Saturday, 8 April 2017
Fingers in the Sparkle jar by Chris Packham
I am of a certain age, my childhood viewing was dominated by two things Mr Phillip Schofield in his pre-greyfox days and the rather interesting spiky hair stylings of one Chris Packham, a young man whose sheer exuberance probably inspired a million child naturalists.
Thanks to the good people at Netgalley, I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to read this memoir by the naturalist best known now for Autumn watch and Spring watch.
This is not a comfortable read by any means, there is a choppiness to the narrative that takes a little bit of getting used to but it is worth the effort. The story of this vulnerable and fragile soul is told often by incidental bystanders, neighbours , shop staff , all the adults whose spheres this rather otherworldly child might have passed through. Often a figure in the distance, always a little too earnest for adults not yet familiar with the (and I hate to use this term) Autism spectrum.
Young Chris is like a much much more intense version of a young Gerald Durrell, a room filled with jars, carcasses and bones, an unlimitless desire to learn and watch every living thing, to see things closer, to exist in the same space as all the wonders of nature is brilliantly demonstrated in the vignettes that make up the book. His passion is fascinating and the enthusiasm we see on our screens today and what endeared me to Chris back in my childhood, is evident in every description of a fall of light on a leaf or the scents and sounds of the wonders he catalogues and researches with such meticulous attention to detail.
The description of the relationship between the kestrel and Chris is some of the most beautiful writing I have seen in a while. Boy and bird have a symbiosis that just leaps off the page.
What makes this book a little bit sobering , is the distinct emotional disconnect that appears to have delineated the isolation that seems to have dogged Chris' formative years. The book made me sad and uncomfortable but Chris's story is compelling.
The tragic meeting of circumstances that led to Chris's suicide attempt is still a little bit nebulous, but the bravery it took to expose this part of his life is astounding. In fact the searing honesty that is evident on every page, the unflinching way he reveals himself is what makes this memoir all the more affecting. Where perhaps Chris lacks in what "normal folk" might consider empathy, his acceptance of the condition is what actually makes Chris extraordinary and his book so memorable.