Christmas 1983, and the blue box with the yellow cursive print that says ‘Trivial Pursuit’ is the big family present of the year. Games would last for hours. If it got too late, the board and pieces were left in place with orders not to touch so it could be resumed the next day. My mum had the foresight to keep it all these years, tucked away on a shelf at the back of the wardrobe with a chess set and an old game of Connect Four. It hasn’t been taken down for years – decades even – so I don’t know what made me seek it out last night. I, a brother, and two nephews, (aged fourteen and fifteen) had been out on the bikes for ice-cream. They were energised and sugared-up when we got home, and one asked, ‘What are we going to do now?’ It was close to nine at night, our options were limited, and I brought the old, battered box downstairs. I more than half expected to lose them to their screens, that they would think I had brought out the equivalent of an old photo album of dead relatives (kids are never interested in that stuff), but they nodded and asked, ‘How do you play it?’ We had forgotten the rules (it had been twenty years) but a quick google reminded us. Roll the dice, move your piece along the spokes and around the wheel, answer trivia questions according to geography, entertainment, history, arts & literature, science & nature, sport & leisure, and try to collect every slice of pie as you get the answers right. Wasn’t life simple forty years ago.
The board had disintegrated at its joints and was now in four parts. We slotted them together. Only two playing pieces had survived the years, one brown and one orange, so we improvised and supplemented with a yellow bath duck and a blue Lego piece. Lots of pie slices were missing too. If you are of an age, you’ll remember that there are six colours, each pertaining to one of the categories of questions: blue, pink, yellow, brown, green, orange. There ought to have been six of each but as there were four of us playing, we didn’t need them all, and there were enough to made two complete sets. I reckoned we wouldn’t get far enough for the lack of pieces to be a problem. ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,’ I said. The light was dropping, the lamps were lit as we played. To begin with, it felt unfair that fifteen-year-olds should be bowled a load of ancient questions, particularly about entertainment from the early eighties and before. How were they to know: What actor did Mae West ask to “come up and see me sometime”? They had a secret weapon though, a grandmother who appeared on the fringes of the game to make tea. She overheard questions and fed them correct answers. Boy, was she good! ‘Cary Grant,’ fourteen-year-old said with confidence, as though familiar with the work of Cary. But they got plenty of others on their own. Who wrote Wind in The Willows? might have been beyond them (it was for me too) but G’s grandfather would have been proud when he correctly answered: What’s the term for opposition to an electrical current in a conductor?
In which room did W.C. Fields keep his library? was correctly answered by one of them, not so much because of a good education, but because of the basic toilet humour of little(ish) boys. I did not know who the Bard of Rydal Mount was (Wordsworth, dummy!) but I did know (somehow) the answer to: What sprinter’s middle name is Wipper? The 1980 Olympics did not take place today or yesterday, but Alan Wells was a big deal in our house back then. Around eleven o’clock there were breaks for obligatory bowls of cereal (teenage boys have hollow legs). My mum had gone to bed after whispering to one of them the name of he who had discovered the Zambezi River, but she had left her luck behind her as they powered on through, rattling us oldies with their poker faces as we tried out sample answers, searching to discern a flicker of acknowledgment in their eyes if we hit on the right one. ‘Are you locking that in?’ This is what the long-limbed boy would say to me as I tentatively tried out an answer. Big brother knew the location of the Amunsden Scott Station, but he was one ton out in answering: How many tons of gem diamonds are mined every year? It’s two, by the way, or at least in was in 1982.
The printed questions on the card were getting smaller, or it was too dark, or I was too tired, or it was all three combined. I could not go on. I went to bed without ever asking the question: What colour is yak’s milk? (Clue: the answer is one of the pie colours.)