Monday, 1 August 2011

Sunday 30 July 2011

Wasps.  Specifically the English Vespula vulgaris (I believe my American friends may know then as "Yellowjackets". A colloquial term in this part of England is, in fact, a "jasper".  But this is an association with either the Latin "Vespa" or the coloured Chalcydony and certainly naught to do with me.).  Even their very name - "Wasps" -  sounds harsh and painful.  Why do wasps even exist?  They serve only to annoy and cause pain.

In short - I believe that Noah made a SERIOUS mistake in offering a wasp-duo accommodation on his antediluvian Ark.

I have no particular argument with the wingèd malevolents, although my partner detests them.  The first of my two predecessors - pretty Jack Russell, Jacqueline, - once inadvertently put her paw through a wasps' nest whilst out on a walk with my partner.  Both Jaki and my partner were badly injured.  My partner still bears a scar on her stomach some 22 years after the incident and poor Jaki was on steroids for three weeks - her little head swelled to the size of a football - and for the rest of her days was permanently scarred on her snout.

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Let us turn momentarily to a vastly different world.  The harmless and profoundly simple world of my friend Ewan.  As I have barked previously, he has the intellectual capacity of a garden pea and a bizarre, delusional, fixation with cheese.  No-one who has ever met Ewan could deny that he has some pretty severe cerebral difficulties.  That barked, however, Ewan is the most warm-hearted, loving, trusting friend that a dog could ever ask for.  He is always happy and finds pleasure and delight in every aspect of life (with the possible exception of the times when his basket-mate and sweetheart, Fizzy, is on heat - but we'll not, dear reader, go there).
I have known Ewan for some 3½ years now and have only once, in all that time, heard him raise his voice in anger - and that was to defend a litter of orphaned kittens.  Ewan's simple-mindedness may be exasperating at times, but I doubt there is a more affectionate dog in the whole of existence.

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Unhappily, I was privy to events that transpired a few days ago when these two, diametrically-opposed, worlds collided.

For the past two weeks or so, there has been a sizeable wasps' nest in the yard, behind the skip.  We were first alerted to its existence when two of my partner's colleagues went to retrieve some concrete blocks which were occasionally used as anchors for temporary fencing.  They moved one block and then fled, pursued by dozens of angry guard-wasps.  That, needless to say, was the end of the temporary fencing plans.  In addition, as our work is primarily conservation-based, it would be both cruel and unethical to "deal with" the wasps.  I beg, in this case, to differ.

On Friday, Ewan, Fizzy and I were enjoying a mid-morning nap.  It was a hot day and the office doors were all open.  In actual fact, to be more honest, Fizzy and I were enjoying a mid-morning nap.  Ewan was finding it difficult to settle.  He would come and lie beside me, on the floor behind my partner's chair, for about five minutes and then get up and pad over to Fizzy, who was snoozing in her favourite corner in the other office, and lie beside her for a bit, before returning to me - and so on.  And on...  Ewan's restlessness was seriously starting to grate on my nerves, though Fizzy snored on, oblivious.  She was a very heavy sleeper.  Mind you, I think that if I shared a basket with Ewan every night, I'd be a heavy sleeper too...

Eventually, Ewan approached once more, having been mooching about in the yard.
"Jazz!" he yipped excitedly, "I've found some new friends to play with!  They're sort of small and all stripey but I'm going to go and play football with them!  D'you want to come and play as well?!"
"Maybe in a bit, thanks Ewan." I mumbled drowsily.
"Okay!" said Ewan, grinning widely and wagging his huge mad tail.  "Better go because I don't want to keep my new friends waiting!  Bye!"
"Bye-bye." I grunted, as Ewan pattered happily outside.
"Hello my new friends!" I heard him bark.  "Here is my football!  Please will you want to play with me?!"

I began to doze, smiling to myself at Ewan's simple enthusiasm for making friends with all he encountered.  After a moment or two, I opened my eyes with an abrupt jolt as a thought suddenly struck me.  "I bark," I wondered to myself, "I don't suppose old Ewan is messing about with those wasps...?).  Deciding that I'd better investigate, I got to my paws and stretched, before heading out to the yard.

I had only just got as far as the rear door before there was a sudden shrill yelp of pain.  This was quickly followed by another and another.  Glancing briefly back at Fizzy, who was still fast asleep, I knew that I couldn't waste another moment.  Racing as fast as I could to the other side of the yard, where the skip was, I saw poor Ewan - who, by now, was screaming and crying - surrounded by a cloud of angry wasps.  Ewan was hysterical and panicking, unable to move.  I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and barrelled into the malevolent, noisily-buzzing, horde.  I clamped my fangs down sharply on Ewan's tail and dragged him away from the nest.  The wasps followed still harassing and stinging Ewan, who was wailing in extreme pain and fear.
"FIZZY!"  I barked, at the top of my voice, "FIZZY!!"  The pretty black Labrador came bolting out of the building at my second cry, shrieking when she saw the predicament her chosen mate was in.  She, too, became instantly hysterical, rendering her usual good sense absolutely useless.

