Tuesday 9 June 2015

Goldsmith and the bed bugs,

I’ve been a little busy recently. My recent housing crisis has resolved itself, in that I shall get a pay rise on the completion of a course - which means I am doing a course at the moment. As well as this I am doing another course with FutureLearn about the future of the museum - I completely recommend FutureLearn for anyone looking for a bit of new mental stimulus, it’s free and pretty engaging.

As well as these, I am writing this new draft of Dreamonger, which comes on apace. It’s fiddly work though, each small change creates larger ones further on and it almost feels like writing a new book. I feel the voice is changing as I go, becoming closer to the voice in my more recent writing.

Add to all this and I have moved. It’s a lovely little studio place in Northwest London. The only problem I have had with it (except the prohibitive cost) have been the bedbugs.

It turns out bedbugs are massively on the increase in large populations, having made a comeback from very low numbers in the fifties. I have isolated my bed, laid my diaphanous earth, heated the laundry and all other steps. My landlord has been great, steaming the area everyday and buying a new bed and mattress and now the problem seems to have gone.

The little biters were a problem in Oliver Goldsmith’s day as well. In his History of the Natural World he describes them thus;

‘By day it lurks, like a robber, in the most secret parts of the bed; takes the advantage of every chink and cranny, to make a secret lodgement; and contrives its habitation with so much art, that scarce any industry can discover its retreat.’

He’s not wrong. They are so good at hiding, apparently they can fit in any space you can slide a credit card in, due to their flat bodies. He goes on;

‘When darkness promises security, it then issues from every corner of the bed, drops from the tester, crawls from behind the arras, and travels with great assiduity to the unhappy patient, who vainly wishes for rest and refreshment.’

And boy do they. Even when I encased myself in clothes, put on some old costume tights to secure my feet - they just bit me on the face and hands. A few nights of this and any hope of refreshment goes, instead  it is replaced by a paranoia that wakes you up every few hours, covered in phantom bugs (and maybe the odd real one).

He then talks about the bad smell, which luckily I didn’t experience. Then he talks about the fact that France had them worse, more of them and insatiable;

‘The beds, particularly their inns, swarm with them; and every piece of furniture seems to afford them retreat. They grow larger also with them then with us, and bite with more cruel appetite.’

I don’t know whether this reflects prejudice or his own experiences of bumming around the continent. Goldsmith follows with a detailed description of the beast, ending with it’s sensitivity to light which means that;

‘They are seldom caught, though the bed swarms with them.’

Luckily, this is not so much the case now. I have bed traps and mattress protectors and all sorts, and have been unmolested for some days. 

The enemy.

However, the eighteenth century did have protection from the little beasties. This is from a pest control manual from 1777 called The Complete Vermin Killer.

‘Spread Gun-powder, beaten small, about the crevices of your bedstead ; sire it with a match, and keep the smoak in - do this for an hour or more.’

It is also recommended to burn brimstone under the bed every three days, but keep out the room as you do it. 

The bed is recommended to be washed in various ointments; from vinegar mixed with glue, herbs in suet, onions, wormwood, and finally water. It is also recommended to hang a bearskin, which will frighten them away or entice them into rabbit guts under the bed. Here is another tip;

‘Basket-makers sell a Trap made of Wicker to catch Bugs. It must be about eighteen inches in depth, and four feet and an half long, or more if the bed be wide. Place this at the head of the bed, at the bottom of the pillow ; and in the morning they will creep into it, when they may be easily taken away and destroyed.’

Luckily, I didn’t have to resort to these method and am now set up and cosy in my new home.

1 comment:

  1. Bed bugs are really annoying, because aside from the fact that they make our skin itch badly, they even affect our sleeping patterns. The tips you shared can be of great benefit to anyone who will get to read your post. Thanks for sharing that, Adam! Kudos and all the best to you!

    Debra Owen @ Invader