Wednesday, 4 January 2017

My Life In Ten Pub Quizzes (And What I Learned From Them)

Today is National Trivia Day so I thought it was an appropriate time to share a post I've been meaning to write for ages; My Life In Ten Pub Quizzes (And What I Learned From Them).


I can't remember how I started going to the Duke quiz, but I used to go on virtually every Thursday night for most of the time I was in sixth form. Playing on the same team as a girl who had been my best friend in primary school brought us back together again - we'd drifted apart when we went to different secondary schools - and she's still one of my best friends. (I was thrilled to meet her 8 month old baby for the first time last week when I went home!) I also got to spend time with two of the nicest guys I knew, who let us join their team despite them knowing so much that we barely added anything to their team! Sadly both of them have now passed away, but I feel lucky to have got to know them and spent some amazing evenings with them. (The quiz itself was rather varied; I can still remember the groans on getting one picture round which showed 10 types of grass and asked us to identify them!)

What I learned there: That people with far more experience than me (in quizzes and in life!) would listen to me if I was sure about my answers and pushed hard enough.

I first got involved in my local quiz league playing as an occasional stand-in for the team who we played with at the Duke. A few years down the line - after returning from uni - I started playing regularly with my dad and a few other people from our local pub. We were fairly successful - and had a friendly rivalry with my old team, who were one of the best teams in the league. The most memorable part of several years playing, though, was seeing a former teacher of mine - incredibly calm in response to any poor behaviour from students over the course of seven years - constantly get irate if anyone disagreed with him over a question he was sure of! 

What I learned there: Some people take quizzes too seriously. I think I did at one point, but managed to pull myself back before I got to the slamming my pen on the table stage!

Also back when I was in sixth form I used to do another local quiz at times. This was something of a poisoned chalice as there wasn't a regular quiz setter - instead, the winning team had to write it for the following week. This is an idea which seems good in theory but in practice meant people were quite often hoping to finish second to avoid the hassle of having to write one. (Looking back through some of the old ones I wrote for it then it says a LOT about how little anyone else wanted to do it that my team let me carry on! I'm also really impressed that no-one tried tearing me limb from limb; at that point I was NOT a good quiz-setter and tended to veer towards ridiculously hard.

What I learned there: People will have far more fun if you give them a quiz where they have a good chance of knowing a lot of the answers, or at least being able to guess them.


On going to university I struggled to make friends at first - I'm a fairly shy person and don't mix easily. However I ended up talking to people in one lecture who mentioned they did the quiz occasionally and invited me to join them. We did it a few times and it wasn't the greatest quiz but it was brilliant to feel part of the team and it led to me getting to spend more time with them and get to know them a lot better.

What I learned there: Even if you're incredibly shy and don't think anyone will want to talk to you, you CAN find your people.

We then ditched that quiz because we found one at a local pub which was a better quiz and a nicer atmosphere. This was one that I think we ended up doing pretty much every term-time week for 2 years - it was really brilliant! Three or four of us went most weeks, often teaming up with an elderly local who didn't have a regular team, and the mix of ages and experiences we brought to the team meant that we were generally pretty successful. Me and my friend also wrote it a few times to allow the regular quiz setter to compete for the first time in years which she enjoyed. (I swear my quiz-setting had improved from a few years earlier!) My friend also got a bar job out of it, working there briefly after leaving university.

What I learned there: I definitely prefer the atmosphere in cosy local pubs to that in university bars!

Returning home after university, I got involved in a quiz which had just started at the Bridge, which was taken over by new ownership around the time I moved back. I had a regular team there but also set the quiz once every six weeks or so (I told you I'd got better at that!) With about six of us taking it in turns to write it, it was another one which was somewhat varied in terms of how good the quiz was but I think many of my most enjoyable ones ever have been there, with some really fun questions.

What I learned there: More than I ever wanted to know about snakes. (The landlord, who set the quiz quite often, was a big fan and seemed to include at least one question every time he wrote it!!)

When I moved away from home to live in the town I was working in, I again struggled to settle in for a while. However I found I was living 5 minutes' walk away from a pub where there was a monthly quiz, so headed up to see what it was like. I was planning on taking part by myself but a group of guys invited me to join them and I became a regular part of their team; my comparative youth meaning I knew a fair few pop culture ones they didn't normally get. This started a few friendships which really helped me settle in.

What I learned there: Lots of people are incredibly generous and welcoming, even if they have no particular reason to be.


A bit before moving to London, I bought the Prince of Wales (Highgate) quiz book, easily the best (and toughest!) pub quiz book I've ever read. I was desperate to do it on coming down here and, despite not having a team, managed to again join in with a few regulars there on the first occasion I went there. It was a brilliant quiz and I did it several times - winning it once made me incredibly proud, given the standard of the questions! (Admittedly I'm not sure how much I actually contributed to it, but it was a great moment anyway.)

What I learned there: Far too much about bus times; before I had a travelcard I actually went from Croydon to Highgate and back via bus to save money a few times. I also learned this takes forever, is really tiring, and is NOT a sensible thing to do, especially the night before teaching a full day!!

I got talking to picture book author Tim Knapman and MG author Ellie Irving at a Bloomsbury event a couple of years ago and we discovered a mutual love of quizzes. Joined by brilliant bookseller Jennifer Belll - at the time unpublished, but now author of the hugely successful The Crooked Sixpence - and her friend Tara, we tried various quizzes over the next few months and the best one we found was at The Grapes Limehouse. This is the pub part-owned by Sir Ian McKellen, who's been there on nearly every occasion we've visited. We have a near flawless record there, incredibly.

What I learned there: Tim Knapman is better at pub quizzes than Sir Ian McKellen is. (Seriously, Tim wins pretty much single-handedly!)

Finally, I've barely been to any pub quizzes for ages; partly because it's so difficult to fit in with the busy people on the that team above! However I have taken part in most of the quizzes at Blackwells High Holborn and it's always a wonderful experience. There are a mixture of great questions about a wide variety of books and we've been pretty successful there (although we were thoroughly beaten once by a team of Robin Stevens, Anna James and QI's Anne Miller - who surely read so many books between them they shouldn't be allowed to play together - and again by a team of Tim Knapman and a few others.) This is only once every few months but I'd highly recommend it; I always love doing it.

What I learned there: Some people genuinely know the names of pretty much every Ikea object ever created. I bow down to them! 

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