Monday, October 02, 2006

British Quiz Championships Part Deux: The Agony and The Lack of Ecstasy

(You see I didn't forget. It just gestated. And probably went a bit squiffy.)

Now for the individual British Quiz Championship. The really important part of the weekend, which is so jam-packed that quite honestly it's all merging into one big Q&A blur. I ponder the Amazonian rainforests that have died so we might have enough question papers. I'm almost dribbling through trivia overload.

Stainer looks over at my incessant note-taking: "This will go on your blog?"

I think: it's time to go meta. Charlie Kaufman-stylee.

"EVERYTHING goes on the blog", I reply. Et voila.

We finish the first 120 questions. This is - for me at least - the kind and welcoming half. Art & Culture and Entertainment: my bankers. I am already dreading the sport and physical world brutishness lurking in the hours ahead.

Yet the brain is mushy. It is probably growing a thin fur coat that stifles the recall pathways. Sleep deprivation is starting to tell. I think I'll be glad when this is over.

Every so often I pop out to have a rain-sodden smoke. I come in from one particularly gushing downpour with my soaked jacket slung round my head. The jacket gets stuck in the door as I trip buffoonishly. Everyone laughs. I scurry quickly to my table like a frightened dormouse. (Don't look at me. Don't look at me!)

Marking reveals that open goals have been missed all over the place. For instance, obvious questions on Sparta (I put Hellas), the year the Millennium Bridge opened (Duh! I put 2002 not 2000), basilicas (why "iconic" why?), not putting WH Auden down as the author of the libretto for Britten's Paul Bunyan despite my instincts telling me not to (EM Forster - gah!) and that well known director of A-Team episodes, the wonderfully eyebrowed and very dead David Hemmings. And what about Bosch for Ship of Fools, not sodding Brueghel the Elder? Have I learned nothing from days spent reading the Stanford Packet Archive?

"Aaargh" is the overriding emotion if it could be classed as such. It is also the predominant sound of the weekend. Deep in the Shropshire countryside I am silently screaming.

Actually, the multiple choice questions really went my way there. These enable me to edge past Bayley by one point in three of the rounds and six in the entertainment (I'm marking his paper, and he mine). Just goes to show how shaky my recall for crystal clear names is at the moment and that I really do need the answer staring me in the face.

Lunch was back to school and not in the good sweaty, getting drunk on a night out way. My chosen option was a brown pie made from things caught in the surrounding woods. Probably.

Screaming kids jumping in all directions add to this singular culinary experience. If only I had an AK-47 ... nah, just a baseball bat would do. If blunt weapons are not available why not sling valium or ritalin down their yapping gobs. Washed down with police water cannons. Please.

Noxious smells rise everywhere. And the rooms! Shiver. It is like a gulag (same wooden decor and structure and everything, I swear). Oh, I'm getting too impressionistic aren't I, and you want the scores. I'm on 81, second to Kevin I believe who is so far in the distance he resembles a six-inch tall stick figure. Can you hear me, Kevin? Nah, thought not. Let's just say my uppity place won't last for long.

The prophesied nosedive occurs. Down I go. Scored 61. A humungous 25 per cent drop on my first half score. Even more frustrating errors. Take these two beauties: I crossed out joule when it was the right answer, and then wrote Sheila's bloody DEALS not Wheels. I mean, I've seen those depraved cross-dressing Aussie-themed adverts enough for me to know that, but apparently not. The pen disconnected from the brain and spelled disaster.

I'm a shade disappointed. I end up dropping sport (18/40 compared to some astounding early 30 scores from the likes of Tim and Gareth - the multiple choice obviously really worked for them and turned on me in revenge).

My score is 124. Equal with John Wilson (a former British champion no less). Next up the placings are Pat and Mark BTW tied on 130. And Kevin, well, we all know he won. And he did so with a filthy cold. Applause rings round the room and deservedly so.

Good God. Another event. The team event. Will they ever stop coming?

I am allied with Bayley, Stainer and Pat. We are by all accounts a formidable quartet. At least we should be.

Chris cracks another "here's another classical music question for Olav" in-joke. Since I think that is about as funny as bollock cancer at that very instant in time (ho ho, I laugh about it now like Santa Claus inhaling a capsule of nitrous oxide), I respond with maximum force by shouting sonorously (or, as is more accurate, like a buffoon with no control over the timbre of his voice):


Kathryn, the defender of classical music in these here parts, retaliates in the face of the retort.

