Invasion of the killer ladybirds

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The Independent Online

Today we have a treat for the younger reader, especially those who don't see as much of the countryside as they ought to. Yes, it's time for another nature ramble with wise old Uncle Geoffrey, and his two companions, nephew Robert and niece Susan!

Today we have a treat for the younger reader, especially those who don't see as much of the countryside as they ought to. Yes, it's time for another nature ramble with wise old Uncle Geoffrey, and his two companions, nephew Robert and niece Susan!

"You can certainly feel the weather changing," remarked Uncle Geoffrey, as he and his young followers strode across the grassy uplands.

"In what sense can you feel the weather changing, Uncle?" inquired Robert.

"Do you mean that it's not as warm as it was yesterday?" asked Susan.

"Are you perhaps referring to a twinge of that global warming which will one day condemn our descendants to a long, lingering death by frying?" hazarded Robert.

"Or do you think it that before the end of our walk it will piss down, and we will have to run for it?" suggested Susan.

Uncle Geoffrey was quiet for a moment. Why, oh why, did even the most casual of his remarks lead to a blizzard of silliness from these two? Not for the first time, he could see why serial killers did it.

"No, I really meant that there was a nip in the air today, which tells us that autumn is on the way. Another sign is that the swifts and swallows are gone. One day they were gathering on the telephone wires, the next day..."

"I wonder what they used to gather on before we had telephones," said Robert.

"Never mind that - I wonder what they will gather on after telephone lines have been replaced by mobiles," said Susan. "Do you think they will gather on mobile phone masts?"

"That'll be the day," said Robert, "when people try to take down disused mobile phone masts, and the heritage people say: 'You can't do that! The swallows gather there every year!' "

"At least swallows have somewhere to go to," said Susan. "The ones I feel sorry for are wasps. They all have to die at the end of summer, leaving only the queen wasp to make it through the winter."

"You see, Uncle Geoffrey," said Robert, "it's all very well to say casually that there is a nip in the air. When a wasp feels a nip in the air, he says to his mates, 'Ey up, there's a change in the weather! We're all going to die before sundown!' "

"I wonder what I'd do if I knew it was my last day on earth?" said Susan. "Would I just get very drunk? Or would I have the sense to do something to benefit mankind, like assassinate President Bush?"

"Impossible," said Robert. "President Bush is almost certainly surrounded by old bodyguards who only have hours to live, and don't care if they perish in his defence."

"Sounds more like an ants' nest," said Susan. "Do-or-die soldier ants patrolling the White House."

"That's exactly it!" said Robert. "Whenever the President goes abroad, he takes his entire ant colony with him!"

"As long as they don't run into some of these new Asian ladybirds," said Susan. "They sound pretty fearsome."

"It's another failure for Mr Blunkett's immigration policy," said Robert. "Asian ladybirds flooding into the country and taking our ladybirds' jobs! Maybe even marrying our ladybirds. And then having ladybird children with odd numbers of spots!"

"Don't worry," said Susan. "I looked up Asian ladybirds on the internet, and they've been in the USA for years without causing much damage. They were actually introduced on purpose by the government to kill aphids affecting crops."

"And now," said Robert, "at this very moment al-Qa'ida may be training killer ladybirds to infiltrate the White House, evade those ancient bodyguards who have only one more day to live, creep up behind the President and - pow!"

"One American President, savaged to death by Asian ladybirds!"

"Vice President Cheney takes over and orders the bombing of Asia in revenge."

"End of world."

"Global warming averted by suicide of human race."

They stopped. They looked round. Uncle Geoffrey had paused by a gate, against which he was leaning, his head bowed.

He seemed to be sobbing.

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