in Insects

Winter Gnat

This little insect, shown here 4 or 5 times life size, must have flown into a carrier bag I was carrying as we walked back from town across the park and got squashed. My microscope reveals that it’s a Winter Gnat, a two-winged fly that is conspicuous at this time of year when there are so few insects about. You seen them dancing in swarms in damp grassy places especially in the late afternoon, which was when I unwittingly trapped this one.

This seems to be a female because it has a curved dagger-end to its thorax which I guess is the ovipositor.

A Kind of Therapy

We had the phone call at 5.15 a.m. to say that Barbara’s mum Betty had died peacefully in her sleep at the Hospice. Rather than sit in a heap, we’ve worked our way through the day by gently getting on with the various tasks we’re obliged to do, such are registering her death.

Betty has been a largely unseen presence in my online diary for the last 12 years. There are dozens of drawings of the Hawthorns and the Ash log at the end of her garden. I’ve been asked to say a few words about her at the funeral. She combined a disarming innocence with a twinkle mischief so I want to get the tone just right between her sense of fun and the sadness and sense of loss we feel. And that inevitable feeling ‘I wish that I’d asked her more about her early life’.

School Museums

As we come out of the back entrance of the Registry Office on Northgate, Wakefield, we pass this unprepossessing 1960s prefab-style building which takes me back to my first inkling that I wanted to publish my natural history sketchbooks as an illustration student in the early 1970s. This is where I came because at that time it was the West Riding School Museum’s Service. Eric Woodward the director must have got fed up of seeing me but he patiently encouraged me as my idea for a Natural History of Wakefield grew from a wall chart to a booklet to facsimile sketchbook with fold-out maps, posters and prehistoric panoramas; a kind of History of the Entire Planet, which just happened to be centred on Wakefield.

The School Museums was just one inspiration for me. They sent out stout wooden boxes on loan which opened up to reveal little displays of historical objects, model dinosaurs, scale models of buildings and so on. I liked that idea of a carefully made Box ofDelights which goes out into the world with an informative display and some inspiring objects that you can examine hands-on.

As a college project I worked on a display about spiders and their webs which could be sent out to a school like a giant-sized pack of cards and slotted together. It never got as far as being added to the School Museums collection but I don’t think the materials – mounting card with transparent perspex for the step-by-steps of how a web is made – would have survived the rough-and-tumble of the classroom.

Chris Woffenden e-mailed me. He sums up how I felt when I saw this former creative hub converted to its present mundane purpose as a council storeroom:

Small world – I was a Graphic Designer/Illustrator there in the 80’s. Eric Woodward was a great encouragement to us all – whether drawing or model making etc. I grew up inspired by the delivery of those wooden boxes as a child at school in the 70’s – never thought I would work there. It was a sad day when it closed down – an even sadder one for the children at school at the moment that don’t know what they are missing.