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by Nick Mann
The Amateur Entomologists' Society Annual Exhibition and Trade Fair is a queer beast. My friends at Bird Guides suggested I toddle along, so on a rainy Saturday I headed off to Kempton Park - to my surprise heaving with punters. And what an eclectic mix of folk heading into the Fair; was I going to a Black Sabbath gig or the Last Night of the Proms?
To start with the expected; it was nice to meet Richard Lewington, with whom I'm working on a secret project, and to see some of his extraordinary illustrations. Pete Eeles and friends from UK Butterflies (left) were selling some lovely framed butterfly photos and cards for Butterfly Conservation; their website is a cracking resource - do check it out. Another local seed supplier on board too, I hope, from the Weald.
Thereafter, things started to get a bit weird. I didn't know people still collected insects, stuck them on pins and mounted them on beautiful trays in beautiful display cabinets - all of which were available for sale. I thought this went out about the same time the Proms were coming in, and I have to say it struck me as very peculiar to see it still happening. Stamps might look better like this than in their natural habitat, but butterflies or moths?
Meanwhile the Black Sabbath crowd were gathered around other, rather different stalls. The spiders seemed to cost between £30 and £50, so I guess these guys weren't buying them to rip their heads off and eat. They were buying them, though, and all the related kit. If not spiders, then all sorts of other things - stick insects, mantises, millipedes - anything you can imagine in an Indiana Jones movie. This not so little chap on the left is a sweetly named Chilean Rose tarantula, a "very docile, calm and mild mannered spider", which is likely to be your special friend for over twenty years. Relatively cheap and safer than many alternatives, I guess, so long as they don't get flushed down the loo. The Chilean Rose has already featured prominently in a lurid nightmare, when it wasn't desperately mild mannered.
So the Amateur Entomologists' Society seems to be a rather Catholic church. Perhaps that's why it's different to the Royal Entomological Society or the The British Entomological and Natural History Society. I'm sure I'll find out what the differences really are, but for the moment, sorry chaps (and you do seem to be mostly chaps), for an outsider this is a cheap opportunity to embed a classic scene from Life of Brian.