A Feather for the Hat

There’s only one thing worse than a bad loser and that’s a bad winner. Graciousness was not his strong suit and quiz nights brought out the worst in him.

He remembered the first quiz night he’d attended. The first question in the first round was, ‘What is the alternative title of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night?’ He knew it. He’d studied it at school, He’d even played the part of Sir Andrew Whatshisface. It was What You Will. When they finished the round and were marking the scores the quizmaster said it was As You Like It 

‘Bull-shit!’, he cried out, ‘As You Like It is a different play’, but the quizmaster wouldn’t hear of it. His wife told him to settle down. His team told him to settle down. He said, ‘There’s a principle involved’. The other tables told him to shut up. He stewed but he continued. He stewed as he continued. Round after round he stewed. His team lost by one point. He raised a final objection but was howled down. His wife said he was a disgrace. 

When he got home he went straight to his Collected Works of William Shakespeare and found the title page of Twelfth Night and there it was in black and white – What You Will. ‘You see’, he yelled triumphantly. ‘Whatever’, his wife said, she wasn’t interested and went to bed. ‘Don’t think you’re getting any tonight.’

The second quiz night he and his wife went to they again lost by one point. The last round was sport and the last question of the last round was, ‘What was the name of the 1981 Magarey Medallist?’, a cinch of a question. He had written the history of South Australian football, he had published magazines on the game, he had interviewed all the living Magarey Medallists in the twentieth century and some of the dead ones. He knew the list of winners off by heart, everyone at his table deferred to him, but on the night when it came to the crunch he said Tony McGuinness instead of Michael Aish. He was there at the official dinner, he’d jostled with other photographers at the end of the night for Aish’s photo as he did for McGuinness’s picture a year later. All this and he got it wrong. He felt a deep personal responsibility for the defeat and he couldn’t get it out of his mind. ‘And don’t think you’re getting any tonight’, his wife said and went to bed. 

He and his wife gave up quizzes for a while until there was one organised by the Conservation Foundation so it was for a good cause. All quiz nights are for good causes. The only trouble is that this was a terrible quiz. Ninety-nine per cent of the questions were botanical, all about stamens and buds and pistols and variegated leaf patterns and Latin names for loveliness. He didn’t know anything about plants and neither did anyone else much except for one very annoying woman on his team and one other bloke from somewhere else. 

He murmured to his wife, ‘My main satisfaction tonight will be if we lose by one, just to see that woman’s face!’ They did. He went home relatively happy. He put his pistol in the flower that night. 

The next quiz night he attended was with his wife and another younger couple. The young man was a sort of protégé and highly competitive like himself. It wasn’t much of a night as there were a whole lot of questions about acronyms and logos that were as boring as platypus shit. His team fell behind. With no chance of winning came a question in the last round, ‘What is the name of the third book of the Bible?’ He couldn’t restrain himself. ‘At last, A REAL QUIZ QUESTION!’ he bellowed. There was no extracurricular activity that night either. 

Then there was the quiz organised by the University History Club. He was on a good table and a special bonus was a young woman who knew all the actors in all the soaps and who was rooting who according to Woman’s Day or New Idea or Who Weekly even if those esteemed journals didn’t put things in quite those terms. 

The night was a runaway success with a personal highlight being a Who am I question. ‘I was born on 16 April 1889 four days before Adolf Hitler …’ He sensed where it was going, knew it would lead to The Great Dictator (the movie), was on his feet in a flash – ‘Charlie Chaplin’. There was a terrific round of applause and he milked it for more than it was worth. He won an encyclopaedia but when they got home there were no further rewards. His wife had a good book instead. 

A decade passed. There were stresses and strains. Finally there was a quiz night without a good cause. He went by himself. The publican probably reckoned selling a few parmies and a lot of grog was a good enough cause. He was in top form and it was obvious after a couple of rounds that there were only two teams with a chance. 

The barmaid had asked him to come up with a team name and he said, ‘Leviticus’. Although she’d been a good convent girl she was puzzled, ‘What’s Leviticus?’ ‘It’s the third book of the Bible’. ‘I didn’t take you for a Bible-basher’, someone else put in. ‘There’s a lot of sex in Leviticus’, he said. ‘A lot of begetting goes on.’ 

As the night progressed it became a two-horse race. ‘Chips Ahoy’ hit the front with two rounds to go but Leviticus fought back. An inspired answer in the final round came in response to the question, ‘What is the actress Goldie Hawn’s real name?’ Answer, ‘Goldie Hawn.’ 

The publican generously awarded prizes to all the teams from the seventh to the first. Our hero said, ‘Let’s give a big cheer to the silver medallists provided it’s not us’. When Chips Ahoy gained that honour the acclaim was loud and long. Too loud and too long. He was a bad winner. When the trophies were dispensed one of his team-mates thoughtfully presented him with a nice surprise, a cute little straw hat. 

He went home alone but he would find a feather for the hat.


Bernard Whimpress

© 2010

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