Saturday, March 15, 2008

Let's Do It

I like a bit of Victoria Wood from time to time. And UKTV Gold seems to like her quite a lot, since there's always one show or another of hers on there. And I happened to flick over to it tonight to see an As Seen On TV that I've somehow never seen before, with the song The Ballad Of Barry And Freda, which is the funniest one of hers I've ever heard (and she's written a whole lot of great songs in her time). So, rather than thinking of something to write about in my blog tonight (kurnik othello tournament starts in ten minutes, football on the telly, you know the usual Saturday night ritual), I thought I should share the song with you all, just in case some of my readers have missed out on this classic too. Enjoy!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Pi Day

A few years ago, I was talking with some people on March 14th, and someone mentioned that it's Pi Day, on account of it being 3/14. I said that it shouldn't count as Pi Day in Britain if we have to put the date the American way to make it work, and we should instead celebrate pi on April 31st, to be nice and British about it. Everybody nodded and agreed that that was more sensible, and it wasn't until late that night that it occurred to me that there isn't a 31st of April. I can't remember who I was talking to when I made the April 31st comment - possibly I've been avoiding them ever since, in case they also realised later on what a stupid thing I'd said.

In other memory-related news, I went out to the supermarket in the shopping centre tonight, and in the middle of the centre they had set up a stage with a catwalk where models were parading around and advertising something, presumably. By the time I'd done my shopping and was coming back, the models had been replaced by either hairdressers or makeup artists, who were sprucing up some volunteers from the audience while two guys gave a running commentary and kept the crowd entertained. As I walked past, one of them said, into the microphone, "Hey, I know that guy, he was on TV!" They then introduced me to the crowd gathered around, by name and knowing a frankly scary amount about my memory achievements. Without even mentioning the chimp. Everyone applauded. Am I actually a local celebrity now?

And while it's true, as they announced, that I don't need to make a list when I shop at Sainsbury's, that's largely because I don't decide what I'm going to eat for the next week or so until I get there. If I need to buy something specific, I do invariably forget it.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

MK Doms

Rather than going to work tomorrow, I'm going to Milton Keynes, to watch Dominic O'Brien give a memory presentation to youths at a school, the idea being that I can do some of the same kind of thing in the future. I'm sure it'll be fun, and hopefully the audience will be fascinated by the whole thing and form a new generation of memory competitors to rival all those Germans.

Or perhaps they'll all be terrible yobs who think memory is 'uncool', in which case you can look forward to a blog tomorrow moaning about the youth of today and how in my day things were different and we respected our elders and betters-at-memory-stuff.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Postscript to tonight's entry

I feel bad about saying things about Simon Wootton that he might find offensive. I don't mean any of it seriously, if you're reading this, Simon. In fact, your book is great.

I also feel bad about not namechecking his co-author, who also offered brain advice in the Metro newspaper yesterday, but who I've never written anything bad or good about. His name's Terry Horne. And now I come to think of it, wasn't that the guy James was emailing who said he might come to one of our uni demos but didn't? I think it might be.

Rather than writing these things in my blog and sharing them with the world, I really should get in the habit of just talking to the people who might be able to answer that kind of question, shouldn't I?

Small world

Got a big bulky envelope in the post today from Hodder the publishers (that was the one I sent How To Be Clever to as an afterthought after the blog last week when I mentioned sending it to two others - sorry for not keeping you informed) and assumed it was my first rejection. It made me feel quite nostalgic for the days when everyone was rejecting The Adventures Of Jayce And Alex, actually. But it wasn't a rejection, or at least not a complete one - it was a letter from the person in charge of the 'teach yourself' imprint, saying that although they couldn't publish HTBC in its current format, they would like to do a 'teach yourself how to be clever' (the teach yourself books don't use capital letters in the titles, a thing that I loathe and detest about modern trendy books) if I wanted to rewrite it in their style. And they sent me a copy of their latest book, 'teach yourself training your brain', co-written by none other than Simon Wootton, on whom I poured scorn yesterday for his advice on remembering things by telling your mobile phone to remind you. Even though I give the same kind of advice (well, I say "Write it down", when I get asked the same stupid questions.

