Saturday, November 21, 2009

We're with the bear

I tell you, there's nothing like staying up till three in the morning when you've got a cold to make you feel all the worse the next day. Actually, I was feeling so yucky last night that I almost decided to skip the phone-answering, but I'm glad I didn't - not only was it fun, it's so mild outside at the moment now that I think a couple of late-night bike rides to work and back made me feel a lot better than wallowing in my germs at home would have done.

Anyway, enough whining. What with going out last night, I didn't have a chance to write a blog and tell you about my day on Friday. The highlight, among all the various fund-raising activities going on at the office, was entering a guess the name of the bear competition and winning it! Well, it was obvious, really - the options were Bartholomew and a lot of stupid modern names that people call their children nowadays. So Bartholomew, an extremely cool giant teddy (he'd come up about to my waist if he stood up, which he can't do since his legs are stuck in a sitting position) is now making friends with all my much smaller cuddly toys in my bedroom. I hope he's not bullying them.

There was also a second, less cool, part of the prize - a pair of "designer sunglasses". Funnily enough, they look exactly like my cheap Specsavers prescription sunglasses that I rarely wear, except they've got "Police" written on them in small letters. I don't really need these designer shades, and there doesn't seem much point in going to the effort of getting prescription lenses put in them so I don't have to wear them on top of my normal glasses, so somebody can expect them as a Christmas present from me.

Not somebody I like all that much, obviously, seeing as I've just spent the last paragraph deriding them. I'll give them to one of my enemies, assuming I manage to make any enemies between now and Christmas.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Does a lot of work for charity, doesn't like to talk about it

Remember that thing with helping children learn to read in schools? I am still doing it, it's just taken a little while to get everything arranged. But as of next Tuesday lunchtime, I'm having infants read Magic Key books to me on a one-to-one kind of basis. The school is really keen to get men doing this, because they've got a shortage of male role-models for the kids, apparently. I don't think I'd make a very good role-model, but I suppose beggars can't be choosers.

Also, I'm manning the phones for Children in Need again tomorrow, 9pm until 2am. So call in, and maybe I'll take your money!

And in non-charitable news, here's a memory statistic: If I'd got my 25.97-second pack and Simon had got his 20.93, I would have won the World Championship by 35 championship points. 8058 to 8023. Now that would have been a great finish! We would have had to have demanded a recount...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Stooges and sneezes

I've got a cold and need sympathy, but on the other hand a comments-thread on my blog inspired me to look into the Three Stooges in more detail and watch some of their shorts on YouTube, so now I'm completely hooked on their antics. Heehee, I do love slapstick, I don't know why I've never watched them before. I'm impressed by the remakes and reused footage in their later films, too - I've never seen that kind of thing done outside cartoons...

It's a great comfort to my sore red nose. More of a comfort than these Kleenex Balsam tissues "with protective balm", certainly. I think the whole protective balm thing is just a lie.

Hey, did I ever tell you about the time I met a guy called Rudolf Reinders? Well, if I didn't, that's basically the whole story right there, but I really did. He's German and old and was born before the Red-Nosed Reindeer became a celebrity, so it's just a coincidence. He plays Chinese chess really well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


While making announcements at the WMC, Tony regularly referred to China as what the internet tells me is written Zhōngguó. A couple of times, he also felt that he should do the same for Germany, so described them as Allemagne. But this made me think that if I don't even know how to say 'China' in Chinese, and if I'm probably going there for the WMC next year, and seeing as my brother now lives over there, I really should learn how to speak the language.

So I bought myself a "Teach Yourself Beginner's Mandarin Chinese" course from Waterstone's on my way home one night. While serving me, the man behind the till said something Chinese, possibly "You're welcome" or "Good luck", but I wouldn't know. Enough to demonstrate that everybody speaks the language but me, anyway. However, having started the course, I'm now convinced that I'm never going to be able to speak it. Or even half-attempt to speak it, like I can with Japanese. I'm pretty sure my tongue is too fat and useless to deal with proper Chinese pronunciation, and my voice is too generally silly to cope with intonation. Maybe I'll just concentrate on learning German and assume that the China deal is going to fall through.

