Sunday, 3 November 2013

My First Pub Quiz

Do you remember the day that you became a quizzer? Can you pinpoint that first moment when you realized that a quiz was more than just a set of questions and answers? I invite you to share your reminiscences, and to start the ball rolling, I’ll kick off.

I guess that the seeds were sown for me by television when I was a child. We were a household where the television was always on, and we weren’t the most discerning of viewers. Well, there were only 3 channels in those days. Whenever a quiz show was on – and we watched everything from University Challenge – and when it started, Mastermind – to Sale of the Century. The unwritten rule in the house was that if you knew the answer then you tried to be the first to shout it out. You could only claim it if you answered before anyone else, and especially, before the team or contestant in the studio. The first quiz competition I ever participated in was the Elthorne High School Sixth Form Mastermind competition in 1981, which is a little ironic. However that was just another seed sown. The quiz which made me into a quizzer happened 7 years later, in 1988.

A couple of days after my son was born in January of 1988 a friend of Mary’s family, called Neville, unexpectedly popped around to take me out to wet the baby’s head, and he took me to the quiz night in the Railway Club in Port Talbot – not to be confused with the old Rail and Transport Club. The night actually consisted of two quizzes. The first was open to the whole bar, and the question master, Noel, just shouted out questions, with anybody being able to put up their hand and try to answer. The prize was a ticket which enabled you to something like 30p off a pint, and once you had 3 tickets, that was your lot.

Now, that was fun in itself, but the second quiz was a lot better. In this Neville and I joined the question master from the first quiz, Noel, and two other guys I got to know quite well over the next few years, Bertie and Donald. Bertie knew a lot of answers, but not to the questions being asked unfortunately. Donald knew one answer – Danny Blanchflower – and he trotted this out religiously until one day he was asked who the captain of the 1961 Spurs Double winning team was. He answered Dave Mackay, I think. The five of us made up a team and played against another five guys from the club, with a set of questions asked by a guy called Nigel. The format and standard was that of a good league quiz. I loved it, possibly because we won, but I think I’d have enjoyed it almost as much if we’d lost. On the way home I told Nev that I would be available next week if needed. I suppose you could say I’ve been available ever since.

It was probably just pure good luck that took me to that quiz at that time. For one thing, going to that particular quiz taught me several things. Firstly, that I was quite good at quizzes already. Secondly, it taught me that other people were better. More importantly it showed me just how much I was going to enjoy playing in quizzes. Even more importantly than that it brought me some great friends. Noel was the first very good quizzer I met. He invited me to play for the Railway Club in the resurrected Port Talbot Quiz League a few weeks after my debut, and that’s when I first played with Allan Coombs, one of the finest, and nicest quizzers South Wales has ever produced.

Playing in the Port Talbot League for a couple of years until it folded, and in other single quizzes and quiz competitions with Allan, Noel, Nev, Barry, Bob and later on, John, was the best quiz education I would have ever hoped for, and if anybody were ever to turn around and say that they’ve learned something about quizzing from playing in the same team with me now, then it would make me a very happy man. Sadly both Nev and Allan have passed away in the last few years. Noel moved away and we lost contact, and if I’ve seen Bob twice in the last ten years, then I certainly haven’t seen him more. Barry and I went to Newport together most Mondays between last Bridgend league season ending and this one starting, and of course if John and I don’t go to at least one quiz together then it’s a bad week. So it’s nice that, even if I never go to the Railway Club any more – and I’ll be honest, I don’t know if they ever do a quiz any more anyway – there is that kind of continuity with my quizzing roots.


So that’s my first pub quiz. Maybe your first experience of quizzing was something similar – or maybe not. If you’ve an interesting ( alright, even if it’s not very interesting) story to tell, why not share it here?


Anonymous said...

OK, I'll bite, as I was thinking about this just this afternoon. Mine goes back a whole lot earlier, however...

When I was 8 years old, I changed schools: instead of carrying on to the local comp, which had a dreadful record (and was knocked down a couple of years later), I went across town to a rather snootier selective school. As an only child, I'd already got used to spending most of my time reading rather than playing out, so I didn't really fit in. The class teacher that year was a kindly old sort who apparently realised pretty quickly that, as well as being a uppity little oik with an authority problem (some things don't change...), I had a ludicrously good memory - and had already soaked up a ridiculous amount of information from all that sitting with the encyclopaedia.

Now, this school liked quizzes: they were a way to show off against other schools how smart their kids were. The school's own main quiz was a curious affair that in some ways ripped off the King William's College quiz: 100 questions sat twice either side of the Christmas holidays, the first time sight unseen, but the second time with the benefit of some work in the local library. The questions weren't nearly as cryptic as KWC, and were set in two groups: one for ages 9 to 11, and a harder paper for 11 to 13. Bear in mind this was very much pre-internet, so this was all supposed to be terribly improving (the school was awfully Victorian in a lot of ways).

At age 8, I was a year too young for the lower competition, but the teacher decided to get me the paper anyway to see how I'd do. On a sight unseen run, I picked up maybe a handful of questions - which was actually pretty average - but then really worked at it over Christmas with those books, quickly learned the answers, and managed a much higher score after Christmas. And then it turned out, thanks to my dear old teacher, I'd been given the wrong paper - the paper for 11 to 13 - and was comfortably in the middle of the field against kids a lot older.

After that, the school pretty quickly realised that it was worth shoving me on various quiz teams to see how I'd do: as well as general knowledge ones, I can recall subject-specific ones for history, geography, science and classics, amongst others (and this was way before we actually studied any classics, so that really required some serious cramming). Some were ones where we showed up in a team, while others were basically written exams. I liked doing the quizzes: I had absolutely no athletic ability, and no performance skill to speak of, so this was the only change I got to be a little primo uomo up on stage.

Over the next four years, my quiz knowledge grew, so much so that I pretty much killed the Christmas quiz competition when taking part in it properly: when you have a massive first-round lead, there isn't much point in anyone trying to do the research to beat you, as you almost need only remember the same answers you gave on the unseen paper! By the time I was about 11 or 12, I was even writing my own questions, mainly as a revision tool, and had developed a pretty dang good "quiz library" of my own (most funded with the book tokens from winning quizzes). I was also a regular scourge of local radio on-air quizzes - and I'm sure they didn't realise quite how young I was! - but that's another story entirely. My biggest regret was not quite managing to win a national history competition: despite a decent lead in the first round (basically a pure written quiz paper), I didn't quite manage to hold on in the second-round essay paper and ended up joint second.

But enough rambling: turns out I can write comments longer than the original post! But for all those who keep saying that I'm far too young to have retired from quizzing, I think a 20-odd year career is perfectly good enough: the classic early burn-out of the child prodigy(-ish) :)

LisaH said...

"I had absolutely no athletic ability, and no performance skill to speak of, so this was the only change I got to be a little primo uomo up on stage."
Ooh I can sympathise with that - well more the feeling of camaraderie and being part of the team having never made any sports teams. I always did well in quizzes at primary school and loved watching quiz shows and then persuaded my family to apply for "Ask the Family" when I was 16 (I think I asked them before writing to the BBC....) - we were totally astonished to get selected! That gave my headmistress the idea of entering a team in an inter-schools quiz and for the first time I actually got in a school team - it was a great experience! My Grandmother said after Ask the Family that she could see me on Mastermind one day - sadly she didn't live to see it happen. I still have the quiz bug and dream that one day I might actually get good at it.....wish there were more puzzle/lateral thinking type shows and also that I had more time to quiz.