Thursday, December 20, 2007

(224) Le siége perileux

" One must resolutely make the matter known at the court of the King. " The hexagram of Breakthrough. I Ching

" There is often mixed motivation in people´s actions. " Fiona Pitt-Kethley

"A man must make his opportunity as much as take it." Francis Bacon

Celador rang me on November 20th 2005 to say that I had qualified for the show. I took the call at a chess meet at the Paragon Hotel in Birmingham, and asked teammate, GM Stuart Conquest, if he would like to accompany me as my guest.
He had previously said that he had been struck by my book, Coincidences, and thought it would "Make you a millionaire."

On the evening of November 21st I watched part of a TV programme about Charles Dickens in America. It was presented by actress Miriam Margoyles.

Several years earlier she had sat next to me on a Victoria Line underground train, and a few years before that my wife had conversed with her at an Orange Literary Award party.
In the programme she visited the school for the Deaf and Blind where Helen Keller was taught.
I had agreed with my wife that if I ever got into the hot seat I would give 10% of my winnings to charity.
For the January 2005 show I had said it would go to victims of the tsunami.
This time I intended to give it to SENSE; a charity catering for people who have suffered deafness/blindness through e.g. their mothers contracting rubella.
I chose SENSE as Charles Ingram had raised thousands for them through sponsored runs and walks. It was my intention to sponsor him.

Later in January 2006, the very edition of The Daily Mirror which would contain a reference to my sponsoring Ingram to run for SENSE also contained an item about the trial of a man who had played a prank of putting antifreeze into a friend´s drink and thereby, quite unintentionally, rendered him deaf and blind.

After Ingram ran the Flora London Marathon I met him and his family at a reception for all runners who had been sponsored for SENSE (some 400) at London´s The Coliseum.
I had only been there once before and that was to see the ENO performance of Parsifal (see Entry 143).

Five days later I discovered from Grandmaster Keith Arkell, when I was wearing the SENSE tee shirt that I had been given at the presentation, and in which I had posed for a photo with Charles, that the wife of Grandmaster Aaron Summerscale had also been a runner for SENSE.
On the evening of November 18th I had flown in to Luton and whilst awaiting a train north at Luton Airport Parkway the former MP who had taken up an alternative career as a novelist, Edwina Currie, appeared at my right hand side before crossing over to another platform. Just two months previously she had appeared as part of a celebrity couple on the show -

On the evening of November 20th I met up with some friends, including musician Jay Kouchak,
at a café in London. Jay agreed to be one of my five Phone-a-Friends.
I crashed at Mahmood Ahmed´s sister´s house in Harrow.
As I left in the morning he pressed upon me a book; The Wisdom of Crowds. I had noted it at a bookstand at Alicante airport a few months earlier, and had leafed through it for perhaps 30 seconds.

I began to read its introduction on the evening of November 20th, and noted how it gave instances of the average estimates of large groups being more accurate than those of experts. That immediately made me think of the Ask the Audience lifeline of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
I then moved on to the opening chapter and saw indeed it did address that very phenomenon, saying that whereas Phone-A-Friends in the States were right 62% of the time, the audience were on no less than 91% of opccasions.

At 2:07 p.m on November 21st I was trying to ring Jay from a train when he rang me to say that he had just been walking down New Bond Street and bumped into film director Guy Ritchie.
I had made a note re approaching Ritchie, whom I knew to be a chess fanatic and whose coach, Allan Norris, was a friend of mine, as a possible entré into the film world. Jay had chatted with Ritchie about his latest film, Revolver, and had left some contact details.

Some years earlier Allan had asked Ritchie´s wife, Madonna, on my behalf whether she would like to make some videos on yoga with me producing them, but the Queen of Pop had declined. The previous night Ritchie´s name had cropped up in conversation between Jay and myself apropos his love of chess. Neither of us had met him.
When I was on the show for the second time, in October 2000, my guest in the audience was Nick Foster, who had been my best man. He taught the Ritchies clay pigeon shooting.

At the studio a guy who had taken some details on me before, did so again. He asked me about Christmas presents, if I won money, and I mentioned that the Spanish celebrate it principally on Jan 6th, which is also known as Epiphany.
Then at rehearsal a guy got the dummy question:
"On which date does Epiphany fall?".

During the afternoon I rang Phone-A-Friend William Hartston´s home to check all was okay. His elder son, James, answered. He assured me that his father would be available as a Phone-a-Friend that evening.

