Driving lessons continue apace, too. At the end of the month there's the ninth Mind Sports Olympiad, though this time I'll only be able to go and help out for four days; the shift pattern that meant I missed both Accio 2005 and Worldcon will also make me miss two four-day chunks of the Olympiad, so I will just have to fill the four days between power station work with whatever MSO work I can. I'm counting down, and looking forward very much, to going and seeing Meg again, of course, and there's The Witching Hour waiting for us when we get there.
I've also started work on a small and hopefully interesting side web project which is something I've been thinking about, on and off, for months or years - more about that when there's something worth seeing.
However, this break, I've thrown all my knowledge about sleep patterns out of the window to enable a quick jaunt down to London and back. A friend I've known for approaching ten years, David Hammett, is on a flying visit from LA to Germany and London; having only ever met him in the summer of 1996, I took advantage of being rather closer than usual to remake his acquaintance.
I first got to know David Hammett through the alt.tv.game-shows newsgroup, which I discovered in my first term at university (autumn 1994) and which must take a passing whiff of the credit for the crappiness of my degree. I'm not sure whether I knew David to see him make a glorious post about the arrival and first day of the Game Show Network, which I think dates back to 1st December (November?) 1994, but if I wasn't there to see it first-hand, I can't have missed by much at all. The newsgroup was my first home on the Internet - very much my first fandom, and there are similarities to be drawn between the game show fandom and other fandoms. It never really seemed to classify itself as a fandom, as such, though.
Anyway, one of the inevitable ways in which the fandom expressed its nature was the existence of real-life get-togethers between people who knew each other online, the so-called Game Show Conventions. These are just small house parties where nice, like-minded people get together and revel in the fandom, by watching tapes, playing games, making bad jokes and all other other things fans do. Some fans are rather well-connected and so have been able to bring a more direct link with the industry to the Conventions, some did not. I attended GSC 5 in Los Angeles in the summer of '97 (possibly '96?), whereupon I met (among others) lambertman and rialtus for the first time.
David Hammett had travelled from Georgia to attend; he flew back after the event, though I stayed in LA for a day or two more then took a Greyhound bus for 48 hours (not including three time zone changes!) to Atlanta where I stayed with David for a few more days. It was a glorious holiday and David was very kind throughout; if I can dig out what I wrote about it at the time (can't imagine I wouldn't've posted something about it to the newsgroup...) then I'll post a link.
The reason why David is such a kindred spirit, beyond the strong game show link, is a common interest in games, particularly pinball, and mathematics. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say David is the US expert (and, quite possibly, the world expert by extension) on successfully and usefully incorporating game show methods into teaching. parkingmeters and dezzikitty at least know of the Governor's Honors Program, Georgia's annual gifted-and-talented summer camp palooza; David has run an annual math tournament in the game show stylee there for 19 years now, so this year's participants weren't alive when he started it in the mid-'80s. (David, have you run one every year?)
As well as being the man for incorporating game shows into mathematics, he's also rather the go-to guy in some camps for incorporating mathematics into game shows; it is not unknown for producers and production teams to call David for mathematical consultancy work on game shows - mostly expectation algebra pertaining to prize budgets, but also combinatorics when it's appropriate and some good plain academic common sense which is far rarer a commodity than you would hope. All this and he's a kind, caring guy with far smaller an ego than most would be under similar circumstances.
So yesterday morning I grabbed the morning National Express coach and occasionally-napped my way down to London town, getting there unexpectedly early (!!!) and picking up some US$ at a remarkably competitive rate from fx link near Victoria Station for my next trip to see Meg. David, travelling along side Tony Harrison of http://www.tpir.tv/ (the fan site for The Price Is Right) half-way through a frequent-flyer-miles-fuelled pre-business-trip leisure trip, were staying in Knightsbridge at a rather swanky Sheraton just down the road from Harrods. Upon knocking at their room, I misrecognised David and guessed he was Tony, because he looked younger then when I had last seen him last century. With short hair and no beard he looks much less Californian than he did before he moved there. In fact, he looks scarily like a not-much-older lambertman, which is pretty good going.
