Archie Bland: 'As soon as they get over the threshold, you're toast'

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The Independent Online

When we heard they were in the building, we knew there was nothing we could do. Because once they're over the threshold, you're toast. You can fumigate the apartment; you can seal up the doors; you can burn all your furniture and wash yourself in bleach. It doesn't matter. In New York City, the legend goes, if the bedbugs get your neighbours, they're almost certainly going to get you.

And get me they did. What a horrible thought it is, to realise that something tiny, disgusting and ravenous has been nipping at you in your sleep. The lurid red blotches up my flank and down my arm were pretty unpleasant, and the constant urge to scratch was even worse. But neither compared with my horror at the prospect of anyone else finding out about it.

Reveal you have a bedbug infestation in your home to the average New Yorker and they won't so much back away as run screaming from the room, frantically disposing of their clothes and setting them alight as they go.

As a foreigner, unfortunately, I didn't understand any of this at first, and when I first revealed my fate to a fellow resident of the same building, I was quite unprepared for the iciness of the response. "Oh dear," she said, and then, instead of clucking sympathetically, added, with a ruthless glint in her eye: "I hope you're going to burn everything." I kept pretty quiet about it after that.

The purifying flame is not, in fact, the only solution to the problem. But they are a nightmare to get rid of. We washed everything, called in the exterminators, and threw out the bed linen and mattress; still, though, it wasn't quite clear that we had driven them out. Finally, in what may seem like an excessive reaction, I moved back to Britain. I just hope for your sake I didn't bring the little blighters with me.