A flurry of fruit flies


I am handing the first section of today’s column to my husband Alan.

NO matter how closely we monitor the contents of our kitchen fruit bowl, throughout the warmer months it is home to an army of little flies.

An overripe melon, a bruised nectarine, a brown banana – all are prey to fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster).

They originate in Africa, which prompts the question: How do they get to this decidedly non-tropical part of Lancashire?

They have colonised the world thanks to food exports and the insects’ remarkable ability to breed, with each female laying 500 or so eggs fertilised by a variety of partners. Their rapid life cycle – from egg to adult in as little as seven days under high temperatures – and their relatively simple genetic composition, with only four pairs of chromosomes, has made them a favourite of genetic researchers. I remember biology lessons where we kept a jar full of Drosophila, some with vestigial wings and some with proper wings, to see which gene was dominant. Within a few days one or the other had been wiped out – sadly I can’t remember which.

Here is a video about the life cycle.

Apparently, fruit flies lurk in drains and other hiding places. They can smell food from a long way away and can get into your house via tiny cracks such as between walls and window frames. They can also hitch a ride on any fruit you buy, having laid their eggs in the skin. And they love rubbish receptacles, especially compost bins.

Despite the name, it is not the fruit that they eat but the yeast resulting from decomposition. They are particularly fond of rotting bananas and enjoy tucking in to overwatered houseplants. Our kitchen window sills are full of haworthias (fascinating succulent plants from southern Africa), which are definitely not overwatered and have a top dressing of grit but still get their share of fruit fly attention.

The little devils are also attracted to alcohol and vinegar. There is certainly plenty of alcohol around in our house and tragically some gets spilled on occasion. So perhaps that’s the answer. Don’t spill your wine.


Back to me: I love this house in Clitheroe which is covered in wisteria. I gather this vigorous climber is quite fussy and takes a lot of looking after: it has to be pruned twice a year, needs feeding every week in summer, and must be trained to a robust support as it is heavy and is not self-clinging. But as this picture shows, it is worth the effort at this time of year.


Bovine of the Week

The Hereford is one of the most easily recognisable cattle breeds, with its red-brown body and white face, chest, crest (the line back from the shoulders) and belly.

As the name suggests, it was developed in the county of Herefordshire and was the first recognised English breed, with mentions dating back to the 1600s. Purity is ensured by the breed herd book which since 1886 has been closed to any animal whose sire and dam have not been recorded. The original animals had downward curved horns but there is now a polled (without horns) strain too.

The beef is said to be amongst the finest in the world, with marbling throughout.

The stock are docile, adaptable and flourish on a forage-based diet. There are more than five million pedigree Herefords across 50-plus countries, ranging from cold climates such as Finland to hot such as Brazil.

They are known for their longevity. Many cows produce calves beyond the age of 15, and bulls are can remain useful to the age of 12 or more. Many breeders keep their elderly cattle until they die of natural causes.  

Here is a young bull having fun with some winter bedding.

And this video from Canada (where they pronounce the name ‘Hurford’) has some lovely scenes.


Wheels of the Week

A slightly different vehicle-related topic this week, by guest writer DAVE HIPPERSON.

THE Aldwych underpass it was, just north of the Strand and the famous Aldwych D, and it was 1964. (Can you still drive through that or have they closed it?) The young lady with me was impressed and mystified that we could still hear the radio in my Mini estate car bearing in mind there was no reception in a tunnel. I proudly explained that she was listening to a tape recording. A tape cassette, to be precise. Of course the tape was and never would be a reliable archive for music. The vinyl disc is the place for music. But it was handy for the car, much like the CD is (they are still not as versatile as cassettes).

The awful American idea for the endless loop cartridge had been around a couple of years but was limited as you were stuck with commercial pre-recorded tapes, mostly Andy Williams I recall. The equipment to make your own recordings was unavailable. This beautiful little Motorola radio of mine was wired into a cassette player of the same make.

It hadn’t dawned on me that the systems which followed mine would be gradually less flexible and less versatile and eventually so complicated, for no reason I can deduce, that one’s patience runs out long before you make much progress tuning it. Don’t think for a moment that instructions in a handbook are going to be of any help. Count yourself lucky if they are in readable English.

I naively believed that progress would bring improvements. Things would be going up, not down. Like they always had done. At least they had until that time. Had I known what was coming I still would not have believed it. Back in those halcyon days of cassettes and car radios, remember that little vertical pointer on the station you were tuned to? Even if the better ones had a pre-setting system which would allow you to jump quickly to one of a small handful you had already selected.

This little assembly followed me around in all the vehicles I owned right up until I sold my last proper car in 1983. (That was the Marcos which I wrote about here – you can see it between the seats.)

The state of play today is that I can use the radio in my current car – just about. Somehow I have managed to tune it (fluked it) to a couple of the stations that I can bear to listen to and it will take CDs (I am sure they will be for the chop soon as well). I dare not touch any other button, and there are plenty to choose from, for fear of being thrown into the digital maze of modes, passwords, folders, sub-sections and symbols that mean nothing to me and will shut me out for ever. I inadvertently touched the wrong button on the top of the DAB radio in my kitchen this morning and it took me half an hour to decipher what was then necessary to regain a modicum of control over this inanimate beast and tune back to the station I was listening to, let alone all the stations I wanted.

I can alter the volume on my current car radio but nowhere can I adjust the balance to compensate for the slight hearing deficiency I have in my left ear. As for tone control, perish the thought, although by chance acoustics in modern cars are pretty much perfect thanks to all that padding which makes them so cramped despite their enormous road foot print.

As for versatility: how about recording? Yes, my Motorola set-up which I remind you was 1964 vintage would not only play cassettes but could record on to them from the radio in the car while you were driving. Can you do that with yours today? I thought not. You just shout at it to instruct it to play what you want at that minute. How unutterably dull.

So I fondly remember where I was that Saturday lunchtime listening on the car radio to John Peel on his appropriately titled Top Gear show when he announced as his studio guests Led Zeppelin. I pushed ‘Record’ immediately and was treated to recording the first public airing of Stairway to Heaven. Want to hear it? It’s not on your smart speaker, that’s for sure.

This isn’t the exact recording but one made for another Peel programme at around the same time.

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