Cold Blood: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians
by Richard Kerridge
Chatto & Windus, hardback, out now.
Review by Nick Small.
Whilst there’s an abundance of nature writing about our native bird life, our wild flowers, our fish and our mammals, there seems to be less literature concerned with our native reptiles. Not as cuddlesome as a fragile doe nor as majestic as a soaring raptor, a reptile is defined as cold blooded, possibly poisonous and, in the case of a toad, all warts and pejorative mythology.
Aside from the common frog of our garden undergrowth, the reptiles of theses isles are by nature, shy, rarely seen and, in some cases, rarely present at all.
For some people though this is what imbues reptiles with an allure of mystery. It’s what pricks childhood curiosity and incubates it until it is a fully formed obsession. Richard Kerridge is such an obsessive. Cold Blood weaves his detailed knowledge of the lives, habit and habitat of British reptiles into a 290 page tapestry, embroidering it with intricate threads of childhood memories and broader philosophical notions of anthropomorphism and the nature of death for a toad in the road.
It begins with an account of a family walk, and a newt spotted on a stream bed. The urge to touch it, to hold it, to satisfy natural curiosity and a childish need to possess it is thwarted by the family’s reluctance to stop and indulge. That frustration spawns the obsession which informs everything that follows in the book. The family walks frame the picture of a boy slightly out of step with the group, reluctant to join Dad’s singing games, preferring instead to wander off looking for lizards.
The writing is economical and the author’s voice seductive. It’s just as well because anyone wishing to learn about the frogs, newts, toads, lizards and snakes will be taken on a long meander through Richard Kerrigan’s memoires and the mazy pathways of social and cultural context whilst they benefit from his undoubtedly rich knowledge of the reptiles themselves..
This is most definitely not any kind of field guide. Cold Blood is more a deeply personal narrative of one man’s love affair with his environment and the more elusive creatures which populate its soggy quagmires, tangled scrub and rotting logs: nature writing in its broadest sense.