Yes, it IS only a game - but sometimes games matter
Let us begin, as we often do, with a quotation, in fact, lets begin with a couple.
"If winning isn't important, why do they keep score?"
Vince Lombardi said that. He, you may remember, was the semi legendary coach of the Green Bay Packers, winners of the first two Superbowls. Then we have
"I am what I am and that's all I am. "
One of the great thinkers of our time said this one, none other than Popeye the Sailor Man.
While I'm on the subject of Popeye, you might be interested to know that Popeye was not always the star of the comic strip which came to bear his name. Created by Elzie Chrisler Segar, it was originally called Thimble Theatre - and Popeye wasn't even in it for the first few months. Olive Oyl's original boyfriend was a banana nosed cretin called Ham Gravy, who was the foil for her conman brother Castor Oyl. When Popeye first appeared, he didn't show any of his superpowers either, and it was only gradually that spinach came to be used as the explanation for his powers.
Why I mention Popeye's maxim is because I do think some of us probably do take our quizzes too seriously, but then that's just the way that we are, and there is precious little in the long run that you can do about it. Mastermind 2008 semi-finalist James Corcoran was kind enough to leave a comment on one of last week's entries,and one of the things he said was that he expected that when other people taking part in a pub quiz find out that I won Mastermind they probably want to give up and go home on the spot. Well, there are a couple of answers to this. Firstly, you don't go broadcasting the fact that you won Mastermind in an average pub quiz. Anyway,its sad to say, but Mastermind isn't as well established in the Nation's consciousness as once it was. Secondly, we don't always win ! Then even in those places where someone actually watched the final they're usually pretty nice about it.
With one exception. The Red Dragon pub in Litchard, near Bridgend, does a quiz every Sunday night. Although there's a prize its set for the benefit of non quizzers, and as a result its of limited interest to regular quizzers. However there's also a jackpot round of five questions. A few months ago John and I gave it a try, and scooped a pot of £150. That's a very nice payday for a Sunday evening. So a fortnight later we went back, and scooped another jackpot of £50. Just as we were leaving, the former chairman of the Bridgend Quiz League turned up. I had never met him before, but John knows him. As I introduced myself he fixed me in the eye with a hard stare, and said
"Oh, I know who you are. You're the feller from Port Talbot who won Mastermind."
and the tone he said it in was almost that of an accusation. I thought of reaching for my colt 45 and hissing "You better smile when you say that, pardner", but made do with just sort of grinning and mumbling in the affirmative.We left as soon as we could without being impolite. However two days later John was passed a message from the landlady, to the effect of - that's it, you've been rumbled by the ex-chairman, he's told me who you are, I'd appreciate it if you don't come back on a Sunday night. -
I have been banned from playing in a quiz once before, although this was before Mastermind. A pub in Neath, to which I have no intention of giving any free publicity, started displaying a banner outside advertising a Tuesday night quiz with a £100 first prize. This place really had never been on the map as far as pub quizzes were concerned. Still , John and I thought that it would be worth a go. When we got there, we played dumb, and acted as if we were only entering the quiz as a bit of a laugh. There was a catch to the quiz, though, since you had to score at least 50 out of 60 to scoop the money. We scored about 54. Two weeks later we went back and did the same thing. I went back two weeks after that, and was sent packing by the landlord. I don't blame him that much, but I did think his justification was a load of old toot. He said
"Listen, if a prize is there, as far as I'm concerned its there to be won, but I have a lot of regulars in here who know that you only ever come in here to win the money. This is a nice friendly quiz and they think you take it too seriously etc. etc.. . . "
I told him that there's no such thing as a friendly quiz when there's £100 at stake, but I was going out of the door as I said it.
