Author Andrew Mueller
Under normal circumstances, there are very few situations in which it is considered appropriate to initiate conversation with a stranger in a London pub. If the building is on fire, or an escaped tiger is loose on the premises, some small measure of strictly detached badinage may be permitted, but otherwise, you drink alone, or with those you arrived with.
Mercifully for the visitor anxious to meet London's citizens - and we’re a fascinating bunch, once we deign to speak to you - there is an exception to this rule: the pub quiz. Usually a weekly fixture, advertised on a chalkboard outside the venue - or, if you want to plan ahead, at Pub Quiz Help - the pub quiz pits self-selected teams against each other in a contest of useless knowledge.
The prizes are generally modest - some combination of the collected entrance fees, drinks vouchers, bottles of undrinkable wine. But, unusually for British pubs, they’re quite sociable occasions, even if strangers are bonding only in bewilderment at the unfathomability of the quizmaster, or in outrage at - and, sadly, such creatures exist - the depravity of the sort of unutterable scoundrel who uses his mobile phone to cheat.
You will need a team of your own, usually of between three and six - asking to join a lineup of strangers would be regarded as somewhat outre. It will also help to have some understanding of the conventions. Team names usually fall into one of two categories. One is the pun on the word ‘quiz’.
Photo: Peter Blapps
Most of these have been done - indeed, it’s a racing certainty that any quiz will include at least one team called Quizteam Aguilera - but one night last year at the Monday night quiz held at the Crown & Two Chairmen in Soho, one team elicited heartfelt applause for calling themselves Quizlamic Jihad. The other team name is the wilfully tasteless commentary on some current event, designed to provoke maximum groanage from the room. A few weeks ago, the Wednesday night quiz at The Mucky Pup in Islington coincided with the conviction of Phil Spector on murder charges: one bunch of wags called themselves And Then He Shot Me.
hoto: Auntie P
There is also a fairly predictable pattern to the questions. There will be a picture round, in which teams will be invited to put names to famous faces printed on a sheet of paper, or identify national flags, or similar.
There will be a music round, in which points will be distributed for naming a song upon being prompted by a lyric of a snatch of the tune’s introduction. And there will be at least one question to which the answer is Winston Churchill.
Anyone wanting to know more about pub quizzes - and about what they reveal about British life - should read Marcus Berkmann’s thoughtful and hilarious ‘A Matter Of Facts’. Or, better yet, just go to one. At the risk of seeming immodest, however, I’d counsel against trying your luck anywhere my team has taken the field (though we change the name all the time, so you’d never see us coming). We’re journalists, which means we know a little bit about quite a lot of things, and this is very much a pastime for dilletantes, not experts.
Andrew Mueller is a London-based
foreign correspondent, travel writer, rock critic, author and general
all-purpose hack. His latest book, 'I Wouldn’t Start From Here: the
21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong', is available now. Follow
Andrew on his blog.