I very rarely read non-fiction but when I first heard about Chris Packham’s memoir, Fingers in the Sparkle Jar, I couldn’t wait to read it. As a wildlife enthusiast I have long been a fan of Chris both as a presenter and conservationist. With this in mind I was interested to read about his early experiences growing up with wildlife.
‘What do you say to a weird kid with dinosaurs in jam jars who never speaks, who only ever points……and seems to think that bartering with various bugs is a viable currency for exchange?’
From the very first page I was hooked by the story of a young boy who tries to use a ladybird to pay for his ice cream. This memory from 1966 is the first of many throughout the 60’s and 70’s where we see the events that would shape his later life and loves. The book switches back and forth through these memories, memories of a young boy collecting skulls and jars of bugs and tadpoles. Whilst this may have seemed macabre to some, for him they were a museum of treasures, a showcase of the natural world in all its delicate, intricate beauty. Along with his love of nature we also see the challenges he faced with struggling to fit in with his schoolmates. As something of an outsider at school myself I could certainly emphasise with some of his experiences in trying to be accepted by his peers. Whilst the majority of the book is focused on growing up there are also recollections from 2003/4 where we see the impact of these experiences and how they affected his outlook on the world, and on himself. These accounts are brutally honest, and make for an emotional read.
‘Perched on my jittery paw. It was gawky, half-dressed, its jumper ruffed up over its baggy trousers and sockless feet,’
One of the things I loved the most in this book was the relationship with Chris and the Kestrel he took from its nest in order to become a falconer. I really enjoyed reading about this process of learning and developing a bond with his Kestrel as they learned to trust each other. I also loved the style of writing and Chris has such a wonderful way with words, I could really hear his voice narrating the story as I read. There is a poetic, lyrical feel to it which perfectly captures his early enthusiasm for wildlife and his view of the world around him. The descriptions of the birds, mammals and other wildlife were beautiful and his love for nature in all forms is clear to see. I felt a mix of emotions whilst reading this book. It made me laugh and smile (and very nearly cry!) This is a story of love and companionship, life and death. A story of relationships between humans and the world around them, a world filled with wonders that some take for granted. I adored it from the very first page and was gripped until the very last.
‘And he knew it then, in that moment of dazed happiness, what a gift, what a thing he had seen,’
I loved reading Fingers in the Sparkle Jar and was left reflecting on its contents long after the final page. It is moving and magical, and a must read for anyone with an interest in wildlife. It is a very special book, and a fascinating insight into the life of one of our most loved presenters.