Friday, 2 August 2013

My family and other animals

My son was reading Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals while we were in Greece - a perfect choice, I think.

I loved the book when I did it at school - because of the charm and humour of the writing, but also because it seemed very evocative of my early life, in Gibraltar.  My family were nowhere near as eccentric as Durrell's, of course, and our lives were not as chaotic.  My father was a serving soldier and was stationed there in the mid-1960s and we went with him - my mother, my two brothers, my sister and me.

I spent a good deal of the time, like the young Gerald (though with not nearly so much intensity or rigour) staring at lines of ants, watching mantids hunting, following octopus underwater, studying rock pools.  And in Greece, I felt myself going back to that world so easily.

Greece was a bug-fest.  There was lots of other wildlife too - tortoises, birds and lizards and so on - but it was the insect life that seemed most to the fore.  The cicadas - tzitzikas in Greek - made their presence felt with their incredibly loud chirping, trying to bashfully hide when spotted.  There were several species of wasps and bees, some enormous.  Hornets were very common and thrummed past with their incredible machine-like throb.  There were so many crickets and grasshopper, both in number and species.  They hopped about on the hot tarmac of the roads and among the shrubs and trees.  There were lots of butterflies too - many very large and beautiful (most of those larger ones swallowtails).  There were millipedes in the house and very large and aggressive centipedes we were warned not to handle.  And of course there were ants: long lines of them on the march, cohorts of larger ones dragging impossible loads, massive-headed soldier ants scurrying around on the hot stones.

We were not as bothered by flies as we have been in other hot places (or even in the UK) but we were bitten.  Some were no doubt mosquitos but probably not all, as the reactions seemed to differ.  Some of the bites were very painful, it has to be said.  No paradise without the snake...

And talking of snakes, we saw a couple of those too.  I saw a very fast small green snake, that shot away as I approached as we walked through the acropolis near our house in the olive farm, and we saw a pretty large one on the way back.  It was equally keen to escape.

Birdlife was the most disappointing.  We saw lots of swallows, swifts and martins.  We saw buzzards and falcons and lots of hooded crows and jays.  We saw goldfinches, greenfinches and lots of sparrows.  We even saw a little owl sitting on a roof.  But we didn't see hoopoes or bee-eaters or rollers and I was really hoping we'd see at least one of those.

Too hot, I think.  Maybe next time.


  1. What a lovely post and completely captured the feel of your trip! I, too, was an amateur scientist of the natural world as a child. I mostly studied spiders and ants. We're still a bit obsessed with spiders--since we have 7 tatantulas. I'm so pleased you had a good holiday.

  2. I loved that book! Reading this post makes me want to find it again and re-read. Thank you.

  3. Thank you! I'm still pathetically a bit scared of spiders (when they get large). Unless they are Spiderman.

    And thank you Philippa. I'm touched to think my blog might take you back to that book. I might re-read it myself, come to think of it.