Morning Story: Welsh and flies don't deserve spray

By Mark Story


After sinking too many ales one wet Palmerston North afternoon, a varsity flatmate decided to announce his top three grudges.

He stood, slurped another mouthful of beer, and said: "I hate the Welsh, flies and republicans".

Immensely fond of Roald Dahl, I told him he was being a little rough on the Welsh.

Apparently we have much in common with that nation.

One of my most treasured interviews as a younger journalist was with the intriguing Lady Emma Herbert. The wild child English daughter of the 17th Earl of Pembroke put paid to my flatmate's first hate when I asked for her impression of Kiwis: "They're a bit Welsh".

I also think my flatmate was a little rough on flies.

The ubiquitous black bombers that pepper our province this time of year are, I say, grossly maligned. The art of chasing them away is a clear case of tilting at windmills.

Rarely living more than a few days, this is an insect hell bent on eating, industry and procreation. What our own species would achieve equipped with such a balanced work and play ethic can only be imagined.

They keep me in line.

If I'm lazy and leave a lone, dirty plate in the sink at night, I pay for it with a swarm of hungry double-wingers the next day.

A few stray crumbs on the table at breakfast - a fleet of flies by morning tea.

They're also irreverent. While they hang out in my compost hoping for a quick nosh, so too are they smitten with my new Trubridge lightshades. Both the shades, one in my lounge, the other in the living room, have become 24-hour comfort stops.

When first installed, I constantly shooed flies from the expensive new decor. Now I just sit and watch the bamboo ply slowly change colour with every deposit. It's made me reflect on just when it was I got so uptight.

Perhaps we vilify them because we're envious. Envious of amoral creatures who have no qualms about stuffing face and copulating as many times as a seriously short life allows.

Imagine for a moment a human male boasted a fly's behavioural characteristics.

For one, he would land a lead role on the popular sitcom Two-and-a-Half Men.

In New Zealand he'd be just another obesity statistic and, by dint of the sum total debauchery and short life, at his funeral he'd be eulogised as a dark romantic.

Which brings me to fly spray.

What a hideous concept.

Despite what the masses think, this isn't cleanliness in a can.

At some stage in our snowballing state of comfort we decided compromised air quality was simply a price to pay for zero pestilence.

Thing is, those of us who object have no choice but to suck it up.

I'm talking those plastic white insect repellers that hang on walls in almost every home, and certainly every eatery in the country; silent wallflowers whose cover is blown only when they make that "psst" sound.

It's cold comfort that marketers tell us the active ingredient is a naturally occurring repellent. If only all things natural played nicely with our physiology. I mean, despite being naturally abundant, arsenic, for instance, will never threaten Marmite as our favourite spread.

In a Hastings cafe a few weeks ago I was forced to eat my sandwich outside due to a rabid "psst" machine over my left shoulder.

As I waited for my coffee it introduced itself, "psst". Turning the first page of the newspaper, "psst". Thanking the young girl for bringing my coffee to the table, "psst". Checking my cellphone for messages, "psst".

Fly-less cafes are not clean cafes. I say sprayers are installed in lieu of cleanliness.

It's the great paradox. Our many and bizarre acts of sanitising, deoderising, hot showering, homogenising, anti-perspiring, pasteurising, bleaching - only sicken us. It's an ill-conceived, ill-fated quest for sterility.

Why do we hate flies so much? Is it their famous cameo in the biblical fourth plague of Egypt? In that context it may seem mildly sacrilegious, but I'd like to think these little fellas aren't symbols of death and decay.

Maybe they're in fact indicators of hygiene and taste. They have the sensibility to recognise the worth of Trubridge - and the common sense to prefer clean air. Just maybe their tiny and delicate respiratory systems make them the modern-day canary.

Mark Story is deputy editor at Hawke's Bay Today

- Hawkes Bay Today

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