'This is the day the flies fall awake mid-sentence
and lie stunned on the window-sill shaking with speeches
only it isn't speech it is trembling sections of puzzlement which
break off suddenly as if the questioner had been shot
this is one of those wordy days
when they drop from their winter quarters in the curtains
and sizzle as they fall
feeling like old cigarette butts called back to life
blown from the surface of some charred world...
extract from Flies - Alice Oswald (Falling Awake -Jonathan Cape 2016)
There you see, nothing to do with me, I blame Alice Oswald for the fact that today I feel moved to write about flies.
I have been reading and marvelling over Falling Awake, the latest collection of poetry from Alice Oswald, much-loved-can-do-no-wrong chez dovegrey, and came across this poem about flies. How much nicer it would to write about bees I thought; all those 'bee-loud glades' and honey and hive industry, and clever analogies with the human condition and how bees somehow get it right, and all that work and form and those beautiful hexagonal patterns. The list of Bee Niceness is endless, who cares about the sting in the tail that can whip a body into anaphylaxis, now that never gets mentioned in the Bee World.
But everyone else writes about bees, perhaps there's enough Bee Verse out there, no one writes about flies and says this...
'what dirt shall we visit today?
what dirt shall we re-visit?'
And I think only Alice Oswald could turn flies into a poem that has such relevance for people like us who live in deepest rural Devon and know of what she speaks. As Kathleen Jamie would say, it's not all primroses and otters this living in the country lark.
Flies are a fact of life here and we brace for the approaching season. If you have ever had an invasion of cluster flies (Polleniarudis) then you will understand the inevitability of the onslaught and the ensuing war that rages, but we are old hands at this battle now and we have our strategies.
Plenty of tactical manoeuvres like flinging the windows wide open at a certain time of day to fool the blighters that have crept into the crevices waiting to invade when you open the windows at bedtime, closing the doors and windows at a certain time in the afternoon as the air cools and the flies like to migrate indoors. You only need to go into a bedroom once, and see the ceiling a mass of heaving black buzziness, to learn that one.
And yes, I have been known to hoover the ceiling in response and I'm not proud of it.
In the U.S. I'm sure you have sensible things like fly screens, we are just not that sensible here so weaponry down the years has varied from the industrial to the herbal and everything in-between...
I read in one of those Country Housewife books that cut branches of elder strewn around the house were a wonderful deterrent (they weren't)
Far more efficient was the ultra-violet Insect-o-Cutor which dishes out an unforgiving bolt of lightning, with accompanying sound effects and aroma of frying, to any unfortunate winged creature that homes in. Moths, butterflies included we couldn't bear the carnage.
The sticky, corkscrew fly paper strips that hang from the ceiling and which either look disgusting within a week or attract not a single victim all summer, other than my hair if I stray too near.
The lethal sprays which come with dire health warnings and smear and obliterate the windows, and then there's the five minutes of fly death-madness to be endured.
The 'scented' blocks which throw out a constant stream of evil fumes around the room until we all feel we are dying.
The paper that sticks on the window (printed with patterns that flies like...apparently) and which look like over-sized garibaldi biscuits after a week of action but are so well-stuck on the glass that you leave them until eventually they become a health hazard.
However this year I have a new weapon.
We'd gone to the farm supplies shop to get Bookhound some new wellies. If flies are sometimes the bane of rural life then farm supply shops are one of the joys. I love wandering around the poultry feeders, and the cow crushers and the sheep wormer shelves, and the horsey things, and the giant-sized sacks of feed and the farm clothing...you know white overalls for shows and zip-up onesies for mucking out. Then my eyes set upon this...
The Buzz Bug Bat, electrocution of flying insects by serve, volley or back-hand.
'I'm going to treat myself to one of these,' I declared, 'It'll be like playing Wimblebuzz.' (I'm very easily pleased...low maintenance)
St Bookhound of Asissi, whose love for all living creatures no matter how small is legendary, was initially horrified at my heartlessness... this would be like The Green Mile going on in our house he gasped until I reminded him...
what dirt shall we visit today?
what dirt shall we re-visit?
I'm not neurotic, just a Nightingale nurse, but I do seem to spend half my summer-life Dettox-ing kitchen surfaces of fly dirt and the invisible menaces of disease that they must bring in on their little insect-sized shoes.
All I need is two batteries and I am on the baseline and ready to serve a few aces.
So it is with gratitude that I thank Alice Oswald for her poem about flies and its relevance whilst trying not to think too hard about them as...well... as living creatures.
'they lift their faces to the past and walk about a bit
trying out their broken thought-machines
coming back with their used-up words
there is such a horrible trapped buzzing wherever we fly
it's going to be impossible to think clearly now until next winter...'
I'm seeing it more as putting them out of their misery.
Do you think that's alright?
Do you have any foolproof methods of fly extermination to share...