It was quiz night in my local pub the other night, and there's nothing quite like a pub quiz to leave you shame-faced about what you don't know.
The general knowledge rounds presented few problems. We were all right with naming obscure capital cities, and identifying characters from Shakespeare, and we even knew that the Roman God of Summer was Aestas. On history, we were equally sure-footed.
But when it came to the questions on what had happened just this past week in the realm of popular culture, we looked at each other blankly while all the other tables were scribbling away. You may say that it doesn't matter if you don't know who provoked a Twitter storm by appearing on TV without his wedding ring (I believe it was Ant, but it may have been Dec) or the name of the Premier League footballer going out with an X Factor judge (still don't know) or who left the jungle through ill health (someone called Brian Conley although I'm not sure what he does), but, to my mind, this ignorance is not bliss.
It's not just that it leaves you at a serious disadvantage if you're someone who takes part in one of the 22,000 pub quizzes that happen every week in Britain. It is the unsettling sense that there is a whole segment of modern life of which you don't have a basic grasp.
I don't want to spend too much time watching The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing, and I certainly don't feel the need to read about Tulisa's boyfriend or Brian's medical state, but I think of it like office gossip: I want to know what's happening without going to the trouble of finding out. The problem is that there's just too much of it these days: too much reality TV, too many talent shows, too many judges throwing wobblies, too many contestants having breakdowns. And if you're not absolutely clear where one show starts and another ends, you might as well give up.
Millions and millions of people – across all demographics – seem to know this stuff, and yet here I am like a High Court judge faced with a reference to a rock star. Is it an age thing, I asked myself? Well, yes, as it turns out. My friend Marcus Berkmann, who is the undisputed king of the pub quiz both as contestant and question-setter, says that these days knowledge is a generational issue. “People who are 25 years old know very different things from those who are 50,” he says, adding that he has also had my experience of realising that, while we might be able to recognise Edgar Allen Poe, we are ignorant of something that happened five minutes ago.
In the end, we came fifth in the pub quiz, and left with a serious vow: not to devote more time to reality TV, but next time to get someone on our team under the age of 25. By the way, Marcus's favourite question of the moment: Alistair Cooke (of Letter to America fame) married Ruth Emerson in 1933. Who was the best man who failed to turn up at the wedding? I'll leave you with that. Answer tomorrow.