So, returning to the issue in hand, it was the former Chairman of the Bridgend quiz league who exerted his influence to have us banned from playing in the Red Dragon quiz. Now, as I mentioned last week, John has been asked to guest for a team in the Bridgend League. He's played the last two Mondays, and he's playing again tomorrow night. And so am I. Apparently the team we're playing against is the team containing this same former chairman of the League. We've checked on League rules to make sure that we're eligible for the team, and yes, we both are. There used to be a rule that you could only play in the league if you lived in Bridgend, but that was scrapped years ago. As long as you haven't played for another team in the same season, you're eligible. I can't wait until we see his face when the two of us walk in tomorrow night. Don't misunderstand me, I enjoy playing in league quizzes anyway, but I have to say that this one tomorrow night is a little bit personal. This is serious.
Am I wrong ? Well, probably some people would think so. Yes, I do know that when people say to us - you shouldn't play because you take it too seriously - a lot of the time they really mean - I don't want you to play because you're very good and you'll probably beat me - , and in a way I suppose I should be flattered. But it can really rankle. Far from being some kind of narrow - eyed, win-at-all-costs quiz monster, I'd like to know who else would go so far out of their way to give other teams a more than fair chance. I'll try to explain what I mean -
* It would be easy to go to the same cash prize quiz every Sunday night, and win the majority of times. But we take care never to go to the same Sunday quiz two weeks in a row. That way there is a different winner apart from us every other week, and if we lose, then we only win one quiz in four. So at least half the quizzes in any given year are won by other teams. In reality its usually a bit more than half.
* We are prepared to go anywhere within about a 30 mile radius on a Sunday night, just to avoid hitting the same places too often.
* Many of the places we go we see teams cheating with phones, swapping answers with each other, even looking things up in books ! Yet we never make a fuss, and never even draw the question master's attention to it. We see ourselves as visitors rather than regulars, and as such we are always on our best behaviour.
* If we lose we always make a point of going up and offering our congratulations to the winning team, however we think their win might have been achieved. If they want, we always try and stop with a chat for them for a while.
* If we win we are always open for a chat with other teams, and we never rise to any barbed comments which may be made.
* Whenever we've been asked to supply a set of questions in any particular place, we've always done it with good grace, even though it means that one of us is sitting doing nothing that evening.
*We never go to a pub quiz mob-handed. Nine times out of ten its just John and me, and on rare occasions we are joined by my daughter Phillippa, who is not a quizzer. We usually play against teams of 5 or 6, and often against teams of as many as 8 or 9.Yet in many places the entry fee is per team, not per person, so we are paying proportionately more to play.
I've never been particularly gifted in terms of sporting ability. Oh, don't get me wrong, I love sport, but I've never been much good at it. In terms of rugby I was lucky to get into Goldsmith's College 2nd XV. In my day we weren't much good, and I think we only won one of our matches when I was playing. It didn't mean that we said that the other teams shouldn't be allowed to play because they were much better than we were. After all, it was for fun, we weren't playing for trophies or anything. In my jogging days I twice ran in the Swansea Bay 10k fun run. I didn't complain that Steve Brace and a team of Kenyan runners shouldn't be allowed to run because they were proper runners who could do it half an hour quicker than I could. Nor would I have expected them to slow down and let some of us amateurs win. For the life of me, I can't see what the difference is between this and what goes on in pub quizzes. If you enter any competition you do so in the implicit understanding that there is every good chance that someone else in the competition is better than you are.
Quizzing is a broad church. Its one of the few competitive games where the rank amateur can compete alongside the world class. I count myself as a serious quizzer, and if I am competing in a pub quiz I would expect to rarely be beaten. But then next month I will be playing in the quiz event at the Rhwbina Club in Cardiff. In the individual event I will be delighted if I manage a solid mid- table finish. Because that's my level as a quizzer, Mastermind win notwithstanding. It would be stupid for me to expect to come up to the standard of an Ashman, a Gibson, a Bytheway, or other quizzers of that level because I'm not at that level. But I can still play in the same quiz as these giants, and measure myself against them, and that's the point.