Little brown jobs


Gerald Durrell with a pair of little brown jobs

When he founded Jersey Zoo Gerald Durrell changed the very purpose of the Zoo.  Instead of being an exhibit for the entertainment of the bored public Durrell created a haven for threatened species.  In the process he moved the entire zeitgeist of Zoo Keepers from the entertainment paradigm to a model of study, conservation and preservation of species.

The greatest success for a Durrell style zoo keeper is not the display of animals, but the act of returning them to the wild, to a habitat made safe for them.

Gerald had a special place in his heart for the animals he called “little brown jobs”.  The bored public came to the zoo to see the headliners, the Tigers, the Lions, Elephants, Giraffes, Gorillas and so on.  It is not enough to save the species we admire.  To be true conservationists we must also protect the species that are less exciting, and indeed some that we find truly repulsive.


To a Lady, viewed by a Head-Louse; by Denise Riley

I with my triumphant bites
Vex useless human parasites.
You world-devourers are for – what?
“Useful” you yourselves are not.
Refer me, lady, to your Gaia –
My jaws will raise your blush of fire.
When humans pause to think of me
It makes their skin crawl eerily:
“Delusional parasitosis”: infestation
Of purely phantom nits’ gestation.
It’s my sole work to multiply –
The task of ladies to ask “Why
Should such a pointless breed exist?”
Only the entomologist
Admits my “good-for-nothing” species
To own the interest of its faeces
For those can raise allergic wheals
Then mortified parental squeals
Or groans of mums or dads who find
Their darlings’ hair home to my kind,
Each louse egg’s tight-cemented pearl
Superglued to their shampooed girl.
I’ll plant rosettes of telltale red
High on her neck, low on her head
Until your steel rake catches me
Or unguents loose their fatal sea.
Fleas acquire some charming tropes
For amorous fluid-mingling hopes;
Lice? Condemned to Owen’s trench
By reportage of mud-blood stench.
Some sorts are meals for grooming birds
While others have engendered words
Like “lousy”, apt for human speech –
Each head-louse purely is for each.
My species’ world obeys no brief
Of reciprocity – such a relief
Not to claim virtue. Ah, your “rich
Biodiversity”! Makes you itch.
I am for nothing – only to increase
My number, swelling after my decease.
“Purposeless” insects may prove good
For thwarting your delusion that all should
Conform to human dreams of mutual aid –
Presumptuous fantasy we lice downgrade.
Lady, I’d answer Robbie Burns:
Let other species take their turns
And do not keep so dour and mean
Vaunting your old Anthropocene.

Happy Birthday Gerald Durrell


Born in India in  1925, Durrell was relocated to Corfu in 1935.  There is no better place in the world for a 10 year old boy to run wild.   When I think of Gerald Durrell the first image that comes to me is something like the photo above, the young English boy growing up in Corfu with his menagerie of pets, the central character in his novel “My family and other animals”.

The second is “Fillets of Plaice” the collection of writings he published from random scribbles and writings.  The name of the book is a nod of respect to his older brother, the “real” writer of the family, Lawrence.  Lawrence Durrell published a book entitled “Spirit of Place” penned from scraps, discards from his novels and fragments of letters.

Fillets of Plaice contains two very memorable short stories, one about Pâté and the other a Ghost story set in a Library in a remote house.

Gerald is best known for changing the purpose of the Zoos of the world.  It was he who recognised their role in conservation as opposed to entertainment.  If we can reverse the destruction of habitats and re-populate them with native wild species it will only be because Gerald Durrell founded Jersey Zoo.

I can find no poetry by Gerald so you must settle for Lawrence.  This one is replete with imagery from Corfu and beneath it all Charon of Greek Mythology.

This unimportant morning: by Lawrence Durrell

This unimportant morning
Something goes singing where
The capes turn over on their sides
And the warm Adriatic rides
Her blue and sun washing
At the edge of the world and its brilliant cliffs.

Day rings in the higher airs
Pure with cicadas, and slowing
Like a pulse to smoke from farms,

Extinguished in the exhausted earth,
Unclenching like a fist and going.

Trees fume, cool, pour – and overflowing
Unstretch the feathers of birds and shake
Carpets from windows, brush with dew
The up-and-doing: and young lovers now
Their little resurrections make.

And now lightly to kiss all whom sleep
Stitched up – and wake, my darling, wake.
The impatient Boatman has been waiting
Under the house, his long oars folded up
Like wings in waiting on the darkling lake.