Saturday, August 30, 2008

Actually, it might have been a cheetah

Lord Aberystwyth rang the bell and called for his butler, Hopkinson. "Ah, Hopkinson, there you are," he said, as soon as the butler came into the drawing room. "How was your day at school?"

"I believe you're confusing me with your son, who is also named Hopkinson," said Hopkinson.

"That's the last impertinence I'm going to take from you, Hopkinson," said Lord Aberystwyth, sternly. "If I ask you how your day at school was, then by Brahma you will tell me how your day at school was."

"Very good, sir," said Hopkinson, respectfully. "My day at school was most pleasant. We learnt about fractions and Shakespeare."

"Splendid," said Lord Aberystwyth. "Now, I remember why I called you here. There's some kind of big cat, possibly a jaguar or maybe a leopard, eating me. Would you do something about it, please?"

"Very good, sir," said Hopkinson, picking up a poker and jabbing at the wild beast tentatively. It turned around briefly and gave Hopkinson a reproachful look, before turning back and continuing to devour Lord Aberystwyth's left arm.

"No, no, no," tutted this worthy peer. "You'll never do any good like that, Hopkinson. Grab the thing by its tail and pull it away."

"Very good, sir," said Hopkinson, attempting to catch the presumed jaguar's tail, which was flicking from side to side in a manner more reminiscent of a domestic cat than a member of the panthera genus. "It seems a little elusive, sir... ah, there we are," he said, seizing it and pulling the animal away.

"I don't need a running commentary, Hopkinson," said Lord Aberystwyth. "Now, get rid of the thing and then fetch a bandage. Maybe two bandages, it seems to have eaten most of my internal organs."

"It appears to be eating me now, sir," Hopkinson protested apologetically. "I'm afraid I'm not in a position to fetch bandages."

"Well, for Buddha's sake, if that doesn't just take the biscuit," snapped Lord Aberystwyth. "Honestly, I expect better service from you, Hopkinson. I hired you on the basis of the most impeccable references, and my wife was in labour for thirty-two minutes giving birth to you. If you can't do it yourself, ring for the first footman and have him bring me my bandages."

"Very good, sir," said what was left of Hopkinson. Unable to ring the bell owing to a shortage of remaining arms, he shouted "Ding-a-ling-a-ling!" at the top of his lungs, at the right pitch to indicate that the first footman and several bandages were required.

The footman, whose name was also Lord Aberystwyth, arrived promptly and bandaged his lordship deftly. "You've suffered extensive blood loss, sir, and your lungs, kidneys and appendix are absent, although it's possible that the last-named organ had already been removed prior to the cat incident. In my medical opinion, although I haven't been a practising doctor for three days now, you will pass away in another twenty seconds or so."

"I think I had my appendix taken out as a child," mused Lord Aberystwyth. "Although it may have been my tonsils. Go and consult my childhood diaries, Lord Aberystwyth, and let me know."

"Very good, sir," said the first footman, taking his leave. Lord Aberystwyth did indeed pass away exactly twenty seconds after Lord Aberystwyth had finished pronouncing the word 'twenty', which would have proved the footman right in a wager he had recently undertaken with another doctor-turned-domestic in the household regarding his diagnostic abilities, if only anybody had been present to witness the exact moment of the master's demise. However, Hopkinson had by that time been entirely devoured by the still-not-positively-identified animal and was unable to be of any use in the matter.

Of course, if he had been alive and had been an accessory to an unlicensed gamble among the servants of a peer of the realm, he would have been a disgrace to the world of butlering, so it's probably best for everyone concerned that he wasn't.

Friday, August 29, 2008

For those who are keeping track of my movements

I'm not moving this weekend. I'm moving next weekend, and to a different place from the place I was going to be moving to. I found a slightly nicer flat that costs the same, so I decided to take that one instead. So, unless I find a nicer flat still, it's next weekend for the big move to Beeston. Which is good, because I've still got a lot of packing to do...

Also, I need to do some memory training. I haven't done any for a while now, and I had a dream about abstract images last night. That's a sure sign my brain wants me to memorise things.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


The somewhat inaccurately named 99p Shop in Derby is selling 2-litre bottles of Pepsi for 79p. This is a bad thing for those who are trying to lose weight but can't resist a bargain or a sugary drink. I mean, diet Pepsi is the same price, but that tastes like wee, so I'm forced to buy the unhealthy stuff.

I really should be making an effort to be slender and beautiful right now, because I quite literally can't set foot out of doors at the moment without being recognised. Every time I go out in public, somebody is waiting to compliment me on my amazing memory abilities. Everybody seems very impressed by it, funnily enough, although I didn't think I came across as much of a genius. Nobody's stopped me in the street to say "Ha ha, you're the one who's got no job!" yet, either.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An open letter to the people of the world

Hi, people. I really am touched by your generosity, but I've got a job now, and don't have any money problems at all (well, I won't in a month or so, anyway). So there's really no need to offer me money or a way of using my amazing memory talents to earn money. By the way, this particularly applies if your plan involves card-counting in casinos with the aid of your cash investment. That really wouldn't work out well for you if we did try it, I promise. (Oh, and distinctively-voiced journalists whom I spoke to 18 months ago about a similar subject especially need not apply, using a fake name and claiming to be some vague kind of businessman).

