Harriet Walker: 'Moths are the Biblical plague of the empowered woman'


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The philosopher William Paley used the complexity of design in a pocket watch as an analogy for the existence of an intelligent Creator; in this week's column, I shall use an infestation of clothes moths to prove that he was right: there is a God, and He hates us all.

The trauma, the agony, the stomach-wrenching sadness and disgust with which one discovers one's wardrobe has been eaten by anaemic snotworms, whose squidgy writhings gave more movement and voluptuous wiggle to jersey dresses and disco separates than I ever did – it is indescribably awful.

I'm aware that this might sound a little materialistic. Self-righteous British puritans don't understand people who love their clothes, and cast them as capitalist collaborators with too much time on their hands. Think that if you want, fashion haters, but let me know how you feel when something that looks like an eye bogey feasts on your sensible slacks.

I can broaden the remit to appeal to all sensibilities anyway, since the little bastards also ate, in no particular order, three rugs, two large cushions, six coasters, part of the sofa and a straw basket. I found one on my pillow, another rearing upright like the Lloyd's horse on a trunk, waiting to sink its puckered sphincter mouth into a pile of clean washing. I came down on that one hard and fast, let me tell you.

My belongings are all in binbags. I haven't thought of much else for six weeks. My days are punctuated by interludes of peering at my weeds via the narrowed eyes of a medieval scribe to check for eggs, crawlers and potential damage. I do this on average about every 45 minutes. Any conversation I have comes round to the life cycle of a moth; all forward planning involves different cleaning companies coming on different days to employ different elements in the battle against these scumbags. Water, steam, hot air, cold air, detergent, biodegradable spray, lavender and napalm. Rentokil offers a sort of clothes kiln on wheels, which they fill with your stuff and boil, but it costs £1,500.

So where does God figure in all of this? "I don't suppose this happened in the days when there was a woman at home, cleaning the skirting boards and under the beds every day," speculated my friend over a bottle of wine and my latest domestic diatribe. "Moths have really come into their own since people got cleaners and went to work."

By "people", my friend meant women, and by "went to work", she meant "cast off the shackles of imposed housewifery and got the chance to change the world". Moths, you see, are the Biblical plague of the empowered woman. Forget raining frogs – at least you can sweep those up. This is an invisible rout and one that, potentially, goes on for ever. Spray the carpets, steam the curtains, dry-clean your clothes, vacuum your face! And there's every chance the buggers will cling on to that one fibre you missed. So you have to do it all again. Life becomes a whirlwind of appointments with the council and extortionate sanitisers. Who has time to do that and hold down a job?

So you can't have it all, because something with fewer cells in its slimy body than you have in your fingernail will chew its way through everything you hold dear. If that isn't intelligent design, I don't know what is.

Some pointers, then, from the knowledge gleaned throughout this pestilential Pilgrim's Progress: move things. Move them constantly lest something burrow in and make a tasty home for itself. Move things even if it means shaking out tablecloths all day long when really you should be at work.

Don't put things back dirty. These snakes have a particular dietary penchant for sweat (retch) and hair (gag). Clean everything constantly – forget your career and focus on the underside of your mattress and corners of your wardrobe.

Get naked. This isn't some hippie-dippy lifestyle tip, it's common sense: if you're naked as you throw out thousands of pounds worth of fashion, kneeling on the floor and sobbing, at least they won't attach themselves to your current outfit.

Finally, if you see a moth, it's too late. It isn't the winged things that do the damage, because they don't have mouths. The fact there is a moth flying round your house means it has already hatched, gobbled and shat out the remnants of its last fluffy meal all over the garment it has decimated. At this point, there is nothing for it but to appeal to the vengeful God that has done this to you. He might take pity on you and help you find the money to pay for Rentokil.

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