INSECTS and I have a difficult relationship. Some bug bug me - particularly the ones that bite - but others my wife and I cherish. This can be a difficult balance to maintain, and try to do the best by Mother Nature, but I freely confess that I have never found insects to be a laughing matter.
So it came as an early Christmas box this week when I almost cut my throat whilst shaving as I burst into laughter at a song being broadcast on the Radio Four Today programme, which these gloomy days rarely brings a ray of sunshine into the Sheard bathroom.
The song was called The Twelve Bugs of Christmas, extolling the virtues of creepy crawlies rather than partridges et al in a pear tree, and it was being belted out by a bunch of school kids from Peterborough who were clearly loving singing it.
Now an aphid on an oak tree would not normally bring a smile to my early-morning lips: as a gardener who loves his broad beans with a wife who protects her flowers like a mother tiger with cubs, aphids black and green are normally anathema in these parts.
Eight worms a'wiggling would be welcome but seven snails a'sliding would definitely bring a frown: we get more damage from snails than slugs now, possibly because we see few thrushes these days and a juicy snail is - or was - their favourite snack.
And there lies the nub of this strange event, the best Christmas pop song I have heard in years. For it was written by an important but little known charity called Buglife, which has set itself the difficult but important task of teaching a generally apathetic and often hostile public that bugs are important.
On the Twelfth day of Christmas
My true love sent to me
Twelve Spiders Spinning
Eleven Mayflies Dancing
Ten Bees a Buzzing
Nine Crickets Chirping
Eight Worms a Wiggling
Seven Snails a Sliding
Six Gloworms Glowing
Three Fruit Flies
And an Aphid on an Oak
They are not suggesting that we should take up eating the things - as the Aussies make a habit of doing on TV shows about "bush-tucker" - but they do want us to understand more about these creatures and the way in which they act as catalysts in helping some of our most popular animals and plants to prosper.
As the charity explains on the seasonal note that caused it to make the bug song in the first place: "Through pollination, bugs help ensure that we have a wide variety of traditional Christmas foods, including Brazil nuts, almonds and figs. Bugs help to provide us with fresh coffee on Christmas morning, cranberries and of course, chocolate!
"Bugs are also a vital source of food for many other animals and birds. Our most popular British bird, the Robin - a symbol of Christmas itself - wouldn't survive without grubs and caterpillars to feed to its young."
There is no space here, sadly, to show the whole song - sung to the music of Partridges in the Pear Tree (see later) but the last verse (left) tells most of the story:
Well done, Buglife: by far the best environmental PR of 2007. Have a laugh, dear reader, sing-along with the kids of St Augustine's C of E Primary School, Peterborough, and think before you stamp on the next spider that runs across the carpet by logging onto: www.buglife.org.uk/News/Twelvebugsofchristmas.htm
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