The Final Countdown (part one)

A few weeks ago, as I was leaving the Maltings, one of York's finest hostelries, in the company of the city's finest knitting archaeologist and its greatest sedimentological media star, a woman ran out after us.  Stopping me in the street, she blurted out excitedly, "Weren't you on Countdown?"

As my companions chuckled away, I had to confess that yes, I had been. And after the buzz of being congratulated in the street had died down, I realized that I never finished blogging about it.  So, to redress that oversight (and as I'm not going to make it through to the Series 65 finale), here is that long-overdue final instalment...



Graham Linehan has written or co-written lots of great comedy, from
Father Ted to Brass Eye to Black Books.  But for those of a slightly geekier bent, you really can't beat The IT Crowd.  And for those of a Countdownishly geeky bent, you can't beat The Final Countdown:

I was living in Newfoundland when the episode was broadcast, so I missed it.  Indeed, I was unaware of it till I announced I was going to be on Countdown, and lots of people started baffling me by talking about the 8+ Club and Street Countdown and TNETENNBA.

Having now seen the episode, and filmed the show it lampoons, I am no longer baffled, or perhaps just baffled in a different way, but I have to say it is rather a good parody. 

When I knew I was going to appear on Countdown, I thought to myself, "Should I do some proper practising, to try and get myself in better mental shape to perform well?"

And then I thought, "Don't be daft, Herringshaw. You've never been much cop at revising or practising or training in the past. Why break the habit of a lifetime?"

And then I thought, "Ah yes, but I've never been on Countdown before, and I would hate to look a fool."

So I searched online to see if there was a Countdown practice web site.  And I found that there was, and it was mysteriously called Apterous.

I signed up, read a bit about how the online game worked, and tried my first game.  It was hopeless.  I am a pen and paper type of chap, and trying to do every letters, numbers and conundrum round using a keyboard instead was no good.  I played one game, lost one game, and abandoned my brief training regime.

"That's what I like to see," said my negative sub-conscious. "Giving up whilst you're behind."

A female velvet ant is secondarily apterous

What I hadn't appreciated was that all the proper Countdown players are Apterous aficionados. Almost as soon as I met him, Ned Pendleton told me to sign up, and then, during the build up to the Series 64 finals, a girl I didn't know told me I should join, as did one or two other players or audience members.

I began to wonder if this was the 8+ Club, and couldn't quite bring myself to reveal that I knew of Apterous' existence, but had decided it wasn't for me.

Whether I would live to regret this, given that Countdown groupies are the most sexually voracious of all groupies, and the most beautiful, was unclear.

So, at the end of my last Countdown piece, I'd just finished my fourth game, ending Series 64 as the unbeaten champion.  This was considerably better than I'd expected I'd do, so I boarded a train to London feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Down in the Smoke, I met up with some palaeontological colleagues, one of whom tried to persuade me to get the PalAss logo tattooed across my face for when I went back on the show.  I declined, but promised to take some fossils with me onto the next episode.

How my face would have appeared if this man had had his way.

That episode was being filmed at the start of the following week, so on the Sunday afternoon I made my way back to Manchester.  Once there, I walked the wrong way out of Piccadilly station and found myself in a red light district, with a toothless woman and a Drug Abuse Centre and some ladies of the night (though it was the afternoon).  I turned around and headed the other way.

Upon arriving finally at the Jury's Inn, the nice man on reception told me that one of my fellow competitors had already checked in, and had been playing Apterous on his laptop whilst he did so.  I knew there and then that if I played this chap I would lose, so I took the only sensible course of preparation: I read Stewart Lee's wonderful How I Escaped My Certain Fate and watched TV.

Next morning, at the studio, I met David, Graeme and Steven, who would be the next three contestants.  They all seemed like nice guys, but I was relieved that I would play David first, as I could tell immediately that Graeme was the hotel Countdown practicer.

I should state at this juncture that I didn't know Apterous gets someone to write a match report on every episode of Countdown.  I therefore instruct you to read Ryan Taylor's account of my match with David.  It's really rather funny, even if he does make disparaging comments about this blog.

The only things I have to add to the mix are these:

1. The fossils I managed to get shown on telly were a devil's toenail (the Early Jurassic oyster Gryphaea arcuata) and a piece of Carboniferous coral (probably Lithostrotion), both of which I picked up on the Yorkshire coast:

Carboniferous Countdown coral
Devil's toenail
2. In the first letters round after the break, I spotted a word that would have allowed me to declare 'a homophobic seven, Jeff,' but I lost my nerve (though I discovered later that it has been done before).

I bottled it, Jeff played it, Susie loved it.

3. David was a lovely chap, and a bit overawed by having to speak to both Mr Stelling (a hero of his) and Ms Riley (whom he admitted he was a bit in love with).

So with a 92-45 victory, I became a five-time winner.  But could I take it a step further, and become a sexachamp*?  Only time would tell...

*This is not an official Countdown term, but one I feel obliged to try and use, if only for my personal childishness.