For more than 20 years now, I have been trudging up the hill to the Prince of Wales in Highgate on Tuesday evenings to take part in that tiny pub’s venerable weekly quiz. Each evening promises something different and yet somehow the same: ferocious competition, ridiculous arguments over the answer to question four, several glasses of red wine and usually, during round three, a few packets of Sweet Thai Chilli Sensations crisps. The quiz is unusual in that it is set by its regulars, and my next turn behind the microphone will be on St Valentine’s Day. (This is always a good night for us; most people will do anything to avoid it.) It will be the 178th quiz I have hosted there. That’s more than 8,000 questions, allowing for the odd repeat.
Why do we do it? In 1993, pub quizzing was an occupation of the severest eccentricity, but like Donald Trump it has gradually been normalised. Pub owners are particularly keen, because quiz teams drink an awful lot. Whether this is because they are infected by natural high spirits or because they are a load of drunks is often the subject of fevered debate. This is in contrast to people who go to the pub to watch football, who habitually drink as little as they can get away with.
We do it, we have decided, for two related reasons. One is that it is a form of play for grown-ups who don’t get to play much in their lives. Whatever else is going on, we can forget about all that for two blissful hours while we try and name all five English kings (since 1066) who succeeded their brothers. The second reason is showing off. Most of us are middle-aged and few of us will now represent our country in any sort of high--level sport — but if we can remember that the only airline with three successive letters as its name is KLM, we can punch the air and cheer noisily as though at Wembley or Lord’s. It’s these adrenaline rushes, and the realisation that all that education you once endured was for something after all, that brings you back for more, week after week.
The pub quiz has changed, there’s no doubt about that. The questions have become tougher and, in our pub at least, more baroque. Music rounds, a staple a decade ago, have been all but abandoned because of the wide disparity in listening tastes between older and younger teams. (Older teams have never knowingly heard Justin Bieber. Younger teams seem to have heard little else.) But I’m glad to say that our humble quiz continues to attract a better class of contestant. There was a Mastermind winner in the other day, and one of the Chasers from The Chase is a regular. Our team used to win much of the time, but our best player made the terrible mistake of dying, so we are generally fifth and grumbling these days. The grumbling is good fun too, of course.
And the five English kings who succeeded their brothers? Henry I, John, James II, William IV and George VI. Five points if you got all of them. (We forgot Henry I, needless to say.)