Monday, 19 October 2015

Bringing out the dead... or not

I can see my house from up here!
If you had asked us earlier in the year how we would be spending our six monthiversary at The Lodge, chances are that ‘trying to find what had died up the chimney’ would have been low on the list of options.

Yesterday saw the major milestone creep up and launch itself at us so, being unable to conjure up celebrations of any kind at the last minute, I marked the occasion by climbing a ludicrously-long and wobbly ladder while Dawn, Terminator Trevor, Andy and SamtheDog cajoled me from 300ft below (approx) on terra firma.

The feat of admirable bravery had come about thanks to 250,000 flies (also approx – I tried counting but they wouldn’t hold still) that had decided to take up residence in Bedroom 1 over the past week, along with hundreds of ladybirds and a couple of handfuls of furious, evil wasps. The wasps were a minor irritation, all things considered, and the ladybirds – despite being Harlequins that are purported to cannibalise our indigenous ladybird population – were comparatively pretty. It was the flies that were the problem. And a fairly large problem it was, too.

I had first discovered them a few days after finishing removing the Artex in the room, when I popped my head in for some reason. Probably on the hunt for one of our many missing tools. The door had been sealed up with masking tape to stop dust going through the house and the windows had been closed, but it was there I found a few dozen flies trying their hardest to smash the glass and make a bid for freedom. I helped them on their way, scratched my head, then closed the door back up.
Two days later and the room was like something from a horror movie. There were many, many hundreds – if not thousands – of flies at the windows and a load of them buzzing around the ceiling. Just writing about it is making me itchy.

Flies - before it got bad
I opened the windows again and most went on their merry way, so I spent a few minutes pondering their origins. Having finished the Artex at around the same time they had appeared, had I disturbed some kind of stash of dormant eggs where the walls meet the ceiling and a reasonable amount of lime had come away between the two? The window frames haven’t been touched by us since we moved here and they’re gopping filthy – were they hatching inside there? It was entirely possible. What about the floors? There are large gaps between the edges of many of the floorboards and the brick walls. Were they emerging from in there?
Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been the chimney because there’s a bird guard cowl thing on there so nothing could have come in and died, could it? No. No way.

A couple of days after that the sheer number of flies in the room almost saw me hoisted aloft and carried out of the window along with them, so I decided that enough was enough.
I had been avoiding sticking my head through the partially-open loft hatch (the CCTV cables still feed through there) for reasons that I’ve documented thoroughly already, but the time had come to man-up and get it done. But other than a huge hornet crawling around on the rafters there were no flies at all. There might have been a slight smell of… something… but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. So that was the loft eliminated, anyroad.

I tried smoking them out but they went up...
then down the other pot and in to the Living
Room. It took hours to get rid of them.
After pretty much discounting all other possibilities I stuck my head in the fireplace and looked up the chimney flue as a last resort. I was instantly bombarded by a dozen guardflies hurtling towards my exposed face, and when I cautiously looked up again, taking care to keep my mouth closed this time – there they were.
Hundreds of flies were lining all sides of the brick flue and slowly but surely making their way down to the fireplace and the promise of escape via the window. The majority were at the top, close to where I could see the underside of the cowl so it was only natural to assume that something previously-living had been thwarted by my ingenious efforts and had simply died on top of the pot or down the side of the cowl, unable to get inside the chimney. That would explain why I couldn't smell anything in the room.

That’s what led to me fearing for my life up by the chimney pot yesterday morning. I had run out of ladder rungs to hold on to so was clinging to the pot itself and anything else I could reach that seemed secure.
And guess what I found?

Absolutely nothing.

So that was the best-case scenario out the window along with the flies themselves.
It would have been a perfect ending to find a maggoty pigeon wedged between the inside of the pot and the outside of the cowl’s cage… not for the pigeon, of course… but none of the alternatives are particularly great.

Which raises some questions:

  • What was dead?
  • Where exactly was it? The flue doesn’t go straight up to the top without passing Go, there are a couple of slight kinks and brick ‘shelves’ that could be harbouring the culprit, which means we’re never likely to find it.
  • When did it get in there?
  • Most importantly – HOW did it get in there?

There are a number of theories, any one of which could be correct but none of which will likely ever be proved. One is that a bird flew through the open window and went straight up the chimney – on the outside of the steel flue liner – and just gave up when it found it couldn’t get out.

Our infestation of ladybirds has paled
in to insignificance for the moment
Another is that something was already trapped alive inside the chimney when we dropped the liner, sealing its fate by closing off its upward escape. Maybe it was already incapacitated somehow. But that was a good two months ago now so is the timing all off? Maybe. How long does it take for a dead pigeon to go all, you know, soft and gooey like that?
And another theory is that after the liner was dropped, a rat, mouse or brontosaurus (there were enough flies to make that a possibility) somehow managed to get inside and become stuck on one of the shelves, which means that if it has happened once it could happen again.

The one saving grace is that we’re yet to fit the register plates to the ‘ceiling’ of the fireplaces so if it does happen again we’ll probably not realise and the flies would have nowhere to go except upwards.

Which would make a pleasant change because this itching just won't go away now.

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