Saturday, December 28, 2013

Whatever you want

There's an advert on TV at the moment that uses Status Quo's "Whatever You Want" as its music. I have no idea what the advert's for, because every time it's on I get baffled by the way the song is edited right at the end, so the lyrics go "I could take you home you can't refuse". That sounds a bit like a threat, doesn't it? Maybe that's what the advert's for?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hmm

So, having spent all year gushing about how great the latest Doctor Who adventure was, does that give me the right to complain that the Christmas episode was rubbish? Probably not, I'll just keep quiet about it.

Anyway, sorry for the silence - the new year will bring new blogging and stuff from me, because if all goes well I'll have a lot more time on my hands! Yay! Happy New Year, everybody!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Scooter is the Aquaman of the Muppet Babies

God, I love The Big Bang Theory. Why did I avoid watching it for so many years? And who's going to buy me the box set for Christmas?

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Cave Of Skulls

I was in a hotel on Saturday night, so I'd probably have to pretend I missed Doctor Who. But we're only pretending it's fifty years ago, so let your mind slip back to half past five on Saturday November 30, 1963, and we'll watch the second episode of this new science-fiction series that was fun last week!

Actually, first, we get to watch the first episode again - repeated for the benefit of everyone who was distracted by John F Kennedy or power cuts last weekend. But now we get that spooky opening sequence again (since it was on twice in the repeat already tonight, we're getting very used to it by now), and then we pick up where we left off, with the TARDIS in a barren, rocky wilderness and an ominous shadow approaching it.

The shadow turns out to be a caveman, looking mystified, as well he might. Then we cut to a cave where a whole lot of cavepeople (wearing appropriate unidentifiable-animal-furs) gather around a man who's trying to start a fire. The camera focuses for quite some time on a woman with very 1960s-looking permed hair, for some reason, before panning up to an old woman who contemptously mocks the firemaker, Za - between them they deliver the appropriate exposition.

It really is gripping stuff, right from the start! The cavepeople talk in BBC English, rather than the usual grunting, but their dialogue and actions really capture a primitive mindset - Za's father knew how to make fire but didn't pass on the secret before he was killed, so now Za tries to recreate his actions by rolling a bone between his hands and glaring at a pile of twigs. The old woman thinks fire is a bad thing, because they didn't have it in her day. There's real personality here, it's great writing.

Will the outsider, Kal, replace Za as leader and get the most attractive woman, Hur? But back in the TARDIS, Barbara and Ian wake up among the knick-knacks. The Doctor and Susan are looking at the instruments and the scanner screen to see where they are. And when - although the yearometer is broken, so they're not sure on that point. The Doctor doesn't answer to "Dr Foreman", and is unhelpful to Ian's demands that he open the door. Still, he knows he's gone back in time and wants to establish the year with the aid of a few rock samples and his geiger counter.

Out they go, much to Ian's astonishment (Barbara takes it all in her stride, comparatively speaking). It's cold outside, there are unseen birds squawking off-camera, and the Doctor's most concerned by the fact that the police box is still a police box, rather than having changed shape to match their surroundings. He wanders off, followed by that caveman. Ian, Barbara and Susan investigate an animal skull, then Barbara tries to reassure Ian that they'll just have to put up with all this insanity.

The Doctor lights his pipe - an amazingly huge thing, is it a pipe of the future? But he's attacked by the caveman, and the others can only find his hat and smashed geiger counter. "He may have been taken," Ian intones. Susan, meanwhile, demonstrates that her acting range has two modes; deadpan and hysterical screaming. She finds the Doctor's precious notebook, which he'd never leave behind. As they go off to look for him, Ian notes that the sand is freezing cold. This gets a burst of dramatic music, as if it's important.

But we cut back to the cave, where cavechildren are playing, and the cave politics plays out between the adults - Kal has been boasting that he's seen people make fire and will probably learn how to do it if they make him leader ("Orb" will tell him). Za vows to make everyone follow him instead. Then in comes Kal, carrying the Doctor. Excellently, he describes the TARDIS as 'a strange tree', and praises his own bravery in approaching it when Za would have run away. The exchanges between the cavemen are just awesome.

Kal promises to get the Doctor to make fire and insists that the others acclaim him as leader - they live somewhere where tigers and bears are a problem, incidentally. The Doctor wakes up and tries to talk his way out of it by promising to make fire, but then it turns out he's lost his matches. Za takes advantage of this by denouncing Kal as a liar and getting the tribe back on his side. They display a talent for sarcasm as they laugh at him.

Then Ian, Barbara and Susan come in and stage a hopeless attempt at a rescue. The Doctor insists that there'll be no fire if they kill Ian, so Za reaches a compromise and announces that they'll be killed the next morning as a sacrifice to Orb. Meanwhile, they're imprisoned in the cave of skulls. While caveman-politics plays out between the various characters, our heroes are in a cave full of skulls, and do their best to get out of the bonds holding their wrists together. The cavemen seem to be good at knots. And also at splitting skulls open. Next episode, "The Forest Of Fear".

This was fun, although you would have expected a bit more focus on the four time-travellers. Instead, it's the cavemen who are the really interesting ones...

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Remembering the world again

I'm actually quite pleasantly surprised by how well I did at the world championship - I went into it with the intention of just getting okay scores in everything and not trying for any big results, and I achieved that quite admirably. 500 championship points in each discipline is a respectable target to aim for, and I did it in nearly everything (names and faces doesn't count, of course).

The good thing about the current schedule for the WMC is that names and faces comes first, so we can get it out of the way. One of these days, I'll work out a good way to do it, but until then a score of 53 or so will just have to do. It was close at the top of the leaderboard, though - Boris Konrad won with 106, just barely ahead of Jonas von Essen and James Paterson on 105. Boris was hugely delighted with the result, jumping up and down and celebrating (the Germans have always liked to use lofty titles like "World Champion of Names and Faces Discipline") and James was just as thrilled with his silver medal, having achieved in one stroke his aim for the whole competition.

We got the results of the names and faces at the usual time, after lunch, incidentally, despite the WMC's strict new schedule of not announcing anything until the following morning. Scores, though, were uploaded in a timely manner onto the statistics website (at those times when it wasn't broken or the wifi at the conference centre wasn't dead - as I've mentioned before, memory competitions have an amazing talent for breaking the internet) and the top ten announced with a minimum of confusion by Tony. It was still necessary to print out pieces of paper and stick them to the walls for everyone to crowd around, but that's all part of the fun of the world memory championship!

One thing we did have on the big screen was Andy Fong's timer, showing how much time was left for memory and recall, and a traffic-light graphic telling competitors when they could and couldn't leave the room during the recall period (stay in your seats in the first and last five minutes, please) - it really worked, too!

Binary digits came next, and bearing in mind the UK Championship, when I went through them at my normal speed and only got a score around 2000 (and not having done a single bit of training since then), I was extra-slow and careful, reading them once then closing my eyes and trying to make sure I remembered everything. I got through about 3700 digits in that way, and was hoping for a score a bit above 3000 (which I've always seen as the minimum 'cool' score in binary), but ended up with 2810.

Other people were rather cooler - I fondly remember the days when only Gunther and I ever scored over 3000, but this year we had a winning score of 3841 from Jonas, and three more 3000-plus results from Johannes Mallow, Ola Kåre Risa and Christian Schäfer. I think of that lot as the 'new generation' of memory, although there's a new new generation now who'll be winning championships before long. I must be getting old.

And we finished with hour numbers. I was again super-careful with this one, reading each journey three times and trying to be certain I got it fixed in my head. I spent about six minutes on each journey before moving on to the next, when my normal time to aim for is two and a half. Probably a good plan, because when I eventually moved on to the seventh journey I felt that my brain couldn't take any new information, so I gave it up half-way through and just concentrated on the 1521 digits I'd looked at. And I got a final score of 1360 (you lose 40 points for making a mistake in a row... wait, did I get that final one digit wrong, or did they forget to mark it? I want a stewards' enquiry!) Of course, 2000 is the 'cool' score nowadays, and three people surpassed that once-unthinkable level - Jonas, alarmingly good Mongolian newcomer Namuuntuul Bat-Erdene (who also beat me in binary) and Christian top-scoring with 2351. I've never ever done 2000 in a competition, even when I was top of the world.

Also on Saturday I had my first interview with the Telegraph. On the two following days I was interviewed by two more people from the same newspaper, leading me to think that they've got a serious over-staffing problem. They've got an accuracy problem as well - Tony Buzan was very keen for me to sue them for misquoting me in Sunday's article, to get memory sports that extra bit of publicity, but I don't think I really want to become the kind of person who sues newspapers. Although it might be a good way to raise some extra cash...

Day 2 started bright and early - the weather was really nice, incidentally, dry and sometimes sunny, and never particularly cold. I was staying in the Travelodge just down the road, and it's got my recommendation if you're ever visiting Croydon. And we launched straight in to the abstract images. I haven't looked at my images flashcards (bits of paper) for months, so I decided to be extra extra careful with this one, and just attempt 200. The big names do well over 400 now, and so although I got a perfect score of 200, it was way behind Jonas's 459, Johannes's 425 and Christian's 418. Those three were clearly the hot favourites after the first day - Hannes had been unwell on the Saturday afternoon and hadn't got a good score in hour numbers, but you can never rule him out.

And this was amply demonstrated in 5-minute numbers. I went for a safe 240 (which used to be my 'safe' score donkeys' years ago, before I bumped it up to a safe-ish 360) and got it right, but Johannes either threw caution to the wind or is hugely confident in his abilities (or else he's a daredevil who does the 'risky' score in the first trial and then a safe one in the second if that goes wrong) and produced a new world record 501! That proved unbeatable, even by himself in the second trial, with number-whiz Tsogbadrakh Saikhanbayar (remember him from the memoriad last year?) in second with 440, and the much-improved-all-of-a-sudden Marwin Wallonius third with 360.

