” Dreams can come true.” Gabrielle
“Dreams are like children. Follow them for too long and people start getting suspicious.”
The brilliant comedian Markus Birdman. @birdmanwatching
Talking of dreams, on Saturday afternoon I was enjoying an average quality lunch buffet in a remote business hotel in Rotterdam. I was tired, hungover after three days of heavy drinking. As I stood at the buffet, pondering how much smoked salmon on my plate would be considered greedy, I was approached by Jane Allen, who helps run the British Quiz Association with a charming bear of a man called Chris Jones.
“Paul, have you heard the scores?”
I metaphorically shat my pants. “Nope”
“You’re in the final 10. You finished joint 8th”
At which point I metaphorically lost all my physiological faculties and descended into an embarrassing, weepy mess. Somehow, and extremely unexpectedly, I had achieved one of my life dreams.
I say “life”. This one started in November 2010, when I attended the European Quiz Championships both as a first time contestant, and as part of a Radio 4 documentary about high level quizzing that I was making. I don’t know whether it was the addictive air of intellectualism, or the romantic beauty of the Derby Conference Centre, arguably the most stunning of the buildings in the “Venice of the East Midlands”, but i was transfixed. The individual championships consisted of a 100 question written paper, at the end of which the top 10 scorers would take part in a twenty question shootout. In front of assorted spectators. I watched those twenty questions with fascination. I knew three of the answers, Jack Kerouac, Helen Frankenthaler and Gym Class Heroes. I barely understood the other 17 answers.
And I thought to myself, “Wouldnt it be good to one day be part of that assembled final 10?”
I knew in my heart of hearts that it would be impossible. The quality of the players who trekked in the following years to Bruges, Tartu, Liverpool and Bucharest was just insanely good. I knew my dream was a forlorn one. I knew that eventually I would have to accept that it would join the dreams dustbin along with chess grandmaster, world figure skating champion, Have I got News for You guest, and Mrs Joe Root. So I sat down on Saturday morning in Rotterdam, for the European Quizzing Championships individuals, with no higher ambition as to not make any silly mistakes.
Within two rounds that ambition was in tatters. I skilfully crossed out the correct answer twice in Round 1, and in Round 2, I am sure that i was the only person in the room not to identify “sanskrit” as a correct answer. Sanskrit ffs. At this point all I could visualise was my parents’ disappointed faces.
You need a lot of luck in quizzing. When I woke up I did one piece of revision. I looked at nine questions I had written about this years Grammy awards. The very last fact that I wrote was that St Vincent had won the award for Best Alternative Album. I had literally no idea whether it was a man, a band or a woman. But i wrote it down for a question and got it right.
Before Round 8, the final round, they announced the current top 10. In joint 9th place was…………..Paul Sinha. What the serious fuck.Why didnt I get Sanskrit ???? Sixteen questions to go. Get good guesses in, keep calm. Then there was my dream question. Something about the African country with the lowest human development index. I had read it on the toilet, literally five days ago. I had made an effort to make a mental note. Thank you the increasingly slow bowels of middle age. It is bloody Niger. I know this one. It’s bloody Niger.
There were 45 minutes between the end of the quiz and Jane Allen telling me I had done enough. 45 torturous minutes. The rest was a blur. Those final 20 questions flew by, as I became increasingly aware that i was the weakest quizzer in the final ten by a country mile. I had no idea who Super Mario’s sworn enemy was, about palm mangroves in Elche, or the most famous battle of 1212. I did know which Wagner opera was set in Rome, which pleased me. I slipped from 8th to 10th as I knew I would. It didnt matter. I know I am not as good as these other 9. It was fun to be part of their gang.
There I am. With Tom, Thomas, Igor, Tero, Kevin, Ronny, Didier, Pat and the eventual winner the all conquering Olav Bjortomt. Missing is one of the world’s best quizzers, Nico Pattyn. He couldn’t make it. i have no idea why he couldn’t make it, but I am grateful for his absence.
I don’t care that my dreams have changed from changing the world, to doing quite well in a quiz tournament. Scale down your dreams, and you may just achieve them.What can never be taken away is that for thirty extremely hungover minutes in Rotterdam, I was one of the ten best quizzers in Europe.
Joe Root. You are next.