Fly away from here

I had the utmost displeasure the other day of walking into an empty house that, unbeknownst to me, had an infestation of flies. Every window was covered in those trying to find escape, and every windowsill was littered with their companions’ corpses. I was there to show some people round who were interested in buying the house and they were due at any moment.

I raced around opening windows and patio doors, but each time would disturb the Roman blinds that decorated them, and out would swarm yet more clouds of black flies. As well as nesting in the blinds, they also seemed to be coming out of the window frames too. It was like something out of a Hitchcock horror movie, and I still shudder at the memory.

I’m not sure why it had happened, as it wasn’t the first time I’d been to this house, and nothing like it had occurred before, but I wonder if it was something to do with the see-sawing temperatures of recent weeks? Thankfully the viewers were late, and by the time they arrived most of the flies had dispersed and, as it was a hot sunny day, I did not have to explain why all the doors and windows were wide open.

They decided the house wasn’t for them after all, and I informed the owner of the fly problem so, hopefully, I won’t have to face the grim swarm again. 

As the weather cools down, there will be fewer flies about to bother us and despite most people’s aversion to them, they are meant to bring good fortune in certain situations. They are also the subject of a number of sayings, as my dad mentions in his column from 11th October 1980.

I’m sure you are familiar with wanting to be a ‘fly on the wall’, meaning that you’d enjoy being privy to someone’s private discussions, or you may have occasionally said something would be a ‘fly in the ointment’ meaning something small was bound to spoil plans already made. We also say someone has ‘no flies on them’ meaning they are quick-witted and won’t be caught out.

Other phrases include ‘dropping like flies’, used when people fall ill or die in large numbers, ‘breeding like flies’ (self-explanatory!) and if someone makes a very hasty exit, we might suggest they fled ‘like a blue-a***d fly’!

I hadn’t heard of ‘fly on the coach wheel’ that my dad mentions. This is very old saying which refers to those people who inflate their importance, when in fact they are quite insignificant. It comes from an ancient fable, some suggest from Aesop, where a fly sitting on a chariot wheel during a race looks back and says ‘Goodness, look at the dust I’m making!’

This troublesome insect also features in a number of superstitions, but some are quite contradictory. For example, in the north of England, if you encounter a fly buzzing around your home out of season, or on special occasions such as Christmas or New Year, then you just leave it alone and good luck will follow. However, further south, the same thing portends a death, and bluebottles were known as ‘fever flies’ or ‘deaths flies’. Anyone they landed on was going to catch a fever and die. 

Next time a fly falls into your drink or soup, don’t be upset, because that is a sign that riches are heading your way. What we don’t know, however, is whether you should continue drinking with the fly in situ, or whether you are permitted to dispose of the contaminated liquid without destroying your good fortune. I’m assuming that those who believed in this superstition were quite glad of flies in their ointment!

Upon coming to the last paragraph of my dad’s column this week, I was filled with a rather warm glow as I read what he’d written:

‘Regular readers might be interested to learn that my paperback book ‘Constable on the Hill’ is due for publication this month by New English Library (price £1).’

I’m sure, when writing that paragraph forty years ago, Dad had no notion of what his first Constable book would lead to – 37 books in that series, almost 130 books in total, a hugely successful TV series (Heartbeat) and a significant boost to the local tourist economy.

When it came to writing, there were certainly no flies on my dad. 

Read more at Follow me on Twitter @countrymansdaughter

This column appeared in the Darlington & Stockton Times on 9th October and the Gazette & Herald on 7th October 2020

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