Sunday, March 20, 2011

May the pest man win

In a previous life, before I went over to the dark side and became a paramedic, I was a decent, hard-working pest controller.

No, really.

Before now, it hasn't occurred to me to document any reminiscences about this period in my life, even though I did it for the best part of a decade, starting off with a van and a wage of nine and a half grand a year, and ending up as a trouble shooting technical manager for a national company.

This seems remiss of me, because in the top ten list of occupations recognised as being able to generate anecdotes, surely being a professional killer is up there with priest and window cleaner. And hippo polisher.

I dealt with a wide assortment of pesty species, from the small and crunchy to the big and furry, from the spiky crawly ones to the feathery squawking types. Whilst prevention was the main aim of our industry, we also used poisons, traps, guns and, occasionally, biological control in the form of a Jack Russel called Bonzo.

Bonzo had a pathological hatred of anything ratty, the killing ability of a great white shark with no boundaries, and the problem solving abilities of a cryptography team. Luckily, he also had the IQ of . . . well, a dog, which was possibly the only thing preventing him taking over the world in a fit of pique.

After a particularly recalcitrant infestation of rats in a posh Manchester hotel, where the managers had consistently failed to realise that dumping your food waste in a side alley was akin to sending out flyers to every rodent in a two-mile radius with "COME AND GET IT!" written in peanut butter flavoured ink, I contacted Bonzo's owner interpreter to ask if he was available.

He passed the message on to Bonzo, who turned up that evening in a blacked out A-Team style van. Possibly. My memory of this is a little hazy. I'm not sure but he may have been wearing shades as well. And a bandanna.

I explained our problem via his interpreter, that we needed a quick reduction in the numbers of beasties infesting this area, so we could then implement a more permanent solution.

Bonzo sighed, nodded (I seem to recall), took off his shades and got out of the van. He cricked his neck a couple of times, took a deep breath and then . . .

What followed was like a dance. A macabre dance. A macabre dance of Death. A macabre dance of Death to the tune of the grim reaper, played on the bagpipes of doom, with a beat made from the wails of the departed and the surprised terminal gasps of Bonzo's victims. It was terrible and it was beautiful, and it was waggly.

Anyway, it was effective, and such a shock that the managers agreed to a new hygiene and waste disposal regime lest we revisit the wrath of Bonzo once more upon them.

Some of the most vivid memories I have are not of the infestations, or the premises, or the methods, but of the people I met.

I was contracted to clear a block of council flats of their German cockroach infestation in North London, a difficult task at the best of times. We had got most of the offending areas clear, much to the joy of the residents and the council, although one tricky area was proving resilient to our poisonous magic. I was convinced that a single flat to which we had not been allowed access to by the resident was a potential source of re-infestation, and contacted the council to ask for admittance. They agreed to see what they could arrange.

I turned up the following week and was met by a tall, very well dressed, perfectly coiffured and bejewelled West Indian lady called Joyce, who explained that she was a social worker. She told me that the flat I was interested in was owned by a "vulnerable and rather difficult chap" in his fifties, who might respond to the gentle persuasions of a trained social worker rather than the brutal shoutings of a pest controller.

Fair point, I thought.

She had arranged to meet him at the bottom of the block, from where we would all go up to his flat.

Whilst we waited, we had a chat, and Joyce told me she couldn't do my job, dealing with all those creepy-crawlies and what not. In fact, she had a pathological fear of bugs, and cockroaches in particular, which had even meant she had not been to see close relatives in Jamaica for fear of the roaches there, which she had been reliably informed were as big as kittens.

I began to wonder at the wisdom of her visiting this apartment.

A smell turned up, followed a few minutes later by it's owner, who was the man we were waiting for. He was dishevelled, unkempt, odorous and very, very pissed. Joyce went to shake his hand, thought better of it and turned it into a gesture indicating the direction of the lift, into which we all got.

After a moment, your nose cuts out bad smells, even the acrid stench of a chap who had put on a tracksuit top in 1983, and found it so much to his liking that he hadn't taken it off since. Still, our eyes watered and I noted that the immaculate Joyce had pressed herself almost up to the back wall in abhorrence at the state of the chap in front of us, facing the doors.

I smiled a little unkindly at her discomfort, wondering what his flat was going to be like, before I noticed something moving at the nape of his neck.

It was a young German cockroach.

My mouth gaped and I straightened up, a stupid grin of quite delighted disbelief on my face. Another one scuttled out of the  his hair and ran down into the shiny haven of his tracksuit.

He had a cockroach infestation. Actually on him!

In the excitement of such a discovery and wishing to share it with the world, I forgot about Joyce's prior declaration of hatred for such things and turned to catch her eye, before pointing at the oblivious chap's hitch hiker and making a comically surprised  face to her.

The result was . . . interesting.

She turned a fascinating grey colour, and appeared to be trying to see if it was possible to pass through the solid wall of the lift by pressing herself backwards into it. Her expression was one you might see on a person who, having eaten a delicious salad, suddenly discovers a boiled cat's head at the bottom of the carton. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and a strange noise not unlike someone repeatedly pressing an asthma inhaler over and over again emanated from her mouth.

