Saturday, August 27, 2011


We finished the competition yesterday more or less on time, so I was planning to not stay the extra night in London and come back home instead. But literally thirty seconds after leaving the building, it suddenly started raining so heavily that I was soaked from head to foot! And while a drop of water never hurt anyone, my blue suede shoes (stylish but not very practical) got completely waterlogged. So, not being the kind of person who brings more than one pair of shoes with him anywhere, I decided to stay in London for the night after all and not go home with soggy feet. You get pneumonia that way, I've heard.

So anyway, I'm eventually home now, and it's just started pouring with rain again up here as I write this. I'll chronicle the second half of the UK Championship when I have the time. Maybe tonight, but Doctor Who's back and there's football too...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Boris Bikes!

London is awesome! You can hire bikes for next to nothing and ride them all around the city and then drop them off in the amazing computerised bike stands that know where you've come from and who you are! As well as cycling from the hall of residence to the competition venue and back, I decided to not buy a travelcard and cycle from Hoxton into the bit of London that I know (the bit with the comic shops and this internet cafe - which incidentally isn't the really cool internet cafe I always used to go to, because that's turned into a trendy wine bar, or a Co-operative Bank or something along those lines, but this one is nice too and actually cheaper than the other one used to be), but after half an hour of going in circles I realised that London is actually quite hard to navigate, so I got a travelcard anyway. But the point is, Boris Bikes are groovy.

Anyway, there was also the UK Memory Championship today. It's in another splendid MWB Business Exchange conference room, which is spacious, quiet and ideal for this kind of event. We had a total of seven people turn up at the start of the day - not so bad for a competition arranged at three weeks' notice - me, the double-act of Jameses Paterson and Ponder, Rick de Jong from Holland and Mattias Ribbing from Sweden, US Champion Nelson Dellis and newcomer Londoner... damn, I'm not sure about this now I come to think about it... Martin Mwaka. Something Mwaka, anyway. I wish I knew how to remember people's names. Anyway, new British memory competitor! These are rare and precious individuals who need to be celebrated! We'll assemble a team of three for the World Championships one day, I know it!

During the course of the day we were also joined by Florian Dellé, who'd been meaning to compete but ended up just watching, and American newcomer who happened to be in town with nothing to do Jay Adams. Or a name similar to Jay Adams, anyway. See above. The Filipino duo who were also expected haven't yet been spotted, but maybe tomorrow. The exceptionally smooth running of the competition was thanks to Phil Chambers, Chris Day, Nathalie Lecordier, Gaby Kappus, someone who I met last year who laughed at me because I couldn't remember him and whose name I've now forgotten again, and probably someone else too. Full credit will be given in my next blog, because these people really are wonderful.

We started with everyone's favourite, names and faces - this is the first time any competition has done fifteen-minute names and faces under the slightly different new rules, meaning that the winner would be the world record holder at least until the German Championship in a couple of weeks. I was experimenting with a stricter journey-based memorising method, and thought I'd got a score of seventy-something, but it turned out only to be fifty-something, which just goes to show that I remain rubbish at names and faces, if anyone had ever dared to think otherwise. James Paterson remains great at them, and set the new world record score.

Then we moved on to binary, and the inescapable fact is that I'm not as good at that as I used to be. A bit more practice could bump my scores back up over four thousand, but my recall is just too patchy at the moment and it's annoying. I got a score in the 3400s, which was good enough to beat everyone else, but is short of where I want to be by quite a long way.

Abstract images went rather better, though - I'm at a point where I can comfortably do four journeys (300 images) in fifteen minutes with only a couple of mistakes, and so that's what I did, but by the time the world championship comes round I'll need to have stretched that to five if I want to be competitive. Anyway, a score of 288 (58 correct rows and two incorrect) was good enough for now.

In speed numbers I started with a 'safe' 360, noticing in the process that I was feeling tired and wasn't anywhere near as fast as I've been in practice at home, but had a mistake and ended up with a score of 320. For the second trial I had a go at the big 480, but was nowhere near getting it right.

