And the Aus­tralian coach handed round per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing Star­burst lol­lies.

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - YOUTH -

at times, hang­ing heads and welling tears.

There was con­tro­versy when Mills thought Hong Kong had cor­rectly an­swered “The Em­peror’s New Clothes” when in fact they’d said “The Em­peror’s New Groove”, but then the ad­ju­di­ca­tor crept on stage and whis­pered in his ear and the mur­murs of po­lite ou­trage from the au­di­ence sub­sided as Mills spiked the ques­tion and asked a backup.

The lead jumped around, but by half-time it was clear the UK, New Zealand, Aus­tralia, Canada and South Africa were the top con­tenders. Out in the lobby Hong Kong’s teach­ers urged their team to fight to the end, and the Aus­tralian coach handed round per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing Star­burst lol­lies. And then, in the end, it all came down to the fi­nal ques­tion.

The Welling­ton boys be­gan round 10 with a com­fort­able five-point lead – two-and-a-half ques­tions’ worth – over the UK girls. Aus­tralia and South Africa were tied three points be­hind that. But the cat­e­gory was po­ets, and the Ki­wis clearly knew squat about po­etry. “Shel Sil­ver­stein,” said Canada. “Christina Ros­setti,” said the UK. “Robert Burns,” said the UK just a few words into the ques­tion (though it would have been a bit em­bar­rass­ing for the Glas­gow school­girls if they hadn’t).

Sin­ga­pore got Ed­ward Lear. Amer­ica got Emily Dickinson. Aus­tralia got AA Milne.

Fi­nal ques­tion. If the UK got it, they’d over­take New Zealand. The Welling­ton boys looked sky­ward. The au­di­ence held its breath.

“This widely read man,” said Mills, “was a gifted comic poet.” No one buzzed. “His books for chil­dren of­ten in­cluded songs and po­etry, but he did write three books in the 1980s de­voted to po­etry.” No one buzzed. “All three books of po­etry were based on well-known nurs­ery rhymes such as Lit­tle Red Rid­ing Hood and Cin­derella and they were meant to be read aloud.” No one buzzed. “These poems were wacky, darkly …” The dairy-door war­ble rang out, then a long hush as the mi­cro­phone was car­ried to Sin­ga­pore’s table. They gave an an­swer. Mills roared. The au­di­ence roared. The Welling­ton boys breathed for the first time in five min­utes, and then roared. The an­swer was Roald Dahl, which meant two points for Sin­ga­pore and none for the UK, and thus a one-point vic­tory for New Zealand. Aus­tralia came third, and Canada was just one point be­hind them.

Af­ter the speeches and tro­phies half of the au­di­ence rushed the stage to con­grat­u­late, hug or ruf­fle the hair of the com­peti­tors.

“Just one point!” said an up­set Cate from Canada. “One point!”

“I just can’t even...,” said Lila from Aus­tralia, as the mixed bless­ing of los­ing to New Zealand but still mak­ing the top three sunk in.

“I was scared as in that last round,” said Tom from Welling­ton. “We had no idea about po­etry.”

“I’m re­ally pleased!” said his team­mate Harry, then quickly added: “But it could have been any­one re­ally. It was so close.”

Harry had a grin al­most too wide for his face. He looked even more de­lighted than when he’d suc­cess­fully spelt out the longest word to ap­pear in a ma­jor dic­tionary, which is, of course, pneu­monoul­tra­mi­cro­scop­ic­sil­i­co­vol­canoco­nio­sis. We gave the kids a quiz of our own. Go to stuff.co.nz to see them in ac­tion.

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