- Created: 20 April 2017 20 April 2017
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I have recently received several links to press relating to the forthcoming series of ‘The Durrells’, the ITV adaptation of the books of Gerald Durrell. The success of the first series has guaranteed a second and, I am told, a third.
My own interest in the Durrell family comes from being the grandson of the late Margo Durrell, the high tempered sister of Gerry with an interest in boys, spots and feminism. At least that is the impression I gleaned from the first two episodes of the first series of the Durrells. Being a grandson it is needless to say that I came to know Margo in the post-spots and post-boy phase of her life.
Living now in Dulwich as I do, it was with some surprise that I found out that the real life Durrells had lived in this part of London and actually planned to settle here on their repatriation from India.
Leslie had spent a time at Dulwich College and my great grandfather, Lawrence Durrell, had purchased a large house in Alleyn Park Road. Unfortunately he suffered a brain haemorrhage and died in India. Louisa Durrell, his widow, and prominent character in the Corfu books, seems to have become the worse for wear for drink and orchestrated the move to Britain with children in tow.
The house in Alleyn Park Road proved to be too large and expensive, so Louisa moved the family to a serviced flat in the Queens Hotel in Upper Norwood. It was from here that the Durrells' post India life really began. The atmosphere of the place was the setting for Larry’s Henry Miller-inspired ‘Black Book’ that was written in the thirties but banned until the sixties.
Less fact, more fiction
It’s common knowledge that the Corfu books are themselves only loosely based on fact. Larry never really lived with the family, having instead rented a house with his wife Nancy on another part of the island. The ITV series quite consciously sets out to build fiction upon fiction.
For my part I don’t see any issue with it. My father on the other hand was very upset with the way his grandmother was portrayed. His expectation was of a series that portrayed the stiff upper lip of the day interwoven with the eccentricities of Durrell family life.
The Durrell's in Corfu in the 1930's source The GD Collection
The trouble is, if the creators had stuck to the truth, the tale might prove to be too sombre. If Louisa’s drinking was as bad as I have been led to believe then the analysis of her problems might replace the carefree solicitations of young men on the island (we've had this conversation and Dad agrees with his head but not with heart).
The only remaining truth about The Durrells is that there is very little of it remaining in the series. The characters have arrived seemingly at the end of a long line of Chinese whispers. The issues that the family face are far more related to the present day and very likely resonate with a mainstream audience. It leaves a rather confusing legacy for Gerry Durrell though, as the books were written for a grander purpose… money!
The animal man
I grew up in Bournemouth and spent the first ten years of my life living in Margo’s house with my parents, sisters, uncle, aunt, cousins and granny goose up in the attic flat. The house was portrayed in others of Gerry’s books as the place he deposited his animals before he had a zoo of his own. Some of the escapades beggar belief but actually are true but by the time I was resident the only evidence of the pre-zoo fun were the empty cages decaying in the garden.
Gerry Durrell in the garden at 51 St Alban's Avenue, margo's old house in Bournemouth
At sixteen I was lucky enough to spend some memorable time doing work experience in Jersey at the Durrell zoo. It is a beautiful place full of very happy, highly endangered species. The zoo’s mission, set out by Gerry is to rebreed the animals from the brink of extinction to renewed populations, that are returned to the wild. This form of captive breeding was pioneered in Jersey at a time when places like London zoo simply saw the animals as unpaid actors to be trotted before the public as a mild form of amusement.
Durrell changed this with his island zoo and the success of their programmes has set a standard around the world. The unmitigated destruction of our planet seemed to both motivate and destroy him as a man as he suffered depression and an incredible alcoholism that escorted him to an early grave.
Putting food on trough and table
This is the primary reason that drove the young Durrell to write such populist literature; he simply needed the money to fund his dream. Many people dream of being a successful author whilst Gerry Durrell dreamed of having a zoo on his own terms. He ploughed the funds from his books into his zoo and developing the breeding programmes, often at a great detriment to his health.
Larry Durrell died while I was working at Durrell zoo in Jersey. I was sitting at the breakfast table eating my cornflakes, listening to the BBC as it was announced “The author Lawrence Durrell has died.”… The son of the people I was staying with replied to the news with, “Never bloody heard of him!” I paused and wasn’t really sure what to think. I never knew Larry so it wasn’t a personal grievance, but I knew gran would be upset. It was, for her, tangible evidence of the beginning of the end of their era.
“Signed in the absence of the author by a better one!”
Gerry and Larry talking on camera in S France, 1966 for German TV
The above quote comes from a joke made on film in a recorded conversation between Gerry and Larry when the former was asked to sign the latter’s book in a case of mistaken identity. Growing up I preferred to read Larry’s books than Gerry’s as I felt they were more arty and intense. I loved Prospero’s Island, Bitter Lemons and the Alexandria Quartet.
It was later after reading the official biographies of both Larry and Gerry that I was quite awestruck by the achievements that Gerry had made. He was able to step back and see the interconnectedness of the big picture whereby nature is the life force. He also anticipated that humanity would bring havoc on itself with careless stewardship that we are now witnessing writ large with so many more species facing extinction and the onset of climate change that is a direct threat to human civilisation itself.
It is largely because of this that in my adult life I have much more respect for the accomplishments of Gerry Durrell. This also feeds into my disappointment that the Durrell name really only ends up being a brand of light fictional comedy. The books were written to entertain, for sure, but they did have purpose.
