Saturday, February 14, 2009

This is where I get it from

Grandma, reminiscing about her days working in the payroll department of British Jeffrey Diamond 65 years ago: "Old Sammy Wainwright, 7505 his number was..." Seriously, her recall of every detail of her life is uncanny, and the way she tells it is captivating. I'm going to have to get myself a video camera and capture some of her stories on film.

The occasion for the four-hour non-stop recounting of Grandma's life story I enjoyed today was of course those 1911 census returns featuring her parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. It's great to hear the stories of the people behind that snapshot of households on April 2nd 1911 - how Grandma's Uncle Ronald did well for himself (or at any rate had a good job and bought his own house, which was good work in the Depression), while Uncle Colin spent some time in the nick (but we don't talk about that). Uncle Jack, four years old in 1911, grew up to be quaite refained and wore a bowler hat, but the best part was that mystery 'boarder' I mentioned in my post here.

It turns out that nine-month-old Ethel Gough, living in my great-great-grandparents' household, was the result of an indiscretion between my great-great-granddad and another woman, and ended up coming to live with him rather than her unmarried mother, and having the subject of her parentage resolutely ignored by the family from that moment on. Not that Grandma found out about this until long after the fact, of course - she recalled "I came home one day and told my mam 'Auntie Ethel looks just like me!'... And she hit me."

I can just imagine the difficult decision process of how to record little Ethel's "relationship to head of family" on the census form. The instructions say to 'State whether "Head," or "Wife," "Son," "Daughter," or other Relative, "Visitor," "Boarder," or "Servant."' and they went for "Boarder" in the end.

All shame and scandal in the family is long gone and forgotten now, of course. It's the kind of thing that makes you think - all these names on the census were real people at one point, before they became names on a page and half-remembered stories. Poor great-great-granddad on the Batty branch of the family died in a coal-mine accident only a few years after filling in his census form. There need to be more books, documentaries, websites, whatevers about the ordinary people of history. I should make one...

Friday, February 13, 2009

Mensa - a table; Mensa - O table

The Mensa people want me to do my memory thing at their Annual Gathering in October, as a warmup act for the Brain of Mensa finals. I'm not sure whether or not to take them up on the offer - on the one hand, it's always great when people want me to perform in front of an audience (it still doesn't happen all that much), but on the other hand Mensa members are the worst possible audience for any kind of brain-related showing-off. They'll just respond with "Hmm, well, I could have done that just as well, of course" or "Hmm, well, it's an amusing trick, but it's not real intelligence, is it?"

Having been a member myself for many years, I know what a bunch of snobs Mensans can be. If I really want to stroke my ego, I should go to a stupid-people convention. They'll genuinely believe that I'm really, really clever and not suggest that I might be an entirely average person who can do a party trick with cards. On the other hand, I'll get a free meal out of Mensa and maybe even some intelligent conversation. So I'll probably do it. I'm bad at saying no to people, after all.

Incidentally, I'm seeing a lot of people writing it as "MENSA" just lately. It's not an acronym, people. It's the Latin word for "table", indicating a round-table kind of society, and a play on words with "mens", meaning "mind".

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Charles Darwin/Abraham Lincoln day!

It's their joint 200th birthday today, you know. And while some might say Darwin is better than Lincoln because he appears on the £10 note, worth roughly three times as much as Lincoln's puny $5 bill, others might argue that Lincoln is better because he's probably going to be on those unimaginative Americans' money forever, while Darwin's about due to be replaced by some other notable dead person.

Anyway, this gives me an idea. I could secure my legacy as a famous person forever by simply sharing my birthdate with someone more famous! That way, whenever his birthday is celebrated with a BBC2 evening of programmes, there'll always be a passing mention of "funnily enough, world memory champion Ben Pridmore was born on the very same day!" That's the only reason anyone's ever heard of John Major, you know - Eric Idle tribute programmes.

Trouble is, nobody who shares my birthday has yet achieved any real degree of fame. The best that 14/10/76 currently has to offer is Henry Mateo, Dominican minor-league baseball player whose wikipedia article is even more skimpy than mine and can't even decide whether he's a shortstop or a second-baseman. I suppose it's still possible he could become the next Joe DiMaggio, but I think we should pin our hopes on some currently obscure 32-year-old suddenly achieving superstardom. Come on, all you Zoomy-birthday people out there, get famous! And quick!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

You might not think of me as a shining example of male health...

