A ten-year-old girl from Chichester has just written a remarkable book.
At the moment she lives on a sailing boat somewhere in the Mediterranean. The last I heard of her by e-mail was that the boat was undergoing repairs off Tangier.
Roxanne Schinas was born aboard this boat and crossed the English Channel at the age of two weeks. She had reached South Africa before she was one year old. Oh, I forgot to mention that she was accompanied by her eccentric parents.
Whim and wind take this strange crew where they will. Grandfather Fred Dickin, whom many will remember as one of the mainstays of the planning department in county hall, watches their progress with amusement.
Roxanne is one of those rare and gifted persons who can interpret the natural world of birds, plants and animals even as her eyes opened. You could see her taking over David Attenborough's job.
Certainly she emulates Gerald Durrell, with her never ending pets, be they spiders, locusts, cicadas, beetles, preying mantises, fish, toads, mice, crabs, crayfish, terrapin, tortoise: one gets the feeling that parents too are her pets. It is a case of her family and other animals again.
This is all wonderful for Roxanne because she can concentrate on her interest. No telly, no school desk, no formalities drain her head to distraction - one of the greatest curses for the single-mined person.
Roxanne won the RSPB's nature diary competition for eight to twelve-year-old children with her record of insect life on tower block waste land. The family moved to Spain, and everyday she was off exploring an islet inhabited by gulls. She mapped every nest, then began to record the behaviour of the birds.
Next thing her mother knew was that Roxanne was cuddling an egg and a newly hatched gull. She let her daughter keep them on condition that she fed and cleaned the gulls herself and that a daily diary was kept of their progress.
So Romulus and Remus came happily into the world and fixed Roxanne as their mother. It is almost certain that the birds would not have survived the harsh world of gulls otherwise.
The story of their lives is now in our domain and it is alluring, sensitive, and amazingly detailed. It is the sort of story my father began writing when he watched the world beyond the window, and which led eventually to Tarka the Otter.
It makes me wonder how the Chichester family girl will progress from now on. This story of her orphan gulls is as easy and pleasant to read as watching film of wild creatures. As she chases about in the sandhills, is nearly bitten by a snake, watches her gulls preening their growing quills, or worries how to remove the pencil Remus swallowed ten days before, we are there at her side, living the moment of the story-teller.
Scientific details are recorded throughout the story but do not bully the reader. This is partly an accurate scientific paper on bringing two gulls to maturity and having them follow you everywhere, which is in itself an almost unique achievement for a ten-year-old child.
So Roxanne may become a scientist of great use to the natural world. She may become as respected a story-telling scientist as Dr Conrad Lorenz, another Oleg Palunin with his vast botanical survey of the Mediterranean and Europe, or Niko Tinbergen who studied a colony of gulls too. But didn't make it quite so entertaining as this author.
(blob) Two Gulls and a Girl, published by Imperator, can be ordered through any bookshop, price 12.95. It has 89 photographs of the girl and her gulls.
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