Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Doncha Just Hate It -

- when you get asked questions which YOU, out of all the people on your team, should know the answer to ?

I know its not just me who feels this way about being asked 'home' questions. Case in point. One of the finest quizzers in South Wales plays in our Monday night team in Newport every few weeks. He was originally a Devonian, but he categorically hates any question about his native county. I feel the same way about questions about London. John, being a former Police Superintendent , dislikes anything regarding the Law, or the police. On the Thursday team our retired assistant manager of the Pioneer supermarket hates questions about retailers and retailing.

I mention this because I watched "The Book Quiz" on BBC4 last night, after "University Challenge". A quarter of a century ago I studied for my BA in English Literature at Goldsmith's College of the University of London, and so, whether I like it or not, Literature is seen as my subject when I play in a quiz. To have a whole half hour programme devoted to it was a little like purgatory.

Which is not to say that the programme isn't any good. If you haven't seen it, two teams of two (sometimes) well known writers take part in a number of different rounds, but all answering questions on books and writers. Chaired by the delicious Kirsty Wark ( heellllooo ) the tone is highbrow, but lighthearted. Think Radio 4 panel show and you've got it. Granted, its all a little bit cosy, but its very watchable, although its not appointment TV like "Only Connect " was. But the problem with the show is this. Playing along at home, if I get a question right - which is by no means a foregone conclusion - then there's not a great deal of satisfaction in it, since I probably should have got it right. However the fact that I get so many wrong is a little humiliating.

This is why I think we hate to get 'home' questions in a quiz. I'm an English teacher, so if I answer a question about, for example, how you define a pangram, or what OFSTED stands for, the attitude of my team mates is an understandable -
"So what - you're an English teacher so you bloomin' well ought to have got them right. "
If I should fail to answer a question like this - well, they don't actually say anything, but I don't half feel guilty. So that's why we hate a 'home' question, because there really is nothing in it for us. Now, looking at the other side of the coin, lets take, for the sake of argument, cricket. Now I don't dislike cricket. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the 2005 Ashes series was possibly the most absorbing sporting contest that I have ever seen - certainly in the top 5 - and the 1981 Ashes would be in the top 10 as well. But I don't follow any county , and I certainly don't have that all consuming interest that all of my cricket-watching friends , colleagues and acquaintances have. So when I actually manage to answer a cricket question in a quiz, then I get a rare sense of achievement, because I know just how unlikely I am to do this, and how long it will probably be before I do it again.

So actually, maybe Mastermind has it right, in actively discouraging people from taking as a specialist subject anything connected with their occupation and/or their field of study. Between ourselves, in the two or three years leading up to my first application to the go on the show I had several times thought about using the Life and Work of William Makepeace Thackeray for my first specialist. Thackeray is only remembered really now for "Vanity Fair " and no wonder, being as it is possibly the funniest novel in the English language IMHO. However he wrote a lot of other things as well. But at my audition I was told not to do it because of my occupation, and the fact that I had studied Eng Lit at University. The rest is history, as they say.

I'd never have watched the Book Quiz last night anyway, if it hadn't been a case of adverse weather conditions stopped quiz. Well, I'm sure that the quiz went on in Newport last night, but I'm afraid with a 45 minute journey down the M4 to get to it, and another one to get home again, there was no way we were going to risk it last night. Possibly no bad thing either. I can only think that we would have been caned by the handicaps after winning the previous week. That would have left me grumpy all day today, whilst I am at the moment in the very best of moods, since my school was closed today due to snow. I enjoy large portions of my job, and I work hard to do it to the very best of my ability, but I have to say that when an unexpected day off is put in my path, it would be the action of a complete churl not to go out of my way to enjoy it !

Before I sign off as well, I'd like to share with you something from last Thursday night's quiz in the Aberavon rugby club. Question master was Reg, who is our resident Malaprop. Two of his more memorable slip ups in the past were : -

Which American hero, who died at the Alamo, was famous for wearing a raccoon-skin hat ?
Answer - Davy Rocket

What is the name of the stretch of water that seperates Portsmouth from the Isle of Wight ?
Answer - The Solvent

Its not just Reg's malapropism which make his quiz a voyage into the unknown.For one thing, he uses a lot of the same questions in every quiz. For another thing, I can't swear to it, but I think that he makes up some of his questions without ever verifying whether his answer is correct. Either that or he uses a very inaccurate book to get his questions from. Case in point. He asked the question last week : -

The Republic of Ireland have won the Eurovision Song Contest more than any other country. They have won it four times, Once with Dana - twice with Johnny Logan, and once with which other act ?

Now, there's a very basic flaw with this question. The fact is that Ireland have won it 7 times . So far from being one other act, there are no less than FOUR other acts that have won the Eurovision for the republic. To cover our backs, we wrote down
Linda Martin
Niamh Kavanagh
Eimar Quinn

We knew that the other act was two blokes who sang a song called "Rock and Roll Kids", but we couldn't remember the names. They were, of course, the answer that Reg was looking for - for the record they are : -
Paul Harrington and Charlie McGettigan

Ok - we can all make mistakes. Suppose Reg had a book which only went as far as 1994 when they won ? Well, in that case, he should still have had Linda Martin and Niamh Kavanagh, since they won in 1992 and 1993 respectively ! Its a bad, bad question, whichever way you look at it. And the ironic thing is - he could have asked it giving all the detail in the question - eg
" What were the names of the two male singers who won Ireland's third Eurovision Song Contest in a row, in 1994, with a song called "Rock and Roll Kids ? "
and still no one would have got it right ! Which he knew , because he actually said that he knew no one would have got it right when he gave us the answer. Which begs the question, why ask something you know for a fact that nobody will be able to answer ?

So people, what is the lesson to learn from this ? Don't make up questions off the top of your head - or if you do, then always check that your answer is right, because there will probably be someone in the audience who knows a lot more about the subject than you do.

I digress. Reg, as I say, is the club's pet Malaprop, and he favoured us with this one on last Thursday night : -

Which socialite was elected President of France in 1981 ?

Actually, thinking about it, I'm not sure that you couldn't make out a case for saying that Francois Mitterand was actually more of a socialite than he was a socialist.

Have a good week.

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