It’s A Primal Thing

Many of you will have noticed that it’s coming up to summer, the season where that yellow ball of fire in the sky reminds us that one day it will expand and wipe us all out in an instantaneous fiery blast.1 Many of us – myself included – will be indulging in lounging about in parks in the golden light eating ice creams under blue skies or sitting in pub beer gardens with a refreshing cool pint of beer.2 It is also a great time to get some writing done, since in a heatwave, doing anything other than using a pen or laptop requires a strength of will of Herculean proportions. Unfortunately for me, there is another species on this planet that also revels in the sun and enjoys both ice cream, parks, beer gardens, and, despite my edict of 2002, beer.


The Enemy

Yes, wasps. Or Vespula vulgaris as it is known in the Scientific classification system: the Common Wasp. These bestinged insects are often to be found in bins, clambering over apple cores and looking for children to sting. They come straight from Satan’s arse. They are an incarnation of the Dark One. They are evil made flesh.

Or to put it another way, I have a phobia of them and the only method I can deal with that fear is by turning my hatred against these tiny, insignificant, generally harmless insects. I’m not sure where this phobia has come from – many people have phobias of things that have attacked them as a child or something. I cannot recall ever being attacked by a wasp. I don’t think I’ve ever been stung by a wasp. There is no event that I can remember that explains why I have this phobia of the little devils. Phobias are, of course, by their very definition irrational, but there are often connected memories. Maybe I’ve repressed them.


It’s happened before.

Anger has seemed to be a good method of dealing with the beasts, though. I do remember vividly one of the first times I took on a wasp, instead of running away screaming. I was about 11, maybe a little older, and I was on holiday in France. Returning to the room I was sharing with my brother to put away a hat I was disturbed to hear that specific kind of buzzing that signifies the presence of a wasp. My first instinct was to run, but my feet were like lead. I was paralysed with fear. In a small room. With a wasp. Not good. All that was to hand was a welcome pack/children’s activity folder that had been given away free on the ferry from Southampton. It was Stena Line, I think, or possibly P&O. Maybe Brittany Ferries…it was 17 years ago. Anyway, the folder was A4 and relatively sturdy, so I picked it up and readied myself for defence. There was no option of running: a fight had to take place. In my mind, the wasp saw me and started towards me, closing in for the kill. In reality, it was probably just seeing what the hell this thing was in the middle of the room. As it buzzed it’s tainted evil body closer, I flailed with the folder. That is the most accurate description. It was not a defensive sweep, it was not a directed assault. It was a fearful flail. Nevertheless, the folder connected with the insect, which was forced out of the open window at speed.

I breathed a sigh of relief as I watched the hapless insect speed away from me under the force of my folder flail hammer blow. This quickly turned to abject horror as the wasp righted itself in mid-air and turned around to fly directly towards me. This time it was no exploration. I had declared war on it and it was coming for my very soul, spouting waspish insults about my parentage, stature, and other things I’d rather not record here.3 I readied myself, planting my feet firmly apart, and hefting the folder-weapon. The wasp sped onwards towards me, tiny wings beating with the fury of its wrath. I summoned all the hatred of its kind and pushed into swinging the folder with all my might.

Another direct hit. This time the wasp was smashed to my left and was not able to right itself and return. This may have been the effect of the two hits from the folder on its fragile body, but more likely it was because about two paces left of me there was an interior wall. The wasp slid down it, I swear to God.4 It fell to the ground behind a sports bag full of clothes and other assorted holiday paraphernalia. Gingerly, fearing sting-based retribution, I pulled the bag aside. The wasp lay twitching on the carpet: it was dying. I helped it along with the sole of my shoe, then used the folder to deposit the corpse out of the window, because I’d read that the pheromones of dying wasps attracted others of the nest to search for it. The fight was over. I had won.

Looking back, it seems a little excessive. Really there was just an insect in a room that made responses according its instincts. But in the imagination of a fear-fuelled child’s brain, it knew exactly what it was doing and my response was only natural. I’d like to think that I’ve matured since then, and I have. Oddly, pictures of wasps have never bothered me – it is only the creatures themselves. Now, I am more or less capable of waving them away if they come near me and carrying on with my life. Mostly. Some of this is because you look like a complete idiot in a pub garden, running quickly away from a picnic bench whilst trying not to spill a pint of lager. If we’re enjoying a pint together and this happens, please forgive my antics. It’s a primal thing that I have no control over. Indoors, though, I have to say that I am less forgiving of wasps. I don’t want them in my house and I refuse to bend on that rule. The folder, as I recall, did not last till the end of the same summer and was only once drafted into service as an instrument of death. Much like humanity moved on from wooden clubs, so over the years my methods of wasp elimination have become more refined, more effective, and more deadly.


Behold! The instrument of my salvation!

So, that’s my phobia. What’s yours and what do you find a good strategy for overcoming it? What are you looking forward to most this summer? What are you looking forward to least? Leave a comment and let me know!

1 Just kidding, our species will be extinct first.
2 Contrary to popular legend, beer in Britain is not served warm. Temperature varies depending on the type of beer, of course, but most real ales are served at cellar temperature (c. 12-14 °C/54-57 °F – below room temperature, so still not warm), and I generally drink lager, which is served cool (c. 4-7 °C/39-45 °F). In any case, something which is cold does not necessarily taste better – temperature can drastically affect taste. See Karel Talavera et al, ‘Heat activation of TRPM5 underlies thermal sensitivity of sweet taste’, Nature, 438, pp. 1022-1025.
3 Because that didn’t happen. Obviously.
4 Or to you, because, you know, I’m an atheist.

4 Responses to “It’s A Primal Thing”
  1. Rob Palmer says:

    WASP = White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, therefore a thing to be feared and dealt with as detailed above.

  2. dad says:

    I recall you being surrounded by your nemesis outside of some stately home/castle/tourist attraction as a small boy and seeing your phobia first hand

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