Saturday, May 07, 2016

Wave to Sir Dave

I was never going to Clean for the Queen. However, 2016 is the year that someone far more important and influential to my life turns 90. Sir David Attenborough. So, let's not Clean for the Queen; let's wave to Sir Dave.

When, in 2012, Sir David felt that he hadn't influenced people to take up science, my husband wrote a blog post as part of the huge upswell to assure Sir David that he most certainly had influenced people. I didn't write a post then, so I'm making up for it now. Sir David, you haven't just influenced me to take up science; the influence you have had reaches far into my life. I was nine when Life on Earth first aired in 1979. It absolutely blew my mind. My parents had brought me and my brother up to wonder at the natural world around us, so I loved nature. What I didn't know was the extent of nature. I watched enthralled each week, coming in from playing out in time to catch the start - no video recorders or I-player in those days. I rushed back from the school play one week, still in my make-up from the play, to make sure we didn't miss the start. That music still gives me such a thrill when I hear it.

Whilst I know that, for many, the highlight of the series was probably Sir David's encounter with the gorillas, what stays most clearly with me and influenced me so overwhelmingly were the early episodes. I'd never heard of Volvox, or stromatolites, or crinoids. And as for the marine flat worms moving through the water in their Sunday finery - I don't like to use the word stunning lightly, but in this case, I was stunned by their beauty.

Our family watched all the David Attenborough series. I loved them all, but especially those areas where the nature was new and different. Lions in the African savannahs are all fine and dandy but you can't beat velvet worms squirting sticky goo to catch prey or fungal growth from the Private Life of Plants.

I had no plans to go to university. None of my family had gone to university and no-one I knew had gone to university. However, I signed up to a sixth form trip to Bristol University, based on it being a day out of school. When I walked into the biology department, it was like being immersed in a David Attenborough programme. Corridors lined with wood and glass cabinets, filled with jars of pickled specimens - plants, fungi, invertebrates. It was heaven. I decided right then and there that I was going to university and I was going to Bristol. I did. The new-fangled technology of video was used in some lecture and practical sessions. And the video resources used? Life on Earth - watching Volvox on the screen and then looking at them down the microscope. Heaven. There was even a lecturer whose specialism was marine flatworms, the flamenco dancers of the sea.

I wanted to graduate from university and be the next David Attenborough. That didn't work out, and I can live with that. I met my husband at Bristol. My current life is pretty much due to the influence of David Attenborough at an early stage. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a biology student where I work. I asked her what she wanted to do when she graduated. She told me she wanted to be the next David Attenborough.

Twenty-five years after I graduated, Sir David is still influencing people to become the next David Attenborough. I told her what I have been telling myself for 25 years. We don't need the next David Attenborough just yet - the current one is still doing it astoundingly well.

Thank you, Sir David, thank you.


VP said...

Fabulous post - he shaped my life too. I can remember him on Zoo Quest! I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing him 4 years ago at Kew just a couple of days after his 86th birthday. It was an amazing, unforgettable day :)

HappyMouffetard said...

Hi VP, Thanks for commenting. I remember you going to see him - how wonderful. A memory to absolutely cherish.

Chelsea said...

Love a bit of David. Great post.