Saturday 3 September 2016

Vox Ludio: Matt Hamer

An Apterite for well over 7 years and a Co-event veteran, Matt Hamer is one of the most enduring, endearing and enigmatic figures on the site. Read on to read what he has to say on Countdown, concerts and coupledom (and play his Easter Egg game!)...

You joined Apterous back in 2009 - over 7 years ago. How has it changed in that time?

I’ve always been a Scrabble® player first and foremost – Countdown is my second wordy hobby, really. Whilst I was a regular viewer of Countdown in the ’80s, it was the appointment of Jeff Stelling as host which renewed my interest in watching. The lure of Apterous was then too strong: even in its early days, it looked great, and it was rammed with innovative features and challenges – it became so much more fun to play than ISC (Internet Scrabble Club).

As the years have passed since then, Charlie has continued to develop and add features to Apterous. But alongside these technical enhancements are the changes in how Apterites themselves have used the website creatively. It perhaps began when players found new meta-games: pencil-mining, achievement collecting, and high-score hunting. It’s continued with Apterites now using infrastructure that Charlie has put in place, to lead all sorts of diverse initiatives for the benefit and enjoyment of others: dictionary updates, elaborate tournaments, The Mole, quizzes, to name a few.

In parallel with this increased sense of community, the in-person Countdown scene has grown tremendously, with Apterites supporting online friends during TV recordings, and a flourishing Co-event (unofficial in-person tournament) calendar. Apterites should be proud of their contributions to both the online and in-person games.

What have your favourite Apterous moments been?

Online, my favourite moments have encompassed gameplay (maxing an Aegilops Letters Attack after 864 attempts; and a Stepdown tournament which proved a thriller of a climax to Marcus’ 2012 Aptolympics); as well as the characters who have made Aptochat a hugely entertaining forum to frequent (anyone have time for a quick top 5?).

In person, I’ve attended 25 Co-events, and these provided me with a Countdown moment I’ll keep forever: Michael Wallace presenting me with a trophy at Co:Lon 2011. As far as English language Countdown play is concerned, I’ve now retired and returned to Scrabble, but I’m delighted by the success of FOCAL, and I’ll continue to attend one event a year. Ben, I’ll see you in Lincoln for my “hands glued to head” pose!

Is there any particular reason why you chose Spongebob Squarepants as your avatar?

Genuinely, little thought went into it. I like SpongeBob, although I could equally have chosen one of many animated characters. Ironically, for an Apterite represented by a character who lives in a pineapple under the sea, I react adversely to the enzyme BROMELAIN found in pineapples. (A valid 9 in CSW, but not yet in ODO, if anyone's wondering.)

You’re one of the most prolific foreign language players. What are your favourite languages, and why?

Other than English, the only language I can hold a proper conversation in is Dutch, although I can understand German and French reasonably well. Dutch has a wonderful flexibility in its sentence structure, and Dutch speakers enthusiastically adopt loanwords and new idioms in a natural way. It gives the language a wonderful capacity to convey different nuances of meaning. I sometimes wish native UK English speakers were less resistant to evolution of their language – I wish they wouldn’t condemn contemporary words or spellings like LOSINGEST, SRSLY, MINISCULE.

But which language is the most fun to play on apterous?

I concentrate on three or four Apterous languages, but I’m always impressed by the Apterites with a command of seemingly all of them. Miriam, Phyl, Catriona, Adam G, and others, are particularly talented in this regard.

Dutch and German are my favourite languages to play on Apterous, because of the quirks of the Apterous lexicons. In particular, the Dutch lexicon, which was a huge word list scraped from various sources, and was really meant for a spellchecker, includes all sorts of bizarre entries (NEWAGECD, SEXCAM, PARADISEBYTHEDASHBOARDLIGHT). I quite enjoy the challenge of spotting these in amongst more conventional words.

You’re also one of the most consistent players of the Daily Duel on the site. Back in the day, you were pretty vocal in Aptochat about messing up rounds - are you more relaxed about playing the game now, or just quieter when you’re unhappy with your performance?

The monthly Duel competition rewards a combination of playing conservatively every day (not risking words or fudging numbers), and good knowledge of the regular high-scoring words in less popular variants (Unlimited, Aegilops and Omelette). As most of Apterous’s very top players either don’t play every Duel, or have never bothered with the more off the wall variants or languages, it leaves the minor placings open to lesser Apterites.

And yes, I had a history of dealing with my frustrations about bad luck by venting them in aptochat. There came a point though when I realised that this was rather antisocial. Around the same time, my outlook on life became a little more relaxed, so nowadays any annoyance at muffing a Duel subsides almost straight away. Apologies to anyone who I used to offend with my outbursts.