The first thing I notice on flicking through 'training your brain' is that it covers a heck of a lot of the same ground as 'How To Be Clever'. If I rewrote HTBC into the house style, it would basically be the same book as this one. Why would they want another one? Also, the tone is scholarly and adult, and I think my book would lose a lot of its appeal if it was written like that. It's not really aimed at people who are serious about self-improvement. And all the IQ puzzles are stolen from other people. I at least had the decency to make up my own, in the style of the ones you usually see. And there's even a chapter about creativity, dammit. I thought I was being original there.

No, all in all, I don't think I want to rewrite my magnum opus into a 'teach yourself' book. Not that I was expecting any publisher to say "yes, we'll publish your wonderful book exactly as you sent it to us, shoddily-made diagrams using MS Word shape-drawing tools and everything, so you won't ever need to think about it again until the royalty cheques start pouring in," but I don't want to have to change it to quite such an extent. I think I'll wait on another publisher who's more in tune with my brain. If there is such a thing.

Although I might change my mind later. I always have a rule that I sleep on decisions like this. The rule, come to think of it, really should also preclude writing at length in my blog about it for the publisher to see, but it seems to have failed to stop me tonight. I bet all the Hodder people are regular readers of mine. Or else maybe Simon Wootton will google himself, find yesterday's and today's blogs and snitch on me.

Speaking of googlers finding my blog, let's all say a big hello to Dave, who lives in Tumby Woodside, and found my old entry from last year when the TV people took me back there. Hello, Dave, and all the rest of you Tumby Woodsiders out there!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Brain experts advise: don't use your brain

According to a filler article in the Metro newspaper this morning, it's Brain Awareness Week, or something like that. Every week seems to be brain something week, probably because there are lots of people competing to promote their brain-enhancing books or systems these days. One of them, Simon Wootton, who co-wrote a book about Strategic Thinking, offered his advice on that much-loved subject of newspapers and magazines with a page to pad out, how to remember birthdays and where you put your car keys. He came out with the suggestion to "Use a diary or a mobile phone as an electronic prompt for birthdays or anniversaries."

So Brain Awareness Week (or whatever it is) is a time for us to not even try to use our brains to remember things, but just rely on our mobile phones to do our thinking for us? It's disgraceful! I was thinking of writing an outraged letter to the Metro about it, but I decided that my blog readers would be more likely to get the joke.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

But I can offer you a meringue, if that's any use

Can I use the great advertising power of my blog to urge people to go out and buy the second issue of Black Meringue, the alternative wedding magazine? Yes, even if you're not getting married, because there's a very entertaining article by my brother in it. I should really have made a similar advertisement when the previous issue came out, since he also wrote stuff for that, but I didn't, and now it's much too late. But go and read it and see that insanity does indeed run in families.

Meanwhile, the FA Cup this year seems determined to call on all the trivia I know about the competition. As you'll recall, I memorised the results of all the finals for our university demos, and also lots of little snippets of interesting information so that I can make recalling them more entertaining for everyone. And now everyone's getting in on the act, looking up all the when-was-the-last-time-this-happened statistics that the mad semi-final lineup this year demands.

So before they're in all the newspapers tomorrow, let me impress you with the facts that Barnsley, Cardiff and Portsmouth have each won the cup only once in the competition's long history - in 1912, 1927 and 1939 respectively. And they had all been runners-up before that, in Barnsley's and Cardiff's cases two years before winning the trophy, whereas Portsmouth were beaten finalists in 1929 and 1934. And having won the Cup for the first and only time, none of them ever reached the final again. West Brom, unfortunately, refuse to conform to this interesting statistic, since they were a major force in the early days of professional football and have won the cup lots of times. The last one was in 1968, though.

Furthermore, the last time the Cup was not won by one of the Big Four was in 1995 (Everton 1, Man Utd 0). The last time none of the Big Four made it to the final was in 1991 (Spurs 2, Nottingham Forest 1). The last time none of the Big Four made it to the semi-finals was in 1987 (Coventry, Spurs, Watford and Leeds - not as weird a lineup then as it would be today, because all but Leeds were top-division teams back then).

The last team from outside the top division to win the Cup was West Ham in 1980. There has never yet been a final between two non-top-flight teams. The last time three non-top-flight teams made the semis was exactly a hundred years ago, in 1908. When Barnsley won the Cup in 1912, they were in the second level of league football, and the club they beat in the final was West Brom. All these things I knew before it was cool to know them.