I’ve been reading a lot of Gerald Durrell lately. His short story, The Talking Head, was one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever read. Not an improving text, just a deeply delightful bit of memoir.
Durrell was a naturalist first and foremost, and wrote about his various expeditions to rescue endangered species around the world, but he’s equally well-known for books like My Family and Other Animals in which he relates adventures had with his family while growing up on Corfu.
In the introduction to his third volume of such stories, he anticipates the reader’s surprise that there could possibly be any more to tell, and explains his wealth of experience thusly:
…we were in those days, and certainly by Greek standards, comparatively wealthy; none of us worked in the accepted sense of the word and therefore most of our time was spent having fun. If you have five years of doing this, you accumulate quite a lot of experiences.
Rather than being an end in itself, their wealth allowed them to do away with time-wasting work and granted them the freedom to fill their time with pleasing activity.
As a family they spent most of their time on Corfu going on long walks, entertaining guests and throwing parties. Gerry’s brother Larry used his time to become a highly celebrated novelist. His other brother Leslie mainly spent his time studying ballistics for fun. Both are perfectly decent ways to spend a life.
Gerry himself spent his childhood exploring the island, hob-nobbing with peasants and aristocracy, collecting a bewildering range of animals (owls, spiders, puppies, fish, snails, turtles) for his home menagerie, and being tutored by eccentric local autodidacts. Sounds like an education to me.
In later life, Gerry became a professional naturalist and helped change the focus of zoos from spectacle to conservation. His legacy (in addition to his astonishing output of 42 books) is the Durrell Wildlife Park on the island of Jersey.
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