COLUMN: May 19, 2016

I HAD an uncommonly good day this week. I finished something on which I have been working during my spare time for about a year.

And then, after I had done a little victory lap in my living room, practised my award-winner’s speech, and chosen my sun-bleached villa on the Amalfi coast, I got ready for a Big Quiz.

I am quite good at quizzes. When I was a child I was captain of my school quiz team, and we won actual competitions. Cambridge Bainbridge, they called me, loading me with a level of expectation I have spent the subsequent 34 years comprehensively shedding.

It turns out that my knowledge is wide, but also shallow. I know that the First World War was caused by the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo, but I have no idea why. My intellect is like a crème brulee, a thin, brittle coating of wisdom and general facts concealing a vast, seething custard of self-sabotage and ignorance.

Anyway, this makes me prime fodder for people rounding up quiz teams. So it proved last week when my friend Alistair begged me on bended knee to join his group competing in a quiz night.

A couple of years ago, Alistair and some people from the office appeared on the TV show Eggheads. They were glorious failures. I am not saying that they would have won had they asked me to be among their number, but we will never be able to prove otherwise.

In any case, a couple of the massive Egghead losers were unable to attend this quiz night and so when Alistair was forced to ask me to make up the team I agreed. Among the things that make me so brilliant are my humility and my ability to set aside long-held and totally understandable grievances for the common good.

This is because I do like a pub quiz. I am an occasional member of a team which plays on a Thursday night – occasional because I usually work on a Thursday night – and so I feel I am among my people, people who cannot kick a ball in a straight line unless a curve is required but know that Albania borders on the Adriatic.

But there are three types of attendee who are always at a pub quiz. The first is the person who knows nothing beyond his or her own name and the name of Beyonce’s latest single.

This is always good because “What is the name of Beyonce’s latest single?” is invariably question number 29 and nobody else in the team knows the answer. They have always turned up at the quiz by accident, assuming it was an unusually quiet Zumba session.

The second type is Billy Second. Billy Second knows the answer to every question, but only suggests the answer after somebody else has started to write that answer down.

When it transpires that the answer is incorrect, Billy Second will explain that was his second thought, but everybody was so convinced the first answer was right that he didn’t say anything.

The third type is Mr Serious. It is always a man. Mr Serious spends his life scouring quiz books and is ready to pounce when the quiz master says “Zaire” instead of “the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.

Mr Serious has a gimlet eye on the pot of money next to the quiz master, and will be the first to congratulate the winner – on the rare occasion that it is not himself – with a handshake that means, “I wish you a painful and lingering death”.

They were all in attendance at the Big Pub Quiz, but somehow managed to cancel each other out, and our team broke through the centre and won.

We were handed a shiny cup and some prize money, and we wandered through the night streets singing a creditable if tipsy rendition of We Are The Champions, and I thought, for once, even though I had an early start the next day, that it was good to be a winner. It had truly been a great day. Life could not get any better.

And so it proved. I woke the next morning, disorientated, but not exactly hungover, and stumbled into work, a few minutes late for my 9am start.

The spoon of fate had crashed through my crème brulee, exposing my self-sabotage and ignorance to all the world. I had read the wrong week on my rota. I had arrived at work four and a half hours early.

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