Here he is now, coming through the undergrowth, yes that’s him. If we’re just still enough now we should be able to get an unparalleled sighting of the plumage of the Silver-Tongued Barnes. Ahh, there he is…. magnificent.
Simon Barnes is a naturalist. A very good one. He also writes books about nature. These are also very good. In fact much of the joy of his morning talk at the Opera House comes from his ability to convey a deep and learned love for the wild world in a way that infects you, the listener, in turn. Being an expert is one thing, but being an expert who can articulate and inspire is quite another. For the record, he’s in the latter category.
Category. Or is it phylum? Species, perhaps, or even genus? As he explained at the outset of the talk, these were questions that shaped the form and content of his latest book, Ten Million Aliens. His initial idea, born out of throwing ideas around freely and easily with his (charmingly sympathetic) publishers, was to write about insects. Then that changed.
As he talked on and thought further, it began to seem impossible to him to just stick to insects. The divisions and sub divisions, classifications and so on just didn’t lend themselves to what he wanted to discuss. As he says, “Life isn’t about barriers, it’s about continuity”. And so the book came to be about all animal life.
Dipping in and out of his book, we were treated to near-death with lions, the weirdness of water-bears (Google them) plus an account of the sex lives of slugs that would have made Caligula blush.
Wrapping up the talk, questions from the audience were dominated by concerns of ecology and the the environment. It was clear from the passion on display today that writers like Simon Barnes, Robert Macfarlane and Caught By The River are the articulate champions the natural world desperately needs.
One last thing to note, in answer to a question from my son earlier – yes, Simon Barnes did keep his clothes on for the whole talk. Naturalist, Harry, naturalist. Naturist is something else altogether. Just ask a slug.
Written by Ben Evans for the Jersey Festival of Words