Saturday, March 10, 2007

Let's hear it for me!

Yippee skippee! I won! Well, not won as such, but I came second, and that's considered in modern fashionable circles to be even better than winning. Seven of us at the Oadby Regional, which is a nice number for a seven-round tournament because you can do all-play-all. Eight is even better, obviously, because then you can do all-play-all without someone having a bye each round, but I shouldn't complain. I got off to a flying start, in fact, beating Steve, Roy and Geoff to be in the lead at lunch, then lost not too horribly to Jeremy and Phil before rounding the day off with a win over David... hang on, I can get this right... Beck. There were a lot of close games and interesting results all round, it was a superb advertisement for the game. Although the only people who would have seen this advertisement would be the seven players and the occasional elderly churchgoer who wandered in during the competition (which took place in the lobby of the Baptist church).

Phil won, with 5½ wins, me second with 5, then Steve on 4½, David on 4 and the others on other scores that I can't remember. I don't know why I'm quoting the full results like this when I can't even be certain that I'm right about them - look them up on the yahoo group when somebody who thought to write them down gets home and posts them, if you're that interested. The important thing is that those wins over David and Geoff will give my rating a boost - it's been in freefall for ages, so maybe this is a good omen for the 2007 season. I might even start to entertain thoughts of having a chance at the British Grand Prix title, although that would just be silly - I might occasionally get a good result like today, through luck rather than skill, but I'm fairly certain I can't do it at all five regionals. Still, I'm happy. I've never won one before, and I've only finished second a couple of times - I'm trying to decide whether this second place (by a mere half a point) is cooler than that time in London when I beat everyone except Graham (who's so much better than me that it hardly counts as a loss when I inevitably lose to him). I think I'll arbitrarily say that it is, so that I'll feel good about myself.

At the train station on the way home, I saw a notice appealing for information about an incident on a train recently. What kind of incident, I don't know, because all the notice said was that there was "an incident involving a white male" and that "the male at one point was spoken to by a member of staff". Passengers who might have been on the train are asked to come forward if they noticed "unusual behaviour from a male between Leicester and Kettering". Is that really all the detail they can give us here? I mean, trains from Leicester to London are generally packed full of white males, and most of them are spoken to by train staff at some point, unless it's one of those trains where nobody bothers to check the tickets. Clearly the incident was so memorable that people who witnessed it will understand what the poster meant, and such a transgression of the boundaries of British decency that they couldn't bring themselves to describe it, but that's hardly fair on the members of the public who weren't on the train and are now trying to imagine exactly what might have happened, based on this minimal information.

Friday, March 09, 2007

You've come a long way, baby

Oadby (near Leicester) tomorrow, for the first othello regional of the year. Also traditionally the regional I can't go to because I'm doing something else exciting, but this year there doesn't seem to be any reason for me not to go there. I'm not sure if I should be happy about that or disappointed. Technically I could be in New York again for the US Memory Championship, but I've done rather too much frivolous world travelling this month as it is, and since they're still not allowing foreigners to take part I couldn't justify the trip as practice for the WMC.

Oadby is almost certainly the shortest distance I've ever had to travel for a mind-sports-related event. The World Memory Championship this year, depending on how far away Bahrain is in relation to Malaysia or Brazil or the USA (I need to get better at geography, I know) is going to be one of the longest. Assuming it happens, of course - this time last year we were assured it would be Malaysia again. But there have already been complaints from a lot of the European memory guys, who are probably going to have to pay their own way over there or miss out. Unless the organisers have such an amazing amount of money that they'll pay for everyone's tickets, but I can't see that happening somehow.

Of course, the WMC that I still rate as the best ever, Kuala Lumpur in 2003, was squillions of miles away from all the world's best at the time, and they all competed anyway, and a fantastic event it was too. So who knows, maybe this one will be the same.

I probably should also make a prediction for the US memory championship while I'm here - Josh Foer isn't going to defend his title, and Maurice Stoll also doesn't seem to be on the list of registered competitors. But David Thomas, who apparently lives over there now or at least can claim citizenship, is, and assuming he's kept more or less in practice since he last competed anywhere, he should be in with a good chance. I kind of hope he doesn't win it, though - I'd rather see the title go to someone who doesn't describe themself as "the world's leading authority on memory skills" with a straight face.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Shooting Pridmore

That's not the title of next year's hit movie, but a document that a TV guy has sent me detailing the way they want to film me. It sounds like fun - for some new channel that nobody's heard of, they're doing little five-minute interviews with interesting people. There's also someone else who wants to do an 'art project' about the Cambridge championship, which sounds like it'll be a bit different. And on top of that, I'm finally at liberty to say that the world memory championship is going to be in Bahrain this year (unless it changes again at short notice). I'd say more on the subject, but I'm still unwell after yesterday's excesses.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Drunken stupor

