Let’s get quizzi­cal

Country Life Every Week - - My Week -

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

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