Recently I was talking to my mother. My phone call interrupted her in the shed where she was wrestling with the pesticide pump. She was removing the original hose and replacing it with a longer one. By way of making conversation I stupidly asked why. Her plan, she told me, was to climb up into the roof cavity and spray the pesticide throughout the ceiling. At this point I should mention that my mother is in her seventies. She’d obviously just been told that’s the new thirty.
I almost said, “Haven’t you heard that the European parliament has banned pesticides because the honey bee has lost its dance?” But I caught myself in time. My mother is a migrant to Australia from Italy. Italy has very few songbirds, hardly any bees and virtually no insects. Anything that crawls, flies, or moves on four legs must be stomped out, or eaten, as quickly as possible, including the European parliament. So what I said instead was, “Can’t you call the pest control man to do that?” I’ve found that delaying tactics sometimes work better than outright obstruction.
“No. No. No. I did that last time. He just stands on the ladder and does ‘puff’, ‘puff’, two times in the air. He doesn’t even go inside. And two weeks later the ants are marching across my kitchen again. He is a waste of money. I will do it myself. And I use three times what they say on the bottle. I make sure that it works.”
The problem had now escalated from simple pesticide use to toxic chemical warfare. I attempted a bus analogy, “I don’t think you need three times as much to kill the pests. If you get hit by a bus and die, it doesn’t matter if two more buses run you over. You’re not going to be more dead.”
It didn’t work.
So I switched to an occupational health and safety angle. “You know that it’s really poisonous to breathe in those chemicals?” As I listened to her answer, I watched a drunken cockroach stagger across the carpet of my living room.
“I”m not stupid. I wear a mask,” she said. And just as I was about to mention that the chemicals seep through your skin. “And gloves. I wear your father’s old boiler suit. The white one. I look like I am going into space,” she chuckled.
“How do you get up into the roof?” I asked.
“I climb up on the ladder.” Her tone was one of wonder at the enormous stupidity of her own daughter.
“You go all the way into the roof?” I persisted.
“To every corner. That’s where they hide. But don’t worry; I take the telephone with me. If anything happens I will call you.”
And with that she hung up. She had things to do, places to be, a whole roof cavity to napalm.
Later that day as I sat down with a cup of tea I saw the cockroach under the coffee table. The poor thing was lying on its back. That’s when I remembered the baits I’d put out a few weeks ago. The first bug of the season had succumbed to my need to euthanize these living creatures.
“Oh!” said the pot to the kettle……