8.47, Flying Ant Day. No one knows it’s Flying Ant Day. But hindsight makes savants of us all, so note the seagulls gathering on the luxuriant grasses of Preston Park. They’re waiting. They know.
And now, we know. The jubilation for – at last – a warm day is tempered by the plague of drunk ants in the heady throes of late adolescence. Leaving home is an exciting time for most people, so we can hardly begrudge the ants this rite of passage. Their journey deserves an ode – or an epic – but instead they get us, moaning about the soup-thick air, which makes the taking off and floating a bit easier for the meaty bullet-bodied arthropods. It’s easy to forget how important, how impressive these little guys are. But we’re charged with delicacy in action today – and patience.
For some reason, people are still walking down North Road with their mouths open, staring upwards. I watch as a man brushes at his girlfriend’s shoulder, frantic, trying to quell his rising panic. As he does, a little black morsel flies up and dive bombs his nose. He unwittingly taps at his face in time to the busker on the corner singing The A Team. It’s a spectacle that can only occur on Flying Ant Day, and I feel grateful to witness it.
A girl in a Thrasher t-shirt with lavish curls, weighed down by a bright yellow backpack, sits on the steps of a pizza joint with a steaming open box. Her friends, with matching backpacks, are crowded round – but suddenly there’s an ear-piercing shriek and shouts of ‘Merde!’ ring out across the street, where I’m stopped at the lights on my bike. The image of little legs tethered to mozarella sticks in my mind; a bittersweet moment follows when I realise that the time for such exhibitions is as short as the lifespan of the plentiful hordes of the male flying ants.
Cruising on the seafront has become more of an obstacle course than normal, as little wet raisins smack you in the face. They don’t mean to be obstructive, but the wings are clunky and in their eagerness to nest and mate, they get swept up in the heady atmosphere of the promenade, all hormones and eau de youth. Down at Yellowave, I discover with some regret that six ants have flung themselves on me, perhaps in despair, as I cycled. And on the sand, some of the less bright ones are bedding in. It’s a job to keep from burying them in the volleyball scrum, but one by one they disappear.
Everything is dimming now, and everyone’s settling in. Soon, the females will chew off their wings – a super heroic feat – and build a new world; it’ll collide less often with ours from now on, but I can’t help wishing them a little bit of luck – for what it’s worth – until next year.