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31st July 2011: Grubbing about in the undergrowth yesterday, flat on my stomach, searching for grasshoppers, reminded me of my childhood:
My first meaningful encounter with nature could have been in my father’s garden, or in his allotment. My father grew vegetables and fruit. From a very early age, I was obsessed with digging tunnels. I dug them in my father’s garden, in his allotment; in fact, anywhere I was able of sink my shovel. I was a human mole! It drove my father mad, but I don’t remember him stopping my excavations. I think my parents looked on my obsession as a short-term fad that I would soon grow out of; after all, digging can be very hard work! They probably felt it would keep me out of trouble, and at least they knew where I was. The fact that any of my tunnels could easily collapse and smother me seemed to have escaped them.
My digging activities might have kick-started my interest in nature. Had I found an object of interest: a gun, knife, or buried treasure, I could have developed a love of archaeology. I don’t recall my tunnelling revealing any ancient artefacts. I did dig up many interesting creepy-crawlies, though.
I progressed from turning my father’s garden into something resembling a First World War trench system, to proper excavation projects in a field over the road from my dad’s allotment; maybe with more than a little encouragement from my parents. I say a field, but I mean a “HUGE” field. I could lose myself in that field for days at a time, if it wasn’t for the fact that my parents expected me to go home to bed each evening. This field became the domain of “Nature Boy!”
I don’t remember there being crops, cattle, or sheep in the field. It was a very wild and overgrown place. A few years later the County Council built a large school on my field.
My mother never knew what she would find when she returned home from work. On one occasion she found amphibians and fish swimming in the bath. I would keep buckets of tadpoles, frogs and newts in various places around our house. Sometimes there would be an injured rabbit, pigeon, or something really horrible recovering in a box in the front room. My mother has a bird phobia and was afraid to look into any boxes that I had left about the place.
I would catch eels by filling a net bag with worms and wrapping nylon fishing line around it. The eels would bite into the ball to get at a tasty meal’ and their backward facing teeth would get snagged in the nylon line. I have an enduring memory of my mother trying to fry a large eel that I had caught, and desperately trying to stop it from wriggling out of the hot pan. The eel’s nervous system is capable of keeping it wriggling for hours after death.
I kept rabbits, ferrets and polecats in cages at the rear of the house. I used ferrets for rabbiting and a polecat for ratting. I roamed the countryside on foot and by bicycle, in search of interesting specimens. I kept horrible insects in match boxes to frighten little girls. Most of all, I was then, and am now, fascinated by grasshoppers and their ability to jump long distances in comparison to their size.
Ice creams were bigger in the 1950s, too.