When I was in my early 20s, I remember saying something quite specific: “Henry,” I said, “you will never do anything as amazing as this in your entire life.” More than a quarter of a century later, I have not yet proved myself wrong.
This is not to say that my life before and after this moment has been dull because I’d already had plenty of inspirational experiences by then, like snorkelling through fields of urchins in a crystal Sardinian sea, undergraduating from Cambridge University and spending a year in a tent in the Kalahari Desert. And I’ve done masses since, including walking with giant tortoises in Galapagos, visiting a three-legged rhinoceros in Borneo and – perhaps most adventurously – training to be a science teacher at a secondary school in Thamesmead.
Yet my postgraduate research at the University of Sheffield still stands out. I suspsect this is, in part, down to the age I was then, free from the responsibilities of full-blown adulthood. But it was also down to the wonderful people I met and worked with at Sheffield, my Hungarian family (the Hajnals) who I lived with during my fieldwork studying the sex lives of sand martins on the wildly beautiful Tisza River. Above all though, I cherish the intense creativity of doing my own research and the surprising thrill of being answerable to nobody but myself. I love all these things, but for that moment they all came together and it was great.
I’ve been a teacher now for several years, but I am still the editor of Galapagos Matters, write about biology and will – before long – take on another book.