Marwin is of course the second part of Team Sweden - if they add a third top-level competitor, maybe they'll be challenging Team Germany's monopoly of the team championship?

In between the two trials of speed numbers, so that the first could be scored and announced before the second, came historic dates (why did it take so many years to realise that doing it this way would save a lot of time?) I used to be awesome at historic dates even without doing any training for it, but I suppose I was benefitting from the general mindset of having practiced, because I'm not nearly as good when I'm mentally out of shape like I am at the moment. Still, a score of 72 would have been awesome in the old days, so maybe it's just that everyone else is getting better. Anyway, Johannes won what has always been one of his specialist subjects, with 116, but Jonas was close behind on 106 and Christian on 92.

And then in the afternoon it was hour cards. I'm always confident of getting a good result here, even without any training, but I played it safe and went for just 21 packs, hoping to make sure I got them all right. Despite which, to my annoyance, several of them just didn't feel quite right when I came to write them down - I ended up with a respectable 18 packs, 936 cards. Jonas was top of the tree again with 1266, followed closely by my protegé Ola with 1224. In third place was the third Mongolian to get a top-three-in-a-discipline medal, Sengesamdan Ulziikhutag, with 960.

I had been hovering alarmingly around tenth place all weekend - my stated aim being to finish in the top ten and still look like a half-way competent memoriser, it was looking worryingly like I might not even achieve that. I had to step it up a gear or two on the final day.

Along comes random words, and either they were easier than usual or my mind was in a more relaxed kind of state without the stress of being good at memorising numbers, because I breezed through 181 words without any kind of problem, head-scratching or having to mentally run through the list of every word I know to try to remember the one I've forgotten. That was the fifth-best score, the kind of position I'd be happy with even if I was at my best, since I've never been all that great at words. Someone who always has been that great is James Paterson, who scooped the gold medal with 224! Is he our new always-wins-at-names-and-words guy? Johannes was just behind with 222 and Jonas with 211.

Jonas seemed to be safely in the lead by this point, but the thing about spoken numbers and speed cards is that it's easy to score little or nothing if you really make a mess of it...

But all fears in that direction were allayed when he got a perfect 200 in the first trial. So did Tsogbadrakh (who was awesome in the 'flash numbers' in the memoriad) and Mark Anthony Castaneda (who was awesome in the spoken numbers last year). As for me, I was delighted to have remembered 141 digits perfectly, and then hugely annoyed to find that I hadn't - one of the earliest groups of digits was 675, and I'd somehow heard and memorised it as 765.

As I told a journalist between trials, maybe it was because the story at that point worked better with a person, rather than a lizard. But that theory was shot down in the second trial when something almost identical happened - I mis-memorised 075 as 095, even though 095 is an inanimate object and at that point I was thinking "this is a lot of objects in a row, I hope something alive comes next..." So when I eventually got 72 in the final trial, it was a relief.

Those two good results had kept me in contention with all the other much-too-good opponents I was facing, but I was still only in tenth place as we went into the speed cards. I was only fractionally behind three people, though, so a good time could easily bump me up the rankings. So first time I did a safe run, which went surprisingly slowly and awkwardly and ended up with 44 seconds or so. Jonas did a safe minute-and-a-half, enough to guarantee a World Championship victory even despite Johannes's 27.55 seconds. He joins the under-30-seconds club with that, I think!

I renewed my membership in the second trial, with a delightfully trouble-free 28.08! It's good to know I can still do something right. Ola got 29-and-a-bit as well, proving that sub-30-second times are becoming old hat these days.

That time bounced me all the way up to 5th place overall! That was a bit of a surprise, actually - since I had to leave early in order to get back here for work the next day (the championship was awkwardly scheduled at the month end, which is a time when I'm not technically supposed to take time off work), I'd worked out the final scores in my head based on what I thought everyone had scored and told everyone on Facebook that I'd come seventh.

The people who've been complaining that it took so long to put the results online need to remember that in my day all you got was a spreadsheet emailed to you a week later if you were lucky. Now in this advanced era, you can see all the results here or here, according to preference. The Memocamp results page is good for a laugh - scores are highlighted green for a personal best, yellow for a national record or red for a world record, and my line is a colourless desert in a sea of yellow and green!

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Let him sedition hush

I feel I should point out that that Telegraph article makes me out to be a lot more seditious that I actually am. He turned a statement that was a masterpiece of tact, along the lines of "I get in trouble if I sound like I'm saying these techniques are completely useless, so let me be clear that I'm just saying I don't use them myself for anything except memory competitions..." into practically denouncing everyone who says memory techniques are good things as a charlatan. Oh well, if that's what sells newspapers. I'm not friends with any Telegraph readers, anyway.

Keeping with the theme of this blog post's title (and forcing you all to go to Google to find what I'm talking about), we now have rebellious Scots to crush in the memory world! His name's Hugh, and although he was originally registered as English, he pointed out that he is in fact from Scotland (English accent notwithstanding) and so now forms team Scotland all by himself! How long before we have a Home Nations Memory Championship with us all competing against each other?

I've just got back to the hotel after an interview with an English television crew, following which I forgot I'd taken my jumper off and had to go back and get it, and then an Italian crew, following which I had to go back and give them the microphone I was still wearing. The Italians also shone incredibly bright lights in my eyes, so I'm just hoping I'm touch-typing this into my laptop, and not an old brick or something.

Hard Thought

There's an article in the Telegraph today about the world championship. I'm shockingly misquoted - I didn't wonder whether I'd met the journalist somewhere before, I had absolutely no recollection of him and told him so, even though he said he'd interviewed me a few years ago!

I do remember another Telegraph interview, but not the person who talked to me - I think he must have got new glasses since then, because I would have remembered the big round ones he was wearing yesterday.

The paper does redeem itself by including accurate little featurettes on the ten disciplines and the world records, which most media coverage doesn't. This is the kind of thing that will actually encourage people to take part, so I approve - even if it repeatedly calls me the first person to memorise a pack of cards in under 30 seconds (true, but old news nowadays when plenty of people have done better...)

Nice use of that old picture of me in the Brazilian Mystery Cloak, though!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Remember, remember, the thirtieth of November

Here I am in glamorous Croydon, after the first day of the World Memory Championship 2013! We're in a surprisingly silent conference centre in the middle of a street market full of mongers yelling about their cheap fruit and veg, and the competition room comes equipped with a big screen displaying the time remaining to memorise or recall, as appropriate! We've never had that kind of hi-tech stuff at a WMC before, so all glory to Andy Fong for creating it!

Not having practiced, I'm in the pleasant situation of being here with no expectations and no intention of doing anything but have fun. With Simon Reinhard not being here, Johannes Mallow is the blistering hot favourite, but maybe one of our up-and-coming new mental athletes will give him a run for his metaphorical money (no prizes).

Hard to say, so far, because we've only had the results of the names and faces, and you can never judge what form people are in until we've had a 'real' memory discipline or two announced. The statistics website, unsurprisingly, has dropped dead, but if it can be brought back to life the results can be found here first. If not, Memocamp might be able to get hold of the information somehow and upload it there...

Boris Konrad won the names and faces, fractionally ahead of Jonas von Essen and James Paterson (the usual suspects, in other words), and I got some dreadful score that I'm really not unhappy with at all.

With binary I went for an unusual slow-and-steady kind of approach, making sure I could remember everything, only attempting something a bit less than 3750 and hopefully ending up with a score around 3000. Not the way I'd do it if I'd done any training, but a lot more effective than trying to go at my usual kind of speed and forgetting almost everything (the technique I adopted in the UK Championship). I did the same for the hour numbers, only even slower and steadier, attempting just 1520 (well, 1521; I do them in groups of 9) and I think not being a million miles away from getting them all right. 1200 is a respectable score even in these awful modern times when people get 2000+ as a matter of course, so if I got something around there I won't be disappointed. The aim this year is to finish in the top ten and not make a complete fool of myself. Modest expectations, you see.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The day after the Day of the Doctor

I know I've been talking about Doctor Who a lot lately, but it was that good. The fiftieth anniversary special was amazing! Rather than taking the view that an anniversary special just means showing pictures of all the Doctors in some kind of dramatic exciting fight that doesn't make any sense if you think about it for half a second, they did that bit in just one throwaway scene near the end and spent most of the 75-minute episode doing genuinely clever things with the concept of time travel - something that the 21st-century series generally hasn't done at all well so far. This story, though, was intricate in its construction, with lots of little moments that get a big thumbs-up from me, and the three Doctors and Clara were wonderfully characterised!

I'm happy now. Just keep making Doctor Who, please!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

An Unearthly Child

I thought it would be fun to watch an episode of Doctor Who every Saturday, fifty years after it was first shown, and also share with my blog-readers what I think about it. The days of the week go out of sync next March, because 1964 was a leap year and 2014 isn't, but I'll probably have got bored with the idea by then anyway, so we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, though, it's Saturday November 23, 1963. We're sitting around at home watching Grandstand (interrupted regularly by news updates about President Kennedy's assassination yesterday) and we've never even heard of Daleks. Last week's Radio Times (people who write about TV shows in those days never remember that every single television-owner in Britain bought the Radio Times back then - it was the one and only place to see the BBC TV listings) told us that "Saturday's serial begins when two teachers (Jacqueline Hill and William Russell) probe the mystery surrounding one of their pupils (Carol Ann Ford) - and meet the strange Dr. Who" and shows a picture of the three of them.

This week's RT has a much bigger feature, spelling Carole Ann Ford's name right and telling us a lot more about the intriguing-sounding new series. It looks like fun, doesn't it? There was a trailer for the new series last Saturday evening, and another last night, but since they no longer exist in the BBC archives, I'm going to assume we missed seeing them. It involved William Hartnell talking to the camera and saying basically the same thing that's in this article...



