Given that I no longer have to commute to central London every day, getting up at six o’clock this morning felt very strange (and not a little unfair). However, I did have a good reason for being awake at the time that my parents refer to as ‘sparrow fart’: my house mate Ash and I had an audition for the television show Pointless.
For those of you haven’t seen the show, get yourself over to BBC iPlayer and watch a few episodes. It’s so addictive. The basic premise is that before the show, the production team have asked one hundred people to think of to think of as many ___ as they can in one hundred seconds. The players have to think of the most obscure (but correct answers); if they come up with a correct answer that none of the pre-show one hundred thought of, the answer is deemed pointless. For example, in this morning’s audition we had to try to think of the most obscure united football team; I answered Newcastle, which forty-nine people had thought of, so we scored forty-nine. Given that the idea is to get the lowest score possible this wasn’t great news, but at least I didn’t say Manchester, which would have given us a whopping ninety-eight points.
One of the things that I really like about the show is that you play in pairs: friends, colleagues, spouses and siblings team up and try to balance out each other’s areas of knowledge. Ash knows a fair amount about celebrity culture (which I think I’m probably allergic to on some level), and I know an obscene amount about Dad’s Army (which Ash is definitely allergic to, and still upset that I forced her to watch an episode once). Between us we are pretty good on literature, theatre and television, but also woefully ignorant of all things geographical.
At the start of the audition we had to take a general knowledge quiz. General knowledge doesn’t really exist anymore: the internet has broadened people’s fields of understanding considerably, and there are all sorts of other contributory factors that affect someone’s knowledge base. The type of school you went to, your cultural heritage, your hobbies, your social circle and your career path all determine what kind of areas you know about. Someone who went to a public or private school will potentially have a much firmer grip on the history of cricket, for example, than someone who attended a comprehensive. (That’s hypothetical, by the way. I’m not suggesting that that’s applicable to everyone, so don’t any of you Eton toffs come after me with a toasting fork.) Facts and figures that pub quiz regulars used to take for granted have now been obscured by the sheer volume of bizarre and fascinating facts that you can discover in just one sitting of the programme QI.
I love QI. I love knowing lots of random, useless facts. I collect trivia like other people collect…er…stamps, if that’s still a thing. This obsession with compiling snippets of information is also why I love pub quizzes. The last one I went to was in Finsbury Park, and my team had a fairly wide range of topics covered between them, although in fairness my sister was basically covering music and geography all on her own. My frustration at missing an answer at one of these events is always balanced out by my excitement at finding out what the actual answer is (nerd). Actually, we came a fairly respectable third in that quiz, and won a whole bag of crisps as our prize. A bit stingy for a team of six people, but we were proud.
I wonder whether the abolition of general knowledge is a good or bad thing: on the one hand, it makes it more difficult to create pub quizzes, game shows and so on that can reliably be said to create a level playing field. On the other hand, it means that almost everyone I meet and speak to can tell me something new and interesting that I wouldn’t have found out otherwise. Even friends of mine who are interested in similar things to me – books, films, television, cheese – have a mental stockpile of intriguing information that I don’t. I like finding out stuff, and I like talking to people: so specific knowledge is, I think, a very good thing.
Have a superlatively awesome Monday.