In 1989 Hartston had varied from established family tradition and had not named his son William, but James William. (See Entry 128).

I won the second fastest Finger First trial of the night and so, over six years after I had first entered the studio, qualified to play.

It is not enough to win: others must also lose.

The only other Grandmaster to reach the studio stage of this competition was American Maurice Ashley. We had played in 1998 and drawn our game.

The £8,000 question was -
"The standing stones of Avebury are in which county?"
Bob Woffinden had pointed these out to me on September 17th 2005 as we drove back from visiting Charles and Diana Ingram at their Wiltshire home (see Entry 222).
I told Tarrant, that this was how I was able to give the correct answer. We had only ended up going past the stones through something of a misdirection on my part.,_Wiltshire
And that coincidence even made its way into the Daily Mirror -

The recording ended, and I was to return the following day to face the £16,000 question.

On January 18th 2006 I received an e mail from Dr. David Nias.
He recounted that he had been on holiday and drove from Sussex to Bournemouth, where he had been only once before. In planning the return trip to London he decided to drive through the New Forest and then to Salisbury to read the Magna Carta, and then on to Stonehenge and Avebury - but only drove past because it was raining.
When the Millionaire? question came up on TV on Jan 14th 2006 he immediately responded by saying to his sister that he had just driven past Avebury, so it must be in Wiltshire.

On the morning of Nov 23rd 2005 I received by e mail an edition of a Sceptic newletter which contained a piece by Richard Dawkins deprecating the idea of design in the natural world.

I also got an e mail from James Sorrie, whom I had met at the Elstree studios in November 2004 when I had appeared as a contestant and he as a reserve. We had each previously contributed to threads at the website pertaining to the case of Charles Ingram. I had also thrown in some coincidences of mine at those threads.

When we had met, James asked whether I had experienced any recent coincidences. That remark seemed to indicate that what I had posted had intrigued him, so in October 2005 I had the temerity to e mail him a bunch of Ingram-related coincidences of mine.

On November 8th 2005, James had contacted me about an investigation into possible cheating on the Australian version of the show in the case of a man who had won the top prize.

On November 23rd 2005 a thread went up at the site suggesting that a guy in the hot seat the previous night might have been up to something, as he mentioned visiting Major Ingram and had also taken an awfully long time to answer question seven.

In response, I tried to explain my actions.

Sorrie later remarked on how apposite it was that he should write back to me with his awaited comments on a bunch of my Ingram-related coincidences that I had sent him, on the same day that, unbeknownst to him, I was in the hot seat and also when remarks that I too might be cheating were appearing!

These suspicions tied in with those about the Australian winner.

He was exonerated, and I, prompted by Sorrie´s direction, posted pro-Ingram at an Australian website devoted to the show.
... ... ... ... ...
The number of coincidences I recorded in my life had led me to the possibility that we might be being dreamed.
But I had been turning to other possible design explanations, one of which was that something along the lines of the plot of the film The Matrix, where a computer programme is generating the reality people experience, might even be true.
I had read a few years previously a piece in the Fortean Times stating that at an American University a course suggesting just this was being taught.

I had then moved on from that to think that it could all just be some sort of game, and had reconsidered some of my most basic attitudes.

Perhaps, rather than the pursuit of enlightenment, I might be better motivated in just harmlessly seeking a good time!?

Sting´s yearning for something more was conveyed through Hole In My Life and whose desire for esoteric tuition was made clear in Secret Journey and Wrapped Around Your Finger  and whom I understood to have consulted a guru.
Such a consultation may well have occured on the same day in October 1986 when I met a woman, Linda, in the Cairn Hotel, Newcastle who said that she knew him and that years before he used to jam with her boyfriend.
The title of his 1987 album Nothing Like The Sun may be an oblique acknowledgment of the guru consultation.

Noteworthy that in the final verse of Wrapped Around Your Finger he sings of surpassing the guru...
("It is a wretched pupil who does not excel his master." Leonardo da Vinci)

(In late 2005 I was to see a quote at Sting´s website where he was saying that enlightenment for him could now wait until he died.)

I saw some of a film on British TV on November 18th or possibly Nov 21st, 2005; The Game, starring Michael Douglas.
I had seen it before, and knew that the plot was that a man undergoes some extraordinary tricks and practical jokes at his expense, and discovers finally that it had all been a game played out as a birthday present from his brother.
... ... ...
At the studio play resumed. There was a moment when Tarrant was off set whilst I sat in the contestant´s chair and warm up comic, Ray Turner, entertained the audience. I threw in the quip,
"Why is marriage like an earthquake?"
"I don´t know", Ray replied.
"Because first the earth moves a little... and then you lose your house."
He looked impressed and said, "I must write that down."

