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Trivial Pursuits

Mark Taylor



Dr Seuss held both hands above his head like a cricket umpire signaling a six. His creation Yurtle the Turtle was no help to him now. Neither was Ronald Reagan, he was probably sitting in the White House chewing on the jelly beans he so boyishly kept on his desk. Of all the airlines to choose from he had chosen the largest, Aeroflot, but also the unluckiest. The plane was going down like the Titanic and it was going to be • as the movie of the famous ship’s descent entitled • a night to remember. A date that no one would forget, a date like the 2nd of July, the middle day of a non-leap year or even a year as memorable as 1AD, or its predecessor 1 BC.

An esteemed cabin of passengers sat around Seuss including Jomo Kenyatta, the Kenyan president and Moroccan bound actors Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. In front of them sat New Zealand tennis player David Lewis who had been to Chinese Taipei to replace his brother in the Davis Cup. He was reading the John Le Carré novel ‘The Spy Who Came in From The Cold’ and was unperturbed by the babblings of Brian Edwards beside him. The kiwi journo who once conciliated a New Zealand Post industrial pursuit was now muttering in Motu Police, one of Papua New Guinea’s major languages, and was reading a Playboy magazine with Peter Sellers on its cover, the first man to have that honour (Sellers, not Edwards). Someone needed to be the first person forward to save everyone from certain disaster. Someone like Roald Amundsen, the first man to the South Pole or Jonny Weissmuller, the first person inducted into the US swimming hall of fame. Maybe even a Charles Upham type, the first man to have won a bar on his Victoria Cross.
It was indeed Shakespeare who penned “Neither a borrower nor a lender be” and currently Dr Seuss wasn’t too keen on lending his help. He looked out the window toward the stars. The twins Pollux and Castor of the Gemini constellation twinkled with hope, as did the three stars of Orion. The plane dropped further toward the Mediterranean Sea, or as the Romans called it, Mare Rostrum, and the Orly Airport in Paris seemed a lifetime away. Everyone on board was now a prisoner of uncertainty just like the convicts that France sent to New Caledonia between 1864 and 1897. Suddenly three men burst into action. It was none other than Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Howard, the three stooges. That was certain. Hurdling of such quality hadn’t been seen since the 1952 Helsinki Olympics as the three stooges raced toward the cockpit. Sir Kenneth Clark the British art historian popular for presenting the TV series Civilization reluctantly put down his book Le Louvre: the largest museum in the world and gave chase.
Inside the cockpit was a rag tag bunch. Zac Wallace, who took the main Maori role in the film Utu, was at the controls beside a man whose name badge read ‘Johansonson : Sweden’s Most Common Surname’. On his lap was the royal dog of China, a Pekingese that barked at the only lady present, Anne Hercus, who in 1984 had become New Zealand’s first ever female Minister of Police. Her posting being only a year after India had beaten the West Indies to win the Cricket World Cup. The control panel resembled the hundred squares on a snakes and ladders board but without any snakes or ladders. On one square was a flashing number, the same number as there are Gutenburg Bibles and the same number one gets when subtracting LXXIX from C (Yes, it was the number 21). The meaning of the flashing number was lost to everyone present in the cockpit. Even Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello wouldn’t have understood its significance. The three stooges and Sir Ken attacked the mini bar handing out booze left right and centre.
‘Was that their plan to save everyone?’ Dr Seuss wondered as he looked for some certainty. Then he made a discovery; perhaps not as earthy as Joseph Banks’ discovery of iron sand at Mercury Bay or as cutting edge as Ivan Bowen’s win in the first ever Golden Shears International Open in 1961, but at least it was as certain. Upon opening the toilet he found Sophie Tucker, star of The Last of the Red Hot Mamas and Bing Crosby entwined in a tantric embrace. The scene reminded Seuss of two New Zealand books, En Route by Frank Sargeson and The Chain by Edith Campion, and their ‘fusing’ in the 1979 publication In Tandem. Both much better enjoyed in their individual state. Hercus slammed the door and took control. She shoved aside Wallace and pushed the flashing number 21. The onboard auto pilot came to life said it would engage itself if everyone could answer correctly all questions on the seven cards it had randomly drawn from that iconic board game Trivial Pursuit. The computer read out the first question: “What planet travels around the sun every 248 years?”
Well, what a predicament all our very important passengers have found themselves in. Can you the reader help them? Are you an Arts and Literature student with an interest in Entertainment or perhaps you’re into your Science, Nature and Geography, or maybe you’re the Sports and Leisure type? Whatever your specialty, if you’ve made it this far in this week’s column you’ve certainly got a good chance. That’s a fact.