Hope, laughter and loss in this wretched time of coronavirus

Matthew Cobb on finding hope in insect metamorphosis, Sue Smith on how Grace Dent and other female Guardian writers are offering solace and Linda Seymour on the sadness of lockdown. Plus Catherine Howard has an important question on marmalade


In her uplifting long read (‘The impossible has already happened’: what coronavirus can teach us about hope, 7 April), Rebecca Solnit offers as a sign of hope the claim that caterpillars, when they pupate, effectively dissolve before turning into butterflies. Sadly, the claim is untrue. In caterpillars, partially formed adult structures – wings, antennae, legs – can be seen clearly before pupation, if the animal is dissected. This was demonstrated as early as 1665 by the Dutch entomologist Jan Swammerdam, and was decisive in convincing thinkers that the caterpillar and the butterfly are the same organism, rather than the butterfly emerging from the decay of a dead caterpillar.

However, other insects do indeed show the mysterious metamorphosis Solnit describes – flies. In maggots, the future adult fly organs are merely tiny patches of tissue; they are assembled into their adult forms in the pupa in ways that are still the subject of scientific investigation. If there is hope to be found in insect metamorphosis, it comes from flies.
Prof Matthew Cobb
School of biological sciences, University of Manchester

• I am delighted that Grace Dent is carrying on the long tradition of the Guardian providing a home for women to be spiky and rib-ticklingly funny. First there was the glorious Nancy Banks-Smith, whose tale of a pie recently (I remember the wartime evacuation. Eventually the isolation gets to you, 27 March) brought back memories of when her column was the first I turned to. For a long time Lucy Mangan’s tales of her family filled the gap left by Nancy’s retirement, and I remember with sheer delight the time her parents wrote to the letters section (Brief letters, 7 September 2018) offering her up for adoption. Now Grace has stepped up to the mark and her column (How I am coping? The only constant has been working out what to eat, 3 April) reduced me to tears of laughter. At a time when I am struggling to cope with the unexpected death of my partner of 47 years and now coronavirus, we need these women more than ever. Is it be possible to reprint some of their contributions over the years to give us solace and reduce us to fits of giggles?
Sue Smith
Market Drayton, Shropshire

• Your piece in Wednesday’s paper on the sadness of lockdown (7 April) shone a light on the distress of separation. I am so fortunate that I have access to a range of social media, and can visit family and friends all over the world. But then that night on Radio 4, just before the 6pm news, Evan Davis played the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun. The song got right under my defences and I sobbed through it, remembering more innocent times and feeling a visceral yearning to be in the same physical space as those I love.
Linda Seymour
Lewes, East Sussex

• As a child, no one warned me not to drink milk after eating marmalade on toast. It was so awful that, even 50 years later, it remains burned into my memory. Perhaps, now that we are in lockdown, someone might have the time to explain to me why the taste of milk is so ruined by marmalade?
Catherine Howard
London

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