating on the principle that the less of me is visible, the better I look on TV, they'd got me a big black cloak, complete with hood, to go with the black suit and playing-cards tie. I looked seriously cool. We spent something like three hours hanging around while they recorded another bit of the show (a man won a makeover of his car by conducting an orchestra after minimal training, and I had a really vivid memory of my dad watching a similar show years ago and saying "the orchestra know what they're doing, they don't need to look at him...").

Eventually we went through to the studio where an enthusiastic audience (composed entirely of attractive young women, which surprised me a bit since the show is obviously aimed at all ages and genders) were cheering Luciano and a singer who performed a rather good if Eurovisiony song. Then it was Alberto's turn to go on stage and perform. He did a very cool thing with a gossip magazine he'd memorised, describing what was on any page Luciano, the singer or an audience member asked for. Then he did day-of-the-week calculations rather faster than I can do it as an encore. They had a calendar appear on the screen behind him showing the correct day of the week (or, in a couple of cases, the correct day of the week for a date other than the one he'd been asked, which caused some confusion).

So then it was my turn to come on ominously in cloak and hood (and snazzy headpiece with microphone attached that somehow gave it an even more Star Wars look - Alberto had already been insisting on calling me Master Yoda until I pointed out that Ben Kenobi would be more appropriate and slightly more flattering) and do the card thing. Luciano shuffled the pack, spread it out on the table in front of me and gave me a minute to memorise them (during which he whispered distractingly in Portuguese about what I was doing). I made a complete and total mess of things, so he re-shuffled them and did it again. I messed up in less dramatic fashion that time, but it was still embarrassing. He suggested using that take, but I insisted on doing it again, and luckily got it all right the third time. I think it'll look good on TV - I was trying to be unsmiling, cool and intellectual as the cloak seemed to demand, but I'm not sure I kept that front up the whole time (it's hard not to giggle at moments like this). Still, they're going to send me a tape, and if you're in Brazil you can see the finished product on June 22nd.

Henrique Athayde, a Rio-resident memory guy, had joined us in the dressing room and taken photos (I hadn't brought a camera with me as usual), and the three of us went back to the hotel for dinner before a night out on the town. Alberto had challenged me to a duel at StreetFighter II, but it turned out that the big arcade in Rio didn't have a single Capcom fighting game. Disgraceful. He had to beat me up on Virtua Fighter 2 instead, although I won on Daytona US. Then we went to the bowling alley nearby, played three games and equitably won one apiece. It's fair to say there wasn't a great level of skill on display, although strangely enough the scores got better after we'd started on the tequila.

A certain amount of alcohol later, we hailed a taxi back to the hotel, singing raucously all the way home. Henrique went back home and Alberto and I decided it would be a good idea to end the night by walking along the beach delivering what I think were really quite cool and harmonic renditions of Beatles songs at top volume. As I was still wearing my good black work shoes, I made sure to take them off and put them at a safe distance from the sea before going for a paddle, only for a huge wave to immediately come along and soak them. So now they smell of the sea and are full of sand as well as holes. Twenty degrees celsius at midnight!

Having finally gone to bed at about half past one, I had plenty of time in the morning for a lie-in, although my body didn't seem to agree, waking me up at about five o'clock as it had done all the time I'd been in Brazil. So then it was just a matter of being driven back to the airport (Globo's driver again, at my beck and call all week!) and heading home.

So, in summary, I got a wonderfantabulous three day holiday for free in return for two minutes' work. You've got to admit that makes me pretty damn cool.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Rio: Phase one, in which Doris gets her oats

I'm writing this the old-fashioned way, with pen and paper in my lovely room on the sixth floor of the Royalty Hotel, Rio de Janeiro. It's 5pm on Monday and just starting to get dark. I'm impressed by the cosmic coincidence that in Derby, where it's four hours later but in the other hemisphere, it will also be just getting dark. Anyway, I'm intending to type this up and stick it on my blog, so if you're reading this now it's safe to assume that that's what I've done. It occurred to me that it might save some time when I get home, because this holiday's going to have a lot to write about and I've got a spare moment now - I'm assuming Alberto's going to call at some point since I told him what room I'm in but somehow neglected to ask him his room number in return. I'm improving my Portuguese in the meantime by watching cartoons - Clifford O Cachorrinho is Clifford's Puppy Days, although I'm pretty sure the title translates literally as Clifford The Puppy, possibly with an extra diminutive suffix on the end. See, I'm multilingual!

