Thursday


Nature offering an escape from grief



Richard Kerridge may have given his memoir the title Cold Blood but there's a lot of warm-blooded feeling in this perceptive and original piece of writing. It goes a lot deeper than the dirty puddles and ditches the writer spent his formative years delving around in, hunting out newts and frogs and toads.

A child of the Sixties, the title Kerridge has chosen could equally refer to the awkward and difficult relationship he had with his dad. His father Paul is a complex and troubled character. We learn later that he was a tank gunner in France in the weeks after D-Day, wounded in the leg by shrapnel. The strange sounds his son hears in the night are his father's nightmares that he is being shot at again. They clash over his choice of friends, his school, the heavy expectations father has for son. Tension is in the air, arguments, rage and sometimes a "clip round the ear".

It's partly what drove the young boy towards his special relationship with nature – a small game hunter in Britain's suburban jungle. He writes: "When I was young, my love of expeditions into wild nature – my love of the thought of wild nature being out there – was an escape from a home where I knew I was loved, yet where I was often frightened and angry." His escape is to go and catch things. Young boys in the Sixties are able to net newts, capture frogs and trap toads. The countryside is their playground and species such as the great crested newt, with its huge golden eye  – today the subject of massively strict conservation laws – are fair game for young collectors.

Truly learning about the creatures they have captured is an important element of their adventures. That thirst for knowledge means the adult Kerridge writes about the world he escaped to as a child with passion and understanding gained over the decades.

The author has a true feeling for his subjects as he takes us on a modern day tour of our islands, peering into ponds and scouring the sand dunes to uncover its hidden nature.It's a world constantly under threat from man and Kerridge is passionate about the need to protect the dwindling habitats of creatures such as the natterjack toad. You also feel his sense of pain when describing the mass destruction of toads, flattened by motorists as they cross roads on their way to their breeding grounds.

Milestones along his journey to adulthood are also chronicled in his compelling, poetic style. There are losses along the way. One of the gang of hunters is killed tragically young in a motorcycle accident. But the biggest loss is his father, who also dies suddenly in a car crash.

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