Thursday, May 01, 2008


To Paraphrase: Choking, But Choking Better

Brain of London. The final. Hmm. A missed opportunity. Hmm. Let's rake over the ashes. With really big rake. I suspect this is because I am suffering from the fact that the only TV channel I can get reception for in my room is Channel 4, thus limiting my viewing options to Des O'C, Deal or No Deal, Desperate Housewives, Dirty Sexy Money, More Shows Beginning with D like the Driday Night Project, Bear Grylls eating anything that moves and saying "It's good protein", Mobile Speed Dating adverts, Jamie Oliver's computerised table tennis arm, heroin and incest-filled Hollyoaks, and, this week - what an exquisite treat! - shows about roaming doctors treating, exposing and poking deformed naughty bits in front of the nation and talking about 'nipple reconstruction' like they were urban planners reconfiguring city landmarks. It makes me think we live in a beautiful world. Full of hairy man-boobs.

Realising this is mutating my once pristine outlook and inducing a grotesque lust for sparkling superficiality, warped morals, as well as a need to clobber a number of actors, game show people and TV presenters with spiky killing clubs of murder in me, I have resorted to watching Nathan Barley and Peep Show (series two) episodes, which originally appeared on Channel 4. Thinking about it, that isn't going to make things any better, considering they thrive on delivering cutting insights into the depressing twattiness of my generation. But at least they're also funny and written by geniuses of their type: Bain, Armstrong, Brooker, Morris. Stroke my chin and call me a ponce for using only their surnames.

Diversion Over: The Raking of The Ashes Begins
Bonus attempt management is a key skill when things get tight in Mimir-style individual competitions. And boy, can it and did it get constricting. A bygone black-and-white flashback example? During a 2004 Brain of London semi-final, also with Robert Willer and Kevin Ashman in the line-up, I went into a four-point lead after three rounds. Then, stupidly, I started having any old random guesses on football teams Geoff Hurst played for, my painfully naive approach - I was young back then, so young - being compounded by the idiocy of confusing the straits of Messina and Bonifacio (I shall never forget the sounds of murmurred achs produced by the watching quizzers. I would have groaned audibly too, and laughed a little to myself). And random guesses will not do in such situations because they will inevitably bite yo in the ass when you do know something and everyone else is going for the answer. You will be passed over, as in you've blown your chance matey, because they will have had fewer bonus attempts. You will feel mental agonies that still mildly haunt you four years later. Four years later. Forever...

So what happened this time? I thought I had kept the necessary bonus discipline. Then calamity struck in the fourth round. Everyone was equal on bonus attempts (3, yeah, like you're really getting into this post). Someone was asked for the chemical make-up of corundum. They couldn't get it. Somehow I found myself putting my fist out and 'aving a bleedin' go. What was this? Sheer insanity that's what. I realised I had no idea but said: "Aluminium oxide" anyway, which was nowhere near the bloody answer. Which, in turn, meant that I would have to wait in turn when another question I knew went begging. And so one did.

The crucial moment came when Roger at number two couldn't name the actor who played Henry VIII in Anne of a Thousand Days. If I hadn't said, like an utter buffoon "Aluminium oxide" I would have been first in the queue to say "Richard Burton". Alas, it went St Elsewhere (been watching a lot of that in the morning at Channel 4: cheesy yet compelling, so many familiar faces, and unfamiliar heads of hair in the case of Howie Mandel). Because of that boner of a bonus attempt. Only it was a more than a week later when I realised that - sheeeeeeet - I misheard the question. - corundum is aluminium oxide, carborundum is what was asked for: silicon carbide. Where did the 'arb' go between it being said and my hearing it? *silent scream time again*