Okay, it's 5:15, we're settled down in front of the black-and-white TV with a cup of tea and a sandwich, and we're lucky enough to be in one of the houses in Britain not being affected by the widespread power cuts. It's cold outside, there are only two TV channels, so we might as well watch this new thing on the BBC!

It's running late - another news update from America - but then when it starts, we get the opening titles...

Spooky. A line of white light twists and distorts, to the accompaniment of eerie music and hissing noises, then turns into flying white patterns of light rushing at the viewer, and the words DOCTOR OHO appear on the screen - turning into DOCTOR WHO a split second later when it becomes clear that the writing was reversed and overlaid on top of itself in order to look more spooky. That part doesn't really work, but the rest of the opening sequence is completely awesome and like nothing we've seen before on television here in the year 1963!

The music keeps on playing as we see a policeman wandering around a foggy night-time street and shining his torch on an old wooden gate with "I.M.Foreman, Scrap Merchant, 76 Totters Lane" painted on it. Dixon of Dock Green is on the BBC in an hour and a half - are they showing that early by mistake? No, the policeman wanders off after checking that the gate is locked, and then it opens all by itself, leading the camera into a junkyard filled with miscellaneous scrap. Among it is a police box - a normal sight on the streets of London, although it's a bit strange to see one inside a yard like this. The title "An Unearthly Child" appears as the theme music finally stops, followed by the name of the writer, Anthony Coburn. We zoom in on the police box's phone hatch, then we blur-dissolve to the noticeboard of Coal Hill School.

Strange and mysterious beginning, but it's effective! Makes you wonder what's going on...

The school bell's ringing, sixties teenagers are larking about on their way home, and teacher Barbara Wright comes into the chemistry lab to talk to her colleague Ian Chesterton. His first question "Not gone yet?" is a bit strange, since the bell for the end of school rang less than 30 seconds ago, but never mind. They chat about Susan Foreman's strangeness - she's an uncanny genius fifteen-year-old, but secretive about her home life, and Barbara is worried about her, especially since her home address is just a junkyard with no house attached. Ian vaguely remembers that Susan lives with her grandfather, who's a doctor, and they resolve to play detective and check it out.

Back to the English classroom, where Susan is listening to loud music on a transistor radio. Beatlemania hasn't hit the BBC yet, obviously, it's very late-fifties stuff and not what genuine teenagers are listening to these days at all. Susan is rather unearthly-looking, with short hair in an unfashionable style and a rather strange appearance. She's also not played by a very convincing actor, unfortunately. Ian and Barbara are both good, in a BBC-drama kind of way, and likeable too. They go on their way, leaving Susan to read a book about the French Revolution and exclaim that the writer's got it wrong!

The book is a cheap and hasty TV prop, with a paper dustcover containing no words except "THE FRENCH REVOLUTION" on the cover. Did they forget to make one until filming had already started? The rest of the sets are very good - detailed and well-made classrooms! If I was the director (who otherwise does an excellent job here), I wouldn't have chosen a close-up on the book as my transition to the next scene...

In Ian's car in the dark, the two teachers wait outside the junkyard gate and reminisce about Susan's strangenesses as they try to pretend to themselves that they're motivated by anything other than curiosity. Susan doesn't know how many shillings there are in a pound, and when the other pupils laugh at her, she recalls that the decimal system hasn't started yet. [Doctor Who's first and possibly best ever prediction of the future - the change to decimal currency was planned in 1963, but wasn't definitely going to happen and a timescale for it hadn't been set yet. Retrospectively, it's understandable that Susan got mixed up, she's less than a decade too early for it, although since we later learn that she's been on Earth, in Britain, for five months, it's surprising that she hasn't seen money yet.]

The cutaways to Susan show her in the classroom sets, with Barbara's and Ian's voices off-screen - it's a strange way to do it by 2013 standards, and looks weird, but if we click back into the 1963 mindset when most television was broadcast live or (like Doctor Who) recorded 'as live' with multiple cameras and two or three sets squeezed next to each other in the same studio, it doesn't look weird at all. Susan's also bored with Ian's chemistry experiments, finding them too obvious or incomprehensible because they only calculate in three dimensions rather than five...

Susan goes in through the junkyard gate, and the teachers follow her. Ian drops and loses his torch in the dark, and isn't carrying any matches (most 1963 people did!), but they still manage to find the police box. It's vibrating strangely, although Ian walks all around it and can't see any power cable. But then they go and hide as a mysterious old man comes along. He starts to open the police box, and Susan's voice greets him (There you are, Grandfather!) from inside, surprising Ian and Barbara enough that they make a noise attracting the old man's attention.

We finally get to see the title character of this new series! His name goes unmentioned in this episode, although the Radio Times article variously called him 'Dr. Who' (the character's name on the credits) or 'the Doctor'. His first line of dialogue is rather stagey, but then he becomes really quite captivating as he infuriates Ian and Barbara by denying everything and refusing to let them see inside the police box. He chuckles to himself, peppers his speech with "Hmm?" and completely takes charge of the situation even though Ian is bigger, younger and very assertive. His long white hair is very strange-looking for 1963, he's got a woolly hat on, plus a black coat and colourful scarf. The conversation goes round in circles, until the teachers are on the point of being forced to just go away and fetch a policeman, but then the police box door opens, Susan calls out to her grandfather from the inside, and Barbara and Ian force their way in.

And now we get the real science-fiction part at last! The brightly-lit room they stumble into is much, much bigger than the police box! Strange walls with big recessed circles in them, a variety of large and peculiar ornaments, and a hexagonal control panel in the middle of the room. Very strikingly designed and fascinating to see! The ever-practical Barbara is concerned with asking Susan whether she's okay, while Ian is bewildered - he walked all around the police box, after all! The Doctor strips off his coat and scarf, ignoring the teachers' questions and generally scoffing at their ignorance. He's wearing an old-fashioned shirt and tie under a black jacket. He and Susan explain that they're all standing in a 'ship', the TARDIS, that can go anywhere in space or time. And they wonder what they're going to do with these interlopers from 1963...

He explains that he's from a different planet and time, and that he and Susan are exiles, all alone, but that they'll get back home one day. And while Susan begs him to let her teachers just go, he insists that they'll tell everyone what they've seen, and the time travellers will have to be on their way. The Doctor laughs to himself merrily as he locks Ian and Barbara in the TARDIS, sneakily electrifies the controls so Ian gets a shock when he touches them, and finally when they're distracted by Susan works the controls.

The room starts to shake, there's an eerie wheezing noise, we see London receding into the distance, and then an extended version of the spooky light patterns from the opening titles. Ian and Barbara fall down unconscious and we get close-ups of Susan and the Doctor, intercut with swirly light effects and creepy noises. This kind of thing is terrifying to a 1963 audience!

The television screen in the TARDIS now shows a barren, rocky landscape. The police box is now standing incongrously among the rocks and bare trees, and a human shadow is seen approaching it...

Next episode, says the caption, "The Cave Of Skulls"! The title music plays, the credits scroll, and the scene gradually fades to black. 1963 audiences probably noticed the unusual fact that the producer is a woman, Verity Lambert, and the director is an Indian immigrant, Waris Hussein.

It really is a great start to a series! It's a fascinating story, and it leaves us wanting to know what's going to happen next. I would certainly be tuning in next week if I was watching in 1963, intrigued by the setup in this first episode and the promises in the Radio Times that this strange quartet will be travelling all around the universe in the weeks to come...



Mit Schirm, Charme und Melone

Okay, it was three weeks ago, but here's my account of my German TV adventure!

Although in some ways planned in advance, the trip to Germany was a last-minute kind of thing - the qualifying contest between Simon and Johannes was filmed on Tuesday night, and it was the vote of the studio audience at that show that decided which three disciplines would go through to the grand final. Since I'd booked Wednesday, Thursday and Friday off work anyway, I would've felt silly going back and explaining that I wasn't on German TV after all. Luckily, though, the memory challenge was spectacular enough to qualify, and I was off to Cologne.

Arriving at Düsseldorf on Thursday morning, I shared a car with the UK's Strongest Man, Eddie Hall, plus his wife and baby son Maximus the Muscle Baby. Well, I just made up the subtitle, but isn't Maximus the best possible name for a strongman to call his son? We were conveyed to Cologne and set up in the Hopper Hotel on the very memorably-named Dagobertstrasse (Donald Duck's Uncle Scrooge is called Uncle Dagobert in German; I have no idea why. But that's the only thing anyone in Germany would ever associate the name with, although the street was presumably named after some mediaeval saint.) And then it was off to the TV studios for our first rehearsal.

The challenge had been trimmed down a little from the original plans - the qualifying contest between Simon and Johannes gave them a maximum three minutes to memorise 50 digits, 100 heads-or-tails coins (that is, binary digits in a clever disguise) and 40 words. The grand final added 32 cards (7 to ace, like in the popular German game Skat) for a great all-round test of memorising. But then they realised that it took way too long to recite all those heads and tails, so the coins were removed from the final. Which is a shame, I was looking forward to that part, and binary is perhaps the only remaining discipline where I've still got the edge over Simon.

Generally speaking, the European masters were separated from the German winners in rehearsals - it was supposed to be a big surprise for them when they saw their opponent on the live show. Since Simon and I know each other quite well, the TV people didn't bother to keep us apart, and let us do the rehearsals together - unlike in the first show, when they sat down and looked at computer screens, this time it would be more visual, with the cards, numbers and words appearing on separate screens that the competitors walked between, with a big red buzzer to press at the end (the first one to finish presses the buzzer to make the screens go blank for both competitors). The studio looked very cool - quite a bit bigger than the ones I've been in at BBC Television Centre in the past.

