How old is too old to be im­ma­ture?

Na­dine Higgins says thanks to her favourite teacher.

Sunday Star-Times - - NEWS - Na­dine Higgins

Ev­ery time I go home th­ese days, my Mum sends me back to Auck­land with a few of my child­hood me­men­toes. I’m too old to still have boxes stored at my par­ents’ house, ap­par­ently.

This visit, she handed me a tiny note­book and what looked like a credit card-sized cal­cu­la­tor.

The ‘‘cal­cu­la­tor’’ was a mini elec­tronic the­saurus and spellchecker, which I re­mem­ber lov­ing as a 10-year-old, be­liev­ing it to be the lat­est tech­nol­ogy at a time when floppy disks were in­deed floppy. So far, so nerdy – but it gets worse.

The note­book was filled with pages upon pages of words and their def­i­ni­tions, fas­tid­i­ously listed in my loopy teenage hand­writ­ing. ‘‘Pes­tif­er­ous’’, ‘‘ig­no­min­ious’’, ‘‘ab­squat­u­late’’. I loved words, even use­less ones. I learned I was a ‘‘philo­math’’, but hope­fully not one to ‘‘blovi­ate’’ with my new­found vo­cab­u­lary.

I had a won­der­ful, colour­ful English teacher with a sim­i­lar love, who en­joyed tick­ing stu­dents off for ‘‘mas­ti­cat­ing’’ just to elicit a gig­gle (or more of­ten a groan) but it was an­other teacher who helped me chan­nel that love of words into a ca­reer.

I vividly re­mem­ber meet­ing him. I was 12 years old and he wrote ‘‘sur­real’’ on my home­work. I didn’t know what it meant, but that’s why I was so pleased with it – some­thing to add to the list.

A few years later, that teacher, Be­van King – Kingo we called him – came to work at my school, Taradale High, as a me­dia stud­ies teacher.

Af­ter Mum gave me my geeky lit­tle trea­sures last week, I felt com­pelled to go back and see him, 16 years af­ter I was last in his class.

I re­mem­ber be­ing a rather self-con­scious teenager, but not a par­tic­u­larly self-aware one, so I wanted to know – did my se­cret di­ary of def­i­ni­tions make sense to him, was I re­ally a nerdy kid? ‘‘Yes and no. In some ways you were be­cause you al­ways wanted to do well and you have to be that person to do well. If you’d been at a dif­fer­ent school you might just have been aca­demic, but this school – well, just go through the 2003 year book, you’re on ev­ery sec­ond page do­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent.’’

He re­counts how at the end of my 6th form speech I sang a cou­ple of lines from True Colours. Yep, I sang. I’m dy­ing inside just think­ing about it.

‘‘Ev­ery­one was like ‘ooh she’s do­ing re­ally well . . . ooh she missed that note but no she got that one’.

‘‘It was a huge amount of courage to do that and that’s not to be sniffed at.’’

I needed that courage when he put me in charge of the school newspaper and told me we had to write about what no one wanted to talk about, trust­ing my judge­ment at a time when there was lit­tle Taradale High felt proud of.

That same year he also trusted me, a learner driver, to drive his car when we shot an en­try for the Fair Go ad awards. Let’s just say he re­gret­ted one of those de­ci­sions.

I hadn’t seen him for at least a decade, but we keep in touch. At the be­gin­ning of this year, he sent me a book en­ti­tled The sub­tle art of not giv­ing a f---. Inside the cover he wrote, ‘‘This is for the great un­known of 2017 and to let you know peo­ple give a f--- about you Na­dine.’’

I’m not so spe­cial, though. He keeps in touch with a huge num­ber of his former stu­dents. I won­der why, when he has hundreds of them and more ev­ery year?

‘‘They’re good peo­ple, why wouldn’t I still hang out with them? Ev­ery year I get to work with 120 peo­ple and you work with some amaz­ing peo­ple. So, for me to dis­crim­i­nate on age would be ridicu­lous.’’

He mes­sages me later to tell me catch­ing up was like catch­ing up with an old friend, the con­ver­sa­tion widerang­ing, ro­bust and lively. I have to agree, even if call­ing him Be­van and not Mr King is a touch sur­real. Al­though, per­haps that’s not the word for it – maybe it’s time I went back to scrawl­ing def­i­ni­tions in my lit­tle note­book.

Na­dine Higgins (back row, third from left) was in­spired by her Taradale High School me­dia stud­ies teacher, Be­van King (front left) and caught up with him this week.

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