The River Test flowed through the bottom of the garden; the music filtered out of the marquee and the clear red sun was setting in the west. A perfect evening in Hampshire as a friend celebrated a significant birthday with his friends and family.
We were summoned into the marquee for dinner, and the table décor reflected his commitment to fishing. A miniature river bed had been recreated in the middle of each table, with small pebbles glistening at the bottom. The banks were solidly made, and this minor triumph of civil engineering was both concealed and held together by quantities of moss.
All was well, until the food appeared. At this point, an ant emerged from the undergrowth in the middle of the table. It digested a breadcrumb, and, using whatever means of communication that ants use, relayed the message that food was in the vicinity to his colleagues concealed in the greenery. They emerged in considerable numbers, and then split up into separate columns, heading for the various dishes that were available, according to their individual tastes. I am relaxed about ants, but my neighbour had an allergy. Chivalrously, I annihilated those getting too close to her plate.
I had hoped that, just as the news that food was available had quickly spread, so too would the news of the high risk and numerous fatalities associated with this expedition. But no; it was like Zulu and Rourke’s drift. The ants knew no fear, and relied on their superiority of numbers to win through.
Keeping ahead of the game and allaying the anxieties of my neighbour on the right meant that I neglected my food, and my neighbour on the other side. At last, I found the answer. Using the cutlery, I assembled the corpses and arranged them into a continuous semi-circle around the section of the moss where the ants lived. News of casualties was one thing; the prospect of clambering over the bodies of their kinsmen was another. The flood was stemmed, and normal social intercourse could continue. Hours later, the silence of the night would be broken by the shriek of horror from a waitress, charged with clearing up the mess on this particular table.
The following evening, we went to an open-air concert in the grounds of a large house, to help raise money for a national charity.
I like to sit at the back of these events as my height can interfere with the enjoyment of anyone sitting behind me, if the seats are not tiered. There may be good reasons for not voting for me at the next election, but I like to reduce these to a minimum. “I’m going to vote for the smallest candidate, so I can see at local concerts” is not a comment I want to hear.
There were two empty seats in the back row, which was just in front of the hedge. We clambered over a few people and were about to sit down. “I wouldn’t sit there” advised my would-be neighbour. “There’s a bees-nest in there.”