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Coughs, Quiz Shows and Quiet Time

A Reflection on the Month just Gone and Surviving the Next!

These are strange times indeed!

Month one of lockdown is behind us.  But the world, far from being brave and new, has become strange and scary, under threat from a vicious and voracious virus, which has left us cowering in our homes. Scared to go out, many of us are faced with the problem of what to do with ourselves, trapped indoors as we are, all day every day. Well, what better distraction than our old friend, telly?

Hello Telly My Old Friend…

It was on such a quest that I stumbled upon ITV’s 3-part drama, ‘Quiz’ last month. This is the quite extraordinary tale of the birth of quiz show ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’, hosted by Chris Tarrant. While today the series may be relegated to reruns on distant Freeview channels, back in the noughties this show was THE programme to watch, not least of all because of its tantalising million-pound prize.

What’s on TV tonight?

But according to the ITV drama, there was a lot more going on behind the scenes than I ever realised. Take its avid fans, for one. It’s amazing to me that a game show, any game show, should attract the following of a group of dedicated quizzers, obsessed with beating the system to get onto the show in the first place, in this case with their fastest-finger-first machines. Then there were those with a more criminal intellect who would happily supply the right answers to the person sitting in the hotseat, in return for a cut of the prize money. Suddenly this prime-time quiz show for all the family, which just seemed like a bit of good old-fashioned entertainment– albeit dressed up in flashy clothes and with that heart-stopping music which got you perched on the edge of your sofa cushion– had overtones of organised crime in its wings. Who knew?

The Coughing Question

But, of course, the real focus of the ITV dramatization is the show’s most infamous contestant, Major Charles Ingram, who in September 2001 looked set to become only the third person in the show’s history to win the million-pound prize.  That was until a replay of the night’s tapes appeared to reveal a strange pattern of coughs to accompany the major’s increasingly odd behaviour and the erratic way in which he kept changing his answers. Could he have been getting hints from an audience member?

Stand back!

Not until today’s Covid-paranoid world would a cough ever again carry so much significance!

The Ingrams have always protested their innocence, it has to be said, despite being found guilty at trial, and the ITV show aims to get you questioning both sides of the evidence in an attempt to make up your own mind. 50-50: guilty or innocent? Don’t make me your phone-a-friend lifeline, I really don’t know!

To Quiz or Not to Quiz…

Apparently, more and more of us have been turning to online quizzes during lockdown as a way to pass the time and exercise the grey matter while we’re at it. Perhaps we are hankering for those good old pre-March 2020 days when such quizzes could be conducted around a sticky, too-small table loaded with slopped pints and soggy beer mats. Oh to be crowded round such a pub table now, elbow to elbow, whispering suggested answers at each other in our lager-laced cheese-and-onion breath. .

While it may be some time before you can experience again the same camaraderie of the pub-quiz, you don’t have to completely do without. There are plenty of quizzes to choose from online. For an interesting variety of slants on this old favourite, check out the following and give yourself a mental workout: https://www.standard.co.uk/go/london/bars/virtual-pub-quiz-coronavirus-lockdown-a4396276.html

One in Three Reading More During Lockdown

Maybe books are more your bag. According to a new survey of some 2,000 people by The Reading Agency, one in three of us is actually reading more since being forced to stay at home. Last month also saw World Book Night on the 23rd, though events this year naturally had to be virtual rather than having us all crammed into a hall or library listening to our favourite authors speak.

Finally time to make a start on your To Be Read pile!

Slumdog Millionaire

So, picking up our earlier theme of quizzes, my recommendation is that you read Vikas Swarup’s wonderful 2005 best-seller Slumdog Millionaire, or Q&A as it was originally known before Danny Boyle’s film. This is the story of 19-year-old Ram Mohammed Thomas, a Bombay orphan who at the start of the novel has just won the billion-rupee prize in a game show not unlike ‘Who Wants To Be a Millionaire’. And, not unlike the Charles Ingram fiasco, the producers are far from happy with Ram’s success. Convinced that Ram is a fraud and a cheat, they have had him thrown into jail.

To discover how this unlikely quiz-show winner has either cheated the system or could possibly know the answers to some very obscure questions, a lawyer is hired to interrogate the young man and so the story unfolds, one question at a time. Each question elicits a touching vignette of his life, detailing the weird and wonderful people he has encountered along the way, people who have inadvertently led him to being able to answer whatever the quiz question happened to be. You  are therefore presented with twelve separate– wonderful and colourful – short stories as this remarkable young boy looks back over his life. What a clever plot device (which translated means, I wish I had used it…). And let’s not forget that this is all the more remarkable because the book was Swarup’s debut novel (cue more gnashing of teeth from me…)!

And if you want more suggestions for a good book to curl up with on these lonely nights in, check out the BBC’s list of 2020’s best books at http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20200327-the-best-books-of-2020-so-far

Quiet Time

Another less beneficial effect of the Coronavirus lockdown is that our sleeping patterns have gone awry. This is hardly surprising when you consider the stress and uncertainty of recent times, as well as the fact that a lot of us are spending little time out of doors. Exposure to natural light along with regular mealtimes are two of the most powerful influences on our circadian rhythms (our natural internal clock that regulates, sleep, body temperature and hormones). Well, with trips to the fridge every half an hour to fill the void and our fear of the great world outside full of invisible enemies, it seems we’re screwed!

I’m murder to live with if I don’t get my 8 hours.

Or maybe not. For the last couple of years I have been a big fan of mindfulness and if ever there was a time for you to get with the programme, I reckon it’s now. In a nutshell, mindfulness connects you, your thoughts and feelings to the here and now. ‘But that’s the very thing I want to block out’, I hear you cry…yes, well actually I think you’ll find that the more you try to block something out, the more it pushes back into your life. Mindfulness allows you to accept the state of being, releasing you from worrying about the future or torturing yourself with the past. It’s actually very freeing.

At the beginning of last month, the Independent ran an article on the best Mindfulness apps and I would suggest you give it a look.

https://www.independent.co.uk/extras/indybest/gadgets-tech/phones-accessories/best-mindfulness-apps-a8217931.html

Most of them are free and it might just be the start of a beautiful new relationship between you and your mind!

So, one month down and who knows how many more to go. Let me know what you’re doing to get through this current situation. And in the spirit of VE day, which is just around the corner as I write this, I guess it’s true…we just have to KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON.

As John Lennon said, whatever gets you through the night….
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