Mass murder on a small scale

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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)

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published three anthologies of short stories and a memoir of my mother. More will appear soon. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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29 Responses to Mass murder on a small scale

  1. Ali Isaac says:

    Love love LOVE Hostas! Dont have any but would really love some for my garden. Cant see.m to get them in garden centres over here… wonder why that is?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. noelleg44 says:

    Beautiful hostas! And a lovely post to go with it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Noelle; these are truly nostalgia plants as three of tem came frm Mum’s garden after she died. She adore hostas and every time I look at them I imagine her curved back peering among the leaves as she waged her own war on slugs.


  3. Charli Mills says:

    Last night I sat in wonder and in the fresh turned dirt after making 18 hills of blue potatoes and stared at a swath of gooey egg sacks of some sort of insect. I tend to give insects the benefit of the doubt letting they feed on each other or fend off my little pine siskins that nibble bugs off the leaves of my vegetables. Nothing seems too nibbled so we live in relative peace. I did grab a wasp by mistake a few weeks ago and he bit me good to let me know he was on the other side of a board I was moving. Cold water and ice removed the sting. My condolences to you, your friend and any snails beneath your feet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thanks Charli; random wanton killing to create an odd sort of perfection in the garden seems contradictory to our hopes of making it as natural and user friendly as possible. Slowly I learn my lessons.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Charli Mills says:

        Digging holes in my kitchen garden, I dug up a few insect-y kind of things. I paused and pondered: friend or foe? Then I realized, it didn’t matter. My dirt harbored life and we’d all make do.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. trifflepudling says:

    A lovely gentle post, reminded me of The Circle Game by Joni Mitchell for some reason.
    Charli – I have a horrid feeling that the white things might be snail or slug eggs … which ties in nicely!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wasps are the only thing that make me do that funny dad dance thing when ever they come anywhere near me. I’ve often wondered why they exist and I expect they think the same about me.

    I shudder to think about watching a movie called ‘Wasp.’ Watching “Them” with the giant ants was bad enough. Lets hope those wasps are not as big as those ants were.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. roweeee says:

    Fortunately, we don’t have too much in the way of snmails or slugs around here. That requires some form of moisture and somethi8ng to eat and both are in short supply around here. That said, something did eat a couple of Salvias I’d bought recently.
    A few years ago, we visited my grandfather’s brother who is country border and bred and lives around the South Australian and Victorian State borders. Anyway, he had a rather unique way of disposing of snails that dared cross into his garden. He hurled them onto the highway no doubt hoping they’d meet their maker as a semi-trailer thundered past.
    As a child, I remember being on holidays and seeing someone collecting a bucket full of snails from the garden and adding detergent and watching them froth up suffering a cruel death. However, that was considered perfectly acceptable back in the 1970s.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Annecdotist says:

    Lovely post, Geoff, and your hostas look pretty good despite the slugs. I’m quite ruthless with slugs and snails when I come across them, but wasps are fine. And a funeral for someone who celebrated life is always a great occasion.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Autism Mom says:

    I am glad the funeral was comforting and that you have such warm memories of her.

    Your hostas are gorgeous! We have hostas too, but they don’t get so magnificent and full. On the other hand, we don’t really have snails or slugs to worry about. I guess there is a give and take everywhere, even in horticulture.


    • TanGental says:

      Very true. What is your ‘yard’ like. I love you call your gardens ‘yards’. To me yards connote small car repair workshops or places where one buys sand or gravel! Two people separated by a common language. You’ll need to brief the navigator about that!


  9. Autism Mom says:

    We’ve been working on it – crisps instead of chips, chips instead of fries, boot instead of trunk, etc. It has been making me think a lot about the origins of words (we seem to use a lot more French-based words – e.g., garbage instead of rubbish).

    A garden is a planned planted place with veggies or flowers and plants – not grass – and is usually contained within a yard. When talking about a space with grass, that is a yard. However, lots of things can have a yard including places to buy sand or gravel, or repair shops. We get which kind of yard it is out of context. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Autism Mom says:

      Thinking about this: (we seem to use a lot more French-based words – e.g., garbage instead of rubbish) – made me think it might be familial. My paternal grandmother was French Canadian, we may have gotten that from her. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Grass =lawn and imbibed the flowers is a flower garden , with veg is vegetable garden and if just fruit trees an orchard. Interesting these subtle distinctions! As for language where do we start? Gas for petrol, faucet for tap, elevator for lift, suspenders for braces (and I’ve no idea what you call what we call suspenders – garter belt?), fanny pack for bumbag (do not use fanny in England if you want to avoid sniggers), soda for fizzy soft drinks (here soda means soda water, and we don’t lump fizzy sweet drinks together – coke

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I worked in Bath for almost 8 years. I’m not a fan of wasps either, having sat on a mate of theirs as a child and stung to high heaven. I’ve been stung three times since, and have no time for them, but I will go out of my way to help a tired bee find a flower to revive itself. When working in Grove Street, a huge bumble bee got trapped in the store room overnight, and I fed it sugar water in the morning, much to the amusement of my boss and colleagues. That gratifying bumbling when it took off out into the sunny day stayed with me for years.

    Liked by 1 person

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