The Voyage: Roz Savage
BrainTeaser – my TV career lifts off (?!)
Roz Savage
11 Apr 2004, Richmond

In the Green Room: (L to R) me, Jeff, Alex (the presenter), Alicia, Barry.

'I know it's short notice.' A phone call from Endemol Productions had come through on my mobile. 'But could you come in for this Thursday's show? We go out live at 11am. It'll be the last time we record the show in Oxford, which will save you having to travel to Bristol.'

Not much time to prepare, but not much time to get nervous either. 'Sounds good. I'll be there.'

I'd applied to appear on a Channel 5 quiz show called BrainTeaser. via a website called set up by my entrepreneurial friend Samuel-Dean. But I'd never actually seen the show. I thought I'd better watch it a couple of times to find out what I'd just let myself in for.

So Tuesday and Wednesday mornings found me glued to the TV screen, trying to calm a growing sense of panic. This was no dumbed-down daytime TV. These word games and general knowledge questions were, in fact, going to be rather more tricky than I'd realised.

And even if I got through to the final, which only one in four contestants did, it seemed there was a good chance I'd come away with nothing - on both Tuesday and Wednesday the finalist gambled their winnings on reaching the next level, and then blew it, coming away empty-handed.

Thursday morning arrived. As I waited in the Green Room at the studios in north Oxford my apprehension grew. A TV set in the corner was showing a videotape of previous editions of the show, and my co-contestants were firing out the answers at incredible speed. Jeff, an 18-year-old student, was especially impressive. 'He's got a virtually photographic memory,' his mother proudly confided to me. I bolted outside for a calming cigarette. I considered running away, but it was a live show and they had no spare contestant. I had to go through with it.

Alicia was the unfortunate cannon-fodder for Jeff in the first round. He racked up an enormous score. Barry, my opponent, was a very entertaining contestant, but he kept buzzing before he knew the answer, giving me valuable extra seconds to figure it out.

So I found myself going through to the second round.. where I would meet the boy genius Jeff.

I'll have to watch the video to see what happened next - my memories are a bit blurred - but somehow the right questions came up, questions I just happened to know the answers to.

I couldn't believe it. Somehow, I was through to the final - the Word Pyramid - and the chance to win some cash.

The Word Pyramid would present me with 7 rows of anagrams. A 3-letter word would appear on the first line, then an additional letter would appear in one of the 4 positions on the next tier, and I had to drop down the 3 letters from the top row and rearrange them around the new letter to create a new 4-letter word. The clock would start counting down from 45 seconds as soon as the new letter appeared, and would stop when I figured out the anagram. I'd then have the opportunity to decide whether to gamble my winnings so far on progressing to the 5-letter word and more cash, and so on down the pyramid.

'What's your strategy for this round?' Alex the vivacious blonde presenter asked me. 'Strategy? I don't exactly have one - I'm just going to wing it,' I replied, truthfully. I was counting on my instincts to tell me when to quit.

The Word Pyramid appeared on the screen. I squinted at the letters. The word in the first row was ART. 45 seconds on the clock.

'Are you ready?' Alex asked.

'As I'll ever be.'

An N appeared on the next row ( _ _ N _ ). The clock started ticking.

'Errrm. RANT.' The clock stopped. 41 seconds left.

'Well done. You've won £250. Do you want to carry on?'

'Yes.' A letter appeared on the next row down.

_ _ _ I _

'TRAIN.' Easy one - it had taken me just one second. 40 seconds left.

I was on £500. 'Do you want to gamble your £500 and try for £750?' Alex asked me.


'Are you sure?'

'Yes.' I nodded.

'Here you go then. For £750.'

_ E _ _ _ _

I froze. Total numbness of the brain. I stared at the letters - nice, normal, innocent-looking letters - but they refused to resolve themselves into a word. My lips moved as I tried out various combinations, but nothing was working. I could picture the other contestants, sitting in the Green Room, shouting the answer at the screen while I struggled. The seconds were counting down for what felt like an eternity.

Suddenly, out of the blue, inspiration struck. 'RETAIN' I shouted. I still have no idea where that answer came from. It came straight out of my mouth without passing through my head.

'Yes!' cried Alex. I almost collapsed in relief. I clung onto the contestant's lectern for support, trying to believe my luck. I'd just won £750. Against the odds, against my expectations. I couldn't have been any more ecstatic if I'd just won a million.

And not only had I just pocketed some useful cash, but with Alex's help, we'd managed to plug my book and briefly outline my plans for Arizona this year. The phone hasn't rung off the hook yet with offers of book deals and sponsorship, but you never know.

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Back to reality – with a bump and a slump and a way-hey-hey!
Roz Savage
04 Apr 2004, Back in blighty

(The tranquillity of Ireland - which now seems a long time ago.)

I came back from Sligo a week ago with a restored liver (month of no alcohol) and a headful of new philosophical ideas (month of intensive reading). I was happy and healthy, but mentally I was away with the leprechauns, ill-suited for the avalanche of reality that awaited me.

Homelessness loomed. I'd outstayed my welcome with my great mate Phil, especially after I inadvertently locked her out last Saturday and she had to spend the night with friends. It was time to move out, but I had nowhere to go, and no money to pay rent.

I had a call from the police to say they'd found my car, 4 months after it was stolen. This was bad news, as I'd already spent the anticipated settlement on my laptop. Instead of a substantial cash injection, I was now facing insurance premiums, MOT costs, and financial disaster.

