Our discussions prompted me to sift through a pile of old letters to my parents, carefully kept by them and now a window on a distant world. I was one of those children sent miles away to board at the other side of the country; not what I wanted initially at the age of seven - hard to imagine - but wonderful in due course from the butterfly and moth point of view.
Herefordshire was much more richly endowed with interesting species than Leeds and the school, which had a strong Quaker influence, was keen to encourage pupils to follow hobbies, of which the study (and this days collection) of butterflies and moths was one. Instructed by a teacher known as Hopeless Sam, we roamed the Malvern Hills with our nets and killing bottles (I used to patronise our local chemists in Leeds with regular orders for what was called 'killing fluid', and developed a lifelong enthusiasm in the process.
Here are some extracts from reports home - first, an exciting event during a cricketr match, foreshadowing my recent breeding experiments with Emperor and Poplar Hawk moths:
There were regular inquiries about the welfare of my other menagerie, back at home, which my mother had selflessly agreed to manage; news of my brother's similar activities, and, of course, the traditional Nigel Molesworth request for presents:
The hobby also featured in jokes with schoolfriends:
And I was very pleased to get occasional expert recognition of my youthful activities:
John Armitage was a wonderful man, keeper of natural history at Leeds Museum, and an unfailing encourager of young enthusiasts. He also wrote syndicated newspaper coloumns about his field and I was ever so chuffed when this one appeared, referring to the mysterious 'Charlotta' in my final extract from the letters:
Nowadays, with fantastic and reasonably-priced cameras, we would be content to photograph such exciting discoveries. But I kept and 'set' mine and still have them. Here is Charlotta, above and below, with a standard Dark Green Fritillary to show the differences: