The life cycle of creepy crawlies

7th July 2006 at 01:00
The theory went like this: having an article to write but not wishing to remain indoors on a dry Sunday afternoon, I would sling my ageing but perfectly serviceable Psion palmtop into a backpack, sling my ageing but perfectly serviceable body on to a mountain bike and head off to the dirt tracks around Blacklaw Windfarm. As I cycled, I would compose.

This technique had shown itself to be useful a few weeks previously when I prepared for a couple of job interviews while in the saddle. That I was at least a little physically fitter was some consolation, given that in the end I was never invited for interview in either case.

Off I went, into a headwind, and it all started to go wrong. For some reason, all that would come into my head was "Girlfriend in a Coma" by the Smiths, sometimes mischievously transposing itself into "Girlfriend in a Kia".

It was only when I had to dismount to lift my bike over a large ditch that Morrissey and co gave me some respite. At that point, some spiders walked in front of me. I stopped to let them past and was reminded of a time, a week previously, when I was less considerate to invertebrates.

It began when Mrs Steele pointed out that one of the trees in our garden was festooned with gossamer webs. I thought it looked rather attractive and was almost moved to take a photie, and a non-digital one at that.

The next day that I looked, the scene was less pleasant. The tree looked as if a particularly over-enthusiastic American colonel had been at it with defoliant spray, and every branch was home to scores of ugly, greenish-grey grubs. At work, a colleague told me they were the larvae of a type of moth and that they had a strange defence mechanism. If their home was under threat, they left it via a silken thread.

When I got back, I poked the tree with a clothes pole. A hundred caterpillars immediately descended, special forces-style, on spidery ropes.

Unfortunately, another few thousand didn't.

I wanted to be humane and organic. No pesticides that would affect the rest of the wildlife. So I turned the hose on them in a light spray. A few hundred more Who-Dares-Winners came down. I turned the water pressure up.

And up. Soon, nobler thoughts were out the windae and the air was thick with water-propelled beasties. Anything to get rid of them.

As I remounted my bicycle, uncomfortable parallels between caterpillar removal and my approach to behaviour management since returning from secondment began to emerge. Fortunately, as soon as I turned the pedals again, the Smiths were back.

Gregor Steele wrote this in the middle of nowhere.

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