And there was a major project due to be completed in the next 2 weeks - I'd initially rejected the job as incompatible with my more important objective of organising my next expedition, but now it seemed it was financially necessary.

For the first few days, life was a challenge. My head was up in the clouds and there was so much to cope with. I had to take it one moment at a time, and keep asking myself, 'What would a normal person do now?' I was faking it.

But I am happy to report that everything has worked out beautifully, and with no compromise to my new ideals.

I now have somewhere to live, as a result of a chance conversation in a shop where I was trying to sell a couple of items to raise cash. I have to be discreet, as it's slightly unofficial, but suffice it to say that through someone's great generosity, I have somewhere to live, in Richmond, rent-free.

With the car, I agreed with the garage from whose forecourt it was stolen that they would recover it (now sadly trashed) and pay the agreed settlement. The car is now theirs to repair and dispose of as they see fit.

And with those two things taken care of, I was able to turn down the unsuitable project, Someone else has already taken it on instead.

As a bonus, there's a sniff of interest from a literary agent who has read the sample chapters of Three Peaks in Peru and now wants to read the rest of the manuscript. I'm still a long way from the book deal, but it's an encouraging sign.

So life is good - welcome to the unpredictable but wonderful world of Roz!

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Sunshine and St Patrick's Day
Roz Savage
19 Mar 2004, Sligo, Ireland

A quick administrative point - it seems my new internet service provider is having a few problems with my e-mail, as I know of quite a few e-mails that have been sent to me that I haven't received. So if you've written to me, and you think I've ignored you, I haven't! I just haven't received the message. But don't re-send yet, not until we've got these teething problems sorted out. I'll let you know.

Technology - pah!

Meanwhile, in my otherwise very low-tech life in Ireland.

It was St Patrick's Day on Wednesday, and even though the buses into Sligo weren't running, it seemed a shame to miss out on the festivities. So I walked and hitched the 12 miles into Sligo to see the parade. Loads of marching bands, floats, jugglers, local Scout groups, the Sligo Swimming Club. the great and the good, and probably also the not-so-great and not-so-good - they were all there.

The luck of the Irish held true, and the weather was bright and sunny - a single day of sunshine sandwiched in the middle of an otherwise wet and blustery week. St Patrick must have pulled a few celestial strings to make sure it didn't rain on his parade.

No doubt many pints of Guinness were consumed that evening, judging from the slightly fragile state of many of the aforementioned great and good the next morning. but I was collapsed in an exhausted heap back in my cosy cottage, having taken it into my head to walk the whole 12 miles back home. I find it hard to believe I could happily trek, at altitude, for 7 or 8 hours a day while I was in Peru, but found a stroll through the Irish countryside so completely knackering. never let it be said that walking is an easy form of exercise.

So it's been over 3 weeks now since I had a drink. But worry not, a normal alcoholic service will be resumed as soon as I get back to London at the end of the month!

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Two-Wheeled Tribulations
Roz Savage
11 Mar 2004, Sligo, Ireland

Around the time I decided to visit the southwestern USA, I happened to pick up Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in a Peruvian book exchange. "You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other," I read. "In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realise that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. On a cycle the frame is gone. You're completely in contact with it all. You're in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming."

My decision was made. Just one minor hurdle - I didn't have a motorcycle licence. I liked motorbikes and had been a pillion passenger on occasions, so now seemed the right time to be in the driving seat. So I enrolled for a Direct Access course - 5 days of intensive instruction, hopefully culminating in a successful test.

Day One - Basic Training. Two guys on my course were just 16 years old - younger than my driving licence. I realised I was an old dog to be learning this new trick. But the day went well, and I passed the first stage. Theory test the following week - passed that too.

Days Two and Three - practicing on a 125cc machine. No problem.

Day Four - my first day on a 500cc bike. Catastrophe. Ever have one of those unco-ordinated days, when you're inexplicably clumsy and drop things and knock them over? Not good to be having one of those days when you're sitting on a huge throbbing motorbike. The day reached its nadir when I managed to topple over at a busy right turn and a passing car missed my head by inches. My instructor was ashen-faced. "That's the closest I've ever come to losing a student," he quavered. "Maybe we'd better put you back on the 125."

Day Five - Test Day. I've been demoted to the 125 for my own safety and that of all other road users. I'll be trying for just a restricted licence, which will allow me to ride anything up to 33bhp. But I'm having a technical problem - my bike keeps cutting out. During the test it inexplicably stalls twice, and the second time it refuses to restart. "We've run out of time," says my examiner. "I'm going to have to terminate this test due to mechanical failure." So I neither pass nor fail. I'll have to re-take.

My second attempt starts out well. The nearest examination centre that could fit me in before my departure for Ireland is in St Albans. It's snowing as I ride up there with my instructor, but I'm riding surprisingly well, and I start to feel cautiously optimistic. I even seem to have finally cracked the U-turn.

We arrive at the test centre. "We don't have anybody booked in to take a test now," we're told. "Are you sure it's today?" We check with the motorcycle school. They have a faxed sheet confirming the time, date and place. There's been a cock-up at the examination centre, but nothing can be done. No test for me today.

So I'm still licence-less. Maybe third time lucky.

In the meantime, I've had another idea. As I'm going to be in the US to learn what the white man can learn from the Native American way of living in harmony with nature, maybe I should be thinking about a more environmentally friend mode of transport. An electric scooter.?

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