I went to a funeral last week. A dear lady, mother of a very old and close friend, died aged 89 after a full life and short illness. A life well lived by a woman who was always smiling when I met her.
Her son, I met at university, the new boyfriend of the Textiliste’s flatmate. We met at breakfast, as you do, a little dishevelled and, being 19 and male, competing over the cereal packet.
A couple of years later, he and his girlfriend were living in a flat overlooking Poultney Weir in the centre of Bath. The Textiliste and I had just moved to London and the reason for our visit was a party – not sure if there was any reason for the party. But if there was a party we were there.
It being the West Country, and with them being students the alcohol de jour was a rather acrid cider that did to one’s stomach lining what napalm does to the outer skin.
The party itself, since those were the days when I still partook of the occassional half pint is a bit of a blur. However I do remember waking to a vicious Sunday morning sun streaming into the room where I was communing with a rather tacky piece of carpet. I need a pee and a large tureen full of cold water so stumbled towards the kitchen. I woke some one – history does not relate who – as I went – I probably trod on him – and while I emptied he went to refill. It was then I heard a sort of belch-come-scream.
He was standing outside the kitchen looking like an extra from Poltergeist and shivering. ‘Wasps’ was all he managed to say before locking himself in the loo.
I opened the kitchen door to a throbbing, buzzing nightmare. Every sticky surface, and every surface was sticky, was covered in a rippling carpet of wasps. It was like watching a bunch of ten year olds who had been told they had fifteen minutes to eat as much chocolate as they could. They were utterly demented.
I remembered that summer morning and that madness, as I let Dog out into the garden the night after the funeral. We have a routine. Before I shut the house down for the night, I open the backdoor and, while he goes for pee, I stand just outside the back door, encouraging his late night relief. Normally I don’t follow him but this time I did, onto the path. It had rained a while before and everywhere had a sheen in the moonlight. The air was crisp too after being cooped up indoors all evening. In taking those steps, there was a crunch. The another. While I turned about I managed to crush perhaps a dozen snails, perambulating happily in the cool night air.
I can’t say I love snails. Not even nodding acquaintances really. Like slugs they decimate various plants I hold dear. We battle for the glory that are our hostas (a few are displayed in this post). But recently I’ve found it difficult to randomly and brutally crush them. Once maybe but not these days. I’m happier tossing them over the fence and waiting for them to walk home. That at least allows both of us a chance in the game.
Back in Bath, I stared at this audition for the latest John Carpenter movie: Wasp! I didn’t then and I don’t now have a ‘thing’ about wasps or their stings. I don’t court them but I’m not neurotic about them. But I was pretty sure there would be those among the sleeping hoards still fermenting apple juice into explosive hangovers who would be terrified and far from understanding. So I tied a tea towel round my mouth and nose, shut the door and with another tea towel (soaked in the approved fashion for bringing a welt to a naked backside – one of the highly prized skills taught at British schools that aspired to be private but weren’t, circa 1968) I entered the fray.
Thirty-five years have taught me that you can deal with things like wasps in a slow and methodical way, easing them out of the way, even if they are feeding greedily. If I had entered that room today my approach would be very different. But in 1979/80 I lashed out. By the time the others came into the kitchen it was clear and the waste bin full of wasp carcasses. I regret now to admit I actually enjoyed it. I kind of gloried in the briefly held reputation as Waspslayer.
The lady who died wasn’t sentimental; she had the most fabulous English cottage garden in the fold beneath the Sussex downs and I’m sure she waged war on bugs and beasties that might try and thwart her gardener’s plans. But she lived a full life without some maniac belabouring her about the bonce with a wet cloth while she supped on her lunchtime martini. Why not the snail and the wasp too?
In future I will try harder to live and let live whoever or whatever I come across in whatever circumstance (well, apart from blackfly on my broad beans, of course)