Chris Packham: Fingers In The Sparkle Jar


I’m currently reading Chris Packham’s memoir Fingers In The Sparkle Jar. As a biography of the man’s life it’s somewhat incomplete, as the primary focus of his reminiscences is the period from the late 60’s to around 1977 when punk exploded his frame of reference. He was a strange kid, obsessive in the extreme about everything from animals to dinosaurs to Captain Scarlet; strange and adrift in his own private universe where he retreated to get away from a hellish school life and depressing home life. That strangeness is enhanced by his method of telling the story, employing the third person perspective of everyone from neighbours to teachers, cinema staff and ice-cream men, to describe this solitary child as he struggles to engage with a world that refuses to meet him halfway. Packham also unleashes his inner-Wordsworth when the mood takes him, becoming especially expressive when describing his interactions with ‘nature’. In the following passage he dreams of himself as a kestrel in flight:

He heeled down and played amongst the frilly edges of silky ghosts strung on a slip of turquoise veined with plumes rising from a bonfire of bruised lilac to another sky, veiled with a gilded web and torn tufts glistening as they floated free and faded away in front of every shade of shadow. And finally, as the dying light rubbed fire onto the last of the big tops high up in thinner air, he closed his body and fell towards the earth, cleaving the darkening strata, the guttering sun flaring through the last lightning-lit seams of cloud, the air screaming with the glory of his gravity, he sank into the night, into the warm murmur and fizz of their world, from a place where he was one, to the confusion and chaos in the realm of millions, spiralling down, fearlessly racing the perspective of everything expanding super-fast, confident in his dimension and then instantly terrified of the crash into theirs, where rather than alone he was lonely.

Packham did what a lot of 1970’s kids did – he was smitten with the tale of Kes (both the novel and the film) and set about securing his own bird to train, and unlike many 1970’s kids he actually succeeded. He also ate frog spawn, tried to use dried seahorses as currency, and developed a fascination for the fantasy girls he met in the pages of porn mags found scattered behind the electricity substation. With no strict adherence to chronology, the overall effect of these scattershot reminiscences is to give some sense of where the man we know today as a BBC TV presenter came from. It is not the complete story, and is not intended to be. It will make you look again at the man, and for me raises the bar – as H Is For Hawk did – as to what a book like this is capable of. Recommended.


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