The Durrell zoo in Jersey is alive and well today and Gerry’s widow, Lee Durrell, still lives in Les Augres Manor in the heart of the grounds. The reach of its projects is far and wide and the species that have been saved from extinction are numerous. It cannot be overemphasised how important this work is. To take a few last pairs of an animal and breed them back into a sustainable population is as noble as it gets. Many of these species that find themselves on the critically endangered list are there because of human exploitation of the Earth. The sooner we all acknowledge our debt to the natural world that sustains us then the sooner we will be able to guarantee a safer future for our children.
Gerry Durrell’s legacy to many people is as the creator of a Grecian dreamland expressed through the eyes of a child. For me it is of a visionary seer who recognised the damage that humanity was inflicting on what we might call a lost Eden. His response was equally biblical. He built his ark.
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- Created: 31 March 2017 31 March 2017
- Hits: 673 673
You’re on a plane, heading off on holiday. You stand in line, holding a pair of two litre milk cartons, filled with aviation fuel. As the queue moves forward, you ready yourself, and when you get to the front you have one second to empty them and then race to the back of the line to refill. That’s the rate at which a 747 or Airbus gets through fuel. “I was amazed to hear that” nine year old Katla told me afterwards. Add a comment
- Created: 26 March 2017 26 March 2017
- Hits: 329 329
There’s a cheerful patch of daffodils to provide a little relief from the dirty spray thrown up by cars and lorries. A cold, wet Wednesday morning, the fag end of rush hour; the perfect time to walk the South Circular, or at least a chunk of it. My starting point is West Dulwich station. I head east. At a bus stop, three bags of dog poo and a tennis ball prepare for a square dance or maybe a four-way stand off. There’s traffic noise rather than Ennio Morricone. Yards later, the beautiful Dulwich College hoves into site, wooded hill behind. Add a comment
- Created: 24 March 2017 24 March 2017
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Many Brits can last a winter up until about mid January before they start falling apart. The jet stream delivers warm currents to our south western shores that deceives us into believing that we are further south than we really are. Unfortunately, come February, the jet stream itself seems to have abandoned us, so like migratory birds many people flee the UK for sunnier climbs. Add a comment
- Created: 10 March 2017 10 March 2017
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Over elegant glasses of Paolozzi lager, John Dunsmore admits to having come over from the dark side. Edinburgh Beer Factory (EBF) may be a friendly, family-owned craft brewer but John has previous as Chief Executive of Scottish & Newcastle (which made Foster's & Kronenbourg 1664) and C&C Group (Magners & Tennent’s). Add a comment
- Created: 03 March 2017 03 March 2017
- Hits: 212 212
Months after writing about the loss of my beloved Oishii, I had lunch in its successor, Saigon Bistro. I like to support independent businesses but was sadly disappointed. The stock of my pho bo tai lacked flavour as did my fellow InDulwicher, Nick’s com suon nuong. I didn’t appreciate having to go to the counter to order after having sat down with the menu, especially in a nearly empty place. I wish Saigon Bistro well but it won’t become one of my regulars.Add a comment
- Created: 26 February 2017 26 February 2017
- Hits: 357 357
Market Row in Brixton is a little hive of quality food outlets. If it is wine you are after then do make the effort to checkout Market Row Wines. It's a dinky little shop in the arcade that has a strong emphasis on organic wines. Keep in mind the distinction between organic and natural wines. Add a comment
- Created: 24 February 2017 24 February 2017
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Guarapo de piña is one of those things where everyone who makes it has their own recipe. I made mine long ago, when I spent a couple of years in Colombia. I had a couple of goes. I made a smallish batch for a birthday party, which turned out very well. I tried to repeat the success on a bigger scale. I ended up with a dustbin full of weak – maybe 2% - with a topping of dead flies.Add a comment
- Created: 16 February 2017 16 February 2017
- Hits: 621 621
We stop outside a non-descript, light industrial building on reclaimed land in the Hafnarfjörður docks, a little outside Reykjavik. Snorri Jónsson invites us in and soon we are sniffing at a massive tea bag of caraway and angelica steeping in alcohol. Add a comment
- Created: 14 February 2017 14 February 2017
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Eating out on St Valentine's Day is cheesy (we all know that), so many of us choose to discuss this sensibly with our partners and agree to go out on another night close to the 14th. The palpable shudder of relief in being spared the grimness of other couples celebrating this valiant and noble saint's day, is also sometimes accompanied by a pang of missing out. Even if the man doesn't feel it, he ought to admit that it is worth hedging against.Add a comment
- Created: 10 February 2017 10 February 2017
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It’s the climb up White Hill that gets the sweat breaking out on my brow. It is a little steeper than Box Hill but perhaps it’s just that it’s an hour and a half into the walk. Either way, from White Hill, it’s a comfortable stretch to Mickleham and a pub lunch at the Running Horses.
- Created: 08 February 2017 08 February 2017
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InDulwich couldn’t find an opener, so Nick used his trusty hammer to open the first bottle. The denizens of the old stable block-come-office space were gathered round expectantly. The 33cl bottle of Gosnells London Mead was split between the six of us, enough for a good sniff and glug. Lined up before us was the rest of a selection six pack. Here’s how the tasting went. Add a comment
- Created: 05 February 2017 05 February 2017
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Natalia Baloghova tests Optiat’s "Pick me up coffee scrub - Lemongrass lifter” and concludes that this natural and ethical scrub goes beyond what it says on the tube!
Coming back from my gym and pilates class last weekend, I got that afternoon down feeling. It was a gloomy, late January afternoon with a dark soporific sky peering through the window. I found it hard to get going for the rest of the day. Well if anything, this was the day to give the new Optiat coffee scrub a go! Add a comment