Friday, 22 January 2010

An African Pub Quiz Holidays

Pub quizzes... oh, how I love them. An event that incorporates a keen testing of one's knowledge of the greater world in friendly competition with a diverse range of characters, all the while enjoying a continued healthy hydration with a selection of splendid ale concoctions. Indeed, perhaps the only thing better than participating in a pub quiz, is the joyous celebration of winning one - and winning one well. Which is what myself and my worryingly pseudonymed colleague "Bigboy" did last night, in Ghana.

We'll venture onto that delightful tale in a moment, but first I'd like to dwell a little on the nature of pub quizzes. Pub quizzes, for those who know me well or who have studied the pages of my blog (two Michigan students are currently involved in a critical analysis for their PhDs, they've found all kinds of underlying meanings), will know that I am rather partial to dipping my dirty toe into the murky underworld of pub quizzes. For years, so I enjoy regaling, I regularly took part in the pub quiz in Aberdeen's student union and racked up a whole catalogue of victories - which included prizes of expense-paid holidays to New York and return flights to Cairo. These glory days may never quite be repeated, but unlike the insatiable cravings of those who have tasted fame, I am content to revel in the echoes of past glories and the twinkling sunset of distant days triumphant.

Thus while the epic, twisting, derring-do sagas of these early Aberdeen quizzes cannot and should not be copied, it gives me great and continued pleasure to savour a little quiz now and again. The old team may have dispersed (and even got married to a real girl in one shocking case) and the old student union pub no longer extant, but the inexorable march of pub quizzes go on. Thus over the years I've made sporadic appearances at a few, most notably at Dingwall's Mallard Bar, a quizzing haunt of many controversies that I'll spare my dear reader the tales of, for fear of derailing my chugging train of thought from my planned destination.

Most recently then, it has been Edinburgh that has hosted a return to pub quiz days. My sister, a keen if as-yet unaccomplished participant, agreed that it would be pleasant to enjoy a regular Monday evening quiz in our new adopted city. Edinburgh, with its 5000 year history, has a depth and quality of pub that holds great potential for a sublime quiz. And so, with her vast amount of free time as she dwells in everlasting unemployment, she did some research and drew up a shortlist of Monday pubs hosting quizzes. And so the review process could begin.

The first pub was called Shakespeare's, an overly well-lit bar, with a very unusual quiz set-up, which barely went for the standard question-answer format and instead had various music rounds, picture rounds, and other quirks. As only myself and my sister were able to attend, it was a very time-intensive quiz, barely leaving us time to buys drinks or visit the toilet, but it was a very friendly quiz with a nice range of clientele. There were many merits to the unusual format, but ultimately I'm a pub quiz traditionalist, and enjoy a pause for breath between rounds.

The next was a bar called Cumberlands, and had a greater attendance with my cousin Malcolm, his lady Karen, and my sister's flatmate Sarah bolstering the numbers. It held to the traditional question-answer format, and with the added plus of the quizmaster himself marking the papers (instead of opposing teams, a system I'm not fond of). The quizmaster was the main attraction of the quiz, presenting it very informally as if he was rambling an oft-told story, and simply stood up in the entrance of the particular room in the pub and spoke, without microphone. This made for a cosy, homely feel to the quiz, which had well-judged questions mostly, and featured lots of geography (which I like). Every quiz, one of the answers is "Belgium": this kind of idiosyncracy is what makes a pub quiz stand out. The pub too was good, and our team were leading till the very last round, where a stumble saw us fall to about 3rd place. This is a quiz I can see ourselves revisiting.

Alas, the most recent Monday quiz I had to miss, because I was landing in Accra at about the time it began; but my sister and the other associated companions attended another one, at a pub called the Canon Gait, but gave it a fairly low score, based on being generic, an over-polished look to the bar, and lots of annoying students.

Yes, I have found myself in Ghana, not unexpectedly, but sooner than expected. For work, I should note, not for pub quizzes. I was supposed to come down here for a rather large job involving lots of bits of metal and tons of sweating, but it was cancelled, so I'm instead here to appear thoughtful and sip beers each evening. As twists of fate would have it, another job in Ghana has sprung up while myself and the aforementioned Bigboy are here, the timing of which means it might be worth our time to stay here until it kicks off. As the job may still be two weeks away, and as our hotel has a lovely pool and my room has a lovely balcony, fates have been worse. Ghana too is lovely: poor and stinky, but relaxed and friendly. Nobody yet has taken a machete to me.

And by happy chance, the bar right next door to our hotel happened to have a quiz on last night. Bigboy also considering himself an aficionado of such events, we thought it only correct to go along. If only to raise the profile of our small company in the eyes of the oil bigwigs.

We absolutely trounced the opposition. Scoring 42.5/60, we were a clear ten points ahead of second place, and our team of two was considerably smaller than some of the conglomerates clustered. From the very off, it was clear we would coast to victory, as questions seemed to fall into our laps, and even our wild guesses seemed to work out. Plus, during the mutual appraisal of our intelligence, Bigboy and I reflected that our careers and interests have only recently included the rape of Mother Earth for oil but prior to this was more diverse than that niche field, whereas much of the oil crowd there might be able to identify a big bit of pipe by mere scent but haven't stepped in different walks of life and don't know that the biggest four-letter nation in the world is Iran or that the US state featured in the Robert Redford film "The Horse Whisperer" was Montana. Or possibly they were just all stupid.

