I am a 53 year old Red flag waving and dyed in the wool Environmentalist. Born on the Island of Jersey in 1966 I spent most of my early years down among the rock pools and sand banks that are revealed twice a day by 40ft (12m) tidal ranges: gaining the nickname of “the kid without an ice cream” as my forays collecting shrimps, limpets and peeler crabs meant I was largely neglected by my family (a situation that continues to this day). Thus it was mother nature who really raised me.
I attended St James Primary School (1971-1978) where my reluctance to learn to read via the ladybird Peter and Jane series had me labelled ‘stupid’. That situation remained until I was 8 years old when a teacher (Mrs Murray) noticed I was struggling to read a book on building a vivarium for lizards. Thus I learned to read with a book that matched my interests and intelligence rather than one designed for the educationally subnormal; I similarly gained a new nickname for my interests in the environment “the hive of useless knowledge”
At eleven I transferred to Le Rocquier (1978-1982), a secondary modern school in the Parish of St Clement. Jersey then as now operated a 14+ system where at 14 years of age the brighter crop of non-privilege children were transferred to Hautlieu grammar school. However the Island used a recommendation rather than a merit (exam) based mechanism and despite being top of my class I was not regarded as the right material and so was not recommended for transfer. I did however leave that awful school with eight ‘O’ levels.
In 1999 after a financially and emotionally draining battle with the local planners over my worm farm (see the story of phasm) I took the advice of a friend and sent my research work on vermiculture to several universities. I received an unconditional offer from Dr Peter Harris, the soil microbiologist at Reading university who told me that in 30 years as admissions tutor my application was totally unique (see the story of phasm). I graduated with a BSc hons in Habitat and Soil Management in 2001.
Having originally left school at 16 I was first employed in Jersey’s offshore banking industry, one I learned too and still to this day despise for the way it aids the rich in avoiding their tax obligations. A financial parasite that sucks some 60% of taxable income out of society, keeping the poor poor and contributing greatly to the climate emergency we now face. I left after a couple of years and joined my father in his one man business as a plant fitter maintaining heavy plant for the construction industry. Whilst a talented mechanical engineer my father was not an easy man to work with and we were forever falling out. It was during those periods that I started to work in jersey’s horticultural industry. In 2003, encouraged by the Rio Declaration of Earth Summit one I set up Jersey Worm Farm (see the story of phasm); and then spent the next three years in a battle with the local planning department who did not accept vermiculture as the keeping of livestock for the farming of land but as an industrial process.
Following on from my degree at Reading (2001) I was employed as the lab technician in mycology under Professor Lynne Boddy at the University of Wales, Cardiff. Sadly I had joined a sinking ship as Prof Boddy had mental health issues and was thus incapable of running her department. After a row with a postgraduate (one who later failed his first year viva) and when Prof Boddy refused to act I handed in my resignation. In many respects I regret leaving but similarly suspect that Prof Boddy did too, for I was the only one in her department that did any work. After I left nearly all her students failed and she lost most of her research funding; had she supported me it would have been a totally different story: for I love doing research, I love to learn and I strive after results.
In 2003 having struggled to get even an interview let alone a job in science a friend in Reading forwarded me an email from Stockbridge Technology Centre (STC) looking for a soil scientist with an interest in composting to research and write WRAP STA00015. A grim and miserable former ADAS station on the edge of the Yorkshire moors I stayed long enough to write the report and then returned to Cardiff (see phasm publication pages)
After more unsuccessful job applications (I gave up counting at 1200) I decided in 2004 to instead take the direct action route and go to Asia and Africa and work with NGO’s and subsistence farmers on developing sustainability. A road I have now traversed for 15 years.
I am, if nothing else, a fighter, a champion of the environment and a socialist. None of which I am ashamed of.