Quiztions Questions Quastions

Coffee? Fine. Go nuts. 10 different varieties all lovingly prepared. Froth, flavours, syrups, shots, sprinkles, shot of whisky, dash of chocolate. Finished, ready to go.

RICHARD ASPLIN – LIVE Grey Horse 13.9.21

Well good morning. This is new!

Begone pub garden, cheerio pint of Amstel, piss of crisps.

You find me, dear Blog Absorber, up and about in what can only be described – with everything cosy and loathesome the phrase conjours up – in an “artisan” coffee shop on Ewell Road near my home.

I’ve trundled  past this place a few hundred times on my way to the bus stop. It’s newish. Certainly no more than 18 months old.

Lots of wood, lots of brass. A “community spirit” board for local people to advertise…things. Home made jams and nanny facilities I imagine. It’s hipster men with buggies and groups of middle aged types. Artisan crafted breads and such. If AIR were still a thing, they’d be playing Moon Safari over the speakers.

Tea is £2. A can of Coke is £1.50. A chirizo and olive toastie is £5.

Anyhoo it’s 8.36am on a Friday and I’m laptopping away at their “bar” by the window while a fancy latte with a feather design in the milk sits at my elbow.

Today is an odd one. My lovely Claire has the day off to work on her essay, and some kind of Psychosynthesis tutorial at 9.30am.

I am working from my friend Marie’s house today, which is something I do from time to time. A lot during lockdown, just to be out of the office. She has a little one bed conversion flat halfway between my house and the office.

But Marie is not home ‘til 9.30am this morning as she’s taken her scrappy little pug for a long walk around Hampton Court.

So I have left the house, but am stranded like Tom Hanks until 9.30. So I’m here.

I’ll have to clock into the office via my phone at 9am in case of emergencies, but aside from a couple of calls, my day is quite slow.

Plus being at Marie’s means we can head off promptly after work into the West End to see a new revival of David Mamet’s uber #metoo epic “Oleanna.”

I might talk about that another time.

But in the meanestwhile, let’s see where we are.

You left me last, tired and emotional, outside the Grey Horse on Tuesday eve waiting to start the pub quiz. Which ended up being a blast.

I’m enjoying being back quizzing as, to a greater or lesser extent, it’s a lot of “stand-up comedy stage time” with massively low expectations. If I;m confident and loud and funny, and there are genuine jokes, one-liners and heckle –put-downs, the audience are terribly impressed. They’ve only come out for a couple of hours fun quizzing so anything that makes that more of a “night out” is very welcome.

So it gives me much opportunity to try gags, manage crowds, get comfortable with the mic (only three thunderous BANGS on Tuesday when it fell out of the stand. It’s a crappy “slip in” mic holder, not a clip. Ideal for a droogs bit of the old in-and-out on stage, but poo when you need stability for 2.5hours + drinks.

Oooh, this latte is nice. The place is getting rammed. It clearly is the yummy-mummy spot in South Surbiton, North Tolworth to meet and chat and talk about how much your husband doesn’t earn.

Its all big sunglasses and active-wear. Sweaty Betty could open up a concession next to the sourdough counter and fuckin clean up.

I’ve been quizzing since 2015. Started out at a local dive on the corner of the street between work and the station. It was my go-to “drop in” pub of choice (and to a certain extent still sort of is) since I started working in Kingston in 2009. All the staff went there on a Friday night. ALL of them. It would be sharpened elbows and three deep and Jaegerbombs from 8pm every Friday. The legendary Lindy Layton (her of the vocals to Dub Be Good To Me by Beats International in 1990)  was resident Friday night DJ.

A sticky and dark and splashy sort of bar full of bare shoulders and Marlboro Lights and sweaty dancing. I probably spent the best part of 8 years and about £3million there while it was open.

Anyhoo, they wanted to try and bring in the week-day crowd and asked me (based on my loud voice and stupid face) if I would try running a pub quiz on a Wednesday night.

I of course knew NOTHING about these things. I have never had a regular quiz, have never been one of those “form a team and go every week” types. But had been to enough good ones and enough shit ones to have an idea of what made a fun night.

So within about 6 months, The Acorn Kingston (as it was then) became THE pub quiz in Kingston. Selling out most Wednesdays so we were turning people away  Every booth a table packed with youngsters (mostly staff from my office) screaming and yelling and cheering over answers to questions I’d culled from my head and online.

I say “my head” as for a long while I simply wrote questions based on what I know. Let’s face it, it meant that if you answered “Steven Speilberg, Woody Allen, Star Wars, Batman, Tarantino or Elvis” to every question, chances are you’d come at least third.

But you can’t do that every week so I began to dig into reference books and online quizzes to steal teasers and multiple choicers and true-or-falsers to keep the baying crowds happy.

I can’t remember why we stopped after 3 years.

Perhaps lack of interest. Perhaps the pub changed management. I don’t know.

But ether way I hung up my bow-tie and called it quiztzs. (Let spellcheck have fun with that one).

Anyhoo, 2 years or so, pre lockdown, I got chatting to Leigh, who runs The Grey Horse (a much more pleasant environment) up the road from The Acorn and he’d heard I knew how to handle a lightening buzzer round and he asked me to step in.

I of course already had 3 years worth of material (that’s about 150 questions for each category) saved on the old Lenovo, so I said yes.

Same kind of deal –  once a week, back room, mic stand and hand-outs, music-round on the iPod) and all was well.

Then lockdown happened and it all stopped.

Until a month ago when, as the world changed and turned, he got back in contact. So this is now my Tuesday night for the rest of my life.

So a word on pub quizzes:

This is many people’s “night out.” What they look forward to and get excited about and make plans around. To this extent, one has to realise you are competing against EVERYTHING ELSE they could be doing instead. And if your quiz isn’t as engaging, lively, funny, challenging or rewarding as an evening with Pizza and Netflix, people are going to drop out.

You never want the evening to drag, so it’s better to be zipping through and hurrying people back from the toilets, than taking endless fag breaks and saying “give it 10mins for people to come back from the garden…” while punters sit and hmmm and sigh. There will always be stragglers. Better they miss the first question and learn to be prompt.

Remove the 4th wall. We were talking about this earlier, when we were discussing stand-up. Same rules apply. You could get Alexa to read out questions. Or hand them all out on a sheet and ask them to just hand it in an hour later. For it to be engaging you have to come out of the format for chit-chat adlibs, comments, jokes and remarks. Talk to the room, talk to individuals, point out people, talk 1-2-1 with them. Identify “characters.” Encourage yelling, singing along and joining in.

It’s not stand-up though. So 90% focus must be on accurate and clear readings of questions, nice and loud. Recap on the question number. Recap on the last question before moving on…

“So that was question four about American Presidents. All set, question five…”

Make the rules clear: Is it 1 point per question? What if it’s “name three…” Is that 3 points? Are their half-marks? This is the bickering that can get out of control if it’s not made clear.

Start on time. End on time.

Dress smart and walk around the room. Pretend you’re Rocky Balboa greeting people at his restaurant. “How ya doin? Nice to see ya. Lookin good. Feeling lucky? Got a beer?” before it starts and between rounds.

Thank them for coming and encourage them to come back. Recognise the regulars.

Oops. Got carried away. It’s 9.15. Work calls. Gotta fly. Back soon.

Mmmm, that really was a nice coffee…

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