A silly comment on Twitter and a subsequent email are the inspiration for this post – with the title being borrowed from the email (cheers Rick!) and the subject matter being a couple of encounters with wasps (at least I think they were wasps) from my childhood. With some more modern moments thrown in for good measure.
Before any of that, though, I’m going to comment that while most people seem to think of wasps as being bastards, in general I don’t really have a problem with them. Something I’ve said as a joke for a very long time is that wasps (the species as a whole) and I came to a mutual understanding many years back: They don’t pester me, and in return I don’t kill them. I think that’s reasonable, and for the main part wasps have tended to honour their side, so I’ve had no reason to do anything other than let them get on with whatever it is they do.
The reason I say it is because of what I said there, looked at another way. Wasps react to sudden movement, so when one is flying in someone’s vicinity and that person reacts by trying to swat it away, the wasp is likely to react, and even attack. That’s why people see them the way they do – as pests, or indeed bastards. I don’t do that. If a wasp flies near me, I tend to ignore it – though sometimes, if I don’t realise it’s there until it’s right in front of me I might suddenly jerk my head back, but that’s generally it – and it flies off. You’ll understand this point more if you read on.
So with that, it’s time for you to imagine that wibbly wobbly effect that leads to the story of something that happened a very long time ago…
The day I made friends with a wasp
We’re going all the way back to when my mother and I lived with my grandparents. I learnt a long time ago that we initially lived in one house, before they moved to another. For the main part, it’s that second house I remember, but that doesn’t necessarily mean this wasn’t at the first one.
This was the subject of that Twitter comment, a quote-tweet response to something else. The tweet I was replying to said:
mrnickharvey – 9:47am, 10th September
As everyone seems to be talking about the royal bees, here are a few random bee facts.
Honey bees produce two or three times more honey than they need. Queen Bees can lay up to 2500 eggs a day. Honey bees fly at around 25km an hour. Wasps are cunts.
And in my quote-tweet reply, I said:
VinceMH – 1:06pm, 10th September
I remember from when I was very young having what I’m sure was a wasp (but perhaps wasn’t) land on my finger, and with a finger of my other hand was stroking its back.
(Until a grown up saw me from the kitchen and rushed out and dragged me in.)
Why do wasps have such a bad rep?
That story in more detail, as I remember the way things unfolded.
I was outside at whichever of those two houses we lived in at the time, close to the back door, and to where the bin (or bins?) were. There were – what I’m positive must have been – wasps flying around, and I remember one just in front of me, sort of hovering.
Wasps do that. They ‘pause’ for a moment in front of you, deciding whether you’re a threat, something they need to attack, or just fly off again. My understanding now is that – particularly if they’re angry or threatened – sudden movements will cause an attack, as I said above. I didn’t know that then, obviously. All I saw were these fascinating yellow and black stripey things – quite pretty to look at – flying around, and one was directly in front of me.
I brought one hand up towards the wasp, finger extended – slowly and gently – and the wasp settled on it.
And I then brought the hand nearer to my face so I could get a better look at this amazing little thing, and brought my other hand up and began ‘stroking’ (aka ‘petting’ or ‘smoothing’ – that one’s common hereabouts, but seems to confuse anyone from anywhere else, so I try not to use it in the first instance) the back of the wasp’s abdomen with one finger.
What actually made that possible? I really don’t know – but if I was to guess now, it’s simply to do with me being a child at the time, and the knowledge that children get messy. It wouldn’t surprise me if I had something sweet and sticky on my fingers – exactly the sort of thing that the wasp might have been interested in.
It didn’t last long, though, because I remember someone – I think my aunt – spotting what was happening through the window, rushing out, brushing the wasp away and dragging me inside.
I’ve recounted this story a number of times, online and off, and on at least one occasion it’s been in the comments section of an article somewhere – I think about bees. I don’t remember if it was something in the article itself, or a quick search myself as a result of reading it, but I’m sure I surmised at that point that it might have been a particular type of bee.
I’ve done a few fairly quick searches online for the variations of my name that I use in forums (this varies according to what is already taken – but commonly it’ll be VinceH or VinceMH) and the words ‘wasp’ and ‘bee’ in the hope I’d find that comment, but with no luck.