"Oh SHUT UP! Ignorant. Pestilent. Pest" (I'm not sure what she said, but it was pest and ignorant themed).

"Hey, I'm playing up to the stereotype", this is my shaky attempt at satire. 'I cannot be serious' is what I am trying to imply in my tone.

Suffice to say, this short exchange fills the room. (Bloody classical music)

17.41 (oops, my note-taking with regards to the timings may be a bit haywire here)
We have a bad pot luck round. Ach, stuff like makes of bomber aircraft. Seemingly bad random round, but we top score in that one. One fatal mistake occurs when we opt for Jean Batten and not Francis Chichester in the 5-point question.

Stainer asks: "Can you have me saying a witty bon mot?"

Well, there you go. You just did.

The recriminations start: "I told you and you wouldn't and so on etc!!!!" They ain't so bad really. Maybe I am exaggerating to spice up this moribund journal - then Bayley had Pat in a headlock and I kicked Stainer in the face and he got out a broad sword and tried to cut my arms off and all because we were royally screwing up the quiz.

Chris is a trickster QM! Putting Seal, Jane McDonald and Sandi Thom where we thought more prosaic stabs at identifying songs were needed. Sorry, I'm just not MOR enough for this, having never consciously listened to Radio 2 in my entire life. I ask you, my captive audience, when will we hear Godspeed You Black Emperor! and Blonde Redhead in a mainstream quiz? Never! That's when. Until I get my hands on the mechanisms of quiz-setting power. Then everyone will feel my indie wrath. Ha ha ... ha HA HA HA ... bleaurgh. (I ought to cut down the "ha ha ha's" on this blog)

We are a bit deflated having been in the lead for a few rounds. However, with our score of 135 we are second equal with our momentarily bitter enemies, the Milhous Warlocks or Invaders or whatever they're called.

Feeding time again. More school stodge. Not good for the quizzing reflexes. Chris Quinn calls it "institutionalised food". Many of us decide to adopt this apt phrase for the remaining hours of the weekend.

Bayley mentions something about a "bon mot" he said making it into this here blog, but since it was stolen from some great wit I can't for the life of me remember, it shall never be repeated. Not here. Whatever it was.

Leaving the dinner hall, I smoke surreptitiously and dive out of the sight of the PGL peeps because I am unsure where exactly I am allowed to fumigate my lungs with a cocktail of deadly chemicals. Yep, it is like being back at school, but without the requisite post-fag spray of sickening Lynx deoderant.

I go back into to my log cabin of solitude to mark some Colossus quizzes. I do wish I had a hotel room to go back to instead. Soft sweet beds. Air conditioning. A normal shower. And most of all TELEVISION - sister, mother, secret lover.

I rock backwards and forwards thinking of such home comforts in a slightly disturbing manner. Thankfully, people are not able to watch this little performance. However, the act of grading TCQ papers is oddly therapeutic. It gives me something to do.

Food eaten at dinner: manky lasagne, a block of pate, passable salad and sponge with cream and golden syrup. Now feeling post-prandial doziness.

More reflection on the day's quizzing. Mild disappointment lingers. It was an okay performance, but nowhere near my best; not that I have ever achieved optimum quiz capacity. But it's always about what I SHOULD HAVE GOT (Apologies for the shouty capitals, but some vital words have to stick out from the lower case crowd). The Yevtushenko and Mohammad Al-Jinnah double miss from the Tallinn individuals still smarts.

Going through the individual paper. It's like an self-administered course of CIA torture. Without the waterboarding. It is also like examining a corpse for signs as to why my hopes expired so.

It appears that I cannot think logically. It is as if I want to get quizzes over and done with ASAP and because I want to cast it to the river in rapid fashion I skip words and phrases and ignore portions of questions vital to the health of my answer. I go semi-blind. I am "happy" to fill answer spaces without reconsidering going back to re-evaluate the idiotic word I have placed therein. If a word fills the said space, it is apparently good enough. When it plainly isn't. Then I move on like Speedy Gonzales on crystal meth. Here's my idee fixe: "Aaargh".

In stark contrast to the preceding events, John Frith's questions are a gentle comedown which pick from the chestnuts of yesteryear.

