8 New Places I Have Been To Either Directly Or Indirectly As A Result Of My Involvement In The Murky Countdown Underworld

The next fortnight on Steadman As She Goes will be full of posts about my Countdown-induced adventures all over the country, in honour of next weekend’s CoLin (Countdown in Lincoln), the prime Countdown community event of the year. You wouldn’t think a tame afternoon TV gameshow would inspire so many stories, but it has (and more that I’m not willing to publish in a public forum… yet).

Long story short: very miserable at uni, I got into Countdown (as so many students do). I Google-stalked an attractive contestant and found there was a Countdown Wikipedia site, which had a link to Apterous, a site on which all the best players and groupies hone their skills. If you’ve seen the IT Crowd episode about Countdown, it’s basically an online version of 8+. This community hosts its own tournaments, open to anyone but where the standard of player at which is often significantly higher than it is on TV, although the main draw of these is going to the pub with the geeks afterwards to have discussions about words, sex and the mystery of life itself.

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1. Lincoln

Next Saturday will be my 4th CoLin event. The title is, however, misleading; it’s not actually hosted in Lincoln itself, just a fringe town called North Hykeham. But for my first CoLin – all the way back in 2012 – I stayed with a school friend who was at uni in Lincoln. She gave me a brief tour of some of the pubs and bars in the vicinity with her flatmates, and nobly stayed up for me after I got back from the pub after the event. Which, er, wasn’t until 4am. What can I say about Lincoln? It’s a charming city, with a lovely cathedral (only seen from afar) and very average bars/pubs, plus the world’s most confusing one-way system.

2. North Hykeham

Since then I’ve stayed at the Travelodge in North Hykeham, which I’m pretty sure gets around half of its yearly business from CoLin custom. This poor Travelodge has seen drunken, Viagra’d up players falling into suitcases, frantic snowball fights (I won), a number of Countdowner-on-Countdowner sexual liaisons (😇), an informative history of pubic hair in porn through the ages, etc etc. North Hykeham itself is entirely uninspiring – a mass of houses, a McDonalds, a village hall (where the event is held) – but has the Fox & Hounds pub to compensate, infamous in Co event folklore and host to occasional karaoke evenings, impromptu darts/Countdown contests, and furious games of pool. The Fox & Hounds is everything that’s good about an old-fashioned independent pub, and that’s why we spend about 24 hours in there over the course of the weekend, facing a lock-in on the Friday and Saturday.

3. Manchester

In the olden days of 2012, Countdown was filmed at the Granada studios in Manchester. I went there 3 times to cheer on friends and exes, usually seeing my favoured contestant lose, and discovered the joys of the oft-frequented Paramount Wetherspoons on Oxford Street, where legend has it that a series semi-finalist was photographed teabagging a different series’ runner-up before demanding the photo be redone because “not enough ball” was showing. (I wasn’t there for that.)

My games were all filmed after its shift to MediaCityUK in Salford Quays, which is all shiny and new where Granada was old and concrete and crumbly. But we never bothered to find a closer pub than the Paramount, and still at the end of a filming day we’ll hop on the tram to St Peter’s Square so we can go to that one Spoons, get cheap pints in and play on the quiz machine with varying degrees of success.

4. Cardiff

In the sausagefest world of anagramming, there are few females for me to strike up a homance with. Lauren is one of the few. One of the many upsides of our homance is that she introduced me to I’m Alan Partridge, for which I am eternally grateful, and another is that she invited me to Cardiff for her Alan Partridge-themed birthday do. There were Ladyboy drinks, quotes ahoy and a number of convincing costumes. She was Lynn, Partridge’s frumpy, long-suffering personal assistant; I was Jill, his sex-hungry, middle-aged divorcee secretary; Lauren’s boyfriend, who she met through Countdown, was ‘zombie Alan’ complete with tungsten-tipped screws for nails; most memorably, Mark, my Countdown mentor/personal Mr Miyagi, was ‘lapdance Alan’, taking his inspiration from this outfit:

Cardiff, from the few bits of it I experienced, seems a thoroughly pleasant, safe city.

5. Belfast

I can’t tell you too much about the city because we spent most of the time in his flat, as you might expect from a long distance relationship when you haven’t seen each other for over 2 months.

6. Milton Keynes

MK is the ideal meeting point for the cool kids, who live scattered around the country, because it’s fairly central and doesn’t involve forcing the Northerners to figure out the tube by themselves. And indeed on several occasions we have made a day/night of it in the central Travelodge, involving noise complaints, white boys twerking, and an Aston Villa themed cake with an icing turd atop it. Not to mention far too many alcohol cans for the tiny bins to hold.

It’s often condemned as being soulless, a view that I myself held from the overwhelming number of offices and corporates on the skyline visible from the station. However I made the mistake of describing it thus in front of Lauren’s boyfriend (they live in MK), who launched an impassioned defence of the place. As he is a resident there and I am not, I have to cede to his superior knowledge and tell you that there’s apparently a good sense of community and a thriving art/sports scene there.

7. Edinburgh

CoEdi is a bit different to other Co events: it’s hosted with the blessing of the Edinburgh Countdown Club, a group of mostly older women who just love to play Countdown. This means there’s a different demographic to the overwhelming number of young male virgins that populate the usual events, and it’s much cosier and less balls-to-the-wall competitive as a result. I’ve only been once and played terribly, but it was a good weekend out in a beautiful city… with the exception of the Megabus journey there. (Post coming soon.)

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8 Mudchute, London

Last but certainly not least, Mudchute DLR station. Mark and I share a love for rude place names, and have plans to one day do a countrywide tour of them, using our 300 name strong list. We went with my friend Sara went on a tour of the dirty place names in London’s zones 1 and 2, of which a photoblog is coming to this blog near you shortly. But the main event was Mudchute. Because, y’know, it’s called Mudchute. Cue Facebook statuses of “Just taken two girls down the Mudchute.” A proud day.

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