AFON Advent Blog: Gerald Durrell

Starting in the last year of primary school I began to go off the obsession of my childhood, nature, partly because of teasing and partly because I was bored of seeing the same things all the time (I hadn’t discovered things such as proper birding, pan-species listing or the joys of butterflies). However, I never fully went off it.

On a family holiday to the Lake District my Grandma gave me a book that I initially wrote off as being too old-fashioned and besides, it was about nature, I wasn’t supposed to like that anymore. Regardless, I gave My Family and Other Animals a try and my mum caught me laughing out loud on the sofa at Spiro (the crazy Greek taxi-driver) swearing violently at his rival drivers. Ah, swear words, always something to peak the interest of young teenage boys!

But it wasn’t just the hilarity of the ridiculous situations the Durrell family got themselves into, the forays the young Gerald took into the hills around the villas in search of exotic and enthralling creatures captivated me. Once more, I was slipping away into the world of nature-watching. During that week, I started searching for wildlife all around our accommodation, there were Muntjacs, blue damselflies, Water Boatmen and nesting Sparrowhawks all in the wet woodland we were situated in. But best of all my Dad and I found a Red Squirrel one morning emerging from the woods and performing on a dry-stone wall for us.

I was back.

Later in that holiday I remember seeing Ospreys, Dor Beetles and Wheatear.

My love of nature had never truly left me, but I fear it came dangerously close to doing so. It pains me to think that without that book I may have slipped away from what I enjoy most and instead had a life revolving around another main interest, football, for example.

Gerald Durrell inspired me through his writing, it created such a vivid and beautiful image of the island of Corfu in my mind, and with it all the animals that inhabited the area. It made me envy his life so much, with never-ending days of sunshine filled to the brim with amazing wildlife. Now, I am especially interested in butterflies, and I put this down to him as well. Collecting butterflies was a prevalent feature in the book and the idea seemed incredibly fun and romantic to me; amassing a collection of prefect, beautiful natural objects with the most amazing patterns and colours. Obviously, the killing didn’t appeal to me and, really, butterfly collecting isn’t appropriate now. Besides, we have digital photography which allows us to create beautiful portraits of such animals, so this is now one of my hobbies.

Looking back on the last few years, it shocks me to see how entwined that book became in my life, I read it multiple times from cover to cover and many of my interests have spawned from its delightful pages. I want to pay thanks to the late Gerald Durrell for keeping me in this wonderful hobby, just when I was closest to leaving it behind.

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