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Lord of the Flies

"There’s an awful lot of flies in the house this year," said Robin doing a rather ineffectual Australian wave in a vain attempt to shoo the flies away. She hasn’t lived in Australia for a great many years and so she’s rather out of practice.

"Yes," I agreed, "there do seem to be rather more than we usually get. I think there’s at least a couple of dozen of them in the kitchen, though it’s hard to be sure of the exact number because they keep zooming around. I’ve never seen flies fly so fast before. So to speak."

"Where’s the fly swatter?" asked Robin. "We need to take drastic action."

"We’ve got a green one and a red one," I said. "But I don’t know where the red one is. I haven’t seen it for months. I suspect that Jake the Dog has probably eaten it. You know how much he likes to chew on plastic."

"Get me the green one then," commanded Robin. "That should be enough." To hear is to obey. I fetched the green fly swatter and handed it to Robin.


As soon as Jake the Dog heard the noise of the fly swatter swatting he raced into the kitchen barking his head off. He loves fly swatters. He enjoys snacking on the fat and juicy corpses that they leave behind.

"Damn!" said Robin. "Missed. Sorry, Jake but they were too fast for me."

"Try harder," suggested Jake.


"Got one," said Robin gleefully.

The dead fly fell squashily to the floor and Jake pounced on it. He sucked thoughtfully for a moment and then spat it out. "Yuck!" he said. "That’s the nastiest tasting fly I’ve ever had. You are what you eat, of course. So what have you been feeding them?"

"Insinkerator mush," I told him, "and avocado skins waiting for the compost bin."

"That would explain it," said Jake. "Dogs, much like Tiggers, really hate avocados."

"I thought that was thistles," I said, puzzled.

"And avocados," said Jake. He trotted off to the bedroom to lie on our bed (which he’s not allowed to do) secure in the knowledge that we were far too busy chasing flies to pay any attention to what he was up to.

The next few days were punctuated by loud Thwack! noises as Robin hunted flies with a grim intensity. Most thwacks were closely followed by cries of, "Dammit!" as the target fly spotted the descending swatter and quickly zipped away unscathed. "They are far too agile," said Robin. "I’m going to have to develop a new approach."

"What other approaches can you take?" I asked. "Let’s face it, a fly swatter is not a subtle device. It really doesn’t lend itself to new tactics. To wallop or not to wallop. That is the only question."

"These flies are all very young and they are all very randy," said Robin. "I keep catching them in flagrante delicto. So all I have to do is listen for their orgasmic cries and then I can wallop them while their attention is distracted. What a way to go." She sighed wistfully. "Imagine being crushed to death at the moment of maximum pleasure. I almost envy them..."

Robin’s new tactics worked wonders. Fornicating flies died all over the kitchen, mostly in pairs, but sometimes Robin got lucky and came across troiliists indulging their numerical fetish. Occasionally, on a very good day, she discovered and slaughtered enormous group orgies, all of which appeared to have been made up of extras taking a break from Fellini’s Satyricon.

But no matter how many flies Robin killed there were never less than a dozen or so buzzing around the kitchen, panting with eagerness for me to start preparing our evening meal for them. "I’m fed up with this," declared Robin. "It’s time for chemical warfare!" She dived into a cupboard and emerged with a can of fly spray which she squirted liberally all over the house. I began to have my doubts about its effectiveness when I eavesdropped on two flies that were zooming through the chemical clouds in joyful bed-spring spirals of buzzing wings.

"That’s quite a tasty vintage," said fly number one. "Don’t you agree?"

"Yes," said fly number two. "It exhibits deliciously decaying overtones on the palate, with a glorious aftertaste of excrement on the follow through. Really puts hair on your chest."

"Let’s have a party," suggested the first fly.

"Good idea," said the second. "I’ll go and fetch the gang from the compost bin." He looped an exuberant loop and flew off in search of compatible friends. The first fly did a perfect Immelman and followed him. Soon the kitchen was full of flies playing loud rock music and sipping the fly spray from crystal goblets.

"So much for chemical warfare," said Robin. "What else can we do?"

"Let me ask google about the best way to kill flies," I suggested.

Rather to my surprise, google informed me that good old-fashioned fly papers were still the very best way to get rid of flies. These are simply long strips of paper covered in a ferociously sticky goo which releases pheromones that the flies simply can’t resist. When the flies land on the goo they stick fast to it and are unable to fly away again. The more they struggle to escape, the stickier and more firmly trapped they become. After an excruciating time, they die. Fly papers have been in use for about a century and a half and I was really rather surprised to find that they were still being manufactured. When they were first invented, arsenic was incorporated into the sticky goo (presumably to give the flies a more humane death) but that formula was soon discontinued because far too many aggrieved wives were soaking the poison out of the fly papers and serving it to their husbands in cups of sweet tea to disguise the taste. This was generally regarded as a bad thing, though I can’t think why. So nowadays the papers are quite harmless unless you happen to be a fly.

Several local hardware stores claimed to have fly papers for sale. We dashed out and bought some.

Fly papers come rolled up in cylinders. There are handholds on the top and the bottom which need to be clasped firmly as you unroll the paper and straighten it out. Great gobs of goo stretch stringingly as it unrolls. I was astonished at just how sticky the fly papers were – I hadn’t realised that anything quite that sticky could actually exist in the world. I unrolled several of them and hung them in strategic locations around the house. I waited to see what would happen next.

"There’s one!" cried Robin gleefully. A fat, frisky fly landed on one of the papers and started to thrash around in panic as it realised that it couldn’t fly away again. Robin watched its death agonies with great satisfaction. "Brilliant!" she said.

Over the next day of so, lots of flies landed on the fly papers. The papers became black with corpses. We had to turn on the subtitles on the television because the screams of dying flies drowned the dialogue on our favourite programmes. The fly papers were the most efficient fly killing devices I’d ever seen. They even managed to catch a moth!

And then one day one of them caught a Robin.

"Aaaarrrggghhh! It’s all tangled up in my hair," shrieked Robin as she inadvertently backed into a sticky, dangling, strip which was festooned with dead bodies. She reached up and tried to untangle herself but the fly paper just twisted itself more tightly into her hair. Eventually, with some effort, she managed to untwist it all and escape from its clutches. I was vaguely disappointed – I’d been looking forward to rescuing her by cutting off all her hair.  "Now I’ve got sticky all over my hands," she said in disgusted tones. "Ugh!" A fly buzzed around her in an interested fashion and then died a painful death on her left little finger. "Ewwww!"

Robin dashed off to the bathroom and I heard the sounds of vigorous scrubbing. "It won’t come off," she yelled. "I’m all covered in sticky. What can I do?"

"Don’t worry," I said soothingly. "I took a course on organic solvents when I studied chemistry at university. Try nail polish remover. That stuff is mostly acetone and it’s really good at dissolving nasties. Once you’ve got the goo off, wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. You don’t want to leave acetone on your hands for too long."

"What happens if I leave it on?" asked Robin.

"Your hands will dissolve," I said. "Now you know why chemists, particularly male chemists, wash their hands before they go to the toilet. There are some parts of your body that that you really, really don’t want to dissolve..."

Presently a happy, non-stick Robin emerged from the bathroom. "That worked a treat," she said. "Thank you."

"You’re welcome," I said. I decided not to ruin the moment, so I didn’t tell her about the dead flies that were still trapped in her hair.

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