Hurt One or Two Living Things

Hurt No Living Thing

Hurt no living thing:
Ladybird, nor butterfly,
Nor moth with dusty wing,
Nor cricket chirping cheerily,
Nor grasshopper so light of leap,
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat,
Nor harmless worms that creep.

 

Christina Rosetti’s famous poem exhorts us all to refrain from harming tiny creatures; a lofty ideal, but one that is tricky to follow. I notice she keeps to insects that are both beautiful and/or harmless such as ladybirds or beetles and does not venture to suggest that we should preserve locusts, tsetse flies, head lice or maggots. And was Christina a vegan, I wonder?

It is easy to admire and wish to preserve ladybirds and butterflies. It is even possible to tolerate annoying wasps, who gyrate in an irritating, menacing fashion around your alfresco lunch if you adopt a laisser-faire attitude. And hornets should be given a wide berth at all times. For those of us, however who seem to be a favourite snack for mosquitoes, midges and any other blood sucking insects there is a strong desire to smash them into a pulp. Anyone who has lain awake tortured by the hot itching of myriad bites will understand this.

I’ve been attacked by most of the common, European biters. Years ago there was a local, Dorset, river dwelling blood sucker called The Blandford Fly whose bite induced ankle swelling akin to elephantiasis together with a flu-like fever. I’d had at least two of these before the little monsters were sprayed prior to hatching.

Of course in tropical climates there are some truly nasty insects-grubs that burrow into skin and eyes, wormy things that colonise the bodily systems. But here in France, in the pine woods of the south west my own, personal běte noir has to be the horsefly. If horseflies are beyond your experience consider yourself blessed.

My first real run in with them was a few years ago whilst enjoying an innocent cycle up a quiet lane in the forest of Les Landes. It was a hot afternoon, provoking sweat to erupt between my rucksack and the fabric of my T-shirt. As we passed a particular spot a swarm of horseflies erupted from the trees and up beneath the rucksack, biting as they went. The result was a constellation of itchy, angry, red, raised lumps that lasted for a couple of weeks.

Then last week, after a hot afternoon I emerged from the shower and sat to drag a brush through my wet hair, rising to glance in the mirror at the result. It looked as if two brown stickers had attached themselves to my face-one at the hairline, the other on my jaw. In my innocence I was slow to recognise the sinister, brownish, frog-with-a-touch-of spider [but without the charm of either] forms of horseflies, which had attached themselves greedily to my face and had begun feasting before I’d so much as dried off. While the itching has now subsided the scabby lumps persist. Now I am applying liberal dousing of repellent prior to each cycling jaunt, although this afternoon the little scamps were invading my helmet and ignoring the deterrent lotion by hitching a ride on my skin.

No, Christina I’m afraid exceptions must be made. Ladybirds and grasshoppers, yes-horseflies-NO.

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Notes on Decline

In her position as increasingly informed health professional, [regular readers will know that she returned to the maternal fold for a round of study for another degree], Offspring has mustered the kindness to advise me that I will know I have five years left before I shuffle off into the ether by the absence of my olfactory sense.
I have never been advantaged in my sense of smell. As a child I suffered with hay fever and spent weeks with a streaming nose and eyes during times of high pollen. An enhanced ability to smell can be both an advantage and a blight! I may be the last person in the hotel to smell the smoke but I am able to avoid nausea by being unaffected by the more unpleasant odours.
In the event that I might actually want to know when I am about to pop my clogs my sense of smell may not be a reliable indicator. Other factors, however may point in the general direction of snuffing it. To ascertain some of them it seems reasonable to look to your parents’ old age, the ailments they began to pick up, their lifestyles and their resistance.
In later life my father developed asthma-an unpleasant and often distressing condition-and also eczema. It is a mystery why all this descended upon him in his sixties, but it is now my legacy to have inherited the eczema, a complaint which is not in the least dangerous or threatening but which is, at times, torture.
At night, especially I began to wake to the sensation of thousands of small needles prickling my arms and back. I stayed awake-trying to defy the onslaught by employing ‘mind over matter’. I applied cold flannels, Calomine and ‘stop-the-itch’ cream. The hours passed in a turmoil of raking nails and tram-lined skin resulting only in an increase of the itch factor. I researched the internet. I sought help.
Initially I followed advice regarding liberal moisturising, eschewing soap and shower gel etc. The results were disappointing. I rushed out and purchased emollients of various types, slathering each in turn upon the offending areas of skin. For a few days sun block cream seemed like a miracle cure; then it didn’t.
At last I resorted to the GP, needing only a telephone consultation to be granted a prescription for steroid cream. I must admit I was disappointed, having considered I could beat the problem without recourse to professionals. But there is the inevitable and there is the view from the descent-the downhill slope; if only eczema were the sole ailment!
Not wishing for this blog to deteriorate into a hypochondriac rant I am reluctant to launch into all the other [granted-trivial] health disorders that have crept into my life in an insidious, sneaking invasion but there are times when an additional irritant, such as the arrival of the eczema serves as a reminder of the finite nature of lifespan and that, yes, it is all downhill from here!