Another part of the reason for my trip was to ferry tapes down to mr_babbage in an attempt to declutter myself of large parts of my game show video tape collection. It was a mutual decluttering, really; I decluttered some video tapes, he decluttered an old computer. I also decluttered some cash for the privilege, and cash isn't clutter. A mutually beneficial agreement, though, certainly.
So before taking these tapes to mr_babbage and off into the wild blue yonder, I let David and Tony look through to see if there was anything British they wanted to see on these tapes while they were there in a room with a PAL VCR. They passed over the delights of Waffle (turkey), Ice Warriors (mammoth turkey), The Big Ticket (not so much a turkey as five strikes in a row) and Nexus (really pretty good) to see, mostly, British versions of American shows: Wipeout, Strike It Rich (Lucky), Family Feud (Fortunes) and so forth. They were also intrigued to see Countdown, about which they had heard much.
We then went for a very pleasant dinner at an Italian restaurant. We booked a table at an Italian based on Frommer's guide book, which looks like a very good guidebook for the US market to me, only to go there, wander past it, phone to check we had the correct number, stroll back and discover that a couple of weeks ago it had turned from an Italian to a Japanese. Hmm. London restaurants sometimes do that; when Meg first came to London, we tried to find London's one Mexican restaurant that wasn't a Tex-Mex, only to stroll there to find it had turned into a Lebanese. Whenever this happens, the only recourse is to find the nearest Italian and two times out of two it has turned out to be a very pleasant chance discovery.
I had a very considerable dish entitled "vegetarian chilli", which was a bowl of said chilli (including cauliflower - unusual for the dish, but effective!) and came accompanied by a separate large bowl of salad and, instead of rice or chips, a decent-sized pizza base. I wasn't quite sure how to eat it, and there was a lot of it to eat, but it was extremely good. The lemon ice cream dessert was a winner, too. It came to about £20 for two courses and a share in a portion of the single best bruchetta I've yet eaten, but David kindly paid for it. Recommended. Dinnertime conversation was mostly me checking on the progress of friends from the States.
After dinner, we returned to the hotel and I picked the next few selections. From 1985, Beat The Teacher and The Adventure Game, both via, la-la-la-la, BitTorrent. Beat The Teacher is, for me, the definitive noughts-and-crosses game show, with far more gameplay and considerably more interesting questions in a fifteen-minute show than Hollywood Squares or the like could fit in a week of half-hour episodes. The Adventure Game is just plain amiably wacky. (Meg, am I allowed to have a crush on the way an actress looked and acted twenty years ago, now she seems to be out of the public eye?) Incidentally, I am noted that the actor who played Ron Gad, who sklat sdrawckab, is now a RSC and West End Shakespearean actor. Sometimes a gimmick can get you a break which gets you a long way.
Slightly after 11pm (and a little The Crystal Maze) we called it a night. My efforts to convince David to join the many lovely folk on LJ, several of whom would make him most welcome, were not immediately successful, so I took tube and train to see mr_babbage. You may recall I mentioned the magic show he was doing a few weeks back; while I couldn't get down to see it, he did about half the tricks for me in person. You all missed a treat. Even knowing the routine, I'd happily pay to watch it again.
He kindly put me up for the night; the next day was filled with magic DVDs (learning how the tricks are done only makes them more impressive!) and a coach journey home. I don't mind coach journeys, especially if you can get a double-seat to yourself. They offer relatively uninterrupted opportunities for reading and writing. You can probably tell which parts of this I wrote on the coach, being expansive, and the somewhat abridged second half written at home with tons of competing attractions. All told, an excellent short break due to the kindness of lovely folk who I don't get to see nearly frequently enough.
Off to see if I can give blood in an hour or two. I know there's a rule about people who have been in the USA within the last four weeks being temporarily ineligible; I may have arrived back in the UK 27 days ago, but I did set off from the US four Thursdays back...