Friday, May 07, 2010

Getting to Bahrain was easier than this

Original plan - leave work early, get train all the way to Ebbw Vale, stay with Dai overnight, go to Newport tomorrow for memory competition.

I just about managed to get away from work early enough (leaving myself ten minutes to pack a bag before having to leave for the station), only to find that the first train on my journey had been cancelled, for no reason that anyone at the station saw fit to share with the travellers. Since Ebbw Vale is an almost impossible train station to get to, and now I wouldn't be able to get there till about half past ten, I re-evaluated my plans and decided to just get a hotel in Newport and turn down Dai's kind offer of hospitality. So all went well until we were in Gloucester at half past eight, and the tannoy announced "I'm sorry for the delay and any inconvenience it may cause. We're now moving to the end of the platform to wait at the signal, and we'll be there for some time. It seems a cow was struck by a train, and a vet's on the way to see what can be done about it."

Half an hour later, the conductor came down and told us that the situation with the cow hadn't improved, and our best bet might be to hop on the 9:15 to Bristol, then get another train back down to Newport and Cardiff. It'd take about two and a half hours, but it was probably better than just waiting here in Gloucester. I was inclined to agree with that, since the woman in a nearby seat had spent the whole thirty minutes talking to someone on the phone about the situation (spending ten minutes of this time telling her friend how to spell Gloucester - I think the idea was that the friend would look up on the internet how long it took to get to Cardiff, but the conversation didn't go beyond repeating "G-L-O-U-C-S-T-E-R" over and over again). But then the conductor returned to his little compartment and thirty seconds later announced that we were moving again. There was no further update about what the vet had been able to do about the cow.

So then I just had to (shudder) take a taxi to the Holiday Inn on a road inexplicably called "The Coldra" - do a search on this blog for "The Wardwick" to see my feelings about roads like this - and hope that I was pronouncing it right and the driver wouldn't realise I'm a foreigner and take me the long way round. I thought I was safe when the driver turned out to be Asian, but then he turned round and said "You did say the Coldra, right, guv'nor?" in the broad Welsh accent you can only get by living in Newport your entire life, and pronounced it differently to the way I'd said it, so then I had double feelings of guilt for a) secretly harbouring racist views, and b) offending a Welshman by not pronouncing place-names right.

Still, I eventually made it to the hotel, and now I suppose I should get some sleep in preparation for the competition tomorrow. Because, after all, I've done no other kind of preparation, and at least a period of unconsciousness might help a bit...

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Election fever

Hooray, it's election night. I can't stay up to watch it, since I've got to start work early tomorrow so that I can leave early and then trek down to the distant wilderness that is Ebbw Vale tomorrow evening, but I'm still very enthusiastic about the fact that it's election night.

As I've mentioned before, this is the first general election where I've been in a constituency where my vote could plausibly make any difference, so I've been quite gripped by all the twists and turns of this campaign. I'll be sorry when it's over with. In 1997, I was living in East Lindsey, under the dominion of Sir Peter Tapsell, who'd been Conservative MP for the rural wilds of Lincolnshire since long before I was born, and who is still MP there now (although boundary changes mean he's now MP for "Louth and Horncastle" instead). He'll be Father of the House when Parliament reconvenes, now that the even more ancient Alan Williams has retired. At eighty years old, he knows he can say and do whatever he likes, and still be guaranteed well over fifty percent of the votes in his constituency, so expect to see him continue to vote with his excessively right-wing conscience against any modern Conservative policies that come his way.

In 2001, I was in Boston (with Skegness), where it was thought for a while that Labour might take the seat from the traditional Conservative majority (Sir Richard Body, who everyone either voted for or would-have-voted-for-if-only-he-wasn't-a-Tory was retiring, and the new candidate was very young). But then their campaigning, which consisted of driving a loudspeaker van around the towns and villages constantly blaring "Vote Labour! Vote Labour!" made everyone hate them, and the yuppie-ish new Conservative Mark Simmonds won it easily enough.

By 2005, I'd moved to a safe Labour seat for a change - in Derby South, nobody really liked Margaret Beckett, but it was understood that everyone would be voting for her anyway. And indeed they did. Politics can be strange.

This one, though, I still don't know who'll win. Probably the Conservatives. But we'll see tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


That's the sound you make when a small lobster jumps down your throat unexpectedly. But that didn't happen to me today, so don't worry. What did happen is that I got up early and went down to London on the train packed with commuters who presumably do that every day, the poor things. Then it was into the Japanese crew's minibus like some sort of Cliff Richard and out to Greenwich, where Dominic monitored my brainwaves by means of sticking electrodes to my head.

The scanning apparently showed something interesting, but I don't really get the whole idea behind it. Still, it proves I've got a brain, if I was still doubting it after the MRI in Tokyo. And that's that for this latest bout of TV fame and glory. I can go back to normality now - or at least as close to normality as you can get at a memory competition in south Wales.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Brain drain

London tomorrow on the early-morning train, where brainwave-scanning things will happen for the entertainment of Fuji TV's viewers. I need to go to bed, I haven't had nearly enough sleep lately, with one thing and another. I didn't mention that on Sunday night/Monday morning in the hotel the fire alarm went off at four o'clock. Everybody was just coming sleepily out of their rooms when it stopped, and we all just shrugged and went back to bed.

