Saturday, August 15, 2009

Names and faces

The UK Championships are up and running - if you're not following Florian Dellé's live blogging, then you jolly well should be.

There are 18 competitors, I think, from all around the world, and the number of competitors was enough to force a relocation of the championship from the basement room of Simpsons-in-the-Strand to a conference room in the Strand Palace Hotel across the road. I can't imagine how small the original venue must have been, because the new, bigger alternative has no room to swing a cat. Luckily, the UK Cat-Swinging championships aren't until next week, and memorising numbers doesn't take up quite so much space, but even so, we're quite closely packed together in a little room in the basement.

The Japanese TV crew and a couple of very enthusiastic photographers (who for some reason wanted all the lights turned out except a big spotlight at the back of the room in order to take pictures of all the competitors at their desks - possibly they saw what we all look like and decided that a shadowed effect would be the way to go) added to the crowded feel of the room, but despite the delays all the photography caused, we finished more or less on schedule. Not that it was necessary to do so, because we're not sharing our digs with chess players any more, and can spend the whole day tomorrow memorising at our leisure, without having to hurry.

A lot of the competitors are people I've met once or twice before, and knowing how good I am with putting faces to names and vice versa I was quite happy with myself when I walked into the venue and thought "There's Rick de Jong... no, it's not, it's the one who looks a bit like Rick but isn't... Dave Billington!" and was able to say "Hi Dave" with confidence as if there had never been any doubt. And I was particularly gratified when the first thing he said to me was that at least I knew his name, because Gaby Kappus had greeted him with "Hi, Rick, it's good to see you!"

They don't look all that similar, but there is a definite resemblance. However, my confidence in my name-remembering ability was a little dented when, in front of the Japanese cameras, I introduced Ameel Hoque to them only for him to say "No, I'm not Ameel, I'm Toby Caldwell. I'm new." Kanako from Japan said "But you called him Ameel!", just in case any NHK viewers had missed it and we all had a good laugh at how stupid I am.

Then a bit later, when we went into the competition room, Toby came up to me and said hi, and I laughed "Hi, Toby - see, I remember your name now!" To which he replied "What? I'm Ameel, don't you remember me? Who's Toby?" In my defence, they've both got beards. And hair. And faces. And I think they were both wearing clothes. How do you expect me to know who's who?

Anyway, I might not remember what my friends look like, but I can still remember how to memorise things. This is a competition I should be pretty confident of winning - the world's best aren't here and the next-best memoriser here is Ameel, the world number 44 (well, Dominic O'Brien and Gaby Kappus are here too, but they're arbiting and not competing). And I won the two disciplines we've had results for, words and binaries, and got a passable score in 15-minute numbers, I think. A bad score in names and faces, naturally, but I've given up all hope of doing well at that. Anyway, I'm safely in the lead after two disciplines, with Ameel in second and Florian third.

Also in attendance is Eva Ball, the UK Schools Championship winner and possibly the first British junior ever to compete at a memory competition (unless I've forgotten someone). She protests that she's no good and hasn't done any preparation, but she got the second-best score in words and an entirely acceptable result in binary to lie somewhere comfortably in the top ten overall. We have regular internationals like Rick, Florian, Pierre Berbinau, Tomasz Krasinski, Idriz Zogaj, Dagfinn Hammar and Kranthi Raj, comparatively new internationals like Mattias Ribbing, Marco Lombardo and Håkon By, and a British contingent made up of me, Eva, Ameel, Dave, Toby, Richard Bowdler (who competed for the first and only time in Cambridge 2006, so it's good to see him back - I can now add him to the list of people I've enticed into becoming regular memory competitors by virtue of organising that competition!), Bilal Arshad (new from Cambridge this year) and newcomer Antonio Campo who despite the name is from Wales. A good turnout!

Friday, August 14, 2009

I saw him one day as he stood on the Strand, stopped all of the traffic with a wave of his hand

Here I am in London, all set for a weekend of memorising. Had a fun interview with the Japanese film crew this afternoon, although the Irish radio cancelled on me (possibly something more important than a little national memory competition in another country occurred to them). And tomorrow there's a very brief chat with Radio Shropshire (two to three minutes, in an interview shared with Phil) and possibly also talking to the Sun, but there'll be a minimum of being followed around by cameras this weekend, which will make a pleasant change.

I've even gone to the trouble of finding out which disciplines we're doing on which days - on Sunday morning we seem to have a very unrealistically rushed schedule, so expect stirring tales of memorisers barricading themselves in the competition room to keep out the chess players who want to play there in the afternoon. Anyway, wish me luck, everyone. And then also wish all the other competitors luck, because it wouldn't be fair just to wish good luck for me. I'd be happier if it was one of those competitions where nobody keeps score and everyone is declared the winner, really...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A new approach to preparation

I think it sums up my attitude to the UK Championship this weekend to say that I just realised tonight that I hadn't booked a hotel yet. And also that I felt a bit annoyed today when I remembered that I'm going to this competition and so I won't have a free weekend to practice for the World Championship in November.

I think it's just that it's only two weeks since Hamburg - I'm not used to having competitions so close together. I've done no training at all, except for an Online Memory Challenge on Sunday (in which I got perfectly respectable scores in everything, so possibly I'm worrying about nothing).