I pause now, to offer you a fact which you may not already know about wasps.  When they sting, along with the barbed, poison-tipped, sting itself, they also leave a pheromone-based scent on the skin of their victim.  This, in turn, attracts other wasps to similarly punish the hapless quarry.

Fizzy, as I mentioned, was beside herself.  Poor Ewan now, in addition to his yelps and screams, began to sob.
"I hurts! I hurts!" he wailed, giving agonised squeals with each new sting.  "Why is they doing it Jazz?!  I only wanted to play!  I is hurting!  It burns!  It burns!  It burns!"
"Inside!  NOW!!" I barked, snapping Fizzy to some form of usefulness, and together we dragged Ewan into the workshop, where the wasps couldn't attack any more.  Quite how I managed to escape being stung will remain forever a mystery.

Ewan howled and howled, in terrible agony, and began to cry most piteously.  His partner quickly joined us and she and another colleague gathered up the shrieking dog and carried him to her Land-Rover.  "Fizzy!  Go with him!"  I ordered.  Fizzy didn't move, rooted to the spot in shock.  "FIZZY!" I barked, startling her into life again, "With Ewan!  Now!!  You can help to keep him calm!"  Fizzy dashed to the Land-Rover and leapt in just before the door was closed.  The sound of Ewan's screams slowly receded as the Land-Rover sped off to the local vets' practice.

I will now admit that I was profoundly distressed by the whole episode - and not a little angry.  Poor Ewan.  Whilst I can appreciate that the wasps may have viewed him as a threat, not even the most basic species of nematode could ever perceive him as a real threat.  All he had wanted to do was to be friendly - and this was his reward.

After a VERY tense wait of some forty minutes or so, the Land-Rover pulled back into the yard.  It was to my inexpressible relief that I saw two canine forms on the back seat, as usual.  When the vehicle stopped and the rear door was opened, Fizzy jumped out and turned back to assist Ewan.  He didn't look as bad as I had anticipated, but he was extremely subdued and most unsteady on his paws.  My partner had filled a large bowl with water, in readiness for his return, and Ewan took a deep, long drink before he finally turned to me.

"Thank you Jasper." he croaked, weakly.  "You is my bestest friend in the whole of the world."  He went on to inform me that he had received two injections - a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory -  and a course of tablets from the vet, which Fizzy was going to help him to take.  Fizzy, for her part, was utterly devoted to her beleaguered basket-mate.  Nothing was too much trouble for her and she proved over the rest of the day to be a most assiduous nurse.  At length, Ewan began to stride, albeit unsteadily, towards the skip.

"Ewan!" I gasped, incredulously, "You nutter!  What are you doing?!"
"I's going to march myself over there," replied Ewan in a determined bark, "And tell those naughty bad wasps what I thinks of them!  I only wanted to be friends.  Why did they hurt me Jazz?  I don't understand why they makes me all sore!"

I wasted NO time in clamping my fangs down on Ewan's collar and Fizzy similarly grasped the other side of the collar.  Together, we held firm on to Ewan, as his claws scrabbled uselessly on the tarmac.
"Ewan - you have been VERY badly hurt." I told him firmly.  "Fizzy is going to help you back into your Land-Rover, where you can sleep in peace.  You MUST rest and let your little body recover."  I glanced briefly at Fizzy and she nodded.  Ewan weakened his struggles.
"But - " he began.  I cut him off.
"Ewan.  I will go and bark to the wasps and tell them how wicked they have been.  You leave that to me - and leave yourself to Fizzy for the rest of the day."
"Jaspie's right."  barked Fizzy.  "Come along darling.  You need to be asleep now."
Ewan acquiesced.
"I's going to go and be asleep now." he whimpered.
"Good man." I smiled, as Fizzy supported Ewan, hobbling, back to the peace and quiet coolness of their vehicle.  He turned back to me and gave me a watery smile before Fizzy helped him into the back seat.

"Thank you." grinned Ewan, with a pathetic yet heartfelt wag of his tail.  "I love you very much Jazz."

That, to me, was worth risking a violent assault from any number of wasps for.

Of course, I had NO intention whatsoever of remonstrating with the little stripey b*st*rds.  I'm not a complete idiot.  But if they ever - EVER - hurt my friend Ewan again.... Well, let me just bark that I know where my partner stores the insecticide at our home - and I shall not hesitate to steal and employ it.  They may, therefore, consider themselves duly warned.

And Jasper Horatio Stafford only EVER issues one warning.

Good night.


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