The Living World (BBC Radio 4)

People need convincing that flies are sexy.

The Living World
BBC Radio 4

When The Living World (26 February, 6.55am) asked the question: "Where do flies go in the winter?", the following exchange - between the presenter Miranda Krestovnikoff and Erica McAlister, collections manager of two-winged flies at the Natural History Museum in London - took place next to a lake in Kidderminster.

MK: It's freezing. Are we actually going to see any flies?

EM: Course we are.

“Well, what's so good about this habitat for flies?" "Ah, just look at it! It's dank. And all these tussocks, like pom-poms. Lots of flies under there, lots of mosquitoes. They're very beautiful." "Are they?" Miranda says this in a bemused way, but not scoffing. This wasn't Cicero denouncing Catiline. "What's beautiful about a mosquito?" "Some of them have amazing green eyes. Some of them have feather dusters for antennae and the base of these feather dusters look like mini doughnuts." "I guess most people would be terrified." "Well, don't be terrified of the males. They're vegetarian."

Now came the sound of someone doing a little light hoovering.

MK: Well, Erica, you've got on a . . . well, it's like a bit of my dad's old piping attached to a . . .

EM: Yeah. The technical term is a "backpack aspirator". It's basically a Ghostbuster unit, but the suction is very low because we don't want to damage any wings. Let's get in the sedge."

More hoovering.

“Sedge everywhere! Get under the sedge! Or basically, get into it. Oh look, a Dolly Varden! God, she's enormous. Everyone disses the flies, but they're very attractive. We need to know what happens to flies in winter, we need people to come out and look - not at the larvae, not at the pupae, but at the adults. What are they doing? Let's suck up these flies!"

MK: It's probably nice and warm under that sedge.

(O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms/Alone and palely loitering?/The sedge has withered from the lake/And no birds sing.)

MK: How did you get into the world of flies Erica? I mean, most people like bigger, more showy insects. Do you find it hard convincing people that flies are cool and sexy?

EM: Just give me five minutes.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 05 March 2012 issue of the New Statesman, The last Tsar