Let’s get quizzical
WE’VE all known people who have been banned from pubs for one reason or another, haven’t we? Perhaps I should rephrase that for COUNTRY LIFE readers and suggest that the odd one among you may have vaguely heard of someone who had been requested to leave a hostelry, almost certainly because of a slight misunderstanding later cleared up with a handshake.
The further north you get in these isles, the more likely such incidents are to occur. And then you get to Scotland. I recall one elderly lady who had been barred from an Inverness establishment for fighting, an order she routinely disobeyed. Would her family, the landlord entreated, remove her Zimmer frame at night so that she couldn’t make the journey? They duly obliged. Had they thought laterally, they would also have removed her wheelie bin.
My friend and associate Kermit has achieved a refined variation on licensed exclusion zones. Last week, over dinner in the Rajah, home of the finest Indian cuisine north of the River Findhorn, he confided that he and his team have, henceforth, been banned from all pub quizzes in Ross-shire.
I wasn’t terribly surprised to hear he had an interest in this form of mental gymnastics as he’s something of a polymath. A brief but by no means exhaustive list of his achievements would include computer programmer, moustache cultivator, novelist, boulevardier, appreciator of claret and the feminine form, tailor, connoisseur of psychotropic stimulants, electro-music dance head, friend to bishops and vulcanologist. In other words, just the sort of fellow to have with you when you’re given your starter for 10.
His team was Damien, an Old Etonian marooned in Grantownon-spey for no clear reason—no one’s reason ever stays clear for long in Grantown—and Barry from Smithton, Inverness. Damien fitted into the jovial, top-volume, well-furnished, general-knowledge category. Barry was the team specialist. It’s axiomatic when entering the lists at pub quizzes that, as well as general know-how, you need a close acquaintance with TV soaps and the sports pages, preferably both. Barry is a sports boffin. He can tell you the shoe sizes of the Celtic team that won the 1892–93 Scottish Football League and every other trophy since.
They settled on targeting Rossshire because pub quizzes were an epidemic there. Criss-crossing the county, they could cover 10 in a week. As they survived on a diet of lager shandy, pork scratchings and packets of saltand-vinegar crisps, you have to admire their gritty determination. With top-whack prizes of £100, split three ways, they weren’t in it for the moulah. It was the glory, of course, and perhaps the admiration of the doe-eyed Ross-shire girls, who fluttered their eyelashes at the champion three ‘Moustachieres’, each of whom sported a fine set of manly whiskers.
Resentment began to build across north-highland pubs as the marauding know-alls swept the board. It all got a bit A Fistful of Dollars. A hush would fall on the quiz room when they entered. Hostile looks darted in their direction as they took their seats. After yet another victory, this time in the Sutherland village of Helmsdale, they celebrated with a few more glasses than usual. The Helmies are a tough, close-knit lot. They didn’t take kindly to the interest being shown in the triumphant quiz maestros by their womenfolk. Kermit realised things weren’t looking good when he saw Damien adopting an unsteady Queensberry stance and Barry sprinting for the safety of their car’s central-locking system. The pubs had the excuse they needed. The boys were trouble, no question about it.
My ‘year’ are cantering past the 60-furlong marker. Some are marking the occasion with great style and generosity. Take one, for instance, who kindly included my wife and I and a few friends on a weekend with his family in Paris. We tootled off to the Prix de L’arc de Triomphe, held at Chantilly while Longchamp undergoes some nips and tucks. Chantilly is too far from Paris in high heels, so the hoity-toity set was thin on the ground, but what we lost in chic, we made up for in espace de respiration.
Back home in the North, another post-passer had a dinner for 30. It was one of those roll-up-yoursleeves evenings when my wife sees the look in my eye and quietly takes possession of the car keys as the first glass of whisky tilts throatwards.
I woke in my own bed on Sunday morning (a miracle—how?) with abrasions to the right side of my face and the palms of my hands, considerably bruised ribs and no recollection as to how I acquired them. No one else was any the wiser. That, one concludes, was indeed a party.
However, as I move gingerly about my daily chores and avoid laughter and coughs, I’m forced to recall that it’s 60 I’m approaching and not 30.
‘Back home in the North, another postpasser had a dinner for 30
Joe Gibbs lives at Belladrum in the Highlands and is the founder of the Tartan Heart Festival