School holiday special: Oi! Who invited you to our picnic?

The sky turned red and filled with whirring wings. Rowan Pelling relives her worst outing

The summer of 1976 was the hottest in living memory. It would take three decades of global warming before anything of its ilk came round again. Day after day, temperatures soared into the eighties, there was a hosepipe ban, and parched customers at my parents' pub in Kent abandoned ale and started drinking pints of Harp (the only lager we sold in those days).

Even my resourceful mother was stumped for excursion ideas: the pavements of London were too hot to tread and the roads to the sea were jammed with other desperate families. So my mother decided to strike inland and arranged to meet a family friend at a picnic spot near Graffam Water in Cambridgeshire.

The journey was long and dreary to an eight-year-old and my hot legs stuck to the Ford Escort's plastic seats. As the sun climbed, my little brother, Hereward, turned green, and before my mother could pull into a lay-by he was sick on my legs.

At midday we turned into the picnic park which was remarkable for its total lack of natural beauty. A clearing was ringed by some scrubby bushes and overflowing bins. My mother's friend and her two children had already arrived in their camper van and were setting out her trademark Victoria sandwich cake, which revolted me because it was sprinkled with desiccated coconut. Our own picnics invariably consisted of egg sandwiches, Jacobs cream crackers, Swiss Knight cheese triangles and bourbon biscuits.

The boys went off to play Frisbee and my sister played cat's cradle with my mum's friend's daughter. I was bored and hot and cross when suddenly one of the boys shouted, "Come and look at this." I ran over and saw a brilliant scarlet bush, which on closer observation was a seething mass of ladybirds. "Here's another one," shouted Justin.

Then the sky darkened and acquired a reddish tinge and within seconds the air was thick with whirring wings and tiny spotted bodies. Everything - the ground, the trees, our clothes - was covered in insects. It was like a Hitchcock movie, but far, far worse. We screamed and ran for the vehicles. It was then that we noticed clouds of wasps trailing in the ladybirds' wake. Our little legs flew over the ground while our arms beat at the air. I could feel sharp nips across my body and was hysterical with terror. My mum's friend had the camper van's doors open and we leapt for safety, leaving our picnic slowly turning red on the table.

It later transpired that the nips came from the ladybirds, not the wasps, and there were reports of "Biblical plagues" across the land. All I know is that since that day I've never looked kindly upon that sly red beetle with its diddy black spots.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Estates Contracts & Leases Manager

    £30000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Estates Team of this group ...

    Guru Careers: Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager

    COMPETITIVE: Guru Careers: A Brand Manager / Marketing Campaign Manager is req...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
    Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

    Berlusconi's world of sleaze

    The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

    Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
    Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

    Could gaming arcades be revived?

    The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
    Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

    Heard the one about menstruation?

    Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage