Wednesday, December 31, 2008


What better subject to talk about on New Year's Eve than my coin collection? I think I mentioned it on here a little while ago - I own a "collection" of 14 interesting coins that I've had since I was little and recently rediscovered among all my old junk while in the process of moving house. Most of the coins were sent to me by some relative, probably Auntie Cath, perhaps with the intention of starting me off on a fascinating hobby or perhaps because she had a house full of old coins and had run out of other presents to send to her numerous nephews.

Anyway, last night there was a Simpsons episode on Sky involving a coin collection (they really have run out of interesting plots for the Simpsons, haven't they?) and it inspired me to wonder 'did they make any coins with Edward VIII on them?' And since when I get a thought like that I can't sleep or do anything else until it's resolved to my satisfaction, I turned to the internet to find out. Luckily, I quickly came across this excellent website that gave me a quick and interesting answer - they did, but they were waiting for the coronation to issue them, so they never came into circulation - and motivated me to do what I'd been meaning to do for at least twenty-something years, and find out for certain whether that 1806 penny, the oldest coin in the collection, was actually a penny or in fact a halfpenny. Weirdly, coins in those days all look the same and don't say on them how much they're worth. I would think this would have been confusing. Still, it turns out that mine is a penny, like I've been saying it was all along, which is nice.

Here are the coins, scanned for your fascination:

Left to right, top to bottom:

1966 sixpence - haha, all the sixes. I think this one wasn't part of the "collection" I was originally sent, but was one of the old coins my dad had around the house. They were mostly old pennies, but there was the occasional interesting one, like this. Young-looking Queen Elizabeth II on either the obverse or reverse, I can never remember which is which.

1920 silver threepenny - this is a rather cool one. George V on the back, and I always think a beard looks good on a king. William should grow one, it'd make him look much cooler. Charles is a lost cause, even if he does end up becoming king in the end. Anyway, I remember my dad also having one of the big twelve-sided threepences, but I never saw fit to add that to the collection. There's an old Oor Wullie comic strip where he thinks he's found a half-crown but it turns out to be a silver threepenny (worth a tenth of a half-crown) under a magnifying-glass - that's the kind of plotline that you just can't do with modern coins.

1806 penny - as mentioned above. George III, looking fat.

1882 half penny - added to the collection from my dad's old pile of coins because it had gone a really weird green colour. I'd love to know what this coin has been soaked in at some point in the past. You can just about make out Queen Victoria.

1950 farthing - George VI on one side, a cute little wren on the other. Farthings were cool. By 1950, what with post-war inflation, they weren't being used much any more, but they kept minting the things until 1956, apparently. Useful fact learned from that website - until 1949, coins had 'IND IMP' after the 'FID DEF' bit, but then there was that whole Indian independence thing so they had to change it.

1868 third-farthing - Worth a twelfth of an old penny, and a really titchy little thing. That website isn't clear on whether they were ever in common use in Britain itself, but they were introduced for Malta, which used British currency but had previously had coins worth such a tiny amount.

1852 quarter-farthing - Probably the tiniest coin in the universe, and apparently only used in Ceylon, where the cost of living was REALLY cheap. I think this is an extremely groovy coin to have.

1977 crown - This one was a special issue for Elizabeth II's silver jubilee, and it's something that's belonged to me since I was a tiny little baby. Awwww.

1975 decimal half penny - I remember when these were still legal tender. And when things were cheap enough that you could actually need a half penny. I'm old.

1972 crown - Elizabeth and Philip's 25th wedding anniversary. Don't remember where this one came from.

1985 five pfennigs (Germany) - I've got a few obsolete European coins too. It's good to remember those days before the euro. No king or queen on this one. Bring back the Kaiser, that's what I say.

1980 fifty pesetas (Spain) - A commemorative World Cup 1982 coin, minted two years before the World Cup. They'd have felt really stupid if the World Cup had been cancelled for some reason.

1967 five cent (Holland) - I know nothing at all about Queen Juliana. I should find out what she was all about.

1885 ten centimes (France) - I should try to find some more modern francs and centimes, to remind me of those school trips to France back in the late eighties. Nineteen-eighties, that is. I'm not THAT old.

So yay, groovy coins! I'm almost fascinated enough by the aforementioned website to start collecting the things seriously, but collecting anything nowadays is just a matter of typing into the internet what you want and buying it. Which is no fun at all. I suppose I could get a metal detector and only collect coins I dig up for myself, but I think I'd probably be better off just giving away my collection to some bright-eyed, less jaded young budding numismatologist. Do any young people read this blog? If you do, drop me a line and I'll give you some coins!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Concerned about my kettle

My kettle seems to be malfunctioning in an alarming kind of way. Two times now I've turned it on and left the kitchen, then come back at the sound of a loud splash to find that it's somehow flung boiling water in vast quantities all over the kitchen surface.

I'm mystified as to how it's doing this. It's a normal upright jug kettle, with no holes in it except at the top, it wasn't more than half full to start with, and I don't see how it could have ejected half of the water that was in it while remaining upright. It seems to defy all the laws of nature and makes me worried that it's come alive and is angry with me for some reason. Possibly because I don't drink tea or coffee and seldom have reason to boil a kettle. I was thinking of turning it on and watching it to see exactly what's happening, but it might be an even worse explosion next time and would leave me looking like Father Bigley. Plus there's the fact that watched kettles never boil, so I'd be standing in the kitchen for the rest of eternity waiting for something to happen. And I've got to work tomorrow.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Work, sort of

Half of my department are on holiday, and the office is dead quiet for the bit-between-Christmas-and-New-Year. Which is annoying, because I've got quite a lot to do, and I can never work when I'm on my own in a quiet office. For some reason, my productivity is much higher when there's somebody else there nattering away for me to ignore. If I'm sitting in silence, my mind wanders and I find myself drawing pretty colourful pictures in Excel. Someone come into the office with me tomorrow and sit nearby, talking about the weather, so I can get some work done!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Horror of the Cheque Guarantee Card

"Flaming Nora!" Philip suddenly yelled, flinging his dinner plate across the bathroom and watching as it shattered in the washbasin.

"Is there a problem?" Samantha asked, perceptively. "Dinner too hot? Unusual choice of dining location causing distress? Sudden memory of past events causing alarming realisation? Existential angst of a non-specific nature?"

"The third one," Philip said, grimly. "And also the other three. Spaghetti was so hot it had melted into a bubbling pool of goo, sitting on the toilet to eat is uncomfortable and disturbing and the universe is cruel and overwhelming. But the main thing is what happened earlier this morning. Remember when I asked Cecil to return my library books while he was out in town?"

"No," said Samantha. "Did that happen?"

"I videoed it," Philip said, standing up and dragging Samantha by the hair into the living room. "I video everything now, because you never remember anything I've done. Watch this."

Philip put a tape into the VCR and pressed play. The screen showed Cecil sitting on the living room floor, cutting his toenails, and Samantha lying in bed reading a book. Philip then emerged from behind the camera. "Right, that's recording," he muttered. "Now if I have any reason to reference this conversation to you in future, Samantha, I'll have proof that it happened."

Samantha looked up from her book and said "I'll remember. I'm reading a book about how to have a good memory. It's by Ben Pridemore. Or Bridmore. Or something."

"Hmm," Philip said. "Anyway, Cecil, you're going into town today, aren't you? Good. Return my library books, would you? Here's my library card and here's fifty pounds to say thank you."

"Cheers," said Cecil, taking the card, the banknote and his leave, without even waiting to put his shoes on.

"You see!" Philip enthused. Not the Philip on the screen, who was pulling funny faces into the camera for his own amusement, we're talking about the Philip who just came out of the bathroom and played this tape for Samantha. He continued "Did you notice?"

"That Cecil didn't take your library books when he left the house?" Samantha said. "Yes, that was strange."

"No, I leave my library books on the front lawn," said Philip. "It was the card! That card I gave Cecil wasn't my library card! I took the wrong card out of my pocket! Cecil's got my cheque guarantee card!"

"He's got your what?" asked Samantha, scratching her head.

"You know, my cheque guarantee card," Philip repeated, unhelpfully. Samantha punched his face until he explained further. "It's the early nineteen-eighties, and the normal means of paying for goods and services is by means of a cheque, presented to the cashier accompanied by a plastic guarantee card. The cashier then copies the number of the card onto the back of the cheque and thus makes it legally binding or non-refundable or something."

"Oh," said Samantha. "I thought it was the year 2008."

"Ho ho," Philip laughed. "I think you've been reading too much science fiction set in the year 2008, Samantha. No, it's about 1983, I think. Give or take. Margaret Thatcher, Dexy's Midnight Runners, radios made of wood, all that kind of thing. Now we'd better chase after Cecil before he takes over the world!"

He made a packed lunch, a gesture for Samantha to follow him, his exit and his way to his car, while Samantha followed behind, querying "What? Takes over the world? I thought the card only enabled him to guarantee cheques in your name, with your signature, to a maximum value of fifty pounds. And also, did libraries use plastic cards in 1983?"

"Some did, I think," Philip mused, starting the car and driving off at top speed. "I mean, some do. We live in a major metropolis, let's say Nottingham, with a big library that is experimenting with a new computer database system and barcode reader. It's primitive, granted, but it's a major step up from the old paper-based records. Admittedly they probably don't need to scan the borrower's card if he's only returning books, but I forgot that in the heat of the moment."

"Right," said Samantha, fiddling with the car radio. "But what about the taking over the world thing? And if it's 1983, shouldn't this car have ashtrays in the doors?"

"What are you, a historian? Just shut up and wind down the passenger-side window using the time-period-accurate non-electric handle, will you? I think I see Cecil," commanded Philip.

"Noticed your mistake?" Cecil laughed, running alongside the car as it sped down the motorway at sixty miles an hour. "Too late! I've already taken over the world, Philip, and granted myself the ability to run at up to sixty-three miles an hour! And all thanks to your cheque guarantee card!"

"Only sixty-three?" Samantha gasped. "Then there's still a chance! Accelerate, Philip! If you can drive faster than Cecil can run, everything will be okay again!"

"There's no need to state the obvious, Samantha," chided Philip. "But we've got a problem. We're driving an Opel Kadett with numerous mechanical defects, similar to the one that George Pridmore drives around in right now in 1983, and I'm not sure it can get much faster than sixty-one mph!"

"Try pressing the accelerator!" Samantha urged. "And not the brake! Put it into the highest gear available, fourth I suppose! Sound the horn! Turn off the radio so that the slight vibrations caused by the jarring music of Culture Club don't slow the car down!"

"Good ideas," Philip said, doing all those things. The car sped up slightly, reaching a speed that, as best Philip could tell from the old-fashioned and inaccurate speedometer, was in the region of 62.9375mph. "No good!" he bellowed rather more loudly than was necessary, considering that Samantha was sitting right next to him and the radio was off. "We can't quite outrun Cecil and the car will explode if we keep pushing it so hard!"