Not really bothered about joining in the buzzer game (and exposing my currently deficient buzzing technique), I go outside. For another smoke. Colour you surprised. For a moment I think I am in a minority of one. The lone smoker. God, I'm so cool *hacoughhhhh ... urrrgghh*. Then I remember John has been puffing away too. Still, it is a miniscule group.

What to do but look sullen and aloof when sucking on one's fragrant cigarettes (hey, here I go again on one of those paeans to carcinogens)? "Hey, little man" Wassat? I turn around thinking it's directed at me. But no, I'm just extremely paranoid. It was Mark Labbett greeting baby Thomas.

Oh, did I mention. There was a giant game of Fifteen-to-One. I crashed out in the middle, but I didn't really mind because it was the kind of agonisingly slow war of attrition that resembled the portions of World War One without the machine guns. And the mud. And a whole load of other things, like Germans with pointy hats and trench parasites. Look, I'm aiming for an emotional truth. Like James Frey and all those "fake" memoirists.

Anyhow, Kathryn wins. Well done to her for hanging on in there when everyone else had succumbed to brain death.

Sunday 00.05
We are gathered in some room some where in close proximity to lager. It's trivia ping-pong that has been repeating in the same increasingly time-honoured fashion. We exchange and we amaze. Well, it passes the time.

"I don't have favourites. It's tasteless," declaims Stainer, who cites his consuming interest as being evil and those delivery men of evil, serial killers. This is after he gleefully reveals that Ed Gein kept a box of vaginas.

I leave everyone as they are still exchanging further criminal deviant trivia. They love it. But I am knackered. In fact, I am convinced that my powers of recall have been permanently damaged. Couldn't remember the name of that suave Austrian prostitute murderer (Jack Unterweygen) despite my seeing a shoddy Channel 5 documentary on it. I can't even remember the author of the Princess Diaries. Why that question popped up in my head at that very moment, I have no idea. Couldn't even remember the term for stripping human bones of flesh despite my writing a question about it recently (maceration) See? Recall well and truly banjaxed.

All is lost. Bed time.

Bloody well hit my head on the bunk bed. Again. Facts have been smashed out of my skull as a result (the paranoia is still lurking in the front of my mind).

Sounds like someone is puking in a toilet. Well done to them! Hit my head on the bed again. Pavlovian reflexes have not kicked in. I close my eyes and see ancient Spectrum ZX games flash in the darkness. I also yelp a little and wonder what was the point of that. In a PGL chalet, no one can hear you scream.

A new day. The last day. I miss TV and new newspapers.

Post mortem time again. The corpse needs further prodding and poking. I love it really. It's mental sado-masochism, but I tell myself this will only make me stronger (and more bitter and weird). My eyes are drawn to Q32 in the Civilisation indivs. Isn't the answer Johns Hopkins? If it is, I have been subconsciously sabotaged by my marker, a Mr Ian Bayley. I could have been a clear fourth. Obviously, I have to double-check this before I fling around vicious accusations (as of now I still haven't looked it up). Oh, wait. I already have. Can't cry over spilt milk and all that jazz.

The first QLL match in the team event is over and out. We make numerous stupid dirty errors. I make my perennial confusion (no. 36 on my List of Confusions) over Leif Eriksson and Eric the Red. I choose Leif as the dude who named Greenland so inappropriately. I mean, I can never take someone called Eric the Red seriously. It's too similar to such crucial figures of early learning literature like Billy Bluehat.

I also say three instead of five US states bordering the Pacific Ocean (I was thinking contiguously and knew I was wrong the moment "three" escaped from my mouth). Stainer says he should have been more "fist confident" (which sounds hilariously perverted in hindsight) with regards to a certain singer-songwriter after he lets me say Torrini and not Buble. Damn and damn multiplied.

You see my obsession with itty bitty mistakes and me me me has utterly overwhelmed the big picture. We were playing our momentarily deadly enemies, the Milhous Whatsits and we lost by two points. So we got the big match-up first of all. The last time we had played Kevin in a league situation it was the QLL Division I play-off. Two consecutive wins means he has the upper hand at the moment. Let me brood on this little fact for a few seconds (without saying anything more about it to you).

"That's what matters ... we won with 49 points", says Stainer (why am I only quoting Stainer in this report? It baffles me). To our opponents' 32.

Bayley has his own mucky mistakes concerning the Roman goddess Fortuna having made a mishearing-related miscalculation, so we all share the burden (but Pat less so). Nevertheless, a solid win.