In more positive news, thanks to Ray Keene, I can confirm that the WMC trophy is the work of Louis-Ernest Barrias (although this website calls him Eugene), and it's "Fame", or possibly "La Renommé". But how do you say that in Chinese?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Well, I think it's cool

I don't think I've mentioned yet that I've now accomplished that statistic that I was aiming for - I've now won the last eight memory competitions I've competed in, which is a new record. Woo, and hoo, and hooray for me!

In more visually exciting news, I'm sure most of my readers have already checked this out, but there are lots and lots and lots of photos on - click here and here to see just about everybody who was at the WMC, in the middle of memorising, recalling and generally hanging around. Great work, Florian!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ahhh, Doctor Who

What better thing to come home to than a new Doctor Who? It's been much too long. And, well, it wasn't an all-time classic, but it was riveting and fun to watch. I'm hopeful that the new series, new actors, new producer next year will move away from the very formulaic stories we've had for the last few years (It's an isolated group of eight ordinary humans facing attack from weird aliens! It's an everyday item (water!) becoming our enemy! It's humans being posessed and turning into eerie aliens! It's a geeky American genius, too!), but sometimes there's nothing wrong with telling the exact same story over and over again if you can still do it well. And tonight's special, being 45 minutes of standard-new-Doctor-Who-plot-#1 followed a little jarringly by 10 minutes of foreshadowing for the upcoming climax, was one of the better base-under-siege stories we've seen. The human characters were less annoyingly written and had distinctive personalities, for one thing. And I love David Tennant, and I don't want to see him leave. Let's hope he gets a good send-off at Christmas...

The London Charivari

Just a lot of random things of interest that have happened over the last few days:

As I mentioned earlier, the competitor briefing on Wednesday night went very smoothly indeed. There weren't nearly as many questions and debates about the rules as usual. This is mainly a testament to the organisation of the event, but possibly also due to most competitors' minds being distracted by questions about paper flowers. The briefing being held on November 11th, all the vast contingent of foreign visitors, newly arrived in the country, sought out the rather more scarce British representatives to ask what the poppies were all about. It must be a bit strange, really - you come to a foreign land for a competition, you've read all the guidebooks telling you about everyday life for the average Brit, and then you step off the plane to find everybody wearing a paper poppy in their lapel. Foreigners may want to click here for an explanation.

Foreigners were certainly abundant at the World Memory Championship, as usual. There were 63 competitors, or 64 if Rich Bowdler was in fact there - he was listed on all the score printouts and even had points credited to him in the Hour Numbers, but I didn't see him all weekend. Was he there, or was he a figment of someone's imagination? I never had the time to ask. Twenty of these competitors were German, sixteen were Chinese, whereas Team England could only muster seven or eight entrants, depending on how Bowdlerised it was. The rest came from an eclectic mix of globetrotters, most notably Sweden and Norway, who had a real tussle for fourth place in the team rankings. There was also James from Wales, who probably doesn't count as a foreigner, but was his own one-man national team since Dai wasn't there.

All the articles in newspapers and on the internet (of which here are a few) say there were 74 competitors, but that's presumably what the early press releases said, before everybody had arrived and they'd actually counted the number of people there. Even so, 63 or 64 is nothing to be ashamed of - it comfortably beats the all-time record for the number of competitors, and in terms of average quality too, this championship was light-years ahead of the previous record-holder (2003, 46 competitors but most of them being young Malaysian beginners).

The prizegiving ceremony was as much fun as usual, lots of medals and certificates and applause, and it was interesting to see a wider assortment of competitors sharing the medals between them this year. I was only first place in two of the ten disciplines, second in another three and third in one. I didn't even end up with the top score in Speed Cards - Wang Feng beat me by half a second in the second trial! Just a few years ago, a time under 40 seconds was a remarkable achievement, now it's a pretty commonplace kind of thing.