Actually, no – scrap that. I just had a thought, and searched my Twitter history – and found the comment there:
This is interesting for me because of a childhood memory – of a ‘yellow stripy thing’ landing on my finger, & me stroking its back. (Until an adult saw, swatted it away & dragged me indoors). My memory always said wasp, but it was probably a bumblebee.
So based on that image, describing a number of yellow striped insects, I wondered if it had been a bumble bee that I’d made friends with as a small child. The simple truth, though, is that there’s one very important point that I keep coming back to whenever I think about that striped yellow insect: Where I was; close to the back door, and the bin(s) – exactly the sort of place wasps like to hang out.
In other words, I’m absolutely convinced that half a century or so ago, in my grandparents’ back yard, I was stroking a wasp that was sitting on my finger.
Now, if you have any audio on in the background (music, talk radio, the TV, whatever) imagine that speeding up; the music is playing faster, anyone talking sounds like they’re using helium, and so on. It’s time to fast forward to…
The day I became enemies with a wasp
I was around fourteen or so, living at the house I mostly grew up in from some point in the 1970s until early 1985. I had various different groups of friends that I’d hang out with at different times, going to different places, doing different things. The nearby Filton Golf Course was a common haunt for one group.
Amongst other things, we were all very much into military stuff, and most of us around this time or just after joined the Army Cadets. One of the points of interest for us was on the far side of the golf course, on the edge of Filton Airfield. On the top of the hill overlooking the airfield was a RADAR, and in the direction of the four main compass points off that were four pill boxes dating back to the Second World War, three of which were easily accessible on the golf course land. There was also a fifth one, semi-underground, much closer to the RADAR, and technically off-limits but easily accessed – so, yes, we did! And just inside the airfield fence at one edge there were ranks of air raid shelters, which we often ventured into thanks to the joys of holes in fences.
I’m not sure exactly where this happened, but it was in that sort of vicinity – with a couple of my friends from that group, Richard and Iain.
The three of us had climbed a tree in that area, and while in the tree one of us noted a noise… the distinct hum that sounded like a lot of wasps – and looking down we realised that in climbing this tree, one of us had disturbed a nest lower down.
And we ran.
We ran in the direction that would take us back home, until we got to the far edge (from where we started) of the golf course, and into the far end (from where we lived) of the very large Pen Park School field. That’s where we stopped to catch our breath, thinking we must have outrun the wasps. Except…
“Listen,” I said, “I can still hear them!”
Neither of the other two could, though. They insisted I was mistaken.
Then I felt a sting at one side of the back of my head, just above the neck.
Then another, in the same spot!
My friends looked, and it turned out there was a wasp caught in my hair – that’s what I could hear (and obviously now feel – ow!)
I felt another sting, then another… I’m not sure how many in total, but all in the same spot. It stopped when Iain solved the problem: One big slap on the back of my head later, and I no longer had a wasp stuck in my hair – I had the squashed remains of a wasp in my hair instead.
In hindsight, I was probably very lucky. I understand (now, but not then) that when wasps sting, one element of that is to release a pheromone to attract other wasps to help deal with a potential threat. If we were still close enough to the rest of the wasps from that nest, I would very likely have received a lot more stings, and in a lot more spots than just one.
For what it’s worth, as far as I can remember, that’s the only time I’ve ever been stung by a wasp.
The wasp dance
This is something I’ve never felt the need to do, but I have been with someone who has. It was quite a regular thing, and either came after I started joking about my agreement with wasps – or could have been the source of it; I’m not entirely sure.
Back in the late 1980s at my first job, for a short while there was a girl who could do something I couldn’t at the time – drive. As a bonus, where I lived was more or less on her route home, so she often gave me lifts.
However, the office itself only had a couple of parking spaces allocated to it, so the choices beyond that were either on the street, feeding a meter, in a local NCP at whatever the cost of that was, or about twenty minutes to half hour walk away, depending where a space could be found. She tended to go for that.
