If you’re a regular reader, then you’ll know that the CIU quiz competition, regionals and then (if we qualify) national final have been a highlight of my quizzing year since before I started writing the blog. It remains an unfulfilled ambition of mine to once – just once would do – win the whole thing. I’ve been in teams which have placed 2nd, 3rd (3 or 4 times), 4th, 5th, 6th and nowhere, but never won the big one.
You might recall that September 2014 was the last organized by the estimable Chris Brewis, and at the time we had no idea whether the quiz would take place at all this year, or how it would work. I had a phone call from George a few weeks ago, saying that there would be no regionals this year, and that the final would be played in Blackpool on Saturday 11th April. Well, I won’t lie when I say that my exact words were, “Stuff that for a game of soldiers!”, the upshot being that it was too far away, and would be a far more expensive trip than normal, especially considering that we didn’t at the time know anything about who would now be running the quiz, what the format would be, whether it would be any good etc. I don’t think I was the only person to react that way, not in the South Wales and West of England region anyway. OK, when Barry started asking me about it, and we started putting concrete plans together, my opinions started to change, and we did actually manage to put out our strongest team yesterday. Maesglas ‘A’, national champions on many occasions, weren’t so fortunate though. I know that one of their star players, like I had, said that it was too far away, and just wasn’t prepared to do an overnight stop – and a large number of people who were asked to take his place all said pretty much the same thing – they’d have loved to have played, but one or two nights’ stop was just out of the question for them.
Our plan changed several times before it crystallised. Originally we wondered whether we could travel up together with Maesglas, and maybe hire a minibus between us and share costs, but Maesglas were determined on staying for two nights, which was something we couldn’t manage. Well, my poor old Ford keeps soldiering on, but I think it would be asking for a breakdown in the middle of nowhere if I tried to get it all the way to Blackpool. Barry’s car is too small, and John’s was in the garage. Train fare or hiring a car would have required us to take out second mortgages each. So for us, then, the plan had to be that George, the most reluctant chauffeur amongst all of us, would drive us up on the Friday, we’d stay overnight, and drive back immediately after the quiz yesterday. Now, it’s vulgar to talk about money, so I’m going to be vulgar. Careful use of the internet meant that we were able to do the whole trip for just over £60 a head for fuel, bed and breakfast. Not bad going at all, and only three times as expensive as our annual Derby trip. Alright, sorry, that was a cheap shot which I couldn’t resist.
The wisdom of going up the day before the quiz was proven when we found ourselves sitting on the M6 (actually that was literally true at one point when it got too hot in the car) for about two and a half hours, just outside Keele services. There was a terrible pile up around junction 16 apparently, and they had to land an air ambulance and everything. I can only hope that the people involved were OK in the end. Well, we pulled up outside the guest house at pretty much bang on 7pm, and the first sign that we were going to have a pretty good time was the fact that we parked right outside the hotel. I’d already scouted out a car park nearby where we could have left the car overnight, but that would have cost each of us the price of a pint, so being able to leave the car right outside the guest house was a huge bonus. The guest house was absolutely fine for what we paid – comfortable beds – clean and quiet – a decent full English at 8 am sharp. I would share the name of the place with you, but we are planning on making the trip again if next year’s event is the same, so I don’t want you booking there ahead of me. By half past 8 we were unpacked, had our first pint in the guest house’s bar, and were ready to set out in search of food, and take whatever Blackpool could throw at us.
I’ve only ever been to Blackpool once before, and that was only for a day trip in 1983 to visit the Doctor Who Exhibition, so my impressions are only based on a very brief acquaintance. But what I respect about Blackpool is the way that it seems totally comfortable in its own skin. Blackpool is as Blackpool does, and it makes no bones about it neither. On the sea front you could easily have a marathon pub crawl without having to walk more than a couple of hundred yards. So as you can expect there were a large number of stag and hen groups out and about – maybe it was just me, but there seemed to be a lot more hen groups than stag groups. We met up with Gordon and Colin from Maesglas in Yates’, and then went to a Wetherspoon’s for a meal, where we met Clive, Tony, Michael and the Sunderland lads, who’d had the same idea we’d had of coming up the night before.
It was a good evening. Now, if you’re a regular, you might recall me having mentioned that I’m virtually teetotal (I don’t touch tea, never have. Badoom boom ching – I’m here all week, ladies and gents). When you get right down to it, I just don’t like alcohol that much. Yes, pathetic, I know, but it’s taken me a long enough time to learn what’s me and what isn’t me, and shoving pints down my neck just ain’t me. But. Seeing as it was a special occasion, I did have a pint of cider in the guest house before we went out. It did actually go to my head, and I felt light-headed for a good hour or so till we ate.
OK, so we stayed in Witherspoons, ‘enjoying’, if that’s the right word, watching what appeared to be a spontaneous ladies’ arm wrestling competition on a nearby table. That’s Blackpool, folks. We left the pub and wandered back towards the guest house about quarter to twelve. On the way, we came upon the unusual sight of a lady – and those of a nervous disposition may wish to skip the rest of this paragraph – right, we passed a lady showing considerable ingenuity in her drunken attempts to urinate in a litter bin. A sight of which Barry, with typical Brummagem wit, said, “You know, the lasting mental image I’m going to have of this weekend is the sight of that huge, white, flabby arse draped all over that poor litter bin.” He has quite a way with words, has our Barry.
