These are tough times. Paying for NAMA will force us to live on sugar sandwiches for generations; the upcoming budget is rumoured to be introducing a taxes on exasperation, muttering and raised eyebrows; our money is gone and the prevailing view is that the boom years may as well never have happened. I disagree. The good times have left one lasting legacy. As a nation we seem to have no fear whatsoever of making tools of ourselves in front of others.
I was in the Clarion Hotel in Cork last weekend. Coincidentally the All Ireland Talent Show auditions were being held there at the same time. Hundreds of young hopefuls there queueing for hours to show off their talents to whatever usual-suspect C-list celebrities were masquerading as talent scouts.
As a country we did not always have this in-built conviction of our talents. Now, because of the success of reality TV shows, celebrity simply for its own sake is a valuable commodity and people aspire to it without shame. Ten years ago if you burned with ambition to be famous you would be accused of being ‘septic’. It does say a lot about the Cork psyche that we would equate high self-esteem with a form of blood poisoning.
Out in Dripsey and we had a more gentle term for someone who displayed a predilection for the arts. They would be referred to as one of ‘the show people’. The classification known as ‘show people’ was broad, ranging from Andy Warhol to anyone who ate brown sliced pan.
There has always been, however, an outlet for anyone who wanted to shine but didn’t want to be septic or a show person – the table quiz. Table quizzes – particularly when the prize is cold hard cash and there is none of this charity nonsense – are serious business. You may be privileged enough to be at a quiz where Table Quiz Pros are at work. They are easy to spot. The typical Pro is a middle-aged man with a beard, a navy jumper or a Cork 800 polo shirt, navy slacks and Ecco shoes. The Pro knows everything and even if he doesn’t know everything, he knows exactly which of his three bearded friends knows the other bits. This Wikipedic knowledge leads to conversations between people who look like your Dad, that verge on the surreal.
– “What was question seven again Deccie?”
– “Seven was…. Ehm…What is Jamie Lynn Spears daughter’s name?”
– “I’m nearly positive ‘tis Apple.”
– “Ah no Mossie biy, stall the digger. Apple is Gynet Paltrow’s young ‘wan. Jamie-Lynn Spears you know, Nickelohdgeon”
– “Twouldn’t be Maddie Briann by any chance would it?”
– “That’s it right enough! Fair play to you Finbar. On the ball biy.”
Complete concentration is required to summon up all the useless facts in their heads, so you’ll never see the Pros indulge in that other classic table-quiz moment – shouting out an obviously wrong answer to a tricky question. They leave it to the morons and imbeciles to shout out “Bertie Aherne” or “Your mother knows all about it” as they quietly write down “Enoch Powell” or “Montevideo” and exchange glances that simply say We have it, lads.
In previous years, for people who wanted more a more public type of adulation, there were quizzes where the contestants had to answer the question on stage in front of an audience. In 1988 as a ten-year old who was desperate both for quizzes and attention, I decided to enter the now defunct Brain of Munster quiz, which was held annually at the now defunct Maid of the Isles festival in Skibbereen. I joined the other contestants on stage and milked the “Ah isn’t it he great for a little fella” comments for all they were worth. When the questions started, however, I was out of my depth. One of my competitors – a bearded man wearing a navy jumper – took pity on me and tried to prompt me the answers to my remaining questions. I struggled to hear what he was saying and repeated the misheard answers phonetically as I heard them. This prompting uncharitable giggles from the audience. They guffawed when I told the quiz master that the capital of Hungary was ‘Bootapiss’. But I had the last word. My final question was: What two cities did God destroy in the Bible?
“Sodom and Gomorrah” I answered, with a stern gaze that shook to the audience to their core – it was as if I had reminded them of what God does to sinful towns, especially during festivals.
Now that I remember this episode, an important question comes to mind. If we have a fair idea of what they were doing in Sodom, what exactly were they doing in Gomorrah? Were they eating toast in bed? Leaving tea bags in the sink? Or maybe they were just a bit septic.