Saturday, 6 November 2010


Some friends came to stay when my son was about 10 years old.  The eldest of their daughters, Coral, used to be in the same class in school as Sam before the family moved to the States, and the pair had been best friends.

One morning, over a lazy late breakfast when we were catching up on our respective family news, Sam and Coral started to play the game Blind Ignorance, where one person assigns secretly a new identity to the other, the task being for the recipient of the new identity to work out who they are meant to be by asking questions that can only be answered with a 'yes' or a 'no'.

Sam chose a character for Coral first.  The answer turned out to be the Queen Mother.

Next, Sam had to guess his new persona.  It duly transpired that he was the form teacher he and Coral had last shared at school, Mr Rice.

They played this game for what must have been an hour or more.  And every single time - every single time - the answer was either the Queen Mother or Mr Rice.  We were falling around on the floor laughing, but both kids took the game extremely seriously; I like to see it as a postmodern comment on the meaning of knowledge and the crassness of competitive intellectualism.  Whatever that means.

(Anyone ever read a postmodern novel?  Well, don't. I opted into a Literature course at uni, but opted out of finishing The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon.  Here's a link:

Read that and you will you find out what I've been missing.  To be honest, I don't think I would have found out what I've been missing even had I not put myself in the position of missing it.  And the nonsensical sentences witter on forever with hardly any punctuation at all).

Anyway, I write about this - the story about the Queen Mother and Mr Rice* - because it relates to something which is part of ex-pat life here.

(*Am not suggesting there was ever anything going on between the Queen Mother and Mr Rice as far as I know they were never in the same room at the same time not that I would know and even if I did would I really be likely to publish it on here where one of them might sue well not the Queen Mother 'cos she's dead and anyway you can't libel a dead person I do know about Media Law you realize I did it as part of my journalism training and thoroughly enjoyed it as it happens but anyway it would be Mr Rice I'd be more concerned about for obvious or possibly not obvious reasons depending on your knowledge of the law of defamation though hang on now I come to think about it you wouldn't necessarily have to have any knowledge about libel law to know the Queen Mother wouldn't sue and the royals don't generally although wasn't there an instance once but no more jokes about her being pickled even though the present Queen thinks the word lunch is vulgar and everyone around her has to use the term luncheon)

God, fancy bringing up the topic of postmodern literature.  How I hate it!

Well, pub quizzes are popular here in Nice.  There are two pubs in the same Irish chain (yes, I did say Irish) which run such events on two different days of the week.  I and some other people from assorted ex-pat social groups used to turn up at one of these places on a weekly basis to pit our wits against the 40 or so other teams which took part. You're allowed 4 people to a team and you write the answers on printed sheets, 7 rounds or so every time, 10 questions to a round.

The first round is always dedicated to a random topic.  The initial week I attended it was Rugby players.  The faces of 10 rugby players were displayed on giant TV screens, and we had to write down who they were.  Erm...

The previous week it had been supermodels, and another week it was children of celebrities.  :~

Whilst rugby players were not quite Our Thing, we happened to excel at Politics, Topcial Events and History.  Only their idea of Politics, Topcial Events and History usually concerns rugby players, supermodels and yes, you've guessed it, children of celebrities.

My friend, Agnetha, a very clever woman, someone who has written (many) textbooks on a science-related subject, has A Technique.  No matter what the question she jumps up from her seat, bounces up and down and shouts: 'I know it!!!  I know it!!!'  There then follows a 2 minute silence.  Finally she shouts 'SHIRLEY BASSEY!'  regardless of what the question was in the first place.

No, I reply, the answer is ZZ Top, or perhaps the 21st International Symposium on Chemical Engineering, or maybe 2.142 to a ratio of 5.9 (squared), but no, Agnetha is certain the answer is Shirley Bassey.  Oh well, you only live twice.

The last time I attended, the team I was in managed to answer at least 7 out of 10 correctly in every single round.  On occasion we had a full score. We were ecstatic; the first prize is 100 euros, 2nd prize 50 euros. We were anticipating coming very close to the top, if not winning.  But it was not to be.  For, out of 41 teams, we came 34th.

Other teams, we subsequently discovered, were also puzzled.  One such group of people had managed a personal best of no more than 5 questions right per topic, but came a startlingly impressive 20th.  The 'winners' were an American couple sitting adjacent to us, who happened to be on their honeymoon, the male component of this partnership having spent most of the evening outside the pub on his phone, his new wife (his soon-to-be ex-wife, we predicted) being left alone at the bar for extended periods, with her sending him long lovelorn looks from a distance. It was she who was (periodically) writing on her answer sheet, though I HATE YOU, YOU SWEARWORD B*STARD (hope Brian isn't looking in) AND I'M GOING TO KEEP ALL THE SWEARWORD WEDDING PRESENTS doesn't actually gain you many points.  Or so logic should dictate.

Perhaps this would not be such a problem were the quizmasters not to make Such A Big Thing of counting up the scores.  Sometimes 20 minutes elapses between rounds, during which time you have nothing else to do other than to order yet more of the pub's overpriced drinks.  

After the results fiasco people were queuing up to complain.  I, personally, spoke to the Manager of the bar on behalf of the ex-pats I had invited, all of whom were angry. Having sat there for two hours we had spent some 200 euros in the place, since a lot of people had eaten there, too.  (Not me, they don't serve fishfingers. What kind of establishment IS this???).  The Manager affected to listen, took my number and assured me someone would speak to me the following day. This was two weeks ago, I'm still awaiting the call.

The following week, nobody from our ex-pat groups showed up.  Nor is anyone signed up for next week's farago.  

Ah, life on the Med.  However, I will survive.  

Where's the Queen Mother when you need her? **

** She's NOT having it off with Mr Rice, how many more times do I have to tell you???


A note about devotion, dear Reader.  Regard the time this post was published.  It is Saturday evening.  I am at home, sitting at my computer, compiling this rant eloquently composed piece for your delight.  I am not out being wined and dined and ultimately (oh, so hopefully) something else ending in -ed, as all good (or rather not so good) women should be doing on a Saturday evening.  Some small appreciation for the little Jewish comedian's dedication to her calling would not go amiss.

(Along with commiserations for the fact that all the single men I know are either 73 years old, living in the Poitou-Charantes and being useful around the house, or are waxing their moustaches).

What now my love?

Oh I, who have nothing.  But I will survive...

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