"Then all is lost! Woe!" exclaimed Samantha, melodramatically. And indeed, all seemed to be lost, but just as the car was about to explode and shower the M1 Northbound with shreds of tacky orange metal debris, Cecil stumbled over a snail and fell flat on his face.

"Hooray!" Philip and Samantha chorused, bringing the car to a stop in front of him and getting out to see if Cecil was alright. Cars and lorries honked their horns and swerved to avoid them as they wandered cheerfully across the carriageway and helped Cecil to his feet.

"Ah well," Cecil mused philosophically. "Ruling the world was fun while it lasted. Here's your cheque guarantee card back. I returned your library books, but then the library closed down due to computer failure. That's 1983 for you!"

"Ha ha!" they all said.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


It's a terrible thing to confess, but I would quite like to be on Celebrity Big Brother. I've never watched it, nor Normal Big Brother, and I only have the vaguest idea what goes on there, but I quite like the idea of being on a show for people desperate to stimulate a flagging or non-existent showbiz career. I bet they'd be interesting to talk to. I really do need to get an agent. Maybe that can be a new year's resolution too?

Friday, December 26, 2008

The longest possible time until more Christmas

Still, at least it's still Boxing Day. That's nearly as good. And also, last night's Doctor Who was freaking brilliant! God, next Christmas is going to comparatively suck without David Tennant to enliven the evening! Unless the new Doctor is even better, but I don't think that's going to be possible. Hey, maybe he's not leaving after all, and it's just yet another tease on the part of the creators! That'd be cool.

I think I've been watching too many American TV shows over the Christmas holiday, I seem to be using no end of yankee slang tonight. I'll stop it now. Anyway, maybe it's time I made some new year resolutions and posted them in my blog? Any suggestions would be welcome!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Memorising the future

Well, it's nearly the end of 2008, so let's look ahead to the memory competitions we'll all be enjoying in 2009. The website seems not to be working right now, so I'll be doing this from memory and occasional guesswork, but I think the calendar looks something like this:

March 7 - US Memory Championship, New York, 1-day TV-friendly format, only open to US residents but still fun to go along and spectate. I'm still thinking that I might go, but then I'm also thinking about jetting off to Las Vegas for Christmas because I got an email today recommending the Christmas Day menu in the buffet. I always get this kind of impulse at this time of year, it'll pass.

March 28 - Welsh Memory Championship, Cardiff?, 1-day National Standard format. Should be fun, run by Dai, whose enthusiasm is at times scary and who is sure to put in a huge effort into making it a great event. I'm hoping to see a big turnout to start the 'real' memory championship season! A great way to find out whether you're still in form after the winter break!

April... 9? I really need that website. - French Memory Championship, Maisons-Laffitte, 1-day National Standard format. After putting in such a terrible format at the first championship (which, for publicity-related technical reasons, doesn't count as a real French Memory Championship, to the organisers at least. This one in April is officially the First French Memory Championship, last I heard), I really have to go along to this and try to do something special. It'd be good to see it give memory competitions a real kick-start in France, too. Hoping for lots of new French and international competitors!

May? Maybe. - Cambridge Memory Championship? Cambridge? 1-day National Standard format? Okay, latest buzz is that the Cambridge MSO, on which I've piggybacked a memory competition for the last three years, probably won't happen in 2009. That leaves me without a cheap and available venue to host a competition. I might try to get a Beeston Memory Championship going, maybe seeing what my kind and generous employers can offer me by way of borrowing a room or chipping in with a bit of prize money. We'll just have to see.

May or June or never - North German and South German Memory Championships, somewhere in the north/south of Germany, half-day Regional Standard format. One or both of these events might well happen next year, and I must go along to one of them, one of these days. It's the only opportunity to try the 'poem' discipline these days!

July, probably - German Memory Championship, somewhere in Germany, hopefully Tuttlingen again because I know how to get there and it's a nice venue, 2-day International Standard format. I'm still annoyed that I had to miss this year's, and I'm definitely going to the one in 2009. It's the biggest non-world-championship event of the year, and will quite possibly get a bigger turnout of the best competitors than the WMC itself. It's very good preparation for the WMC, even if there's a four-month gap this time.

August 15-16 - UK Memory Championship, Simpson's-in-the-Strand, London, 1-day National Standard format (split over two mornings because they're sharing a venue with that big chess championship again). This year's was a big success, hopefully next year's will be even better! Yes, they're still having the prizegiving dinner at an expensive restaurant more than 24 hours after the competition finishes, which I would have thought would deter a big international turnout, but judging by this year's event I don't know anything, so I'll stop whining. I've just realised that I've now won the UK Championship two years in a row, and it would be cool to win it more consecutive times than Gunther won the German Championship, just for the sake of the history books, so that's my aim now.

November 11-14, World Memory Championship, somewhere in Bahrain, 3-day World Standard format. The big one, and still a long, long way away from where any of the competitors live (although I've been emailing a new guy in Oman who's all in favour of the location), but I think the memory world is getting used to it by now. And to be fair, it's a long journey for the European and Chinese contingents alike, so that's probably a good thing. And this year's did go very well, so I think we can hope for another great event with hopefully a big turnout again. I'll be there, about 80% probably. 95% if I win another free trip. :)

I've started using emoticons lately. I don't like it, but I find it's necessary to stop people taking me too seriously. ^.^

That's my favourite: ^.^

According to the official World Championship website, by the way, "Registrations are now being accepted. However this year to assist the the smooth organisation of the evenr, and to ensure the number of competitors expected is accurate, no registration will be deemed to have been confirmed until the registration fee of UK£50 has been received by the WMSC"

I did get the impression that people weren't happy with my entirely accurate prediction that the actual number of competitors would be roughly half the list of registered competitors, and that the boasts that this year's championship would have the most competitors ever would turn out to be wrong. I'll refrain from saying anything like that this time round. My new year's resolution is going to be to stop jeering at these people who annually give me money and plaudits for no good reason.

So that's 2009! There will be championships in places like Australia, Poland, Norway, China, Japan and such like too, but I don't know where or when and I very probably won't be able to go to them. Having a job is great because it gives me the money to travel the world, but bad because it doesn't give me enough time off to spend the whole year travelling. It's a catch-22 kind of thing.

Another new year's resolution is to read Catch 22 and start applying that expression in more informed ways.

And another one is to start memory training again. I haven't really done any to speak of since the world championship, and that's probably bad.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New York, New York?

Hmm, should I go to the US Memory Championship in March? Quite a few people I know are going to be there, and it was fun watching the proceedings a couple of years ago, and it would be extremely cool to visit New York again. Granted, it's not quite as cool as the New York in Lincolnshire, but it is easier to get to by public transport.

Any Americans out there want me to visit them?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I need to go to Derby more often

It's the place where all my fans live! In the space of about twenty minutes I had three people ask me if I was the one from that programme - two of them in fact had seen me on multiple different shows! And five minutes after this fan mobbing, I passed another man who whispered much too loudly to the woman he was with "That's him who was on the telly that time."

For the benefit of anyone who's reading this, I do much prefer it when people come up and say hello to me, rather than pointing and whispering. I get paranoid, you see. Especially when I'm shopping - whenever I hear a tannoy announcement saying something like "Staff announcement, could Sarah come to till seven please", I automatically assume that it's the employees' secret code for "Hey, look at that fat, bald, big-nosed man over there! Doesn't he look stupid! And he's reading the comics even though he clearly doesn't have any children of his own!" I assume that the staff at every shop have a wide range of millions of such codes ready for use, and that every single one of them relates to laughing at me.

So really, don't point and whisper if you see me. It's not good for my mental state.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted

What happened was, my laptop stopped working. It'd been playing up for some time, but then it took things to a new level, and the keyboard stopped working properly. I tried all the things I could think of - deleting and reinstalling the drivers, shouting at it, hitting it, you know the kind of thing, but that only seemed to make it worse, and it wouldn't even turn on. At this point I decided that since it's Christmas, and Christmas is about buying oneself expensive presents, I would get myself a new laptop. So I did, in the fun of late-night shopping in Derby. However, the new laptop turned out not to work properly either, so then I had to take it back the next night for a replacement. However, NOW, I'm finally back on the internet and ready to think about perhaps buying things for other people.

Incidentally, I've still got my reliable old desktop, getting on for its tenth birthday, but it hasn't got the right kind of socket for my internet cable. Somewhere I've got a dongly thing for converting the modern-style cable into a USB connection, but I'm damned if I know where it is since I moved. I'm sure it'll turn up some day, possibly in a museum.

Anyway, now I'm at liberty to gripe about modern times to an uninterested audience, while I was shopping I heard (in what is admittedly a refreshing change from the usual Christmas songs, much as I love them) the cover of "Run" by someone who was on Pop Idol or something, which I'd heard about before but never heard sung. I hadn't actually realised it was that song - I quite like it, and when I heard someone say "Run", I thought to myself 'oh yeah, I think I like that one, what does it go like?', but it's only now that I've put the thoughts together and formed bigoted opinions.

Really, that is so very not a song for the likes of this Pop Idol woman, whoever she is (I forget the name. Possibly Leona Lewis). That's a real song, it's the kind of song you don't sing unless you've written it yourself and belong to a moody, scruffy band who play guitar quite badly but write good enough songs that it doesn't matter and who have a cult following. Pop Idol women (come to think of it, Leona Lewis, who may or may not be the singer I'm complaining about, might have been off The X-Factor. I only know her name because I remember one of those music channels being rude about her attempts to pass herself off as a real singer) should do covers of chirpy seventies songs that everybody's forgotten, not of recent cool songs that real people like. It's an outrage, I tells ya. Actually, the cover isn't all that bad - the woman's not a very good singer, but it's a good enough song that any version of it is listenable-to. But it's the principle of the thing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forgive the brief posts just lately

Lots of things getting in the way of regular blogging. Most recently, my laptop died. I'll tell the full story some time when it's not bedtime. Please, keep reading! I'll start blogging properly again tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Two days of stacking shelves...

... really makes your feet hurt. Not that I was using my feet to stack shelves, of course. That would be silly. Although it would have been fun to watch. No, I meant that spending my working day standing up comes as a bit of a shock to the system when you're used to sitting in a comfy office chair all day. Still, I'm back home now, and it's been a fun trip. Although my flat is c-c-c-cold, because I turned the heating off before I went away. Should've left it on the timer, but never mind, it'll warm up soon. Meanwhile, I'm going to go and snuggle up with a hot water bottle.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

They knocked down the Regal!

