I was back in Thaxted yesterday, attending a quiz in aid of the tennis club. Local quizzes up there tend to happen in two different village halls, one of which is in Thaxted itself, but yesterday's was out towards Dunmow in a tiny little village, by the Rolls Royce showrooms, on the same stretch of road where, at night time, strange optical illusions, triggered by car headlights, give the impression of ghostly white rabbits dancing in the middle of the road.
Sally and Stuart who are usually key members of our "Epicureans" team were ill, so there were only five of us: my parents, Helen, Michael and me.
It was Michael's first trip to Thaxted, so, whilst we waited for Helen to arrive from Cambridge, I took him on the grand tour, which basically involves the church, the windmill and a little jaunt down to the magic place. The village, which was bathed in glorious yellow sunlight, was putting on a very fine show. The bird song was particularly impressive. Michael brought my attention to the highly decorative nature of what we were hearing. He has a theory that London birds, particularly those away from the large parks who share their lives with humans, have incredibly limited singing ranges which, in his words, "often sound like lorries reversing." A fair amount of research has been done into the concept of bird dialects, which vary in different locations, but I'm convinced that birds also mimic what's around them. When you stay in one of the halls at Sevenoaks School for example, at about 7am, all the birds start to sound like alarm clocks going off - a sound which they must hear emerging from scores of windows and simply want to copy.
The quiz was a good one. It had a St George's Day theme. I was somewhat surprised to learn that it's actually St George's Day today. It makes me a little sad to think that the English don't tend to celebrate their patron saint's day, despite St Andrew's, St Patrick's and St David's Days being such a massive deal in our neighbouring lands. It's all part of the lack of identity thing and the fact that flying the English flag, or even the Union Jack, is considered a deeply right wing act which somehow signifies to the world that we still believe in the oppression of colonialism. Blah blah blah. It's hideously messed up. I genuinely feel that a lot of the problems that this country is presently facing stem from an ever-growing sense of needing to atone for the perceived collective sins of our forefathers.
It was a good quiz, however. We scored well on all but the history round, which ought to have been our forte. My Dad is an historian, I love history, and Helen is the daughter of a history don! But none of us knew the year that Thatcher ceased being this country's dictator, or where Marks And Spencer's came from. We weren't really dealing with what I would usually describe as history!
Because there were only five of us on our team, the quiz organisers asked if we could take an extra four people, which technically created an illegally-large team, but it was a family unit, with two somewhat droopy-looking teenagers, so I don't think anyone felt that they would be a significant or unfair addition to our team. Actually, it turned out that their knowledge base was thin, but highly effective when it came to popular knowledge. If you're only going to answer three questions, make sure they're the three questions which nobody else knows the answers to!
A very brave final "wipe out" round (where you lose all your points for the round if you get a question wrong, but you can opt not to answer a question) coupled with playing our joker and getting full marks on the musical theatre round, meant that we won, and won convincingly, but because the musical theatre round was really late in the quiz, we'd always appeared to be languishing in about fourth place, so our victory felt rather like we'd added a rocket to the back of our car and undertaken the traffic jam on the hard shoulder. As a result, our winning certificate had been filled in with name of the team who had been winning throughout, with their name scrubbed out and ours written in! It pays never to be too hasty as a quiz master!
We went home to the parents' for cups of tea and a post-quiz giggles and then drove back to London, highly disappointed that there was no ghostly smoke hovering above the road where the gibbet used to be on the outside of the town.