On the other hand, a big thanks to all the people who've recognised me on the street or on the trains lately and complimented my amazing abilities! It's great being a celebrity.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Grab your coat, don't forget your hat

Moving house is a big inconvenience. You have to pack all your videos and books and comics into big cardboard boxes that are too heavy to carry, tell the cable, water, gas and electric people you're leaving, change your address with the bank and credit cards and everything, arrange for someone with a van to help you move, clean your current flat so it's a little less filthy when you leave... and probably a lot of other things that I can't think of right now.

And I bet I'm going to end up leaving something behind. The toys under my bed, or whatever I keep in my Forbidden Closet Of Mystery (the cupboard in my bedroom without a door handle so you can only open it by prying the door open with a knife. I don't use that cupboard very much). Or my toothbrush, like I do most times I go away for a night. But I do need a new toothbrush anyway, so that wouldn't be such a huge disaster. I don't know why I'm making a fuss about it. In fact, maybe I'll leave my toothbrush behind deliberately, and cut down on the heavy lifting while I'm transferring all my other rubbish to Beeston.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catching up

Let me see, what happened to me last week while I was drivelling on about the UK Memory Championship weekend? Well, on the Wednesday we had our Team Challenge (no relation to an old friend who goes by that unusual moniker) and went out to renovate the playground of a community centre creche, spreading the good word of Boots community spirit wherever we went. (Yes, Boots are the mysterious people I'm working for. I can't blog about what I did on Thursday without mentioning them by name, so the secret's out.) I "helped" my boss make a new gate in the fence, by handing him tools and occasionally hammering things when he told me how to do it. I'm bad at DIY, as everyone who knows me is well aware.

Then on Thursday I had my been-there-a-month induction session, which turned out to be more interesting than I expected, because of the revelation during the "history of Boots the Chemist" part that in 1935 they commissioned a cartoon, animated by none other than Ub Iwerks, called "See How They Won"! It chronicles the fight against evil germs by the heroic Boots army. I knew there were perks to working for a big company like Boots, but I didn't expect them to include getting to watch classic-era cartoons! I'm all the more convinced that I picked the right job now.

And somewhere along the way I confirmed that I'm moving to Beeston next weekend. Nice little flat, much closer to work, and hopefully the transition will be smooth and uncomplicated. But if I disappear from the internet for a while, you'll know why. Unless I've been abducted by Bulgarian anti-memory crusaders, in which case you'll believe you know why I'm not blogging, but you'll be wrong.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

One more thing

Yes! Not content with an extra-long post earlier tonight, I'm going to write an extra blog entry too! I found something else that I can't resist blogging about. That chess game I briefly mentioned in passing, between Jan Smeets and Nigel Short, can be played through on the internet here. And you can read commentary about it here, where it says that the game is "A brilliant effort by Smeets, who later described the game as one of his best ever."

Well... I don't claim to be a grandmaster (a real grandmaster, anyway. I am a memory GM, for what it's worth), but I wouldn't describe this game as brilliant. It's... simple. I understand what's happening, and I'm rubbish at understanding chess positions. It's Ruy Lopez, for goodness' sake! That's the most basic, overused opening in low-level chess games across the world! It's the opening that people figure out for themselves as kids and play exclusively for years because they don't dare attempt something more complicated like a queen's gambit.

And it's not like these two giants of chess do anything exciting with it! Threaten and defend the pawns, exchange a few pieces to make the position more simple, bring the queen out, zoom it into that little undefended space in the corner, chase the king around the board a bit until you contrive a position to take a rook, win.

I've played this exact game a zillion times with my former fellow nerdy teenager best friend David (perhaps it's not just the MSO and othello worlds that are overcrowded with Davids, maybe it's my whole life). And yes, I was the loser in these games more often than not, but still. If that's what passes for a brilliant game between two GMs these days, maybe it's time I came out of retirement...

UKMC, episode five: Escape To Victory (or a bronze medal, at least)

After the speed cards, there was only time for a very quick speech from Phil and Tony thanking everyone for coming and asking them to get out of the room and let the chess players in. I missed it because I was talking to the Sun on Phil's mobile phone, but I'm sure it was a fitting end to an excellent weekend's memorising. I gave Phil his mobile back, burbled something quickly into the microphone about how great it was to see everyone and how the organisers are all great, while trying to keep hold of my non-closing rucksack full of speed stacks timers and packs of cards that were falling all over the floor. You can see it on the Sun website if it's still there and if you really want to. I don't think it shows that I was in a hurry, knowing I was going to be late for the othello if I didn't dash quickly. All that remained were a few closing conversations:

