I’ve been interested in science, reading & discovering things since I was tiny, but never had any of those wonderful construction toys that boys seemed to get for Christmas. I had plenty of dolls that I loved to dress up with clothes I had sewn & knitted for them & I was always pestering my mum for “scraps”.
At about 4 or 5 I received a wind-up train set and rails for Christmas, but never really got to play with it the way I wanted because my father immediately commandeered it and made long guided rail things from plywood around the rooms. He would usually take the wind-up bit out of my hands saying “don’t overwind it”.
I quickly learned about the remedy for “over-winding” by taking the little engine apart while dad was at work in the South Island (NZ; he was a government statistician in the 1950s and actually went around and collected some of the data, as they did in those days!). After figuring out clockwork motors, I proceeded to take apart music boxes and wind-up monkeys & put them back together again without anyone noticing. What fun!
No chemistry set ever came my way, in spite of pleading every year, but I did get to play with the usual household substances like vinegar & baking soda, making terrific froth plumes out of soft drink bottles. Developing films in the laundry was vaguely chemical, but you couldn’t experiment with that stuff.
I WAS really interested in stars and space, due to my father showing me the Southern Aurora and tracking the first orbiting space satellites, like Sputnick I & II. He kept an ear out on shortwave radio to find out what times to expect them and we always went out on the front lawn with his old German Field Ambulance binoculars that he had acquired from a mate when he was younger. I can remember the first space dog Laika and the poor monkeys & chimpanzees that were sent up to perish in plumes of fire on re-entry.
We kept track of many space objects and star and planetary happenings, and when I was a young adult (at least in years), the appearance of the comet Kouhoutek was quite a colourful spectacle low over the Pacific Ocean in front of my parents house. There was a phase I went through when I was around 14, wanting to be an astrophysicist & work with the Parkes radio telescope (The Dish). I would try to figure out the speeds and heights of orbits necessary for satellites of various weights to circle the earth and where they ought to appear at certain times – what a mess of maths that was!! No computers to help me then.
One thing that really cemented my interest in science was a children’s encyclopedia “of everything” that I received when I was eight. I read that thing to death, over and over. The parts I remember best are the chapters about the solar system and “how the body works”. I knew then that I wanted to be a doctor “when I grew up”.
However, the book puzzled me for years because it didn’t explain exactly what happened to food-waste, once it went past the stomach: I spent years thinking that the solid waste went out through the large intestine and somehow got separated from the liquid waste that exited via the small intestine! It took some exploration of mum’s nursing textbooks to get a handle on the kidneys, which ultimately fascinated me with how they could extract the liquid from blood without letting it all leak out in your pee!
I was a pretty weird little kid at times, with allocating all my little friends in third grade a strange “disease” out of my list from the Pears’ Cyclopedia (1960 edition; I was 8) when we played hospitals! My pals got sick of it before we’d even finished “A”: they’d had achondroplastic dwarfism, asthma, acromegaly and ataxia thrust upon them before I was outvoted on what to play at lunchtimes! Incidentally, the poinciana thorns in the playground (horrors they’d say these days) got a good work-out as “needles” for the play-nurses to prick their victims!!