“I grew up in Gordonton on the family farm so was loosely aware that there was a clan of Riddells who did the same. As a young boy, I was taught in the primers by Peggy Riddell in one of those small ubiquitous prefabs of the time. It’s no longer extant. And this is where the odd remembering begins, one small incident that stands indelibly out.”
Peter Dornauf looks at the unexpected turns and twists of life in a recent article in the Waikato Times.
“…We were all lined up in that thin-walled classroom by the teacher’s desk one morning to have our work checked. It must have been something to do with times-tables because as we waited, biding our time, I recall my classmates joking about with numbers (we were only seven or eight). They were saying things like, 12 x 12 is a 1000 or a million and laughing – silly stuff. We’d obviously not advanced beyond beginner’s level and the answer to this formula was well out of reach, hence the childish banter.
But for reasons that escape me, I knew the correct answer (perhaps I’d secretly boned up on the matrix being a bit of a girly swot). Anyhow, I proudly announced to all in the room that the right answer was 144. Peggy Riddell’s head immediately looked up from her work and pronounced me correct and as a reward I was ushered forward to the front of the line.
I remember nothing else but that one passing and trifling episode.
Ironically it turned out later at secondary school that I wasn’t that flash at the harder mathematical stuff. Alister Riddell must have been because he ended up teaching physics at Waikato University. I, by contrast, lectured in art history at the same institution for a short time.
On the wall of my study there currently hangs a calendar (2017), a souvenir from the recent Gordonton School 125th anniversary. The January picture showed a school class photograph from the year 1937. The obituary prompted me to take a closer look at the picture and, sure enough, there were the names of Jack and Lex Riddell written beneath two young innocent-faced boys in the lineup.
Reading the summation of Alister’s life was a fascinating but also sobering experience. What initially struck me was the somewhat rare, improbable but wonderful scenario of a farm boy becoming a university Teaching Fellow, much like my own surprising and somewhat implausible trajectory. From humble, perhaps inauspicious beginnings, life takes unexpected twists and unusual turns.
But as I read toward the end of the tribute, the story became suddenly darker. Alister Riddell developed Alzheimer’s…”