Entire evenings were lost to the pursuit of cat fleas. Me and the other-half would compete to see how many fleas we had caught, holding a glass of nasty bugs to the light like trophies. Every now and again one of us would slap our socks shouting “score!” Fat flea: two points. Regular flea: one point.
The biting began when Sir Humbledink, the resident cat, moved out and we moved in. When I first viewed the house Sir Humbledink was curled up on the bed and peered at me with beautiful blue eyes. Little did I know that as the Persian purred beneath my hands, fleas were crawling through the pure white fur. Months later I would be cursing the day I met him.
It wasn’t too bad at first. An occasional flea bite on the ankle itched like fury. The weather got colder. We switched the central heating on. The situation deteriorated. My lower legs were covered in red blotches.
Upon entering a room the fleas would react to the vibrations and jump towards their new source of supper. We fled to the kitchen. With its hard floors it was the only flea free room.
I wore white sports socks hoisted to an unflattering mid-calf length. To my smug satisfaction they couldn’t escape the clutches of the dense fabric. Like sitting ducks I would pluck them one by one and plunge them into a solution of washing up liquid and water, taking particular delight if the flea was fat and juicy. The tiny terrors would kick their legs like fury trying to escape the poison before succumbing to their fate.
I turned the carpets white with flea powder. The fleas hopped up the curtains and onto the sofa.
I purchased a steam cleaner and soaked every carpet in the house. This made things worse. The ideal breeding conditions for a flea is approximately 75 percent humidity and between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. A month later the occasional bite turned into flea feeding frenzy.
The tipping point came when a sheet of paper from the printer drifted to the floor. Within seconds the white rectangle was covered in dozens of hopping fleas. I wasn’t even making a tiny dent in the population. I found out later that female fleas lay 20 to 25 eggs daily. The eggs hatch in one to two weeks and larvae emerge, which mature into pupae, which emerge as adult fleas. Ten adult fleas can lay 6,000 eggs monthly, which will then mature and continue the cycle.
And I was feeding them. Nourishing them.
This was a problem far greater than washing up liquid and white socks could combat. Cursing the cat’s legacy I called in the experts. The next day a man arrived with a mask and a cylinder of chemicals on his back. He fumigated the house, concentrating on corners and the millions of crevices tired old houses have. There was no way the suckers could survive the fall-out from chemical warfare.
Two years later, still no sign of fleas. The breeding chain has been broken. I sometimes think of those intelligent eyes and the nasty secrets crawling beneath the fur and wonder if he’s alone.