An Education in Tolerance, Indulgence and Love

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To put mothers foremost in our minds this month, we offer up Gerald Durrell’s tribute to his own from the foreword to My Family & Other Animals, a woman perfectly described as ‘an education in tolerance, indulgence and love’ by Simon Barnes in his introduction to our new edition.

. . . I should like to pay a special tribute to my mother, to whom this book is dedicated. Like a gentle, enthusiastic and understanding Noah, she has steered her vessel full of strange progeny through the stormy seas of life with great skill, always faced with the possibility of mutiny, always surrounded by the dangerous shoals of overdraft and extravagance, never being sure that her navigation would be approved by the crew, but certain that she would be blamed for anything that went wrong. That she survived the voyage is a miracle, but survive it she did, and, moreover, with her reason more or less intact.

As my brother Larry rightly points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us. That she has reached that happy Nirvana where nothing shocks or startles is exemplified by the fact that one weekend recently, when all alone in the house, she was treated to the sudden arrival of a series of crates containing two pelicans, a scarlet ibis, a vulture and eight monkeys. A lesser mortal might have quailed at such a contingency, but not Mother. On Monday morning I found her in the garage being pursued round and round by an irate pelican which she was trying to feed with sardines from a tin.

‘I’m glad you’ve come, dear,’ she panted; ‘this pelican is a little difficult to handle.’ When I asked her how she knew the animals belonged to me, she replied: ‘Well, of course I knew they were yours, dear; who else would send pelicans to me?’ Which goes to show how well she knows at least one of her family . . .

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