-Phil: Your cards from yesterday are through here, follow me.
-Me (following him): Okay. Thanks again, great competition, etc...
-Lots of other people: Congratulations!
-Me (repeatedly): Thanks! You too! Well done on the [insert anything I could remember about whatever whoever I was talking to had done well]!
-Boris: Hey, Ben, where does a score of 6350 put me on the ranking list?
-Me: I have no idea. I never remember the ranking scores. [I had to keep asking what score I needed to get to number one over the course of the weekend. I seem to have a real blind spot with ranking points memory] James Paterson's the one to ask. James, where's Boris on the rankings now?
-Sun journalist with camera (not the one I was talking to on the phone, another one): Ben, got time for that quick chat?
-Me (seeing Phil had by now disappeared out of sight): Sure, why not? Talk and walk?
-Sun guy: Let me just quickly put this radio mike on you...
-Me (after extensive attempts to clip the thing on my shirt, only for it to fall apart): Can I just hold it in my hand?
-Sun guy: Sure. So, happy with the result?
-Me (holding radio mike): [burbled something about the competition. You can also see that on the Sun website, same video clip, same provisos as before]
-Sun guy: Great, thanks.
-BBC camera crew: Ben, got time for that quick chat?
-Me: Um, yes, sure, just a minute, let me get my cards back first, I'm really in a hurry.
-BBC presenter: Sure, I just have to go and [do something I wasn't paying attention to] first. Talk to you in a minute.
-Me (seeing Phil being hassled by even more people than were hassling me, but noticing a box full of packs of cards sitting near some chess people): Ah, my cards!
-Raymond Keene OBE: Ah, Ben, this is Jan Something and Someone Else, he's the Something of the chess tournament.
-Me (finding my cards, dropping the contents of my rucksack again and trying to pick them up): Oh, great, look, I've really got to dash, I'm playing in a...
-Raymond Keene OBE: Ben's just won the memory competition.
-Jan Something: Ah. You are a competitor in the memory?
-Me: Yes, that's right.
-Jan Something: Ah. And you are the winner?
-Me: Yes.*
*[conversation edited for comic effect. I'm sure Jan Something (possibly not his real name) is a great conversationalist, it's just that I was really in a hurry to get away and not arrive at the othello more than 15 minutes late]
-Jan Something: Ah.
-Me (thinking if I'm going to be talking to chess people, I might as well do what I'd been meaning to do all weekend, and say hi to Nigel Short): Is Nigel Short anywhere around here?
-Someone Else (gesturing to a man sitting right next to him): He's right here.
-Me: Oh. You don't wear glasses any more. [thought to myself: Why, considering that I'm in a tearing hurry, did I just take the time to tell Nigel Short he isn't wearing glasses? He probably knows that already.] Um, I just wanted to say hi. Back when you were in the world championship match with Kasparov, I was a nerdy teenager and I was following the games with rapt attention.
-Glasses-less Nigel Short: Um, thanks.
-Me: Big fan. Got to go, nice to meet you.
-BBC presenter: Ben, have you got five minutes to talk?
-Me (leaving): No. Not even five seconds. Really in a hurry.
[for the record, Michael Adams won the chess, as usual. Nigel Short lost his Sunday game to Jan Smeets, possibly alarmed by the conversation with me, and ended up joint seventh with Jan Werle and Jon Speelman. And yes, everybody at the chess tournament was called Jan - three of the competitors and also the sponsor Jan Mol, who I suspect was probably the Jan Someone I was speaking to.]

I dumped my stuff in my hotel over the road without losing anything, cleverly fitted in an in-depth interview with the BBC while walking to the tube station (they offered to get a taxi, but I refused on working-class-hero grounds), said my goodbyes and hot-footed it to the Royal Horticultural Halls.

I was only ten minutes or so late, and the othello hadn't started yet. There were six of us there - me, Imre, David B and Geoff plus MSO regulars Bharat and David P. The MSO, like the othello world, is overrun by Davids, and another one of them, David Kotin, was running the othello tournament. We played a double-round-robin of ten-minute games, and Imre was on the kind of everybody-squishing form that he seems to reserve for tournaments that don't affect the British rating list. He won all his games, and I managed to win six out of ten, beating Othello David once and Geoff once to end up in bronze medal position.

They don't do actual medals at the MSO any more, but they do do stylish little mini-trophy/plaque things, which look really nice. Of course, they hadn't made the othello ones yet, so I didn't get it before dashing off again, but I'm hoping to collect it some time.

The highlight of the othello was the game against Geoff that I didn't win - I was already well and truly dead, but also running out of time, and so I was playing my moves at a frantic rate. I played my penultimate move, Geoff played his and Imre quipped "Ah, so now Ben can't lose on time."

Not paying attention to this, I played what I thought was my only available move and started flipping discs, only to notice from the giggles of the spectators that this actually wasn't a legal move, and in fact I didn't have any legal moves and should have tapped the clock to signify that I had to pass. This made sense of Imre's comment, but it sank into my brain just a second too late, and I didn't manage to unflip the discs I'd wrongly flipped before my time ran out. So I lost on time in a position where it's not possible to lose on time, which is quite an achievement.

And so that was the weekend. Hope you enjoyed reading about it as much as I enjoyed living it. I doubt you did, since I'm not THAT great a writer, but never mind. I got criticised for not blogging enough about the world memory championships last year (even though I spent it in a hotel without internet access), so I wanted to make up for it here. Normal bloggery resumes tomorrow with a precis of what's been happening to me over the last five days.