Two pedantic nerds should not be allowed to come together in a small space. In any case, the guy who runs quiz night at The Black Swan and I have a history of locking horns.
On Halloween, we had a terrible row about Greek semantics. He asked, ‘What animal would you turn into if you were suffering from lycanthropy?’ I wrote down ‘wolf’ and assured my team that we were on firm ground as I happened to be an avid reader of period horror stories.
But when it came to the marking, the pub quiz compère said the answer was ‘werewolf’ and that we couldn’t have a point for writing wolf. ‘Look here,’ I argued, ‘if you are suffering from the mythical disease of werewolfism you don’t change into a werewolf. You are a werewolf. A werewolf is a man who changes into a wolf, ergo the answer is wolf. Not werewolf.’
We argued this back and forth until everyone in the pub was shouting insults at me. So I had to concede. But I went home that night with a heavy heart, wondering what hope there was for this once great nation when even a Surrey pub quiz compère in tortoiseshell spectacles does not know the exact meaning of lycanthropy. So distressed was I, in fact, that I considered boycotting quiz night. But eventually I weakened and decided to give it another go.
This time, it started well enough, with a round of island-naming, but when we got to Food and Drink there was trouble. The pub quiz compère began describing sauces. ‘Basil, pine nuts, parmesan, olive oil.’
I wrote down ‘Pesto’ and my team mates nodded their approval.
‘Chick peas, tahini…’ I scribbled ‘Hummus’ and my team mates nodded again.
‘Egg yolk, English mustard, white wine vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.’
I looked at my friend Ingrid and shrugged. Ingrid shrugged back. The (sometime) builder boyfriend tried to look interested but failed. ‘I think he might mean Hollandaise,’ I whispered.
‘What about Béarnaise?’ whispered Ingrid.
‘Yes, unless…you don’t think…no, surely not…’ Ingrid and the SBB leaned in closer.
‘What?’ whispered Ingrid.
‘Well, it’s just possible he means…mayonnaise.’
‘Mayonnaise doesn’t have mustard in it,’ said Ingrid incredulously. Even a woman who ignited her kitchen while trying to boil an egg, and whose only attempt to make soup ended in the soup being on the ceiling, was outraged at the suggestion that mayonnaise had mustard in it.
‘I could put mustard mayonnaise but you know what he’s like. He won’t allow it. Oh god, it’s like the werewolf thing all over again.’
When Food and Drink ended I took the pub quiz compère aside. ‘I’m not happy with these sauces,’ I said, trying to be diplomatic.
‘What’s the matter with them?’ he snapped.
‘There is no sauce consisting of egg yolk, white wine vinegar and mustard unless you’re talking about Béarnaise, and then you’re missing some ingredients. If you’re trying to describe mayonnaise, that wouldn’t make mayonnaise, it would make mustard mayonnaise. But I assume the answer is simpler than that. So you must mean Béarnaise or Hollandaise with the butter missing.’
The pub quiz compère curled his lip. His right fist clenched on the bar next to his bowl of nibbles, as if he wanted to grab a cocktail olive stick and poke it in my eye. He leaned forward and between gritted teeth, in a very low, husky, Clint Eastwood voice, said, ‘The answer is mayonnaise.’
The pub quiz compère then turned his back on me and started typing on an iPad. Then he swung back around, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and read out so loudly that the entire pub could hear: ‘Egg yolk, English mustard, white wine vinegar, oil, salt and pepper. Not my words, the words of the BBC website to describe the recipe for…MAYONNAISE!’
‘Oh, hilarious!’ I shouted back, as my team mates begged me to be quiet. ‘You actually think the BBC is an impartial source of information about mayonnaise? That isn’t a straightforward recipe for mayonnaise, it’s a la-di-dah, woolly liberal…’ But the entire pub was now shouting at me to shut up.
Worse was to come. The next round was a spelling bee, which included the word ‘diarrhea’. I wrote this down confidently, but when we came to the marking the pub quiz compère insisted there was an O in it. When I challenged his O as outdated he screamed, ‘Right!’ and started fiddling with his iPad. He then declared that diarrhea, or should I say diarrhOea, was spelt with an O on the NHS website.
‘That proves it,’ I cried, as the rest of the pub booed. ‘This is a socialist pub quiz!’ And at a gastro-pub in Cobham as well. They should be ashamed of themselves.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.