Whenever we walked to the car on a nice, sunny day, she would randomly do what I came to call ‘the wasp dance’. As we were walking, there would be wasps here and there (probably in particular on days people had their bins out), and if one flew near her she’d do a little swerve or two to avoid it and/or arm wave to try brushing it away. I never had to myself, and I remember commenting that it probably looked quite funny to anyone watching; they’d see us walking along normally, when all of a sudden she seemed to do this random little ‘dance’ – the wasp dance.
And of course, the more she did it, the more she needed to do it, because of how wasps react to movement.
Then we come to…
My parents have had a few nests at their place, but one that sticks out in my mind is the one that was inside the house, below the larger back bedroom – the bedroom that was, once upon a time, mine. This was in 2011, and the wasps were getting in and out through one or two small holes outside, which is what gave the game away.
My parents called out a pest control chap to deal with it, and while we waited for him to arrive, I nipped into the garden with my camera and took a lot of photographs of wasps coming and going. Over the course of about twenty minutes going by the time stamps, I took 281 photographs.
The pest controller arrived, and he sprayed something in through where the wasps were getting in and out, the idea being to make them vacate the nest. He explained that it’d probably take a while for all of them to leave because of how many of them there was likely to be. There would be a steady stream of them for some time, and nobody should go out into the back garden for a while – they’d be angry, and likely to attack.
And with that, off he went.
Glancing out of the back window, there was indeed a steady stream of them vacating the nest – although not the sort of stream I imagined, which was a little more constant and more obviously what you might think of as a steady stream. In fact it was more like one, two or three wasps, then another one, two or three a couple of seconds later, then another few, and so on.
Anyway… Warning? What warning? I had my camera with me, obviously – I’d already taken a load of photos of wasps coming and going – so back out into the garden I went to take another lot.
Over the course of another twenty or so minutes I took another 190 photographs.
In other words I was stood by, and sometimes directly under, the access points these potentially very angry wasps (they were being evicted, after all) were using to get into and out of where they’d made a nest inside the house, under the floorboards in my old bedroom. I was there for around twenty minutes before the eviction, and another twenty minutes as the eviction took place, and not one of those potentially very angry wasps attacked or stung me.
They largely ignored me. One or two hovered in front of me for a moment, and I guess they said to one another, in whatever language wasps use, “It’s okay lads, it’s Vince. We’re probably lucky he’s letting us go given our longstanding agreement. We probably shouldn’t have been in there.”
The camera was a Fuji FinePix S2800HD, and I mainly just left it on automatic, set for rapid photographs – so I could point, squeeze the shutter, and it would fire constantly until I released again (or there may have been a maximum number of frames – can’t remember). The lighting wasn’t great, and wasps can move quite quickly, so there wasn’t much time for focusing – spot a wasp (or a small group), point, fire, hope for the best. As such, most of the photos barely show even one wasp because it’s moving so fast it’s out of focus enough to be almost invisible, as in some of these examples:
This one is particularly interesting because, believe it or not – judging by the rapid shot images either side of it – it shows just one wasp, not two:
That probably illustrates how fast they can move!
I’ve gone through all 471 photographs and cropped a small number of them into something half useable, which I’ll include here:
One of the weird things with those photographs is that as well as lots of wasps leaving, it also shows plenty – who were presumably off hanging around some bins or whatever while the pest controller did his thing – returning to the nest. Not surprising in the first batch, before the pest controller came, but there were also plenty in the second batch, after he’d sprayed something obnoxious to the wasps into the nest. I imagine that every time I saw one go in, the next one I saw come out was probably the same one, thinking ‘nope!’
Another time, another nest. My parents have a plastic store in the garden, and that’s where the nest was this time. My stepfather told me it was there, and showed me by (carefully) lifting the lid so it was visible.
The nest was, I’d guess, around the size of a football. I thought I went and grabbed my phone, came back out, and carefully lifted the lid myself to take a photograph – but I can’t find said photograph, so either I didn’t, or I’ve never transferred it off the phone. It’s not on my current phone, which was new only a couple of years ago after the screen became detached on the old one, so it’s possible the photo is still on the old one. *Shrug*.