Vague memory of handing over all the money in my pocket to homeless man (whom my brother assures me is close personal friend) while lying on the pavement near Nottingham station. Subsequently taken to bar called "Prohibition" for more alcohol. Note to self: don't accept invitation to lunch with brother without expecting it to turn into all-day boozing. Really, really going to regret this tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Book Revue

Another good thing about long plane journeys is that they give me a chance to catch up with my reading. I like to get a new book or two to read whenever I go somewhere far away. This time round, I was planning to get "Lisey's Story" by Stephen King, but while wandering around the bookshop I noticed "Making History" by Stephen Fry, which I'd somehow never heard of before although it was published ten years ago, so I decided to get that instead by way of apology. When I got to the second chapter and realised it was going to be about killing Hitler as a baby I started to regret my choice - could there be a more overused plot for a time-travel book? Heck, I wrote (or at least started to write) one myself as a teenager. My annoyance with the unoriginal concept lasted until about half way through, when they'd almost got round to actually changing history and I realised that rather than reading it as a novel I was just waiting for it to detail how the act had changed the world. I clicked a few mental cogs into different positions and started paying attention to the characters, and realised that it's actually a really great book. It's funny and clever and very readable, and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone. The basic changing-history bit was pretty similar to mine, too, and while I wouldn't have created a protagonist with the nickname "Puppy" in 1993 it's very much the kind of thing I'd do if I was writing that story now - I suspect that Stephen Fry is also a time traveller and has stolen some yet-unwritten masterpiece of mine. But then, I think that about all good books.

For the journey home I was again going to buy "Lisey's Story", but the airport bookshop only had it in a hardback edition so big I would have had a hard time fitting it through the door of the plane, let alone fitting it in my overstuffed rucksack. So I decided to go for "The Gunslinger", because I've always sort of meant to read the Dark Tower books, and it's only the fact that I don't really like early King as a rule that's stopped me before. But this is the 2003 revision of the original from 1970 or whenever, so I decided to give it a try. But for some reason I still couldn't get into it. I'll try it again another time, but in Minneapolis I decided to get something else, and ended up with "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" by Alexander McCall Smith. This is another series of books I've been meaning to read for ages, and this one has completely hooked me. It chronicles the exploits of Mma Ramotswe, the only lady private detective in Botswana (so no complaints about an unoriginal premise here), and the wide range of unusual cases she has to deal with, her unique thought processes that lead her to the solutions as well as a variety of conclusions about morality and the meaning of life. It's very well written - funny, touching, compelling, dramatic, clever, really everything you could want from a book. I've read the second volume since getting home, and I've just bought "Morality For Beautiful Girls" today.

I know I could be more profitably spending my time writing books rather than reading them, but I really am sort of getting somewhere with "How To Be Clever" too. Honest.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Skeeters, vocation, fell

When you've only got a limited amount of time and money to spend in Las Vegas, you have to carefully choose which shows to go and see. So when I got to my room, the first thing I did was to check the previous week's entertainment guide considerately provided by the hotel (on Thursday they replaced it with the following edition, which by then was also out of date), and a look at the cover made me think "Ooh, Howie Mandel's in town! I'll have to go and see that!" Then it occurred to me that I only know Howie Mandel as a voice actor in Muppet Babies, and not even a very good one at that - he left after the first series, and his roles were taken over by much better actors (Skeeter by the great Frank Welker, Animal and Bunsen by Dave Coulier). I'd come across references to him here and there over the years, enough to gather that cartoon voice acting isn't his real vocation (he fell in my estimation when I realised that, obviously - if I got the chance to voice a cartoon, I'd forget any other career you might care to offer me) and that he's mainly a comedian of some kind. But I don't think I'd seen a picture of him before, and I'd certainly never heard his name spoken out loud - I found out when I saw an advert that it's Man-DELL, not rhymes-with-handle like I thought.

So I didn't go to see him. Maybe next time. I gather that Dave Coulier's also mainly a comedian, incidentally, but if he'd been on in Vegas I would certainly have checked him out. His voice acting in Muppet Babies was wonderful.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

How I wish that there were more than the 24 hours in the day

Back home again, to find that Sky have removed all their channels from NTL (or Virgin Media as it now is), and that Blogger have forced me to update to the new version, which is displaying what I'm typing in a slightly larger font. I hate change. Neither of these is particularly world-destroying, though - I didn't have Sky Sports in the first place, and I'm pretty sure nobody in the universe has ever watched Sky News, so it's really just the Simpsons and Futurama on Sky One that I'm going to be missing out on. And I've seen them all a hundred times already, so I can live without them.