After a practice run with the speed memory challenge, which was held up by a technical problem or two, we had dinner in the studio canteen and then faced the important decision of what to wear on the show. The Germans got to wear their normal clothes, but the European challengers were dressed up in something a bit more spectacular. The costume woman had already hit on a way to make me look extremely British and colourful - a kilt. I thought she was joking, but she really didn't seem to see anything wrong with that idea - and to be fair, everyone in England has been making comments about lederhosen, which sounds just as absurd to Germans in the Rhineland as a kilt does to English people. Anyway, it was good to have something to say 'no' to - the TV people, spearheaded by the wonderful Uschi, were constantly asking me if their various ideas were okay and whether I was unhappy with anything. For future reference, I'm basically fine with everything in the world, always. Except wearing a kilt on TV.

So they eventually were persuaded to go with the second choice - a suit and tie, bowler hat and umbrella. I looked surprisingly awesome in this get-up! My beard's quite long at the moment, and I looked like some kind of absent-minded professor. I need to dress up like that more often. I would have much preferred the outfit they put Eddie Hall in, though - a studded leather gladiator-style skirt (what is it with the Germans trying to make the English wear skirts?), leather thongs around his wrists, bright red cape and nothing else.

We all dressed up in full costume for the big dress rehearsal on Friday evening, including my big entrance - the giant screen splits in half to reveal me standing on a pedestal and looking awesome, to the accompaniment of dramatic music. In the rehearsal, actually, it looked much better - I looked serious and sinister until the last moment, then smiled just as it cut to the pre-filmed sequence of me going about my everyday life (standing next to the Robin Hood statue in Nottingham, that kind of thing). On the show itself, they stopped the music a beat earlier, so I missed the smile.

I attempted to talk in German with the host, which was made a bit more difficult by having a translator in my ear, five seconds delayed, telling me what he was saying and generally meaning that I couldn't follow either of them. I tend to find it difficult to understand what Germans are saying to me; replying in German is a lot easier for some reason. Hopefully I made some kind of sense. So we did another practice run of the challenge, which worked better this time, although I still wasn't much good at the memorising, and then went out into the pouring rain (it was nice and warm compared to the weather here in England, but rained most of the time I was there) for a meal with Simon and Johannes (who was there as Simon's guest - mine, arriving on Saturday, was Boris, who'd been Simon's guest at the first show but now had to pretend to support the evil foreigner). They attempted to talk in German, but I didn't understand a word, so we switched back to English

Saturday gave me a chance to look around the shops of Cologne (the Friday was a bank holiday in Germany, and they closed down everything, just like they do on Sundays - Germany is a different world) before the big show in the evening. I had to be at the studio two hours before the show started, which was a bit excessive considering the memory part was the second from last and didn't happen until two and a half hours into the show and I'm ready to go with a light coating of makeup - since I was wearing a hat, I didn't even have to have powder plastered on my bald head to stop it reflecting the studio lights and blinding everyone! But the TV people, wonderfully, had set me up with an empty, silent conference room to compose my thoughts in - I even had the choice between that and hanging out in the green room with various other international competitors, so I only went up to the quiet room once the show had started and Boris had joined the audience.

I'd had a talk with the commentator, explaining how my memory techniques work (basically, exactly the same as Simon had already told him), and told him the journey I'd be using today was around Toton, Nottinghamshire. He wrote it down as "Toten", and I'm fairly sure he told the watching German audience that I was picturing myself in the village of the dead.

Despite all the 'mental preparation time', I was strangely nervous about the show - much more than I ever am about a memory championship. You'd think that by now I'd be used to never doing any good on TV shows, but obviously not. Since I'd gone too quickly with the numbers in rehearsals, in an attempt to catch up with the speed Simon was going at, I made a point of going more slowly and carefully this time. But then we had to re-start, because Simon had the same numbers as he'd had in the first programme, which was a little bit disorienting. German mind-games. So I quickly racked my brain for a journey that I hadn't used in practice too recently, settled on the Queensgate Centre in Peterborough, and started again.

Simon hit the buzzer while I was still half-way through my second reading of the words (we'd both decided to go through each list twice, rather than risking a single sighting), so I wasn't clear on a lot of them. But more importantly, I couldn't for the life of me remember what the first pair of cards was. So, having won the coin toss, I made Simon go first, in an attempt to give myself some more thinking time and remember it. Didn't work. And in any case, Simon was so perfect in his recall of everything that he would have won whatever I did.

So while the winners sat with their trophies in big gold armchairs, awaiting the viewer phone vote as to which performance was the most spectacular (it was the running-up-a-wall-and-backflipping-over-a-high-jump-bar, which admittedly looked a bit cooler than the memory show), I got to watch the last of the show in a room with the other losers. And a very fun experience it was for everyone, too! It's just a shame they didn't let me keep the bowler hat...

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I'm back

Sorry I haven't blogged for such a long time. I've got a half-written account of my fun exploits in Germany to finish, and I'll post it for the world to see soon, I'm sure. Just to share my thoughts with the world on an array of other topics...

Doctor Who! Oh, wow, the Children in Need special was the best thing ever! I'm sure everyone who cares has seen it already, but I still won't spoil it - go and watch it on YouTube and not the BBC website, which spoils the surprise with the still-frame it uses to represent the episode! And now I'm quite giddy with excitement for the anniversary episode next week - I seriously don't remember ever being properly excited about a TV programme before, but I am. Very.

Davis Cup! I'm always a fan. It was always going to come down to the doubles, though, after Tipsarevic pulled out, so not playing Djokovic has to be a mistake. This is also the reason why Britain don't have a chance against the USA next year - a one-man team against a side with the world's best doubles players is doomed to failure.

Memory! I did an hour cards practice this morning, which is more than I've managed in a very long time. Successfully forced myself to keep at it all through the three hours, which is the important thing. Couldn't bring myself to sit down and do a binary practice this afternoon, but tomorrow, I hope...

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Make the connection

People occasionally invite me to connect on LinkedIn, which if you're sensible enough not to have heard of it is a sort of social network for businesspeople to connect with each other. I don't really think of it as my kind of thing, but last week I got an invitation that made me think "Oh, Eleanor at Boots remembers me? That's nice. I should probably set up an account on this thing, I do keep getting these invites, after all..."

So I did, and now I've got requests piling up from acquaintances around the world, but it leaves me with a dilemma - what do I put as my occupation? Am I using this to connect with memory people or accountants? Or both? Or, more likely, neither? My accounting job title at the moment is 'assistant controller', which is quite groovy, so I don't mind using that, but how do I describe my occasional sideline in memorising things for public amusement? I normally say 'memory man', which to my mind sounds so over-the-top and big-headed that I'm sure everybody will know I'm not serious, but if I'm setting up some kind of official profile, maybe people will take it seriously and think I'm both over-the-top and big-headed and not the modest, self-deprecating, he's-really-awesome-but-doesn't-like-to-talk-about-it big-headed image I try to project to the world. It's a quandary.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A bit more vworp

The Enemy Of The World really is a wonderful example of Doctor Who in the late sixties, and I heartily recommend it to everyone! Go and watch it if you haven't already, and then come back and read the rest of this post, because it's rather spoilerrific (as the trendy young nerds on the internet say).

You see, great though it is to have the serial available on iTunes (so great, indeed, that I betrayed my modern-technology-hating principles and downloaded iTunes), the rush to release it seems to have led to the episode descriptions being written by someone who knows the plot (maybe they read the novelisation back in the days when that was the only way to experience old Doctor Who stories) but hasn't actually watched the episodes themselves. These are the summaries of the episodes that you'll see if you buy the iTunes version:

Episode 1
The TARDIS lands on a barren beach, where it is immediately fired upon by a hovercraft. Rescued by helicopter pilot Astrid, the Doctor (Patrick Troughton) discovers that he has arrived on Earth the year 2017 A.D. and that he is the exact double of a would-be dictator called Salamander.

Episode 2
The Doctor has arrived on earth in the year 2017 A.D. Rescued from certain death by helicopter pilot Astrid, the Doctor is informed by Astrid's boss, Kent, that the world is on the verge of domination by a charismatic scientist/politician named Salamander. The fact that the Doctor is a dead ringer for Salamander leads to several even more perplexing plot elements: who among Kerr's staff can be trusted not to betray their comrades to Salamander's minions, and is Salamander truly the despotic villain that he is made out to be?

Episode 3
The Doctor impersonates his lookalike, would-be dictator Salamander. He does this to penetrate a research station controlled by Salamander's minions, the better to find out if the villain truly is a villain - and if so, who his most fervent (and dangerous) followers may be. This has a trickle-down effect on the Doctor's travelling companions, Jamie and Victoria.

Episode 4
Giles Kent is revealed to be a traitor, in league with would-be 21st century dictator Salamander. Meanwhile, the Doctor - who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Salamander - has infiltrated the dictator's research station. Alas, the station is blown up, with the Doctor apparently still inside. Conspicuous by their absence throughout the proceedings are the Doctor's companions, Jamie and Victoria.

Episode 5
Traitorous scientist Kent has blown up the research station infiltrated by the Doctor. Not long afterwards, 21st century dictator Salamander, who bears a startling resemblance to the Doctor, makes an appearance. But is Salamander really the Doctor - or is it the other way around?

Episode 6
Having been thwarted in his plans to rule the world, Salamander tries to make a quick getaway by posing as the Doctor. Manning the controls of the TARDIS, Salamander tries to escape - but will he be successful?


The first episode summary is more or less accurate - the TARDIS isn't fired upon by a hovercraft, the Doctor and his companions leave the TARDIS to play on the beach, they're spotted by three men in a hovercraft who themselves fire on the Doctor and co and chase after them on foot. The year isn't specified either, but Astrid's helicopter licence expires at the end of 2018, and the story was written in 1967, so it was probably intended to be set fifty years in the future.

