I have just started reading a real classic to Tim. I remember reading Durrell’s ‘My family and other animals’ as a child and being completely hypnotized by tales of his freewheeling naturalist adventures on the (then) relatively pristine Greek island of Corfu.
I had forgotten how well he writes and how he brings the natural world alive. Squeezing generous blobs of language onto a palette, he uses exquisitely bold brush strokes to create vibrant and poetic images.
My mouth waters when I read his prose.
I just want to crawl into the page and join him in those tantalizing, shaded olive groves, to lie on my belly surrounded by velvet crocuses and marigolds, use grassy stalks to tickle moss-encrusted trapdoor spider homes….. and to meet all the fabulous winged, four-legged and two-legged creatures he comes across on his daily wanderings.
In his first few months on the island, the 10-year-old Gerald becomes completely fixated with all the small stuff – the lady-birds, the ants, egg-laying earwigs and rose-beetles.
One gets such a real sense of the intoxicating, deafening, buzzing, cicada-drenched Corfu air.
I couldn’t resist sharing some of these beautiful lines with you…
‘Among the thick, silky petals of each rose bloom lived tiny, crab-like spiders that scuttled sideways when disturbed. Their small, translucent bodies were coloured to match the flowers they inhabited…on the rose-stems, encrusted with green flies, lady-birds moved like newly painted toys; lady-birds pale red with large black spots; lady-birds apple red with brown spots; lady-birds orange with grey and black freckles. Rotund and amiable, they prowled and fed among the anaemic flocks of greenfly. Carpenter bees, like furry electric-blue bears zigzagged among the flowers, growling flatly and busily. Humming bird hawk-moths, sleek and neat, whipped up and down the paths with a fussy efficiency, pausing occasionally on speed-misty wings to lower long, slender proboscis into a bloom. . ..there came from the olive-groves outside the fuscia hedge the incessant shimmering cries of the cicadas…’
And then he writes of the coming of Spring…
‘Waxy yellow crocuses appeared in great clusters, bubbling out among the tree-roots and tumbling down the banks. Under the myrtles, the grape-hyacinths lifted buds like magenta sugar drops and the gloom of the oak thickets was filled with the dim smoke of a thousand blue day-irises. Anemones, delicate and easily wind-bruised, lifted ivory flowers the petals of which seemed to have been dipped in wine….It was no half-hearted spring this: the whole island vibrated with it as though a great, ringing chord had been struck. It was apparent in the gleam of flower petals, the flash of bird wings and the sparkle in the dark, liquid eyes of the peasant girls…’
What a perfectly magical, rich childhood.
How sad it is that so many of the children (spawned by my generation) will never have the chance to roam freely, safely and alone all day exploring hidden valleys, mountains and beaches, collecting beetles, grubs and grasshoppers and striking up unlikely and lasting friendships with quirky, eccentric (but harmless) two-legged strangers…
Gerald Durrell passed away in 1995.
What a man…and what a life.
I am inspired to share these images of three spectacular little creatures we came across on our last adventure out of town – all three of them as beautifully crafted as Durrell’s words.