Someone once told me, quite genuinely, that I ask stupid questions.

Now, as a teacher, or ex teacher, there is no such thing as a stupid question. There are things you probably should know, but at least you are showing inquisitiveness about something, and if I can explain I will. If you still don’t understand, I will try a different approach.

So, one question I asked was “what would the world look like if no-one had invented glass?” Given that pretty much every building ever built, almost every vehicle, mobile phones… the list is pretty much endless, rely on glass for a variety of things, including for looking through, if it didn’t exist, how would we cope?

We rely on glass for drinking vessels, but we could easily find something else for that, but glass is such an important product for so many things. For example, how would aeroplane pilots cope without glass windows?

Now, you could say that we can always find an alternative, perspex or something.

A more deeply philosophical answer is that someone always would have discovered glass, or invented it. All life on all planets similar to ours would at some point have found something similar to glass. It’s fundamental, like the wheel and fire. Without it, civilisation cannot progress, or will progress slowly or differently.

Or maybe the answer is that we wouldn’t have, for example, planes if we did not have glass. Buildings would be different. Glass keeps heat in. We could live with holes in building walls, but not in cold climates.

I do wonder if there are things not discovered or invented that are so simple, or fundamental perhaps, that life on Earth might have been very different, hopefully better, with it than it is now.

Where in the world?

There are several YouTube videos, usually done by Americans (sorry, but that’s the truth) and usually with a title like “London place names everyone says wrong, even people who have lived in London for years”. Examples given include Holborn (Ho Born), Greenwich (Gren Itch) and Leicester Square (Less Ter Square).

So, let’s just discuss this for a second.

Just to point out, there are thousands upon thousands of place names that people don’t get wrong. I know sometimes people who do not speak English may have trouble with relatively simple things, like “Oxford”, but they get close enough to be understood.

It’s not true to say that no-one, even people who have lived here for years, gets them right. We are not stupid people. We learn.

It’s not a problem, not in London, England of the UK. And, of course, there are places in other countries, eg the USA, where the pronunciation is not obvious, so singling out London is unfair. La Jolla, Des Moines, Puyallup, Arkansas.

Also, we Londoners are reasonably helpful folk. Ask someone where a place is, and we will tell you if we can. Mispronounce a name and we won’t laugh at you, shame you or condemn you to hell. We may ask you to repeat it, simply because we are trying to understand exactly what you want. And we will correct you to be helpful.

I find videos like this to be unhelpful. They paint a picture of people that is unfair. We come over as stupid and intolerant, unhelpful and rude.

Quiz shows

I do watch quiz shows on tv sometimes. Not game shows, and definitely not all shows. University Challenge is a no-no, as is Mastermind. My only interest is to answer the questions posed, and the topics for those are specialised and, really, of no interest. Who on earth cares about the History of Dutch Cheese 1842 to 1988?

General knowledge quiz shows are better. You stand a chance. But there are some things that annoy me about them.

First of all, questions are not easy or hard. If you know the answer, it’s easy, otherwise it’s impossible. A Mathematical calculation may be hard, but not impossible given enough time or a piece of paper. Knowing who wrote the play King Charles III is not – you know or you don’t (Mike Bartlett). Maybe you can make a guess, or pick the mostly likely answer of three in multiple choice, but there’s no such thing in the universe as an ‘educated guess’. A guess is a guess because you don’t know something. Educated means you have knowledge ie you know. You may be able to look at three choices and reject one, but if you don’t know between the remainder, a guess is still a guess.

It’s always worth saying something rather than nothing. A ‘pass’ will never win, but there is a miniscule chance a random guess may be correct.

Quizzers know certain rules about guessing: oceans are often Pacific, simply because it is so huge and contains lots of stuff. Dairy products is probably cheese. ‘Bird’ or ‘fish’ is often a good answer for animals. British royalty is either Henry VIII, Victoria or Queen Elizabeth II. Prime Ministers from olden times can often be Churchill, from recent times Thatcher and modern times Blair. If for no other reason, because they were around for a long time. “What star” questions are usually The Sun.

It has always seemed to me that, faced with a question about something you’ve never heard of and three choices, one of which you’ve never heard of, then these would be the best guesses. If you had heard of one, you might be more likely to have heard of the other.

I record the programmes and cut out the waffle. I don’t want to know how old you are, what you did for a living, the names of your ten children, what you will do with the money etc… I don’t want you to sing, especially if you are a female Egghead. I don’t want the sponsors of the adverts. Mind, if I ever appeared on The Chase and Bradley Walsh asked me “if you was to win some money, what would you do with it?” then I have the perfect answer: “buy you a book about English grammar, Brad.”

The Chase can be good, but there are bits that are more than annoying. The player asking the others what choice they should make contributes nothing to anything, nor Walsh insulting the chasers. And when he says “you got one, but you’re a better player than that” is palpable nonsense. If you get one, that’s how good a player you are. If you answered ten correctly, then ditto. You are as good as you are, no better and no worse. To a large extent, there’s luck to the questions too.

The worst aspect of quizzes is this: “Which famous king had six wives?” The contestant answers, “ooh, that’s before my time”. Yes, most of the history of the universe is, but it doesn’t prevent you from knowing things! And comperes who make stupid comments, like Q: Who wrote To Kill A Mockingbird? A: Charles Dickens Compere: Close, you are on the right lines.

Tipping Point is the best for totally stupid people. A classic question was “What country do Scotsmen come from?”. The answer given was “Paris”.

Perhaps even worse is the presenter saying “Of course”. For example:

  • “Who wrote Forever and Sunsmell”
  • “Don’t know”
  • “John Cage, of course”