I love the Firemans Arms. The venerable institution that represents the best of British imported pub culture, which includes the Thursday night Quiz, has seen a visit from me and my friends at least once a year for the last 14 years - and back in the day, I was there most Thursdays.
The Quiz is well put together by my friend Quintin Smith. You have a New Yorker Pizza, guzzle a couple of pints of Castle, have some chips and we would often come close to winning - and occasionally also take the spoils. My friends had two distinct teams that I would join in 2007/2008 - the Cameltoe Incident and the Small Rescued Animals. Both teams would be high up there- but there was this other nerdy crowd called Cardiogram that walked off with the spoils more often than not (Half off your bill and/or Castle Lager paraphernalia).
Time passed. Everyone got married, moved to the burbs, and quiz became infrequent. I formed my own team - the Kurt Darren Memorial Orchestra, named after that reverse Rodriguez of Afrikaans music, whose talent and legacy will only be fully appreciated Van Gogh-style in years to come. And every year, round 6 September, we would regather the troops for a big hurrah. And we would win as often as not - but not get any prizes due to disqualification, because we would invariably be a table of between 10-20 people, way more than the allotted six.
I remember last year quite well. We sat in the outside area, and our numbers had dwindled to 9 - we won, of course, but the ladies in second place objected and once again we were disqualified. We were ok - in a field of 20+ teams, the glory was good enough, without the spoils.
Since then... well, the whole outside area burned down. Covid and 2020 happened. And now there's social distancing.
When I made the call to arms this year, a funny thing happened. Crucial holder of random info-bits Marc Malan showed up for the first time in years. The rest of the core team all made an appearance - and at least three people that were regulars did not, because they had all immigrated. The following are lessons that I took from this last night of glory (we won, of course).
1.THE PAST IS THE PAST - KEEP THE MEMORIES, BUT EMBRACE THE PRESENT
I really hate that they upgrade my favourite bars from years past. I no longer regularly swig back tequilas in these places, I prefer hanging out with my wife and babies and reading a good book. Still, when they turned the Slug n Lettuce Fulham Broadway into a sports bar, replaced Finlays in Stellenbosch with a nightclub and downright closed the Londoner in Kitzbuhel and McGradys in Lehigh - well, every single chapter closing hurt. I had the same sense walking into the new! improved! outside area of Firemans. Long old wooden benches replaced by decent looking tables with settings on them - it almost felt like a proper restaurant. I didn't like it. But luckily the inside still looks the same. Still, it will never quite be what it was... and thats ok. We all have to evolve, I suppose. Never again will we sit there as 20 people playing as a six man team singing loudly to the Killers "Human". C'est la vie. And that brings me to my next point:
2. IN THE LAND OF THE BLIND, ONE EYE IS KING
People are jumping ship from SA Inc in droves. Every other white dude that I know are going to London, New Zealand, Holland. The government can't be trusted, things are going from bad to worse, there is no future for my children here. Etc etc.
In relation to quiz, that means: There are enough smart minds left to still form a winning team. Its a smaller team than before - but that also means we get to keep the prize money. Also, the competition has been greatly reduced by Corona and immigration - so its just easier to win. So I ask myself - if I took my same team to London/Auckland/New York, and we hit the pub - we would probably have a lot harder time to win. Not only because we would take some time to get local context and momentum - but there would probably be a lot of other people as smart as us there.
3. PALE MALES ARE STILL OK
Globally, with everything that is going on, the pale male is getting a lot of stick. Whether its sexism, racism, classism - it does feel like there is always a push to redress. We are the last on the pecking order when it comes to employment desirability, in the EO there is a massive global push for diversity (ie everyone except the pale male) and everywhere I look it seems the conversation is: "We like you fine, but we need more of someone that doesn't look like you." I suppose thats ok - and the pale male needs to realise that society needs to do this, because the pale males still win mostly just by showing up. They have the knowledge, educational and social momentum to win more easily than any other group within the diversity spectrums, and the old boys club is alive and well. When it comes to a quiz mostly designed by other pale males from the same age group, doubly so. So I like to bitch about how I'm sick and tired of being asked to apologise for my gender and race and privilege... but ach, maybe its ok to occasionally just lean into it, and enjoy the 50% off my bar tab.