To the casual observer, the sight of rows and rows of heads all bowed in concentration in a drab London hotel basement is instantly forgettable. But for 74 competitors, this is the ultimate day to remember: to remember random words, number sequences and decks of cards. It was the final day of the World Memory Championships, an international war of wits.
Thestakes are highest for Ben Pridmore, a 33-year-old accountant from Beeston, Nottinghamshire. The reigning World Champion is in silver medal position going into day three, and it is touch and go whether he'll retain his crown. Men's Health magazine may have named him one of six "superhumans", but that is little consolation when it comes to battling the combined grey matter of the 16-strong Chineseteam in the afternoon's speed cards discipline.
If he hadn't fluffed the first of the decamentathlon events, the relatively easy abstract images round, then Mr Pridmore might not be chasing his mental nemesis, Germany's Johannes Mallow, coming into the last day. At least he'd made up ground in Friday evening's marathon event: the one-hour cards. Our man creamed it, memorising a whopping 22 decks –1,144 cards – and trouncing the second-placed German, Simon Reinhardt, who managed just 20 packs.
Like Mr Pridmore, I, too, get off to a bad start: how stupid do I feel admitting to Tony Buzan, one of the championship's co-founders, that I've forgotten my business cards? I quickly blame my post-pregnancy mushy brain – a doctor friend had recently told me authoritatively, "it never recovers, youknow". But unfortunately Mr Buzan isn't buying it: "The forgetful mum? That's rubbish," he snorts.
At least there's hope, because, apparently, it's all in the mind. "If you want to make your memory worse, all you have to do is think it isn't very good," says Mr Buzan, who has written more than 90 books about memory. He started the championships 18 years ago because he "wanted to demonstrate thatmemory was a much more powerful mental muscle than people realised, and that it can be trained and improved. And that it can get better as you get older."
War in Afghanistan: Not in our name
Seven out of 10 Britons back The Independent on Sunday's call for a phased withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan as a landmark report by Oxfam this week exposes the real human cost of the war.
Thepowerful dossier by the aid agency reveals how women and children in Afghanistan are bearing the brunt of the ongoing conflict, undermining the international community's claims that they are the very people being helped by the West's activities.
Its contents will add to mounting concerns among the public, and in some quarters of the military and the House of Commons, that the US and the UK are fightingan ill-conceived and ill-judged war that has left as many as 32,000 Afghans dead and 235,000 displaced. "It is a justifiable and often sensible way of ensuring that the horse is not subjected to ongoing cruelty and neglect," he said.
Kathryn Brinnand (pictured inset), 43, from Macclesfield, Cheshire, has owned her 20-year-old horse, Jane Doe, for 13 years. She has been unable to find work as aconveyancer since taking a career break in 2007.
"Friends and professionals have been really good to me. 'Just pay me when you can' has been the answer from the livery stables and my farrier. I have suffered sleepless nights, and a permanent pain in my left arm because I haven't been able to pay them and it's just awful, particularly when you know that they are struggling themselves. I relocatedJane Doe a couple of weeks ago to a private stable that is caring for her at cost. I don't know how I am going to pay them at the end of this month because, apart from myself, I have sold everything.
In a recession, they shoot horses, don't they?
Hundreds of horse owners may have their mounts shot this winter as the recession hits owners who can no longer cope with the financial burden of...