What are they on about?

16th June 2000 at 01:00
David Newnham casts his net wide.

I am in Boots queueing to speak to a pharmacist. Eventually, my turn comes. "I wonder," I begin,"if you would mind making me up a small killing bottle."

"I'm sorry?" "It's perfectly simple," I explain. "All I need is a bottle with a bung and a small quantity of potassium cyanide in order thatI" "Did you say potassium cyanide?" At this stage, I whip out my Observer Book of British Butterflies and begin reading from the chapter, Hints On Collecting: "For the happy dispatch of insects, the cyanide bottle is frequently used. . ."

OK, so I would never dream of dispatching a butterfly, and much less of asking Boots to sell me cyanide. But when this little book was new, in the years between the two world wars, you couldn't get Pokemon cards for love nor money. Deprived of Poliwrath, Alakazam, Dragonair and Diglett, children were constrained to seek out the Chalkhill Blue and the Bath White, the Brown Hairstreak and the Clouded Yellow.

These they would capture using the sort of "good, serviceable butterfly-net which may be obtained fro any dealer of entomological requisites for a few pence". Then it was into the killing bottle with them.

No doubt the talk in the dorm was of pill-boxes and pickle jars, of strong ammonia and "stout blotting paper". Yes, and pins. Don't forget the pins.

"English pins are sold by the ounce. Rustless pins are best, and are now used almost exclusively."

They were used for stretching and fixing the wings for display. This was delicate and time-consuming but, once complete, the specimens were ready for the cabinet.

What? Can't afford a cabinet? Never mind. A cardboard box will do - "14 inches by 10 inches when closed, and it should have a cell for naphalene".

Naphalene? What, are we making our own napalm now? No, silly. The naphalene was to keep hungry pests away. Nobody wanted their Queen of Spain Fritillary or their Small Mountain Ringlet to become lunch for a party of voracious mites, did they?

It would have been likeI well, like having the dog gobble up Charizard and Mewtwo when you'd gone to all the trouble of going online and buying them.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today