2016 was a year of deaths in my family. I lost three seniors, one of them very very dear to me.
Like most other recent years, this one was full of sound and fury, signifying very little (iPhone 7 launched!!!). One of the most important developments – for those who are educated and care for both science and nature – happened very quietly at the very end of the year: China has officially declared that it is going to ban the ivory trade in 2017.
The most interesting thing I have learnt about Donald Trump so far is that he does not use email. This is all of a piece with several related items of data I have gleaned and remembered over the years: a) that Mother Teresa built up a great organisation and ran a very tight ship till her last breath without a computer, b) that Oprah Winfrey bought a PC only after she was a multi-billionaire, c) that Bill Gates keeps all his most sensitive documents in hardcopy, d) that following the snooping-over-the-Net scandal, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has ordered all the most sensitive government papers to be manually typewritten, e) that employees in France have just won a 'right to disconnect', f) that Raymond Reddington of The Blacklist fame is, like Trump, a smug dinosaur who has lived through the so-called communication revolution with huge success, without having an email, Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter account. Considering the size of my internet footprint, I am already ashamed, and I shall want my daughter to keep this in mind while negotiating the brave new world. It makes me glad that she is very wary of the PayTM kind of stuff, and tells me she doesn’t miss it one bit.
The year ended blissfully in my daughter’s company, finishing off the Star Wars saga among other things. I have been privileged to read a lot of good books and watch some good movies recently. Sherlock Holmes season 4 episode 1 was a shocker, though I had become rather bored with the series earlier. Now I must carry on and find out how Holmes/Cumberbatch ‘saves John Watson’, as per Mary’s last wish. And what on earth are the two of them going to do with little Rosamund? Julian Rathbone’s sequel to A Very English Agent, called Birth of a Nation, was a rollicking good yarn: I am eagerly awaiting the third book in the series. Charlie/Eddie Bosham has become one of my great favourites among literary characters now.
A very moving book I read recently was The Elephant Whisperer by Lawrence Anthony, and once more I must admit I am ashamed that I did not know of a conservationist of his stature till now. Do read up on him and his beloved elephants on the Net; you will find a wealth of interesting information, including the amazing (yes, I meant that word) story of how they came to mourn for him at the Reserve Lodge after he died, tragically, at age 61 of a heart attack. The anecdote about how his beloved bull Mnumzane had to be put down when he needn’t have moved me to tears, and these days that takes some doing. Anthony would have been delighted to hear about the news from China.
Reading Anthony brought back to mind an old and dear love: Gerald Durrell. Much as I now admire Anthony, who wrote ‘To me the only good cage is an empty cage’, I agree, for I believe very good reasons, with Gerry, that without zoos most animals would soon become extinct: therefore zoos must stay, only they must be far better built and managed, as he showed us how. It drove me to look up the website of the love of Gerry’s life, the Jersey Wildlife Trust that he set up, and that is now (fittingly) named Durrell Wildlife Park. I also read up about his (second-) wife, the scientist Lee Wilson, who married Gerry specifically because he had a zoo of his own, and now runs it in his loving memory – as Francoise runs Lawrence’s dream come true, The Thula Thula Wildlife Reserve in South Africa. It is heartbreaking indeed to learn that few youngsters these days read as wonderful a classic as My Family and other Animals, and that the Trust is once again having money problems. I don’t feel charitable about too many things these days, but if I had pots of money I know where much of that would have gone…