Saturday, April 26, 2008

Lost In Übersetzung

It must be a leftover thing from my very brief university career as a student of foreign languages, but I'm always fascinated by the art of translation, especially when it comes to translating comedy. So I read with interest an article on the BBC News website about translating 'Allo 'Allo into German. Well, the article was maybe about how they've finally sold the series to Germany after twenty years or so, but the translation bit was what really interested me.

'Allo 'Allo is a particularly difficult sitcom to translate, because of the funny conventions it established - the series is set in France, with characters from Britain, France, Germany and Italy, and basically when characters speak with a French accent, it means they're speaking French, whereas if they speak with an English accent, they're speaking English. And then there's Crabtree, who's English and speaks very bad French, which comes out as phrases like "Good moaning!" when he means "Good morning!" and "I have good nose" for "I have good news".

The French translation, I noticed, cheated, and had him say "Au revoir" for "good morning", rather than doing the mispronunciation thing, so I was pleased to hear that the German version has him saying "Guten Magen", which is much more in keeping with the original. But I do wonder what they're going to do with his mispronunciations when the joke involves something happening on screen. Like when a tank crashes into the pissoir while he's using it and he observes "It seems there is no piss for the wicked..."

This is why I admire people like the great Anthea Bell, who practically nobody else has heard of. She translated the Asterix books into English, and those have no end of untranslatable plays-on-words. So she has to come up with new jokes herself that keep the general feel of the ones in the original - and does a really brilliant job of it, too. I'd love to do something like that, as I think I've mentioned before, with Joscha Sauer's "Nichtlustig" comics. A lot of the jokes are simple to translate, some would involve a real stretch of the imagination. Tomorrow, if nothing more exciting happens to me in the meantime, I'll scan and post some examples...

Public Service Announcement

There's just one week to go until the Cambridge Memory Championship!
The competition takes place on Sunday May 4th, at Trinity College,
Cambridge, as part of the Cambridge Mind Sports Olympiad 2008.
Details can be found here: as well as

The venue is in the city centre, and easy to find. The only slightly
confusing bit is that the rooms for the competition are in the part
of Trinity College not accessed by the main entrance, but by
Whewell's Court, the entrance on the opposite side of the street.
There will, hopefully, be signposts and people (including me) to
point you in the right direction on the day!

The prize money for Cambridge will be £50 for the winner, £25 for
second place and £10 for the best beginner. Our prizes are made
possible by the kind sponsorship of Science House:

It's not too late to take part, it's possible to just turn up on the
day, but it would be more helpful if you let me know in advance, so
that we know how many people to expect. Friends and family are
welcome to come along, especially if they're willing to lend a hand
with invigilating and marking recall papers!

The Derby Memory Championship is just one month away! It takes place
at the Bramblebrook Community Centre, Stockbrook Street, Derby on
Saturday and Sunday May 24-25. Details can be found here: and free
accommodation on my living room floor is still available for anyone
who wants it (bring a sleeping bag!)

Prizes for Derby are £100 for the winner, £50 for the runner-up and
£25 for the best beginner. People who take part at Cambridge as
beginners will still be classed as 'beginners' at Derby! Again,
prizes are thanks to the generosity of Science House -

I can promise and guarantee a fun day and weekend of memorising for
everyone who comes along to either competition, and I'm looking
forward to seeing you there!


Friday, April 25, 2008

People will see me and die

Have I been on telly again recently without me knowing it? The number of people hailing me in the street as the memory man had died down a bit, but I've been getting lots of recognition just this last week. Tonight a gang of youngish teenagers in the shopping centre all recognised me, and the following conversation ensued:

Dan: You're that memory guy?
Me: Yep, that's me.
Dan: Ooh, go on then, do me!
Me: Umm... "do you"?
Dan: You know, do a memory thing to amaze me!

I really need to have a performance ready for moments like this. What I should have done, with hindsight, is tell them all what day of the week they were born on - that always goes down well. Or else I should start carrying a pack of cards or a list of FA Cup final results around with me. Actually, that's a really good idea. I will do that.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Stafford ho!

