Old Elean, Simon Davey, is an ecologist and photographer whose love of the natural world has taken him across the globe: http://www.daveyecology.co.uk/
“My time at King’s and at Ely Cathedral was from 1950 to 1961. I was a chorister and had a problem not really known about in those days – dyslexia. As an eight year old, I could barely read or write. However, achieving 12 O Level passes (as they were called then!), five A Levels and two offers from Cambridge University underlined the fact that dyslexia and lack of intelligence do not necessarily go together.
“Ecology being my major interest, I was in the ‘Science Sixth’. Leonard Osmond said in a report: “If he continues in Science, it will lead to disillusionment and ultimate failure.” Asking around the class where we wanted to go to University, he asked me: “Davey, where do you want to go to University?” “Cambridge,” I replied. “Never get to Cambridge m’ dear, never in a million years!” I was not one of his favourite pupils. In spite of my unpromising early start, I went on to be made a King’s Scholar and also received my Sports Colours in Rowing, Cross County, Athletics and in ‘minor sports’ for Clay Pigeon Shooting.
“After King’s, I went on to study at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Concentrating on Biochemistry, Biophysics and Dissection, Cambridge did not really suit me and I finished up with an indifferent degree. However, if I had managed a First follows by a PhD, I would probably have taught at a “minor university” and hated it.
“After teaching for two years, I became Head of the Biology Department in the Hampshire County Museum Service, where I learned how to identify specimens and achieved an in-depth vocabulary of plants and animals. In 1971, I had the great good fortune of meeting Dr Francis Rose, a brilliant field ecologist and lichenologist. As a great friend, he helped me to become a freelance ecologist specialising in lichens. He also put me in touch with a travel firm that had asked him to lead a botanical tour to Mallorca. This became the first of many natural history tours I led around the world. Trips included two to the Galapagos, South America, Central Asia when it was part of the former Soviet Union, as well as Europe. I also lectured on cruise ships, which took me to within 600 miles of the North Pole, as well as Iceland, the Middle East and South America. My wife Amanda accompanied me on many of these trips, and having a keen interest in lichenology, we now have nearly four thousand people following us on social media on behalf of the British Lichen Society.
“We are both keen photographers and have a collection of about a quarter of a million images which are all catalogued. I have written three books, one about bird watching in the Isles of Scilly in the autumn. It’s more about bird watchers than birds, one about natural history tour leading and the third is an account of the lichens of Jersey.
“King’s has changed so much since I was there. Being seen with a girl in town would have been greatly frowned upon. I notice that the school has double eights. This is something new to me! When I rowed at Ely we mostly rowed in fours. Music was fantastic when I was at Ely. Miles Amherst took his dormobile to London and filled it with musical instruments. “Here boy, have a trumpet!” or “Here boy, try a clarinet!” resulted initially in some pretty foul noises, but soon developed into a brass band for the school cadets, an unofficial jazz band and some wonderful brass music by the likes of Gabrieli, which some of us played in the Cathedral opposite one another in the triforium.
“I played the trombone. Roger Firkins, an ex Choral Scholar from King’s Cambridge organised a madrigal group which met on Saturday evenings, and included cider in an interval, and sometimes girls joined us. This led to the successful group known as the King’s Singers – as well as singers such as James Bowman. The Housemaster of School House, David Scott, arranged an informal talk by one who had been present with Howard Carter when he discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb.
“I owe an enormous amount to King’s – a school that helped me develop from an incoherent and dyslexic boy to a person with a huge range of interests and someone who has led a full and very exciting life.”