I started to worry that, should her eyes get any wider, they might actually fall out.

I reconsidered the wisdom of bringing this to her attention, and mouthed an apology at her, which she didn't see as she was now staring resolutely at the light panels in the ceiling and stubbornly refusing to breathe.

Happily, before she expired from hypoxia, the lift stopped and the walking ecosystem that accompanied us staggered out, fumbling for his keys.

I followed, then turned back to Joyce.

"Did you want to hang around out here?" I asked, "Because of the chemicals maybe?" I held up the completely non-toxic to humans cockroach killing baits I was going to use.

She nodded gratefully, and finally took a breath. 

I left and, taking a deep breath myself, entered the flat, which was exactly as you would imagine it to be.

There's nothing does variety like the human race.

Like Mother Earth, the Goddess Gaia supports an intricate network of life.


  1. Superb post, written with charm and a killer grace. So good in fact, I read it twice just for the pleasure of such a good read.

  2. Roaches are bad, but spiders... erg. those *eat* roaches... How can they not be pure evil *said like the kid on 'Time Bandits'*

  3. I was going to give a nice thoughtful comment on this fine piece of genre horror, but I was too busy running around the room scratching myself and shrieking, "AAAAAAAAAAGH" madly and running into walls, to think straight.

    Creepy crawly things = JUST NO.

  4. This sounds like it could be another blog entirely. There must be hundreds of stories you have of your days as a killer that are just dying to be told. Did you actually manage to kill the cockroaches? They're tough little fuckers. Magnificently written, as always.

  5. A great post, very, very funny. I hope you intend putting up the photos of that flat? Incidentally, Seeing as you know your bugs..and rashes and stuff (ambo talk) Ive emailed you a few photos. The body part in question is marked (as you can see) with an interesting mark. it caused by animals/bugs or is it a rash type thing?
    B. What can I do to get rid of it?

  6. Oh, Jules, SO well written. I started laughing at "played on the bagpipes of doom" and did not stop.

    There are certain writers I try to hit every time there is a new post, and, sir, are among them. This was just fantastic.


  7. Jimmy - Thank you mate. Praise indeed coming from yourself.

    Eric - Spiders are orsum-cool. I encourage them in my house. Give arachnids a chance!

    Veggie Ass - Don't sit on the fence Veg, tell us exactly how you feel about creepy crawlies :-)

    tennysoneehemingway - Ta very much. I'll post more stories as and when I remember them! We did manage to get rid of them, eventually, although it was a bit of an uphill battle.

    Tempo - I think that's permanent mate, caused by excessive biting. You should ask the doc to take away the pain but leave the swelling.

    Pearl - So glad you enjoyed it! Nice to be appreciated by those we appreciate.

  8. This was wonderful, and I hope you share more of these stories with us. My worst bug story was from sitting in an open air bar in Taiwan. i was enjoying a local beer, the warm ocean air, when this cloud looking shape came up over the wall behind the bar and worked it's way down inside. It was a huge number of spiders that moved as one large mass by linking together. I am not certain exactly who shit their pants first, me or my buddy.

  9. Oh good God. I am a recovering bugaphobe. No joke. I called my husband while he was at the hospital while my daughter had tubes put in her ears to tell him all about the scorpion in our backyard. This after hyperventilating and roaming the house crying and saying over and over "We'll have to move. I can't live with scorpions in the back yard."

    I'm much better now.

    It was a crayfish.

    The tubes in the ears have worked wonderfully, by the way.

    And, excellent post.

  10. SkylersDad - I presume you finished your beer?

    Nicole - Superb! I'd be chuffed to have crayfish in my garden. Although now I wonder what scorpio risotto would taste like? Scorpion presumably. Glad your daughter's ear-tubes worked!

  11. I might have already sent a note telling you I've shared a blog award with you. Here's me covering my bases. I posted the award today on my blog. Cheers!

  12. Sweet divine jebus, I really should have read this earlier in the day! :¬0

    Funny stuff sir!

  13. Nicole - Ooh, ta!

    mapstew - Glad you liked it ol' bean.

  14. I didn't think that the sound of bagpipes needed to be qualified with "doom," however. As for the levels of pique to which a terrier may aspire, don't underestimate them, I have one next door, little sod.

    When I stop laughing I will again attempt to drink my coffee. I was lucky this time not to be in mid-swallow when I got to the "macabre dance" bit. I usually get caught.


  15. Great post, Jules. By the end I was scratching my arms. Ew. Poor Joyce.

  16. AV - They're tenacious little buggers, aren't they?

    otherworldlyone - I expect she had about four showers when she got home, poor gal!

  17. you know, of now, i'll have to clean my house from top to bottom again after reading this, sugar! i should have read this BEFORE i started!!! gawd, now i feel things crawling on me...*shiver*

  18. Savvy - Sorry! Although just because you've cleaned your house throughly doesn't men they're not still there . . .


  19. I lived briefly in the Chinatown section of a large city in Canada's prairies. I learned to my white, middle-class horror that the apartment building was infested with cockroaches. I did not stay in the building long enough to determine if the insects spoke German or not, especially when I found them in my hot and sour soup and my clothes while I was at work.

    I still gag remembering that. ACK.

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