I am pretty sure I was not a ‘normal’ teenager. As a family in the 70’s we would travel every Easter holidays for about 5 years—from age 10 to 15— from Rochdale to the magical West coast of Scotland. Without a doubt I looked forward to this holiday even more than Christmas or my birthday. Early each morning I would pack some food in a bag and set off along the shoreline or up into the hills. I would come back at the end of the day with my head full of what I had seen and more often than not some remnant of animal or bird that I had picked up along the way with a view to studying and drawing it. I would collect Owl pellets and spend happy hours dissecting them with water and tweezers to find the tiny vole or mice bones within the fur and then study the Tracks and Signs book to find out the species.
In later teenage years I decided that if I couldn’t see the animals or birds in their natural habitat, living as I did in the heart of an industrial Lancashire town then I would nip by bus over to Bolton museum and pester the resident Taxidermist to let me help in his workplace and learn taxidermy. This was well before the age of Health and Safety (and to my shame I have forgtten the taxidermists name) but I spent most of my spare time in a basement room messing with scalpels and dead creatures and helping to create dioramas and enjoying it immensely!
I continued to practice taxidermy on the kitchen table whenever my parents went out at the weekend, careful to be tidied up long before their return. I collected skulls, wings and feet and spent many, many hours painstakingly drawing these and also every feather on a dead bird I had found or the whiskers and fur of a similarly deceased animal.
My father was a keen birdwatcher so I also learnt to recognise most birds at an early age and am deeply grateful that I have a small amount of recognition skill still and more importantly an inherent enjoyment of nothing the wildlife around me. Everyday life is strung with sparks of beauty: from a small plump Wren in the undergrowth, the intricate binding of a leaf with silk to form a cocoon in a hedge to the Kestrel hovering over the motorway.