As an officially sanctioned creature of habit, I am prone to spend my Tuesday evenings at the local pub quiz. It's a harsh, even brutal, walk up a steep hill, and a wondrous, light-headed gambol back home at the end of the evening. And that's even when we have come fourth and missed the prize money by a single point. It really is the most fun you can have with your clothes on, although it's so hot in that tiny pub you have usually removed most of your layers by the final round. As always, the greatest challenge of the evening is not to answer the questions, but to come up with a decent team name that no one else has thought of.
Why are pub quiz team names often so feeble? The same ones crop up over and over again. Quiz Team Aguilera: moderately amusing in 2002, less so now. Universally Challenged: they might win the quiz, but they can't think of a new team name. Norfolk And Chance: very carefully enunciated by the quizmaster, who will quietly dock them points for minor misspellings and having beards like pubic wigs.
Happily, our quiz has higher standards. We don't just compete frantically to come first and win the week's jackpot of £17. We compete to dream up the best team names as well. This is excellence for its own sake, and for the momentary amusement of your peers. No one will remember these team names tomorrow morning. No one, that is, except the quizmaster who had to write them all down.
For I am not just a participant in these revels, but an occasional master of ceremonies. Indeed, I have written and read out 167 quizzes at this pub, and am about to start work on the 168th. I have paper copies of them all clogging up box files, and on the back of each are the names of the teams that took part.
There's no question that illness and death bring out the best in our players, or maybe the worst. When Joni Mitchell was hospitalised earlier this year, one team called themselves Big Yellow Ambulance. When Davy Jones of the Monkees died, we had I'm A Bereaver. And when the 1960s pop singer Lesley Gore breathed her last, the winning team were called It's My Party And I'll Die If I Want To.
Some teams name themselves after headlines, or lyrics, or random sentences that someone heard. Generally, though, this is the pub where puns come to die. Last October, Life's Ebola Cherries came eighth. In December, as the Russian economy wobbled, Rouble The Red Knows Pain Dear came fourth.
The best team names, though, feel like blinding moments of inspiration rather than diligently constructed Jenga towers of wordplay. When David Frost died, we had a team called Who Lives In A Hearse Like This? The sad demise of the ventriloquist Keith Harris unveiled a series of team names so disgusting I can't repeat most of them. Finally You Can't See His Lips Move was by far the politest.
And just occasionally, a news item arises that compels us to raise our game yet further. One such was Lord Ashcroft's "Pig-gate" scandal. The story broke over the weekend and Tuesday's team names had the benefit of a few days' deep thought. Squeal Or No Squeal was a good one, as was A Threat To National Charcuterie. If you wanted something more direct, there was always A Poke In A Pig, or Cameron's Pork Scratchings. But my absolute favourite was This Little Piggy Went To Childline. Needless to say, no one can remember any of the questions from the quiz, let alone who won.
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