It’s the end of a long week – pointless meetings punctuated by periods of intense activity, fitfully attempting to close the gap between glib promises and actual delivery. The house is full of shouting offspring annoying two generations of the Leigh family and ratcheting my stress levels ever higher. Haven’t these kids heard of Chiltern Railways and their mythical timetable? I’m considering publishing a book “my life on a platform” – it wouldn’t be interesting but it’d be cheaper than therapy.
The school quiz night awaits. This is one of these dreadful group hugs that raises about 50p and attempts to unite a rambling pantheon of disparate individuals to a common cause. The strategy is excellent but the tactics are dreadful. 90% of those who occupy the hall could stay at home unwittingly donating 50 quid so by trebling the evening’s revenue without actually attending. But hey, I really had nothing better to do. Well I did but since there was a cheap bar, I could do it just as well in a drafty hall with a smell than shot me back in time thirty years.
I started aloof or possibly priggish. One of the two and having historical low esteem, I’m going with aloof. Our table was somewhat bare compared to the cliques filling the hall with their snack food, bonhomie and double digit participation. We had a simple gang of four with one analyst, one post modern hippie, one win-at-all-costs mathematician and one drunk. I know what you are thinking, but in my defence it’s a team game and a man has to play to his strengths.
Applying my “would I go for a beer” metric to my limited audience, it was clear this could be a long night. For intelligent people, they’d staggeringly never understood the no.1 schoolboy rule that there is no point playing to win if the odds are stacked against you. We were stymied by inadequate numbers, low interest, a lack of decent snack foods and a subject matter that completely failed to include my speciality of “Mountain Bikes 1999-2005″ And yet the competitive spirit ignited into white hot belief that we had a chance. A chance at coming last I mused but kept it to myself on the grounds I didn’t need a slap from Carol for being negative.
I can’t believe how much they cared. Shift time forwards 30 minutes, I can’t believe how much I cared either. The mathematician devised a complex formula to create parity with those who had more friends. Such a beautiful equation deserved more than the football terrace jeering it received but hey this is a tough crowd.
Sidebar here: The PTA is not a team, it’s a loose confederation of closing warring tribes. It’s like office politics with stilettos – a morphing body academic losing mass to apathy and cynicism but renewing itself on naïve enthusiasm and thick skins last seen in the Jurassic age.
Luckily my second beer was attempting to establish where the first one had gone before the full horror of a “culinary quiz” took hold. For a man that can set the house on fire preparing beans on toast, I felt my contribution was going to be, at best, limited. And even though I didn’t care, I did. Just a little bit. The first few rounds passed painlessly except for the committee of the bear pit debating when best to play our joker. Thankfully alcohol distilled my participation in this cabal but on being asked my specialised subject I may have let myself down. And the whole team down. Anyway claiming “performance anxiety” we didn’t choose sport which was about the only thing I could read by then.
Three rounds we’re weren’t last. To be fair to the Stephen Hawkins of our table, he was still lobbying for the fractal offset to restore score parity but we’d already reduced ourselves to also rans after our inspired joker crashed against the rocks of factual geography and we’d accepted that our ignorance of rivers in Argentina were hardly relevant when compared to our record of having kicked ass in the Falklands.
We were down but not out. Hardly had our disappointment been mitigated by another round of beers, the quiz sprung a surprise swapping cerebral provenance for practical skills. We had to build a tower using nothing more than sugary blobs and spiky pasta.
In the blink of an eye, 3 mild mannered individuals were turned into wannabee arrogant architects shouting “no no, spaghetti THERE and place the marshmallow in the role of a flying buttress” and “structurally we need to consider a 3-D model before moving on to the actual build”. Even with these professional differences , our structure reached skywards with only three or four major re-designs and – disappointingly – hardly any in-team fighting.
I drank beer out of plastic glasses and watched. We were first loser to a table of smug pasta builders but to be fair our structure hung together for all the time to measure it before collapsing into it’s component parts. If I’d spent more time thinking and less time drinking, industrial sabotage would have played a part in the final result.
Food arrived and with it our peak. After inspired guesses dating the repeal of the corn laws and the Boston tea party, we couldn’t sustain mediocrity. The last two rounds dealt with entertainment – with an embarrassingly fatuous culinary connection – and knowledge of the local village. I’m not sure which exposed us the most, our stereotyped speculation of local curry houses or a basic lack of knowledge over how the village was originally named. I perambulated to the bar on numerous occasions musing on how the middle class rarely bought their own drinks. Since I’ve reconciled my working class background with “Street Urchin Done Good”, this clearly doesn’t apply to me.
Like War, the quiz finally ends. There’s a bit of 11/11/18 as the raffle sits in front of the final scores that we all care about too much. I hardly care who won (which is good) because we didn’t lose (which is bad).
Everyone is in good spirits which may entirely be due to the good spirits being imbued but maybe I’m being too cynical. The event raises a few hundred quid and yet I can’t shake the dichotomy between taxation/education and school/poverty. I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m anal enough to be that mathematician if only I was any good at maths.
Oh and if anyone knows the name of Shergar’s owner, let me know because next time we’re going to crush the opposition. Not that I care you understand but a man’s got to have a hobby.