Disclaimer: I am not a bad person. Sometimes bad things are done by good people.

It all began with the window cleaner. No, I tell a lie. It all began when my daughter stripped back the ivy on the exterior wall of my bathroom. “There’s a wasps’ nest in here!” she said, beating a hasty retreat down the ladder and pointing to the ventilation panel at the top of the wall. “They’ve built it inside the bathroom loft, by the look of it.” A bit of a clue had been the preponderance of wasps annoying us while we’d sat drinking tea earlier. It was a sunny day, and I felt benign towards the wasps as long as they didn’t get too territorial. Having moved far beyond the ruthless arrogance of youth I am now inclined to carry small insects outside in my cupped hands, or if they are really creepy, in a container fit for purpose. I believe in the sanctity of all life and think of myself as a pacifist.

A week later I contacted a local window cleaner – an admission of defeat, because I’ve always cleaned my own windows until the last couple of years when it’s got progressively physically more of a challenge. There comes a point when you just have to admit defeat about a number of things. He came round to case the joint, to ensure he could get his ladder through to the back of my small terraced cottage, and as he stood there in the garden surveying the upstairs windows he said: “Did you realise you’ve got two wasps’ nests out here?” He’d spotted a second one, up in the eaves above my bedroom window. That made even more sense of what was fast becoming a wasp incursion into my erstwhile peaceful, secluded garden.

“I can get rid of them for you.” the window cleaner said. “Wasps are on the rampage in Oxford this summer. Nasty little things. Can’t see the point of them. I’ve blitzed a good few nests lately. I don’t know where they’re all coming from, but you’d do well to clear them out of your back yard. I’ll do it for you when I come and clean the windows, if you like.”

I didn’t really think it through. ‘Getting rid of them’ seemed like the ultimate solution at that point. I didn’t consider what that really meant for the wasps. I didn’t dwell overlong on how bad it was for the environment (not to mention the wasps themselves) as I purchased the means of chemical warfare the following day. I was mainly thinking of how great it would be to see through my windows again and sit in my garden without being bombarded by unwelcome buzzing visitors. Bees are different. I love the bees. They aren’t a bit of trouble. In fact I’ve planted everything with bees in mind and love the sight of a few bees bumbling away gathering nectar. I know I’m not on the witness stand here, but I don’t want to give the impression I’m a merciless, insect hating tyrant.

Anyway, cut to the day the window cleaner arrived to do his thing. He was very thorough. Having restored my window panes to a state of splendiferous visibility I’d thought never to see again, he sprayed the bejasus out of the two wasps’ nests. Understandably, this infuriated and disturbed them into a frenzied, chaotic mob. Watching them cluster round the blocked entrance to their nest in the eaves made me feel so guilty, like I’d nuked Syria. It was all too horribly late to reverse my lethal decision. My tendency to anthromorphosise kicked in and I started fretting about the wasps trapped inside the blocked nest and imagined the desperation of those trying to get through the chemical barrier in the war zone to take care of their family. I could almost hear their screams.

“They’re only wasps,” the window cleaner said, noticing my angst. Nice man, but clearly not on my empathic wavelength.

He took his ladder round the corner to deal with the other nest tucked behind the ventilation grille in the mini loft space over the single storey bathroom extension. I withdrew like the coward I was into the kitchen and left him to it. I could have said: “Don’t bother. There has been enough slaughter for one day.” But I didn’t. I take full responsibility for that. I was no innocent in this. I was fully culpable. I really can’t blame the window cleaner. Unfortunately the ensuing events turned out to be something of a Waspgate.

An hour after he’d gone I went into the bathroom to discover a scenario not unlike the movie The Birds, only with wasps. One of my worst nightmares. Too much of anything flying round your head is bad news. Thoughts being a case in point. But although thoughts can be managed with mindfulness, the same isn’t true of wasps. There were what appeared to be hundreds of them, swarming in understandable panic and confusion. They must have escaped from the loft space via some minute cracks in the sides of the access hatch. It was total Waspageddon.

