Category Archives: Writing

Please, never say ‘poo’, unless you’re addressing a bunch of 3-year-olds

With writing of The natural history of dung well underway, I am obviously alert to every instance of excrement in the news. The trouble is that journalists seem not to be able to bring themselves to mention it without falling back on the infantile term ‘poo’. Here are some examples:

BA flight forced to land early because of smelly poo, BBC News, 16 March 2015

UK’s first poo bus goes into regular service, The Guardian, 15 March 2015

Posh village terrorised by poo bomber, Mirror, 16 March 2015

Campaign to stop pet owners leaving dog poo on the streets of Darlington, Northern Echo

Dog poo drops lead to blindness and £4K fines, Buckingham Advertiser

Let’s get this straight, ‘poo’ is in the same league as ‘plop-plops’, ‘number twos’ and ‘big jobs’ — zero gravitas, but maximum simpering coy nonsense.

The word is ‘dung’. And if this is no good, then faeces (feces even), excrement, sewage, stool, scat, droppings, or ordure are also available.

And don’t even think about turd, shit or crap; expletives are equally pathetic.

It’s dung.

Dung is not a four-letter word. Well, it is, but you know what I mean.

Ooh, look what the postman just brought

I wasn’t expecting this quite yet — an advance copy ahead of publication in February, so am feeling very smug.

One person's irritating larder infestation is another's amusing after-dinner anecdote.

One person’s irritating larder infestation is another’s amusing after-dinner anecdote.

Most of the after-dinner anecdotes are my own infestations; I would never mock anyone else’s house cleanliness. Although only a minor part of the book, the identification guide, more a rogues’ gallery of usual suspects, has 144 entries — one gross, how cool is that coincidence?

Can you tell whether I’m a cat person or a dog person?

Final proofs for House Guests, House Pests are in and it won’t be long before the print button is pressed. The content is, of course, mostly insects, but there is a light scatter of non-invertebrate subject matter too.

Bats in the belfry, dormice in the loft and porcupines interfering in the garden shed all get a mention. Not everything is a pest. There are plenty of animals we seem to tolerate in our houses.

Take this for instance. I’m pretty certain you should be able to tell where my loyalties lie.

Do house guests include cats and dogs?

Do house guests include cats and dogs?

A proof-louse

It stands to reason that a head-louse lives on heads, a plant-louse lives on plants, a bark-louse lives on tree trunks, so a proof-louse occurs on proofs.

Screen Shot 2015-11-03 at 20.07.56

Hopefully not a sign of a lousy book.

This is what crawled over the photocopy proofs of House Guests, House Pests whilst I was reading through them on holiday last week. It’s one of the book/bark/flour lice (order Psocoptera), something like Liposcelis which is often found damaging paper, or in stored food. We have them living in various cupboards in the kitchen and that’s probably where this one came from originally.

However, it had been on a long journey, because it crawled out of the proofs in Strobl, in the Austrian Alps, after I took them from the brown envelop that I had been carrying in my small hand-luggage back-pack.

I suspect my bag, long used on family trips to hold packed lunches, savoury snacks, sweets, and various other food items frequently spilled, has its own internal ecosystem and that there is actually a thriving colony of Liposcelis living at the bottom of it.

I’ll give it a bit of a shake-out before I use it next.


Ticker-tape parade

I’m grinding my way through the first draft of House Guests, House Pests. It’s going well, and I use the word ‘grinding’ only in that I’m milling endless stories, anecdotes and scientific themes into edible pieces.

One of the things which is coming through is that I’ve had many more household insect pests cross my threshold than I first thought.

One of my favourites is the biscuit beetle, Stegobium paniceum. In our previous house in Nunhead, it invaded almost everything in the pantry (like the beetle, named after the bread, Latin panis, which was originally stored in this type of cupboard). It was in the flour (plain and self-raising), the malted shreddies, the dry cat biscuits, the oxo cubes (it chewed through the metal foil wrappers too), and the lasagna sheets.

But perhaps its most memorable infestation was in the noodles, which looked like ticker-tape. Spot the beetle bottom.

Even quicker cooking now, with all the added holes.

Even quicker cooking noodles now, what with all the added ventilation holes.

I haven’t seen one for several years now, though. I blame increased kitchen hygiene and tupperware containers.

Not a bad review

This just in from British Journal of Entomology and Natural History:

It's always gratifying to think someone can guffaw when they read what you have written.

It’s always gratifying to think someone can guffaw when they read what you have written.

Apart from being taken to task over my interpretation of mosquito subfamilies, I’m quite pleased with this review. Thanks Erica.

Caterpillar, caterpillar

Anyone who’s ever read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, will know the usual story of maggot-to-butterfly transformation. Any entomologist who’s read it will wonder at the bizarre mix of foodstuffs consumed by the unlikely beast, and come to question whether poetic license has actually been stretched to the point of poetic nonsense.

So when my 15-year-old daughter told me that her English homework was to work on a caterpillar story-poem aimed at young children I was more than a little bit proud that she had decided to eschew chocolate cake, swiss cheese, lollipops and cherry pies.

Here is her work. And I think it’s a masterpiece.