Last night saw a reunion of the RNA University Challenge Team for the 2005 PEN Media-Biz Quiz. The team (Catherine Jones, Anne Ashurst, Jenny Haddon and I) was joined by Judy Astley, Katie Fforde, Joanne Harris, Jill Mansell, Evelyn Ryle and Roger Sanderson to form a table of ten for an evening of dining, drinking and answering fiendish questions for a good cause.
I had a cunning plan for the evening. We would do spectacularly well in the early rounds, thus raising our profile and ensuring that the hordes of publishers and agents present would flock to see us. This plan worked brilliantly all through the pre-dinner drinks (it's nice when an event gets sponsored by Dom Perignon) and was still on track as we sat down to our appetising appetisers, and then, as the first set of questions ("The Sports Pages") were read out, I realised that it wasn't going to be quite that easy. We did OK - we knew that Claudio had suggested that Benedict's beard had been used to stuff tennis balls, and that Rabbit Angstrom had played a game of basketball at the beginning of Rabbit Run (I never made it past chapter one, but luckily that was where this event took place), and we knew that Alice played croquet with a flamingo. We were less good at knowing what greasy ball had flown past James Joyce's face in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and couldn't remember who had played against the Dingley Dellers in the criket match in The Pickwick Papers. OK was never going to be enough in such company.
We did even worse in the second round ("Courtroom Sketch") and by the end of Round 3 ("Talk of the Town") it looked as if we were in severe danger of coming bottom out of the 37 tables taking part. So much for stunning the assembled cream of the literary scene with our intellect. Luckily the rest of the dinner was served at this point so we could concentrate on other things.
The fourth round ("Juke Box Jury") had yet more fiendish questions and we were by now in about 34th place, three places and three points off the bottom. All was not lost, however. Before and during dinner we had been working on the Picture Round. With the title of "Soulmates" this was surely right up our street. We had two sheets, each showing 24 pictures of people. We simply had to pair everybody on one sheet with somebody on the other sheet. Some were easy - Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara went with Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas. Nigel Bruce as Watson clearly went with the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes. That drawing of an Egyptian queen must go with the classical bust of a young Roman. We thought that we had done quite well.
Then there was the Joker, which would double our score for the round in which we played it. We hadn't played ours yet, always hoping that the next round would prove easier than the one before. Now it was the last round, so we had to play it or waste it - not that we had a clue what "Critic's Choice" would entail. It turned out to be ten true/false questions. Had Matisse's Le Bateau hung upside down unnoticed for several weeks in a New York Gallery? Were Shakespeare, Mel Gibson, Oscar Wilde and one other who I have forgotten all the fathers of twins? Should Nottingham really be called Snottingham after its founder? We hummed, we ha-ed, we guessed. When the questionmaster, John Sergeant, read out the answers we had got nine right out of ten, and all but three of the Soulmates (well, who really can distinguish between the Wordsworths and the Brownings?)
When the final results were announced we had leapt up to about 12th place. The overall winners were Pan Macmillan, who squeezed out Orion in a tiebreak.
Not too bad for our first time at the event. We'll be back next year.