Currently Reading: Fingers in the Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham


or more precisely, almost finishing – just a few more pages to go. Some negative reviews almost persuaded me against taking up this book after it arrived in the shops in paperback form but a visit to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust in Llanelli was too good an opportunity to turn down. I steered my mother towards the gift shop and to the one orange-spined copy left on the bookshelves. Well, it was my birthday and mothers like to buy gifts for their sons. For a few weeks it sat next to my bed whilst I finished whatever it was I was reading – you will have to search back to my previous Currently Reading post to find out. During that time those negative reviews kept finding their way into my inbox. And so, with some trepidation, I finally opened the very appealing bright orange cover and started on the first chapter, ‘The Collector – July 1966′ and all those harsh critics’ words immediately began to ring alarm bells.

Chris Packham is a remarkable man; a naturalist and television presenter with an encyclopaedia brain who has lived and breathed and been a strong advocate for the natural world since his early boyhood. His extraordinary creativity, work ethic and attention to detail has led to a successful career encompassing photography, film-making, writing, conservation and campaigning. Personally I am hugely grateful for the breadth of subject matter he has undoubtedly brought to the BBC ‘Watches’ – Springwatch having just finished its current three week run last night. We now have the most informative and relevant natural history programme on UK television which increasingly is unafraid to tackle some of the man-made issues that our wildlife currently faces.

But back to the book and those less than complimentary reviews. The problem is in the structure, the wordiness of paragraphs and endlessness of some of the sentences; tenses chop and change from chapter to chapter and we are hurled from first to third person from year to year and back again. It can all feel a little jarring, dizzying, confused – until you stop fighting the prose and slip into Chris’s mind and only then does the beauty of this book really shine through. There are so many moments of pure joy and innocence, like the first time he flies his kestrel, but for all of these there are as many times of heartache, rejection and loss. His whole world is turned into confusion when that same beloved kestrel dies. Perhaps the most revealing passages are the italicised therapy sessions from the summer of 2003, a brave opening up to the demons and insecurities that he has dealt with all his life.

Finding a ‘voice’ when reading a book is often integral to the enjoyment. With a novel one usually creates one’s own character voices as the author’s is generally unknown and unimportant to the story. But with a memoir the author’s voice is a bonus. Anyone who knows Chris from his TV work will be very familiar with his voice, mannerisms and humour. You might not ‘get’ his jokes or be a big fan of his presenting style or musical preferences but he has an individuality which sets him apart from many of his contemporaries and with this book he has offered a unique glimpse into his private world Find the rhythm and pace and you find the man. Find the man and you find something special.

So thanks to Mum for gifting me this gem of a book and to Chris Packham for his relentless thirst for knowledge, through scientific study and sheer dedication to his love for the natural world. If anyone can fill Sir David Attenborough’s shoes then it must surely be this man.