The old Regal cinema in Boston actually stopped being a cinema years ago, and became a nightclub which then closed down. But that was no reason to demolish it! It was great when it was a cinema. I disapprove of change.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'm rubbish at being a celebrity

I had a call just before leaving the house tonight to catch the train down to Boston. It was that BBC News website guy, who I'd forgotten had arranged to come and film me on Wednesday. So now I've had to postpone that until next year. I really do need to make more of an effort at publicising memory sports, like I promised I would. Maybe I should start sending out hundreds of press releases, explaining at great length that I'm the world's greatest genius, like a couple of other people I could mention...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Okay, I remembered, and it was pants

That thing I was meaning to blog about: I moved my bed the other day and found two pairs of pants and four socks that had fallen down the back of the radiator in the days of the previous occupant. This is great! It delays the time when I'll have to buy new underwear by at least another couple of years! I suppose, if I was strictly honest, I should track down the guy who used to live here and send them on to him, but then it's possible that they're not his, and they've been down the back of the radiator for decades. They do have a sort of seventies feel to them.

Also, I'm going to Boston tomorrow night for a couple of days. More of that 'get the head office workers out into real stores every now and then' thing that I did a few months ago, and I thought it might be a good excuse to check out the old town and see what's happening there these days. Probably nothing, but you never know. There's probably Christmas decorations. So I'll be staying in the only nice hotel in Boston, the White Hart, and they told me they've got internet access, so your daily blogging service should be uninterrupted. But you never know.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

What was I going to blog about?

There's been something in my head that I've been meaning to mention for ages, and at odd moments I think to myself "I must blog about that tonight," but then by the time I sit down in the evening to do it, it's gone. It won't be anything important, it'll be an observation that coke is better than pepsi, or vice versa, so don't expect wonders, but hopefully it'll come back to me soon.

Meanwhile, I notice that the UK Snooker Championship is taking place at the Telford International Centre. Now, don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against Telford, I thought it was great when their football team got to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup back in nineteen-eighty-whateveritwas, but I don't think a town should claim to have an International Centre unless it's a place that someone outside Britain (or even someone outside Shropshire) has ever heard of. But that's just me being nasty for no reason.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Local Hero

I've been meaning to mention for a while that that interview with me has now appeared in the Beeston Express and been posted on the internet for the world to see. It's probably worth making it clear that I didn't actually claim that the reason I didn't win the world championship for the last three years is that I didn't take part, nor did I neglect to mention (as I always do when I end up telling that pi story) that I never recited it and would probably have only made a mess of it if I'd tried, and have forgotten the whole thing now anyway. Still, Grandma got a namecheck, which is the important thing!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rain, sleet and snow

Few of these things seem to fall on me while I'm cycling to and from work. I've been with Boots for five months now (doesn't time fly?) and I've only had a couple of light showers on the way in, in all that time. Which is good, since I don't own any waterproofs, so if I get wet on the way to work I basically end up staying wet. Perhaps somebody will buy me some for Christmas. And some new work trousers. I'm reduced to wearing the ones with small and inconspicuous holes in the legs but which at least zip up properly.

Alternatively, I could stop being a dishevelled old tramp, start acting like a comfortably-well-off financial analyst and buy myself some decent clothes. I'll check out the charity shops at the weekend.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How to hold a successful conference

The whole memory performance went very well, except for one little thing. The little thing in question was the zip on my trousers, which seems to have lost the ability to stay closed. I didn't notice this problem until after I'd stood up in front of sixty people and memorised a pack of cards, so I have no idea exactly what kind of display I put on for them. Nobody mentioned seeing anything out of the ordinary, but perhaps they were all being polite. I did have to spend the rest of the day discreetly adjusting myself at regular intervals. This will teach me not to buy cheap work trousers. Or, possibly, not to buy 34-inch waists when I know perfectly well I can't fit into them any more.

Anyway, this reminds me of my theory of how to organise a good conference/course/official gathering of any kind. I've noticed over the years that there is always a set pattern when the event takes a break for tea and biscuits. Everybody, without exception, goes for a jammy dodger. Only when all the jammy dodgers are gone does anybody take a different kind of biscuit, usually with a cheerful grumble about how the jammy dodgers are always the first to go. The small proportion of attendees who managed to get a jammy dodger spend the rest of the conference in a happy frame of mind, whereas all the others leave in the evening feeling vaguely dissatisfied but not quite able to put their finger on why.

You might think that the solution would be to provide more jammy dodgers, but in fact that isn't the case. A large part of the satisfaction factor is knowing that you got one of the good biscuits, while your peers who weren't quite as fast as you had to make do with a garibaldi or, if they were really really slow, a shortbread. The actual key to a successful conference which everybody leaves feeling fulfilled is to hold numerous tea-breaks and strategically position the seats and the biscuits so that everybody attending gets exactly one jammy dodger during the course of the day. The feeling of 'yay, I got one' outweighs the feeling of 'aw, I didn't get one' by at least five to one, so a maximum of four tea-breaks should be provided.

This didn't apply to today's conference, as all the biscuits on offer were equally nasty, and yet everybody still seemed to have a good time. Must have been the excellent lunch.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


There's a departmental conference at a hotel tomorrow and I've been roped in to be the Offical Boots Memory Man again and entertain the crowd with some memory tricks. This is actually quite cool, because I'm still pretty bad at performing memory stunts in front of an audience, and it's embarrassing if I'm called upon to do something impressive and make a mess of it. Showing off in front of Profit Protection Managers is good preparation for next time something like Blue Peter comes up (I mean, they'll never invite me back after that shambles, but someone else might...)

Of course, it does mean spending the evening memorising numbers, interrupted only by the football (I was hoping Chelsea would lose, but never mind). Still, I really do need the memory practice, too, so I shouldn't complain.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Yarrrgh, work is bad

Busy days at the office leave me comparatively inarticulate, sorry. Roll on Christmas, when I can stay in bed for four solid days and do nothing!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Phone's ringing

Yesterday I had a phone call that I just missed by half a second. I did 1471 and found that it was a number I didn't know with a Nottingham area code, called back and there was no answer. Being a superhuman genius, I quickly deduced that it was a phone box, and that the caller must have been my brother, who hasn't got a phone. Nobody else in the country uses phone boxes these days, after all. I typed the number into Google, just in case there's a directory of all public phone numbers in the country on the internet (turns out there isn't, but there is a list of all the phone box numbers, without any attached address. Just in case you want to call one at random, I suppose).

I rang back again, but still nobody answered it. I was hoping that someone would pick it up and tell me where this phone box was located - if it was just down the road from his flat, I could cycle down there and see what he wanted, and also tell him off for being too lazy to come here himself and tell me what he wanted (he's only about a minute away), whereas if it was in the city and next to his favourite pub, I could call that and accept his invitation to lunch/booze/debauchery.

Don't people answer the phone any more if they hear a phone box ringing? I know there was that film about a man who answered a phone and bad things happened, but it hasn't stopped me from theoretically answering phones. It's actually much more exciting than answering your own phone, because it could be anyone in the world, and they almost certainly didn't want to talk to you at all! And you might help a stranger who wants to pinpoint his brother's whereabouts!

There was a happy ending - he called back a bit later on, and only wanted to check whether I was in so he could come round later on his way back from Attenborough. But even so. Answer the phone, next time a phone box rings at you!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

19 days?

Wow, Christmas sort of sneaks up on you, doesn't it? I was wondering whether I should put some decorations up in my flat - I don't normally bother, seeing as I live on my own and don't generally drag people in off the streets and force them to look at my walls, but seeing as it's a new flat and it's big enough to accommodate quite a lot of sparkly tinselly things, maybe I should.

On the other hand, I am extremely lazy. Maybe I won't bother.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Zoomy Clarifies Your Confusions Regarding British Weirdnesses

This week's blog entries, and the comments readers have appended to them, made it clear that I need to explain a few things here.

1) Mince pies are made with mincemeat. Mincemeat, despite the name, doesn't contain any meat, and I'll have to get back to you about how much mincing is involved. Probably none. It's made with raisins, apples, sugar and things.

2) Black pudding is not, as Americans might think, an unusually-coloured variety of a sort of gooey dessert. It's made with (and I worked in a factory that made them for six and a half years, so I know what I'm talking about) dried blood powder, leftover fat from butchering legs of pork, bread rusk, seasoning and whatever other ingredients are left lying around the factory.

3) BBC TV, rather than being funded by commercials advertising products viewers might like to buy, is funded by money from everybody in the country, who are required to buy a TV licence. The TV Licence people are famous for pretending that they are able to detect whether somebody has a television in their house by means of fantastic radar devices, and sending out threatening letters to every address without a licence claiming that they have an army of inspectors who might come round to your house at any moment and catch you watching TV, whereas in fact they don't do any of these things, ever.

The good thing about the licence is that you can watch BBC channels without having your favourite shows interrupted by commercial breaks. The bad thing is that you have to give the BBC money for the privilege, and many viewers feel that it's not worth it considering that the BBC no longer show anything worth watching.

A few years ago, the BBC had a big advertising campaign stressing that the licence fee is great, because it enables the corporation to experiment with unusual and innovative TV programming rather than being desperate to deliver viewers to its advertisers. They've stopped doing that now, acknowledging that everything they show these days is a desperate attempt to attract as many viewers as possible.

Any more questions?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

It's happy hour again...

Sorry for the late (and very brief) blog tonight - I've been out for an early Christmas meal with the people from work. Night-night!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Lost things

Isn't it great when you're looking for something and find something else you'd forgotten about? I was looking for my TV licence tonight (they keep sending letters to The Occupier of this flat, implying that they're going to do something about it if I turn out not to have a licence) and came across a consent letter from the BBC that I never got round to signing and sending to them. You'd think they would have chased me up for it, it's been quite a while now. Maybe they just forged my signature.

Didn't find my TV licence, but then remembered that I don't need it, because I pay by direct debit and I could look up the number via internet banking. It's great being hi-tech. Just to celebrate that, I logged onto the TV licence website and offically changed my name from "Mr G Bridmore" too.

Also re-found my transcript sheet from Saturday's othello. I'm also surprised that Geoff hasn't chased me up for that, come to think of it. I get the feeling everybody's given up hope of getting stuff from me. This is going to make my Christmas shopping a lot easier.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


It's at this time of year, what with the mince pies and everything, that I remember how much I really do like mincemeat. My preferred method of eating mince pies (when nobody's watching) is to nibble away at all the pastry and then eat the mincemeat bit last. Yummy. Eventually, I'm sure I'll move on to the next step and just buy a jar of mincemeat and a big spoon.

I wonder if the Co-op's still open?

Monday, December 01, 2008

You ask, I answer

Thank you all for your responses to my 'what should I blog about' post the other day. Let's see what I can come up with...

Mike said...

What is the best curry house in Derby, based on your experience?
I went to one once near a big round-about and I found it adequate.

Actually, I don't think I've ever eaten at a curry house in Derby. I don't go out for curry very much. There's a place called the Siam Corner where I would guess you can get a Thai curry, I recommend there. Never been there, but I walked or cycled past it plenty of times on the way into town.

Boris said...
Memory!!! :)

Oh, but I always talk about memory! And nothing much is happening in the memory world lately. I did another three speed cards practice runs tonight, all under 30 seconds, and got them all recalled perfectly. Need to expand my training routine, though. I must get round to taking part in more Online Memory Challenges. Also, I need to buy 36 new packs of cards - my old ones are getting tatty and sticky.