It was a fun and well-judged quiz, with a couple of bonus rounds, one of which we won to get a couple of tequila shots. Our overall prize was a drink voucher to the tune of about £20, which goes quite far here, but we made sure we went further, and enjoyed a highly discounted evening of the local Star beer.

The next quiz is next Thursday, which if we are still floating around here we will certainly attend. Though there's certainly work to be done here, it's panning out to be well spaced out, and affords just enough time to enjoy a cheerful sunny lifestyle. Our pub quiz team name may in fact reveal our true motives for this Ghanaian work visit: "Nev" and "Bigboy's" African Holiday. I'll leave you with a multiple choice question:

Q. What is the correct drink to enjoy by the poolside?
1. Star beer
2. Gin-and-tonic
3. A refreshing orange juice (before 11am)
4. All of the above, often

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Welcome To ZOLO

Well, Happy New Year folks, and welcome to ZOLO.

And with the introduction of the mighty fandragon of ZOLO, we have to wave goodbye to the hefty ZOOG, all 365 parts, but as we wave, perhaps we can discreetly wipe a tear from our eyes. Goodbye ZOOG, though in truth it was one of the lesser fandragons to have bellowed its fire. Nonetheless, it had its moments; I visited all kinds of mysterious nations (albeit to different degrees): Ivory Coast, Ghana, Mozambique, Azerbaijan, Angola, South Korea, Australia, South Africa, Germany and, of course, the United Kingdom; I purchased laser eyes; I smeared myself in a large amount of vegetable curry while sleeping; I successfully cooked edible meals on two occasions for my drunken cousins and we all sampled my many housecoats; I tied myself to several large owls and they flew me across the English Channel; and of course just at the very end, I moved to Scotland’s historical capital city, The Edinburgh.

It is this last development that has, for obvious reasons, preoccupied much of my last month, and which I will briefly detail now, as most of my other tales were covered earlier in the year (though I’m not sure if I mentioned the owl story). In truth, it’s been a sordid tale, heavily tied to the malign influence of my illegal lodger, Mike. Mike, a documentary filmmaker propelled by the vast power of his ego, has been in entertaining form, and in a quite relentless party mood, and seems to exist only between the hours of 6pm and 6am. In just a couple of weeks, I have an absolute wealth of incriminating information about him that should make me a lot of money should he ever take political office.

Thus I must gloss over much of the last week or two, although Cyronic Shock evening is worth a quick gust. Mike has discovered that his iPhone – which, like other iPhone owners, controls him and dominates most of his conscious thoughts – has an application that can choose a cocktail based upon a selection of inputted ingredients. We have, I am proud to say, a very large selection of many interesting alcohols in the flat, thus our scope for cocktails is great. And so upon randomising, we came up with something called The Cyronic Shock.

Cyronic Shock, for those curious, goes something like this (or, at least, our remixed version did): 4 shots of rum, 2 shots of whisky, 2 shots of cognac, 2 shots of Curacao, and an entire lemon.

It may not surprise you that it was unutterably revolting. Deeply, unswervingly acidic, we diluted it with some lemonade with only the unfortunate result that we had a greater quantity to drink. But drink it we did, as our cocktail rules demand, and quite drunk we thus got. We went into, we realised, a deep Cyronic Shock. Our faces went numb and our minds began spiralling out of control, and soon we were in a jazz bar, feeling both hyperactive and ill, which wasn’t helped by Mike’s insistence of drinking Sambucas with three coffee beans inside. I think that sent me over the edge, as suddenly I was waking up in my own home, and Mike... well, God knows. I think he got back at something like 6am, made another cocktail for himself and covered the entire kitchen in it in the process (the blender has no lid).

So Mike has been setting a ferocious pace, one that in my advanced years I can’t keep up, so I was very glad for some days back in Dingwall over Christmas, where I was able to drink wine and whisky at a leisurely rate, except at my uncle’s as I believe my uncle was somewhat like Mike during his own younger years.

And I was saved from Mike over his New Year mania by my sister. I had no real plans for Hogmanay, except to hang about in Edinburgh and see what happened, but my sister was going to a ceilidh in Glasgow... except at the last minute, for whatever reason, she didn’t. And so she generously gave the ticket to me (well, in exchange for £35). And so I ended up in Glasgow, with my cousins and their respective romantic associates, and other associated characters vaguely known to myself.

I love ceilidhs, let that not be understated, and this ceilidh certainly did not disappoint. Years of dancing practice at school, being forced as an awkward greasy youth to pick a deeply reluctant girl to dance in a bright gymnasium, paid off in the end as my brain kicks into gear the moment the music and dances begin, and my subconscious leads me into an approximation of the correct steps. And better still, as the years have matured and progressed these awkward youths into strutting young peacocks and peahens, the reluctance has been replaced with an enthusiasm. Ladies are so keen to dance that they dance with each other if no man is available, and ladies at this event were in surplus: terrific. Thus I was allowed to whirl and twirl and rotate vigorously a selection of delectable flowers in embraces that would usually lead to slaps/drinks thrown/arrest, but in this case met with melting smiles. Oh ceilidh dancing, how I love you; oh whisky, how I love you too.

So the ceilidh finished and after some shenanigans we ended up at some nearby house party, where I subjected some poor girls to some dire chat, but as I was wearing the full kilt regalia I got away with it. Without Mike to corrupt my pace, I managed to not completely lose my sanity, and even woke the next morning/afternoon with a feeling of reasonable health.

And there are, a delightful introduction to ZOLO. May it roar and belch a year of flame, and ignite the passions of life in us all.