Memories · Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: capercaillie

Like last week’s word (Cadillac), this week’s has been prompted by a question on a TV quiz show: What is the largest member of the grouse family? The answer is capercaillie. It’s also known as the wood grouse or heather cock. Last week’s piece reported that a couple on “The 100k Drop” lost all of their potential prize money by not guessing an answer correctly. In the final round of a recent episode of “The Chase”, Jenny “The Vixen” Ryan guessed that ptarmigan is the largest member of the grouse family. The three contestants pushed back successfully with the correct answer and went on to win the jackpot of £19,000.

If the question comes up again in a quiz I would expect to get it right, but before last week wouldn’t have had a chance. There are other facts related to animals and birds that I only know from quizzes. For example, the largest rodent is a capybara, and the second largest is a beaver. I wouldn’t be able to identify either animal, or indeed a capercaillie, but I know how they compare with others of their order.

One of the contestants on that episode of “The Chase” was in my year at college, and we both read the same subject. He kept to himself much of the time – most of us didn’t meet him during our first year – and despite appearing on Britain’s most-watched tea-time show last week he might be the same now, so I won’t reveal his name or what we learnt about him last week. He didn’t mention his college days, and he hasn’t been back for any of the four reunions that have taken place in the last 20-odd years. I know this because I’ve been to all of them, and still have the attendee lists. He came up in conversation at last summer’s reunion. I was discussing our contemporaries with one of the few women who read the same subject as me. There were three women and 11 men and I could name them all. When I mentioned our quizzing friend she had no recollection of him, not even the name. The only other time that I have seen him since the 1980s was also on TV, in a series final of “Mastermind” back in the 1990s. I recognized him then, and last week, immediately after watching that episode of “The Chase”, found a YouTube recording of that final. It looks like it’s been taken from a home video recording (wavy lines, tracking issues, dodgy sound) by one of the other contestants and it has had a grand total of 25 views.

Memory being what it is, the next time I hear the word capercaillie I expect it will prompt me to recall the contents of this piece. And at the next college reunion I will be able to update my contemporaries on what our less visible fellow student was up to in 2018. Of course, he might be there himself, in which case we can discuss “Mastermind” finals, hanging out with Bradley Walsh, and members of the grouse family.



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