Anonymous said...
Tell us about your mother, and your relationship with her.

Good grief, what kind of blog do you think this is? Go and watch EastEnders if you want to see people's relationships with their mothers. There's probably a lot of that kind of thing in there nowadays. I hear Bianca's back and has lots of children.

Chris said...
All of the above, one at a time. (Not at once; that would be silly.) Start at the end of the list and work backwards...

Hmm, that's more than I can fit into one blog post. Maybe I'll make a series out of it...

Anonymous said...
Memory :-)


I refer the right honourable gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago.

Anonymous said...
snooker. always worth it....

Yep, but I don't know very much about that, either. The first Bahrain Snooker Championship happened a couple of weeks ago - Neil Robertson won it, and the headline "Robertson Stays Cool In Bahrain Heat" suggests that if the World Memory Championship does end up taking place there in November next year, it'll still be baking hot, which is nice.

There doesn't seem to be an easily-googled Bahraini royal family tree available on the internet, so I can't check what relation Shaikh Abdulla bin Abdulrahman al Khalifa, president of the Bahrain Snooker Association is to Shaikh Fawaz bin Mohamed al Khalifa, patron of the World Memory Championship. Get on the internet, al Khalifas! It's the 21st century, for crying out loud!

Casdok said...
The history of bubblegum sounds interesting!

It does, doesn't it! If only I knew the first thing about it. I'm guessing it was invented by an American, probably called Hiram Bubblegum or something like that, in the early thirties and was intended as a building material to replace wood in the event that trees were all destroyed by socialism.

Anonymous said...
It would not be that silly to talk about them all at once Chris.

One may easily imagine a man made of chewing gum playing othello with Ben who in turn, is moving his pieces with a snooker cue which is also made of chewing gum and becoming stuck to said pieces. Then sudddenly a cartoon Tony Buzan comes along and cuts the othello board in half with a cartoon samuri sword and also decapitates Ben's head. As Ben's yellow hat falls on to the othello board it sticks to the chewing gum pieces making it impossible for Ben to ever forget it again.

Events here are based on a true story and peoples identities have been changed to protect the innocent from Cartoon Tony Buzan.

See, this is how memory people's minds work. All the time. Be afraid.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Funny names

Watching Histon beat Leeds today, all I could think was "He can't really be called Daniel Knight-Percival, can he? There surely can't have been a person called Knight and another person called Percival who thought it might be cool to join their names together like that? Hey, darling, let's saddle our offspring with the name 'Knight-Percival' and then make Holy Grail jokes as soon as they're old enough to understand them!"

I know I probably shouldn't devote an entire blog to poking fun at the surname of someone whom I'm just envious of because he's a semi-professional footballer and I'm not, but hey, little things please little minds. Remind me to regale you some time with the tale of how I met a guy called Rudolf Reinders once. I can get half an hour's stand-up comedy out of that one.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Nursery rhyme time

Thanks for all the suggestions for things to talk about, my loyal bloglings! However, I had about four and a half hours' sleep last night, and when I'm sleep-deprived and on a train, my brain does strange things. Today it thought up the following traditional nursery rhyme, which I mentally added to and enhanced during the othello tournament (unlike memory, I find that I only use about 75% of my brain even when I'm fiercely concentrating on an othello game - the other 25% is free to do what it wants. I remember a previous London regional when I'd had an early start and not enough sleep when I composed a song about going to the shops and encountering Gareth Enniskillen and his son Theodore. I should try to remember that and type it up for you all to read too...)

Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding good!
He took it down the garden for to gather in some wood,
It got hold of his axe and swung it at his head,
Kicked in the window of the old garden shed,
Sent shards of flying glass through the bust of Robin Hood,
Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding good!

Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding use!
He took it to the forest for to hunt for deer or moose,
It got hold of his gun and shot him in the pants,
Smashed his lunchbox open and attracted all the ants,
Coating the soil for yards around with sweetened apple juice,
Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding use!

Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding good!
He took it to the kitchen for to cook it in a pud,
It got hold of his knife and stabbed him through the chest,
Ruining his overcoat, his waistcoat, shirt and vest,
Soaking his best trousers and his socks and shoes with blood,
Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding good!

Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding use!
He took it to the market for to swap it for a goose,
It got hold of his leash and swung it round his neck,
Dragged him down the road and dunked him in the beck,
Kicked him in the pants so hard he landed in a spruce,
Oh, Father's donkey was no bleeding use!

Oh, by the way, Graham won the othello, beating everybody with staggering ease, and I ended up with three wins out of seven. But hey, could be worse.

Friday, November 28, 2008

T'was ever thus

Whenever I have to get up super-early in the morning to catch the train down to Cambridge, I always end up sitting up late doing nothing and not even leaving myself enough time to write my blog.

So, I promise that next week I'll write lots and lots of interesting bloggery, all about subjects of interest to my many readers. And on that note, what would you, my loyal readers, if I still have any readers, like to see me talk about? Memory? Othello? Chocolate? Last week's Beano like I promised to write about but never did? Trousers? Geraniums? Dentistry? The history of bubblegum? Tell me!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm a memory man again

Did three speed cards practice sessions tonight, and made mistakes in all three packs, but the important thing is that I'm back in training! Now if I can just get into a regular routine and keep in shape throughout the winter, I might just win the world championship again next year. I'd still quite like to be a three-time winner. Or more. Nine would be nice, but I'll be really really old and ancient by that time...

In other news, othello in Cambridge on Saturday, woo! The radio interview was quite good, although the host took the approach that all people who play board games are terrible nerds, and I spent most of it trying to convey the impression that, despite the fact that I am a terrible nerd myself, othello is very much a game for everyone to come along and play. Please do come along and play on Saturday! Trinity College, 9:30, come and see the World Memory Champion! Or, you know, play othello. Whichever you find more exciting.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

More Great World Memory Champions Of History

As we all know, history has been full of interesting World Memory Champions. And here are a few more of them:

Terence "The Punching Man" Punchman (World Memory Champion 1763), a noted London prizefighter, was the other World Memory Champion to hold the title despite never memorising anything. During the celebration dinner at Simpson's-On-The-Strand (then a social club for philosophers, fortune tellers, coal miners and similar professions) after the world championship in 1763, newly-crowned world champion Edith Estragon promised to hand over the trophy, title and all attendant ranks and privileges to anybody who could beat her in a fight. Punchman, who was dining at the next table, immediately got up and knocked the champion unconscious with a single punch to the head. Her one hour, thirty-seven minutes and fifteen seconds as champion (timed by the ever-pedantic Baron Crysanthemum on his pocket-watch) is of course the second-shortest title reign in World Memory Championship history.

It was suggested that the frail 93-year-old Estragon had probably been making a joke, and that her offer therefore shouldn't have been legally binding, but as she never regained her memory of the incident (or of anything else), there was no way to prove it and the title devolved on the boxer. During his year-long reign as World Memory Champion he had a regular newspaper column in which he answered readers' questions on the subject of memory to the best of his ability and was invited to dinner with the Prime Minister, during which he punched several people unconscious and thereby also became Under-Secretary of State and Minister for Taxation and Tennis. He declined to compete in the 1764 world championship, but failed in his attempt to win the title when he was spotted lurking outside the championship venue and clobbered by the bodyguards that eventual winner Szeznlwicz Norberto had had the foresight to employ.

Baboushka Boguinskaya (world memory champion 1853) competed in every world memory championship from 1800, when she was three years old, until 1847, and finished last on each occasion. She despised memory sports and everybody involved with it, and only took part in the competitions because her mother forced her to. Domineering Mrs B eventually gave up on her dream of vicariously living the life of a memory master through her untalented daughter (who was unable to remember what playing cards were, let alone which one she had recently seen) and instead took her to America to force her to become a rodeo champion.

This turned out for the best in 1853, when the World Memory Championship was held in Idaho. The venue had been announced three months in advance, but this was insufficient time for the message to reach Africa, where all the world's memorisers lived, and for them to make the lengthy and arduous journey to the championship venue in the middle of the empty plains. The Boguinskaya family, however, happened to be in the neighbourhood, looking for buffalos to ride, and Baboushka was forced to take part. Although she scored zero in every discipline, she was given a bonus point for owning an unusual hat, and thus won the championship by virtue of being the only competitor. Her mother, however, had lost interest in memory sports five minutes earlier and departed for Nepal, resolving to give up on her talentless daughter and become a mountaineer herself.

Porcelain Palladium (World Memory Champion 1947, 1956, 1983) was supposed to be called Percival. However, his parents both suffered from speech impediments that prevented the registrar of births and deaths from understanding what they said. He also refused to allow them to change the name, even when they wrote it down for him. Young Porcelain therefore grew up embittered towards authority figures and often found fault with the arbiters when he competed in memory championships. He generally hurled bricks and kettles at them from his seat while they were trying to tell contestants where the toilets were, and if at any point anyone tried to tell him the rules of the championship, he would attack with bone-crunching fury until nobody in the room was left standing. He won three world championships on the three occasions when unfortunate ski-jumping accidents (he wasn't a ski-jumper and never went within a hundred miles of a ski-jump, but freak gales caused ski-jumpers to land on him on three separate occasions) left him paralysed and unable to speak or otherwise do anything that might get him disqualified.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Football is rubbish!

When did the big and cool football teams lose the ability to score goals or play interesting games? I've given up on tonight's games and turned over to watch Mitchell and Webb, even though I've seen it before and it's the most recent series which wasn't all that good, mostly. That's how bored I am.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Attention, people of Cambridge!

I'm going to be talking on Radio Cambridge (possibly Radio Cambridgeshire) tomorrow morning at 8:15 about the othello tournament this weekend. So make sure to listen in if you don't know that there's an othello tournament, open to everybody, on Saturday, starting at 9:30, at Trinity College's Junior Parlour (use the entrance opposite the great big one, near to the post office), entry is free if it's your first tournament, a great day out for all the family, drop us an email if you're coming so that we're sure we've got enough boards, details can be found on, othello is that game that you might know as reversi if you play on the internet, everyone's welcome regardless of age, ability or hair colour, wearing a hat is optional but recommended.

So if you're still in the dark about what's happening this weekend, tune in tomorrow morning when I will be saying some or all of the above, and nothing else, for your entertainment. And please do come along to the tournament, it really is fun!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

One last memory talk

I know I've rambled on about nothing but memory lately, but I'll give it a rest after today. However, I felt it necessary to record that I haven't done any memory training today after all - didn't get out of bed in time for the Online Memory Challenge (yes, it started at ten. It's Sunday.) and then I discovered that Virgin have settled their dispute with Sky, so I get to watch the Simpsons and Futurama all day again, so that was that.

