I went to a pub quiz in north London last week. It was a last-minute thing – somebody I knew spotted on Twitter that I was in town at a loose end, and asked me to come along and join their team. I have a curious love-hate relationship with pub quizzes. I do really love them, but I also hate losing. You always lose in a pub quiz. However well you do there is always a little table in the corner that is rammed full of people with huge heads who have all taken time off studying for their PhDs in advanced boffindom to come and give you a good thrashing. They are normally into science fiction, and have a ludicrous name that is some clever play on words involving a solar system whose existence you weren't even aware of. I have to admit that winning a pub quiz is on my list of "things to do before I die", but I've never been too optimistic about my chances.
Tonight, however, was looking good. We had a bit of an all-star team, with a very smart ex-member of The Fast Show as well as a well-known James Bond theme-tune composer on board. I looked around the pub – it was packed, mainly with groups of earnest men, a bit like us really. First off, we needed a name. The rules of pub quizzes state that it must be annoying and a touch smug. It was Valentine's Day so I suggested, "Roses are red, Violets are blue, I've got a knife, so get in the van" but this was rightly vetoed by the rest of the team. In the end we decided upon a name that I didn't understand but was too nervous to query.
Beers were piled high and we were off. The first couple of rounds were ridiculously easy, and I began to think that we might have a chance. Was this why a lot of people from north London always appeared a little pleased with themselves, I wondered to myself? Do they only enter very simple pub quizzes in their area, thus giving themselves a false indication of their intellectual abilities?
The night continued; confidence was high as we had taken the lead in the early rounds, but we were weak on sport and soap operas and these topics always come up. The table next to us was the one I suspected of being the boffins. There was a preponderance of slightly frizzy hair and thick glasses. They would also groan whenever a "popular" music question came up. These were all strong signs that we were in the presence of eggheads.
More beer disappeared down our gullets, and the atmosphere became tense as we headed towards a very close finish. I started to think the unthinkable – what if we won? I wanted to start with a cheer, more beer, and then, maybe, a long, leisurely conga around the room, taking the congratulations from our defeated rivals. I started to organise preliminary arrangements for a possible victory. Suddenly – a wild card: we were given an extra round in which we had to fill out the missing words from song titles. This broke the spirit of the neighbouring nerd table and they all started to drift away into the night, back to the silent oppression of their research laboratories.
But there was a new danger. A table that I hadn't noticed until now was making a lot of noise and laughing – always a sign of confidence. We peered over, it was what we call a "hybrid" – a mix of types, one for every cheese on the Trivial Pursuit wheel. We were in a duel to the death. We spent 10 minutes trying to work out what Jennifer Lopez might call her song despite not knowing it from Adam. And then it was over. The results were read out, and we were victorious. Which was nice.