Our pub quiz team, The Unlikely Bawbags, recently suffered its worst-ever performance in The Lorne on a Wednesday night. We finished in seventh place out of around ten teams, far removed from our usual lofty position within the top three. It wasn’t even as though we had one terrible round that set us back, because for us the entire quiz was a shambles. Things were so bad that by the end of the night we almost celebrated ending up so high in the rankings, since for most of the way through we had been sitting bottom of the pile. It was a chastening experience, one which none of the three of us appeared to have an answer as to how it could have happened, which was seemingly in keeping with the night.
I went to Aulay’s to drown my sorrows, different from my usual visits there drowning my liver. The lounge bar was empty, which wasn’t unusual for a midweek night in February, and so the barman was forced to listen as I told him of all my woes. Would I ever get another general knowledge question right again? Did there really need to be an entire round about Germany? Why can we never remember who voiced the Bugs Bunny cartoon character? I imagined that he would much rather have been dusting the tops of the malt whisky bottles, but I had a lot to unload. To the relief of the barman, the pub gradually started to fill up, at least as much as three people can fill an alehouse.
First, the Plant Doctor arrived carrying a pool cue, which he propped up against the coat rack, similar to the way that someone who is out walking the dog stops into the pub for a pint and sits their pet at the end of the bar. A while later a local shellfish seller dropped in. Following some discussion over the froth of our lager, it was noticed that there were three people in the lounge bar on a Wednesday night and each of us was wearing a pair of corduroy trousers. Who knows for certain if such a thing had ever occurred before, but it’s difficult to imagine that it had. It was, quite emphatically, a parade of corduroy.
Naturally, we were eager to bring this anomaly of fashion to the attention of the two members of staff behind the bar, and even to Aulay himself. There were three distinctly different shades of corduroy on show. I was wearing a vibrant cherry, the Plant Doctor wore a neutral olive, while the shellfish seller’s legs looked like two hot dogs smeared with English mustard. We asked anyone who would listen for their thoughts on our respective cords, including one poor sap from Glasgow who was just wanting to enjoy a peaceful drink. All three of the opinions we canvassed came back with the same response: that the neutral olive was their favourite colour of corduroy and they wouldn’t be seen dead in the bold cherry. I’ve long become used to suffering a crushing defeat in the month of February, but this was two of them on the same night five days before Valentine’s Day had even arrived.
Hardly two days had passed before I and my pub quiz teammates were afforded a shot at redemption, just like in any big-budget Hollywood movie, only this was a charity quiz at The View with a prize of £100 in cash. The event was a joint effort to raise funds for Kilmartin Museum and Dunollie Museum, two local projects in Argyll, and I somehow ended up in the middle of a tug o’ war between my usual Wednesday night pub quiz team and my regular Friday night drinking partners. I had never honestly wondered what it would be like to be a child caught up in a dispute between two divorcing parents, but I reckon this was pretty close to how it must be, and on this occasion, The Unlikely Bawbags were awarded custody of me.
Following our all-time worst performance a few days previous, we recruited some reinforcements for the charity quiz to bring our numbers up to six; amongst them a Doctor of Scottish literature who had started the week off-piste in Glencoe and was looking to finish it on the piste in Oban. The theme of the night was anti-Valentines trivia, which we felt confident would suit us since the majority of our team seems to have an allergy to all things romantic. There were several different rounds throughout the quiz, including the standard music round, film and television bedrooms, one where we were invited to list ten given animals by the length of their penis, as well as a series of questions all about sexually transmitted diseases, which I was really hoping wouldn’t be the traditional picture round.
The quiz was so busy that people were being turned away at the door. There must have been no fewer than twenty teams taking part, and things were competitive from the very start. With so many points to tally, it would be impossible to ask one man to mark every answer sheet, so teams were asked to swap their papers with a neighbouring table at the end of each round. On the face of it, this seemed like a sensible solution, though it turned out to be like asking a couple of barmen for their opinion of corduroy trousers: problematic. In the very first question of the quiz, we were asked to name the winner of the 2021 series of the reality TV show Love Island. Being that we were a team of adults who have seen the better part of our thirties, we couldn’t even begin to hazard a guess at a name and left the space unfilled. Following the end of the general knowledge round, we exchanged sheets with the table adjacent to ours, whose team included a podcasting phycologist and a young woman who owns a vast wardrobe of scarves. Much to everyone’s surprise, our paper was returned to us with one point more than we were expecting, while the gap left at the first question had been filled with a careful, scientific scribe.
