"we’d all rather be eating in a restaurant than trying to balance a lukewarm fish and chip supper on our lap…"

Look At Life: Quizzes

13th January 2017

Fishing For The Answer

By Heather Harris

Postman Pat’s surname? The answer to this fundamental question was the lowest point of my twenty years attending that most intellectual of social evenings – the Quiz Night.

Because I knew it and I knew I knew it. But subconsciously a little voice kept saying, “What if you’re wrong? Everyone else in your team is far cleverer than you. Don’t risk it.”

So I kept shtum as the Cambridge graduate next to me wrote down ‘Pat’.

Inwardly I was screaming, “It’s Clifton! Postman Pat is called Pat Clifton and his wife is called Sarah and his son is Julian.”

Okay, so this in-depth knowledge of the family tree of a small fictional red van driver is slightly worrying, but what was more significant was my inability to speak out.

“And the answer is…” came the quiz-master’s voice, “Pat Clifton. And since no-one got it right, the first prize goes to Table 7, The Clever Clogs.” The same as it had done for the last five PTA Quiz Evenings. But this was the first time I could actually have stopped them.

We’d played our Joker on the Entertainment Round and my fellow team mates – well, the three self-declared clever ones – had already scribbled down a whole sheet of inane trivia, sorry, answers. All we had to do is write, ‘Clifton’ and the coveted PTA ‘trophy’ (battered tankard left over from sports day) was ours….

Inwardly I knew what to say but outwardly I remained mute. With my academic background of a dodgy Leicester Comprehensive followed by Media Studies at Coventry Poly, I’ve always felt ill-prepared to cope with the cut and thrust of any public display of general knowledge.

The worst three words uttered on Christmas Day (other than ‘turkey’s a bit dry’) usually come at around 4pm: “Trivial Pursuit anyone?”… I venture that this well-known board game is to family unity what a heavy downpour is to a summer barbecue.

For some reason there are certain members of my extended family whose self-belief is inversely proportional to their actual knowledge. They call out answers with all the enthusiasm and certainty of Stephen Fry, only to roll their eyes and mutter “Oh yes, of course”, when told they’re totally wrong.

Somehow this is deemed preferable to the silent approach that I adopted by me. “At least have a go, Mum” or “Don’t you know anything?” are the accusations hurled at me by disapproving offspring.
Metaphorically speaking, I’m silently screaming ‘Clifton’ again; outwardly I just offer to go and make more turkey sandwiches for no-one to eat.

The problem is that I won’t give up. Like a smoker who’s desperate to quit but still hangs around with nicotine-addicted mates or a weight watcher who invites friends for afternoon tea, I keep accepting invitations to Quiz Nights.

I am also a firm believer that – much like fancy dress parties – secretly we all dislike them. We’d much rather go out for a drink and a chat without being glared at by a stern faced team-mate declaring, “Shhhhhh no-one can hear the question”.

And surely we’d all rather be eating in a restaurant than trying to balance a lukewarm fish and chip supper on our lap without dripping grease all over our badly photocopied Famous Faces Picture Round. (I admit I do secretly often fill these in while everyone else is trying to decipher the first three bars of ABBA’s Waterloo on the quiz master’s dodgy iPod in the Music Round. And I’m usually correct – but naturally someone else always takes the credit: “Of course I knew that was Rafael Nadal” they confidently lie.)

And that’s another thing – why is it that men somehow see it as a sign of their virility to know every answer in the Sports Round (except of course any questions on badminton or dressage, ‘not real sports’)?

The problem is that resistance is futile. I am battling a national institution. The latest research put the number of regular weekly pub night quizzes in the UK at 22,445. That took place in 2009: clearly the academics have been too busy swotting up on the names of the seven dwarfs, the colours of the rainbow – and other Quiz Night favourites – to have time to do another study since. So I’ve decided to embrace that old adage – ‘if you can’t beat them (which I haven’t, in any team in any quiz since the late 1970s when the concept was first invented), join them’. I’ve volunteered to organise a charity Quiz Night for our local running club.

And I know what the first question is going to be… “Which fictional character has the surname of Clifton?”

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