The perplexing plot element "who among Kerr's staff can be trusted not to betray their comrades to Salamander's minions" certainly is perplexing - even if you read 'Kent' for 'Kerr' (the actor who played him was Bill Kerr), this question doesn't really come up in the course of the episode, or anywhere else in the story.

Then it really gets a bit strange with the descriptions of episodes 3 to 6. They omit almost everything that happens in those episodes, and summarise the final bit of the storyline as if it's spread across the final four. In the actual show, the Doctor prepares to infiltrate the research station at the end of episode 4 and doesn't actually get in there until episode 5. The revelation about Kent (which isn't that he's in league with Salamander - he wants to kill him, as he's been saying all through the serial - but that the two of them worked together on Salamander's evil plan, years ago) happens at the start of episode 6, then it's revealed that the person Kent thinks is Salamander at that moment is in fact the Doctor, THEN, near the end of the final episode, the station is blown up, and in the brief final scene Salamander tries to get away in the TARDIS.

So on the plus side, if you're watching it on iTunes after reading the episode summaries, major parts of the plot will be a complete surprise to you. But on the other hand, you'll be expecting some things to happen an hour or more before they actually do...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Vworp vworp

Doctor Whooooo! Two whole stories (nearly) from the Patrick Troughton era found in Nigeria! That's my evenings occupied for the next week or so.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Wrasslin'

I quite like a bit of American wrestling now and then, and lately I've been enjoying following the latest WWE goings-on. So I thought we needed a blog post urging my followers to check it out, too!

Wrestling might not be what you think it is, you see - nowadays, they really only pay token lip-service to the idea that viewers are supposed to believe it's "real", and the modern WWE is determinedly suitable for children; the wrestlers don't say naughty words any more, they don't excessively attack each other with pointy things, they don't end a fight covered with blood, they supposedly don't even use steroids any more after a death by heart failure and a particularly nasty murder-suicide a few years ago. Although looking at some of the wrestlers, it's a little hard to believe they got that big by nothing other than hard work and exercise...

Still, all that means that what we're left with is essentially acting by people who by and large aren't actors. There's nothing more fun to watch than that! The wrestling itself is secondary to the 'storylines', but a lot of the matches are still entertaining - not the main events, usually, but the lesser match-ups with the more agile and acrobatic performers. There actually are some really talented and athletic people working for the WWE at the moment.

There are two main weekly shows on Sky Sports, regular Pay Per View events (most of them are only PPVs in America, and on normal Sky Sports channels over here - Sky know that nobody will buy a wrestling PPV unless it's one of the handful of really big ones every year), and I particularly recommend WWE Superstars, on Sky 1 at the weekends, which features a couple of wrestling matches between some of the more entertaining non-main-event stars and the highlights of the storyline from the past week's main shows.

Here's a primer for what's happening at the moment - John Cena, the main hero (wrestlers are heroes or villains - the 'hardcore fans' on internet websites use the terms 'babyface/face' and 'heel', but I prefer to think in terms of goodies and baddies), is having surgery and taking a few months off. In the WWE Universe, that basically means he ceases to exist and people never talk about him. That's a problem, obviously, since John Cena toys sell much better than any others, so they need an exciting storyline to keep the fans interested and buying merchandise while he's gone. In Cena's absence, the evil people who run the WWE have become extra-evil and instituted a reign of terror! Vince McMahon, who genuinely owns at least part of the WWE, is always evil, and a lot of fun - people complain about him on the internet, but I've always thought he was cool. He gamely lets himself be beaten up by heroic wrestlers whenever a storyline requires him to get his comeuppance for his evil deeds. But the main focus is his evil daughter Stephanie, and her newly-turned-evil husband Triple H (retired wrestler who in real life ensured he got the best storylines by marrying the boss's daughter). The latter is particularly brilliant at the moment, playing a corporate villain who's unspeakably nasty to the goodies while insisting that everything he does is for the best.

Heroic Daniel Bryan is the best wrestler in the world (this needs a little suspension of disbelief), but is continually being cheated out of the WWE Championship belt by the bosses, because he's short, ugly and has a silly beard. The bosses prefer Randy Orton, who's big and handsome and extremely evil. The Shield, three unstoppable evil villains, are the bosses' henchmen who beat up anyone who opposes them. The Big Show, a loveable giant, is being forced to do the bosses' bidding because he needs the money. Heroic Cody Rhodes has been fired because the McMahon family don't like the Rhodes family - this isn't the kind of 'fired' that stops him being paid to perform on WWE shows, obviously, and also means that his brother and father, who aren't officially employed either, show up a lot. Ten lesser heroes came to Daniel Bryan's aid recently while he was getting the latest of his beatings by The Shield and Orton, and so the battle-lines are drawn.

In other storylines, CM Punk is fighting with his loony former manager Paul Heyman, who in an attempt to get back at Punk has first employed no-hoper Curtis Axel and then the big unstoppable monster Ryback. They remain entirely unconnected to the evil-bosses story, but it's still fun to watch. The Wyatt Family, a group of hillbilly weirdos, one of whom wears a sheep mask for no obvious reason, are also lurking in the background and threatening people.

There are other title belts that don't matter as much as the WWE Championship - Alberto del Rio, who doesn't seem to have any kind of personality or storyline, is the World Heavyweight Champion, Curtis Axel is the Intercontinental Champion, one of The Shield is the US Champion and the other two are the Tag Team Champions, and there's a women's championship too, although all the women in the WWE are models who look good in a bikini but can't act or wrestle. The only one with any kind of personality is AJ Lee, the champion, who just doesn't like any of the others. Other wrestling organisations have women who actually can wrestle - a few years ago, the WWE hired one of them, the massive and frightening Kharma, gave her a big slow build-up of ominous videos, and then just as she was about to make her big debut, she got pregnant in real life and had to leave. This seems to have convinced the WWE that hiring women is more trouble that it's worth, and they haven't really tried to employ any real wrestlers since then.

The fun characters to watch out for: Damien Sandow, "intellectual saviour of the masses" who thinks he's better than you, is wonderful - he talks a good fight, is contemptuous about all his rivals, gets beaten up a lot and currently holds a contract entitling him to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship at any time but is apparently scared to use it. Goldust, brother of Cody Rhodes, wears an amazing costume, complete with gold and black face-paint that he wears even when dressed in a business suit, and wrestles energetically even though he's in his forties and hadn't been a regular on the WWE for many years before his latest comeback. (There need to be more wrestlers of distinctive appearance like that - as a casual fan, I struggle to distinguish Randy Orton from CM Punk, and Ryback is basically just a slightly smaller version of The Big Show). Kofi Kingston, though he hasn't got any personality beyond being basically a nice guy, is acrobatic and brilliant in the wrestling ring. R-Truth, the rapping wrestler, has the best entrance music and gets the crowd fired up, though there's not much to him beyond that. Paul Heyman is absolutely hilarious - being a manager, he's an actor rather than a wrestler, and makes the whole thing a lot more fun. The Big Show is always fun to watch; genuinely somewhere close to seven feet tall and hugely muscular, he's a great stage presence, and he can act the part too, and even do some cool wrestling moves! (This puts him light-years ahead of the WWE's other main giant, The Great Khali, who can't speak English and can barely move - he's only used in comedy skits nowadays). El Torito, sidekick of Los Matadores, the bullfighter-themed wrestlers who made their debuts this week (well, actually they're two wrestlers who've been around for years, wearing different costumes), is amazing - a tiny little man in a bull costume, he bounces around the ropes better than anyone, and I'm hoping they do something cool with him in the future. 3MB, the Three Man Band, are my favourite baddies - three dim-witted villains who just hang out together because they like each other's company and help each other cheat in singles matches, they all have the perfect 'evil' look about them, especially Drew McIntyre. The Shield also have that great bad-guy look, or at least Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns do (Dean Ambrose always looks too cherubic, even dressed in their trademark black bad-guy costumes). Finally, Dolph Ziggler deserves to be cheered on - he's been with the WWE for years, paying his dues by playing two terrible characters before he became Dolph (his 'thing' is being a show-off), and never quite seems to get the good storylines despite being good-looking, athletic and a lot of fun to watch in the ring.

So check it out - I'm sure you'll like it, even if (like many of my readers) you're an intellectual memory-man who thinks violence is horrid! The "Battleground" PPV is on Sky Sports in the early hours of the morning, or else there's always plenty of other WWE programmes that'll tell you what happens...

Friday, October 04, 2013

Devil among the tailors

I've spent the last 24 hours not being able to remember the quaint olde-worlde name for that skittles game. I'm recording it on my blog, so if that situation ever arises again, you'll all be able to remind me. Okay?

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Lawrentian

Did you know that D H Lawrence was born in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire? I find myself in Eastwood today and tomorrow for a training course in the Lawrence Suite of Eastwood Hall hotel. My brother's middle name is also Lawrence, although he was named after our grandfather, who in turn was presumably named after Lawrence of Arabia, because in 1919 T E Lawrence was considered an admirable kind of person to name your son after, and D H Lawrence less so. But I might be wrong. Maybe he and the Lawrence Suite here were both named after someone entirely different called Lawrence. It's still a silly name, anyway. My middle name's George, which was a good name until royalty started calling their offspring it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The kind of thing that keeps me awake at nights

As I've probably mentioned before, I'm a sucker for anything muppet-related, and surprisingly passionate about TV shows intended for small children. So it's good to see that Jim Henson's Pajanimals have finally made their way onto Nick Jr!

Pajanimals, the internet tells me, started out as a series of bedtime-themed songs performed by the four eponymous animals, and was then expanded into a series of 11-minute episodes in which they don't just sing a song but get advice on the pre-schooler hot issue of the week from a variety of helpful characters.

