Friday, 28 May 2010

Golden from eating

We are infested by clothes moths, hundreds of them. Not for us the fleeting and rare (and admiring) encounters some have with their colourful cousins. On the contrary, our moths are ubiquitous, stubbornly so. They're also strangely quiescent in the face of our efforts to eradicate them. They sit still and prone when you creep up (being brownish, they're clearly visible on our whitish walls). It makes snuffing them out a doddle - if you get them first time, which you really should do.

But it's not enough. We've brought into play sticky strips of paper impregnated with moth pheremone. These presumably exciting aromas attract moths like, well, just like moths to a flame. In two or three days the paper is encrusted with moth bodies, the odd one with legs and wings still flailing.

All this moth culling has meant I've had a good look at these creatures. If you see one briefly it looks a rather boring, dun colour. But on closer inspection - for instance, when looking at one stuck on a piece of gridded white paper along with another dozen or two - they look like slightly-frayed snippets of antique gold braid, shining dully and dustily. When crushed gently under a finger they leave a little smudge, as if a couple of lashes worth of Miners eye-makeup had somehow brushed past.

This observation made me appreciate anew a poem by Peter Redgrove. It has an intriguing metaphysical turn. But its real delight - as with so much satisfying writing (Nige being a fine exemplar) - is its sharing of the fruits of a writer's close observation. The language is precise, careful yet rich; on occasion and when well-earned it spills over into the lyrical:
The lamb-faced moth with shining amber wool dust-dabbing the pane
Flocks of them shirted with tiny fleece and picture wings
The same humble mask flaming in the candle or on the glass bulb
Scorched unwinking, dust-puff, disassembled; a sudden flash among the hangings
Like a window catching the sun, it is a flock of moths golden from eating
The gold braid of the dress uniforms...

It's a little mysterious to me why I can find so much more satisfaction in this - or in one of Nige's description of butterflies - than in any number of moths and butterflies seen in the flesh, so to speak. I rarely go out of my way to see a butterfly (and never do so for a moth, at least when it would be merely for the sake of looking at it). But most days I'm diverted - even rapt - by a description of something that I'm not fussed about when it's not inhabiting a collection of words.

For those who have the time and inclination here's the full poem:

TAPESTRY MOTHS

I know a curious moth, that haunts old buildings,
A tapestry moth, I saw it at Hardwick Hall,
‘More glass than wall’ full of great tapestries laddering
And bleaching in the white light from long windows.
I saw this moth when inspecting one of the cloth pictures
Of a man offering a basket of fresh fruit through a portal
To a ghost with other baskets of lobsters and pheasants nearby
When I was amazed to see some plumage of one of the birds
Suddenly quiver and fly out of the basket
Leaving a bald patch on the tapestry, breaking up as it flew away.
A claw shifted. The ghost’s nose escaped. I realised

It was the tapestry moths that ate the colours like the light
Limping over the hangings, voracious cameras,
And reproduced across their wings the great scenes they consumed
Carrying the conceptions of artists away to hang in the woods
Or carried off never to be joined again or packed into microscopic eggs
Or to flutter like fragments of old arguments through the unused kitchens
Settling on pans and wishing they could eat the glowing copper

The lamb-faced moth with shining amber wool dust-dabbing the pane
Flocks of them shirted with tiny fleece and picture wings
The same humble mask flaming in the candle or on the glass bulb
Scorched unwinking, dust-puff, disassembled; a sudden flash among the hangings
Like a window catching the sun, it is a flock of moths golden from eating
The gold braid of the dress uniforms, it is the rank of the family’s admirals
Taking wing, they rise
Out of horny amphorae, pliable maggots, wingless they champ
The meadows of fresh salad, the green glowing pilasters
Set with flowing pipes and lines like circuits in green jelly
Later they set in blind moulds all whelked and horny
While the moth-soup inside makes itself lamb-faced in
The inner theatre with its fringed curtains, the long-dressed
Moth with new blank wings struggling over tapestry, drenched with its own birth juice

Tapestry enters the owls, the pipistrelles, winged tapestry
That flies from the Hall in the night to the street lamps,
The great unpicturing wings of the nightfeeders on moths
Mute their white cinders . . . and a man,
Selecting a melon from his mellow garden under a far hill, eats,
Wakes in the night to a dream of one offering fresh fruit,
Lobsters and pheasants through a green fluted portal to a ghost.

