War on wasps? Call the experts
Are you ready for another episode of Motropolis' Funniest Home Videos?
You know the show - the one where I confess yet again to being unqualified for home ownership, citizenship in the land of DIY, and perhaps even adulthood itself.
This episode comes with a warning that it contains scenes of horror that may not be appropriate for younger viewers. Adult supervision is recommended.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a scratching sound that seemed to be coming from the living room ceiling. The nights were beginning to get colder, and I assumed that the annoying sound was mice building a nest in the attic. I live in an old house in the country, and this wasn't the first time I had heard something similar.
I turned up the volume on the television. As it says in chapter one of the Motropolis Guide to Home Maintenance, a problem ignored is one less chore to take care of. Besides, what are pet cats for? You may recall an earlier episode of the show where we ended up with 10 felines in our care.
The upside of that debacle was spending less on rodenticide - and, given the prowess of the remaining three cats, who like to leave peace offerings on the kitchen floor to make my bleary-eyed stumble to the coffee pot even more fun-filled, I felt vaguely justified in thinking that the problem would sort itself out.
The noise became more insistent, so I loaded up on enough toxic bait to wipe out a national park's worth of pests. Then I hauled myself into the attic through the trapdoor in the bathroom ceiling, which was designed for the smaller, stronger and more agile homeowners of the 1920s, for whom the house was built.
I couldn't find any evidence of rodents but nailed down some bait anyway, and felt a quiet - and entirely undeserved - sense of accomplishment that I had dealt to the problem.
When the cats began to catch mice, I took it as a sign that my efforts had not been in vain. Surely the nest in the ceiling would soon be empty and lifeless. This cheery assumption required me to ignore the ominous sound still coming from the ceiling, but I'd had days of practice at that by now.
The sound got louder and more threatening. I stood on a chair to hear more clearly, and realised that it was not coming from the ceiling but from high on a wall.
I went outside - and there, at the top of the wall in question, tucked under the eaves, was a little hole with hundreds of bees pouring in and out of it. I got a ladder and climbed up for a closer look. Wait a minute - those weren't bees, they were wasps, and they were flying straight at my head poking over the gutter.
I scarpered with undignified haste and researched my options. Google pointed me to a forum on kiwibiker.co.nz titled "Lots and lots and lots of wasps".
In it, people I imagined to be burly hog-riding outlaws traded stories about the manly ways they had dealt with wasp nests. The opening post featured waiting until after midnight on New Year's Eve, loading a backpack sprayer with petrol and dousing a garden shed, only to have the neighbours come home drunk and start setting off fireworks.
The stories rolled in. Diesel, fumigation tents, a vacuum cleaner running near the entrance, which you dose with insecticide, throwing rocks . . .
Here's a pretty typical entry: "I used an old can of CRC and a cigarette lighter, the little bastards didn't stand a chance. They took over my mate's garden shed, and we went all Rambo on their asses, and fully torched the colony."
Sprinkled among the pyromania was some good advice - and that night, I waited for dusk and armed myself. Carbaryl powder - check. Bottle with home-made dispenser - check. Long pants, sweatshirt and knit hat to cover my forehead and ears? Check, check, check. I looked like I was ready to burgle my own house.
The goal was to get plenty of powder into the tiny hole and to leave a good dusting around the entrance, on the theory that the wasps would carry it in to the queen.
I climbed on to the roof, crawled over to the wasps' entry hole, placed my puffer bottle at the opening and gave it a good squeeze. Wasps poured out and came straight for me. In panic, I dropped the bottle, made for the ladder and leapt from halfway down it.
I retrieved the bottle from the rose bush, tried one more time and then got the hell out of there.
The next day, the buzzing was as strong as ever. Later that day, I got a call from my wife, who sounded panic-striken. The wasps had made a hole through the interior wall and were wriggling through into the living room.
While she fashioned a sturdy patch out of a spare piece of HardiPlank and duct tape, I began calling exterminators. The first guy I spoke to told me that the carbaryl would take a few days to work, and I should dose them again that night.
"If they're still there tomorrow, call me, and I'll come and deal to the bastards. Sorry for the language." I assured him that his language was nowhere near strong enough for how I now felt about wasps.
That night, because dosing from the nest entrance seemed to have had little effect, I decided to tackle them through the hole in the living room wall. I kitted up and gingerly removed the patch.
Immediately, I could see that the tiny hole had become much bigger. There were about 50 wasps on the wall under the patch, and as I squeezed poison at the hole, many more came buzzing angrily from it.
I got stung on my hand, through my glove, and leapt from the chair and got stung again, this time on my jaw. Suddenly, there were about 100 aggressive wasps dive-bombing me and my wife, and our living room looked like a scene out of schlock-horror classic The Swarm.
My wife was spraying Raid with Rambo-like intensity and, between the shrieking and swearing, I had to get back on the chair and reattach the patch to stem the flow. Then we turned to tracking down every Raid-stunned wasp and stamping on them, before vacuuming up the carnage.
The next day, the buzzing was louder. My wife posted about it on Facebook, and was told to "suck it up cup cake". A Kiwi living in Oz said that wasps were nothing compared to the four-metre croc she came across on the beach.
She called me to say she was being driven crazy by stray wasps, and was abandoning the place until a professional arrived. Friends took us in, and we waited for the exterminator to call to say when it was safe to return.
At 8.30pm, we returned from exile. "Do you hear that?" I asked my wife. "Nothing."
Best $85 I ever spent.