It's a bit worrying, really - on the one hand I'd hate to be all like 2005 again, when I didn't do any memory training for months and months, and my big teetering pile of packs of cards sat untouched on my desk until they all fell down behind the radiator. It's very sad if like me you associate cards with people. Because, generally speaking, people falling down behind the radiator is sad.

But on the other hand, I just don't feel like memorising at the moment. I'm hopeful that this is only a short-term thing (let's face it, my motivation always comes and goes depending on what latest fad has caught my attention this week), because I really do still want to be a memory champion and all famous and stuff. Maybe I should try memorising pi again, only I've heard that James Ponder is aiming to break the European record, so it would probably be rude of me to try to do the same. And very embarrassing if I did try to do it and ended up making a mess of it, as I probably would. No, I think I'll just try to get into a routine of practicing speed cards every night after work. That should keep me in shape.

Speaking of shape, I weighed myself on that machine in Woolworth's yesterday, and I'm 13 stone 4. It's roughly a year since I posted my weight according to that machine for the first time, and I'm deliberately refraining from looking back to see what it was. It wasn't 13 stone 4, though.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


Do I get a prize for my blog of two days ago when I implied that I believed Michele Borassi would win the World Othello Championship? It's extremely cool, anyway - maybe this will be the start of a new era of othello dominance for youthful Europeans?

Anyway, while not watching the final today, I've been shopping - acquired Lucky Hat Number Four, which is more or less the same style as number three, and also found a fantastic video of Tex Avery Droopy cartoons which has kept me entertained this afternoon. It's even got possibly my all-time favourite, "Deputy Droopy" on it! I'm extremely pleased with this find. Also bought this week's Beano, which I have a mind to blog about at more length tomorrow. I feel like writing something comic-related, it's been a while.

Also tomorrow, must do some memory training. Haven't done a thing since the world championships, and I don't want to get out of the habit over the winter. Paris competition in January and Wales in March that I'll be going to if I can get the time off work, so staying in mental shape should be easier than usual.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Creighton Carvello

Late-night, extra blog post tonight, because I've just heard that Creighton Carvello has died, aged 64, after his stroke earlier this year. Creighton is an extremely important figure in the history of memory sports - he could be regularly seen on TV in the eighties memorising cards and numbers, and it was watching him that inspired Dominic O'Brien to give it a go. If not for the two of them, there probably wouldn't have been a world championship in 1991 (or if there had, it probably wouldn't have caught on) and the whole world (or my whole world, at least) would have been a very different place.

I never got the chance to meet Creighton, it was on my must-do-that-some-day list for years - he competed in the world championships until 1997 before retiring, so we were at least in the same building at the Royal Festival Hall MSO that year - but I'm very sorry to hear he's no longer with us. Some kind of memorial trophy is in order, I think.

Ahhh, so close!

It looked like we might have as many as two British players in the semi-finals of the WOC, but sadly David and Michael tailed off at the end of the day. Still, it's been an exciting tournament that's had me enthralled inasmuch as possible when I'm just sneaking peeks at the website from work. So it's Matthias Berg v Tamaki Miyaoka and Michele Borassi v Dominik Nowak (whom I don't think I've ever heard of before this championship, but he really came on strong today). Stay tuned tomorrow!

Also today, I met someone at the office called Aileen. The only Aileens I've heard of before now were my mother and that American serial killer, but this one seems perfectly nice. Possibly it's not an automatically evil name after all!

And I had an interview with the Beeston Express tonight, so look out for it. If you're in the Beeston area. Or at any rate the part of the Beeston area that gets it delivered, unlike me.

And now it's the weekend. Things to do: Buy a new hat, because I need one to wear at the othello next weekend. Buy some earplugs so I can memorise things. Memorise things. Sit around doing nothing and watching videos. Eat healthily and lose weight.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Oslo Othello

Wow, the World Othello Championship has been going for 32 years now, and this is the first time they've held it in a city that also starts and ends with an O! And they haven't even designed a logo that highlights the fact! I don't know, you'd think Oslo would be desperate to do something cool with its name - ever since Czechoslovakia split up and people can't ask the 'what country has another nation's capital inside it' riddle, Oslo must have lost no end of linguistic-curiosity tourists...

Anyway, the WOC is indeed happening, today, tomorrow and Saturday, and unfortunately I've got to work, so I can't sit around all day keeping up with the events of the day on the amazingly great website! Latest standings! Transcripts! Webcam! Live games! Chat with other spectators while watching live games! I'm seriously impressed here.

Also impressive is British champion David Hand! He's in second place after the first day, on six wins out of seven. I'd say he'd got a good chance of winning the title, if only Michele Borassi had shown the slightest sign of being capable of losing an othello competition for the past year or so.

Even so, it's going to be exciting. David's splitting the two unstoppable Italians, Michael Handel is lurking in the chasing pack, lots of other great players are going to cause trouble tomorrow too. Hmm, maybe I'll skive off work...

It's worth watching just to see if we'll have a British world champion for the first time ever! The previous 31 world championships have gone to Japanese players 22 times, Americans five, French twice and "Dutch" twice - although those were the all-American David Shaman who lived in Holland for a while (nationalities are a bit more relaxed in othello than most other sports; which comes in handy if you travel around a lot, especially with the strict three-entrants-per-country qualification structure). With David, Michele and Donato pushing for a win, and former world champion Makoto Suekuni representing Singapore this year, there might just be a new country inscribed on the trophy.

As a final observation, I still haven't got my Davids straight in my head. Logging on to watch the David Hand v Nicky van den Biggelaar game, I saw a comment from David Beck and thought to myself "Eh? How's David commenting on the game when he's playing in it? Someone must be pretending to be him..."

Being For The Benefit Of Mr Anonymous

I had a response from one of the loyal army of blog-reading anonymice to last night's blog that I thought needed a blog entry of its own in reply. It said:

found your latest blog very sad, how can you be so down beat and cenacle about Memory Sports and their applications. Especially within schools, how can it be a bad thing to give kids a way to shine - to say look what I can do (an important part of any human beings development). The jocks get their sports day, the show offs get their shows. The artists get their exhibitions, musicians get their time in the spot light.
It saddens me that you are at the top of the tree - you are the No 1 and hold the top spot - yet you use your platform to make jokes at the expense of others to poo poo the efforts of people who would like to make a positive impact on the lives of young people, not only that but the school bully who everyone remembers from their days at school now has a different way of pulling his punches a new secret weapon of firing bullets from behind a computer screen.

What? That’s the complete opposite of what I said! I said I want to get MORE young people competing in memory sports – especially in the schools – and I want memory competitions to be ENTIRELY about giving talented memorisers a way to say look what I can do and win the applause of their peers!

I want to expand the scope of memory competitions so that they’re well known and popular around the world, and while the people currently organising the schools memory competitions are doing a great job, you kids aren’t going to shine as much as you could while the general perception of memory competitions is still that they’re part of a learning technique.

Imagine if every art exhibition was accompanied by lengthy explanations of how it’s important to teach kids to develop their artistic skills, because it develops key areas of their brain, and makes them more effective learners, improves their social awareness and cognitive ability and increases their chances of academic success. You do see that kind of thing, but it’s always in a footnote that nobody reads while they’re just appreciating the artwork for its own merits.

With memory competitions, especially the schools championships, the competition result is often the footnote and the lecture about memory techniques is the main event. All I’m saying is that memory competitions will be more appreciated if we can change the way people think about it – I want to see memory competitions as an extracurricular activity like sports days, shows, exhibitions and recitals, not as a learning aid. THEN you’ll get all the applause and appreciation you really deserve!

Really, I thought my blog last night was one of the most upbeat and non-cynical things I’ve ever said about memory sports! I made a real effort to keep the self-deprecation to a minimum, and it alarms me that someone could misunderstand me to such an extent. I hope this has cleared a few things up, but please do comment again if there’s anything you’re unsure about!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Memory Sports

I've been told off for telling TV/newspaper/internet people that the memory techniques we use in competitions are completely useless for any real-world application and that there is no point to memory competitions other than the competitions in and of themselves. I think there is some element of fairness in this criticism, and I will make an effort not to put it quite like that in future. Also, as you can see from the title, I'm going to stop putting 'memory sports' in inverted commas, and just call it memory sports with a straight face from now on.

What I WON'T do, however, is describe memory competitions as edu-tainment. The answer to "What's the point of doing this?" shouldn't be "Because it teaches techniques that improve your intelligence/learning ability/career prospects/attractiveness to women" [haven't seen anyone arguing the last one, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time], and it certainly shouldn't be "Pay me three thousand pounds to attend my course and I'll tell you" - it really should be "What a stupid question. Do you ask what the point of playing football is? The point is that there is a competition and I try to win it."

I think if memory sports are to become an international institution, the competitions need to be divorced in the public consciousness from the idea of memory in general. Competitors skilled in memorising long numbers shouldn't be asked for tips on how to remember where you've left your car keys, any more than footballers should be asked how best to climb mountains. If we're going to encourage young people to take part in competitions, it's a very bad idea to go out there and tell them that these techniques will help them revise for exams. Because they won't - or at least they won't be as effective or quite the same thing as the techniques we use in a competition.

Let's see these memory championships being pushed as a thing in their own right, and not a sideshow to a seminar! That's the approach I'm going to take from now on, anyway. Basically, I'm still going to stress that I don't apply my memory techniques to everyday life, but in a more positive way - sure, there are similar and effective techniques you can use to remember your car keys if you really want to, but that's nothing to do with me. I'm a memory athlete. Completely different thing. Don't let the name fool you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wanted Man

I keep being told that the local newspaper here in Beeston are looking for me. Apparently, they've put an article in the paper to that effect, and want me to get in touch. This is a rather passive kind of journalism, don't you think? I expect intrepid reporters to go out and find their news stories, not to announce that they want their stories to come to them! Most people don't have trouble finding me - I'm all over the internet these days, and I'm also in the phone book. Probably.

I am going to be talking to and filming with an intrepid reporter from the BBC News website some time soon, which is cool, because everyone reads that. It's always a good thing to get some more public awareness of memory competitions out there. What we really need, though, is another The Mentalists - I'd love to see the championships covered by a one-off TV show every year. I don't think that's too unrealistic a thing to want - lots of people, talking to me on the street, have said they would have liked to see more coverage of the actual competition as well as the talking with me, Gunther and Ed. I think there's a real market for this kind of thing, and I'll try to encourage any TV-connected people I meet to do something about it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

It's nearly Christmas!

And, you know, I haven't seen much advertising and decorations yet. What's the world coming to? If you ask me, any time after Bonfire Night is perfectly okay to be Christmassy. Let's start singing carols and Cliff Richard songs!

(Yes, that really is all I've got to say tonight. But I think it was worth saying, don't you?)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Popular culture

Hey, check out Someone Sons, the Clydebank-based rock group! They, weirdly enough, referenced me in their biography page as if it's common knowledge that I'm really great at remembering things, so I think the least I could do is give them a shout and encourage people to go and listen to their music. I won't even find fault with the grammar of the phrase "Unless you're names Ben Pridmore...", that's how impressed I am with this!

