I am terrible at pub quizzes. But while I was waiting for one to start on Tuesday (I got the pub’s QR code mixed up with the track and trace one and spent 20 minutes trying to order a pint off the NHS), it struck me that I’m newly terrible at pubs. But there was no time for that. There was a quiz on the way.
Some people know a lot and some people know very little, while some people know almost nothing but are possessed of such miraculous confidence that they lead the rest of the team to the wrong answer, like a magnet deflecting a compass. I am that person.
Mr Z is bestowed of a huge well of obscure knowledge, but has such a depth of ignorance about useful things – sport, Eurovision, Harry Potter, DJs – that he is more of an archaic curiosity than a team member, like taking a lathe to a gun fight. Ideally, if you want the pair of us involved, and on the same team, you need substantial numbers: four people to know regular things, two people to drown me out, and Mr Z to tell you which Welsh counties abut Powys to the west.
Instead, there were just the two of us in our team. The quizmaster had not had a gig in 14 months. There were only five teams in all, and the first 20 minutes was wiped out by a sudden-death round because two of them wanted to call themselves Nerd Immunity. I am making them sound like the losers, whereas we, in fact, had already lost. When the quizzer came over to get our name, I drew a complete blank and Mr Z said: “Don’t look at me.” We were thereafter known as Don’t Look at Me, which, read out several times with a slightly different inflection, made us sound a bit aloof.
‘Who, in the nursery rhyme, sat on the wall and had a great fall?’ ‘This is not art, or literature!’ Mr Z whispered
We rattled efficiently through the issues of the day. Which band won Eurovision? Which footballer scored a large amount of goals recently? “This isn’t current affairs!” Mr Z railed very quietly. “This is meaningless.” Whole rounds went by where we didn’t know anything. Where we did know an answer, it was because it was so easy that we could have outsourced it to one of our doughnut children. “Who, in the nursery rhyme, sat on the wall and had a great fall?” “This is not art, or literature!” Mr Z whispered with great energy. “In the musical Oklahoma, what line follows ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’?” “This is not music!”
The quizzer started laughing. “Because there are so few teams,” he explained, “there’s only one table that isn’t going to win a prize.” That was when he explained his elaborate awards system: the winners would get a bottle of wine, or 20 quid, whichever they preferred. The second team would get whichever the first didn’t want. The runners up would get a tenner. The losers would get the inexplicable booby prize of £6. So it was just fourth place that would go unrewarded – and there was no way we were in contention for that. “Maybe I should split the booby prize, just to be fair, and give fourth place a fiver and the losers a quid,” he said. This is when I started to worry about his margins. We had each paid £2 to take part, we were 16 in total, so, whichever way you cut it, this poor guy, denied his calling for over a year, stood to make a loss.
A couple of years ago, I started seeing a therapist. He was very heavily into metaphor, which was much more helpful than it sounds. I still refer back to it sometimes (“Think of yourselves as a chain of enzymes,” he said once, when I was complaining about my family. “That explosive reaction can only happen if your enzyme locks on to their enzyme.” I don’t even know if that is true. Do enzymes explode? But I appreciated the principle). Anyway, midway through our therapeutic journey, he got kicked out of his consulting room and started taking clients in a high-end serviced office in central London.
I began to fixate on his margins. I was paying £60 an hour. But how much was this place charging? Had it cut him a deal? It was all I could think about. Another friend, in long-term Jungian analysis, said: “That’s quite interesting: you should tell him that’s what you’re thinking.” I said: “I could literally never have that conversation with him; I would rather self-immolate,” and he said: “I’m not sure you’re in the right therapeutic relationship, in that case,” and then I gave it up.
In any event, by this point I didn’t care who was the first US president to be impeached. I didn’t even care when the only thing I actually knew – that “medieval” and “middle ages” were synonymous – was capsized by some incredibly tenacious idiot who found a page on Google claiming “dark ages”, in fact, also meant the same thing. I only cared about the quizmaster’s overheads. I wanted to draw him aside and say: “You know, in many quizzes, they don’t do a cash prize at all.” I bottled it, of course, and just gave him back our prize, with a kind look. It was a quid.