But that wasn't the killer moment in the triumvirate of questions that unravelled my four-game campaign. Good old Charlie finished me off. The literary ghost that scuppers my interest and attention span and therefore ability to deal with him in a quiz situation. A Dickens question came along to do me like the Straits did four years before. That beardy word-gremlin just had to pop with his silly named characters. Sergeant Buttmunch, Buzfuz, Fuzzybum. It was, in my opinion, the easiest of the four asked - if you hadn't watched Bleak House on the Beeb that is - on that Victorian novelist who raises my hackles now more than ever, especially when I remember that a question on Barnaby Bloody Fudge Rudge knocked me out of my first go at Fifteen-to-One in 1996. I couldn't muster The Pickwick Papers. Instead, I said something that was resolutely rubbish. I forget what it was so I can move on. Then write a blog post a few days later, bemoaning my ineptitude in florid, overwrought and syntactically complex prose, and realise I probably said: "Um, David Copperfield?". Like I always do, it being my default Dickensian answer.

So just like that Robert came zooming from behind and sped past myself and Kevin through to snatch his second and thoroughly deserved Brain of London title. He kept his head and played brilliantly to win it when others were losing the plot. I, who had been leading for the first four of the five rounds - ooh that sticks in my craw when I type it - finished runner-up with Kevin on 14, Robert scoring 15. I guess it must have been a riveting watch for everyone else in the room. Obviously, when you are through the looking glass and actually playing the game, it becomes a different kind of riveting. One riven with fear and terror and the heart going 150bpm.

It was the initial aftermath of once the final was done that I wasn't quite prepared for. You wander around in a strange, useless-feeling daze where people commiserate on the difficulty of your final trio of questions, and so very kindly say they would have bought me a drink if I had won, whilst all the time you're thinking drat drat and triple drat. The change in tempo, like a sudden shocking freefall drop into soundless water, lets in time for reflection. Next year. Must start again. Stew a bit in the meantime. Very frustrating. Very short sentences. But that's not to say I didn't enjoy the whole experience. I really like the Mimir format. It is simple and brilliantly efficient. I only wish we got to play it more than once a year (twice if you're lucky). Perhaps, I will actually learn to keep my wild stabs in the dark in check. Just for once.

However, truth be told I don't feel so bad about it. All those wordy cries and expressions of mental agony are massive exaggeration for comic effect, of course! It could also be said that it was Kevin's to win and, confessing himself that he wasn't on the ball on the day, he did drop a couple of howlers, mistaking for instance Thucydides for the "Father of History" rather than Herodotus: the answer obviously escaping from his mouth in the kind of rapid reflex action that seasoned quizzers know only too well, and to their eternal chagrin. Had he given those two relatively 'easy' answers he would have won another BoL title. It was surprising, but then again you can't win them all. Cliche cliche cliche platitude platitude platypus. Nobody's perfect, to quote one correct answer in the London Cup final that took place the same night. Finals night that is (yep, we picked up our shiny trophies for winning the QLL Division 1 and the President's Cup and smiled for the camera while thinking of all those Sundays and Tuesdays we spent sitting down four-on-four and sticking our fists out etc. Was it worth it? One-word answer: yes.)

Noticed and Heartened
Was it a first? Two graphic novel questions in the Cup final? Graphic novels in QLL (Maus and Persepolis) and both identified by the each of the teams. That was a pleasant surprise. I only wish the Brain of London final questions, possibly handed down from the MQL's own Mimir tournament, had such equally and relatively ultra-modern touches. It was, shall we say, traditional. I mean, Ullapool? I've never even heard of such a place, let alone begin to believe that ferry services operate from such a mysterious locale. It's in Scotland you say? Where's Scotland? 'Tis loco. But that's not a complaint per se. It just looks as if it is. Promise. (I was reading the Plan B magazine style sheet, which states the one-word lines or 'widows' as they are known in the biz are banned. Which is why I put five in this post). It jus 1 of dem dayz (blame that on the 1000 hip hop questions, they are still distorting and peppering my memory: Twista, Jay-Z, please leave me be) or weekz fo' dat matta.


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