Anyway, this was meant to be an account of the holiday so far. Let's start with book reviews. I decided to get two new books for the trip - John Banville's "The Sea", which regular readers will recall me saying ages ago that I was going to buy, and while I was in the bookshop and not being entirely confident in the ability of "The Sea" to keep me going all through the four days away from home (it's not all that long), I decided to see if there was anything by Flann O'Brien that I hadn't read (remembering that the first trip I blogged about, I waxed lyrical over O'Brien's work). The only one they had was "Best of Myles", a compilation of the column he wrote for the Irish Times under the pseudonym Myles na gCopaleen. These columns, by the way, are exactly what I would love this blog to be like, if only I was a halfway competent writer. They're hugely clever, witty, inventive and just plain funny.

Having picked my two books in such a random way, I was rather surprised to see that the writer of one had obviously read and enjoyed the other. Not only is there a character in "The Sea" called Myles, but both books include a pun involving a Primus stove and the Latin phrase "primus inter pares", which CAN'T be a coincidence.

And speaking of The Sea, I can see it from my window - the hotel's right on the beach. The smell of sea air, I only realised today when I smelt it, is something I haven't experienced for a good three years. It's lovely, and the beach here is wonderful. You can't really understand how much I love a nice beach without appreciating where I grew up - in and around Boston, Lincolnshire. Firstly, it's thirty miles in any direction from the nearest hill, which makes me admire inclines whenever I see them (and the mountains around here - wow!), and secondly, the nearest beach, where we always went for holidays and days out, is Skegness. Now, I quite genuinely would recommend Skegness to anyone, it's a great place, but if your idea of the seaside is clean, sparkling white sand and pure blue water topped with shiny white wave, gleaming in the sun... you might be disappointed. Skegness is on the North Sea coast, and the sea water is the colour and texture of thick mud (with, by all accounts, a generous quantity of raw sewage mixed in). So I love a good beach, and even the lack of donkey rides here doesn't put me off.

It's also hot! It got up to about 29 degrees here today. I had the morning free (I got in late last night, just in time to see the penalty shoot-out, and was asleep by half seven), and spent it walking around the beach and the bit of this ginormous city within walking distance of the hotel. Globo, the TV company, have paid for me to have three meals a day at the fancy hotel restaurant, but there's only so much posh food a man can take, so I had lunch at Bob's Burgers next door. Delicious!

Then this afternoon Globo's driver came to take me to the studio, which turns out to be a long journey along some terrible roads - they reminded me of the Old Hammond Beck Road in Boston, although that's not a reference anyone reading this will understand, so I don't know why I'm writing it. Suffice to say that they were full of potholes and bumps, and indeed at one point the whole road had collapsed into a huge chasm, so we had to go over into the wrong lane where it wasn't quite so deep or wide, to get over it. Still, we got to the studio in one piece, and it turns out that 'studio' isn't really the word. 'Village' comes closer, but only if Derby is also a village - it reminds me more than anything of the town built by the Globex Corporation in that Simpsons episode - there are lots of big studios (Globo do all the big Brazilian soap operas and things), exterior sets, offices, buildings all over the place, it's fantastic. I met all the people behind the show we're recording tomorrow. I demonstrated my amazing ability to recall the cards in Portuguese and they looked at each other and said "Maybe you can do it in English, and we'll have a translator." I don't blame them.

I memorised another pack in English for the crew (slowly, and with mistakes, but they were still impressed), then the presenter Luciano came in (he's more Ant and Dec than Noel Edmonds, I've decided) and I memorised another one (perfectly) for his benefit, plus a string of numbers he wrote down. Everyone liked it. He took me to meet Scorpio (okay, he isn't actually called Scorpio, he's Marcel I think, although he does have a beard), the big boss, and I did another pack for him. Not perfectly memorised, mainly because he was saying "Wow!" and "Look at that!" all the time I was memorising, as if the fact of me looking at the cards was in itself somehow amazing, but he still thought it was cool when I could recall most of them. My standards of impressiveness in memorising are much higher than everyone else's, I need to remember that and not worry about getting jeered tomorrow if I take 90 seconds to memorise a pack. Anyway, that's filled an hour and two sides of A4, I'll write more tomorrow but now I should go and find Alberto (who I notice I forgot to write about today although I met him for the first time).

It's a fact, I'm back, yeah I'm standing on the rooftops shouting out...

Ah, back in non-sunny England. I'm in an internet cafe in London - I should really be on a train home to Derby to get some sleep, not having had more than four hours or so for the last two days, but after the plane journey I'm fed up of sitting down while being moved from A to B, so I decided to have a walk around the big city while I'm here. Lots and lots and LOTS to write about Rio, which I'll do when I get home, today or tomorrow night (got to work tomorrow, need my beauty sleep). This Wish You Were Here special will come in two parts - I wrote part one of the travelogue with pen and paper on Monday afternoon and I just need to type it up. I could have used the internet access at the hotel, but I like to be completely incommunicado when I go away like this. And nobody's emailed me to say that some disaster happened while I was out of touch, so it's fine. Unless the house has burned down or something.