THERE’S a swallowtail butterfly in the lavender. It busies itself drifting from one plant to another, gathering nectar or whatever it is that butterflies do. This insect – as delicate as it is – triggers a thought process in the recesses of my mind and liberates forgotten memories. I am transported to a terraced house in a Lancashire village where coal trains from Cumberland clank past the front door and high moors rise from the back . . .
My father once purchased a set of dark blue Oxford English Dictionaries from a chap with a suitcase who turned up on the front step. Drab books they were for a child to thumb through. But every few hundred pages, colour plates of numerous and diverse subjects brought life and light to a black and white world.
Semi-precious gemstones was one; flags of the United Nations; the ocean’s great liners; military medals. But the most alluring by far was the page of British butterflies. And the most exotic among them was the swallowtail.
Never did see one hovering among the dandelions with the cabbage-whites and orange-tips, or hibernating in the corner of a bedroom ceiling with the King Georges – or small tortoiseshells, as they are called in other parts of the country.
But here’s one now, in my Spanish garden, hopping erratically in the plants outside the bedroom window. Apparently, this one’s a member of the sub-species “scarce swallowtail”. But that’s good enough for me. When you’ve waited fifty years for your first glimpse, that doesn’t detract from the pleasure.