I dashed back to the kitchen and got the now almost empty can of wasp nest destroyer spray foam, and dodging wasp bullets I sprayed all round the hatch, but by then they had followed me back to the kitchen so I was surrounded on both fronts. I started spraying the foam randomly, contrary to the instructions on the can which urged caution and the wearing of a mask and protective clothing. Afterwards both rooms and the lobby in between needed a thorough health and safety clean up. The wasps persisted. Eventually in desperation I got out the vacuum cleaner and started sucking them into it. Not easy with a hundred or so moving targets, especially when you feel forced by fear into the role of murderer, hating every second of the tactic you are using.

It probably wasn’t them or me, but in the moment it seemed to be. When I say ‘moment’ I actually mean several hours, because the wasps just didn’t give up. And who could blame them?

All in all, it was a bit of a debacle. Early next morning, when I went down to make myself a cup of tea, there was a small angry contingent of them in the kitchen, having been waiting all night to dive bomb me the moment I opened the door. Grabbing the almost empty can, I began spraying foam randomly again, which of course subsequently meant another health and safety clean up. That wasn’t the end of it by any means. For the next five days small gangs of them continued to manifest in the bathroom, albeit in ever decreasing numbers. I eventually concluded they were getting in from another dimension as by then I’d blocked, foam sprayed and basically turned my bathroom into a razed post nuclear ground zero for wasps.

My extreme feelings of guilt escalated and I apologised (seriously) each time I picked them off and assigned them to wherever wasps go when they cross the rainbow bridge. Finally one of them actually stung me, as I was attempting kindly to give it a fighting chance by putting it outside through the cautiously opened window. Well, it had to happen. Be sure your sins will sooner or later come back and bite you. Two weeks on, and they are still coming in from somewhere – one intrepid rebel at a time. In a funny way I admire them. I can relate to their tenacity. And on the plus side, my bathroom has never been cleaner.

My latest novel The Other Twin can be found on Amazon The Other Twin

You can also discover more about me and all my other books at The Lesley Hayes Website

Human kind cannot bear very much reality


‘Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.’
(The Four Quartets – Burnt Norton)

I first discovered T.S. Eliot’s poetry when I was fourteen. It was the beginning of a lifelong attachment to his writing, which I have often quoted and used as inspiration. I was never one of the in crowd at school. While my more popular peers were obsessing about the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, makeup, boys and the all important debate about whether to relinquish one’s virginity, I was reflecting on death, futility and meaninglessness, and writing introspective poetry.

When I read T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land I immediately recognised a kindred spirit. In my adolescent ennui I had already ‘measured out my life in coffee spoons’ (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock) and wondered daily whether life would end with a bang or a whimper. It was the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and seemed probable that the end of the world would arrive imminently with a devastating bang. However, only a very few likeminded friends seemed to worry about that as much as I did.

But the ultimate nuclear holocaust didn’t happen, and life went on. How naive we were. We still hoped that the Berlin Wall would come down (which of course it eventually did) and that our nineteen sixties optimism would truly usher in the Age of Aquarius. I was a hippie manqué, and by then had already become adept at avoiding as much reality as possible. There seemed to be an awful lot more of it than I could stomach, and writing had proved a useful escape route. It allowed me to view life’s large and little dramas from a relatively detached ringside seat where observation and commentary made it rather more containable.

I persisted in writing my poems and then branched out into short stories, developing a dark, often cynical sense of humour, the nuances of which were often apparently lost on other people. Although perhaps not. By the age of twenty my stories were being regularly published and continued to be for the next twenty years. The novels came later, and by then I’d had plenty more raw material on which to base my fiction. Rather too much, if I’m honest. It was a trend that didn’t abate.

That particular line about human kind not being able to bear very much reality kept on resonating over the years. You can have too much of a good thing, and you can definitely have too much of the things that aren’t so good. Life forces you into a version of reality unique to you, which is compelling enough, in the way of all good soap operas, to keep you focused outward and fascinated much of the time. The Story of Me is one that keeps each of us gripped to a greater or lesser degree throughout our life. We have to keep paying attention to it, in case we lose the thread. It’s taken me these many decades on to really begin to reach the truth of how unimportant that story is. As a psychotherapist I heard many people’s stories, and listened to their pain. We are more similar to one another than we realise, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Developing our capacity for empathy is the kindest gift we can offer to ourselves and others.