The two-rounds of buzzer quiz matches commence.

My first abiding memory of pain? Seventh Day Adventists! Bah. Why do I always wait and wait when it comes to buzzer quizzing and curse myself for missing out on something I should have been brave enough to answer before everyone else and then try to make up for it by jumping in and negging and fleeing into a dark corner of the mind where no ten-points fall.

That was pretty ugly. A scrappy 175-90 win. We so rusty. Oh dear. Another short sentence. Here.

My second abiding memory of pain? Saying Tourette's on hearing the magic words "Pete Bennett", when the starter was quite obviously talking about a drug and hip horse tranquiliser Ketamine.

"Some of it was pretty fucking brutal," concludes the only person I seem to be quoting in this entire report. He says he had three cock-ups, myself two. Sunday mornings were never meant for quiz.

Phew. Relief. We almost lost that one. Our collective buzzer quiz pedigree nearly counted for naught.

It was on the last question and heavens be praised (I am aware I am going overboard on the mild blasphemy, but it is better than wild scatalogy) Pat buzzed in and answered "Eustachian tube" correctly. We had been saved from Mark Labbett taking possession of the "bragging rights". A loss would have been too terrible to contemplate. Our ears would have ached from the Sumo booming for at least a year.

We had been behind Quiz Me Harder all the way having been beaten to some impressive buzzes and making some horrible interruptions. Slowly we clawed our way back. Racked with worry we were. And I knew I wasn't at the peak of my form (my actual position was akin to being sprawled like a panting and dying dog somewhere around the middle of the mountain) when I couldn't identify Sir Adrian Boult from his BBC conducting connections. I would like to remind readers that he was the subject of a Monster Quiz question. A question I had set myself, revised a dozen times and marked on ninety occasions. Like I said before, recall shot to pieces. Never coming back.

In the end we get the same number of starters each, but our superior bonus conversion rate ekes out the win. I can't recall the score. Therefore, we have no idea how things are in the grand scheme of this tripartite team tournament. Revelations are imminent. I have an Obi Wan Solo feeling about this.

This is how the results pan out:

In first place, Milhous Warriors (oh yeah, that's right) with 293 points.

In second, with the barest of bare margins separating us, the Broken Hearts with 292.

No way. Yes way.

Thus, we take our place as the bridesmaids yet again. Won't someone throw us that bouquet thingy sometime?

Maybe we should change our name. It invites ultimate agonising failure. Yes, I still like The Mother Truckers. Then there's always the Superstar Conquering Collective. And how about El Supremo Bastardos?

Prizes are awarded. I pick up a Silence of the Lambs DVD for jointly winning entertainment with Kevin. Kevin wins everything (except for the Pairs). No way was I adding U-571 or Kramer vs Kramer to my collection. I don't want any of that filth near it. Actually, I'm not even sure if I already own Lambs. But keep that filth away from me.

So that's one good thing: my DVD collection got bigger.

Everyone has drifted home. I'm waiting for a taxi. Had a pork chop lunch. Too much mash though.

Stainer reminds me while we are dining what a bunch of stiffs he had chosen from the quads of Oriel College to play and ultimately knock out my Nottingham team on UC. Oh, the pain of yesteryear comes back and hits me like dull jab to the heart (note to self: make intricate and devious plans to get back on UC via an English degree, cosmetic surgery, beard growth and swapping my identity with my brother).

Whoosh. The weekend went rather quickly. I won't miss my rabbit hutch though. Or the terror of the antsy fire alarm.

There's a wasp hovering around my right ear. Wait. It's gone.

Feeling status: Sated with food. Must be more methodical in individual written quizzes. I'm far too irrational and wild at the moment, and perhaps always have been. I need a reverse brain-wash.

I take my eye off the ball for a second and I find myself marking another TCQ. How did this happen? Maybe that's how I find peace. Scoring quizzes on a bench in a quiet corner of the West Country. As legions of holidaying munchkins march by periodically singing demented songs about how fabulous they are and coming from somewhere I can't quite make out.

The residue of a familiar emotion returns: must learn more stuff. The cycle kicks in again. Onwards and slowly upwards. The taxi comes. Off I go.

(Many thanks to Jane and Chris for putting on the event. So many quiz questions. I like lots of quiz questions.)


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