‘I bet you’re good at trivia quizzes, aren’t you?’
My ‘self preservation radar’ would normally have immediately started semaphoring ‘trouble approaching rapidly off the port bow’, but Mrs Fitt was such an unlikely harbinger of doom that she caught me unawares.
Actually, remembering her murderous rage when Marianne Hinchcliffe released a clockwork mouse at the Christmas Fair as a joke, perhaps I should have considered the possibility that she was a woman with unplumbed depths, but for 95% of the year she’s a placid woman, at peace with the world and everyone in it – and therein lay my downfall.
What I should have said was ‘Nope. Terrible at them. Brain like a sieve, don’t you know.’
What I actually said was, ‘Depends on the questions.’
And that, dear readers, is how I ended up on the Adverse Camber team at the annual grudge match which is the ‘Camber Villages Quiz Night’.
The three villages take it in turns to host the event. This year the honour fell to Upper Camber, who rather fancy themselves as a cut above Nether and Adverse Camber (so I am told) as evidenced by the damask table cloths and the tea and cakes served on in-vogue mis-matched bone china.
Last year, Nether Camber emerged victorious, to the shock and disbelief of all concerned – including the Nether Camber team – since historically the battle has always been between Upper and Adverse, with Nether there just to make everyone else look good. No-one was quite sure how they did it, but popular opinion inclined towards bribery, and the finger of suspicion fell on the neutral adjudicator who, it turned out, was not so neutral after all, being the second cousin by marriage of the brother-in-law of Nether Camber’s retired butcher. Or something.
However THIS year, Binkie Clements assured me in a stage whisper, would be different because THIS year, Adverse Camber had a secret weapon.
‘What’s that, then?’ I whispered back.
‘YOU of course.’
I’ve never entirely understood the expression ‘that sinking feeling’ until that moment, because I swear the pit of my stomach dropped about three inches. ‘It depends on the questions, Binkie.’ I said feebly. ‘If it’s sport, television, recent films or modern music, I’m useless.’
The four of us were hunched over the be-damasked table like a quartet of witches: Mrs Fitt, Binkie Clements (mother of Isobel, down at the Post Office), nice Jenny from the vets and yours truly, all hissing together like co-conspirators which, as it turned, out was going to be the MO for all three teams for the whole evening: ‘Don’t talk so loudly – they’ll HEAR you’.
The Quizmaster (and question setter) was a retired teacher from Beechings, a (very) minor public school halfway between Nether and Adverse, whose integrity was considered to be unimpeachable because of his poshness. I personally thought those were pretty dodgy grounds upon which to base a value judgment, but kept the thought to myself.
All three tables, plus the Quizmaster, were up on the stage of Upper Camber Community Hall which – as was frequently pointed out to us – had just had new windows, heaters and curtains. In the body of the hall sat the audience, theoretically drawn from all three villages, but in practice mostly Upper, and therefore wildly partisan.
For the first couple of rounds, things chugged along peacefully enough and the three teams seemed pretty evenly matched. It was a simple system. We were given sheets of questions on differing topics and had five minutes in which to confer over the answers and write them down. Then the teams swapped question sheets for marking and the Quizmaster supplied the answers.
The first hint of needle crept in during the ‘Birds’ round when Mrs Fitt, who was writing down the answers, wrote ‘tit’ instead of ‘blue tit’ and the Upper Camber team, who were marking our paper, marked it as wrong (with some justification). Binkie objected, loudly and repeatedly. The Quizmaster upheld the decision, but Binkie wasn’t to be appeased, even when it was pointed out that there were coal tits, great tits, long-tailed tits … to Binkie, they were all tits. Rather like the Quizmaster.
The worst thing I could possible have said at that juncture was ‘It’s only a bit of fun, Binkie …’, so of course, that’s exactly what I said. Three pairs of disbelieving eyes swivelled towards me and I shrank back into my chair, chastened and muttering sulky apologies.
The subsequent round (punctuated by Binkie still grumbling about tits) was on cars, and nothing I could say would convince my fellow team members that Porsches were German-made cars. Nor did they later believe that Brunel was NOT a Scot (even when I said that I’d seen the ‘Brunel was born here’ plaque in Portsmouth), so it was a bit unfortunate when they decided to take my word for it that the patron saint of Edinburgh was St Margaret.*
The anagram round went well and I was officially crowned Queen of the Anagrams, then in the Sea Life round Binkie had her revenge on Upper Camber when they answered ‘anemone’ instead of ‘sea anemone’ and the Quizmaster agreed with us that they were two very different things and it was therefore a Wrong Answer.
‘Aha! Wrong! Wrong!! It’s WRONG!!’
It got better – or worse, depending on where you were sitting – when, in the cryptic round, Mrs Fitt knew that a grape was a sort of hoe and that, therefore, the answer to ‘Digger for Mrs Bucket’ was ‘grape hyacinth’ and not just ‘hyacinth’.
‘Ah-ha-ha!’ Crowed Binkie. ‘You didn’t know what a grape was, did you!! Aha-ha-ha-hah!!!!’
Mrs Fitt looked skyward and pointed out that Binkie hadn’t known either and had, indeed, poo-pooed the very idea when it was suggested. It didn’t have any discernible effect on her.
The greatest outrage, however, was reserved for the Quizmaster who – in a fit of temporary senility – declared that Braille was a reading aid for deaf people. The silence which followed this announcement was total, as people mentally reviewed everything they thought they knew about Braille. Then, pandemonium broke out …. I’m sure that above the generaI cacophony I heard someone yelling ‘It’s the BLIND ye great eggwap!’ – which is an expression I last heard in the wilds of Lancashire. The poor man tried to make himself heard above the hooting, whistling and stamping … but in the end had to just sit there until the noise had subsided enough for him to say mildly, ‘I did, of course, mean blind people’, which just got them started all over again.
After that, he completely lost his sang froid. In the following round, he started giving the answers to the next set of questions (No, the name of the ‘Iron Chancellor’ of Germany was not ‘Poppy’.) Then he yielded without a murmur when someone came up with an alternative answer to an ‘Odd Man Out’ question and on the final straight he cringed visibly when one of the more vocal members of the Upper Camber team demanded the adjudicator be called in over the provenance of ‘SOS’. It turned out that he was the adjudicator too, on account of being posh and unimpeachable.
It didn’t make any difference in the end, because it was Nether Camber, who kept their heads down and stayed out of the firing line, who won again. As they collected their plastic trophies from the Quizmaster to polite applause, they tried not to look smug. – and failed. All around me I could feel new conspiracy theories being hatched over the tea and cupcakes.
There was, inevitably, a post mortem in the car on the way home. Questions and answers were analysed, the subject of tits was raised more than once and agreement was generally arrived at that somehow or other, We Woz Robbed.
When we reached Adverse Camber, we all repaired to Binkie’s house for coffee and biscuits … and it was there Jenny noticed something that suddenly made everything – well, not quite so bad. She was looking at the results sheet.
‘Oh look!’ she said cheerfully. ‘We beat Upper Camber. They came last.’
‘Serves them right,’ said Binkie with considerable satisfaction. ‘Tits.’
* It’s St Giles.