I think there should be more of this kind of thing out there. I'd love to hear people saying "Well, I'm no Ben Pridmore, but I distinctly remember you saying we should meet up at eight o'clock, not half past," or "You remember every single time I've accidentally killed one of your pet chickens? What are you, Ben Pridmore or something?"

I've still got a long essay planned about publicity and memory sports and insidiously insinuating it into the public consciousness, but I'll save that for another time. Meanwhile, if you still haven't seen Superhuman Genius, and you don't mind staying up late, tune in to ITV at 11:45 tonight!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Must be some sort of distorting lens

There are pictures of the world championships up on the official website now, but I'm not going to link to them because they make me look horrifically fat. Seriously, it shocked me a little, and I think I'm going to have to face up to the fact that I am currently fatter than I have been for many years. I need to do something about it, as a matter of urgency. I'm too young for middle-aged spread. Okay, diet starts tomorrow!

Well, maybe not exactly tomorrow, since I've just been to the supermarket and bought my usual unhealthy foodstuffs for the next couple of weeks. Maybe I could just eat smaller portions...

Friday, November 14, 2008

Watching Junior Masterchef on Children In Need

Any ten-year-old who knows what dauphinoise potatoes are, let alone how to cook them, is too posh for her own good. Breaded sole indeed. If I was the grand supreme dictator of the universe (and I'm sure it will happen some day), such children will be forced to eat nothing but pizza and chips like normal people.

Anyway, got to go and answer phones. Remember to donate money!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This is why I don't like phones

I nobly and selflessly volunteered to phone a guy called Alex at a radio station, and not even to talk about how great I am either, only to find that he's actually a woman called Alex. See, if we'd done this over email, I would have remained blissfully unaware, and the ensuing awkwardness would probably never have happened.

Anyway, I was going to write an essay on 'the future of memory sports' tonight, but a) I've written rather a lot about memory just lately, so I thought maybe I should give it a rest, and b) I can't really be bothered. Still, I should write something reasonably lengthy, seeing as I'll probably only have time for a quick scribble tomorrow night - I'm hanging out with Pudsey Bear all night, manning a phone line for Children In Need.

This is another cool thing about working for Boots - there's ample opportunity and encouragement to do good things for charity. And every year they turn their call centre into a Children In Need call centre and ask for volunteers to answer the phones and take credit card details while wearing Pudsey T-shirts. I'm all in favour of this kind of thing. So give us a call tomorrow night, if you're in this general geographical area, some time after nine o'clock, and see if you get through to me! Also, give money. And don't give me a fake credit card number, I've secretly memorised the numbers of everybody I know, so I'll be on to you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Cambridge Memory Championship!

My passing mention of the Cambridge Memory Championship last night provoked a surprising flurry of emails and comments from people wanting to know more about it. I suppose it is a while since I've mentioned it, and I have picked up a few more readers since all those TV shows I've been on, so I should probably go into a bit more detail...

The Cambridge Memory Championship (which has got a website, albeit one that only talks about last year's competition) is an annual event that happens somewhere in Cambridge, at some time in May, usually on a Sunday. I organise the competition, but I don't pick the date or the location - it happens as part of the Cambridge Mind Sports Olympiad (which has also got a website, which also just talks about last year's) and we just get a room wherever this wider event takes place.

I'll let you all know as soon as I know when and where it's happening. In the meantime, you can let me know if you're interested in coming, or ask any questions you may have, by using the 'contact' link on the Cambridge Memory Championship site (it just goes to my email).

Or you can post any questions as comments here, and I'll try to answer them. Anticipating some of them, I'd just like to stress that it is a friendly, relaxed introduction to the world of memory sports for beginners and a friendly, relaxed get-together for experienced memorisers. No previous memory experience is required - having seen me on telly is an advantage only in that it'll boost my ego. I will be organising and not competing, although I often end up persuaded to have a go at memorising a pack of cards really, really quickly at the end.

For real beginners, a quick guide: The competition is all about memorising as much information as possible in a set time. There are ten 'disciplines', which you can read about in detail on the website - for example, memorising as long a number as possible in fifteen minutes, or as many random words as possible in five minutes. The rules on the website are more in-depth and complicated than you need to know, but pay attention to the scoring.

And please do come along! If nothing else, it's a chance to meet some fun and weird people, and we always go to the pub afterwards to hang out and chat. Everyone's welcome!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

More memories

Well, now that I'm officially free to write about something other than memory, let's talk about memory. Am I going to win next year? I'm on a bit of a roll at the moment, I won everything I entered last year (which would have been more impressive if I hadn't skipped the German championship) and although I haven't done any training bar an online memory challenge since the WMC ended, I'm still feeling motivated. I think I'll do some serious practice this coming weekend.

Also, I was in too much of a hurry yesterday to mention that at the prizegiving ceremony, while trying to escape the hordes of people who wanted their picture taken with me for a minute or two so the cheesy grin wouldn't get permanently stuck on my face, I bumped into a guy called Phillip Holt (or something like that - I'm still rubbish with names), who was one of the people giving lectures at the Festival of the Mind, but more interestingly once worked for Peter Pan Playthings while they were the distributors of othello. And it turns out he designed their database for keeping track of othello competitions, back in the days when more than six people turned up for the average regional. I love these little small-world moments.

What else could I mention? How about a little advance advertising for next year's Cambridge Championship? I want to make it a big and special thing in 2009, so clear a space in your calendars for next May! Come on, let's have a lot of great memorisers and a lot of enthusiastic beginners!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Let's get this thing written!

Let me finish my account of the world championship now, before the next one comes around. As you may recall, I had a very comfortable lead going into the final discipline, but decided to play it super-safe, just in case. In Speed Cards, as I'm sure you know, the aim is to memorise a single, shuffled pack of cards as quickly as possible. You get two attempts, and the best time counts. If you can't recall the whole pack in order, it doesn't matter how fast you were, you only score a handful of points.

I knew that if I set a safe time of around a minute in the first trial, my rivals Gunther and Hannes would have to do something like fifteen seconds, which is (to the best of our current knowledge, anyway) utterly impossible. One minute is a piece of cake, normally, and so it proved here. The only problem was with the timing device - we use clever timers that start counting when you take your hands off them, and stop again when you put your hands down again after memorising the cards. They also turn themselves off if they've been left alone for five minutes, and I think this is what must have happened with mine, without my noticing. Unless there was a fault with it - I was about 90% sure at the time that I'd seen the lights come on when I put my hands on it, but I couldn't absolutely swear to it. Sadly, no TV cameras were watching the timer this time round. Luckily, the ever-alert Phil Chambers was watching, and quickly checked with his watch when he saw what had happened. If it had been vital for the championship, there might have been a problem, but as it was, an estimated 59 seconds (it was two or three seconds faster than that, really) was acceptable to everyone.

That settled the championship beyond any doubt whatsoever, although I still insisted that nobody say so to me on pain of being glared at - I hate to jinx things. What was still interesting was the fight for second place, and the fight for tenth, to see who would get the prize moneys. In the end, Hannes had mistakes on both attempted packs, and Gunther's 49.3 seconds was comfortably enough to secure his silver medal. Liu Ping, having last year become one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds (without allegedly cheating), now became one of the five people to do a time under 40 seconds more than once, winning the final discipline with 39.09 and bumping himself up to 7th place in the championship. Lukas Amsüss, who's another of those Famous Five, came third with 50.84, although it wasn't enough to break into the top ten in the overall championship.

Speed Cards at the World Championship tends to be a little disappointing - it's not often we see world records in that one, because everyone tends to be tired out after three days of hard-working memorisation. Still, I was annoyed with myself when my attempted 25.61 was a complete disaster. I got the first card wrong - somehow I was convinced that there had been another image on my journey before the one that turned out to be the first. Ah well.

I was also annoyed with myself for not getting a single new world record at the world championships! Yes, I'd won the championship, got personal best scores in four of the ten disciplines, had extremely good scores in all ten of them (possibly the first time I've ever done that at the worlds), set the highest ever championship points score and blown everybody away, but the no-world-records thing still bugged me. It's the first time since 2002 that I haven't set a new record at the worlds, I think.

Everyone told me not to be silly and start celebrating, so I did, keeping the disappointed mumblings to a minimum. Final scores:

1 Ben Pridmore 7908
2 Dr. Gunther Karsten 6859
3 Johannes Mallow 6145
4 Guo Chuanwei 5779
5 Andi Bell 5382
6 Boris Konrad 5213
7 Liu Ping 5145
8 Su Ruiqiao 4871
9 Dr. Yip Swe Chooi 4707
10 Edward Cooke 4610
11 Yuan Wenkui 4520
12 James Ponder 4423
13 Jürgen Petersen 4043
14 Corinna Draschl 3926
15 Dorothea Seitz 3868
16 Lukas Amsüss 3862
17 Zheng Caiqian 3440
18 Stephanie Bünter 3434
19 Zhu Shao Min 3405
20 Mia Körkemeyer 3200

That just left us to pass the time until the evening's prizegiving ceremony. The dress code for this was 'smart', which brings out an interesting range of clothing from the competitors. Dominic O'Brien always wears his dinner jacket on the final day of competition - if it was me, I'd spill something down the shirt at lunch and not have a spare one for the evening, but he never seems to have that problem. Tony Buzan dresses in one of his sensationally cool self-designed suits, as he always does. The rest of the arbiting team wear suits and ties. As for the competitors, the ones who could fit jackets into their bags wear them, the rest wear their smartest T-shirts and jeans. Just for a change, I had also brought my work clothes - I knew Andi would be there dressed as scruffily as possible, as a matter of principle, so me dressing untidily wouldn't be unique or cool. I wore my big red tie, and of course my hat, so I wouldn't look exactly like I do at work.

Actually, nobody at the championship believed that I wear a suit and tie for work. They can't picture me dressed like that. Conversely, the people at work can't picture me dressed in hat and T-shirt-with-funny-picture-on-it. Anyway, on this occasion, my attempt to look smart and yet unique was undermined by the way that the entire Team China were dressed in identical black suits and red ties. Still, never mind. Conformity is cool too.

As for the prizegiving, that was fun, as these things always are. The boss of those wonderful sponsors, Intelnacom, came along despite the fact that rescheduling the prizegiving had made it clash with his sixtieth birthday party. This, and the fact that they gave us $30,000 and I ended up pocketing $11,300 of that, prevents me from poking fun at his speech like I normally would.

There were other prizes too - a titchy little glass trophy (I normally complain that the trophies are too big, but this year I felt it was too small. I really am a terribly ungrateful person, and clearly impossible to please. I suggest that the organisers of all future championships refuse to give me any prizes, just to teach me a lesson), lots of medals (gold, silver and bronze for each discipline, and for the championship, and for the junior and kids divisions - Konstantin won the kids, I forget who won the juniors, but it was probably Dorothea. The medals were also smaller than last year's, by the way) and for the winner (me) a super-enormous giant print of a painting by Tony's friend Lorraine Gill.