As half of one of the community’s most lovable couples, what romantic advice do ‘Hayfield’ have for Apterous’s budding young Romeos and Juliets?

Ha, allowing me to dispense romantic advice might be dangerous, but I’d say meeting people with common interests is a good bet! If you happen to have a love of words and arithmetic puzzles, then with aptochat online, plus FOCAL’s ever-growing circuit of in-person events, you have more opportunities than ever of meeting like-minded individuals. Some of these, you might also have the hots for, and if the number of Countdown-related couples is an indicator, then some of these might well like you back.

You’ve lived in several different countries. Tell us some stories from your time abroad!

I loved the vibrant music scene in the Netherlands; in the summers, I would spend weekends watching bands in fields, and nights DJing at student parties. I got to chat with Moby, stomped on the foot of a popular showbiz personality, and appeared on TV dancing to Eagle-Eye Cherry.

Early nights and clean living were more my thing by the time I moved to Texas. I ran my first half-marathon in San Antonio (being careful not to urinate on the Alamo, like Ozzy Osbourne). I spent an evening at a small-town rodeo and country dance, although I’m not quite sure how I got to be there. I remember mostly being terrified of having to dance with the local Texan girls. Of course, they were just being friendly by chatting to the visiting guy with the English accent; I was trying desperately to hide that I had no clue how to two-step.

Anyone who’s Facebook friends with you will be aware of your astonishing commitment to going to gigs. What are your best gigs of all time, and which artist would you most like to see live?

Music has been profoundly important for most of my life, and I love most the experience of hearing, and watching, music being played live. Over twenty years after the first live show I saw, I’ve now seen nearly a thousand. Favourites have included that very first show – the now greatly missed songwriter and performer Kirsty MacColl – and a trip to California to see the re-activated pop/punk legends the Go-Go’s. A more unusual, but equally memorable gig, was an Idlewild show where singer Roddy Woomble was taken ill shortly before showtime. Rather than cancel the show, the remainder of the band played a free, full set, inviting a fan on stage to sing each song. It was wonderful to watch those 20 or so music-lovers feeling invincible as they lived out their rock fantasies that night.

With many of my favourite bands re-forming in recent years, there are few remaining acts on my wish list of those I still haven’t seen. I’d love Voice Of The Beehive to re-form, and I hope that recently reactivated Scottish mid-’90s indie-poppers The Secret Goldfish will play once again. Of acts who are better known, I somehow never got to see the fabulous Pulp. (You’re missing out! – Ed)

In your opinion, what was the best year for music?

Music and me are inextricably linked, and I do associate years with their music.

Amid the economic and political depression, the short period from 1977 was an incredibly creative time for music. The DIY rebellion of punk rock, followed by the new electronic sounds of the first homebuild synthesisers, yielded bands who I still love today – the Go-Go’s, Buzzcocks, the Human League, OMD among the bigger names.

It’s difficult to narrow that period of punk and new wave to a defining single year, so if I were pushed, I might also pick 1996. In the wake of the Britpop explosion, major labels were throwing cash at guitar acts, and the smaller independents were blossoming. Ash, Slingbacks, Pullover, Kenickie, Helen Love, Spacemaid… some of these bands fizzled out after only a few singles, some are still active today, but all of them hold wonderful memories for me.

Final question - if you were to host a dinner party, what would your menu be?

It depends whether I have to prepare the food – my repertoire of “things I can cook that are good enough to serve to other people” is limited. There are however two dinner parties I’ve always wanted to organise, but have yet to do so. One would be based on what was hilariously considered the height of dinner party style in the late ’70s, so prawn cocktail in limp lettuce for starter, something stodgy and beefy for main, and Viennetta or chocolate fondue for dessert, all washed down with Liebfraumilch. It would also be – of its time – lovingly un-PC (the ladies would all drink sherry, those cranky vegetarians would be disdainfully served nut roast). And the other idea? Well, as soon as I can come up with a full menu of dishes which both sound rude, and look rude... you can bring the cock soup.

Matt's Postscript

For the pop music fans, I’ve concealed an Easter egg (or more specifically, 10 Easter eggs) into my replies. Can you uncover the well-known act who inspired me?

[Answer in white text below]

The text contains the titles of Michael Jackson’s ten studio albums (Got To Be There; Ben; Music & Me; Forever, Michael; Off the Wall; Thriller; Bad; Dangerous; HIStory; Invincible).

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