... But nonetheless, I've just been interviewed for Men's Health magazine. It'll be on the shelves in April or May if you want to check it out - part of an article about "superhumans". I wish people would stop calling me that. Or, even better, I wish people would find some way to give me superhuman powers (faster than a speeding bullet, that kind of thing) so as to justify the title.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

I don't make people smart

I did wonder how they'd adapt my repeated assertions that IQ tests are basically all entirely worthless, that no sensible person cares about them in the slightest, that the only, and very easy, way to improve your score is to practice the handful of very specific kinds of questions they ask, and that memorising cards isn't going to do anything for your intelligence, but it seems they decided to chop it all out. Likewise, my scoffing at the twaddle that Michael's other interviewees came out with. Still, I came across quite well, I thought. Except that people are going to get the impression that I'm one of those people who believe it's important to improve your IQ, which I'd like to take this opportunity to deny absolutely.

Shame they didn't include the moment when I was taken by surprise by Michael's belief that he himself isn't a nerd, because it was very funny, and he does come across in his narration as if he still thinks of himself as a 'normal' person compared to the 'brainy' types he was trying to emulate.

It's another one to add to the list of TV appearances, I suppose, and it's always nice to get a bit of coverage of the world championships, but I'm hoping this one doesn't get repeated as incessantly as Superhuman Genius...

Next week, "Make Me Live Longer"? And judging by the previews on the internet, no Aubrey? What kind of life-extension documentary doesn't feature Aubrey?

Monday, February 09, 2009

I owe you nothing

Ooh-woh, nothing at all. Let me explain. Back in, ooh, June 1996 it must have been, I took out a loan of a few hundred pounds, I forget exactly how much, in order to buy a little motorbike. Impressed by how easy it is to have people give you money in return for a promise to pay it back eventually, I subsequently ended up borrowing more money in order to move into a rented room of my own even though I wasn't earning nearly enough money on my trainee-accountant pittance to afford it. After all, the only other alternative was to keep living with my dad, who also couldn't afford it, and I thought it'd be preferable to bankrupt myself rather than him. And besides, he always refused to put the heating on.

Anyway, I went on living beyond my means for a fair few years, running up further little debts here and there (a succession of little motorbikes that I kept crashing into cars or having stolen, among other things), confident that I'd eventually be rich and successful and anyway it's not real money if it's a loan, even to the extent of giving up my job in November 2002 and deciding to spend some time doing my own thing and seeing just how far my credit cards could take me before I had to go back to the working world again. Surprisingly far, considering by this time I was adding regular memory-competition trips to places like Germany and Malaysia to my expenditure.

And so it came about that in November 2003, having left my six-month temporary accounting job in Skegness, and returned from Kuala Lumpur with a third-place World Memory Championship trophy (rather stylish, made of pewter) and an alarmingly empty bank account, I found a job in Derby and took out one big loan to consolidate all those other debts, finance the relocation and give me a bit of extra spending money to have fun with. £16,000, it came to, which surprised me a little. But hey, over five years it didn't amount to all that much, and I was earning semi-decent money by this point, after all. And at some point in the distant future, it would all be paid off and I'd feel comparatively rich!

And now, woohoo, that day is finally here, and I've just made my 60th monthly payment. I am now, for the first time in living memory, entirely free of debt! No loan, no credit card balances, no nothing! Now I can be scornful of the indebted masses and tell them if they can't handle their finances properly it's their own stupid faults and they shouldn't expect the government to bail them out with us hard-working taxpayers' cash, by cracky. I'll write a letter to the Daily Mail!

No, actually, I'll tell you what'll be even more fun than that - I'll work out what I'm going to do with my extra £350 a month that I'm not giving back to the Royal Bank of Scotland. It's like getting a credit-crunch-busting pay rise!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sorry, haven't had the time or the non-laziness to sort out pictures of Ham and Ex to illustrate my planned ramblings about them, so they'll have to wait till Wednesday (tomorrow and Tuesday I already know what I'm going to blog about - I sometimes worry that my life is getting planned out too far in advance).

Instead, let's talk about fizzy drinks. I went through quite a long period of drinking water at home, but lately I've got back into the habit of coke as my regular liquid intake. I'm thinking I should probably stop, but on the other hand I don't want to. Could someone please fabricate some scientific research to prove that the stuff is actually good for you?

And no, I'm not going to switch to diet coke. It tastes like wee.