VESPIARY encounters with wasps
I'd like to say wasps are much misunderstood creatures, but I think we've got them pretty well. I think what both attracts and repels about wasps is their single-minded persistence and indifference to human concerns. They also look pretty sharp, especially compared to their tubby but popular cousins, bees.
Mind you, it is a little-known wasp-related fact that most conflict between wasps and humans tends to happen towards the end of the summer, when the worker wasps are suddenly released from their myriad chores and fly free from the nest, on what a human worker would regard as a well-earned holiday. Unfortunately, worker wasps have a lot in common with the British on holiday, and tend to find themselves in trouble after the consumption of a little too much fermented windfall fruit. Come on you yellows!
A few years back, I witnessed what is some people's ultimate wasp horror. A group of us were sitting convivially around a pub garden table on a blazing hot summer day, when my neighbour took a sip from his pint and spat out a wasp, which – yes – had stung him on the tongue. Uh oh! Luckily, this was an Old College Chums reunion and one of our party, Phil, is an experienced and practically-minded medic. Fighting back the rising tide of learned-but-amateur hysteria around the table – Anaphylactic shock! Swollen tongue!! Suffocation!!! – he took a look, and said, It's a wasp sting, it'll hurt, but he'll be fine. Of course, the self-assertiveness of the over-educated Besserwisser in possession of a certified Urban Myth is as relentless as any wasp, and it took several rounds of Dr. Phil's patient professional indifference – "No, he's not going to die. No, I'm not going to drive him to the bloody hospital, I'm going to finish my bloody pint" – to settle the matter.
Unfortunately, the victim – a very senior academic indeed – was now afflicted by a dramatic speech impediment, and had an important speaking engagement that very evening. I'm ashamed to say that the script for a hilarious movie started rolling through my mind. Well, people have said that I can sometimes have a waspish sense of humour.
One book that shaped me more than most was The Albemarle Book of Modern Verse, an O-Level set text that included many worthwhile poems, as well as some astonishing but memorable rubbish. An example of the latter contained these lines, much of which I can recite to this day:
There's not a rhyme to wasp in English tongue.
Poor wasp, unloved, unsung!
Only the homely proverb celebrates
These little dragons of the summer day
That each man hates.
'Wasps haunt the honey-pot,' they say,
Or 'Put your hand into a wasps' nest,' thus
Neatly condensing all report for us
By sharp experience into wisdom stung,
As is the proverb's way.
Of many a man it might be said
No one loved him till he was dead,
But of a wasp not even then
As it is said of many men.
Vita Sackville-West, The Garden