This is the story of the establishment of Europe’s first dragonfly centre – written by the man who set it up. But it’s more than that because it is a story of a love of dragonflies, and a story of dragonfly lovers too. I liked it a lot.
The dragonfly centre in question was established not far from where I live, at Ashton, near Oundle, and near the Chequered Skipper pub where I sometimes meet friends, and near the home of the late Miriam Rothschild who plays quite a role in this story too.
Miriam Rothschild was an eminent entomologist, author, eccentric and the Aunt of Ruary Mackenzie Dodds’s wife. She, and her galaxy of friends, acquaintances and relatives appear through the pages of this book – they flit through them like dragonflies dashing around with the sun on their wings.
In real life, Miriam Rothschild did not flit – I remember being invited to summer garden parties at her house at Ashton where she would hold court in a summer dress and a pair of white wellington boots. I always found her rather scary. Mackenzie Dodds describes his first meeting with her – and the wellington boots too.
Other big names in the dragonfly world flit by too. Norman Moore, Philip Corbet and Steve Brooks flash past.
Setting up a dragonfly sanctuary and a dragonfly museum and a dragonfly centre, and then moving the latter across country to start again, is the story told here, with Mackenzie Dodds’s passion for dragonflies linking it all together. That passion started in an unusual way, and as an adult rather than in early life, but it was certainly a passion that gripped him.
The story is told in diary form, starting in 1980 and brings us up to the present. As is often the case, the early years are the most fun.
You don’t have to live locally to Ashton to like this book (although it increased my enjoyment of it), you don’t have to have met any of the characters who flit through its pages (although you will certainly recognise some of them from the TV), and you certainly don’t have to be mad keen on dragonflies to enjoy it (for, in a way, they play a rather small part in the book). The book would work as an engaging account of one man’s enthusiasm, which happens in this case to be dragonflies (yes, and damselflies, of course) but could really be anything, and his trials and tribulations (with people, machinery and bureaucracy) and delights (with people and nature) as he follows his passion. His writing reminded me of Eric Newby’s style.
The Dragonfly Diaries by Ruary Mackenzie Dodds is is published by Saraband.