Either knows something that the rest of the internet doesn't, or it doesn't know something that the rest of the internet does, but it tells me there are very few trains from Derby to Stafford and back tomorrow. Enough that getting there at the right time for the interview and home again isn't a problem, but I'm still suspicious about the whole affair. Last year I noticed that thetrainline seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Mansfield, maybe it's suffering from the same problem with Stafford. You can't trust anything you read on the internet.

Except this blog, of course. You can trust me. There's no need to question anything I write on here, just obey me with blind faith and you won't go far wrong. Oh, and wish me luck for tomorrow, please - I'd really like to get this job.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


It's just been brought to my attention that the entire series of "Look Around You" is available on YouTube for the world to see. Both series, in fact - the original ten-minute episodes and (although I haven't watched them yet) I think all of the half-hour second series are on there too. Which pleases me no end! Look Around You is possibly the single funniest thing that's been on television for the last decade or so, and it's quite criminal that it isn't better known. It's the kind of comedy that I aspire to write myself and wildly envy when other people do it so well.

But don't take my word for it. Take an hour or so out of your busy schedule and watch the whole bally lot of the things. And when you've finished watching them, notice that the 'related videos' box for the final episode (The Brain) gives you seventeen other Look Around You videos, two random brain-related things and "Maximise the Power of Your Brain - Tony Buzan MIND MAPPING". He really is everywhere!

Go on, check them out. If you like my occasional ventures into mad surrealistic comedy, you'll love these. If you hate my occasional ventures into mad surrealistic comedy, you'll still love these because they do it so much better than I do.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A cry for help

I'm concerned that I'm not going to have enough arbiters for the Derby Memory Championship. I'm also concerned that I'm not going to have enough competitors, but that's a minor problem. The arbiter thing, on the other hand, could be serious. I need to find a couple of helpful people who are willing to spend a weekend handing out, collecting in and marking memorisation and recall papers, generally keeping an eye on competitors in case anyone's cheating, and being quiet for long periods of time. In return, these happy helpers get free accommodation on the floor of my living room, free meals and drinks, my undying gratitude and a favour that can be called in at any time in the future.

If I don't manage to recruit any little helpers, I might have to drop out of the competition myself in order to run it, which would annoy me enormously, because one of my main reasons for organising the championship in the first place is to give me a practice event for the German and World Championships later in the year. So, anyone who's reading this who thinks memory-competition-assistant-arbiter could be a great career move, please get in touch. Undying gratitude, people! You can't put a price on that!

Although if you wanted to put a price on it and demand a tenner or so for your services, I could do that too.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Stafford - like buses

I've got an interview in Stafford on Friday for a really cool job that, for obvious reasons, I'm not going to say any more about. But don't worry, loyal readers, I never learn my lesson permanently, and I'm sure I'll soon be back to the charmingly naive Zoomy you know and love, who imprudently posts his opinions about everyone and everything on the internet for the world to see and cares nothing for the inevitable consequences.

Anyway, shortly after agreeing to this interview (the job's not in Stafford, by the way, it's just down the road in Burton), I had an email from a different agency about a different job in Stafford.

I've never been to Stafford before, nor ever considered any jobs or interviews there. And now all of a sudden the town (or possibly city, I should look into that before I go there) is full of people who might possibly think about employing me! It's a nearly-St-George's-Day miracle!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

That's the problem with a to-do list

I did update my CV today and sent it to all the recruitment agencies in the area who haven't got it already, so never let it be said that I've entirely wasted the day in pointless endeavours. However, after doing that, the thought occurred to me that I really need to learn to read Japanese hiragana. It's something I've vaguely intended to do for years and years, after all. So I bumped that up to the top of my things-to-do list, ahead of trivial things like finishing the Cambridge championship preparations, cleaning the flat up, ironing some shirts so I have something to wear for job interviews and don't have to turn up naked, typing up my othello transcripts from London, keeping in touch with various people I'm in danger of losing touch with altogether, confirming the details of the upcoming memory championship sponsorship (there will be prize money, people, I'm just waiting to announce it when the sponsor's website is up and running!), training for memory competitions so I don't make a colossal fool of myself again, writing that book proposal, all that kind of thing.

It's not even as if I made any great strides in the field of learning to read Japanese hiragana. I spent most of my time toying with developing the quickest and most efficient system for memorising them, rather than actually learning them. I have a feeling that I lack self-discipline.