Acting in a suspicious manner is all in a day’s work

I couldn’t imagine anything more mundane. Verity and I had been out for a walk in Bostall Heath Woods (Greenwich), and as we were walking back to the car, along the scrubby overgrown verge of the A206 I saw a broken road sign lying in the long grass — it was just asking to be turned over. Over it went to reveal an ant nest (complete with larvae), various woodlice and some spiders. Nothing out of the ordinary, but you never know. See a log, roll it over. It’s a mantra that the curious entomologist utters; and for the sake of ecological completeness, ‘log’ can also mean plank of wood, sheet of MDF, broken fence panel, old mattress, discarded clothing, rubbish, litter or a broken road sign.

Here's one we found earlier — the lesser stag, Dorcus. Charming, chunky and chewing it's way through a log.

Here’s one we found earlier — the lesser stag, Dorcus. Charming, chunky and chewing it’s way through a log.

All manner of things can turn up. Earlier that day we’d found a lesser stag beetle, Dorcus parallelipipedus, and the largest pill millipedes (Glomeris) I’ve ever seen. That there was nothing of great note under the road sign was of no matter. I will turn over the next log, or rejectamenta, with keen anticipation and I’m sure there will be treasures beneath.

We regained the verge and continued walking, whilst wondering what the plonker in the silver Ford Focus was doing, reversing down the other side of the busy A road towards us. It was only when he came level with us that the Metropolitan Police sign on the door became visible. He wound down the window and called out. He’d seen us veer off the roadside and crouch down in the thick herbage, and ‘wondered if we were alright’. In other words, he’d seen some unusual behaviour and was checking us out.

I immediately turned into my Dad and adopting my best cheery Radio 4 voice announced that I was looking for insects. It just came out like that. I couldn’t stop myself. I could have added “…my good man” and I wouldn’t have been stepping out of character.

Seemingly he bought it, shouted something along the lines of “well, enjoy the rest of your day”, and drove off.

Could things have gone differently? I’m reminded of the tale, most likely apocryphal, of the Reverend Edmund James Pearce (1903–1982), a renowned coleopterist specializing in the tiny rove beetles Pselaphidae. He was apt to be a bit absent-minded, and was once found excitedly flapping about in his cassock somewhere deep in the moors having just discovered some tiny insect of great note — probably under a ‘log’. Unfortunately, the police who found him were supposedly in pursuit of a madman, who had escaped from an asylum dressed as a clergyman.

There was no holding cell for me today. My cover is still intact.

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