Dear Readers, when I was writing my piece about the field cricket on Friday, it suddenly occurred to me that an insect which lived with us for most of our existence as human beings has suddenly been turfed out into the wild. The house cricket was so ubiquitous in Victorian times that Charles Dickens’s Christmas short story ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’ was almost as popular in its day as all that shenanigans with Scrooge and the turkey.
This is the story of the Peerybingle family, their nanny Tilly Slowboy and, more importantly for our purposes, a cricket who lives on the hearth, and who is the family’s guardian angel. The cricket sings when things are going well, and shuts up when tragedy is in the air, as it frequently is in this novella, which has undertones of jealousy, mistaken identity and familial reconciliation. As it’s Christmas, not only does everything work out well for the family, but the villain of the piece is converted to the ways of good fellowship.
Apparently Vladimir Lenin left during a performance of the play in Russia, because he found it boring, and the sentimentality got on his nerves. It seems that some hearts are not meant to be melted. George Orwell apparently mentioned the incident in his book on Charles Dickens, so that might be worth a look.
I might also remind the reader of Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio, an overly cheerful creature in the Disney version, at least for my taste. I was the only child in the cinema who cried when the whale was killed and Pinocchio was released, so clearly I’m not the best judge. I love the description of him on Wikipedia:
“Jiminy Cricket’s appearance differs somewhat from that of actual crickets, which range from black to light brown and have long antennae and six legs; Jiminy Cricket has short antennae, a greenish-brown hue, and four limbs; like most Disney characterizations, he is bipedal. He dresses in the manner of a 19th- or early 20th-century gentleman, characteristically wearing a blue top hat and carrying a burgundy umbrella.”
Why, though, are our houses no longer haunted with crickets? Is it pesticides, or the fact that we generally no longer bring in coal or wood that the cricket might be living amongst? In my British Wildlife magazine this month, Peter Sutton and Björn Beckmann have dug up a letter from the famous Gilbert White (who wrote The Natural History of Selborne ) to a friend on the subject of house crickets in 1778.
“When they increase to a great degree, as they once did in the house where I am now writing, they become noisome pests, flying into candles, and dashing into people’s faces; but may be blasted and destroyed by gunpowder discharged into their crevices and crannies”.
Well that seems a bit harsh. Fortunately, other pest-control measures are available. Here’s White again, in gentler mood:
‘Crickets may be destroyed, like wasps, by phials half filled with beer, or any liquid, and set in their haunts; for, being always eager to drink, they will crowd in until the bottles are full’.
And so, it can be seen that species come and go, and presumably the house cricket is now largely confined to those little plastic tubs that people buy when they have tarantulas or poison arrow frogs to feed. But this is the very species which is often mentioned as a possible way out of our need for protein that isn’t as damaging to the climate as beef or chicken (and which is also pretty damaging to the animals themselves I might add). Crispy crickets are sometimes hailed as a delicacy, and I foresee cricket flour becoming a popular additive to all kinds of foodstuffs.
As an insect lover, I feel that this is no way to treat Jiminy. I’ll be sticking to my tofu thank you.