The Loveliness Of Ladybirds
Have you ever eaten a ladybird? You know what a ladybird is, it’s a tiny beetle with red wing casings dotted with black spots and they taste awful. Red is a warning sign but when they creep into your mouth and you chew them, it doesn’t matter what colour they are, they still taste bad.
I was sitting at the dining room table eating a bowl of soup. The soup contained grains of pearl barley. It was delicious soup. I was eating it up when I thought a grain of barley was stuck on my lower lip. I poked out my tongue and hooked up the stray grain and flicked it into my mouth.
In the garden one summer afternoon I had discovered a small gang of the red bugs lurking on the rose bushes, eating the bright green aphids that my grandfather was always trying, unsuccessfully, to destroy.
“Let the ladybirds eat them; they seem to enjoy eating green bugs.” I had said to him as we inspected the tiny creatures on rose bushes that lined the garden, watching as the crimson devoured the jade.
“We would need an enormous loveliness of ladybirds to rampage their way through these green vermin.” He replied squirting yet another “miracle” cure, green washing up liquid, onto a pink scented rose bush.
“Why do you call them a loveliness of ladybirds, Grand-dad?” I asked twisting my body to the ground, my hair tumbling down, so I could look up at him from under his chest. He looked down at me then squirted me with the green liquid as I made my escape between his legs.
“It is the collective noun for a group of ladybirds, a loveliness of ladybirds. They are good for eating the greenfly but we would need an army of them to be rid of the pests.” He said to me as he glared at the green invaders.
“A loveliness of ladybirds were marching in an army, to munch the little green-fly, and then we caught the ladybirds, to make Grand-dad his lovely soooooouuuuuuuppppppp.” I sang to my own tune as I ran up the path to Grand-mother who had just called us in to lunch.
My grandmother made soup for our lunch every day. Sometimes it would contain meat but I liked it when it was just vegetables and grains. My favourite soup was minestrone made with alphabet pasta. The soup would become cold as I spent my time spelling out words, around the edge of the dish, with the tiny pasta letters. I would save all the letters in a pile to eat in one big mouthful after I had drunk the cold liquid. I would imagine the letters jumbling around in my mouth making random words as they slid down my throat and into my stomach. A pasta story for my insides to read, I always wondered what it would say.
A few days later I awoke and looked out of my bedroom window. The rose bushes seemed to be on fire. They were covered in a crimson bloom that sparkled and shimmered in the early morning sunshine. I put on my slippers and ran through the house and into the garden. Every rose bush had its own loveliness of ladybirds swarming to attack the emerald invaders. I watched as more ladybirds flew into our garden and settled on the bushes.
Grand-dad grew roses of every colour imaginable, their scent filled the air around our house and Grand-mother collected the petals, “after a rain storm and when the sun had dried them”, to make potpourri and rose water. She collected them every day but she liked to say this was how they were collected when she gave away her potpourri as gifts.
She sugar-coated the pinkest petals and kept them in a special tin appropriately decorated with roses. She used them to decorate the wedding cakes that she made on request.
The air was filled with the flying bugs and if I listened really hard I imagined I could hear them fighting over the greenflies. I felt sorry for the poor little aphids. They were only trying to have a home and raise their young like the rest of the world. I knew the ladybirds had to eat but I shed a tear when I thought of all those teeny weeny babies being gobbled up by a big bug fifty times its own size.
As the morning wore on more and more ladybirds settled in our garden. Grand-mother stood on the back door step watching the phenomenon as she drank her tea. Grand-dad stood with his cap in his hand scratching his bald head. He flipped his cap back onto his head and put his hands on his hips.
“Well my lovelies, we asked for them to come and God sent them all right. How many do you reckon we have visiting us, Mum? “ Grand-dad said to Grand-mother.
“My estimation would be, around say – ohhh - twenty four thousand, seven hundred and eighty one.” She giggled as Grand-dad frowned at the figure she came up with and she went back into the house.
“Never wrong that woman, never wrong.” He said shaking his head as he took my hand and we went on our daily inspection of the “girls”.
Grand-dad knew the name of every rose bush in his garden. He had won prizes for his blooms. Grand-mother said his rose petals made the finest rose water she had ever used, not that she had ever used any other kind. He grew his first rose bush for her on their wedding day. It still gave them white scented roses every year and she cut the flowers every few days and put them in vases in their bedroom. The petals were used in “special” potpourri that she gave to the brides as a little gift with their wedding cake.
The loveliness of ladybirds dined well and as suddenly as they had arrived they took off. Thousands of tiny bugs hummed past our heads as we stood inside a red mist. It seemed like hours before the loveliness began to fade to a trickle of over-stuffed bugs who took advantage of the final few aphids on the bushes.
By lunch time the ladybirds were gone and so were the green-fly. Grand-father would not need his secret potion and the ladybirds were well fed. I couldn’t help feeling a bit sorry for the mummy aphids that were unsuspecting of their children’s impending annihilation.
Grand-mother called us in for lunch and we flew back to the house as ladybirds, flapping our arms and making ladybird noises. I ate my bread and butter by dipping it into the hot soup. I love the taste as butter melts into tomato soup best. We were all quietly eating when the escaped grain of barley caught my attention.
I love the texture of pearl barley. I love the chewiness and the silkiness and the feel in my mouth. Texture is very important for me when I eat. Barley has just the right consistency to make it feel exciting without me wanting to gag. The moment I crunched down onto the ladybird I knew it wasn’t pearl barley and the second a vile and bitter taste filled my mouth my whole body screamed.
I wretched and spat out my food as I wiped my tongue on the sleeve of my cardigan trying to rid myself of the disgusting tang that invaded my head. Grand-dad and Grand-mother both jumped up in reaction to my overacting but ladybirds really do not taste nice.
After several Polo Mints and a glass of cherry-ade the revolting taste of ladybird left my mouth. It was so horrible it gave me a headache. I was convinced I was going to die. I cried and through snot and tears I wailed.
“If one little lady bird can make me feel so ill, imagine eating all the ladybirds in the world.” My imagination took over.
“How many baby greenfly do you think that ladybird ate Grand-dad? Am I a murderer? The ladybird ate the greenfly because it was hungry and I ate the ladybird because I thought it was pearl barley.” I yowled as my shoulders heaved and I tried to catch my breath in between words.
Buried in Grand-mother’s bosom my sobs subsided. The loveliness of ladybirds had left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I finished my soup, wary of every mouthful, but thankfully I have never eaten another one.