An unfortunate addition to his repertoire, perhaps, in view of the changes in the marital fortunes of the host which would soon ensue.

The £32,000 question was -
"The 2004 Biopic De-Lovely was based on the life of which composer?"
I knew the answer was Cole Porter. title Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? is from a Cole Porter song. But, ironically, the lyric continues, "I don´t, ´cos all I want is you."
It´s about a man singing that he does not wish for that status.
Later in the game, Tarrant asked me on what I would spend a million, and I deferred, saying only "Well, I am giving 10% of what I win to charity."

On January 16th 2006 I dined with Bob Woffinden at a restaurant near Covent Garden called The Punjab. As we sat down I noticed a discarded programme for the show High Society, which was apparently on at the Shaftesbury Theatre, starring Jerry Hall.
I opened it, thinking that this Cole Porter musical might contain the very song Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?
It did.

The £64,000 Question was -
"To whom did Agatha Christie dedicate her novel The Mirror Crack´d From Side to Side?"
I had seen the film of this novel in 1981.
My wife had acted as an extra in it.
The plot centres around an actress whose child had been stricken with complications through the mother contracting rubella in pregnancy. Years later the mother discovers that she got the disease through a fan kissing her.
Apposite in view of my intended sponsorship
She therefore murders the fan.
On November 9th 2005 Fiona had read out her poem The Mirror Crack´d to a meeting of the Torrievieja writer´s circle, when she had also mentioned her appearing in the film.

I got the question right, and then also those for £125,000 and £250,000.

For the £250,000 question I phoned my wife, who gave the correct answer but also recommended using another lifeline.

The £500,000 question was -
"Which of these astronauts has never set foot on the moon?"
The options were a) Jim Lovell b) Ed Mitchell c) James Irwin d) Charles Duke.
I declined to answer and stepped down from the chair £250,000 richer.

And we advanced.

On both Celador documentaries about the supposed heist of the million, Major Fraud and Steal A Million, Tarrant states how Ingram´s poor performance on his first evening in the hot seat - when Charles had expended two lifelines in reaching the 4,000 Pounds mark - led him to think -

"That poor bloody Major! He´s got about about as much chance of getting to 32,000 Pounds as he has of going to the moon in a rocket!"

Given the $ exchange rate the amount I won, with the assistance of my wife, was almost exactly that won by Av Rosen, with the assistance of his daughter (see the end of Entry 164).

I was not the first Briton with an interest in cryptozoology and the unusual to achieve this result.

It was November 23rd 2005. The next day would be the two year anniversary of when I had seen the BBC True Story documentary about the Ingrams and the trailer for a Living The Dream documentary about a family whom we knew, which had preceded it.

There had been a dummy close of the show at rehearsal, either at my appearance in Nov 2004 or in Jan 2005, where Producer David Briggs read out " Earlier tonight, James Plaskett won 250,000 Pounds..."

About 6 weeks before I got into the hot seat I had decided to watch a video, and selected one I had never seen before in its entirety; Apollo 13.
But it was a boot fair copy and I could not get it to play properly, and despite fast forwarding and rewinding and trying to adjust the tracking, I could not overcome my technophobia and without the wife´s expertise on hand, I just gave up and watched something else.

Had that video played then there is simply no way that I would have failed to identify Jim Lovell as the correct answer.

But, for all that, I had certainly glimpsed scenes from the film before, either on TV and/or video. Fiona felt that years earlier she had got it out on video hire for us.

One of the ten waiting contestants when I won was Mike Reeves. In a show that aired some two months after mine he did access the hot seat and win 64,000 Pounds.
The Fastest Finger First question he faced challenged him to place four films involving modes of transport in the order in which they appeared. The third of those was Apollo 13.
He tied with another competitor and won a tie-break in which they had to put Great Minds Think Alike in the right order -

Around 3:45 p.m. on December 21st 2005 I was speaking about this in Channel 103 of the Internet Chess Club
and a Dutch lady, Charlotte, commented that she saw that the point that I was making was that had Fiona been in the house then I would have gone on to see the Million Pounds question.

As Charlotte observed that I saw something else go by on my screen in the Triviabot Channel, Channel 272, which I often had on in the background as a useful form of quiz training.

