The Bookcase Project: Book 6: Nature’s Child By John Lister-Kaye

Book 6: Nature’s Child

By John Lister-Kaye, Abacus, 2004

John Lister-Kaye is an extremely well off naturalist and conservationist. And it shows in this book. Now, don’t get me wrong, it has some beautifully written passages about his experiences with his daughter as she was growing up in amongst nature, but how many Dad’s are able to say ‘So, which animal do you want to see most in the world?’ And when their child answers ‘A polar bear,’ are able to say yes? Not many. I know my Dad would have said ‘Well forget it then. You’ll have to get a job and pay your own way in about ten years when you’ve managed to earn enough money to get to Svalbard.’ But Lister – Kaye could say yes, and did. He took his daughter to the best, most expensive place to see polar bears in the world, Svalbard. He documented their travels all over England and the world for several years. This made for glorious reading in most parts but some I was like tone down the rich talk a bit please. Yes, we know you are wealthy and have certain privileges, so stop laying it on so thick. I’ll stop being mean for a while and give you a few snippets of glorious nature writing about the perils and pleasure of the natural world. “…the most endearing jackdaw images I know is that of my old friend Roy Dennis…who told me that his tame boyhood jackdaw used to ride perched on the handlebars of his bicycle. When he came to a good downhill slope Roy would pedal frantically to build up maximum speed and then freewheel joyously  with wind tears blurring his eyes. The jackdaw thought this was huge sport. It spread its legs for a firm grip, leaned into the wind, raised its tail to horizontal and hugged its wings tight to its sides. On corners it swayed to the right and left, revelling in the slipstream for which, of course, it was brilliantly designed.”Or when he is describing hinds giving birth. “Across the mountain the hinds are busy giving birth and leading their wobbly calves into high corries, as far away from bothersome flies and human disturbance as they can get. Wary of eagles, they eye the crags and the scudding clouds. Remembering the wolf, their long angular faces are ever alert, black noses twitching, ears rotating like antennae, dark eyes filled with the primeval pensiveness of the hunted.” There was a particular part though that had me just a bit angry. Lister-Kaye and his daughter were in Africa and along comes ostrich. All the way through the book, mostly good have happened to Hermione but this one occasion something goes a little bit wrong and she is pecked on the back of the neck. Lister-Kaye doesn’t hesitate in slagging off this bird no end, calling it a “…vulgar, scaly-necked, flat footed, mannerless bird with bad breath.” He went on with “…the bird rattled its scruffy black feathers and fidgeted it’s pointless, stubby wings.” Nice words coming from a well know naturalist. Now, okay, it might have pecked his daughter (for fucks sake it wasn’t going to kill her) but he was in the ostriches territory. I’m not going to jump up and down with delight about this one, but if nature is your thing, you’ll like the majority of it.