oldSTAGER - June/July 2005
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Table-Toppers by “Crow”

Those strange creatures - the table-top rallyists - can get a life for the summer now that their closeted season is over. The key contest over the darker months has been the Basic Roamer Internet Championship that comprised four events and was organised by “Crow”. 

On alternate months since September last year, the 100 or so competitors have had to travel over 600 miles on OS maps 188 and 193, guided by 96 route cards with 480 route checks. They have had to contend with twisted variants of map references, spot heights, grid lines, grid squares, road colours, herringbones and tulip diagrams, which have been coded, scrambled, mirror-imaged, jigsawed, mazed, exponentialised, denoted in Welsh and French, Fibonacci sequenced and generally disguised in the most evil ways possible. In one bizarre example, they had to multiply 63894135678976784086321 by 214600485124421084420110319570 as a means of obtaining a series of plotting points. Despite such pressures, many of these patient home-based competitors soldiered on and surfaced into the daylight in April, eager to renew their contact with family, friends and the sun. They are to be congratulated for their stamina and that their entry fees helped raise over £900 towards Cancer Research. 

PR complaints have been received but only from spouses that had been neglected over the last eight months. There were no accidents reported, though several competitors were rumoured to have increased their psychiatric consultations. 

Having declared the winners, I thought it would be interesting to see whether they would be willing to provide photographs and profiles of themselves for an article. Well, that’s what I told them. In truth it was an attempt to dispel the belief among outsiders that table-top (TT) competitors are devil worshippers with horns and 666 tattooed on their foreheads, or that they are detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure with nothing better to do than stare at maps all day. Well, I have the proof otherwise, and unless the photographs I received were digitally edited and the profiles were a pack of lies, our champions appear quite normal and well adjusted. 

Gavin Rogers, the outright winner of the championship, is the only active “real” rallyist. He is one of those enviable people who is comfortable in a left-hand or right-hand seat, on stages or the road. He has now proven that even on a table top in his living room with a bright lamp and Poti wired to the mains, he can demonstrate his versatility with maps. By comfortably winning the last two events, he has been crowned the new Internet TT champion. His HRCR claim to fame is a regular top 10 finish on the East Anglian Classic, including a win in 2000. Once an Essex-man he now resides near the top of a Welsh mountain. 

During a frustrating power cut while tackling one of the TT events, he got his wife to drive his rally car round the local lanes for three hours so that he could Carrie (his wife’s name) on plotting. How’s that for dedication? His job as a computer programmer comes in useful too. A section on the last round of the championship required an exact visit of spot heights on route. In an idle moment at work, he wrote a program to examine the 1.8 million combinations of spot heights on the section, found a solution but then never submitted it in case it was wrong. This multi-skilled plotter will be further tested next season since he has agreed to set one of the events. 

By complete contrast, Michelle “Mitch” Fielding, the runner-up in the championship and currently ranked world no.1 table-topper, has had zero exposure to the “real” stuff. An Agricultural Engineering graduate, she spent her early years in Singapore and is now a computer buff working for the Civil Service. She was introduced to TT rallies by her husband in the late 80’s after he gave up trying to tackle the Cultivator postal event. Now she fits in her devotion to the table top sport (“to prove she isn’t going senile”) alongside work, growing orchids and cacti, walking, photographing wildlife and industrial architecture, and painting white metal miniature figures. 

She confesses to becoming unreasonable, paranoid, grumpy and selfish as the deadline for sending in her TT answers approaches and puts this down to PST (Pre-submission tension). Her current ambition is to live to draw her pension and to be in the top 10 of every TT until she is 100. 

Steve Barber, third in the championship, fits nicely between Gavin and Mitch in the extremes of rallying reality. Steve’s more at home with the grass roots of 12-car and scatter rallies, and marshalling. He’s also a systems man, working for BT in Sunbury. In common with Gavin and Mitch he often spends lunch times at work pouring over the maps, but finds the cryptic remarks from his colleagues: “still trying to find your way out?”, “lost again?” or “hey, my auntie lives there”, just too disruptive to make it a productive problem-solving environment. Steve is obsessed with the mind stretching required on TT events and revels in battling with the map detail. The fact that the bulk of the proceeds goes to charity is also an attraction. 

After eight months of brainwork, he is relieved that the series is over so that he can catch up on jobs around the house that he has put off for so long. Steve now spends his lunch breaks in the DIY store instead. 

In parallel to the “Masters” Championship, there was a junior “Experts” challenge that only required answers to the “easier” sections. This was a close run affair and resulted in a tie for first place between Keith Cunningham and Dee Rampling Lee. 

Keith Cunningham hails from Northern Ireland and used to be an active navigator on stage and road events. Disillusionment with the way his favourite discipline of road rallies evolved into a speed-restricted and regularity format, he jumped ship to stage rally co-driving for a while. For health reasons these days he just helps organise a number of Irish based events, and he discovered TT rallies during a web search. 

He dabbled with the 2003 masters championship, but found it too heavy going, so the introduction of an Experts series for 2004/2005 was perfect for him. Like other top contenders, Keith uses any means possible to solve the often esoteric clues of TT rallies. Most recently he joined Internet newsgroups to help translate a route card in Welsh and to obtain an Excel formula for permutations of spot height numbers. Keith is retired and, despite wifely pressure, is happy to spend all day studying the maps, often in his favourite place – the bathroom.

It’s a puzzle why Dee Rampling Lee did so well when her maths reveals that despite being born in 1950 she is still in her 30’s! Perhaps table-topping is the secret retardant for the ageing process? On the way to joining hubby in retirement, she was first involved in arty and design activities (and admitted she once did this for a dirty book publishing company) and then she re-qualified in accounting. Her rallying involvement started 1970 and lasted for about ten years on road and stage events in East Anglia; the latter period in a Hillman Imp owned by her husband to be. Pressures of work, time and cost said goodbye to rallying and hello rambling, via a short foray into orienteering. 

So, her love of maps continued albeit with an upgrade in scale from 1:50000 to 1:25000 until … a mini reunion of wrinkly West Essex Car Club members, when “Crow” convinced her to come out of plotting retirement. She’s been hooked on TTs ever since. 

She likens the buzz of solving a route card to be almost as good as eating chocolate. Her dining room table is now permanent host to plotting paraphernalia and meals are now lap bound. Panic set in on the last event when a lightening strike took out the local telephone pole days before the submission date. Communication-less she resorted to rambling to the local library to get updates and submit her answers. 

Case proven? Just a small sample of five competitors of the 100 that took part, but all quite normal. When the next Internet TT Championship comes along, why not have a go? If you are a geek, nerd, dork, freak or dweeb – do not apply.