The world from my back door

22:42, Jan 01 2013
MOSQUITO: An infinitesimal scrap of flesh with the power to terrify.

Anyone for a safari on the last evening of the year? Let's leave the pubs to the cheerful young and head for the wide savannah. You'll come? Oh, I am pleased.

No, no need to bring a thing. No baggy explorer shorts, no jacket with button-down pockets, no earnest Attenborough whisper. I've got everything we need in the form of a couple of glasses and a bottle of pinot that Dave gave me for feeding his cat. Are we ready then?

Note how I open the door with a simple twist of the wrist. It's an old explorer's trick. Now step through and we'll close it behind us. Careful not to tread on the dog. See those two padded outdoor chairs? Choose the one you prefer in which to recover from the trek while I pour you a glass.

What? No, that's it. We're there. Behold the great savannah. Wasn't it Hardy who said that you could see the whole of the world from your back doorstep?

Gloomy old bugger, Hardy, but bang right on some things. Just take a seat, he said, and the world will come to you.

By all means read. We may have a bit of a wait. I'll turn on this outdoor lamp. It'll come into its own when the light fades. Meanwhile, how sweet it is to sit in shirtsleeves as the sun drops slowly through those pines. Feel how the air bathes the skin, a memory to store for the winter nights ahead.


Those nights, too, have their pleasures: the fire, the sense of shelter, of being cocooned from the blast. But for now, the air is warm as a blessing.

Look towards the Sun. How many insects would you say you can see in the air?

A million? A million million? Let's settle for lots. And that's just here in this one random spot. See how they catch the sun like motes, suddenly irradiated, gleaming nameless smudges of life.

And cheers to you, too, at the end of another ... oh, look, you've got one already. There, on the page of your book. Did you ever see a moth like it?

If it were clamped on the bark of a tree it would be invisible. That shading on the tent of its wings, that rippled brown, those tiny tufted antennae.

No, I've no idea what it's called. It's just a moth. One of billions.

And see here, look, this mosquito, perched on the hairs of my forearm. Its legs are the flimsiest filaments, supporting a body that must weigh effectively nothing. If you squash it, it leaves only a smear, yet within that frame is an entire mechanism, a system that works with eyes and kidneys and so on, if mosquitoes have kidneys. Someone must know, I suppose, but I don't.

And yet when I'm lying in bed of nights, a mosquito like this, an infinitesimal scrap of flesh, emits a whine that unnerves me, me a 13-stone man, a beast a billion times its size. It makes me flail my arms like a carwash.

The light's thickening now for the end of the year. It's a precise moment, dusk, like a change of shift at the factory of life. Where the workers have been all day I can't tell you, but suddenly there they are, like that beetle there that the dog is nosing. See the sheen of its back, shinier than the newest shoes, simultaneously green and black. See how it fossicks over the great expanse of the backyard, going by guess or by god in search of food.

See the intentness with which it goes, its monomaniac attention to its own tiny life, no idea that we're here and could crush it with a size 12 and think nothing of it, no idea that it's New Year's Eve, never drunk pinot, never heard of the fiscal cliffs or the good Sir Paul, part of the huge city of insect life, a metropolis more populous than New York and all in my own backyard.

Look at them flocking the bulb there, besieging it, the uncountable horde, each ephemeral and perfect.

Not one of them will be here this time next year. See how many have died already since we sat here, their singed corpses littering the concrete, or dragging themselves along for the last night of their lives on damaged wings, clinging hopelessly to being alive, because that's what you do.

Here's to your health and to the teeming surface of the planet.

Here's to a happy new year. Oh, there's a moth in your glass.


The Press