8th May


We were round at Monica and Don’s. University Challenge was on. Gregory, their son, was right into it. It was the first time I’d met Gregory. ‘He’s a kind of genius,’ Kirsty had said. ‘He was a child prodigy and then he went away to Oxford and it all went wrong. I don’t know exactly what happened, but he ended up being sectioned. He’s been home ever since.’

‘When was that?’

‘Ten years ago. Basically he’s fine,’ she’d said. ‘He gets a bit overexcited, that’s all.’

This particular night he was on a roll from the outset. He got the first starter for ten, 1862, before Jeremy Paxman was halfway through the question, and he followed up with Bull Run, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, twenty-five points in the bag.

‘I want you on my team,’ Monica said.

‘I’m my own team, Mum,’ Gregory replied, without taking his eyes off the screen. ‘Litotes!’ he shouted.

He was right. He got hyperbole, paralipsis and oxymoron too. The kids from Magdalene College, Cambridge, and University College London were floundering.

But then came some maths and chemistry questions which none of us could answer. University College London could. Gregory looked angry.

‘We’re going to take a music round now,’ said Paxo. ‘You’re going to hear a piece of classical music. All you have to do is name the composer.’

Three notes in, Gregory was on his feet. ‘Mozart!’ he yelled. ‘No, I mean Haydn!’

It was Haydn. One of the Cambridge team buzzed a second before Gregory shouted, and got the ten points.

‘Shit, shit, shit!’ Gregory said, punching the cushion.

‘Okay, son, don’t worry about it,’ Don said.

‘Fucking bastard,’ Gregory said. ‘I fucking knew it was Haydn.’

‘It’s not the end of the world,’ Monica said. She mouthed something at Don, who got up and left the room.

‘It fucking is,’ Gregory said.

He got everything wrong after that. I knew some of the answers but I
didn’t call them out. When the programme finished Don took him off to bed. ‘Good night,’ we said, but he didn’t reply. He was a really skinny guy, but the sweat was pouring off him. The whole room smelled of sweat.

Reader: Tam Dean Burn
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Piano: Kit Downes
Subscribe here for more stories & music