Rhodri Marsden: If you've got nothing to say to your friends, a pub quiz is great

I can pinpoint the precise moment of my pub-quiz disenchantment
  • @rhodri

As Dan arrived at the pub and saw me sitting with two other friends, a pen, paper and a sheet featuring photos of 20 celebrities from the 1980s, his forehead creased with irritation. "I was hoping that the pub quiz was yesterday," he said. I knew what he meant.

I'd weakly agreed to participate, but had originally come to the pub with the intention of engaging in amiable chat about, I dunno, feminism, or dealing with beetroot stains. I didn't want to sit quietly under near-exam conditions, occasionally exchanging whispers about how many teeth a turtle might have, scribbling down "eight" while furtively looking around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, then later finding out that turtles don't have any teeth and mumbling, "Oh, bollocks." But here we were.

The quiz has become a staple of pub entertainment, and I suppose that if you've got nothing to say to your friends then taking part can conveniently paper over the conversational cracks. It's a bit like a couple in a floundering relationship deciding to take up leatherworking in a desperate, last-ditch act of shackling. But the film rounds, the search for a team name wittier than Quizzee Rascal, the repeating of "questions 4 and 7 please", the swapping of answer sheets with the smug bastards at the adjoining table – they all serve to transform social interaction into a series of administrative tasks.

And while you may think that quizzing strengthens bonds between friends, it doesn't. It divides you into two groups: those who couldn't care less and those who suddenly scream out "DEBUSSY!" like they're a drill sergeant.

I can pinpoint the precise moment of my pub-quiz disenchantment. Four or five questions into a geography round of a quiz a few years ago, the quizmaster asked the obediently silent drinkers what the capital of Namibia was, but he pronounced it "Nambia". He repeated the question, and again he pronounced it "Nambia". I remember looking out of the window, thinking "I've spent £2 to sit in a room and listen to a stranger test me vigorously on my general knowledge, but I think he's getting Namibia confused with Zambia."

I didn't stick around to hear how he pronounced "Windhoek", and on the way out I saw a sign he'd made to advertise the quiz. It read "BRIAN OF ISLINGTON". (I don't think he was called Brian.)