Beetleology and Book Club


29 June Apparently, Lucy spent most of last night on a London balcony. Not because she chose to spend several hours romantically admiring the stars, or even in a more scientific Brian Cox sort of way. She and four others were locked out on the balcony of the flat after the handle came off the door. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much room so instead of being able to lounge about and at least pretend to look as if they were enjoying the view, they were forced to stand tightly shoulder to shoulder, like a mini phalanx of Roman centurions.

At first, they spent some time fruitlessly yelling help at passers-by below (being London, no one took any notice), then realised that lateral thinking was called for. Suggestions were made; someone could kick the door in (in spite of it being double glazed and opening outwards). Or someone could shimmy down a drainpipe (even though they were on the fifth floor). Someone had the bright idea of dropping the keys down to a stranger in the street, until someone else pointed out (again, being London) that the stranger could then come up to the flat, let themselves in, take anything worth having, wave cheerfully to the strandees watching helplessly from the balcony on the other side of the glass, and then leave. With the keys, the plasma TV and a few mobile phones.

Fortunately, Lucy managed to pick the lock because she is truly a lateral thinker, rescuing them from a whole night of being wedged outside, pretending to gaze at the stars. Thank goodness for them all that she’s inherited my resourceful gene.


30 June Mr Young is chairing the inaugural meeting of his Poker Club tonight. He’s been keen to organise this for some time; I was hoping this might be so that he could win buckets full of cash and buy us first class tickets to Maurititus, but unfortunately I've discovered that they are playing for just £2 a game so I’ve got to lower my expectations to the occasional extra glass of Sauvignon Blanc. Low stakes notwithstanding, he has organised it all to his usual professional standards; printed spreadsheets listing the order of the winning hands, and an explanation of the amount represented by the different colours of the chips. It’s not exactly the Sopranos (beer and Pringles instead of whisky and cigars), but he likes to run a tight ship. Weeks of practice-playing online don’t do him much good tonight, though. Everyone but Mr Young wins a game.

“Ah well,” he sighs at midnight, stacking away the chips and the professionally plastic-coated cards, “it’s just for fun, after all. And it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part.” But it would have been nice for him to win at least once, though. There aren’t even any Pringles left.


3 July When I take the clothes out of the washing machine this morning, there is a hard object still clattering about at the bottom of the drum. But it’s not a coin, or a button, or a hairgrip. Rather surreally, it’s a beetle. Quite a large beetle. I know they’re supposed to have a hard carapace, (or exoskeleton as those of us who got a B in their Biology ‘O’ level like to call it) but it’s still impressive that it has stayed intact, especially through a 60° wash and a 1200 spin cycle.

I wonder whose, and which, item of clothing it was clinging to when I stuffed the washing into the machine this morning. It seems disrespectful to throw it away, so I leave it on top of the washing machine to show Mr Young later. And maybe to give it a decent burial, which I think it deserves after all its efforts to demonstrate the power of survival of the fittest (although even evolution probably hasn’t reckoned on a 1200 spin cycle as a potential danger to the species). “What’s this doing here?” Lucy calls from the utility room. I explain about finding the beetle. “But it’s not a real beetle, is it?” “Well, of course it’s a real beetle,” I say. “Why on earth would a plastic beetle be in the washing machine?” “But it can’t be real,” she says again. “How could it have survived a wash? Look at it – it’s perfect. It must be plastic.” “No, it’s not,” I say. I am 80% sure it’s not. I’m no beetleologist, but it looks far too detailed to be plastic. I have owned plastic beetles myself (admittedly not since I was eight) and don’t remember them ever looking so realistic. She is clearly dubious and stares at me suspiciously. I think she’s getting concerned about my behaviour these days. But I’m 75% positive I didn’t put a plastic beetle in the washing machine. 50% positive, anyway.


4 July I am having some very strange dreams these days. It might be something to do with global warming. Or eating yoghurt late at night. Last night I dreamt I had extremely bushy eyebrows. Long, curly eyebrows that practically covered my forehead. But it’s all right. I looked it up. Apparently it means that some money is coming my way. I really don’t mind having eccentric dreams if there is a cash reward involved. And if Mr Young’s gambling habit isn’t going to take us to Mauritius, maybe my eyebrows will.