Now, if you’re like me, your inner child is very often your outer child as well, and the ten year old boy in me that is never very far from the surface absolutely demanded that I went up the Blackpool Tower the next morning. I never took the opportunity in 1983, and always regretted it since. George, like me, is of the opinion that you should always try to do something, or see something when you visit a particular place, so he came too. It was that windy along the front that I did worry that the Tower might actually be closed when we got there; as it was the lady on the tickets told us that she reckoned it would be closed by 11am. I have to say that it wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I know that there’s a huge ballroom in the Tower, but I didn’t expect the 3D cinema. We did get to go up to the top, mind you, where a notice informed us that there are over 90,000 beds in guest houses and hotels in Blackpool, which is more than in the whole of Portugal. I presume this means guest house and hotel beds in Portugal, as opposed to all beds, unless the Great Portuguese Bed Famine is just something I haven’t heard of.
Could the quiz, then, be anything other than an anti-climax? Well, not, it wasn’t an anti –climax at all. I’ll go into some more detail shortly, but basically, we took the lead in the first round, and I think we stayed in the lead until the last. Going into the last round we‘d won a case of lager already, and had a lead of precisely one half of a point. I have never really been in realistic contention for a win in the CIU since the very first time I played, where we went into the Who Am I (which has thankfully been dropped from the quiz now) 1 point behind the leaders, and had it on the first clue. So did the team who were in the lead. So you can imagine it was an exciting situation. Sadly, we scored a point less than the teams behind us, and lost by half a point to Gosforth Empire, and drew with Newbottle Workingmen’s from Sunderland, who beat us on the tie break. Ah, fate can be cruel, but them’s the breaks. I was fine by the time we left, but I won’t lie, for a little while I was very disappointed – not so much that we were beaten, because the Gosforth and the Newbottle boys are great guys and fine quizzers, and it’s no shame to lose to them, but because I had started – only just started to believe it mind you, that this could maybe just be our year. Maybe next time.
So let’s say a bit more about the quiz itself. The chap from the CIU club magazine has asked for feedback, and so these are my thoughts on the subject.
There is, and always has been, a debate to be had about the format of the CIU quiz. Now, this is just my opinion, and I’m not trying to upset anyone, so by all means disagree with me, and dismiss what I say as the ravings of a loon. Still, this is what I feel. For all the years I have been taking part, the quiz has been compiled by some great quiz players and quiz people – the late Dave Cornish, sadly missed, is a notable example, and if I tell you that yesterday’s quiz was compiled by Dave Bill, then you’ll understand where I’m coming from. However the format for the quiz has always been, well, it’s always been rather gimmicky.
I remember a few years ago the list round was introduced, whereby you could put down as many answers as you liked – correct answers brought a half point, and incorrect answers lost a half point. It’s fair to say that this round was rather controversial at the time, and a year or two later it was changed so that wrong answers didn’t lose half points, which was a much better arrangement. In yesterday’s quiz round 5 was a wipeout round. Now, Redtooth were the organization who ran the quiz, and for whom Dave compiled it, and those of you who play regularly play in a Redtooth quiz will be aware of the mechanics of this kind of round. Basically, you can go for up to ten answers. If you get any of your answers wrong, you get no points for the round. The subject of yesterday’s round was Actors and Actresses. We were given, I think, 16 names, and had to put a ring around those who were 80 or over. We were sure of 6, and erred on the side of caution. Now, what happened was that several of the leading teams were taken out by this round, scoring 0. Now, OK, you can argue that this round worked in our favour – it certainly didn’t do us any harm. However – and this is just my opinion – however, I have to ask the question - is it right to completely destroy a team’s chances because of one wrong answer? Ah – but you may well say – but that’s all part of the competition. Judging it to perfection, and knowing when to gamble and when not to gamble. – Well, maybe, but I don’t really subscribe to that point of view myself. I always think that the winning team in a quiz should be the team that provide the most correct answers. A quiz should reward knowledge – a wrong answer should be punishment enough in itself. Still, like I said, there is a debate to be had, and if a majority of people actually like this kind of round, then fair enough.
As I said, the CIU quiz has always been gimmicky. The second round was a video round – where half the questions were inspired by the video clips and connected to something in them, and half the questions were observation questions. Well, this round certainly didn’t do our chances any harm, so again, feel free to disagree with what I say, but I tend to think that observation is rather like picture identification – it’s a skill, rather than knowledge, and to some extent it is something you either can do or you can’t. Yeah, it’s maybe fun – but should it have a place in a quiz which is contested by some pretty serious and impressive quiz teams? Again, this is just my opinion, and for all I know the majority will disagree with me which is absolutely fine.
