It was the furthest that The Ranger had travelled for a good ten years… nearly to Wales. Just to make the point, the weather forecast was for the worst storms of the year, and he was starting his journey on a ferry. What unmissable event incited The Ranger and his companion Cat to such unprecedented motility – some great cultural performance, maybe? The opening of a long-lost family will? Perhaps even a royal summons? No, none of these – it was a meeting of the Dipterists’ Forum.
At a gathering of the country’s most eminent fly experts, a parallel training event was being held to teach fly neophytes the basics of fly identification. The Ranger and Cat were two of those novices – and what a remarkable weekend they spent, peering down microscopes and learning about ptilinal sutures, mesopleural bristles, and of course the all-important anal cell… (you can Google that one yourself if you dare).
It proved to a most instructive and interesting weekend for all. The experts in a nearby classroom worked through the details of one complex family of flies – the Tachinids – whilst the novices were gently guided, directed and encouraged as they painstakingly worked their way through an impressive array of prepared specimens, discovering how to determine the family affiliation of each one as they went. With 103 families present in Britain, it’s perhaps not a bad idea to start with the families before even thinking about the species – those 103 families are comprised of well over 7,000 species! With some remarkably good teaching, and the patient help of a constant stream of friendly and helpful experts, all the fly learners passed the course – possibly they should have been presented with some ‘flying colours’! Needless to say, the event was livened by some good local beer, home-made cakes on hand, and plenty of talking about.. .flies. Sometimes, it’s just nice to be away from it all, with no reason not to concentrate on the task at hand. This was one of those times. Everyone there was interested in flies, and so felt quite uninhibited in discussing them. Furthermore, with the country’s foremost experts on hand, no question was too detailed, nor did they mind answering the learners’ most obvious questions. So, one evening in the bar, Cat cornered fly guru Alan Stubbs, and asked him the question nobody else dared: “When you find a fly in your house, what do you do?” Alan played the straight bat, and gracefully admitted that if his wife drew his attention to such an intruder, he’d suck the fly up in a pooter and check it out before letting it go.