Cornelia et Flavia in horto

Grecian classical urn illustration


It turns out that having an almost 18 year old in the house is mostly about confronting again all the ways you were annoying when you were a teenager, and wishing you’d just been more… well, nice to your parents would have been a start, so that at least now you’d have some sort of advantage.

But, no. I can remember it well. It makes me cringe. Feeling all at sea – unconfident, beleaguered, anxious and with no self esteem – and yet at the top of my game – invincible, intelligent (in that super modest teenage way), about to nail it in my exams. I did nail it, despite all the other angst (hurray!), and I know I have Mr Nicholas to thank for that.

Mr Nicholas taught me Latin. We did Latin from age 11 at my school, and I loved it straight off. I just *got* it somehow. As a language, it’s a logical, methodical, and yet highly intuitive word puzzle. Learn some rules, and then ‘go with your gut, girls! What’s your first thought? It’s almost certainly right! Don’t cross it out!’ Mr Nicholas used to say, charging around the classroom, tie askew, book in hand and gesticulating wildly. (And that teaching from Mr Nicholas seemed to be useful in so many different areas of life). Sure, Cornelia and Flavia from our textbook Ecce Romani were slightly pedestrian, and even Sextus never really delivered the promise his name suggested, but Latin classes with Mr Nicholas got me into a sort of elegant academic trance. Translations flew out of my pen. The vocab just somehow seemed to stick in my brain. How could I not want to progress into the A level Latin class? I think there were only 5 of us interested in it. It seemed awful to envisage a sixth form without Mr Nicholas’ energetic presence, and anyway, I’d heard in the locker room from a breathless, whispering Upper Sixth, that things got a lot more interesting when you started to read Catullus* and Sappho. (And they sure did.)

Those Latin classes are my most positive memories about the heady days of being 17 or 18**, and planning a future. Secretly wanting to progress my Art A level to degree level at Art College, but afraid, so afraid of being laughed at. Deeply entrenched in pretension in my English Lit class, and feeling a little silly because of it. In love with Spanish and how it rolled off the tongue, yet anxious about living abroad and knowing that a Spanish degree would demand, er, that I went to Spain, perhaps. But most of all, totally at ease with Latin, with Mr Nicholas rooting for me, cheering me on, urging me to go with my gut.

You need a Mr Nicholas when you’re 18. I could do with him now, as my own teenagers weather their storms, academic and otherwise, around me.

Go with your gut. What’s your first thought? You’re almost certainly right. Don’t cross it out.


*I could have linked to some dirty poems here, but daren’t. You’ll have to do your own research 🙂
**Once a nerd, always a nerd.



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