Anyway, Viva Las Vegas indeed! There's a place that hasn't changed much since last I was there - there are always new hotels and casinos being built, of course, and while I was there the Barbary Coast closed down and started relaunching itself as Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon, but the general character of the city is one of those constants in life. Getting there is the difficult part, though. I flew into Minneapolis-St Paul without any difficulty (even remembering that Rocky lives in Minneapolis, or possibly somewhere else with a similar name, so I picked a house that looks like hers in a place we flew over that had a 50% chance of being the right city, and gave her a wave, just in case she was watching the plane with a powerful telescope), even though the Twin Cities seem to be under ten feet of snow at the moment, but then ended up staying there for quite some time. The plane was late, and when it arrived and we'd got on, we trundled up to the runway only for the pilot to announce that there was a technical problem with some piece of equipment that he assured us was essential, so we had to go back to the gate and have someone fix it.

So when I eventually got into Las Vegas, all tired and grumpy (you don't want to be around me when I'm up past my bedtime) having been up since half past eleven the night before, local time, it was very late at night, and I went straight to bed without even squandering a bit of money in the casino first. That seemed to crack any serious jetlag problem, though - I got up at about half past five every morning, which is fine in Vegas because everywhere's always open and the major shows are all finished by nine.

The Gold Coast hotel, as I might have mentioned before, is my absolute favourite Las Vegas hangout. It's off the Strip, but walkable in fifteen minutes or so. Not that you would want to walk, because there's a free shuttle service every ten minutes or so. There are also very big and comfortable rooms, a very nice buffet restaurant and single/double-deck blackjack. I didn't actually play much blackjack this time round, because I was enticed by "Ultimate Texas Hold'em", a new innovation which is basically hold'em poker played on a blackjack kind of table against the dealer, with a fabulously complex system of bets and wins. This game being based almost entirely on luck rather than skill I didn't have much opportunity to use my amazing memory techniques, but I refrained from losing quite all the money I'll ever have on it, so I don't mind.

I also had time to check out the many things that make Las Vegas so cool - the white tigers, the Venetian canals with singing gondoliers, the dancing fountains and the hourly artificial rain storm in the Desert Passage. On Wednesday morning, though, people homesick for British weather could just stick their heads outside, because it snowed. I'm fairly certain it's not meant to snow in Las Vegas, but it did. I also saw Dirk Arthur's Xtreme Magic Show, which is basically Siegfried and Roy's old routine but not as spectacular. Still a lot of fun, though. And the Blue Man Group, which defies description, and the Cirque Du Soleil's Beatles-themed extravaganza, Love, which is just sensational.

It's an hour and a half of dancing, acrobatics, slapstick, rollerblading, trampolining and everything else you expect from the Cirque, all choreographed perfectly to Beatles music and themed around the lives and times of the Fab Four. You have to see it to believe it, really, it leaves you breathless. Next time I'll need to take another Beatles fan along with me, to join in with me singing along to all the songs before and during the performance. In the usual Cirque style, the clowns were wandering around the audience before the show and one of them stuck a little plastic star to my forehead. When I got back to my hotel room, I stuck it on the mirror, up in the top corner, and hopefully it's still there now.

The new-look Blogger template has a box where you can enter labels for your post, "e.g. scooters, vacation, fall". Scooters? Actually, I can mention scooters here - one morning on the shuttle bus I noticed that the people in front of me were talking in broad Midlands accents, so I said hello and we got talking. They were from Mansfield and Lincoln, and were in Vegas for some kind of scooter convention. I'm not sure why anyone would go to Las Vegas just to look at Lambrettas, but it seems that people do. At least it's a good excuse for a vacation there, I suppose. As long as you don't fall off.

Going back was equally frustrating - it seems that planes have a real problem leaving Minneapolis. This time there was a problem with the in-flight entertainment system that had to be fixed before we could take off, following which the plane had to be de-iced. So when I finally got into London on Saturday morning, even tireder and grumpier, I decided not to incur the annoyance of travelling across London and getting the train back up to Derby (there was a real chance of me punching somebody for looking at me in a funny way) and spent the night in a hotel. Eighty quid, but worth it to keep the world a peaceful place. I found fault extensively with the bathroom (the door to the shower was bizarrely designed such that you couldn't get into the shower after opening it unless the bathroom door was open), went to bed and got up this morning (well, midday) feeling fully refreshed and happy again.

Best conversation of the week: Talking with an old American in the lift at the hotel - he asked me what part of Britain I was from, and when I said Derby, he thought about it for a minute and said "Like Derby County? Brian Clough? He's dead!" (this last in strangely jubilant tones). I agreed that he was, and the guy added "He was a good coach." Then the lift got up to my floor before I could enquire further how the heck he'd heard of Brian Clough, let alone been so wronged by him that he was still celebrating his passing. That's like someone in Derby NOT having heard of Brian Clough. Unusual, to say the least.