Fortey writes midway through the text: “It took me much of my life to reintegrate myself into the person I was when I was sixteen.” That’s the most compelling insight of the book: the way in which its author has striven to fuse and harmonise, often against career typecasting, professional constraint and simple circumstances, to become the whole person he wished to be. This is the substance of A Curious Boy and it strikes me that both the book and the life it recounts amount to a singular triumph.
He collected birds' eggs — this was legal, just, in the early 1950s, but he still feels slightly guilty about it. At school, he avoided sports. During games of cricket he preferred to be 'far out on the pitch where the ball rarely came, and where I could identify wildflowers and take an interest in passing insects'. He cherished a field guide to flowers in which he could tick off those he had seen. He took pleasure in the charm of their names — wood goldilocks, Venus's looking-glass, ploughman's spikenard — which are 'often only a short step away from poetry'.