I also feel guilty about not having done even the most basic preparation (like, finding out what order the disciplines are in and deciding how many cards/digits/whatevers I'm going to attempt) because it's rather rude to the people who've spent a lot of time and at least a certain amount of money organising the thing if I don't take it seriously. They've also been very enthusiastically sending out press releases, judging by the number of people who've got in touch with me this week asking for interviews. Perhaps there's still time for me to get into match fitness. The competition doesn't start until Saturday morning, after all.

I've got the afternoon off work tomorrow - I was hoping to avoid using up holidays for this one, since I've already taken quite a big chunk of the 25 days that have to last me till the end of March (down to London on Friday night, memorise for two mornings, back up again on Sunday evening, £10 each way because I bought advance tickets, bish bash bosh), but then the Japanese TV people wanted to film me, and Irish radio wanted to talk to me (listen to Today FM from 4:30 tomorrow if you're in range. And if you want to listen to my annoying voice.) so I had to take a half-day. Still, that's pretty efficient for a memory competition. I might even have a few holidays left for just sitting at home doing nothing on a work day! I haven't done that for ages!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weather report

Flying walruses dominate the skies nowadays. Ever since they started growing wings, it's become increasingly difficult to find a good place to sunbathe without the sun being obscured by great flocks of ugly, blubbery creatures performing loop-the-loops and airborne-scissors-box manoeuvres. Anybody wishing to develop a suntan should therefore head as far away from the coast as possible - walruses like to return to the water occasionally in order to check their email, and so don't normally venture more than a hundred miles from the sea.

Alternatively, for those who have difficulty finding a spot in Britain more than a hundred miles from any coast, holidaymakers could also visit Skegness, where the denizens of Natureland Seal Sanctuary have developed a kind of seaweed-based cannon to shoot down passing wing-ruses. The seals and a few of the sealions have developed a competition among themselves as to who can bring down the most flying creatures, and so there are quite often gaps to be seen in the vast, grey, tusked carpet that normally renders the brightest day as dark as a really dark night. Sunbathers who position themselves carefully and manage not to be hit by a falling seaweed-coated walrus can sometimes get as much as fifty minutes of sun exposure on a good day.

Rather a gloomy prospect, if you'll excuse the pun, but to look on the bright side, if you'll excuse the pun, at least it doesn't rain any more since the earwigs found a way to stop it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

One down, one to go

Well, that's Canada sorted for footage of me. All I really have to say about it is that Josh the director looks spookily like my dad. Or like my dad would have looked if he'd been made of something stretchy and someone had grabbed his head and pulled upwards about six inches. Josh is taller and thinner, is the point I'm trying to make here. But he's got the exact same hair (curly and originally black but unevenly fading to grey and white, bald on top and unkempt back and sides), same moustache and nearly the same sideburns (he says he just had them trimmed yesterday, so possibly they used to be the same ridiculous style as my dad's were). It was quite eerie talking to him.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Here come the Canadians

They're coming to film me tomorrow, at the inconvenient time of 4pm, meaning I have to be in work early if I'm going to get everything done. And then they'll probably be here all night recording a tedious interview that will eventually be cut out of the finished program, if the whole project doesn't get abandoned half-way through. I'm in a grumpy mood, but it's probably too late to tell them to get stuffed now. The Japanese are coming on Friday, but I'm less grumpy with them because they've sent me far fewer emails asking for more information.

Still, in more important news, it's just occurred to me that it's roughly ten years since that fateful day when I saw a big black hat in a shop in Sheffield and thought to myself "I might look good in a big black hat, and it will certainly stop people noticing that I'm starting to go bald. What the heck, I think I'll buy it." If not for that moment, I would be known today as 'the one without the hat'.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Never be without a Beano

I'm feeling extremely accomplished, because I've spent the evening cleaning my living room. Some people, I realise, do this every day, or every week at least, and it takes them about five minutes, but I prefer to leave it at least a year between cleans. But we'd got to the point where I literally couldn't see the floor under all the rubbish, and the giant clumps of dust were starting to develop sentience, so I decided it was about time. And, two full bin bags of rubbish and five or six giant piles of stuff I want to keep having been moved to other rooms, I'm pleased to say I'm now sitting in a nice, clean, tidy room! I feel like I deserve a reward of some kind.

Also today, I came across someone selling old books and comics in Beeston town centre, so I picked up a few old Beanos and other bits and pieces. "And the Viz is for you, right?" the man who sold me them laughed, and I agreed that it was, not feeling like getting into the whole discussion that they were all for me - I don't care what the intended age group of my comics is.

There are some good ones in there, too - the one from January 1986 with a competition to win a Raleigh Vektar bike, the coolest bike ever made. I entered that competition, but I didn't win. John Gray had a Vektar, which was typical of him - he was rich beyond the dreams of the average nine-year-old Clinton Park School pupil and his mum bought him anything he wanted - but I never did get one. Life is unfair.

Funnily enough, I also picked up the Beano from exactly 25 years ago, August 11th 1984, which seems like a good opportunity to compare it with this week's issue and see if it really isn't as good as it used to be. I'll do a full review of both, when I get a chance! There's something for you all to look forward to.