Book of the Month April 2017 – Fingers in the Sparkle jar by Chris Packham
This is an honest and profoundly personal memoir from the naturalist and broadcaster, perhaps best known for Springwatch and Autumnwatch and who came to notice as a co-presenter on the pioneering and BAFTA-winning Really Wild Show (alongside, initially, Nicola Davies and the much-missed Terry Nutkins).
This is the story of Packham’s Hampshire childhood through to his discovery of punk in 1977 with tales of his early life interspersed with revealing and unflinching passages relating to his life in the early 2000s. The book brings vividly to life his early immersion in nature: the childhood bedroom with jam jars full of discoveries: fascinations with butterflies, slow worms, snakes and foxes. The taste of tadpoles. Skulls.
These are powerfully-charged memories of an introverted, unsure child, both bullied and ignored at school who came to trust animals rather than people. They are stories of his trying to find acceptance or meaning and a place in a world not tolerant of difference or ‘the other’ – it wasn’t until he was in his 30s that he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome.
With deep and moving echoes of Kes, sitting at the heart of the book is the tale of his relationship with his pet Kestrel, Tem, who he had originally taken from its nest. Themes of friendship, love and death weave through these passages: he formed an intense bond with the bird who eventually fell gravely ill. It died in his hands leaving him unable to speak for days.
Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is brilliantly written and conveys perfectly a sense of wonder and enchantment with natural world, never more so than when Chris is writing about his beloved Tem:
“Every minute was magical… to be sat there with a Kestrel, a real live Kestrel, my own real live Kestrel on my wrist! I felt like I’d climbed through a hole in heaven’s fence”.