I have a guilty secret.

It’s a kind of addiction.

I gave the game away in a recent post here, but I think I may have gotten away with it too,  if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids

Which kids?

Those on University Challenge.

I have been watching UC and attempting to compete with the contestants since its inception in 1962. Given I was seven at the time, you might have thought that this was a forlorn hope. I was however a precocious little person. Although I doubt my memories of each week being in with a shout at the gong which ends each episode in those early years, I had been attentive enough to my father’s readings to me of Norse and Greek mythology, Roman history and basic science, to get one or two answers each episode. The canon of academic knowledge seemed narrower then.

Which is why contemporary questioning has exposed some lacunae in my knowledge base, and led to this confession.

My interest in a TV programme which asked questions with definitive right or wrong answers based on a well bounded sphere of academic, cultural and political knowledge played right into the strengths of my ASD brain. Read these works, study these equations follow the news in reputable papers and all the knowledge worth knowing was available and could be remembered.

Not only that but I could test and compare myself with the contestants.

I answered the questions where I could, but early on I began a quite strange, now I look back on it with more insight than I then possessed, habit. I would count the answers I got correct, but they only counted if I said them out loud before anyone on the two competing teams or the host, Bamber Gascoigne initially, now Jeremy Paxman, announced them.

I considered for a while the idea of marking myself in terms of the show’s  marking schema; with ten points for a starter question and five for a follow up bonus, to see, presumably, if I alone could have defeated the accumulated brainpower of St.John’s College Oxford or Durham University or Manchester. I am still tempted, but I drew a line. Somewhere a warning note regarding the dangers of stepping over the line of casual enthusiasm into obsession, sounded. Some may say it sounded a little too late.

I was distraught when he show disappeared from ITV in the 80s. But it had sown the seeds of a slight quiz mania. I was already part of the Pub Quiz boom in that period and played for a team in a local league and joined peripatetic quizzers looking for fresh challenges and cash in the tough semi pro world of quizzes for cash. I’m joking of course, it wasn’t bare knuckle boxing, but sometimes the distinction blurred. There were bans on some itinerant teams who showed up to local pubs running cash prize quizzes and some people could and did get quite shirty about the presence of (mostly mythical) quiz hustlers in competitions.

When UCt returned in 1994 I was elated.

So why has the current iteration of UC brought me to this confession?

Well I still watch, and I still count my scores in terms of questions answered. Okay, so far so weird I know. The thing that has concerned me is that my number of questions answered correctly before the students can, or before Paxman can put them out of their misery should they not know the answer, is declining.

In the first round games I have been still okay. I scored 31 in one round this series and I was regularly in the high twenties and convinced the old brain was still ticking along. The subsequent rounds I believe get harder, at least they do for me, but this week I was reduced to 16. I’m not saying I’m grabbing the mess Webley yet, but I am wondering where we put it.

On a seriously anal note I had a deeper think about the reasons.

Obvious answer: they were asking questions I didn’t know the answer to. (I know where prepositions go, I’m embracing the vernacular) But why? The answers thing, not the vernacular.

In some cases even this is not true. I have noticed that although I know the answer, my recall is too slow to beat the 19 to 20 something brains. The number of times I have been tempted to ‘cheat’ and count the answer if I knew it but couldn’t spit it out fast enough is increasing dramatically. Thoughts of normal age related impairment reassure me a little, but don’t waft away the various dementia concerns that start to gather in the darker moments.

But a less threatening answer also raises its head. I just don’t keep up enough with the changes to the modern academic and cultural canon. An average awareness of Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner no longer suffices to cover questions on serious music, and don’t even start me on contemporary music – is it music? (Oh Guy! ‘Modern beat combos’ anyone?) Similarly Titian, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, van Gogh, don’t appear as much while Banksy, Emin and Hirst will only get you so far. As for the proliferation of subatomic particles in common circulation since 1962…

I realised many years ago that to attain the Renaissance ideal of knowing everything had become less likely to put it mildly, but I still tried. To what purpose I was never sure, save emulating my father who was my internet. But not only has the canon grown exponentially it appears the relevance of the earlier iterations has declined or in some cases disappeared altogether.

This isn’t always a bad thing. The removal of sub Galtonian justifications for crude eugenics is hard to shed a tear for. Likewise, for different reasons, some of the earlier explanations of life, the universe and everything that preceded scientific method. Although I note neo-Lamarkism is very popular among the epigenticist class.

So there it is.

I am an inveterate consumer of, and participant in quizzes (whether pub or TV). Preferably not involving too much ephemeral popular culture. But one who is slipping down the rankings as failing brainpower, interest in keeping up and an expanding world knowledge base conspire to reduce me to what must surely be single digit scores at the hands of Paxman et al.

Barbarism and dissolution await, I embrace them.

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