As I write this, the sky is at its darkest and a fox screams in the distance. I’ve been wrestling with the words to describe my thoughts and feelings on Chris Packham’s memoir ‘Fingers in the Sparkle Jar’, – a gift from Chris when we met at Springwatch; but sometimes, you’re jerked from sleep, and they spill out.
It takes me a while to process things, I’m not sure if all those who are Aspergers feel this, if Chris experiences this, but I get overwhelmed quickly. I was overwhelmed by this book. Interestingly not by the subject matter, because it so mirrors my own experience, my own intensity, my own isolation; but the weight of the words, the density of the language. The landscape of connection to nature that I honestly wondered if anyone else felt, was to me reaffirming and solidifying.
As a young (aspiring) autistic naturalist, the timeless nature of feelings, experiences, obsessions and passions has not wavered between then (1970’s/80’s/2000’s) and now. I always wondered if anyone felt the stabbing and all encompassing obsession that I do. I have labelled bags of feathers and bones; I treasure everything I find in shoeboxes and takeaway boxes. Sometimes, I wake up at 2am just to look at them. We are not the same though, because I love smiling, I get the feeling that young Chris didn’t smile a lot. I probably look really stupid to be fair.
Chris depicts a 1970’s sun bleached haziness that mum and dad told me brought clouds of Ladybirds. I can scarcely imagine it as I’m lucky to see more than one at a time; even then sporadically. I often felt, when reading the book that we, the reader cannot reach him; no matter how much we could relate or nod at certain paragraphs. He is perhaps an island, which disproves the popular musing that it’s not possible. I sometimes feel that we ache for that when reading a book – a connection to the narrator or the protagonist, but it’s curious because the passion of the subject matter transcends the first or third person here. I liked the hopping! To me, the descriptions of kaleidoscopes of butterflies, the feel of the earth, the texture of magical moments, the rise and fall of a Kestrel from take-off to landing…they were all were magical. Not in a wistful way though, they represent obsession and perfection that perhaps few can understand. The language weighted on me and made my heart equally sing and ache. I could smell the probable badger sett. I could ‘see’ everything. The sparking stewing jars of beloved specimens sparkled from the pages and I could smell them. When the sacred jar is smashed in the stream by ignorant bullies, I ached, but I also knew it – the confusion, the closed minds. Those passages were hard to digest. My mum who read the book last year, said the mother in her despaired. I realise, that I would be a totally different person, had I not the parents that I have. She would have marched to their doors and gave them what for, I’ve embarrassingly witnessed this.
I am 13, a year younger than the Kestrel stealing and owning Chris. When I read of the journey he took with this beautiful friend, his first love, I cried for two hours. I couldn’t imagine such pain. Still, my thoughts at 4am…I wanted to rush out the door and steal one for myself. To immerse myself in a wild majestic creature, to look it in the eye, to pass on the love I could unconditionally give it.
I have never written a book review before, I’m probably not following the structure it lends itself to, but I’m going with my gut – which is what I tend to do, without conscience or questioning.
I get the feeling that Chris is a pure and honest person. I have been lucky enough to catch a glimpse of this in ‘real life’. When I read that he had contemplated suicide, I couldn’t believe it. He’s a hero of mine. Not many people are. A world without him would be a world without a role model, a world without bravery, without truth, without honesty. There would be no point in hoping that he could share my perspective because it is mine alone. I hope though, that he realises the hope he gives me.
This is a book for those who have felt isolated but also those who are driven towards a world of their own making. It’s a book about resilience and pulling back from the brink. It’s a book of overwhelming beauty, bravery and power. It’s a book that suggests that even the weird kid can make their dreams come true – but maybe they have to find their own identity to do so. Whether it’s punk music (which I love), a social conscience or a passion for facts and truth. They must ‘Shout above the noise’ (that came from the man himself, via Stiff Little Fingers).
I’m re-reading it because you have to, it’s so ‘full’. It’s going to sit beside my bed for a long time, for those reminders that yeah, dreams can come true, even if you can’t hold a conversation or look people in the eye at first.
Thank you for reading