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Ostrich Eggheads

I went to a charity quiz last night. Which is a euphemism for drinking too much on an empty stomach. For charity, though. It was hosted by Barry Simmons of TV quiz show Eggheads, who happens to me my friend’s dad.

My team came second, which was pretty cool, although I can’t claim much of the responsibility for that. I did answer one or two things correctly though, including a question in the geography round, of which I was particularly proud, knowing, as I do, bugger all about geography. Except for one obscure fact that happened to come up. Which is that Halfiax, Nova Scotia shares its name with a town in Yorkshire. I’ve waited years for that knowledge to be useful, so it was a glorious moment.

We were a good team and I enjoyed it very much, but I noticed a curious phenomenon which I believe prevented us from taking the top spot. Quite often we would have the correct answer at first, and then choose something else. What held us back was simply lack of confidence.

A typical situation would go something like this. “What’s the largest cell in the animal kingdom?” And someone would say “Ostrich Egg.” We would then spend the next few minutes deliberating the relative merits of this answer, and invariably put down something else. The person who said it didn’t know why they had, and therefore didn’t feel justified in defending it.

The same thing happened with the dumbledore bee, the olympic rings, the number of London Underground lines, and so it went on. Someone would say “I have a feeling it’s this, but I don’t know why.” And then our collective intelligence would undermine the instinct that came before thought, and construct something cleverer, and wrong.

So it led me to thinking about this idea that we already have all the answers. People say that don’t they, when you have big decisions to make. It’s sort of simultaneously reassuring and infuriating.

All this time I spend dramatising and agitating myself over what I believe is a vital quandary, and deep down I already know what’s going on and what I have to do about it. The performance is a distraction because I don’t what to see what’s there and/or I have a feeling that some kind of effort is required. The intelligence that knows the answers is also very good at constructing elaborate ways to ignore them.

I am not going to end on a Doogie Howser moment though, because coming back to the quiz, I wanted to share my favourite question of the night which was: “Only two tube stations contain all five vowels; which are they?” They should put that on wall of the train for people to ponder over while they’re stuck in a tunnel.

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tony #

    What’s the answer? To the tube question that is. As to the other, I think people like their anxieties because they feel it fuels creativity when in the main it’s simply procrastination’s greatest & most artful disguise. In the end though, isn’t “lack of confidence” really just “fear of making a mistake”? But there again, to be wittily & humbly-bumbly wrong has more cultural currency than to be boringly & pragmatically right. So ho-hum.

    Trouble with the British mentality as it currently constitutes itself is that to simply even contemplate the idea that one might have all the answers a-priori is akin to arrogance & feels a little bit too American, so better to display faux humility & insecurity than allow one’s intuition ‘let you be be right’, lest the slings & arrows of being accused of smugness or superiority come shooting your way. I’ve thought about this a lot actually -I hope you can tell- & I think it’s something to do with post colonial decline & the culture’s uncertainty about whether to lament ‘former glories’, or to be desperately embarassed about it all. Seriously. I know it sounds faintly bonkers but I do think it’s had an impact on this polymorphously perserve thing called ‘the British’ & ‘Britishness’, wherever one might be in relation to it. After all, it’s only been a spit in the ocean of time since ‘Brittania Ruled The Waves’: it seems extraordinary how quickly the culture has retreated. I do think class anxieties play a part in it too though but hey, who knows? I like the timeline of Zhou Enlai, who when asked in the 1970’s what impact the French Revolution had had on western civilisation replied “it’s too early to tell.”

    I’ve probably said too much…again.

    October 8, 2011
  2. Interesting. I think about it a lot too actually. Especially this idea of embarrassment about Britishness. The only people who seem to take overt pride in being British are the BNP supporters, and we’re embarrassed of them. But I notice that other countries have retained a sense of traditional culture and national pride without necessarily trying to eject all foreigners. Or have they. Perhaps I am idealising. But say, for instance my Columbian or Brazilian friends that I’ve met over here. They all have a strong connection to what Brazilian or Columbian culture is without being worryingly patriotic or anti-British. I feel an intense sadness when I think of the wonderful contributions of British culture – the language, plays, poetry, music, not to mention the tradition of philanthropy, political reform, social integration, free speech – that I think constitutes Britishness, that I don’t see us standing up for ahead of this general embarrassment. It’s all the reasons why people do emigrate here, and yet perhaps because we’re born with it we don’t appreciate it. Partly, and I’m not so into blaming politicians for everything, but I think our leaders are a bit wishy-washy and have been for some time. I’m interested in your take on it all though, as a second generation immigrant. Speaking of which how’s that film idea coming along?

    Are you sure you want to know the answer to the tube question? Don’t you want to figure it out?

    October 9, 2011
  3. Tony #

    Yeah I was going to add that the malaise is more on what you could broadly categorise as the left/progressive side of the social equation but I felt I’d written enough. Maybe it’s a matter of education & information: so rather than celebrate Magna Carta (a bill for barons) or Cromwell celebrate The Putney Debates & The Levellers. Rather than William Willbeforce (a joke of a man) better Granville Sharp or the Chartists. For the 20th century better the Suffragettes or John Archer than old Winston. It takes work though as much has been obscured. In my gloomier days I think deliberately.

    As to the BNP I don’t think they take overt pride in being British at all: their view is very partial, specific, and mostly bullshit. Being white, on the other hand, they’re very partial to. It’s my understanding that their biggest lament is that Europeans slaughtered each other in two world wars, not necessarily pride that the British won those wars. For that you need to speak to the EDL.

    Speaking of literature where do you stand on Shakespeare & the Oxfordian theory? There’s a movie due soon (directed by Roland Emmerich, who admittedly is a bit of a hack, but still) that rakes over the coals again & suggests that Edward De Vere wrote the plays & ‘the man from Stratford’ was a merely a front.

    So far as being a 2nd generation immigrant is concerned I prefer to speak for myself & myself alone. Life’s much simpler that way. Are you asking about the Caribbean comedy or the encounter with the Lithuanian? Focusing on the former at the minute. 67 pages in. Hope to have the full monty by the end of the week.

    Go on, give us the answer to the pub quiz. Stop stalling.

    October 10, 2011
  4. I think that enough has been written about which brilliant dead man wrote the plays. The De Vere Society’s main argument seems to be the impossibility of a man who may not have received a formal classical education becoming a great writer. And the fact that he may never have gone to Italy. They also appear to be such thorough detectives that they can’t even spot a typo on their own website.

    Oh go on then. Mansion House and South Ealing. Cool, eh?

    October 10, 2011
  5. Tony #

    Hhmm. It does have the whiff of a ‘Revenge of the Snobs’ about it, doesn’t it? The idea that a man of ‘low breeding’ might have an imagination sufficient to write such works does seem to stick in their throats. Not saying they aren’t right about DeVere (I’m agnostic on the matter) but the debate definetely has that tone.

    Very good, the tube test. I’d never have got it. I haven’t used the underground for 3 years & prior to that only sparingly. Much preferred to get on a bus.

    October 10, 2011

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