Evidently I was feeling in an avian mood when I read this book, as I followed Patrick Suskind’s The Pigeon with another book featuring pigeons: this time it was Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell. Not deliberate, I swear. Gerald Durrell is one of my favourite authors to turn to when I want to read something entertaining and well-written but not particularly mentally taxing. He writes just the sort of light-hearted books that I was in need of when some rather painful dental problems arose, and this title seemed the most appealing at the time.
In this particular volume of Durrell’s memoirs of his journeys he travels to Mauritius with the dual aim of educating a Mauritian student in the conservation of the local wildlife and catching some of the more endangered species to take back to his Jersey zoo to start breeding programmes. It sees him and his companions encountering marijuana growers in the high forests and scrambling around on exposed rocky islands chasing after skinks, all told with Durrell’s characteristic humour and flair for recounting anecdotes.
This isn’t my favourite of Durrell’s books that I’ve read so far, probably because it seems to focus more on the zoological aspects of Durrell’s expedition than some of his other books. Although Durrell’s animal stories are wonderful, it’s his descriptions of human antics that accompany them which I enjoy the most and I think the balance between the two isn’t as even in Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons as in others, particularly his Corfu stories.
Nonetheless, it remains an entertaining book, not least because of some worrying illustrations of Gerald Durrell in the sort of terrifyingly short shorts worn only by teenage girls and British men of a certain age when on holiday in hot countries where they think no one will notice. Dodgy clothing choices aside, his stories never fail to elicit a chuckle. His account of chasing skinks over Round Island is a joy to read, and he is able to characterise animals in an unfailingly vivid and comic manner. Take for example his description of some monkeys:
We rounded one corner and came unexpectedly upon a troop of eight Macaque monkeys, sitting at the side of the road, their piggy eyes and air of untrustworthy arrogance making them look exactly like a board meeting of one of the less reliable consortiums in the City of London.
Although it may not have been my favourite of his memoirs, Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons has reaffirmed Gerald Durrell’s place in my heart and on my bookshelf as a sure writer for a cheering book.
Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons by Gerald Durrell. Published by Fontana, 1979, pp. 157. Originally published in 1977.