Nicholas Lezard: The challenge of Gail Trimble

The captain of the Corpus Christiteam isn't going to be easy to impress

Wednesday 25 February 2009 01:00 GMT

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


The intellectual powerhouse that is Gail Trimble, captain of Corpus Christi's all-conquering University Challenge team, has divided the nation like no other figure since Margaret Thatcher. The profound difference is that not only is Ms Trimble demonstrably more knowledgeable than the Iron Lady, she is also, we suspect, a lot nicer.

Such scorn as she has suffered is really about nothing more than the man's fear of the clever woman. Personally speaking, I like clever women, and were I 20 years younger I would be using all the cunning at my command to get her phone number and ask her out on a date.

A date is, conventionally, an arrangement whereby a man sets aside some time to boast about his intellect and achievements to a woman, who then agrees to go to bed with him (or, in my experience, does not, but that's another story).

But a woman who has almost single-handedly hauled her team to glory by knowing a staggering amount of stuff isn't going to be easy to impress. And somehow I suspect that she isn't going to be wowed by extra-intellectual abilities, such as being able to do 1,000 keepy-uppies, balance lumps of sugar on the end of your nose, or do a convincing sound imitation of a cat being chased by a terrier, which are the kind of things that men less cerebrally gifted have traditionally done to woo the woman of their dreams.

No, the man who wins her heart is going to have to do some serious boning up. I would also strongly suggest not going to see a historical film, as Ms Trimble would be able to spot every single anachronism and deviation from accuracy. As she's a classical scholar, I would make a particular point of avoiding something like the film 300, which gets so many things wrong that she'll be in a grump for the rest of the evening.

It's like the old exam problem. Do you try and grasp the big picture, or do you concentrate on a narrow field? I have a hunch that she will probably know that the House of Hapsburg supplied all of the formally elected Holy Roman Emperors between 1452 and 1740, that all non-trivial zeros of the Riemann zeta function have a real part 1/2, whatever that means (thank you, Wikipedia), and that Plenipotentiary won the Derby in 1834. She also would appear to know her history and if you know more state capitals of the US than she does I will come over to your restaurant table and eat my hat in front of you.

What you might have to go for is a plausible semblance of worldly wisdom. University of Life stuff. Anyone can pick up facts if they have spent, as by her own accounts Ms Trimble has, almost all their life reading. But has she worked out, as you have, that life is a meaningless journey in the howling void of eternity towards death, that our names will not live after us, and that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong?

Oh, wait. She knows Euripides off by heart, and Sophocles, and any other tragedian you can think of. I'd start practicing those keepy-uppies if I were you. Let me know how it goes.

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