Chris Packham is a well known presence on our TV screens, presenting The Really Wild Show from 1986 to 1995 and most recently Springwatch. He is passionate about all things wildlife and conservation, an interest that stemmed from early in his childhood where he developed a fascination with all creatures great, small, dead and alive. His introverted personality meant that he was a boy who didn’t fit in with anyone else at school; he was bullied, beaten up and suffered in some way every day. He was an indifferent pupil, but with the subjects he loved, he excelled at them.
Where Packham felt most alive though was when he was interacting with the natural world. He felt a connection to every creature that was living and had a fascination with those long departed like dinosaurs. His bedroom was a cross between a zoo and a museum with jam jars full of frog spawn, snakes in fish tanks and drawers full of skulls, eggs and deceased insects. He would spend hours outside looking for specimens, poring over his collections and boiling carcases to get to the bones. But the creature he most coveted was a kestrel, a real live kestrel, and one day he was to realise that dream. Every magical moment that he spent with the bird learning how to train it and observing it in the tiniest detail was to be the time he finally felt at peace with the world around him.
This moving memoir is written with an intensity that is so very different to anything that I have read before. Packham is eloquent with an attention to detail that is quite astonishing, you could say that obsession is his middle name, but it is not surprising when you learn he suffers from Asperger’s. His parents were gracious and tolerant with the way that he saw the world and the way that it saw him, but the way people failed to understand him did intensify the internal conflicts he suffered from. Woven in are accounts of his meetings with a phycologist, where he takes the tentative, painful steps of opening up to a stranger and it is where we learn of his greatest fears and those moments where he has stood at the abyss. If there was one flaw for me, it was the way it was written in the third person. It felt like he was detached from the events going on, and to a certain extent he probably was, but overall it is a really good read.