Polly and I cleverly chose to live in London which, having the highest cost of living in the country, has always provided a pressing need for cash. Like many creative types before the lockdown I made money and paid the bills thanks to a variety of jobs. I invigilated exams both at a school and for a computer qualification moderator. A job so breathlessly sexy and interesting I’d better not elaborate, lest, dear reader, you become fidgety and sticky. I did make a little money acting and doing stand up and so on but those meagre amounts rarely accounted to even a small chunk of my annual earnings. For a long time I did ‘promotion’ or ‘promo’ work but found it so soul destroying I put a stop to it about five years ago. As it happens my main source of income in recent years has come from hosting pub quizzes. I was (and hopefully still am) a Quiz Master.
The job title has never sat well with me. It somehow manages to sound grand and pathetic at the same time. I spend the early moments of a quiz urging people to call me Tom instead which is probably worse as it makes me sound like an obsequious ‘cool’ teacher. This is totally my problem, let’s be clear. The discomfort I feel is rooted in the inadequacies I have regarding my acting career. I once joked with a regular quiz punter that she was the physical embodiment of my failure as an artist. The gag bombed because the inherent tragic truth was just a bit too visible., I think. To be failing at a chosen career and referred to as the Master of another is truly dispiriting. Sadly, money and self-worth rarely go hand and hand in my experience.
I really must point out at this stage that being a Quiz Master has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the best non acting/writing/showing-off gig I’ve ever had. It’s an indoor thing, thank God, generally people are pleased I’m there and a ‘shift’ takes no more than three hours. Chatting to the teams is usually fun, I get to make a spectacle out of myself and I really like the ‘work environment’ because I really like pubs! I am quite lucky in that my quizzes are busy (therefore pay well) and the bar staff I work with treat me nicely. Some people have a quite different experience, I hear, which is a great shame.
Lockdown, naturally, has put a stop to my pub quizzes. You’ll notice the other jobs I lend my talents to are also all gatherings-based. All of my gainful employment has vanished and up until the government finally made their provisions for the self-employed it was a scary time indeed.
Quizzes themselves haven’t stopped, though. Oh no. People have casually dropped the ‘pub’ bit and carried on merrily. My boss has changed and innovated his normal quiz templates to suit the medium of video chat. He cleverly sells the materials on their own so families can play and host quiz nights themselves (I’ll put the link at the end of the blog). A video chat quiz seems to be the only event on my social calendar these days. ‘Bit of a busman’s holiday’ doesn’t cover the half of it. What’s been especially depressing, however, is how easily everyone has assumed the role of Quiz Master. I never deluded myself it was a position that required special training or something but watching all of my friends and family barking out questions like seasoned pro’s is demoralising at best.
I suppose the ‘live’ elements of a pub quiz are what I get paid for. I’m bitter that my quizzy income stream has dried up and a little nervous as to whether the demand for such a role will still exist once we get back to normal. So do me a favour folks; could all just try and have really underwhelming quizzes for the remainder of lockdown? I’d really appreciate it.
Here’s a link to my quiz companies materials : https://inquizition.com/shop/
Can you believe I didn’t make a quiz/jizz pun in this blog? Can you believe my incredible restraint?
The play is coming along nicely. I’m in touching distance of finishing the first of what I hope will be three acts. So far this blog is working. I’ve written more in the last three weeks than I have in the last three years. Long may it continue. Thanks for reading!
Thomas Willshire is a writer/actor/comedian who just about lives in London with his wife, Polly and dog, Fergal. He considers himself the fortunate product of a supportive and loving environment.
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