I've a bit of time for this chap. An 'in the blood' naturalist and committed conservationist he's certainly not afraid to offer a view. Moreover he's done more than anyone to popularise the fundamental importance of the natural world through the contemporary concept of citizen science, and in so doing given BBC's Springwatch a much needed leg up. With his memoir 'Fingers in the Sparkle Jar' just published I couldn't miss the opportunity to see him in conversation with Polly Morland at the Savoy Theatre, Monmouth - another date is scheduled for Chepstow!
I arrived at the venue to be greeted by a queue, but thankfully nothing like the snaking black monster I dealt with at last years Robert Plant gig, so it was no great hardship - although the couple behind we agitated by the wait. The theatre filled quickly and was obviously a sell out. The age demo-graph of attendees covered the full spectrum but with the vast majority aged 50+ and female.
The stage set was basic with a rolling backdrop of greyscale images and more colourful artwork from the book. Chris articulated his influences and experiences of his early years growing up in Southampton. Like many boys in the seventies collecting was important from eggs to insects and reptiles. The biggest influence during his teenage years came in the form of a school teacher who was a naturalist and bird ringer along with a kestrel that was stolen from a nest and trained as a companion. Among the undoubted passion and joy for his subject there seemed a large dose of melancholy. His TV persona of a chirpy, knowledgeable and accessible naturalist slipped as he talked movingly about the affect the death of his kestrel had on him. A period of depression ensured. Then the cuckoo in the nest was exposed, Chris has Asperger's Syndrome. Chris was quick to draw the positives from this choosing to celebrate his uniqueness, and as a grandfather of a toddler who is on the autistic scale I wholeheartedly support his assertion. He talked about his years in University when the study of biology took precedence over the student bar. And then came the raw energy of punk years when hitch hiking (whatever happened to that!) to gigs to see bands like The Clash and The Undertones was his main preoccupation.
The evening finished with a question and answer session including a defense of wild boar in the Forest of Dean, drawing a loud round of applause when ridiculing ignorant local politicians for calling for a cull. The lights went up and the grey haired throng shuffled to the front to purchase a signed copy of the book from an impressively well stocked stall. All in all a very enjoyable evening. Next up George Monbiot!