Tuesday, December 07, 2021

A Sadness of Wasps

 Wasps eh?  Never liked them much.  In fact I’ve always been one of those people jumping and flailing and running when one appears.  ‘Just keep still’ never cut it with me and I still want someone else to deal with one if it appears.  So over last summer we saw dozens of the little blighters flying into a hole in the side of the house – seemingly into the space between a skylight and the (relatively) new ceiling in the downstairs toilet.  So what to do?  And what does it reveal about oneself?

First thought – ‘I’ve got some anti wasps nest power somewhere’ – ‘you flick it about like you’re about to do an old fashioned lady armpit shave and they er, go away’.  ‘Or die or something’.  

The second thought is something like ‘but what would Chris Packham say?’ This backed up by a recently memory of him on the telly talking about wasps being really useful and amazing and all that mixed in with a bit of ‘who are we to kill them?’

So we decide that since they aren’t really bothering us (apart from a reported buzzing in the ceiling which leads me to abandon downstairs toilet use amid visions of huge wasps nests crashing through the ceiling and being engulphed in 100 million angry toilet wasps) we can probably just leave them and they’ll er, go away.  They buzz about and in the autumn they’ll die off and go away and apparently they don’t come back to the same place.  OK, we’ll do that. 

The plan seems to work.  Weeks pass and one day we find a small dead wasp on the stair carpet.  No idea where it’s come from except that it’s unlikely to have come from outside as we don’t generally have windows open when it’s not high summer (don’t get me started on those people who leave their radiators on just below open windows on cold days).  For about 2 months we find 2 or 3 small, not quite dead wasps in the hall and on the stairs.  We assume there’s a small hole in the cupboard that the odd one gets through from the space over the toilet (maybe this is how evolution works, except in this case the brave adventurous squeezy hole-y wasps find the carpet and not a new and productive place to fly to to breed the next generation).  But it’s been a mild Autumn, they’ll be gone soon surely?  November comes around and the number of small, drowsy wasps on the floor (or on the window initially followed a few hours or a day or so later by an unseen slump to the floor) remains consistent.  They’re small and, partly due to them not flying, and partly I think being only a bit bigger and slightly more curvy than hover flies (which I don’t mind – why is the curve of a wasp so disturbing?!) I don’t find this too bad.  And someone else is clearing them up and dumping them in the bin, though I shudder on the odd occasion I’ve had to do it myself using a dustpan and brush for distance, the use of a piece of kitchen roll being far too close a contact for me.   

One of the worst parts of this whole thing is the musing on life and death and what it teachers you about yourself.  I don’t learn that I don’t like wasps or don’t like clearing up dead things (or worse, nearly dead things) but I do realise that I’d much rather let them die than kill them.  Somewhere there’s a voice telling me to ‘finish them off it’s the kindest thing to do’.  But I’m happier letting them writhe, buzz, expire, buzz a bit more and then actually expire than I am intervening with a shoe or fly swat or spray (that we don’t actually have) or newspaper (that we also don’t really have) or whatever.  Who am I to kill them?  But who am I to rescue them?  That seems to be what I should do – get them outside where they can quickly die in the cold?  These particular wasps seem more sympathetic than most.  They’re small, they not flying, they’re not landing on you and stinging you when you brush them off not realising that they’re there.  And Chris Packham has explained that they’re not the bad guys that we may have been led to believe.  Wood pigeons good, pigeons in town ‘flying rats’, red squirrels good, grey ones bad, bees good wasps bad, rats bad, hamsters good, roses good, nettles bad, slugs bad, ladybirds good – who can keep up with the value judgements of the householder or gardener?       

The last week in November comes and I come in late at night to find a big, scary, curvy wasp flying round the light bulb I’ve just switched on.  I shiver, turn the light off and run away upstairs.  It’s found in a similar state to the smaller ones in the morning – but this bigger one takes longer to die and even when it is apparently dead it might not be.  So it gets left and eventually gets cleared away by someone else after I’ve jumped around the hall or up 2 stairs at a time to ignore it.  

Then as if to some sort of schedule another lone, large wasp appears bouncing round the window with what appears to be loads of energy which soon dissipates and it ends up on the floor.  Then another and another.  One or two a day (don’t panic there is no dramatic climax to come here – so far anyway).  It’s now a week into December and still they come.  Today there’s one on the bedroom window which I bravely try to steer out with a magazine though it won’t stay on it and I fail.  Last seem crawling across the bedroom carpet heading for the landing.  I’ve taken to looking in my shoes before putting them on now.  I hear that these big wasps might be ‘queens’ or something – but how many does a wasps nest have?  On the way out of the house I occasionally have a look round to the hole they’ve been going in and out of.  Quiet.  Until next time when there are a dozen wasps flying around.  Kind of hoping for a hard frost over a few days.  At some point maybe in February when I’m more confident that they’re dead I’ll gum up the hole.  Might even peer through the top of the toilet skylight expecting to see an intricate nightmare world of (hopefully) abandoned wasps’ nest.  Which will be left as far too scary to move.  The skylight hasn’t been opened for decades so it’d probably break if it were opened.  Honest.   

But nowadays when I see one on the floor I take to musing on life and death and thinking ‘poor little bastard’ (not quite reaching as far as ‘poor little thing’, though they do seem a bit pathetic) and I think that gently expiring on a carpet in a warmish house just running out of energy probably isn’t that bad a way to die.

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