The Nick Jr version of the show, like a lot of their output, is dubbed into British English, replacing the original American voices. It's generally agreed among the people who decide these things, apparently, that under-fives shouldn't hear American voices, but it's okay for older children. This can have its pros and cons - characters often end up saying the kind of things that only Americans would say, in English accents, which is just weird and confusing. But on the other hand, the British voicing is often rather better - Maggie and the Ferocious Beast, for example, was improved immeasurably by the British dubbing. Pajanimals, on the other hand, is a bit more uneven - for one thing, the actors can't quite decide if the second 'a' is pronounced as in 'pajamas' or 'animals'. It's the same sound in America, you see. And anyway, when did we stop spelling it 'pyjamas' over here?

But what concerns me the most about the series as shown on Nick Jr is the order that the episodes are shown in. Two episodes are shown a night, which is a bad idea for a start, since each episode ends with our heroes going to sleep, thus a perfect moment for watching parents to send their offspring to bed - two 11-minute episodes in a half-hour programming block is the inflexible rule in America, but British channels are allowed to vary that a little bit even nowadays, so you'd think Nick Jr would just show one episode each bedtime. On another tangent, they're shown at 7pm (both episodes uninterrupted one after the other, followed by an amazingly long commercial break before the next programme starts at 7:30), which was my bedtime when I was Pajanimals-watching age. Have bedtimes got later now that there's such a thing as children's TV channels, or are parents videoing it (or the modern-day equivalent) for their toddlers to watch the next day?

In any case, I was talking about the order of broadcast. The first two episodes shown on Nick Jr were two extremely similar ones - both featuring Squacky as the central character, both involving him overcoming fears of abstract things (the dark in general, and then the possibility of monsters under his bed). It's not unheard-of for American TV shows to do this kind of thing deliberately (see Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood - or rather, don't, because it's rubbish), but I checked the internet to see if that really was the way it was originally broadcast, and Wikipedia says it wasn't.

Wikipedia, though, I hope is wrong, because the order of episodes it gives is almost certainly production order - it starts with all the episodes featuring Bedtime Bunny as the guest star who helps the Pajanimals with their latest problem, then all the episodes featuring Jerry Bear, and so forth. I'm sure a reputable production company like Sixteen South wouldn't show the episodes in that order!

So what I'm going to have to do is devise an authoritative viewing order for Pajanimals, once I've seen all the episodes! Incidentally, I'm not the only weirdo who thinks this way - the Wikipedia article has a wonderful footnote saying: "NOTE: It should be mentioned that the episodes of the full series are apparently broadcast out of chronological order in terms of the Pajanimals' experiences because in "Share Day" in the first season, Sweetpea Sue was nervous about Share Day at school. But in "Off to My School Adventure" in the second season, she and Apollo were about to attend school for the first time.". People care about these things!

Besides, it's fun to think about! Does "Under The Bed" come before or after "Tomorrow Is Brand New", for example? In the former, Squacky's favourite ball rolls under his bed and he can't get it out because he's scared of monsters; in the latter, he loses another ball (not the same one as in the other episode) under the bed, and insists that Apollo retrieve it for him. If "Tomorrow Is Brand New" comes second, it rather undermines the ending of "Under The Bed", in which Squacky eventually gets his own ball and learns that there aren't any monsters down there; but if they're in the other order, it makes Squacky pretty uncaring about Apollo's safety - in "Under The Bed", Apollo offers to get the ball back, but Squacky won't let him go anywhere near the under-bed monsters.

So stay tuned when the series has reached its end (are Nick Jr going to show both American series? I hope so, anyway) and I'll tell you all which order to watch them in! You should be taping them now, incidentally, since DVDs of these things usually have the American voices, and British people shouldn't be exposed to such things.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Bless me

I've got a terrible cold. I was going to go into work today, but instead I've only ventured as far as the Co-op to buy some lemsip, tissues and a big bar of chocolate, to make me feel better about having a cold. I just wanted to share this with you all.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dedication's what you need

When I was at primary school, there was a TV show called Record Breakers, which showcased people breaking world records, and had a very catchy theme tune that everyone in Britain still knows. Dedication, dedication, dedication, that's what you need. If you wanna be the best, if you wanna beat the rest, woh-oh-oh, dedication's what you need. And if you slightly change the words to 'defecation', it's hilarious, because defecation means poo.

Actually, that doesn't seem to be quite so funny now I'm not seven years old. Strange. Anyway, the point of all this is that the new 2014 edition of the Guinness Book Of Records came out yesterday. And, having shunned memory-related records for many years in favour of attaching clothes-pegs to your face and being fat, there's a whole two pages of mind-themed records this year!




The whole page is festooned with photos, of me, Naofumi Ogasawara, Simon Reinhard, Melik Duyar, Priyanshi Somani, Johannes Mallow, Boris Konrad, Freddis Reyes Hernandez and some guy I've never heard of called Dr Amit Garg! We all owe a huge debt of thanks to whoever persuaded the Guinness people to include us all in the book - I suspect Melik, he's good at that kind of thing (and the Memoriad gets a lot of plugs), but he hasn't taken the credit for it. There are lots of other fun records too, and not just on those two pages. Go out and buy the book, it's only £10 at W H Smith!

I'm credited with the record for 30-minute cards, a little strangely (hour cards is, to my mind, the cooler marathon cards record). As the book correctly points out, I did it at the Derby Memory Championship, back in 2008, and I see that the other records that made the book were done at things like the German championship - competitions that are only tenuously connected to the World Memory Sports Council. The World Memory Championship goes unmentioned. It's all politics, but who cares? I'm in the book! And that photo of me, taken in 2004, has never looked cooler!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Bah, work tomorrow

Well, Weird Internet Friend #2 is safely on his way back to America, hopefully (I left him in the capable hands of Another Weird Internet Friend yesterday after some London sightseeing), and now I feel like I need a holiday to rest after my holiday. It's been a bit hectic. Also, my washing machine is broken. It's a hard life.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Can people levitate?

I should have mentioned last night that the Kölner Dom is a really beautiful building. I went along to see it this morning, seeing as it's right next to my hotel, and I really was impressed. Also impressive was the man levitating outside it, but the other passers-by didn't really pay much attention to him, so I assume they've seen it all before.

Anyway, I'm at Frankfurt Airport as I write this, on my way home again. It's a busy life, being an international jetsetter. I've missed this, these last few months.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

I always assumed the Dom was dome-shaped

This hotel I'm staying in in Köln really isn't very Handy if you haven't got a mobile phone. To check in, you have to call a phone number, and then they tell you the combination for the miniature safe that your key is in. It's strange, as is the desert theme (it's the Sandmanns Hotel) and peculiar decorations all around the place.

Still, I've had fun on this very brief trip to Germany - I haven't been to this country for much too long, so even if I'm only here for barely 24 hours, it's been fun. The TV people even let me try to speak German a little bit, which people in Germany usually never do. It's no wonder nobody in Britain speaks the language, everyone over here always speaks English to us without giving us a chance to learn it!

So, I get the train back to the airport tomorrow morning, but that at least gives me a chance to watch some cartoons before I leave, and maybe even look in a couple of shops, if I'm quick!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Holidays

Okay, Weird Internet Friend #2 is safely installed here, although he got detained at immigration presumably because they thought he was some kind of weird internet person. Now I can turn my attention to going to Germany and looking forward to the TV spectacular they're putting together in a month or two. I don't think I'm supposed to talk about the details yet, but I assure you it'll be awesome!

I'm flying out tomorrow, and back on Wednesday, so I've just gone through my drawer-of-assorted-rubbish to see how many Euros I've got kicking around. About €22.50, in fact, almost all of it in €2 coins. I need to spend coins rather than notes when I'm on the continent, obviously.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

We are the champions, my friend

See, there are two "championships" at the UK Memory Championships - one just for British people, and one for foreigners. Or rather, as far as the actual competitors are concerned, there's only one championship, the UK Open, but by virtue of Jonas coming from Sweden, I got the big trophy and (technically) the prestigious title of UK Memory Champion, even though he was about a million times better than me. I'm not going to put it on my business cards.

Actually, day two went rather better than day one - following the same strategy as I'd used in the 30-minute numbers, I aimed for much lower scores than I normally would, and got them all right without much trouble. Twelve packs in 30-minute cards is perfectly acceptable really, 77 historic dates would have been mind-blowingly amazing ten years ago so I shouldn't feel bad about it, and so on. I did make a mess of spoken numbers, which I haven't practiced for a long time - I was only a fraction of a second slower than I would normally be, but that's time enough to lose track of the digits. But then in speed cards I recorded a time of 28.78 seconds in the first trial and was much closer to recalling it correctly than I thought I would be. So I went at about the same speed the second time, and got it right!

The time was officially recorded as 31.34 seconds, although that might not be as accurate as it usually is, since I apparently broke the timer when I put my hands down on it. It turned itself off, and didn't even save the time in its memory like the things are supposed to do. Luckily, David Sedgwick was watching the display screen at the moment it broke, and he assures us that the time he wrote down is correct, "within maybe a couple of hundredths of a second, anyway". I'm sure I didn't hit the thing particularly hard, although I know I do have a tendency to get overexcited and thump my hands down a bit. Luckily, the time could have been out by a minute or so and I would still have finished second overall, so it didn't matter much.

I didn't notice the problem until about a minute after it happened, incidentally - when I put the cards down and hit the timer, I immediately close my eyes and try to remember what the cards are. I don't open them again and peek around the room at the other competitors until I'm certain my mental images are going to stay in my brain and not disappear before the five minutes' memorisation time has finished.

