The Real McCoy

The Real McCoy

The Professor trains a dunce for Celebrity Mastermind...


Flash fiction


Marco Ocram (United Kingdom)

The blood-pressure was up last night, and no surprises there. Keep it to yourself but a while ago I bet Melvyn Bragg and Joan Bakewell that I could take any dunce they cared to mention and cram him to win Celebrity Mastermind. Now I know what you are saying, and I agree, I agree: betting those two old chisellers is hardly a fitting tribute to my position as the world's foremost didactician. But let’s just say that there were some old scores to settle, and leave it at that. So hands were spat on and shook, the bet was made, and I challenged them to name their dunce. Well they took their pints to a corner of the pub to scheme and confer, returning with crafty looks and self-satisfied smirks of anticipated victory. I sat stiffly erect, awaiting their worst with granite dignity and forbearance, but I confess that an involuntary wince escaped my lips when they announced the name: JP McCoy.
I’d known JP since he was a lad mucking out the thoroughbreds at my stud in County Meath, and even then, when his toughest mental challenge was to move horse poo from point a to point b you could virtually hear his cogs grinding. How he became the greatest jockey of his generation was a triumph of my training over his rudimentary capabilities. Never give up- no case is completely hopeless, I had said to steel myself on the gallops as JP jumped the rails instead of the fences, and I thought the same when Bragg and Bakewell sprang his name upon me. After all, I had overcome bigger challenges- look what I managed with Hawking.
All the same it was fierce work. I had JP flown to my apartment in Dubai, hoping the harsh prohibition of alcohol might constrain his tendency for rambles down Toping Street. I shall never forget the first night in which we thrashed out a list of the specialist subjects which JP would have to master if he were to win the coveted Celebrity Mastermind Bowl, and I my bet. The first to be tackled was 'The techniques and equipment of fly-fishing'.

I have neither the space nor the inclination to describe here how JP and I spent week after agonising week building his knowledge of his specialist subjects through minute incremental steps. Never had the principles of didactic gradualism a sterner test or a clearer vindication, for JP emerged blinking into the harsh Dubai sunlight on the eighth week almost as knowledgeable as I of our specialist fields of study.

And so to last night…

It was the first round of Celebrity Mastermind 2016. JP McCoy against the actor, author and presenter Steven Fry, 'style guru’ Gok Wan, and weather girl Carol from the BBC. Carol had made a hot start with her specialist subject ‘symbols used in meteorology’, clocking an impressive 10 points. Smarmy Fry fared less well on ‘Chapters 3, 6, and 11 of Right-ho Jeeves’, gaining only 9 points after forgetting that newts were of the family Salamandridae. But it was Wan who set the bar with a fearsome 13 points, snapping out name after name of ‘Models who appeared on the catwalk at the last show of Parish Fashion week 2014’.

I clutched the arms of my chair as John Humphries invited JP McCoy to take the hot-seat, peering at my television to see whether JP's walk across the studio floor betrayed any signs of ‘Green Room’ indulgences. Nor did my grip loosen by the smallest fraction as the questioning began:

Humphries: What is the common name of the technique by which the leader is attached to the line through an inverted hitch?
JP: The Itchen back-flip.
Humphries: Correct. Which type of caddis fly larva is mimicked by the lure known as a ghiillie’s eyebrow?
JP: Saluris Madriedae.
Humphries: Correct. In the 18th century what was the weight of heaviest recorded salmon to have been caught with a line on the River Tay between Golmoray and the ‘Stirling Bends’?
JP: Sixty four pounds, seven ounces and four drachms.
Myself, leaning forward in chair: Attaboy JP!
Humphries: Correct. What is meant by ‘under champing’?
JP: A largely obsolete practice of casting with a horizontal ruffle that was once popular with the ‘underhand butts’ school.
Humphries, smiling: Correct.
Myself, half standing: Yes!
Humphries: For what purpose might a ‘poplin Mary’ be employed?
JP: To re-inforce a weakened top-knuckle that had caught on an overhanging tree, submerged supermarket trolley, or countless other forms of obstruction that plague the life of the angler.
Myself, punching air with fist: Yeah… textbook!
Humphries: Correct. In which navigable waterway has the practice of double reefing been banned by the British Waterways Board since a fatal accident in1953?
JP: The Firth of Forth.
Humphries: Correct. Which of its members were removed from the Standards Committee of the British Angling Authority after the ‘eased spindles’ scandal in 1904?
JP: Brigadier Sir George Robert Carlisle; the Right Reverend Enoch, Bishop of Ely; Lord and Lady Aberaeron; and the Duke of Argyll.
Humphries: Correct. What is the maximum modulus of elasticity of nylon headers under the Glamorgan convention introduced in 1988 following an accusation of sprocket packing at the West Highland championship?
JP: 4.8 Pascals.
Humphries: Yes I’ll accept that, or Newtons per square metre.
Myself, outraged, flecks of spittle at corner of mouth: Time wasting- get on with it!
Humphries: What notable printing error characterises the rare 2nd edition of Sir Arthur Bower’s classic reference ‘Imitating the Thorax of the Water Nymph with Natural Hemp Sutures’?
JP: The reversal of a plate.
Humphries: More specifically…
Myself, shouting hoarsely: Pedant!
JP: The colour plate facing Page 64 in which three faux nymphs are shown with doubled barbs.
Humphries: Correct. Whose 1921 record for catching the most trout with slip-faced ticklers was temporarily broken by Alison Broad using synthetic rayon slip-faces in 2003 before the use of rayon was overturned in the ‘Cahill’ judgement?
JP: Father Patrick Sweeney of St Brendan’s Church, Mallow.
Humphries: Correct. What is the conventional penalty for a frayed tie-end in Class 2 international fly judging?
JP: Three points provided the frayed-end is no longer than two millimetres, otherwise five points.
Humphries: Correct.
Myself, having drained tumbler of premium malt in a single gargantuan swig: Come-on come-on!
Humphries: With what elongated variety of close-chuffed fly is the Welsh opera singer Bryn Terfyl closely associated?
JP: The triple ‘French’.
Humphries: Correct. Since 2006 what has been the maximum number of eyelets permissible on a split cane rod under international competitive salmon fishing rules?
JP: Thirteen if the bottom runner is more than thirty centimetres from the butt, otherwise twelve.
Humphries: Correct. For what non-compliance were all of the lady members of the Canadian team disqualified in the Henessey casting handicap at Stockbridge in 1963?
JP: The use of ovolo barbs with less than the minimum legal radius of curvature.
Humphries: Correct. What is the common term for…I’ve started so I’ll finish… the piece of equipment that consists of a spool, ratchet, centre pawl, eccentric crank, spindle button and clamp and which is used to regulate the distention of the line?
JP, squeezing a perplexed chin: Ermmm…
Myself, nodding at television, eyebrows at maximum altitude: Go on….
JP: Errmm…
Myself, head turned upwards imploringly to the unheeding gods: For *****sake.
JP: errmm…
Myself, screaming at JP's gormless face on the television: IT'S THE REEL MCCOY!
JP: ..the reel?
Humphries: Correct.
Myself, dissolving with relief: Thank God for that.

Hard as it might be to imagine, the general knowledge round was even more fraught, but JP had done enough and beat Gok by a convincing 3 points, leaving weather-girl Carol and smarmy Fry trailing some way behind. Less than a week now to the second round, when JP's specialist subject is 'Lively folk dances of Scottish and Irish origin'. Who knows how that might end?

Competition: Friendly feedback, Round 1



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