Friday, October 17, 2008

MMmmm mmmmm mmmmm

Let us never speak of it again

Probably my favourite line from Homer (the episode where they take an unwise shortcut, not from The Iliad). Thinking about how I will waste many a word and deploy stylistic tics I have absorbed through reading material, characterised by syntax gone haywire, in a highly trivial manner - there really is no other way to say it - I crashed, it was certainly a test (which I failed) and the aftermath made me feel like a dummy. My attempt to tackle the most prestigious individual quiz show title in the land was, admittedly, flawed (I held back from the 'seriously').

Yet it happened in March. Time salves the minor mental scratches very well. And truth be told, I don't feel very disheartened, crushed or anything remotely downtrodden about the Mastermind performance that graced BBC2 last Friday (if you haven't seen it, you have about seven hours - from the time of posting - to watch it on the magic machine that be BBC iPlayer). It seems like forever ago, thanks to my extraordinary powers of repression.

My only truly visceral MM-related reaction has been to Bayley's suggestion that I join the Mastermind Club. The reason for the out-of-all-proportion NO FREAKIN' WAY MAN!!!? Because I would feel like a twat; even in the midst of many members who happen to be friends and acquaintances. It's something to do with getting dumped out in the first round methinks. Hopes were, let's say, moderately high (but not too high: knowing there will always be some hidden trivia geniuses, or my aforementioned team-compadre, in the draw all too capable of snuffing out your chances). My talent lies in GK generalism and the Specialist Subject factor mitigates against it. The stinking abstract swine.

But like Ron Burgundy drinking milk on a sweltering San Diego day, it was a "bad choice". 'West Indies Test Cricket 1976-91' was a far more daunting choice in hindsight, due to one thing: statistics. As many a Baltimore Police Commissioner will attest to their eternal chagrin, damned stats were my downfall and frankly, what with me being an onomastic quizzer, I should have taken more notice of the numbers that litter the sport. Come to think of it, my 10-year-old self could have done better with the wicket and run counts (I think I was the youngest member of the Cricket Book Club, and was certainly the only pre-teen in the country with a back issue collection of The Cricketer that spanned 25 years). But that now seems like an ancient age. Also, never choose a subject because you might like a bit of a challenge. The old saying 'Safety First' was swept aside in a fit of blindness.

People have remarked how nasty and tough the questions were tough and noticeably lacking in gimmes (gimmes that is for those who know the general outline of the salient facts), but having seen someone take South African Test Cricket in the Sport Mastermind final and do very well, I believe I should have got into double figures. In fact, the only question I didn't make a note about was the Richard Illingworth one (but then who cares about perpetually disappointing English spin bowlers of the 1980s/90s?). Where small mercies can be found, at least I didn't go into a pass-pass black hole that can turn two minutes into an eternity.

As for the GK, well, it felt like all or nothing at the time of the doing and I soon adopted the habit of counting the other contestants' scores on my hands, whilst muttering muffled silliness to myself. But the fatal damage was done in the specialist subject round. If only I could have done the original Star Wars trilogy, Spaced or The Wire, like I put down on the form. Thems not wanting no numbers. They just want the names. Not how many Tests played. The trouble is my pop cult obsessions are not often not backed up by reliable, legitimate literature you can purchase at your local Waterstone's. And it was strange to look on and watch a contestant do the Gospels and realise, cor blimey, I could have scored eight on her questions too. Choosing a general specialism, to use a phrase edging into oxymoronic territory, was considered then junked due to the hazards of refining something acceptable to the programme makers.

I pondered 1990s British film, but then realised there was so much crap - amplified in its sheer crapitude by the injection of Lottery money - produced by our native movie industry (the word 'industry' being a complete misnomer; I tend to agree with Jean-Luc Godard's comment there we have no cinema, even though it pains me so) during that particular decade that I would surely be driven completely nutzoid by the research. This is despite the fact that directors, actors, plots are so easily retrieved from the morass of memory (I have a game I play whenever I go into my brother's, er, not really a room, more filthy ketchup-smattered ash-pit, in which I identify the film he is watching within two seconds and make idiotic noises of prig-nosed and pointless triumph. The strike rate (ack! cricket stat speak hounding me forevermore) is about 98/100. Yes. I rule. Even more so, because he watches any old rubbish (but then so do I. I even watched the whole of Collateral Damage the other night. Sweet mama that stunk my intelligence out.)

But the truth is - and believe me this is going somewhere - choosing a film/TV-related subject would have made it so much easier for me. Because those sort of entertainment facts stick in my flypaper brain and stay there: glued and never likely to extract themselves. Far more easy to recall than how many Test centuries Sunil Gavaskar scored (though I think he got 34).

Next time, give me a couple of years and having learnt several valuable lessons, like not having to do any general knowledge prep at all, I shall stick to my pop culture domain, and not leave that particular specialism in a second round I was never destined to reach (it was a doozy: good and original and even a tad edgy for such an august institution as MM). Oh yeah, by the way, the production staff were brilliant and smiley/the recording pleasantly painless/the black chair was a lot smaller than I thought it would be and they should get a Ray & Charles Eames number/the heat winner recognised me "you're a professional!" and said things about The People's Quiz and what might have been/ the warm-up man was doing what warm-up men do which is get on my chesticles (an acceptable word. Strictly Come Dancing satrap Len Goodman used it at about 6.35pm last night on BBC2)/and my was it over ever so quickly. Perhaps that was for the best.

Things I should have been writing about during the fortnight gone
Anyhow, I have lots of other things to witter on about quiz-wise. After all, the days have shortened and the quiz season is in bloom. Let me list them so I can remember to ruminate on the bloody things: President's Cup opener (oooh), Shoreditch House Monday (food-tastic vouchers), England team selection (nice), the saga that is QLL and the last question decider (horse-racing provides a kick to the knackers yet again), Giant progress (even that is slipping my mind from time to time) and the stuff that has inevitably absented itself from my current state of consciousness.


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