Clothes moths are driving me mad. How can I be free of these insidious pests?
Here they are again, always in my peripheral vision, the tiny papery things that make me feel neither strong nor stable. Indeed, I would probably vote for anyone who vowed to get rid of the clothes moths that I always think have gone, until they come fluttering back. Everything may feel manageable but they are here to undermine that – by the time you see them, the damage is done. They serve only to remind you of that, for moths don’t eat anything at all – the larvae do. Once you see them, you have lost and they have won.
They acquire all the nutrition they will ever need as caterpillars. They live on nothing. Their mouth parts have atrophied, their only goal is to reproduce. Every year I think I have stopped their life cycle, that I am in control – and every year it turns out that I haven’t. They are eating their way through clothes that are loved and unloved. The world appears infested and the world is warming, so they appear more and more.
“Have you tried cedar balls or lavender?” the uninfested say, for a certain kind of person likes to stop nature with natural things. The fashion designer Giles Deacon recommends putting conkers in drawers. All this reminds me too much of another stage in my life when my own larvae were continually infested with nits and I could have put nit-combing on my CV as I did it for longer than any job I have ever had. Tea-tree oil was the thing then, but I broke down on holiday in France when I found pharmacists who would sell pure organophosphates to put on your children’s heads. This may have been a last resort, but I had been driven so mad that I once picked a nit out of my hair on live TV as Tony Parsons was talking. Electric combs didn’t work any more than anything organic. Thankfully, in the end – as my youngest informed her nursery teacher, displaying her Irish heritage – “the feckers just fecked off”.
That same child – now a teenager and deeply concerned about animal rights – killed a moth the other day and has felt bad about it ever since. When I said she shouldn’t, she accused me of being “such a human”. Well, yes, I am more human than moth, so murdering these things feels fine to me. Perhaps she hasn’t noticed the moth traps all over the house. Sticky pheromone strips that make me feel a certain sense of achievement. These strips are impregnated with a female pheromone attractive only to male moths. Sexist moth traps! It means the females die without mating and laying eggs. The beauty of these is that you get to see all the dead men moths stuck like the stupid things they are. So for a while you can feel slightly on top of things. Until you see another one …
Still, I feel my daughter’s pain for I grew up astonished by creepy-crawlies of all kinds and huge feathery moths are creatures of wonder. Days were spent collecting and keeping caterpillars on the nearest heath. One huge hawk-eyed moth caterpillar was a favourite. I called it “Horny” on account of its horn, and never understood why everyone laughed at my pet.
But Tineola bisselliella are different critters altogether. They speak of decay, of things being eaten from the inside out; they make me feel more Miss Havisham than is comfortable. They induce in me a low-level anxiety that cannot be simply about holey clothes. We didn’t always have these damn moths. But then we didn’t always have a moronic gibbon running America, the constant talk of coming war, the idea that the Tories would be in power for ever and the general understanding that everything will just get worse and worse and that little can be done about it.
These things are not connected. I know that in a rational way, but the moths have come to represent to me a kind of mental instability and sense of doom that it is impossible to be zen about. This is just the way we live now. Fighting insects. And losing. Of course, I have read the myriad ways of how to get rid of them, microwaving or freezing your clothes, boiling and wrapping stuff. All to save it from them. I prefer the nuclear option, but I note that many pest controllers won’t guarantee that there will not be another infestation after a month.
A piece in the Daily Mail insinuates that moths are a result of contemporary slovenliness as they like dirty clothes. What is required is a return to the thorough cleansing routines that were “once part of every housewife’s lot”. I knew it! I need a housewife – and feminism has caused everything bad in the world, even moths – but why am I being driven so mad by them when there is so much big stuff to worry about?
These tiny colourless flickers bring up a nameless anxiety, that even my small world cannot be controlled. I catch one and squash it between my fingers and it turns to dust. These pests are made of nothing. Nothing at all.