It had 5 options to a question which was something like -
" Which of these USA TV shows was the first to have an episode entirely filmed in the USSR?".
The comment appeared that this had indeed been a question for $500,000 faced on the US Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in early 2005 by a contestant called Gambino, who had guessed at it and so got to see the top question for $2 Million, i.e. approximately 1 Million Pounds at the exchange rates of the time.

Also, in 1996, Fiona had, quite uncharacteristically, purchased a paperback book; James Lovell´s account of his own troubled mission; Apollo 13. She had recommended it to me, saying that she was moved to buy it through a quote of an astronaut who said how poetic and moving it was to see the earth from space and also because she was interested in possibly writing something about how someone who had walked on the moon would adjust to life after that most extreme of experiences.

The testimony of Apollo 13 astronauts, she reasoned, would be valuable in that they at least would have had the disappointment of not doing that.

She emphasised how impressed she was by the sheer flying skills which the book revealed had been necessary to bring the stricken spacecraft home. I had leafed through a few pages, but then decided it was not for me.

The front cover of the book states clearly that it is a picture of Tom Hanks playing Lovell in the film.

In conversation earlier in 2005 with Bob Woffinden, I had said that I would give a million pounds for the experience of walking on the moon.

On, Nov 30th 2005, I said to a Phone-A-Friend, Byron Jacobs as we chatted about it all, that I would give all my prize to walk on the moon.
He said he would give £250,000 to go into space.

On Dec 1st 2005 I went to the selection of audible songs at Sting´s website, and found that it differed from the previous day. For the first time it was possible to hear Walking on the Moon at his Jukebox.
But it was a new version of that old song.
... ... ...

In August 2006 I was taking lunch at a Chinese restaurant with my family when one of us mentioned Christmas or Santa.

Shortly after that we noticed a cartoon playing on a TV screen in the restaurant in which Santa was on the moon.

When we got back home I telephoned the Ingams and a decidedly merry Charles answered and explained that he had just taken lunch with Mr Christmas.
... ... ...

An episode of The Simpsons on December 1st 2005, which I glimpsed as I walked past the TV that my son was watching, had Lisa on stage at a school receiving a cheque for $250,000.

She says that she doesn´t deserve it as she cheated.

The guy presenting the cheque, "the comptroller", then turns to the audience and says that this does not debar her, for which of us has never cheated?
She walks off with the cheque. It then turns out that this was not the real comptroller, but someone disguised as him. The imposter walks off and the real comptroller comes forward.

Immediately following was another Simpson episode. This one had Homer with an Oscar he has won, and it also featured several Hollywood celebs being hassled near Springfield. Alec Baldwin Kim Basinger and Ron Howard, the director of Apollo 13.
Two days later we were to see this episode again, in Spanish.

Also on December 1st 2005 I heard from a man with whom I had had no contact since October 1987. He e mailed to say that he had just had published a quasi-autobiographical novel in which he determined that he had to go after the Holy Grail. I did not respond.

And on that same date I spotted at the site a trailer for a lecture for an already given radio lecture by Andrew Martin.

It was trailered, for some reason, Love Is On The Air...
See Entry 40 and the coincidence involving Andrew, myself and that song title.
... ... ...
At Twix restaurant in La Union on December 17th 2005 I was to glimpse the end scenes of Sydney Lumet´s classic 1957 film 12 Angry Men. The plot is that Henry Fonda is a juror who succeeds in turning around the guilty votes of all the others.

On Channel 5 on Dec 23rd 2005, I glimpsed the film Suspect. Cher plays a lawyer who gets her client, Liam Neeson, acquitted by successfully accusing the judge himself of being corrupt and part of the crime.
... ... ...
On January 14th 2006 I was standing at almost precisely the same spot in the bar of the Paragon Hotel as I had been when receiving the call notifying me of my qualification. Only this time I was watching the first part of my performance being broadcast.

It also turned out that a special celebrity couples edition of the quiz The Weakest Link, featuring Charles and Diana Ingram, was broadcast on British TV earlier the same evening even though it, like my show, had been recorded in November 2005.
At the recording they had been told that transmission should be on 17th Dec 2005.

All other editions of that show had been broadcast in sequence.

See also Entry 258.


James Eadon said...

Celador - reminds me of's candidate for most pleasing phonetic phrase - cellar door.
Other candidate words that were suggested are serendipity and euphonious.
Just thought I'd mention something random.

James said...

Apparently reserach had shown that these were the two most recognised words of English.
Hence they chose the name.
It means ´monitor´ or ´jailor´ in Spanish, by the way