And finally it was 30-minute numbers, and my plan was to try for six journeys, seven if I was feeling stupidly optimistic. But by the time I got to the third one I noticed that absolutely nothing was sinking into my brain at all. So I switched tracks and decided to try an experiment I've been meaning to work on - just going for four journeys (936 digits) and trying to get them all perfectly correct. For devoted followers of my memory techniques, this involves going through each journey quickly twice, then closing my eyes and trying to recall everything, only looking at the page when I hit a blank, and then making sure I cement the missing digits in my brain. It's slow and laborious, but it does work. Then I had time for another quick run through the 936 digits before the end of the memorising time, and it was a pretty successful experiment all in all. I had a couple of very annoying gaps early on, but after that I had an unbroken sequence that I was about 95% confident was perfect (which means there will undoubtedly be some silly mistakes, but not too many).

This is quite encouraging, because my recall in everything, but especially numbers, has been very very gappy in practice lately, and this shows that I can still do a nearly-perfect recall if I just change my ways and don't try for too much. A near-perfect 1170 would be entirely acceptable in the German championship, and we'll have to see what I can do in the hour numbers once that's out of the way.

Anyway, that leaves me comfortably ahead of the field at the end of day one, for what it's worth. There's no way to say this without sounding conceited, but there was never really any prospect of me not winning here, the important thing was to see what kind of score I can get in a real competition, and I'm not unhappy with how it's gone. I'm lacking the stamina to do a full day without flagging, but I knew that would happen, it's the first time I've really done a long day's work since last December, and it'll come back with a tiny bit more practice.

So now to bed - should I take a bike, or the tube? Probably better play it safe.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


I like serendipity. I've been reading my way through the complete Sherlock Holmes in spare moments, and on the train journey down to London today, I got up to "The Bruce-Partington Plans", involving a dead body at Aldgate underground station. Woo, I thought, I'm going down there today! It's the nearest tube station to the competition venue! I was planning to go to Old Street first, drop my bags off at the hotel and then walk down there, so as I know how to get there tomorrow, but I decided it might be fun to do it the other way round and see the location of the thrilling story I'm half-way through reading. Especially when the train arrived at St Pancras just as Sherlock Holmes was deducing that the body had actually been on the roof of the train - closing my book, I made a mental note of the page number and found that it was 408, which in the Ben System is "roof". What more sign could anyone need that the fates want me to go to Aldgate?

And it's very cool, too - the stairs are easily a hundred years old, so Holmes, Watson and Lestrade came down those very stairs, stood on the platform and peered into the tunnel in the direction I'd just come from. It's great to walk in the footprints of fictional heroes.

The venue proved easy to find, and the walk up to my hotel was easily navigated. And it turned out to be a good thing I'd gone to Aldgate first, because that meant I arrived at the hall of residence just on the stroke of two o'clock, and it turned out that the reception closes for lunch between one and two, so if I'd done things the sensible way I would have just had to turn around and lug my baggage back into the streets of London anyway!

So here I am, it's a lovely day, and I've been all around the town - I went to the Royal Festival Hall, where fourteen years ago I had my first encounter with the Mind Sports Olympiad, with mind sports enthusiasts generally and (at a distance without paying much attention to it) the world of competitive memorising! Just give me a time machine, and I could go back to 1997 and win the World Championship by a mile and a half. And tell my 20-year-old self fourteen years' worth of winning lottery numbers.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

London beckons

Tomorrow I'm going to London! Stay tuned for exciting accounts of Thursday and Friday's competition! I'm staying in a hall of residence, booked at the last minute and refreshingly cheap. This is important, because I've got no money.

I have, however, got a certain amount of preparation under my metaphorical belt (I'm too fat to need an actual belt), and looking forward to the championship. We'll see just how big a fool I do or don't make of myself - I'm alternating between optimism and pessimism with quite alarming mood swings at the moment.

Monday, August 22, 2011

He wasn't!

Another of the Google searches that lead a lot of people to my blog is "Douglas Fairbanks Jr gay" or variants thereof. I didn't realise I was propagating a scurrilous rumour when I innocently posted an advert for his thrilling story.

But seriously, he wasn't. If you search for that on the internet, you'll find absolutely nothing to suggest even the slightest hint of gayness about him. Which for a Hollywood actor is pretty unusual in itself. Just because the poor man wrote (or, more likely, had ghost-written for him) a story with a title that in later years became a double entendre is no reason to start speculating about his sexuality!

Not that there's anything wrong with that, obviously.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Drat, I forgot to blog today

And I'm still determined to keep up the daily chronicle. But it's past my bedtime already, and I do need to get up early tomorrow for work. Well, not really need to as such, but I'm also determined to get up early in the mornings. Determination isn't something I'm good at.