How would you like to pay economy but fly business class?

Ladybirds are cannibals, or at least they are at the larva stage, but we won't go into that

WHILE I was on holiday in the South of France recently - well, it wasn't the deep south, it was the Dordogne, where I had never been before, although the bit of Wiltshire where I live was once described in a guidebook as being more like the Dordogne than anywhere in England, which is not quite true, I have discovered, because there are more British people in the Dordogne than there are in Wiltshire - anyway, when I was out in France recently I used to try to keep my French going by reading the local paper, Sud-Ouest, every day, my favourite feature in which was the popular science article on the back page.

This always used to lead off with a question, in order to intrigue the reader. "Why do jellyfish sting?", "Why is sea water salty?", "Why do ladybirds swarm on beaches during the summer?" and so on, and then the writer would explain the phenomenon at great length. I didn't actually know that ladybirds swarm on beaches during the summer but apparently they do in the French Med, so obviously it was a question worth asking.

The answer, I was amazed to glean, was that ladybirds are migratory animals and like to go off to the Pyrenees come autumn to hibernate at the correct temperature. But they are very sensitive to the dangers of being blown out to sea, so if they feel they are being taken off course and away from land they will land on the nearest bit of shoreline till the danger passes, and thus give the impression that they are swarming. (My italics, but you're welcome to share them. Incidentally, I also learnt that ladybirds are cannibalistic, or at least they are at the larva stage, but we won't go into that as it disturbs my image of the dear little things.)

This was all very well, but by the time you've learnt the French for jellyfish (la meduse) and greenfly (la puceron) you feel you can have too much of a good French thing, and that is when you start buying English papers. And that is how I came to read a Guardian article headed "How to pay economy prices and travel business class". It's the sort of thing I've always wanted to know, even more so than why jellyfish sting.

In fact, now I come to think of it, I have read lots of articles with headings like that. And I still haven't the faintest idea how to pay economy prices and travel business. There's a man in the Herald Tribune called something like Roger Collis whose full-time activity is to tell frequent travellers how to get the best deals and I always read his articles and I have never followed or indeed understood any of his advice...

One bit of advice I do have, though, for any aspiring journalist. If you want people to read your piece, it is better to put "How to pay economy prices and travel business class" than "Why do lady birds swarm on beaches during the summer?" at the top. On the whole, there are more people who want to travel cheaply than people who want to improve their knowledge of ladybirds' habits, and that is why I asked for the current heading to be put at the top of this article, even though I have no intention of supplying the answer, and I would be interested to know how many readers started reading this piece thinking (erroneously ) they were going to find out.

As I feel guilty that I have misled you this far into thinking that this piece is about anything at all, I am going to make up for it by putting an amazing extract in front of your eyes, a piece of writing which seems to be about Diana of Wales and yet was written before she was born. (My italics, though completely different ones this time.)

Read this: "There was only one lady in the group, and she was (as the journalists often said of her) a host in herself; being quite prepared to play hostess, not to say empress, at that or any other table. She was Lady Diana Wales, the celebrated lady traveller in tropical and other countries; but there was nothing rugged or masculine about her appearance at dinner. She was herself handsome in an almost tropical fashion, with a mass of hot and heavy red hair; she was dressed in what the journalists call a daring fashion, but her face was intelligent and her eyes had that bright and rather prominent appearance which belongs to the eyes of ladies who ask questions at political meetings."

Odd, eh? The description is not quite the late Diana - sounds more like Fergie - but I think you'll agree it's intriguing. The writer is famous, and the story it comes from is one of a famous set. Answer tomorrow. Oh, what the hell, let's have the answer now. It was G K Chesterton, in a Father Brown story called "The Curse of the Golden Cross".

Tomorrow: How to get your flight upgraded every time!

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