Thursday, 22 January 2009

In the Sixty-Eight Percent

Tonight, Thursday night, is quiz night at the Irish pub around the corner. Along with Tuesday tango, Thursday quiz has become the only thing that gives me a sense of routine in my haphazard life. In London, wild horses couldn’t have dragged me to an organised activity in a chain pub. However, the combined pulling strength of a dozen frisky stallions pales in comparison with that of a hot waiter. Or, to be more precise, a dark Latin American with green eyes and perfectly sculptured upper body.

For obvious reasons, the Hot Waiter was the subject of my first extensive stalking campaign. Like any addict, I found that small fixes were enough at first. I’d doll myself up, casually stroll past and, on a good day, I would catch his eye, elicit a shy smile and maybe exchange a coquettish “bonjour”. In the heady early days these brief encounters were deliciously thrilling but, as time went on, I found myself wanting more. It was patently obvious that I needed to step the operation up a gear, so I started hanging out in the pub and befriending the staff on the pretext that I was researching my novel. And it was during one of these ‘stake outs’ that a group of local lads cajoled me into doing the quiz. As the resident writer propping up the bar, they assumed I’d be good at the literature questions. They discovered that they had made a grievous error when I declared confidently that Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for The Sea (and, apparently, ‘The Old Man and…’ was required if you wanted the point). I did, however, manage to make amends later by correctly naming Paris Hilton’s dog. When we emerged victorious by the slenderest of margins, my contribution proved to be significant.

The days when the Hot Waiter could make my heart flutter are, of course, long gone; my passion for the Thursday night quiz on the other hand has only grown stronger over time. Although the whole thing reeks of Brits abroad, I just can’t help myself; I have developed a thirst for victory not wholly dissimilar to a vampire’s thirst for blood. Besides, it’s not as if it is a strictly Anglophone affair; the weekly pub quiz is surprisingly popular with the French. They come to the pub armed with an admirable and rather charming enthusiasm, clearly under the impression that they are there to have fun. Can you imagine taking one of these Gallic teams into a British boozer on quiz night? It would be tantamount to leading lambs to slaughter (I can envisage a bloody massacre worthy of a Goya). I once tried to explain to a couple of locals that there are British people who revise all week just so they can get full marks on the news and currant affairs round. They laughed in my face, under the impression that I was making a joke. Obviously, they weren’t laughing so loudly when my team took that prize.

Over here I expect nothing less than a place in the top three and tonight was no exception. My team thus through to the three-way tiebreak, I somehow found myself shoved onto the stage as our representative. In general, I try to avoid positions that come with even the vaguest pretense of responsibility; on this occasion, however, I thought it might be a good opportunity to showcase my razor sharp intelligence to the mop-topped Irish barman I kissed on New Years Eve. I stood under the heat of the spot light and tried to concentrate, whilst at the same time flicking my hair back nonchalantly and fluttering my eyelashes. The compere read out the question: ‘In a survey compiled by an alcohol watchdog, what percentage of people said that they had given their number to a member of the opposite sex when they were drunk only to discover when sober that the person was ugly?’ I almost squealed aloud. In Mastermind this question would have popped up in my specialist subject round. I scribbled on my little scrap of paper and handed it back to the compere with a smug smile. ‘Pst what did you put?’ my American teammate hissed. ‘Ninety percent’, I replied with a sly wink. ‘Ninety percent?’ she spat back, incredulous. ‘Seriously? Like nine and zero?’ She and her friend looked as if they were about to fall off their high stools. I turned my back on them; they were born-again missionaries working in Africa, what did they know about drunken sexual encounters?

The compere reread the question before revealing the answer. Admittedly, I had overestimated things a mere smidge. Apparently, only sixty-eight percent of people have been stupid enough to give their phone number to an ugly person whilst intoxicated. ‘Liars!’ I blurted out. The New Zealander who was representing one of the rival teams nudged me in my ribs and whispered, ‘Tell me about it, I reckon it’s more like one hundred. Swear to God, people never tell the truth in these surveys.’ Realising that the final result was about to be announced, I held my breath and waited to hear the worst. ‘In third place, with an answer of twenty-six percent, we have…’ Twenty-six percent?! The New Zealander and I exchanged a conspiratorial smirk. Only a French guy could have made such a low estimate: a) he probably couldn’t imagine getting that drunk in the first place b) he probably couldn’t imagine an ugly person. ‘In second place, with ninety percent...’ Damn it, I stamped my foot. I could sense Team God was throwing me daggers. My team captain, who had used the tiebreaker as an opportunity to chain smoke outside and had only just reappeared, raised his eyebrows at me. ‘What?’ I held my hands up defensively, ‘I was basing it on personal experience.’ I realised that the mop-topped bar man and the Hot Waiter were both standing by the stage starring at me. The only thing I was showcasing now was my unrivalled skills as a drunken floozy. The New Zealander, it transpired, had opted for a moderate seventy percent - apparently his teammates had ordered him to play it safe. Sloping back to the bar, one of the missionaries put a comforting arm around me. ‘Tell me, have you let God into your life?’ Sixty-eight percent? I gulped my whisky ginger and scanned the room; I was suddenly feeling lucky.

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