Facts about woodlice. I have a few. Woodlice are late night party animals.
And, when a woodlouse is ready to die, it rolls on its back and waves its legs in the air. Even if you turn the critter the right way up, it still returns to rocking on its carapace, legs in a futile little death dance. Shortly after it shuffles off its mortal coil, smaller bugs arrive to feast on its soft dead flesh. About twenty-four hours after that, the woodlouse’s fam turn up and drag the exoskeleton away. For what, I don’t know.
When Margot, the six foot tanned-to-leather formidable manager of the retreat accommodation, said: ‘Don’t worry all the rooms have a few bugs. It’s the countryside, they’re not dangerous’ in a flippant, but I now suspect, practiced nonchalance, I thought I would cope just fine, but three nights in, and I’m very not okay about it.
The previous night at about two in the morning, Richard, the guy I’m sharing the villa with, returned slightly sozzled whilst I was getting myself a glass of water.
‘Why are you in the dark?’ he asks and I see the outline of his arm reaching for the light switch.
‘Don’t turn the light on! They’re freaking me out.’
‘Ah don’t be silly, they’re not that bad.’
Wfft! Light flashes on, fluorescence filling the room and hurting my eyes, the walls splattered with lines of small black ovals on the move, like a Jackson Pollock painting, or shit stains. The flock is in full flow.
‘Oh, I see what you mean,’ he says, ‘oh yeah that’s not very good, is it. I’m going to turn the light off. Oh dear.’
‘It’s absolutely fucking disgusting,’ I hiss at him, ‘what are you talking about?’
There’s no escape from it, unless you have the air con on, they don’t seem to like that, but this makes it impossible to sleep. Worse still there isn’t even a dustpan and brush in the room to sweep up the dead bodies, so you just have to wait for the smaller bugs and other woodlice to complete the circle of death. In fact the whole place is ridiculous – it’s a newly built ‘luxury’ villa with a toilet which isn’t properly fixed to the floor, but replica antique furniture. Give me a toilet which doesn’t move and an Ikea bed any day.
I’m so worn out from lack of sleep that I actually don’t have the wherewithal to make demands from scary Margot, who smiles insanely every time she greets anyone and asks: ‘Are there any problems?’ in an über repellant manner. This was supposed to a luxury yoga retreat. Grim.
As I lie on my bed one afternoon, dozing, a handful of woodlice lazily crawling up the wall just to the right of my head, I think about my friend Ann, who is experiencing something much worse than woodlice on a luxury (pfft) yoga retreat. Her council flat in Plaistow has rats.
‘I opened up the oven door and fucking shit myself Sar. I actually couldn’t believe what I was seeing.’
The rats arrived because the Council, when they forced all the tenants in the block to have new kitchens and boilers installed, didn’t bother to block up all the holes left behind. Ann’s neighbour downstairs is an injecting drug user and had been leaving out food for months on end. The whole flat a rubbish heap, hence rats moved in. ‘I broke into his flat and took photographs,’ Ann says hysterically. ‘I fucking knew he was up to no good.’
The Council took immediate action and put down poison.
‘Oh, it’s awful. I found one who’d eaten the food. He must’ve crawled around for hours. Bleeding. I don’t want them in my house, but they’re still animals with feelings. And I just feel for the poor fellas, it’s not their fault. They’re just trying to live like everybody else.’
I’d obviously offered her to come and stay with me. ‘Nah! I’ve got be close to home so that if the Council say they’re going round, I can be there. Quick.’
So she’s sofa surfing at her mums instead and visiting her flat on a daily basis.
‘Once the rats eat all the poison then you’ll be able to move back in?’ I say, trying to hide my own rising panic at the thought that someone who has been in close vicinity of a dozen bloody puking rats may change her mind and be using my shower tomorrow.
‘Hm. Nah. They’ve got to block up all the holes and sort out the guy downstairs. Because if those two things ain’t happening, they’ll just come back in again.’
I tell her how unbelievably brave she is and how well she’s coping. When there was that one single rat running round on my street near my front door I almost had an aneurysm. To have a mischief of them ransacking my actual home would probably literally kill me.
‘Sar, they’re shitting and pissing everywhere. I’m gonna to have to scrub everything with bleach twice over. They’re dirty animals, rats.’
I personally would put everything on a bonfire and burn it. But I think that, don’t say it, because Ann doesn’t really have that as an option, living on benefits.
‘They’ve even been having fights in there.’
‘Oh come on.’
‘No, they do, I’ve found a couple dead ones with their eyes gouged out and everything. One even had a chewed off arm. They’re very territorial animals.’ And then: ‘It’s quite interesting really.’
‘Is it? Oh my God, Ann. Aren’t the Council clearing them away?!’
‘Yeah, they’re clearing them away but until they sort out downstairs and the holes, nothing’s changing. They put three sets of poisons down now and all they’re doing is causing more death. More death and destruction.’
I turn my head to the bedside table clock. Nearly time for my next yoga session. Woodlice are still crawling away everywhere, but traffic is low flow, being the afternoon. What if they lay their eggs in my clothes and I transport them back in my suitcase from Spain to start a new life in London?
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