You’ll be wanting a certificate with that then

It was the mischievousness of the challenge I appreciated most. “What’s that, then?” said the Dad, over the fuzzy head of his son, as they passed over the small plastic tube with bug inside.
There’s nothing unusual in this questioning behaviour from complete strangers, it happens to me all the time. But at the Nunhead Cemetery Open Day people are queuing up to ask. We are often mobbed at the Bug Hunt stall; 350 visitors is not unusual. The instructions are simple:
1. Collect a container (one of the hundreds of empty hummus or yogurt cartons I collect throughout the year)
2. Collect some bugs, as you walk around this fantastic overgrown Victorian cemetery, from flowers, under logs, resting on leaves, they’re all over the place
3. Bring them back to the stall and have your finds identified by the Bugman (me)
4. Collect a certificate, handwritten, with your name, and what bugs you found, scientific names and all.
It’s fantastic fun; the kids uncover some unusual things, every year, and then they rush off to tell their parents about the disgusting beasts they’ve found.
This time, however, it was the parent who handed over the container. Inside it, clinging on to a few hair strands, was a head louse. I had to smile.
I like to think he was impressed when I immediately recognized Pediculus capitis. I, too, was impressed at his calm, unflustered acceptance of his children’s nuisance parasites.
I can’t quite remember what the son’s wild-caught insect captures might have been. But I wrote a certificate for the Dad too.


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