Monday, May 03, 2010

I'm Martin Sheen, I'm Steve McQueen, I'm Jimmy Dean

Before I talk about the Cambridge Memory Championship, let me just say that I've found a website that's supposed to use super-technology to identify celebrities who look like you:

I have to say that none of those people look terribly like me, or indeed like each other, but I take this as evidence that the person I'm most likely to be mistake for on the street is Jackie Chan, which is extremely groovy.

Anyway, Cambridge! I couldn't go to the othello on Saturday because I hadn't finished all the preparations for Sunday (in my defence, it's a lot of work, and I'm extremely lazy), which is a shame because a lot of other players couldn't go either - the Cambridge Regional clashed with the Copenhagen International, and there were only four players who chose Cambridge. Apparently Iain won again, which pretty much confirms him as BGP champion this year.

So it was on Saturday afternoon that I hauled my big rucksack full of memorisation and recall papers, packs of cards, speed cards timers and my laptop down to Cambridge on the train. I stayed in Cityroomz, having been sensible enough to book the room in advance for the first time in my life, and found it as delightful as always.

I got up super-early on Sunday morning, allowing the maximum possible time to walk (or stagger) all the way to Trinity College from the hotel next to the train station, since the buses don't run so early on a Sunday morning and I'm not going to compromise my principles and take a taxi just because I've got a rucksack that's too heavy for anyone other than Geoff Capes to lift. I got there a bit before 8:30 (start time was nine o'clock, but there are always people who get there early, even if I tell everyone they'll have to wait outside in the rain because the man with the key won't have got there yet) and bumped into Dai and John on the way there. Dave and Nelson were already hanging around, too, and we got suspicious questions from a porter who thought we might be up to no good.

Aubrey turned up promptly, with the key, and let us into the room. I'd asked for the room at the back, rather than the Big Glass Cube, since it's slightly farther away from the loud beeping lift, but it didn't make very much difference - it still could be clearly heard going BING-BONG! at unexpected moments. There were also other games tournaments taking place in the BGC - draughts in the morning and backgammon in the afternoon, which provided a bit of background noise too (especially the latter, with the rattling dice), but I'd say there was an adequate level of silence roughly 75% of the time, which I suppose is acceptable for a cheap little memory competition. The room was also rather too small for the eleven competitors, four arbiters and enormous film crew, but we managed well enough.

Yes, there was the enormous Japanese film crew, which led to another person hanging around too - Trinity College rules apparently require a Fellow or a Porter to be present during any filming. Imre, who arranged the rooms for the Cambridge MSO, is a Fellow (I wish I was a Fellow, it's a really great-sounding thing to call yourself) but was one of those othello players who prefers Copenagen, so Fuji TV had to pay for a porter to stand guard. Trinity College Porters wear bowler hats, which makes it probably the awesomest job in the world. I'm going to change careers.

Eleven competitors, from six different countries. Seven if you count Wales as being foreign! Two of these competitors, the Danish ones, weren't taking part in all the disciplines, which is probably a good thing because I hadn't been able to get a Danish translation for the dates.

Team Sweden - Idriz, Mattias and Oliver - put in a strong performance, especially Mattias, who narrowly won the Words and Names & Faces disciplines. The Swedish championship in September (they're promising 100,000 spectators, which seems a little optimistic) should be interesting. The speed cards was won by all-American hero Nelson Dellis, with a time of just over a minute - he's got to be favourite for the US Championship next year. Runner-up in all three of those, and winner of all the others, often by a vast margin, was the new German superstar Christian Schäfer. His scores included 693 in 5-minute binary, 653 in 15-minute numbers, 260 in abstract images and 81 in dates - world-class results all four. He's now moved up to number 14 in the world rankings and is one to watch out for at the World Championship in August.

Nelson's speed cards was just enough to knock old campaigner and best-of-Team-Britain James Ponder down to third place overall, while Christian's win ensured that the German domination of the Cambridge Championship continues - four of the five winners now have been Germans (nobody's ever won it twice).

Incidentally, Sir John Houblon has been haunting me lately. The Japanese TV crew have been paying for all their incidental expenses with a huge wad of £50 notes (that kind of thing is perfectly normal in Japan, but perhaps I shouldn't be mentioning it here where the chances of being mugged are somewhat higher), and then Oliver paid his entry fee with another fifty. I can't remember the last time I saw a £50 note, and now they're everywhere.

We finished not on time, but not too late, and went to a Chinese restaurant in the evening. I had plenty of time to stand around chatting to people, not too much time spent talking to the cameras (they continue to be a lot of fun), and everything went more or less smoothly all the way through!

Back to work tomorrow, on Wednesday it's down to London where Dominic will do something with my brainwaves, another couple of days of trying to get my real job done, then Wales on Saturday for my first competition (as a competitor) of the season. I haven't done enough training, as per usual.