Meanwhile, I hope you caught Jonas on BBC breakfast TV the following day. I didn't - no TV in the hall of residence, although to be fair it does have free wifi, and I could have watched it on my laptop. It didn't occur to me, mainly because I had a terrible hangover yesterday after only two pints of cider in the pub afterwards. It'll be the mental exertion, I haven't done a two-day memory competition for too many months.

Chris Day spent a lot of time talking to a journalist at the competition, which has resulted in the following in-depth analysis of memory techniques in this memory article:

Chris Day, from the World Memory Sports Council, said the techniques are useful to improve memory.

Mr Day said: "We all have potentially an amazing memory."


If that was the guy he was talking to when they saw me going down the stairs and felt that there was more of my backside on display than is decent (my lucky shirt has a large hole in the back, and my shorts are somewhat loose around the waist), then it's probably my fault.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Silence in the library

Upstairs in the Science Museum in London, there's a really cool-looking little library room, with double-decker bookcases (there's a sort of ledge half way up that you walk along to see the higher-up shelves, I don't know what the technical name is) and antique furnishings throughout. Although today and tomorrow it's got some modern tables and chairs and a stonking great computer screen set up, for the UK Memory Championship!

We've got a healthy mix of competitors from around Britain and the world, as usual - thirteen altogether, and that's not including the various other people who came along and had a go at one or more disciplines. Foremost among these were journalists from the Times and the Independent, who both tried their hand at 30-minute binary. Both attempted four rows, 120 digits, but while the Times man got them all correct, the Independent made mistakes on three rows, and so only got a score of 30. Make your own judgements about the relative merits of the two newspapers.

Incidentally, I could swear that I've met the man from the Times before. As my readers will know, I rarely remember faces, but his is familiar enough that I'm sure I've had an interview with him in the past. He talked as if he'd never met any of us, though, so maybe I'm wrong. Or maybe the article in tomorrow's paper will say "I went to the UK Memory Championship and nobody remembered me, even though I remembered them." Or maybe all reporters from the Times look the same (young, posh, floppy-haired...) and I spoke to another one of them.

My scores in everything were awful, as I confidently expected. I'm going to need to be careful not to end up with fewer points than James Paterson, and so avoid being not the best British competitor in a championship for the first time since (I think I'm right in saying this) 2004. It's so long since I did a half-hour discipline, in practice or in competition, I really made a mess of binary, and ended up with a score of 2000 or so, attempting 4500 or thereabouts. Abstract images followed a similar pattern, and I was already exhausted by the time we sat down to speed numbers. 30-minute numbers followed after that, and I decided to manage my expectations hugely, and just attempt 680 digits. I'd written them all down within 15 minutes of the recall time, so perhaps I was over-cautious, but I'm fairly sure that really was as much as I could do - my mind was wandering terribly, which is just what you can expect if you don't train for these events.

Incidentally, we know our scores for abstract images (first discipline after lunch) already, thanks to some unusually speedy and efficient marking from the team of arbiters. Kudos to Phil, Chris, David, Gaby, Nathalie, Dominic, Peter, whoever I've forgotten to list (there's always one) and whoever I don't even know is there (some arbiters always lurk in the back room and never come out to say hello to me). Phil's machine that beeps after a specified number of minutes seems to have died (which is very tragic; it's been coming to these competitions longer than I have), so disciplines were timed on a digital watch, but nothing's gone spectacularly wrong yet. Tony opened the competition with a lengthy speech that was mainly about royal jelly, which makes a change from the usual one and kept us all entertained, someone was buzzing around taking photos, several spectators came to see what was happening, science museum people were looking at us suspiciously, it's all the fun of a memory competition!

Jonas von Essen is clearly going to be the runaway winner, although he's producing the kind of scores that elite competitors do when they haven't got any real opposition. That, more than anything, is motivating me to do some more training and pose him a challenge at the World Championship! I copied his habit of taking his groovy shoes off, since my less groovy ones (which I nonetheless love, since they were bought for me by someone special) got soaked in the rain, and went around barefoot all afternoon. We're the Zola Budds of memory sports!

The British contingent are led by James Paterson, Wales's finest, who got the highest score at names & faces, although not quite as high as Phil announced - he accidentally read out James's competitor number, 170. The score printouts all have the competitor numbers on them, which is just confusing for everyone - I keep reading my name and thinking I only scored 29, which is bad for names and faces, but downright horrible for binary! There's also Ryan S Smith, who loves his middle initial enough that he added it onto his nameplate in red pen (we all get toblerone-shaped paper names to put on our desks, with the appropriate national flag and, of course, that competitor number again), Mike Outram and Phill Ash, all warmed up at the Friendly Championship and dipping their toes into two-day International Standard competition, and Jake O'Gorman, at his first competition and saying I'm the one who inspired him to compete. I always worry that I'm a sad disappointment to such people when they meet me in real life. "Who's this short, fat, bald oaf?" they no doubt say to themselves, "I thought Ben Pridmore would be a huge, mighty specimen of humanity, with a big deep booming voice and magic mind-powers of some kind, possibly involving telekinesis!"

International guests are Jonas; James's Russian student Sergey; Raj who spends so much time in England competing in memory competitions that he hardly counts as Indian any more; Søren from Denmark; Rick from Holland; Joona from Finland who was at the WMC last year but who for some reason I never got round to saying hello to; and a newcomer from Spain who I'm sure introduced himself to me as Javier, but is called Francisco on the scoresheets and nameplate (with different surnames on each). He might be a spy. Or I might just be bad at remembering names.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm on a train

Another thing I'm on is my way to London, and another is cloud nine, because I'm off work for the next week and a half, and I've been working much too much, for not nearly enough money, these last few months. The job, which I'm still enjoying a lot more than I should, was unfeasibly busy for the last month or so, but things have calmed down now and I can safely take time off without worrying that the world will come to an end. And I'll turn my attention to the important things I've been neglecting, like writing about memory on the internet and maybe even training in the use of those memory techniques I used to know about. It might be a little late to get in full match fitness for the UK Championship tomorrow morning, but you never know what I might accomplish between now and the World Championship in December, if it happens. There'll always be more memory competitions out there, anyway - a fun one in 2014, hopefully, that there'll be more news on soon...

Monday, August 19, 2013

Memorable stories

Last week, looking through my bookcases for something to read on the train to work, I grabbed Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King. And then grabbed my rucksack, since the book's too big to fit in my jacket pocket. But when I came to open the book, I realised I'd never actually read the fourth of the four medium-ish-length stories in it. I must have bought the book to read on a plane journey, and arrived at wherever I was going before I'd finished reading.

Either that, or the story (A Good Marriage) is just magically forgettable - today I found myself trying to remember what it was about, and couldn't think of even the slightest detail. The best I could do was a vague idea that it was about a husband and wife somehow. It's not actually a bad story at all, and I'll probably remember it now I've refreshed my memory, but then again maybe tomorrow I'll be oblivious again. Maybe I did read it on that plane journey, and several times again since then. Maybe I wrote it, and maybe I actually am Stephen King? You can never tell with memory.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Fantasy island, all I ever dreamed of

It's always great to have the football back after a long summer without, isn't it? And this season, in addition to enjoying the games and occasionally having a bet on the weekend's premier league matches (I never win, so this is a very, very occasionally kind of thing that I strictly limit to days when I've got quite a lot of spare money kicking around) I'm doing Fantasy Premier League, in competition with people from work.

Fantasy football has moved on since the days when I last did it. No longer do you just pick a list of names and check the newspaper on Monday to see how many points they've scored, now it's interactive with weekly transfers and the ability to pick what colour your virtual team's virtual socks should be. I worry that I could get addicted to it, and that then it'll be even more embarrassing when I come bottom of the league, as I inevitably will. Anyone else out there in zoomyland got a team?

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Take a look at the kids on the street, no they never miss a beat

Even though the whole town of Beeston is in the process of being demolished to make way for the trams, it's actually really cool around here. For example, coming into the town centre today and picking my way through the rubble that used to be The Square, I heard the sound of drums coming from the marquee where they regularly have musical events. Actually, I thought to myself, that's really good drumming - the kind of sound made by someone who actually knows what they're doing, rather than someone who's just waving drumsticks around and hoping for the best. Then an equally good guitar chimed in, so I went over to check out what turned out to be Parasight - a really cool band composed of four teenagers, who you should definitely check out if you get the chance. The guitar playing when they did Sweet Child Of Mine was either a recording that they were miming to or genuinely that awesome, I couldn't quite decide. Someone who I assume was the lead singer's mum was singing along to the songs and handing out cards with the website address on, but only slightly diminishing their coolness; that's how cool they were.

Meanwhile, I need to be cleaning my flat up a bit. Or a lot. On Wednesday night I'm going down to London straight after work for the memory competition at the Science Museum, then staying there for the weekend. On Monday I'm meeting a friend who's flying in from America to stay for the week (I think a few years ago I referred to him in this blog as Weird Internet Friend #2, so that's his name for every subsequent mention on here, I'm afraid), then on Tuesday I'm abandoning him to his own devices and flying to Germany for a sort of pre-filming thing for a TV show that will be really totally and completely awesome if it does come about, later in the year. Back here on Wednesday, and not back to work until the Monday after - it's a busy life.

But it doesn't leave me much time to clear up the filth lying around this place, especially since I can't be bothered. Maybe I should hire a cleaner - there's a card in the post office window that really made me laugh. "Cleaning Work Wanted", it says, and follows it up with "I am from Thailand, where we were brought up to keep our homes clean and tidy." I assume the intention was to stress what a good cleaner she is because of her upbringing, but it really comes across as "you filthy English people don't know how to clean your houses, so let me do it for you." Assuming she'll work for free, since I've still got no money, I'll have to give her a call - I could do with a cleaner who'll also give me a stern lecture on how I wasn't brung up right.

