Belfast Telegraph

What really bugs me is why God sent us horsefly plague

By Kevin Myers

July becomes August, strawberries vanish and the season of horseflies is upon us. The back-story is as follows. One day, the Holy Ghost — who was always a bit of a prankster — slipped a laxative into God the Father's soup, as a result of which He was caught short near a bunch of schoolgirls near Galilee.

G the F's counsel never turned up for the court case that resulted, having run into a tribunal on his way from Judea (concerning corrupt payment to archangels: 6,543 years later, it's still going on).

Thus, G the F had to defend himself. The usual beak, Mr Justice Lucifer, had fallen in with a bunch of Bad Samaritans the night before and was confined to bed with the vapours.

In his place was the ferocious Spanish nun, Mother Constipatia de los Piles. Having no idea what G the F was talking about, she sentenced Him either to a month of listening to triumphalist Enda Kenny speeches, or 10 years on Riker's Island.

It was during the 3,357th sleepless night sharing a prison cell with Dr Harold Shipman, who had recently developed a taste for necrophilia, that G the F decided to take out His anger on all mankind. And so He designed the horsefly.

It is also called the cleg. Or the gadfly. Or sometimes, and wrongly, the bot.

Somewhat mysteriously, it is confined to this part of the world, though we played no part in any of the more torrid episodes in the Old Testament that had so jaundiced God the Father against mankind.

The Book of Genesis does refer to various characters such as Ham and Cush and Phut and Shem and Mash and Uz and Uzal and Heth and Lud, and not always flatteringly, but never once to Cleg, or Gad, or Bot.

This was a serious omission. For, just as you don't know Ireland until you have attended the unspeakable horrors of a Fianna Fail ard fheis, until you have personally encountered a horsefly, you really don't know much about God's terrible, vengeful ways.

Horseflies are sinisterly slow, for they know that nothing will eat them, unlike other insects that rummage through animal dung.

A bluebottle feasts on faeces. It is one of the many reasons why we are usually undelighted when a bluebottle lands on our steak. Even worse are the hoofmarks of the greenbottle, which not merely banquets on animal waste, but actually revels in it.

But both the greenbottle and the bluebottle are aware of their pariah status; they move with incredible speed, simply to avoid our wrath. They also know birds will eat them, in spite of their own deplorable personal habits.

But the horsefly moves with an almost ominous leisure. It is barely faster than a butterfly, though it is, of course, not much larger than a housefly. And its wings flap with a strangely menacing deliberation: not with the frenzy of any of its cobalt and emerald cousins (which are usually trying to escape the attentions of predators or the murderous assaults by rolled-up newspapers), nor with the powdered delicacy of the moth or butterfly, for nothing will ever eat the horsefly.

Which is why its wings have the insouciant insolence of the school troublemaker, studiously picking his nose while being carpeted by an indignant headmaster.

The horsefly's colour is a nameless hue somewhere between dun and dung and olive. Its legs are short and hairy, its body is covered in a dark green bristle and its eyes are close together and squinty.

Yes, indeed, generally indistinguishable from a barrister. But it is the proboscis that has given the horsefly its most defining characteristic and which gives it one of its names: ‘gad’, from the Old Norse, gaddr meaning ‘metal-spike’.

In the entire weaponry available to the insect world, nothing compares with the toxic harpoon that is the horsefly's gad. For it is wondrous sharp, entering the skin of its host as irresistibly as a bodkin sliding into warm wet butter, the purpose being to sup blood.

And to prevent the haemoglobin clotting, the horsefly injects an anti-coagulant into the wound, mixed with the contents of its stomach, namely animal excrement: dog, usually.

A bee-sting passes. A wasp-sting fades. But the bite of a horsefly endures like none other: for the evil little reptile deposits a toxic wad of fetid dung in your flesh, there to fester and simmer.

I know. For, gentle reader, I was bitten. And so today I am part man, part dung. A little of that goes a very long way indeed: through to September, usually, and the conker season.

Belfast Telegraph


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