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!