5 July It’s Book Club again. This time, we’ve read My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, which deserves an intellectual debate. I find a comfortable chair, then realise I’m sitting too far away from the sausage rolls so have to move to somewhere more convenient. I make a couple of almost intelligent comments, but suspect the pastry crumbs round my mouth are a bit distracting. After the first hour, the conversation veers from Daphne’s obscure romance to 50 Shades of Grey, which I haven’t read and am not sure I want to. It sounds far too energetic and I have a feeling Mr Young would be in for a rather unwelcome surprise. I’m dying to make my joke about “the only 50 shades of grey I know is my white wash after one of Mr Young’s socks has been accidentally added”, but I lose my nerve. Anyway, I’m not sure it’s that funny. And I need to concentrate on the sausage rolls.


7 July Mr Young and I are preparing a Spanish feast tonight. It’s for some friends who used to live in Majorca, so we have planned to surprise them with tapas and chicken with chorizo. Mr Young is doing most of the work, but my jobs are to prepare the dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped in bacon, and the citrus tart. Unfortunately, I get carried away with testing the Rioja and burn the dates stuffed with almonds and wrapped with bacon. (They actually now bear a strong resemblance to the deceased beetle.)

My citrus tart – which I had my doubts about earlier this afternoon – is supposed to have set in the fridge, but instead has the consistency of blobby custard, so I balance it in the freezer on top of a bag of petit pois in the hope that a fifteen minute blast of icy air might help. Sadly, it doesn’t. It’s just much colder blobby custard when it comes out. Our guests are polite enough to make appreciative noises as I splodge it onto their plates. “Mmmm, delicious!” they say in unison. “So lemony!”

If I’d had my wits about me, I could have said in advance that it’s an “unusual pudding, a bit like a cold, blobby citrus custard” and served it in a bowl. Perhaps I’m not that resourceful after all.


10 July I call Mr L-N for a chat, and leave a message because he doesn’t answer. Ten minutes later he rings me back.

“Well, thanks very much for that!” he says sarcastically, in the surly sort of way that makes me wonder why I bothered to call him in the first place. “Thanks for just ruining my Skype interview!” It appears that the reason I “ruined” his interview was because he forgot to switch his phone off; when I called him, therefore, it was ringing persistently in the background while he was doing his best to impress his interviewer. His ring tone, moreover, is (bizarrely) the Marsellaise. I can see that having the French national anthem playing stridently in the background would be distracting in any situation. But surely, I point out, he could have just switched his phone off and carried on with the interview? “No,” he says. “I’d put a smart shirt on for the interview, but still had my pyjama bottoms on.” “OK,” I say. “But I still don’t understand why you didn’t just turn your phone off when it started ringing?” “Because, idiotically, I’d left it on a table just out of reach, so I’d have had to get up to turn it off and then he would have seen my pyjamas. So I just had to carry on and talk really loudly and pretend that the Marsellaise wasn’t ringing – for bloody ages – in the background.” Clearly not my fault at all, then. “Well, I think I’ve done you a favour, actually. You’ve learned a valuable lesson, there, haven’t you?” I say. Mr L-N can be so unappreciative sometimes.


13 July We are off to London tomorrow for a jaunt with Harriet and Jonny. Mr Young has been given two tickets for a tour round the Arsenal stadium and (as I regretfully declined his invitation to accompany him because I would rather eat my own foot than wander round the changing rooms, visit the Arsenal museum and test my football knowledge), he is taking Jonny, while Harriet and I are going to Primark in Oxford Street.

Which, come to think of it, may not necessarily be the better of two evils.

Still, you never know. I might wake up tomorrow and feel in just the mood for fighting my way through a mob of ferocious women so that I can lug home a carrier bag full of 99p earrings and a lime green sweater with a hole under the arm which I shall never wear.

Never mind. At least I can look forward to an evening of Mr Young enthusiastically telling me all about his Arsenal tour. Now I would definitely rate that as being 50 shades of grey.

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