Thursday, 29 November 2012

Dining with Naturalists

I mentioned in an earlier blog that David Attenborough would be one of the people I’d invite along to my special dinner party and that got me thinking as to which other naturalists I would like along, either from the present day or those from the past.  My only criteria are a) I think I would get along with them and that they would all get along with each other, b) they are all-round naturalists who I can rely upon to share their knowledge and experiences with others and c) I believe they might all like fish and chips.  I’ve whittled it down to ten individuals, three of whom I’ve actually met.  It’s no good anyone asking if they can be invited along too as I don’t have the room for more.

Charles Darwin.  Apologies to David Attenborough, but Charles Darwin would be given pride and place at the head of the table.  I think I’d like him along at an age when he was freshly returned from his voyage on the Beagle.  I’d much prefer to hear about his more youthful adventures on the voyage and his initial thoughts arising from that, than get bogged down in his internal struggles over creationism and religion.  I was many years ago fascinated by Darwin’s experiences on the Galapagos Islands and at one time these islands were number one on my list of places to visit.  Not so now, as I just can’t imagine that they are anything like Darwin found them and that would perhaps spoil the image of them that I have in mind.  It’s easy to forget that Darwin was away for five years during which time he circumnavigated the world in the Beagle.  Not comfortable travelling for a guy who suffered from severe sea sickness.  One area I would still like to visit and that Darwin is closely associated with, is Tierra del Fuego.  This place, would I think, still have me in awe.

David Attenborough.  What an interesting conversation he would have with Charles Darwin and I think the latter man would be very interested to hear about the formers more recent travels, although I’d be interested to know what he made of the changes in the world.  As I had recently promised myself, I have read David Attenborough’s Zoo Quest Adventure in search of the Komodo Dragon and I’m now well into the travels in search of animals in Paraguay, both trips made in the 1950s.  Reading the books gave me the impression that although much older, and wiser no doubt, David Attenborough’s style in describing nature and writing about it doesn’t appear to have changed too much over the years.  His style in the field certainly has changed as has natural History programmes in general.  This event will give me the chance to say more to him than ‘hello, could you please write best wishes Brian and sign the book?’  I’ll have a pile of books for him to sign in addition.  One thing about David Attenborough which I feel is so vital to his success is that his verbal descriptions of wildlife in Britain are equally as exciting and inspiring as his descriptions of more exotic wildlife.  This underlines that travel isn’t a necessity to an on going love and interest in nature. 

Alfred Russel Wallace.  Like Charles Darwin, I’d like Alfred Russel Wallace along as his younger self.  I know he got heavily involved with spiritualism in his later years and I would like the conversation to steer clear of that.  As his original thoughts on evolution where rather over shadowed by Darwin’s I think this would bring an interesting aspect to the table.  There would be no animosity, as I believe the two men got on well.  I’d like to hear of Wallace’s initial trip to South America where he spent four years.  Sadly almost all of his collection from those four years was lost in a shipwreck as he journeyed home.  If he was daunted by this it didn’t stop him going on to make many discoveries in what was then the Malay Archipelago that is now present day Indonesia.  Rather then me going on at length, you can get lots of information here  I’m sure David Attenborough will have lots to share with Wallace about Birds of Paradise.  Now, having noted that Wallace lived until 1913, I have decided that the dinner will next year will be an official recognition of the centenary of his death.  I’m sure he’ll feel very honoured.

Diane McTurk.  Diane McTurk is another of the guests I’ve met and I do think it right to have some female company at the dinner.  This is not a token gesture I hasten to add!  The McTurk family originated from Scotland, but several generations have lived and farmed in what is now Guyana.  Diane was born in Guyana and returned there when it gained independence and has help set up an area of conservation in the Rupununi River area.  She helped set up the Karanambu Trust and Lodge and has become world renowned for her conservation work with Giant River Otters.  For more information take a look here   I stayed at the lodge a few years ago during a trip to Guyana.  The trip had its exciting moments, but also some disastrous ones and the leadership of it left a lot to be desired.  One of the biggest disasters was a friend of mine breaking a leg, and whilst I won’t go into detail about it, I suggest if anyone is going to break a leg that they don’t do it in Guyana!  The few days I stayed at Karanambu was never the less a wonderful experience.  This is where I later found that David Attenborough had stayed in the 1950s and had been helped by Diane’s father.  I believe Gerald Durrell was also helped by Mr McTurk.  I saw Giant River Otters, Black Caiman, Capybara, Bulldog Bats and many birds in the area, including Sun Bitterns and Roseate Spoonbill.  Unfortunately there were no Giant Anteaters, but I did find one later in another area of Guyana.  One of the strangest animals I have seen in the wild.  So it will be good to chat about such wildlife to someone who has lived alongside it for so long.

Gerald Durrell.  I seem to remember Gerald Durrell first came to my attention when I read his My Family and Other Animals, which tells of his experiences on the island of Corfu as a youngster.  This was later made into a TV series of programmes.  The tale gives a very funny and entertaining look at the young Gerald’s early interests in wildlife.   Of course he later became very well known for his work at Jersey Zoo, his travels, writing and TV appearances.  I’m not the greatest fan of zoos and I have been in some pretty dismal ones (one of them happens to have been in Georgetown, Guyana!), but I do appreciate the great work that can be done by them if they are involved with education and conservation and this is certainly the case with Jersey Zoo.  Just as David Attenborough did, Gerald Durrell visited Guyana to collect animals in the 1950s.  Well to be exact in 1950, a few years before David Attenborough’s trip and I know he was in contact with Diane McTurk’s father.  I’m not sure if he stayed at Karanambu (I suspect he will have), but I’m sure I’ll find out when he comes for dinner.  He did write about the trip in a book called Three Singles to Adventure so I may try and get my hands on that before he calls.

That’s five of my guests then.  I’ll take a short break before put up the other five.  I just want to ensure that they are available.  Just to save sometime I might book   the fish and chip café at Seaton Sluice for an evening.


  1. Yep that would be some evening Brian! May I be a fly on the wall, lol?

  2. Better than that, you can do the washing up!

    I hadn't realised that Wallace had lived until 1913 until I checked.

  3. Lol. Yeah I'm also surprised about Wallace. I thought he would have been gone long gone by 1913!