ADDENDUM: T took a more practical view than me on reading this post. She pointed out I should be asking my readers for top tips on getting rid of these blasted moths. So. Does anyone have any? Please?

9 comments:

Sophie King said...

There are some rather vile-smelling tablets you can buy that disintegrate in their packaging while releasing moth-killing chemicals. If you stick them in drawers, cupboards etc, they will do the trick but your clothes end up reeking.

The first thing you should do is check every single item of woollen clothing you own for the larvae and destroy them. If you lay the clothes out in direct, hot sunlight the little buggers come wriggling out. It's time consuming but quite repulsively gratifying as well. Make sure that anything salvageable is immediately dry cleaned. If you leave things like woolly scarves and hats lying about uncleaned on hooks over winter you might be in for a nasty surprise when you next wear them. I speak from experience.

Good Luck!

zmkc said...

In the hardware shop in Tachbrook Street market in Pimlico (and probably plenty of other places) you buy spray cans that are yellow and orange and cost rather a lot if you are buying a dozen of them, which is probably what you need for a whole house (the sticky strips just don't get to grips with the problem as they can't hold enough moths). Spray curtains, carpets, all your clothes inside cupboards (spray doesn't seem to leave a mark on material) everywhere, thoroughly, starting at the furthest part of the house and backing towards the door, preferably with a scarf over your mouth. Then you go out of the door, close it and lock it, take off to the cousins in Wales for the weekend until the fumes die down. Repeat every two or three months - we had the same problem when we lived in Victoria. This worked, but it is fairly expensive and drastic. I suppose you could stay in the house - I just imagined that anything that could kill a moth might not necessarily do us much good either.

worm said...

great poem!!!

"Taking wing, they rise
Out of horny amphorae, pliable maggots, wingless they champ
The meadows of fresh salad, the green glowing pilasters
Set with flowing pipes and lines like circuits in green jelly
Later they set in blind moulds all whelked and horny
While the moth-soup inside makes itself lamb-faced in
The inner theatre with its fringed curtains, the long-dressed
Moth with new blank wings struggling over tapestry, drenched with its own birth juice"


that really gets to the grotesque slimy mystery and weirdness of life

Gaw said...

Thanks for the tips, most helpful - we shall strategise.

Worm, it's a great one isn't it? Some of those words and phrases will surely rattle around in one's head for a while: 'whelked'?!

ghostofelberry said...

Maybe do a galdr singing of Thurisaz, stark bollock naked, that should sort it out.

ghostofelberry said...

Also, bats eat moths so just introduce about 50 bats to your house and let Mother Nature do the rest. Oh, and make sure to harvest the guano for gunpowder.

Gaw said...

Given that most of the moths live in our bedroom I feel confident that the sight of my bollocks and the sound of my singing has - and will have - no effect.

Bats, though, I'd like to try. I do love a bat. But getting them into the house may be a problem. Why has no-one domesticated the bat? One of mankind's less forgivable oversights.

Nige said...

Thanks for the multiple namechecking Gaw! Sounds like the mother of all infestations you've got there, but glad you're getting some pleasure from the little buggers as you exterminate them. You can get mothballs online - probably the same vile-smelling active agent (camphor?) as Sophie's tablets. Actually I rather like the smell - takes me back to the days when old ladies wore foxfur stoles...

Gaw said...

I got a bit link happy back there, it seems.

Fox furs - grand aunts or racy girls?