Genuine deep compassion for ourselves is often the last place we learn to put it. It isn’t being selfish to honour our needs and recognise our limits. For years I’ve been saying: “I’ve had enough now” about a number of things, and last year I really upped my game. Saying I’ve had enough has often been the catalyst for necessary change, but not every situation can be changed. I began long ago to practice cultivating tolerance and hope, even though tolerance is probably still the hardest pill for me to swallow. I have impatience with wilful incompetence, and find the bullshit and hypocrisy that oils the social wheels unpalatable. That makes me a loyal and trustworthy friend but a challenging opponent when it comes to integrity. I have learned to pick my battles very carefully.

When it comes to certain circumstances I’ve observed that whether or not I feel I’ve had enough, life hasn’t had enough of teaching me. I believe passionately in the power of choice, but not everything is within our gift to choose. As I get older I realise how increasingly little is actually in my control, beyond my options of how to react and respond. And even that isn’t always in my remit. Knees still jerk when hit in the place designed to elicit a reaction. But at least I notice. I’ve come to the conclusion now that the deal I’ve struck with life is to learn how to face the unbearable with as much grace and acceptance as possible. It’s still work in progress.

All of this is enigmatic twaddle for anyone seeking the story behind my ramblings. But the story isn’t really my point. It’s more to do with how we manage the ‘reality’ with which we are presented, whether or not it feels too much. I’m not an advocate either of ‘escape’ (which doesn’t equate with freedom, whatever the temporary distraction it provides) or martyred stoicism. Nor am I someone who can cheerfully recommend that when life gives you lemons you just make lemonade, or whistle happily as you sling a few broken eggs together to make an omelette.

But I have put together a few reminders for myself, which in no way sets me up as the fount of all wisdom. Far from it. My way is just my way, and my conclusions are not original. I am, after all, simply another human being, figuring out how to survive through all the changes in a lifetime and take responsibility for managing my pain. We aren’t born with a guide book. We have to work it out or make it up as we go along. Anyway, these are a few of my own evolving rules for life:

1. Humility

I’m no cleverer than anyone else when it comes to understanding. Watch, listen and learn is the best I can do. And other people can be an honest or a warped mirror to facilitate me knowing myself. Their projections might be flattering or overly critical, but I need to remember their opinions say more about them than they do about me, and not be swayed.

2. Patience

“Everything passes” is a cliché that used to make me smile when I heard my father repeat it so often. Thanks, dad, for your wisdom. As in so many things, you were right.

3. “Keep your heart open, even in hell”

I heard this advice many, many years ago. And finally, it really makes sense. Without an open heart there can be no healing. An open heart is not mushy, sentimental or unprotected, but unclenches the fist of resistance and allows things to just be. Hell is just another place to go through.

4. Grief

This deserves a whole blog post all to itself. In my experience it’s not ever what you expect. And it has a lot to do with the nature of the relationship you’ve lost. Ranting, meltdown, despair and rage are every bit as valid as weeping. Storming the walls of who you thought you were seems to be the journey. And it hurts.

5. Forgiveness

Life often sucks. Judgements about what constitutes unfairness are subjective. It helps to let go of expectations that it should be or even could be another way. Expectations are sneaky things, however, and creep in stealthily even when you think you’ve barred the door against them. So don’t expect not to have expectations. This is how it is. It’s as good as it gets and you might as well forgive life its ‘imperfections’. If it’s broken, whatever it is, don’t get hung up on believing it has to be mended. You can love broken things too. We are all broken.

6. “Be positive”

No, seriously, don’t. Not unless you genuinely happen to be feeling positive when you’re reading this. Be however you damn well are. That’s positive in its own liberating way. There is something energising and empowering about giving yourself permission not always to look on the bright side. The dark side has a lot to teach us too. Society seems to encourage us to smile even when our heart is breaking. Sometimes we do that to protect other people from our pain. Which is ok, of course, but don’t make it too much of a habit and allow it to morph into denial. Let me refer you to 2 above. Everything passes, eventually your time on the planet itself. Be real. Be here. Let it be. Let it flow. And when you can’t bear too much reality don’t feel bad about it. Jump off the wheel for a while and land wherever it takes you. It might be the most creative move you ever made.

You can find out more of my fascinating thoughts on my website The Lesley Hayes Website where there are links to all my novels on Amazon