We didn’t think too much about the ill-begotten point at the time since we were in second place, but as the quiz developed it was becoming clear that there was a tight tussle at the top of the leaderboard between ourselves and my usual Friday night companions. Our cause was assisted by a full complement of marks in the round on sexually transmitted diseases, which had to be the first time anyone has been happy to correctly identify an STD. By the time the final piece of music had been played to bring the quiz to an end, the two teams were separated by the length of a flea’s penis – or one point as it’s sometimes known. We were delighted; the Plant Doctor, my brother and their team were devastated. It clearly hadn’t required a great deal of detective work on their part to recognise that the beautiful penmanship used for the first answer was entirely different from the scrawl seen at the other sixty-odd questions on the sheet. I mean, we had an actual GP in our team whose contributions to the sheet read like a prescription pad.
With a prize of a hundred pounds going to the winners and £50 to the runners-up, we could see why our competitors might have felt disappointed. Some of the people at their table had a look on their face that was similar to one I have seen around the pier when a tourist has treated themselves to a fresh prawn sandwich from the seafood shack and just as they’re ready to enjoy it, a sneaky seagull has swooped down and snatched it from their hands. A few of us were feeling some guilt about winning a charity quiz through nefarious means, even if strictly speaking it was only accidental cheating. We agreed that given the circumstances it would be the right thing to do if we came clean to the quizmaster, so we called him over to our table and explained what had happened. To say that he wasn’t interested would be an understatement. As far as he was concerned, the quiz was over and he had already declared us as the winners, which could probably be translated as him admitting that he hadn’t prepared a tie-break question. Maybe he was right. This was a Valentine’s quiz, after all, and it is said that all’s fair in love and war. Where love is concerned, it’s usually the case that one party is going to end up bitterly disillusioned. It just so happened that for once it wasn’t me this time.
Despite a fortuitous turn of events, we had already decided that we wanted the moral victory as well as the acknowledgement of being quiz winners, so we approached our rivals and proposed that we split the £150 prize fund between the two teams. They agreed, though somehow even that didn’t quench our thirst for redemption – or perhaps more accurately, clear us of our guilt. I was too busy trying to plead my innocence to the opposition to know who from our team made the suggestion, but it turns out that we went a step further than sharing the prize money and offered to donate our £75 to the charity. When I heard about our philanthropy, I couldn’t stop wondering how much more we had to do to have our names engraved on a plaque at Kilmartin Museum.
A few of us made the usual Friday pilgrimage to Aulay’s after proceedings had been brought to a close in The View. There were three members from the opposing team looking to spend their £75 in the final hour before closing time, and I saw this as an opportunity to recoup some of ‘our’ prize money. All manners of whisky and shots of Tequila were being added to the bar bill, meaning that the most straightforward quiz question of all was posed the following morning when I went for breakfast with the rest of my family and wondered why I felt as though I was still drunk. Along with the growing bar tab, there was significant jukebox abuse, and not only from us. I could have sworn that one group played the same Feargal Sharkey song three times in a row. I guess it’s true that sometimes a good song is hard to find.
It was difficult to say at the end of the week whether I had come out of it all on top or not. I lost a corduroy-off, though was at least part of a historic fashion event in Aulay’s. The Unlikely Bawbags had their all-time worst performance in the Lorne quiz, but followed it up by beating around twenty other teams to win a charity quiz, albeit with some controversy attached. Even now I still don’t know who won the 2021 edition of Love Island, but I think I have learned that in future quizzes when we don’t know the answer to a question, such as who provided the voice of Bugs Bunny, it is best to leave it blank.