One of my children discovered a live earwig on opening a jar of Tesco’s best strawberry jam the other week, thus confirming that appearances can be deceptive.
To be fair to Tesco, the store manager was most contrite, and we got a very polite letter back apologising about the wasp.
Entomology clearly isn’t their strong point, which might go some way to explain how the earwig got there in the first place.
Sometimes, however, what you get is a lot better than it seems. Last week I was in East Howdon, a small and isolated community near the northern entrance to the Tyne Tunnel.
East Howdon, it has to be said, doesn’t look as if it would get anybody’s ‘finest’ branding. There are 300 houses, a community centre, a pub; many of the houses are boarded up, and some of the empty ones have been set alight by casual arsonists.
Much of the property is owned by private landlords, who, I’m told, use them to house people who’ve been evicted from elsewhere.
If the deprivation isn’t bad enough, East Howdon has another problem: it smells.
Not every day, but when the sun shines and the wind wafts across the biggest sewage works in Tyneside, it stinks. Residents blame the local water company, which has predictably responded that it’s following all the right codes of practice.
But I came away from East Howdon feeling hopeful, not because of what I saw, but because of who I met.
Inspired by one local woman who had returned to the northeast after working in developing countries and was shocked at what she found on her homecoming, local residents have banded together to challenge the neglect of public agencies and the pessimism of their neighbours.
The A Team, as they’re known, don’t just complain – they are starting to get things done. The children’s play area has been refurbished.
The community centre now has a well maintained garden. Residents are campaigning for a less pungent living environment.
That refusal to roll over and die is what gives East Howdon, and communities like it, the chance of a future.
Regeneration practitioners would do well to seek out people who are bolshy enough to want a future for their communities, learn to work with them and give them as much support as their budgets can offer.
It may not be much in public spending terms, but to struggling communities it can make a world of difference.
Julian Dobson, editorial director, New Start Online magazine