How old is too old to be immature?
Nadine Higgins says thanks to her favourite teacher.
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.