This picture isn't my kind of thing at all, but several other competitors said they wanted it, so I decided to get rid of it in the least ungrateful way I could think of, and auction it off, giving the money to charity. I'll let you all know when that happens - I need to get a camera and take a picture of it, because it's ten times too big for my scanner. It'll go to the Alzheimer's Society, assuming my contact there is still there and is happy to accept the money.

I won't bore you with the details of the following day, which I spent very enjoyably lounging around doing nothing or exploring Manama, or the journey home, enlivened by discovering a really great Canadian comedy called Corner Gas - check it out some time, it's very funny. Oh, and I got another pair of plane socks and once again accidentally left my original holey socks on the plane. And it was extremely cold when I got back home. I want another trip to Bahrain! Now!

Looks like I'll have to wait till next November, though - or at least that's the current plans. Meanwhile, all that remains is for me to thank everybody who helped run the competition, everyone who took part, and everyone who's said congratulations to me! Let's hope next year is just as much fun!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

I'm no good with deadlines

It's terrible, knowing that I still need to get round to finishing my account of the world memory championships. Because I just can't find the time in my busy schedule of sitting around watching telly right now, and because I haven't got the time to do that, I feel guilty about writing more than a couple of lines in my blog on any other subject. And then when I don't write more than a couple of lines, I feel guilty about disappointing my eager blog readers, if any. There's an expression for this kind of situation, along the lines of 'pyrrhic victory', but I can't quite put my finger on what it is. And I also feel guilty about that, because people read my blog (if anybody does still read it) in the expectation of hearing exactly that kind of uncommon expression casually tossed out.

Tomorrow I'll write about the speed cards, the prizegiving, the journey home, and anything else that happened last month in Bahrain, and then resume my guilt-free daily drivellings.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Busy busy

Sorry, can't really write anything in depth tonight, either - my brother's coming round for the weekend, so I set aside this evening to clean up the place and put some of those boxes of junk in corners rather than the middle of the floor. Of course, what I've done in reality all evening is sit around watching telly. But in my defence, it's quite a while since I've watched the first few episodes of Friends. Normally when E4 gets to the end of the series in its never-ending loop, I decide to stop watching it every evening and save myself an hour every day, only to succumb to temptation a couple of weeks later (I think I've got to the point now where I can't cook and eat my tea without Friends being on in the background). So it's relatively fresh and new to me now! Anyway, must go and move the more lethal piles of paper from the middle of the slippery living room floor...

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's a matter of time

I will finish my account of the WMC, it's just not going to be until I find the time to sit down in an evening and type. Sorry to leave you all in suspense like this. In the meantime, can I just observe that the state of Maine voted overwhelmingly for Obama and the state of Alabama voted overwhelmingly for McCain? Do Americans have no idea about rhyme?

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Look, you know perfectly well that this blog is different from other blogs. Don't complain.

It's footy on the telly tonight, and I haven't got the time or the inclination to continue my thrilling account of the world memory championships. Honestly, if I'd realised it was going to take so long to write about, I would never have started.

Besides, I need to record some things that have happened to me lately - I'm back at work, and those cool people I work with bought me a congratulatory bottle of champagne! Come to think of it, I never got so much as a card from my colleagues last time I won the world championship. Clearly I've got a great job now!

Also, I must confess something - on Saturday I left my hat on a train. As regular readers will know, this isn't exactly the first time this has happened, and it's getting a bit embarrassing now. I'll see if it's ended up in the lost property at Nottingham when I get a chance, but I might have to spend some of my WMC winnings on yet another replacement...

Monday, November 03, 2008

I don't remember

How can my rear bike light not be in the same box as the front one? I need it to get to and from work tomorrow without being killed! Maybe I'll just call in sick. They've probably forgotten I work there, anyway, after all this time.

Still, we've got an account of the world memory championships to finish writing, haven't we? Day three dawned hot and sweaty as usual, I put on my Zoom-Zoom T-shirt and headed down to the Gulf again. It's probably worth mentioning here what a long day it is at a world championship - the first two days we started at eight in the morning and finished at six in the evening, and it's even longer for the arbiters, who have to stay up all night marking the hour-long disciplines' recall papers. Day three was scheduled to be just a half day, with only the spoken numbers and speed cards to go, but those are the ones with the highest likelihood of delays, so you never know just how long it's going to take.

I came in to hear that the results of the random words had been posted on the website, although we hadn't officially been told them yet - a new world record for Boris, and Hannes as predicted making up some more ground on me. He reassured me that he'd done badly on the hour cards, only getting ten packs or so, so if I'd done twenty-something, I was safe, but I was sceptical about that. Those headlines mocking my ability to ever win the world championship again were still playing in my head until we had the official announcement of the scores so far.

Boris had indeed made a whopping 255 in words, Hannes was second with 191 and Dorothea picked up another bronze medal with 189. I got 170, and I'm looking at the website, and it says that was the 4th-best score, but I'm quite certain that I remember it being fifth. Has someone been amending the scores since they were announced?

Anyway, it turned out that I had indeed got 25 packs right in the hour cards - top score again by a long way (second was Chuanwei with 15), but yet again short of the world record. And Hannes had only got nine, which eased off the pressure on me quite a bit. After random words the gap had narrowed to a mere 129 championship points, which is nothing, but now with just two disciplines to go, the standings looked like this:

1 Ben Pridmore 6534
2 Johannes Mallow 5805
3 Dr Gunther Karsten 5256
4 Chuanwei Guo 4744
5 Boris Konrad 4634
6 Andi Bell 4413
7 Su Ruiqiao 4346
8 Liu Ping 4027
9 Yip Swe Chooi 3919
10 Yuan Wenkui 3713

Of course, it wasn't all over just yet, despite what everyone kept saying to me. "Stop saying I've won! Don't congratulate me until it's finished!" I kept having to yell at people. The two final disciplines are by far the easiest ones to end up with a tiny score in. Spoken numbers came first - we hear numbers read out at a rate of one digit per second, and have to remember as many as possible. Three trials (with 100, 200 and 300 digits respectively) and the best score counts. But the scoring for this one is brutal - it only counts up to your first mistake. So if you remember a perfect 300 digits apart from writing down the second digit wrong, you score 1. Still, the system for converting raw score into championship points isn't a linear progression like the other disciplines, it's (for some reason) 70 times the square root of the number of digits recalled; so I figured that if I got 100, it would be a decent 700 championship points and I wasn't going to lose any serious ground even if Hannes or Gunther got more.

Gunther is always good at spoken numbers, and Boris (probably in some kind of evil German mind-games) told me before the start that Hannes had been seriously training for this one more than anything else. In more evil German mind-games, Hannes offered me a hundred dollars to eat a hot pepper just before the spoken numbers started - I declined, fearing it might affect my performance, but apparently Lukas (or possibly Ed, I forget), took him up on it.

Anyway, we got down to memorising (the sound system was perfect this year, I didn't hear a single complaint), and to my own surprise as much as anyone's I got a perfect 100 in the first trial. Nobody else had managed that; James Ponder, going into the event about 20 championship points ahead of Ed in their continuing struggle, had got an impressive 89, Gunther had 84. Hannes congratulated me on winning the championship at this point, and I told him not to be silly, there was ample opportunity for me to screw things up yet.

In that kind of positive frame of mind, I did indeed screw things up in the second trial - after only 18 digits I thought "Hey, wait a second, I've added an extra location to my journey here..." and by the time you've waited a second, another digit has been read out while you weren't listening, and you're done for. So no improved score for me there. Andi had taken the lead with 108, it turned out, and Ed had made 94, with James fractionally improving with a 91 and giving Team Britain the top four places. Woo!

This seems like a good point to mention languages - the spoken numbers are spoken in English, we don't have the multilingual options of all the other disciplines. They did experiment with headsets and simultaneous multiple-language transmissions back in 2005, but it was a horrible disaster and they haven't dared to try it again ever since. It IS an advantage to English-speaking people, if only a slight one - you only really need to learn ten words, and I can confirm having done spoken numbers in German a few times that it doesn't make all that much difference, but I still feel a bit guilty about it when I see the Brits topping the table like that. Luckily, Gunther put us all in our place in the final trial.

In the third trial I'd got as far as 150 digits when I thought to myself "Hey, wait a minute, that was 807, why did I think of the image for 871?" and lost track of the numbers. Still, I ended up with a score of 153, which is another personal best for me, if still short of the world record 188. James Ponder, with staggering consistency, had improved his score again, to 92. 89-91-92, that takes some doing. And Jürgen Petersen celebrated his personal best 58 so loudly that he got an extra round of applause. Gunther, however, had blown everyone away with 202. Fifth world record of the championship, and not a single one of them set by me! I haven't failed to break a record at a world championship since 2002, when I was still rubbish at remembering things.

Still, with Johannes only having got a disappointing 21, and Gunther too far behind before that huge world record to do anything but sneak into second place, I had to admit the scores looked good going into the speed cards:

1 Ben Pridmore 7400
2 Dr Gunther Karsten 6251
3 Johannes Mallow 6126
4 Chuanwei Guo 5239
5 Boris Konrad 5153
6 Andi Bell 5141
7 Su Ruiqiao 4805
8 Yip Swe Chooi 4394
9 Liu Ping 4377
10 James Ponder 4138

1149 points ahead. It's 1000 championship points for a thirty-second pack of cards, and I'm still the only person who's ever beaten thirty seconds without allegedly cheating. I still told people to shut up when they tried to congratulate me, though. Who knows what Gunther or Hannes might pull out of the bag? I decided, just as a matter of principle, to do a 'safe' one-minute-ish time on the first trial, get 500 or so championship points in the bag and make it impossible to beat me. I'm impressed with my maturity (or possibly stupidity, depending how you want to look at it) here, since this was my last chance for a world record.

We were split into two groups, to make sure there were enough arbiters to watch over everyone (and enough timers for everyone to use), with the lower half of the leaderboard going in first. I didn't get to hang around outside with the rest of the top 20, though, because the BBC had joined us for the day, and Michael Mosley, who I'd taught to memorise cards a week or so beforehand, was giving it a go, and I had to come and watch. He did a pretty good job, all in all - he can't do a pack in under five minutes (the maximum time allowance) yet, but he had a go at a half pack and nearly got it, managing 14 cards before a mistake, I think. I'm hoping he sticks with it after they've finished filming, because he's clearly enjoyed himself and might just end up being quite good at the whole memory thing.

Hmm, actually, I'm going to have to put a 'to be continued' sign up here, because I've got to get my stuff ready for work tomorrow, and this is taking longer to write than I thought it would. Sorry to leave you in suspense!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

To the memory of the memory of Bahrain

I had a dream last night that I was competing in a muffin-making competition. Not baking the muffin itself, you understand, taking it out of the packet, toasting it in the grill and then spreading butter and jam on it. I was quite confident of success, but I woke up before it finished, so we'll never know.

