40 years ago I was on holiday and writing my nature notebooks with a full account of every species that I identified. I was twelve. Two years earlier I had saved up £50 from previous birthday and Christmas presents and bought a Russian student’s microscope. That was an enormous sum of money then. I used to walk home from school and pop into the fishmongers to ask them for fish scales so that I could have a look at them under my microscope. They were fascinating. Goodness knows what the Oldham fishmonger thought of me, but they were very kind and obliged the ten year old me.
I would prick my finger and put the high-magnification oil-immersion lens on and look at my red blood cells floating before my eyes like pale red Pontefract cakes. Biology was the only subject I could imagine studying.
Finding any new species was a thrill for me. On holiday in Tenby I saw Hermit Crabs for the first time and picked them up by their shells to get a good look at them. I was fascinated by the fact that some were in large shells and could disappear inside them while others had outgrown their shell and would wave a desperate claw at me as they tried to hide their bulk within their tiny home. They looked just like me now trying to get back into my wedding suit.
We’re in the shallow warm water of the Bay of Skaill on Westray when we see them. They scuttle along and are unmistakable.
I’m amused to see that they jerk back into their shells quickly when alarmed.