Not a reference to freak weather conditions on this occasion, though I have seen snow in London in May (like an exhausted hen, it didn’t lay) and know of a June cricket match in Yorkshire, back in the days before colour, which was called off as a result of the descent of the self-same fluffy flakes, but to a more zoological happening.
When considering large numbers of animals congregating together, wildlife documentaries seem to resort to the traditional, rather tired tropes of herds of wildebeest, flocks of roosting starlings, shoals of silvery fish and the like (sadly, I couldn’t think of an example to cover the element of fire – covered earth, air and water rather nicely though). However, at this time of year, the English cyclist wending his way in the early evening encounters a volume of biota to challenge any of these more clichéd gatherings.
Cycling home from Cambridge a little earlier, it felt like I was travelling through a blizzard – though a blizzard not of snow but instead comprised of members of Phylum Arthropoda, mostly, I think, the airborne members of Class Insecta. Unlike a motor vehicle which tends to kill such critters on impact, the lower velocity, or softer bodywork, of the cyclist leaves them alive – though the impact can stun heavier insects (and, indeed, for more serious ‘strikes’, the cyclist!).
As a result of this living ‘snow’, breathing can be a challenge – if you make the mistake of parting your lips you are either picking the little wretches out of your teeth or, if they evade your incisors, “enjoying” an early supper (or a good choking). Glasses – and preferably largish ones with some wrap-round – are de rigueur unless you wish to ride with tightly closed eyes which given the difficulty of using clicking sounds made with the tongue (when the mouth is also tightly closed) to facilitate sonar-style navigation is asking for (née demanding) trouble.
In addition to the insect facial, the rider also acquires large numbers of the darlings on all forward facing clothing, exposed limbs and in the hair (for all I know, they may also come to rest on backward facing clothing, but I am unable to inspect this without the aid of an arrangement of mirrors, prisms and/or video equipment which I find it impractical to carry on most journeys). These pests appear to view the cyclist as a taxi service delivering them to exciting new locations and, on arrival, vigorous patting down of the entire body is needed to evict the squatters. Despite this, I usually find a number that manage to escape my attentions for several hours after arrival at my destination and who are, by then, enjoying the film, concert or other (normally indoor) event I happen to be attending. Whilst many species are involved, the largest number always seem to be aphids – which I assume would find rather thin commons in most arts venues (unlike our hero, they are probably incapable of gorging themselves on high-priced tubs of ice cream). I do wonder how many years of cycling I will need to complete before hitch-hiking is eliminated from the aphid genome? (At least locally).
What I find particularly distressing is that with this abundance of prey there is not a sign of swallow, swift or martin to munch their way through the bounty. Where have they all gone? Surely it’s too early to head back to Africa yet? Or do they know something about the rest of the summer which the Met Office is keeping from we mere humans?