Biters, stingers and nippers


Harry and Marion Slaughter are soon to celebrate their 60th Anniversary. They’re visiting Dawyck today from Dunfermline, and we fall into conversation. Harry, a shipwright to trade, tells me (of the Douglas Firs) that he’s glad to see something older than himself. His stories and memories of poems (I think that I will never see / a poem lovely as a tree) are wide ranging. On insects, he says he has been bitten by every insect in Scotland: clegs, midges ticks among them, and something new to me: the birch fly, which it seems is a little larger than a midge, but twice as virulent. Black flies; but they’re only after our sweet blood.

Harry says that they’d not bite him if they knew his surname, because that’s what he does to them.

Susan Nuttgens, a ceramicist, another visitor, who showed me images of her handbuilt stoneware outsize conkers, inspired by Dawyck and set in another garden, has memories of big black Mayflies clattering round her bedroom as a child – she’d try to swat them; though she thinks that mayfly may be a local name.

Morven Gregor, on the other hand, rescues spiders who invade her boat. She captures them in a tumbler and puts them onto the pontoon where her boat is moored. I suspect they wait until she’s not looking and spin themselves back aboard, pirate-style.

The poet Jean Atkin also tells me she rescues spiders from the bath.

Some folk care.

Spiders eat other beasties (and each other) too, though this afternoon all they are catching in their Dawyck webs are tiny raindrops.



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