Members of the House of Commons call them supplementary questions. These are the cruise missiles of politics, designed to take a speaker by surprise and cause irreparable damage below the water line. It’s a touch unnerving to come across one in a classroom.
“Sir - will global warming make sea levels rise?” You know the voice. This is Kieran, launching the innocently wrapped main question. Don’t panic, everyone agrees that global warming will cause sea levels to rise, play for time.
“That’s a good question Kieran. Does anyone want to have a go at an answer?” Arms remain glued to their sides, mouths are zipped shut. The class has known Kieran for three years. They are going to leave bomb disposal to the experts.
“No? Well, it’s easy really. As temperatures rise some of the polar ice will melt and sea levels will rise.”
Success - managed to avoid a question mark at the end of the sentence.
“But ice takes up more volume than water,” says Kieran. “And it floats with most of the mass below the surface. When it melts it will occupy less space. Isn’t that right, sir?”
Direct hit. You are now doing your well-known impersonation of a stranded goldfish. A sea of faces is grinning at you. Keep calm. Breathe slowly. 1-2-3.
“Yes, Kieran, that’s a really good point.”
I’m trying to smile carefully, as though it was a deliberate mistake, but I can see that no-one is fooled.
Kieran’s last really good point came a few days ago, during a presentation by the local vicar. Half way through an unctuous homily about tolerance and forgiveness, Kieran had innocently asked whether wars were a Bad Thing. The vicar had replied that they were, and Kieran had followed up with a question about St Augustine’s doctrine of the just war.
The local authority’s ‘gifted and talented’ advisor came to see Kieran, expecting to find a bullied little boy wearing horn rimmed specs and an otherworldly expression.
“I’m interested in the talent camps being run at Warwick University,” Kieran had said. “Please send me an application form.”
The bell sounds. Kieran joins a bunch of mates and goes outside to thrash them at football. A light dawns.
“The south pole,” you yell. “The ice there is land based, if it melts it will flow into the sea, that’s why the level will rise.”
“Well done, sir,” says Kieran.
© 2011 Phil Revell