ONE of the country’s top TV naturalists, Chris Packham, took to the stage at The Lowry last night (May 9) to talk about his book “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”. Quays News entertainment reporter Rachel Foy went along…

Since first appearing on our screens as a presenter of The Really Wild Show, his love of all things wild has been evident in a string of broadcasting hits and he is rarely off our screens.

He has also published many successful wildlife books, including his most recent “Fingers in the Sparkle Jar”. Chris explained that the title of the book is inspired by fish he collected to feed his grass snakes. He became obsessed with their sparkling scales and they looked whilst he had his fingers in the jar.

In the book, Chris goes into a lot of detail about his childhood in the 1970’s, his memoir tells the story of a quiet boy, who, befriended a young kestrel and learned “what is meant by love.”

Joined on stage by Patrick Barkham (journalist and wildlife enthusiast), the pair conversed about Chris’ childhood and how hard it was growing up with a hobby different to others.

Now aged 55, Chris recently revealed that he has Aspergers. Undiagnosed until adulthood, a condition that made growing up in the 60s and 70s a painful ordeal. For him to reveal information as detailed as possible is a quite an achievement and he described that growing up as a child was difficult in aspects, however not in the way you’d imagine…

Chris talked about the first time he found a kestrel; he had been monitoring its movements for weeks and eventually followed it right to the nest. Being a curious 10-year-old, he took the baby kestrel from the nest and took it home to look after and train it. He kept the bird in a garden shed and taught himself falconry from a book. However, word around the town he lived in spread, as he trained the bird in a field by his home.

Local children made very loud noises during training exercises and much to his surprise, one of the neighbours called the police one day and from then on the ‘coppers’ were at his house most nights. Until Chris’ father showed them the cage and area the bird was living in. this seemed to leave them satisfied for a while, until Chris had to release it into the wild – which he never! His relationship with the bird was very close – he was unable to speak for days when it died – is the most significant in the book, a recollection of growing up from the ages of six to 16 in a Southampton suburb.

A lot of Chris’ childhood is portrayed in his book as many vivid colours, which all related to his love of the outdoors and nature itself.

However, his love of ‘punk rock’ was also a major influence to his life and ultimately his photography work. Chris told the audience of how if you didn’t fit in during the 1970s, you became different and part of the ‘punk’ scene:

If you didn’t like the fashions, you made your own, if you didn’t like the music you made your own. This is probably how the ‘punk’ style arose; many people wanted to be different but didn’t have the courage.”

Chris’ talks are full of fascinating information and discussions of all topics; he doesn’t shy away from controversy, but his main purpose is to entertain and educate. A sequel is to be hoped for. We want to know how, against overwhelming odds, he went from troubled lonely teenager, to end up where he is now; almost a national treasure.

By Rachel Foy

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