Today’s title refers to members of the Hymenoptera, sub-order Apocrita – and not to the many other meanings of the word wasp (including any link to Marineville).
Yesterday afternoon, I once again found myself quaffing champagne – this time at a garden party in a rather exclusive area of Cambridge (I’m quite surprised I was allowed in!). To accompany the champagne, there were very fine local strawberries (apparently sourced from a farm close to Milton sewage works – though I’m not sure if there is a link between the works and the quality of the Fragaria) and I think it was these that attracted the first wasp of the new year (well, my first wasp anyway). Not as commonly reported as the first cuckoo or swallow perhaps but nonetheless, in my role as the Gilbert White de nos jours, I feel it is my duty to report the sighting. As wasp is a rather generic term for an entire sub-order of stinging critters, I should make clear that it was the yellow-and-black striped common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) that I saw.
Seeing the wasp reminded me of the one personal act of (mild) physical bravery which I can recall from my many years on this earth. (Normally, I’d go to quite considerable trouble to avoid having to even contemplate an act of physical bravery.) The incident occurred a few years back on a packed, rush hour Victoria line train running southbound from Finsbury Park. Along with the merry throng of commuters (OK, I’ll admit that phrase requires a degree of artistic license) my carriage also played host to a common wasp. The other commuters reacted in much the way I imagine they might had a Bengal tiger or Piers Morgan been loosed in the carriage – desperate attempts to get of the way of the interloper accompanied by shrieking and useless flapping of the hands. I was standing with a couple of friends at one end of the carriage (the north end for anyone planning a reconstruction) and remarked on the over-reaction of our fellow passengers in a somewhat mocking fashion. Fate, or karma, was swift to respond: the wasp landed on the hand rail next to the point at which I was hanging-on. She then proceeded to walk towards the back of my hand in a determined manner. Given my earlier remarks, I was unable to squeal like a girl (or man in his mid-thirties) and/or whisk my hand to safety – I decided that a sting would be substantially less painful than the loss of face such actions would incur. As a result, I allowed the wasp to wander across my hand whilst I stoically continued my conversation as though nothing was happening. Gratifyingly, the wasp continued her journey without attacking my hand – and the other passengers who observed this feat of derring-do were suitably impressed by my sang-froid.
Despite the positive feedback from the audience, I decided against touring theatres with my wasp act. I fear the days of the music hall and such “spesh” acts are long over, though I believe Simon Cowell does good business with the same basic idea on ITV on a Saturday night (I’m surprised old Chuffer Dandridge or some of his many friends haven’t given BGT a go!).