Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Old Rites, Almost Forgotten

(Version Two: I edited the last one but Blogger went down for maintenance leaving an ill-spelled and ragged first draft. Erase it from the memory immediately. This is much better/more surreal/even more unreadable. Consume it with your eyes and brain, and if you feel like it, a permeable membrane of an extra-terrestial kind, if you are an alien that is.)

Anyone who happens to be acquainted with me (I feel for you, I really do ... chakakhanchakachakakhan ... chakakhanchaka) will know the catastrophic effect that Fifteen-to-One had on my life. If I hadn't started going to a sixth form comprehensive and begun watching afternoon television out of stultifying boredom for an extended period, who knows what might have happened otherwise? I might be editing The Guardian, or even the New York Times AND with my eyes closed, or building magnificent attack robots for a South American drug lord. I might be a Somebody, not a Hmm-body. Whatever that may be. Not sure exactly, because I've made that up a mere few seconds ago.

It just goes to show that exposure to afternoon quiz shows for long enough can lead to an unforeseen life, with many newspapers writing about you. Look at Conor Travers: "He had become interested in taking part in the Channel 4 game show last year during a spell off school through illness. Watching it at home, he found that he could have beaten the adult contestants". That was me when I was sixteen.

No, I didn't look like Nick Drake crossed with horror-monster Chucky the doll, what I mean is that I could beat them. Badly. Cane them like a 19th century public schoolmaster. Well, not Stanley Miller or Martin Riley or Donald Yule or any of the 1996-7 stalwarts of FTO; they were far far too good for me, but I sure could smoke some contestant candy ass. Paddle the buttockage good. Oh yeah.

But I digress. I always digress. I am a serial digressor.

I was watching the last series repeats of FTO today on Challenge+1. I did my old quasi-religious marking ritual (I paid homage to my William G altar and lit a candle in remembrance then settled down to watch in the praying position) and, frankly, I was mediocre. Aston Villa mediocre.

This was the final terrible tosh-twaddled tally: I got 27/30 on the first round, a bloody awful 30/43 on the second round, and in the final, I tell you, I tell you with a great pain gripping my soul, I would have crashed out after seven questions if I had taken all of them (I scored 30/35 in the end).

The percentages just about bear comparison with the ones I was getting when the series was broadcast in 2003, but then again I am not entirely sure what I would have scored back then since I missed the whole series on account of living in the world of work. A place where 4pm comes and goes, much like 3pm comes and goes, and 11am does too. And midday. Without incidence. Without wondrous quiz shows.

The office knows nothing of the shows that constituted the much missed Channel 4 Quiz Hour. I remember mentioning FTO to a newspaper editor, who was often seen in media diaries and Private Eye's Street of Shame and was renowned for their love of quizzes. They hadn't even heard of it or William G Stewart. I almost couldn't believe it. I almost shouted: "WTF?" when they admitted it, with gobs of vitriolic spit flying from my mouth at Mach 5.

The thing is I believe I have moved on. I don't really care much for many of the basic subjects it concentrated on.

Here are some examples of my "fouls" (excuse my errors: I haven't verified any of them because I can't be bothered, I've just eaten a hill of fruit and I'm going all lazy. Mezzogiorno lazy):

- origin of phrase "flash in the pan"
- naming Fort William, the Scottish town at the foot of Ben Nevis
- ship rigging terminology
- words for types of wildflower
- the acronym for British Forces Post Office
- the two rivers that form the Humber Estuary: Trent and Ouse
- the Horse of the Year show at the NEC
- the Earl Marshall being the only one of seven officers of state to survive apart from Lord Chamberlain
- names of dominoes games
- identify music hall star Marie Lloyd by her birth name
- name the official representative to the Queen of the House of Commons (the Speaker)
- building terminology: identify a breeze block from the definition
- how many turtle doves were there in the Xmas carol (two)
- name the Welsh town between Great Orme and Little Orme
- what are digital socks? Who cares? Do you? Does your grandmother? Actually, she probably does because she's getting you them for Xmas. In your Yuletide pressy face!

There was of course the hardy, annoying blighters like Charlie Brown's sister, what are orchestra seats called over here and the species name for the bay tree, but the only interesting ones I didn't get was the Jewish word for a bill of divorce and the definition for the recitative. Don't you see? The last two could be asked to a German. Do ya get me?

The other day I wondered where would I hear a boring question on parliamentary procedure or the posh peerage and now I really don't mind. Why, because it's all so parochial that's why. Annie Lennix why. They could only be asked in Great Britain. They are insular. They are cricket pitch questions par excellence. If it was a car it would have a St George's flag attached to either side and I would want to come along with a pair of secateurs and snip them off and sidefoot kick them into the gutter where cheap tat belongs.

My problem is that the word "parochial" has become, apart from "stupid" and "duh", the most pejorative word in my personal quiz lexicon for the reason(s) stated above. It has become a synonym for small-minded.

And, I confess, this is itself small-minded of me (because all knowledge has intrinsic worth: who am I to put British birds above Senegalese presidents? Or breweries above Italian 20th century Futurist artists? Actually I do put breweries below everything. EVERYTHING. Even the names of Autobots and Digimon). Some people opt for local government and some for the national stage. Then there are the folks who aim to become MEPs. Don't ask me how they're supposed to fit into this analogy.

The whole nature of quiz for me has irrevocably changed since the concepts of European and World quizzing entered the equation: "All changed, changed utterly". Wait a minute, those are the words of an Irishman. Even though I'm British that verges on the PAROCHIAL.

The world is more than enough, our sceptred isle not so. Why above all? Because I crave knowledge that seems equally relevant to every citizen of the world, not just the people who live in this country. That is the kind of knowledge that surely must have the greatest value.

I was even looking at an Encyclopaedia of Britain yesterday. It bored me rigid and I fell aslumber in about five minutes. I must have seen the phrase "unitary authority" and realised that deep sleep was better than uncovering the geography of Stirling.

Of all my old much loved quiz stand-bys, University Challenge thankfully survives this globalised scrutiny. If only there was a digital channel showing UC in chronological order from the very beginning. I'd watch it and nothing else. Not even Big Brother's Big Brain with Kate Moss and Makosi-bonking Russell Brand unleashing his Brand of Bewildering Bollards.

Hey, Granada, make it so.

Back to FTO
Actually, as long as FTO repeats are on it will be as if it was never away (I'll just ignore the ones where Harriet Harman is still Secretary of State for Social Security). Such is the beauty of programmes that have thousands of shows in the archives, by the time the repeat comes around you will have probably forgotten the ones you learnt that you got wrong and so on and so on.

Come and See
See Stephen Colbert weave his anti-rightist magic. It has nothing to do with the rest of this post but is funny nonetheless. 'Tis fried gold laced with white truffles and pixie dust in a rich endorphinised sauce. No, I am not on drugs at the moment. Only life. And that is not a code word for a drug either.


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