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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
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?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Recruitment Genius: Class 1 HGV Driver

    £23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful group of compan...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum