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How I Got Into This #3

So there I was, by now, a pretty seasoned rock climber and mountaineer. Not particularly athletic (bendy) and stylish, never a rock-hopper, as such but I loved gutting-it-out on long multi-pitch climbs in atrocious weather conditions. Epics, we used to call them because that’s what they frequently turned into. When I look back now I do wonder how we survived. Rock fall on Lochnagar, benighted on verglas in the Lake District, torrential downpours on limestone in the Peaks and freak waves in Cornwall - I have “a million stories”. And when there was snow and ice about, I felt in my element, literally!

By 1981 I had met the lovely Ann Jukes, a post-graduate researcher doing a doctorate in plant physiology, fell in love, got married and we had our first child, Kirsty, on 2nd April 1982.

Work-wise, within weeks of starting, I became right-hand man to an eminent scientist called Dr John Ryden who was working on the fate of fertiliser nitrogen - waste, pollution of ground waters and pollution of the air - possibly enhancing the depletion of the ozone layer, which had just been discovered in Antarctica. This was cutting-edge stuff and I loved it.

I was like a sponge, soaking up all the relevant knowledge and building quite sophisticated bits of equipment to measure all sorts of parameters in the air, on and below the ground.

Unfortunately, about 3 years into this work, John collapsed (into my arms in the laboratory) and then went on long-termed sick leave. This left just me to continue the work, which, by now was deemed really important. I wanted to progress and get on with it immediately but the hierarchy at GRI wanted me to get a degree first and then progress it; in other words go back to university. I simply couldn’t do that. It would have been going backwards a long way. So I looked around at ways of being paid to be a mountaineer and although I wasn’t militaristic in any way whatsoever (far too laid back) I concluded the best way would be to join the military. So, at 25 years old, with long hair and flared corduroy trousers, I sauntered into the Army recruiting office in High Wycombe and signed up for officer training. (I think they must have been desperate!).

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