Perhaps slightly less exciting, but still worth talking about anyway, let's see what I can remember at this late stage of the rest of the World Memory Championship. The start of day two was delayed somewhat, waiting for Tony Buzan to arrive and announce the scores so far. I don't know why it's essential for Tony to perform this task - he does have by far the best speaking voice, but it's just a case of reading from a piece of paper, and I'm sure there are other people among the WMSC who are capable of doing that. Phil did his best to hide his irritation with the Chinese translator, who kept pointing out that the schedule said to start at eight, it was now after eight, and we should have started by now.

When Tony did turn up (perhaps distracted by his sleeping arrangements - I had by now been moved from my suite into a normal room, but apparently Tony, who was staying in the posher and more expensive Gulf Hotel, had had to put up with a double room instead of the suite he'd booked for the first night), I was pleased to see that he'd corrected his description of Andi - he'd referred to him all through the previous day as 'two times world champion Andi Bell' instead of three times champion, but it seems that was a genuine mistake rather than any kind of political title-stripping, and he described him correctly from this point onwards. I always had my name read out as 'reigning world number one Ben Pridmore', and Gunther as 'reigning world champion Dr Gunther Karsten', by the way.

Anyway, having confirmed that, as I said at the end of my last-but-one blog entry, I was 200 points up on Gunther, 500 on Hannes and 550 on Chuanwei, I was feeling confident. Hannes sounded pessimistic when he told me he couldn't see any way he could make up that difference, but I reassured him that there's always the possibility of me messing things up. Secretly, I didn't believe he could make up that gap either, but my opinion was soon to change.

The first event of the day was Speed Numbers. Which, for the sake of consistency with other disciplines, we really ought to rename Five Minute Numbers, but that's just me being pedantic. Anyway, it's exactly like Hour Numbers except (as you might have guessed by now), there's just five minutes of memorisation time. Since, once again, the numbers are in rows of 40 and you drop 20 points for a single digit wrong in a row, and score nothing for a row with two or more errors, this means that an error strips you of a bigger proportion of your points than in hour numbers, and there's a bigger chance of a disaster. Still, with a smaller quantity of digits to memorise, there's also a big chance of getting much more than a twelfth of the score you can achieve in the 60-minute discipline.

This was another discipline where I thought I had a chance of beating the world record. Andi's 396, set in Germany last year, was huge, but with him not on top form and me knowing I could consistently get 360 (better than anyone else had managed) and 400 at a stretch, I was quite hopeful. You get two trials at Speed Numbers, with the best score of the two counting, so normal procedure is to do a 'safe' attempt first time, then if that goes well, try for something huge and run the risk of messing it up. My 'safe' score is 360, and I attempted that, but, annoyingly, I blanked out completely on one of the images. Luckily, it was in the last row, and you're allowed to partially complete the last row you attempt, so I just scribbled out everything after that point, and ended up with a score of 336. Pretty decent, all in all.

We get the results of the first trial before we start the second (lots of frantic marking by those wonderful arbiters!), and that confirmed that my 336 was the best score. But only by three digits - Hannes had 333. Andi had got 278, followed by ever-consistent Guo Chuanwei with 240 and Liu Ping with 224. Gunther had only got 97. Still, all that counts for nothing if anyone gets a better score in the second trial, so I went for something big. Something big for me is 468 digits (I put 234 on each journey - a strange number, I admit, but that's just how it works out for me; 26 locations on each journey, three images in each location, three digits to an image), but it went wrong in a new and unexpected way.

As I said above, I memorise the digits in groups of nine, and when I got to the end of the ninth row, I somehow moved back to the start of row nine, instead of row ten, and memorised all that row of digits again (different images, naturally, since I do them in threes, which means they overlap the ends of the row, so while the first time it was split --1/234/567/890, second time it was 123/456/789 etc.) I've never done that before, and I didn't notice it until I got to the end of what should have been row 11, and noticed it was labelled 'row 10'. The resulting mental confusion put paid to any chance I had of beating 336.

I don't actually remember whether we got the results of trial two before we moved on to the next discipline. I'm going to assume we didn't, because we don't usually, but I can't be certain. It wouldn't have made much difference to my state of mind, because next up was Historic Dates, and I knew in advance what was going to happen there. In this discipline, you get a list of years (between 1000 and 2099 - the full title is Historic And Future Dates, but not many people use that) and a description of something fictional that happened in that year. You get five minutes to memorise them, then you get the list of happenings back in a different order and have to fill in the years beside them. The number of dates provided has just been increased this year from 110 to 120, so there was another good chance of a world record here.

I always used to be the best in the world at dates. And the best by miles and miles, so much so that it was embarrassing. However, over the last couple of years, Hannes has become just a little bit better at it, and always narrowly beats me. It's really annoying - now there are two of us who are light-years ahead of the rest, but I'm always in second place. Nonetheless, I gave it my best shot. I used to always just about get to the end of the 110 with ten seconds to spare in five minutes, so I was a little surprised to find that I got all through the 120 this time, and still had about ten seconds to spare. I remembered most of them, too, and estimated that I'd got a score of about 100 (one point for a correct date, minus half a point for an incorrect one, no score for a year left blank). The world record was 99 (set by Hannes last year - my best was 96).

It would have been around this point, probably, that we got the results of the Speed Numbers. Much to my surprise, Hannes had set a new world record of 405! I had no idea he was capable of that, and it caused me to reconsider my chances of winning the championship. My 336 was still the second-best score, but Ping had moved into third place with a 300, and Gunther had done 280. This made the top ten at the half-way point in the championship look like this:

1 Ben Pridmore 3749
2 Johannes Mallow 3425
3 Dr Gunther Karsten 3390
4 Chuanwei Guo 2942
5 Andi Bell 2783
6 Boris Konrad 2689
7 Su Ruiqiao 2678
8 Yip Swe Chooi 2476
9 Liu Ping 2408
10 Yuan Wenkui 2387

A healthy lead, it might look, but I was getting worried. Johannes, as I mentioned, always makes up a bit of ground on me at historic dates, and he's also always better than me at the next discipline, Random Words, even when I'm at my best. And words is a discipline where there's always a good chance of me making a mess of things and losing a LOT of championship points. It was going to be closer than I was comfortable with.

Still, I was in reflective mood - stepping out of the building for a blast of the oven-like atmosphere of Manama (it was a little cloudy, but still unbearably hot), my thoughts were mainly running along the lines of "awww, we're six-tenths of the way through the competition, and then it's a whole year till the next. It goes by so fast!"

Still, it was already time to go back inside to the air-conditioned hall for the next discipline. The temperature, incidentally, was as never-quite-right as in every building with air conditioning - the first morning, it was decidedly chilly in there and I was regretting not bringing a jumper. For the rest of the event the temperature was about right, but there's always that problem of how, as soon as you turn the aircon off for a minute, the temperature goes up a little, but it immediately feels stuffy, humid and uncomfortable as the outside air gets in. All in all, though, there weren't any serious temperature problems - unless you're Ytep Ho Yin, who spent the whole competition dressed in heavy coat and scarf.

Random Words essentially does what it says on the tin - you get a list of random words and fifteen minutes to memorise them. They're arranged in columns of twenty, with the usual scoring - 20 points for a complete column, 10 points for a column with one mistake, zero for two or more mistakes. I have a habit of having blanks in lots of columns and getting a very mediocre score. I felt a bit under pressure this time, which is usually a good thing, because I always perform best when I absolutely have to. I went for a big 200 words, and felt sort-of more-or-less confident of getting most of them right. My problem is often that I remember a different word that means the same as the one written down - especially if the synonym is one that appears on my list of mental images for cards and numbers. I did feel proud of myself for remembering that one of the words was 'vulture' when my brain was telling me 'eagle', though. 200 would be a great score, maybe better than Hannes and anyone else (with the obvious exception of Boris, who always gets a huge score at words).

Then it was lunchtime, nearly. Sandwiches and things were laid out on the tables, wrapped in cling film, but the catering staff wouldn't let us touch them until the scheduled time of one o'clock, so we had to wait around for fifteen minutes.

After lunch, it was the results of the dates - as per usual, flipping Johannes Mallow had beaten me into second place. My world-record-beating 100.5 looked meagre in comparison to his 110.5; the third-best score was Boris's 69.5. So now we were looking at a championship position like this:

1 Ben Pridmore 4854
2 Johannes Mallow 4641
3 Dr Gunther Karsten 4072
4 Chuanwei Guo 3476
5 Boris Konrad 3454
6 Su Ruiqiao 3398
7 Andi Bell 3217
8 Liu Ping 3029
9 Yip Swe Chooi 2911
10 Yuan Wenkui 2750

Yikes, that lead's coming down. I could really see myself losing at this point - if I'd got 50 fewer words than Hannes (by no means impossible), it was dead level. The final three disciplines are ones in which I was fairly sure I still had the edge over him, but look at what happened last year in hour cards AND speed cards. That had lost me the 2007 championship, so who's to say it couldn't happen again.

Just outside the top ten, incidentally, my compatriots Ed Cooke and James Ponder were fighting a thrilling battle - they'd only been separated by a few points all the way through the championship. Ed at this point was 11th with 2603, with James on 2514. With $1000 on offer for tenth place and nothing for eleventh, it was an important struggle, too.

So we settled down for an afternoon of Hour Cards - sixty minutes to remember as many packs of cards as possible. By this point it was really starting to bother me that I hadn't broken any world records yet. I ALWAYS set at least one new world record at the world championships! I'd got personal bests in three of the first six disciplines, but not in any of the ones where I hold the record. What should I do in the cards? Last year I attempted 36 packs and had a horrible, televised disaster (they'd shown The Mentalists on the big screen during lunch on the first day, just in case anyone didn't know what had happened, so everyone was talking about it). I knew I was on better form this year, but decided to play it comparatively safe and go for 33. My world record was 27, and that gave me a good chance of beating it.

I bring my own cards to competitions these days (they do get shuffled by someone else before I get to memorise them), but those who don't might have been surprised to see that they've got a new supplier this year - some American company, whose cards look decidedly cheaper and flimsier. I don't think the new ones are going to be reusable more than a couple of times. Still, that's just me nitpicking, it didn't affect me at all.

My memorisation went fairly well - I had more gaps and guesses than I was hoping for, but it wasn't a total disaster. I estimated that I'd got about 25 packs, maybe more, maybe less. That should be enough, right? Even so, it was in worried mood that I left the conference centre in the evening. I could just see the headlines - "Pridmore Beaten By Third Successive German In World Championships", "What A Big Fat Loser", and so on. When I'm worried about losing a memory championship, I generally assume the newspapers will focus on me and my weight problem rather than on the winner. I'm self-centred that way.

Tune in later to see whether I won or not! And no peeking at the results!