The head honcho of next year's World Championship in China gave a speech - very impressively, since he apparently speaks no English and was reading from a script - telling us all what a great event it was going to be. It does sound like it'll be a good one, although I need to improve a LOT if I'm going to have any chance of winning again. I can't keep relying on scraping through with a good speed cards.

I got some great souvenirs, too - check it out:

A cool knotty-thing from China, and a pack of My Neighbour Totoro cards from the Japanese film crew! I've said it before and I'll say it again, the Japanese team are by far the best documentary people I've ever worked with (and I did really like quite a lot of the other ones I've worked with before). I can't wait to see the final product, although I will have to wait until January.

There is also a new permanent trophy for the World Memory Championship - a hefty great bronze statuette by some 19th-century sculptor who, in Ray Keene's words, was regarded as better than Rodin in his day. I can't remember his name (and nor could Tony Buzan when he presented me with the trophy), and I'm not much of a sculpture expert - if there are any such people out there, could you suggest who it might have been? I think it started with B. And could you tell me whether 'regarded as better than Rodin in his day' is actually a good thing to be? Wasn't Rodin a classic example of unappreciated-in-his-lifetime?

The statue is of a winged woman, possibly Mnemosyne but probably just some woman with wings, and I only 'won' it in the sense that I was allowed to lift it up and show it to the TV cameras. It's like the Wimbledon trophy, Ray explained, although I think the Wimbledon trophy is on display at Wimbledon all year round, whereas this one presumably just goes back to wherever it normally lives - Ray's house? Some museum somewhere? Some other championship for which it also serves as the trophy? Anyway, in all seriousness, it is a very nice piece of work, and I can see why Mr B the sculptor was so admired by Rodin-haters.

I did genuinely win (and was allowed to take home) a very tasteful and stylish glass trophy, much nicer than last year's, proclaiming that I'm the World Memory Champion. I also collected my UK Championship trophy which I'd left behind in August when I went home early. And that one is a really beautiful work of art, I really love it. Trophies nowadays are so much cooler than the ugly tin cups I won in memory competitions in the olden days, and I'm very grateful to the organisers.

So, for those who haven't been paying attention, I'm now the World Memory Champion for the third time, equalling Andi Bell's achievement and second only to Dominic O'Brien's eight titles. And without meaning to detract from Dominic's genuine awesomeness, it was so very much easier to win the World Championship in his heyday that I don't think anybody's ever going to equal that record now. There are just so many very, very, very good memorisers out there now!

Numerologists might be interested to note that my wins follow exactly the same pattern as Andi's (1998, 2002, 2003) - the second win was four years after the first, and then the third was the year after that. Andi never won it again, of course, which might be seen as a bad omen for me, but then Andi by that stage of his memory career was publicly calling the organisers corrupt, dishonest and suchlike and trying to set up his own breakaway championship, and I haven't quite gone that far just yet, so maybe I'm still good for a couple more world titles.

I would like to win a team title too, though. We need more English memorisers! When the top ten in this year's championship came up on stage at the end, I was flanked by five Germans and four Chinese. England was a distant third in the team standings - there are Englanders out there who are quite good at the whole memory thing but who didn't come this year, like Andi, Ed, Katie, James Ponder and so on, but still, let's recruit some more people this year and stop the newspapers talking about the Germans and Chinese taking over 'our' sport!

That will do for now, I think. I'm sure you're all getting tired of world memory championship news by now. Let's just finish by saying a big thank you to all the other competitors for making this the toughest and most exciting competition ever (it's replaced 2003 as my favourite WMC of all time), a huuuuuge thank you to all the arbiters and organisers, especially Chris Day because I called him 'Phil' while giving my speech at the end of the prize ceremony (it was late and I was tired) and Phil Chambers because I confused him with Chris Day. Names and faces will never be my speciality, I'm afraid.