Friday, August 09, 2013

The importance of blogging

Yes, I haven't posted anything here for a month, and I'm terribly sorry about that. But I just checked back in the old posts to see if I've stayed in Rosebery Hall student accommodation before, and it turns out I have, so I'm more convinced than ever of the importance of writing on the internet about everything I do.

I realise I could just keep a diary and not share it with everyone on the internet, but it's more fun this way.

So anyway, I'm going down to London at the end of the month for the UK Memory Championship! Yay! And staying in Rosebery Hall, since it seems to have satisfied me three years ago! I'm currently sort-of in training, in that I haven't done any real training for ages, but I'm doing a nightly Online Memory Challenge, at 8pm British Summer Time, so please come along and join me if you want a chat and a quick test of memory or two!

And I'll start blogging more frequently, just in case I need to refer back to it in future.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Win the ultimate sporting experience

Occasionally I see those competitions on ITV football where the prize is excessively huge - a month-long globe-trotting holiday to see the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup finals and so forth, luxury hotels and spending money and everything. Well, it seems they do the same in Australia, and one person who won a massive extravagant holiday in England to watch the cricket this summer is Russell Bauer, the 2002 Australian Memory Champion! I've just met up with him while he's in Nottingham to watch the first test, and it's always great to meet another memoriser and find the similarities. I'm working on a theory that all the people with the best memories think David Tennant was awesome in Doctor Who...

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Where the cool kids hang out

If you're interested in memory talk but hadn't heard the latest news, get over to Mnemotechnics.org, where I'm answering any question people want to ask about memory stuff. And also comparing the personality flaws of two different cartoon pterodactyls, even though nobody asked me to.

I will shortly be posting a full and graphic account of the 2003 World Memory Championship in Kuala Lumpur, so keep your eyes peeled!

Incidentally, while I'm on the subject of memory competitions, it's the UK Championship at the Science Museum in London on August 22-23, and if you like memory competitions but are too scared to take part, why not come and help out as an arbiter? Meet and hang out with new and interesting people and have a lot of fun! I recommend it!

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The solution to everything

You've got to feel a bit sorry for David Ferrer. He's really awesome at tennis, but he doesn't get to be Spain's national hero because Rafael Nadal's that little bit better. And he's playing better than ever at the age of 31, but nobody really notices that because Roger Federer's eight months older and slightly better.

What he needs to do, clearly, is wear a stylish hat. Then he can be the world's best stylish-hat-wearing tennis player!

(Ferrer for the last few years has been consistently the world number 5 in tennis - I see him as a kindred spirit)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

I'm not lazy, I've got a good excuse

Writer's block. Of a very psychological kind. See, I agreed to write memory-related things in return for money, and the idea seems to have horrified me so much that I've been completely unable to do anything even slightly like that ever since. But I'm determined to get over it, this weekend. I'll try getting drunk - I've been told that alcohol is the solution to all the world's problems.

Friday, June 14, 2013

It's a fine art

The Quad in Derby is launching a season on the theme of memory, and an exhibition of the works of William Kentridge. And seeing as I've got connections to Derby, memory and (tenuously) art, they asked me along to the opening night to recite the titles of all the artwork on display and try to impress people with the artistic way that people memorise things.

It was a lot of fun, too! And I met a hypnotist who's doing a talk on memory there next month, that I might go along to. Anything to help with the motivation to memorise things!

I'm inclined to blog about tonight in the form of contemporary art, rather than writing, but I'm too lazy. It would be a collage, superimposed on a page ripped out of my collection of Synapsia magazines, and would include a black cat, a joint of ham, a stopwatch and the panel from From Hell of Melville MacNaghten saying "Few too many art-wallahs for my taste".

Thursday, June 13, 2013

What's my age again?

Someone I know was convinced that it was his 38th birthday the other day, until I pointed out that if he was born in 1976, same as me, that would mean he just turned 37.

Funnily enough, I've also really struggled for the last few months to remember that I'm 36 and not 37. The number 37 has always sort of rattled around my subconscious mind in a disturbing way, but since I'm currently re-reading Thief Of Time, by Terry Pratchett, on the train to work, I can't help suspecting that someone has stolen a year of everyone's lives, or just stuck time back together in the wrong way, so that I'm currently 37 but will turn 36 in October. If so, I think that's probably a great improvement.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cartoon Time

I haven't talked about cartoons on here for a while, so I thought I should place on record that the best cartoons to come along in the last couple of years are Adventure Time and Regular Show.

Adventure Time has a tendency to make me really laugh out loud at times, and not many TV shows do that. Regular Show is downright brilliant in the scope of its imagination and silliness. Both of them should be watched by all my blog readers!

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to pass the time on the train to work

What's a good nickname for a man with a staggeringly 1980s hairstyle, sunglasses whatever the weather and a suede jacket with the sleeves rolled up? He's the boyfriend of Leather Tuscadero, but I don't really want to call him Fonzie...

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Can't they pre-tape it?

Twice in a row, the Channel 4 continuity announcer has stumbled over his witty scripted lines. They need to either hire someone who can read from a piece of paper, or stop trying to be funny and go back to just saying "And now The Simpsons". I vote for the latter.

Yes, there are better things I could be doing on a Sunday afternoon, but I don't care.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

World rankings

Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer are playing in the French Open final tomorrow. They're currently number 4 and 5 in the world ranking list, but irrespective of the result of tomorrow's game, Ferrer will move up above Nadal in the rankings. That's because tennis world rankings cover the last twelve months, and Nadal's win last year will drop out of the total points, so he can't increase his total score even if he wins, while Ferrer only got to the semi-final last year, so he's guaranteed to increase his total.

Is this a good system? Actually, I think it is pretty good, and any kind of silliness like that is just of academic interest - Nadal will zoom back up to first or second later this year anyway, when he plays in the tournaments he missed through injury in 2012. The really interesting part is that tennis rankings give you a certain number of points in each tournament, depending which round you reach. This I think is less of a good system - if you're a lower-ranking player and you get drawn against the likes of Nadal in the first round, you'll score less points than some other lower-ranking player who gets a lucky draw and gets through to the third or fourth round without playing anyone really good. I'm sure it evens out, but there does seem to be quite a lot of random chance involved.

Or maybe I'm just prejudiced because othello has a cooler system. Your ranking points (there isn't a universally-accepted world ranking, though the one on the French website has gained a lot of support these past few years; the one that British people care about is the British rankings) go up and down depending on the ranking points total of the individual players you win or lose against. Othello doesn't have knockout tournaments, so we couldn't use the tennis-style rankings even if we wanted to, but nothing's stopping tennis from adopting othello-style rankings. Maybe they should.

And othello doesn't claim to have invented that system, I just like to talk in terms of the things I like. Just in case anyone was wondering.

Memory sports, of course, has a different kind of thing altogether. You get a certain amount of points in a competition, and your world ranking score is the highest you've ever achieved in a competition. Even if your best score was donkey's years ago. That's an okay system too, but I'd like to see something based on people's best scores in individual disciplines - perhaps two different ranking lists, in fact - one based on just scores achieved at the world championship, another based on all the disciplines from all the different types of competition. Maybe I'll work these alternatives out and see if there's any way to make my "official world ranking" (another thing about memory competitions is that people freely use the word "official" to describe anything they want) higher than fifth-best in the world!

Social commentary

According to my stats page, Dai's number-themed comment on yesterday's blog post was the 3000th comment published on this blog!

I don't think that's enough, really. Throw me some more comments, people! Get a discussion going in that hidden secret little bit that you get to by clicking at the bottom of my ramblings!

Friday, June 07, 2013

11:11

You know that thing people say, that they only ever look at a clock when it's 11:11? All very psychological. Well, the headlines on the Yahoo news summary that you get when you log in to Yahoo mail, whether you want to or not, have:

Teachers: 11 Not Banned Despite 'Misconduct'

Isle Of Man TT Race Crash: 11 Spectators Hurt

Cyber disputes loom large as Obama meets China's Xi


Not that I paid particular attention to them, but the third one made me stop and think "Obama meets China's Eleven"? What, are they playing cricket or something? It took me ages to readjust my brain into reading "Xi" instead of "XI", all because of those rogue elevens just up above. It's all very psychological.

Legalities

I like overhearing snatches of conversation from people on the street and then speculating on what they might be talking about. I just cycled past a gang of youths as one of them was saying, authoritatively if perhaps slightly drunkenly, "The only way you could be done for attempted murder is if he actually dies..."

I'm not a legal expert, but I'm pretty sure it's usually the other way round. But even so, have I overheard discussion of an actual murder attempt, or a joke? You can usually tell from the tone of voice, but this one really could have gone either way...

Thursday, June 06, 2013

The story so far

If you want to keep up with what's happening in the big wild world of memory competitions, you really need to be reading Johann Randall Abrina's blog! Just to look at that summary of all the competitions so far this year fills an old-timer like me with a warm glow of satisfaction - when I started out, there were three or four competitions a year, at the very most, in the whole world! Now even a backwater of modern memory like the British Isles has that many itself, and the cool countries are all running their own competitions all over the place too!

I think the 'big' competition before the world championships is still the German Memory Open, buried though it is in such a busy summer calendar, but don't forget the UK Memory Championship a month later (that link isn't a website of its own, just a note that it's going to happen, but it really is definitely going to happen, and worth going to!)

Or take your pick from any other event on the calendar - that's Mnemotechnics.org, which keeps a good and accurate list of what's happening. There will be a World Memory Championship too, most likely, but they're adopting the successful technique from last year of not revealing any details and then having to retract it when they change. So I don't need to warn anyone not to book their plane tickets, unless they're the kind of person who just guesses the date and location of a memory championship, buys a first class ticket and hopes for the best. And if they are, they probably wouldn't listen to me.