Don’t look at me. I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t know anything about football. I couldn’t tell you who won it this year, if indeed the competition has yet been held this year.
Question two. What was the name of Hitler’s dog? Pardon? Excuse me?!
Then a terrible insight comes to me like dawn breaking over a cement factory: I can’t think of a single fact. I actually don’t know anything about anything. Who starred in From Here To Eternity? I probably used to know that, but I’ve forgotten. What’s the capital of Tunisia? I’m not sure if I ever knew that. What’s Lady Gaga’s real name? You mean she’s not called Lady Gaga? I feel cheated. I have no idea.
Last week, I did manage to write down a few answers, a number of which proved to be correct. But that’s beginning to look like a fluke. Now, my terrible fear is that last week they just happened to ask me everything I know. I don’t know any more. It’s all gone. My fact cupboard has been all cleaned out. The shelves are bare. This week, I couldn’t answer a question even if I had written the question myself. Not only do I know nothing, I don’t even know what I don’t know.
The venue for this depressing scene of failing confidence and the realisation of intellectual inadequacy is perhaps unlikely. It is Shenanigan’s Irish pub in Jomtien. The bar is reasonably full tonight and a hubbub of expectation throbs in the air. It’s a Tuesday, and that means it’s quiz night. I’ve come along to quiz night at Shenanigan’s with a bunch of friends to drink a few beers and have some fun pitching our wits against a number of other quizzical teams.
But, as I look around our table and then glance across at the other players, I am filled with a sense of impending doom. We just don’t look as if we know anything tonight. Dave wasn’t even born in 1957 and I can hardly imagine that he has bothered to spend any of his precious years on earth memorising the results of football matches from before his birth. Joan is a Kiwi. Do they even have Lady Gaga in New Zealand? Don’t they spend all their time playing rugby and eating sheep?
In contrast, our opponents seem positively to brim with knowledge. Facts bulge from their brains like over-stuffed cushions. Answers flow from their pens like babbling brooks. You remember that brainy kid at school, the one who always got 89% in physics exams? Well, the look on our opponents’ faces is exactly the same as that brainy kid when he turned over his physics exam paper and saw that the first question was about his favourite topic: something like induced current in a coil turning in a magnetic field. At the same time, you realise you didn’t revise that bit because you didn’t think it would come up.
The guys at the next table know who won the FA cup in every year since 1871. They happened to watch From Here To Eternity on DVD last night, they have copies of Lady Gaga’s birth certificate framed on their wall and they were in Tunis only last year as part of a cruise of the world’s capital cities.
Tunis. Of course! I could have guessed that if I hadn’t got Tunisia mixed up with Morocco. Or was it Algeria?
The chap who runs the quiz is very sympathetic. Every couple of rounds he circulates among the competing teams, reserving most of his comforting encouragement for our sorry little group. He tells us we’re doing jolly well, but we know we’re in the remedial corner. We’re the kid who doesn’t even know what a coil is, let alone understand the induction of an electric current in it. How could that even happen?
In desperation, we try the old superiority defence: ‘How are we supposed to know who played drums for Procul Harum? I’ve never even wanted to go to Tunisia. An old fossil like me is hardly going to be in Lady Gaga’s target demographic.’ We try to look as if we’d had better things to do all our lives than fill our brains with useless bits of knowledge. But it doesn’t work. The very fact that we’re here today trying to compete in a quiz shows that knowledge isn’t useless. On the contrary, it would be eminently useful right now for us to be able to name the bones of the middle ear. It would save our embarrassment and stop us coming last again, as we did last week.
And besides, it’s difficult to argue that nobody in their right mind would bother to remember what Hitler’s dog was called when the team opposite, who appear to be reasonably sane, are looking so supremely smug that they could probably name Goering’s budgie and, for a bonus, Himmler’s favourite Smartie colour.
It’s a depressing thought that I have managed to go through such a large chunk of my allotted span without accumulating more knowledge than I have. I’ve been educated; I’ve read books; I’ve watched David Attenborough, but so little of it seems to have sunk in. Nature documentaries may make you an instant expert on the egg-laying strategies of parasitic wasps, but this is knowledge that doesn’t last. The next day you tell someone at work about it, but a week later it’s gone, pushed to the back of the memory cupboard behind the French irregular verbs, the periodic table and the formation of the ox-bow lake. You’ll never dig it out from there. To all intents and purposes you might as well never have known it.
At the end of the evening the papers are collected and the results are announced. We haven’t come last. We’re not the dunces. Extraordinary though it seems, there are people out there, in this very bar, who know less than we do. I feel like demanding a recount.