In the interests of fairness, before I get on to the sport round I ought to say that I enjoyed the round a lot, and as a team we did as well as we could have done in the round scoring 9 out of a possible 10. The sport round was a round where teams were given three minutes to name the 20 nationalities – excluding English – of people who have managed Premier League football teams in England, with each correct answer scoring half a point, and no penalty for wrong answers, other than the fact they obviously didn’t score. I liked the time limit of three minutes, that’s a new gimmick, and not a bad one if you have to have gimmicks. However – yes, there is a however – for the sport round it was a shame that it was all on football. You do see this a lot in some quizzes, a huge bias towards football when sports questions are given. Now, while I can understand this, football being as hugely popular as it is, in future CIU quizzes it might be nice for this round to be split into different sports, with maybe 4 questions on five sports. Since there’s the time limit there’s still the same level of challenge. Just my opinion, and as always, feel free . . .
No complaints about the two general knowledge rounds and the connections rounds. We played a blinder on the first GK round, going into the lead, and not relinquishing it until, ironically, the last GK round. We found this one to be a bit of a stinker, and just couldn’t quite get the 7 points I guessed we were going to need to have a chance of winning. But that’s quizzing, and there’s no complaints about that . . . some you win, and some you lose, and the fact is that although we finished 3rd on a tiebreak, we actually came closer to winning, being half a point behind deserved winners Mike and the boys from Gosforth Empire, that we’ve ever done before. So you can see that my comments on the quiz aren’t because we were out with the washing, as we sometimes have been in the last few years. Congratulations as well to Clive, Michael, Tony and the guys from Newbottle who pipped us on the Mark Labbett tie break for second.
Well, that’s the quiz. Congratulations and thanks to Dave Bill who compiled it. I have no issue with the questions that were asked. Whichever format you use for a quiz you are never going to please everyone, and if this format is what the majority of CIU teams and players want, then that’s fair enough. If you were there and you have an opinion on the quiz, then why don’t you get in touch with club journal to express that opinion? I will.
Of course, it isn’t just the format of the quiz I have opinions about either. The conception behind this year’s event was that Blackpool in April was the venue for the CIU AGM, and so the quiz would be the climax to the weekend’s whole event. Also – maybe to encourage more teams to take part – there would be no regional heats, just the final. There’s pros and cons to this.
The good thing about Derby was that it was central. Yes, some of us had longer journeys than others, but nobody had an absolutely horrendous journey. On Friday, we left Rhwbina in Cardiff at about 10:15 am. We arrived at our hotel in Blackpool at about 7pm. That was with two service station stops neither of which was longer than about 15 minutes. Now, you might say, well, you were unlucky because you were stuck in a horrendous jam on the M6 and didn’t move from the spot for 2 and a half hours, and you’d be right. Even so, we’re talking about hours and hours of travelling to get there, and hours and hours to get back. I don’t see that we could do it without an overnight stop. Now, that’s all well and good if it coincides with the school holidays when I’m not working on the Friday. If it did coincide with a working Friday, well, I’m afraid that my occupation isn’t one where I can just book a day off when I need it. I know quite a few people and teams from Newport and Cardiff who would have come to the quiz if there hadn’t been the need to stop overnight. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy coming to Blackpool, because I did. I loved it. But the thing is, and I’m sorry to bring this down to money, even all of us sharing one car, and going for a very cheap and cheerful guesthouse, this made taking part this year considerably more expensive for each of us than it has been in previous years.
Well, it has to be said that the Norbreck Castle Hotel where the final was held was considerably more swish than the other locations in which the final has been played during my time. Respect for the freebies for everyone from the sponsors too – Sky Sports T Shirt etc. Redtooth ran the quiz very smoothly, and it cracked along at just the kind of pace that I prefer a quiz to go. Full marks for all of that. However . . . and I know that for the second time in three years I’m moaning about the buffet again here. . . but there wasn’t a buffet. Nowt. Or if there was, nobody was informed about it. Alright, you might say, what do you expect for the amount you paid for the event? But, I don’t know, it just seemed a bit of an omission, bearing in mind how far some people had come (I think we had the longest journey, but I will bow to anyone else’s superior knowledge if that’s not the case) – and how far some people had to go home. Here’s another point too. There was a free bar for the quiz. That’s amazing – except for the fact that you had to pay for diet cokes – and these proved really rather expensive. Well, alright, as a teetotaler (almost) you accept that you are always going to be fleeced in a bar, but considering that a lot of the teams would be driving home after the event, it wasn’t exactly encouraging responsible drinking.
As for the going directly to the final – well, and again this is just my opinion – I always enjoyed the regional heats, even on the occasion that we didn’t qualify, and I think it will be a bit of a shame if they’re confined to the dump bin of History for good. I can be fairly sure that fewer teams took part in this year’s competition than in last year’s, because if there were a dozen teams in the final then that’s as many as there were. I think that a lot of teams who wouldn’t consider going all that way to play in the national final would take part in regionals, but hey, I don’t know what the financial situation is, and I don’t know whether regional heats are viable or not. It’s just a shame if they don’t happen again – as always, just my opinion.
Well, that was the CIU final for 2015. A very enjoyable weekend for a variety of reasons, and if it does happen in Blackpool again, and if it does coincide with a school holiday, and if I can get a decent deal on a guest house, and if the boys can get the Friday off work, and if one of them is willing to drive us, then on those conditions, you can count me in.