Your starter for ten

Eric Monkman
Eric Monkman
Have your say

TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess

Paris! I yelled, punching the air as it became apparent that I’d got the first question right in this year’s University Challenge final.

It all went downhill after that educated guess, based purely on the word ‘bistro’ popping up in a convoluted question about Thomas Hardy and George Orwell.

I rallied a little with my correct answer of Australia being the country with the highest recorded species of reptiles and Dickens being the author who first used the word ‘flummox’. I was no match for my husband, ‘Aberdeen, Burgess’, whose general knowledge is in a different league to mine. He’s also much quicker at pressing our imaginary buzzer.

Neither of us could compete, however, with Eric Monkman, the affable, shouty Canadian from Wolfson College, Cambridge, who has endeared everyone with his eyebrows as well as his astonishing intelligence. As Monkmania rampaged on Twitter, brainbox Joey Goldman from Balliol College, Oxford, quietly continued the dark blue assault and his team won by 190 points to 140. Monkman fans were distraught.

It was one of the semi-finals, however, that provided my favourite episode of the series.

It saw the culmination of the unfolding bromance between Monkman and his Cambridge rival, the superbly named Bobby Seagull from Emmanuel College. As a former Emmanuel student, I must disclose my bias at this point. Seagull is the most encouraging, cheery captain I’ve seen for a long time on the programme and I so wanted to see him being lifted onto the shoulders of his team-mates and paraded around the BBC studios.

Emmanuel College has performed extremely well in recent years, winning in 2010 with the seriously smart Alexander Guttenplan shooting from the hip to destroy St John’s College, Oxford , in the final.

That’s not always been the case. In the 1980s I remember being in the college bar for the trials to determine who would be our contestants for the upcoming series. I declined to have a go, leaving it to fellow students who had imbibed more cheap beer. Our woeful performance in the televised show probably led to a more sophisticated method of selection in following years.

Dougie and I are ever-hopeful that we might be chosen as alumni to represent our universities in the Christmas specials, just in case they’re short on celebrities one year. We have worked out a plan which might help us score more points.

With music questions: don’t wait for the first note to begin, just buzz in for any German composer with Beethoven and any English composer with Benjamin Britten. Likewise, a Dutch painter is likely to be Rembrandt and a French one, Monet.

The answer to most complicated mathematical questions is 1, -1 or 0.

• You can read Trish’s blog at