If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Moths and me

Totally inconsequential, I know, but these are my thoughts on moths. Yes, moths; those little things that come out at night and fly crazily and self-destructively round your table lamp.

I once went to the library on my own, aged about 6. That's not as adventurous as it sounds, as the library was housed in the local primary school, which I attended during the daytime, and was only across the road and fifty yards down. I returned with a book entitled Hints For Young Mothers. My own mother was horrified (I think she thought there might have been something unsuitably biological in it) and asked me why I had chosen that title. "Well, Mum," said I, "I've always been interested in moths." Whether I thought that 'mothers' was a word for those interested in the little creatures (which I wasn't, particularly), or whether I was secretly fascinated by the unsuitable biological stuff and merely came up with that reply as a diversion - quick for a six-year-old, huh? - I am not sure I can tell you. It's a long time ago.

Some time after that incident, I became terrified of moths. Yes, that's 'terrified', as in reduced to a quivering wreck, sweating, palpitations, the lot. If even a small one got into a room I was in, I would have to dash out and quake in the hallway until someone had got rid of it. While this might be regarded as merely wimpish at the age of 10, if you are still doing this at 35 there's something seriously wrong. And I was. I don't mind spiders. Mice are fine. Rats, apart from the obvious fear of what they do when cornered (go for the eyes and genitals, apparently), no problem. Slugs and snails are great. Worms, lovely, with a nice dressing and a little pepper.

But moths, no. It's the way they fly, in those crazy fluttery loops, and the thickness of them compared to butterflies, and the way they turn to dust when you swat them. And, of course, they are creatures of the night, dark and sombre, where butterflies (entomologically almost identical) are pretty and associated with sunshine and summer gardens. Neither can harm you in any way. Which I knew. And discounted.

I know when it started. I was aged about nine, and reading in bed one summer's evening. It was dark outside and, because it was hot, I had my bedroom window wide open. I was lying in bed with an Anglepoise lamp reaching over my shoulder onto the book I was reading. Suddenly, a moth (one of the big buggers, the size of a sparrow, at least) flew into my face, and then kept circling round the room, again and again straight into my face. It was heading for the bright light, and my head was in the way. Eventually, I realised it wasn't going to stop, and I jack-knifed out of bed and ran out of the room onto the landing. I don't know what kind of a fuss I made, or what happened afterwards, but from that moment on I could not bear to be in the same room as a moth. Large, hairy, brown ones especially, but even the small ones, like clothes moths, gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I know they are harmless. I know it's ridiculous. But that's kinda the point with irrational fears - they are irrational, right?

Anyway, this thing stayed with me through my twenties and thirties, and even my forties. Gradually, I suppose that it has diminished with time. In fact, for the last five years or so, it has hardly bothered me. Last night, I was walking down my hallway at home and I saw a very beautiful moth lying flat against the plaster of the wall. It was a carpet moth, like this:

I was struck by the delicate colouring and the intricate patterns on the wings, and I suddenly realised - I don't fear this thing any more. I actually like it. I won't do what I used to do:
  • Smash it to tiny pieces (teens)

  • Smash it enough to kill it (20s)

  • Smash it enough to knock it out of the sky, and then scoopitintoamatchboxandthrowitoutofthewindowfast (30s)

  • Leave the room and hope it has gone by the time I get back (40s)

I just stood looking at it, and thinking how wonderful it was that the world contained things like that.

I'm cured.

Handy hints:

1. If you want to catch a moth so that you can take it outside, leave the light on and stand by the door. Then switch the light off. The moth will spiral to the floor vertically below the light and will wait there long enough for you to drop something over it and scoop it into a container. Works every time.

2. If you have a fear of any harmless creature, remember what someone once said to me: if you fear something, you want to kill it, and the violence makes your fear worse. If you can bear to be gentle with it, and take it kindly to somewhere else before releasing it unharmed, your fear will gradually disappear. It's true; it works.

Thank you for listening. I feel better now.

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