One of my BEST discoveries of England was the local pub quiz.
I’ve been a ‘trivia person’ most of my life. As a child, I spent long hours poring over encyclopedias on the living room floor, memorizing capitals, flags, presidents and random historical dates. I played Trivial Pursuit at any given opportunity (don’t believe the slanderous rumors that I memorized the deck!). In high school, I crushed the competition in Mr. Armstrong’s weekly Jeopardy knock-off in Social Studies class. I’ve been a pedantic asshole my whole life.
After high school, I occasionally participated in electronic trivia games offered in bars, but found the anonymity unsatisfying. I was a trivia junkie without a home until I found the Three Horseshoes in Yaxley.
I had just moved to Peterborough and was introduced to Karen. She would ultimately become a dear friend, but at that time, was simply an acquaintance who knew me primarily for my ability to knock back Jack Daniels during nights out in Stamford. During one such evening, she casually mentioned her weekly Pub Quiz night. I sat upright and grilled her for details. Seeing my interest, she invited me to come along ‘for a laugh’, but little did she know- she had awakened the monster.
That first week, I felt quite shy. That is strange for me, but it is a small bar in a small town. I could see that everyone knew everyone and I was, well, not from around these parts. I felt all eyes on me as I ordered a beer and made my way to the table to meet the team.
They are known as ‘The Late Arrivals’. In the beginning, I’m sure they wondered if they really wanted this competitive American lady to crash their weekly gathering but I felt like part of the team from the first night. None of us knew it then, but over the next 2.5 years, we would become like family.
Pub quiz in the UK is a lovely old-fashioned affair. The pubs are cosy. The questions asked by a local quizmaster who earns his keep with free beer. Answers are written down on a sheet which you trade with your nearest neighbor. It reminded me of grade school… if St. Rose Elementary had served Guinness and G&T’s.
I have a confession, though. I am no longer the quiz superstar I thought I was. British Pub Quiz is well… very British. The questions are 60% UK specific with another 40% of general trivia. My knowledge is ok, but it didn’t matter, I was hooked. It’s a bit like golf. You remember that one great shot and conveniently forget the 100 bad ones. I loved it, but it wasn’t for the money. The entry was 1 pound per person, so it certainly wasn’t high stakes.
I was in it for the competition. Insert evil laugh.
I made it my aim to get better. I switched from booze to ‘lime and soda’ for that extra edge. I became increasingly serious about preparation.
A decent knowledge base of British kings and queens evolved into a completely memorized royal timeline beginning with William the Conqueror and the 1066 Battle of Hastings. I spent countless hours reading page after page of Wikipedia. Movies, opera, literature, history, British television- I hungered for knowledge! However, I drew the line at British sports. I refused to clutter my brain with snooker, darts and cricket.
As an aside, you know when people ask ‘What would you do for work if money wasn’t a concern?’ Just call me a ‘Wikipedia Scholar’.
Anyway, besides the trivia itself, I developed close friendships with my teammates. Hard to believe, since we are a competitive bunch (ok, it’s probably just me) and that resulted in some memorable moments. There was a lot of emotion on display each week- confidence, excitement, anger, joy, frustration. To that, add a dash of drinking, arguing, pleading and pouting. Finally, toss in a few fist bumps and the British accents and, well, it’s practically theatre! Nevertheless, we came back every week, previous disputes forgiven, but never completely forgotten. You always had that card in your back pocket in case anyone ever got too cocky. I am forever to be kept in check over a bad answer involving Afghanistan.
Perry and I officially became Late Arrivals when we attended the annual team Christmas bash. We also began to receive invitations outside of quiz- horse races, dinners, patio BBQs, birthday parties and the occasional Barry Manilow concert. Pub quiz provided us a British family and ‘insider’ experiences.
Perry truly deserves special mention here. In the midst of the chaos and strong personalities, he was a pillar of calm, rational, clear thinking. He is an excellent moderator and the only person who knew anything about the Periodic Table of Elements.
Eventually, the Three Horseshoes became our local. If I bumped into Pub Quiz regulars on the street, we would say hi. The quizmaster, Eric, started razzing us when there were American questions. We formed strong opinions about rival teams that included profanity. Spare Pair, I’m looking at you.
At our last quiz before coming back to the US, I felt genuine sadness. This was something I looked forward to every week. I loved these people and I didn’t feel like a foreigner in their presence. Tears were all around- even the quizmaster!
We had an epic night- a comeback on the final question to beat our archrival, The Untouchables.
First question for 12 points: This famous man lived between 1809 and 1882.
I knew this. My Wikipedia ways paid off. And he's on the tenner.
I ended my pub quiz career on top.
Dedicated to Mike, Lindsey, Karen, Sue, Roger and Alison
‘The Late Arrivals’