My mother, in particular, had seen what I spent all my time doing, and she made a lot of efforts to get me interviewed by the professor of zoology at Oxford, who she happened to know. And she said to him, “What this boy’s really interested in is biological sciences. Do you think you could accept him to do a biological degree?” And all he could do was to say, “Well, if you take a year off from schoolwork and really work hard at science and pass the elementary exams, then we could take him.”
So I had to take a year off from my expensive school to switch completely to learning elementary science. And they said, “Well, if you pass those exams, you can go on.” And luckily, I did pass them. But it was hard work. It was what they call a crammer. You just spend day after day being crammed with information. And then, at the end of all that, they give you an exam and ask you questions, and you have to learn the answers.
It was really the sort of science that we don’t like now. It was just learning facts. There was no analysis to it. And the natural mind says, “Why does this happen?” I was very keen on growing insects — caterpillars that grow into moths — and a good question would have been, “Why does that happen?” “How do they do it?” But that wasn’t the point. You just had to learn the name of the insect, and they’d test you on that. And then when that’s all — when the memory test has been done, you’re then allowed to begin to ask more interesting questions of mechanisms. So that was how I survived. It wouldn’t have been possible now. If you had no elementary knowledge of biology at age 18, there is almost no hope of being able to catch up and switch.