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A Shout From The Attic: What Aristophanes Didn’t Tell Me

...In a few moments, we had stripped our branches of all leaves and many of their twigs, as we pirouetted in our pas de deux of death, felling the little fellows without compassion...

Ronnie Bray tells with great gusto of a war against an army of wasps.

To read more of Ronnie's brilliant columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

With the thoughtless cruelty of foolish children who have not been guided right, Peter West and I tore branches off a nearby bush and, after dipping them into the paddling pond, struck out mercilessly as the wasps swarmed out of the hole that was the entrance to their nest.

We had been fed, nay, gorged, on War Department propaganda that enemy aircraft posed a direct threat to our lives and must be brought down, whatever the cost. We fought as if the safety of our island depended entirely on us. It did not occur to us that the war had closed for business three years ago.

In fairness, the wasps were not pusillanimous: not in the least. They fought back with equal ferocity. However, whereas our battle was the product of the fanciful imaginations of two underemployed boys, the wasps were waging a battle for their very lives, and they fought like demons. To increase the effectiveness of our green-leafed weapons, we dipped them into the sparkling water of the paddling pool in Greenhead Park, and then ran to the rockery in which the irascible insects had built their paper kingdom and thrashed about some more.

Occasionally, we managed to strike each other in our frantic effort to down every yellow and black jerseyed dive-bomber: we were too engaged in waspicide to notice. In a few moments, we had stripped our branches of all leaves and many of their twigs, as we pirouetted in our pas de deux of death, felling the little fellows without compassion. When a goodly number lay prostrate on the battleground and we were nearing exhaustion – war is Hell! - we decided to call a halt to hostilities. Laying down our arms, we wandered from the scene of destruction, but were astonished to find that the battle was not over.

Reinforcements from the foe’s death-squadron came buzzing out of the tunnel and they knew their enemy, doubtless from some of their wounded who had managed to limp home on a wing and a prayer. They came straight for us, ignoring a disinterested, wet, ex-paddling pool dog that sniffed about nearby. I do not know to this day where Peter West went, but I ran down the side path making for home and flailing my arms like a demented windmill to ward off the kamikaze pests. At one point, I was stung on my neck. I suppose, to be fair, I enjoyed that about as much as the wasps enjoyed our unholy crusade on their fortress.

“At least,” I thought, “now we’re even!” In spite of my battle wound, I enjoyed the sense of justification that being stung allowed me to entertain. Although I could see no more of the bright-striped aeronauts, I continued my run home to the safety of indoors where I had never seen a harmful intruder.

Panting, I sat in front of the fire and marvelled at my lucky escape. Stupidity lulled me into a false sense of security. The sting on my neck swelled to a decent size but was no longer painful, just irritating. All in all, it could have been worse so there was little to complain about. After twenty minutes, the pain from the sting on my neck subsided and I was calmly and self-congratulatingly re-entering my baseline comfort zone when I was stung twice on my back.

Two fifth columnists had entered my defences when their commando comrade had launched a diversion manoeuvre on my neck. Fiendishly clever those wasps! Ripping off my jersey, and throwing it to the floor, I stomped on the two laughing creatures that had got me. Feverishly, and in some agony, I searched my clothing lest there was a third wave of Special Forces waiting in the seams to make another assault.

To ease my pain I used an Old Yorkshire magic incantation. It always worked when I was a lad, and alone, but it is too indelicate to repeat here. Fortunately, when my need was so great that I had to use it, I was alone – except for two tiny bodies that lay lifeless and stingless on the pegged rug. I gave them a military funeral and threw them onto the fire.

I returned to the park often that summer, but gave the wasp’s nest a very wide berth. I had no desire to re-commence hostilities with creatures that defend themselves so energetically and with such guile.

I do not know the final score, but there were a good few wasps that did not have to worry about where they were going to spend the winter. Some were badly injured and forced to spend time convalescing before they could resume active service in their own work of National Importance in the Pollination Brigade.

And, speaking only for myself, since Peter must give his own answer, there was one wiser boy whistling his ragged-trouser way through Greenhead Park who, when he stopped to smell the roses, never got his nose quite so close as once he had, just in case.


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