The sound of arrhythmic clapping started around mid-June. Suddenly our little rental house in Vuollerim sounded like the audition venue for the world’s angriest, but least funky, percussionists as short bursts of frantic clapping were punctuated by shouts of ‘bastards!’ and ‘take that you little bugger!”.
The mosquito season had arrived in northern Sweden. And what a season it was.
Of all the clichés I’d read and heard about the north, the one about mosquitos was one I really wanted not to be true. I loathe and detest all flying things. Hell, I’d ban birds if I could. But flying things that bite you? What’s that all about?
According to my friend up here, David, “the whole mosquito thing is overblown – they’re really not that much of a problem unless you’re going fishing by a lake at midnight.”
As my girlfriend Donna hurtled around the house sounding like a cross between Bruce Lee (“Aiiiiiiii-yaa!”) and Father Jack from Irish-British sit com Father Ted (“Feck!”), I repeated these words to David on the phone. I may have shouted them, I can’t remember. I was wrestling with a 4 metre mygga at the time.
He was maddeningly calm.
“Yes, I’ve heard they’re really bad in Vuollerim this year. The worst for 20 years. Someone in Vuollerim posted on Facebook that they’re getting into houses even if the windows are shut.”
I confirmed that this was indeed true and hung up – there were now mozzies everywhere in our wee house. Things were getting ugly.
The mosquito plague even affected our house-hunting. The second day after they first reared their whining ugly little heads, we went to see a house on a lake. With quite heavy tree coverage. Both Donna and I were blitzed.
The critters attacked us so aggressively their bites actually stung. They were like Viking berserker mosquitos. It didn’t help that I’d made a questionable clothing choice by wearing shorts.
The house owner, however, was quite regally unbothered. While we were running around his property swatting and yelping, he looked on in detached bemusement.
This was to become a theme.
A few days later we went to see another house by a lake. The owner, a former army chaplain, had all the doors and windows in the house open. The whole place was alive with insects.
A broms or horse fly in English (an insect so unutterably aggressive and evil its mere existence must surely make even the most religious of people question their faith in a god) pursued me remorselessly as I waved and flapped like a swan in a cattery.
In a brief moment of respite (I think the horse fly had tracked and taken down a bear instead), I asked the owner about the mosquito situation.
“I think we are lucky here. We do not seem to get that many of them.”
As he spoke, both Donna and I were transfixed. There, on his left cheek, two mosquitos were attempting to copulate. He wasn’t just not worried about his face being a hook-up joint for randy bloodsuckers; he didn’t even seem to notice. As nice as the house was, we left swiftly. It was mygg hell.
At another house, while Donna and I hopped and swatted, an estate agent told us that he only gets one or two bites a year.
“Most of my friends are the same. We don’t seem to get bitten that much.”
Is that it? Are Swedes habituated to mosquitos? How long does that habituation take? Are there pills you can take? A surgical procedure? I don’t care, give me a lagom injection if that’s what it takes.
As this intermittently decent summer has progressed, the number of mygg around Vuollerim has noticeably diminished. We can go for walks around 6pm and barely be interfered with. Granted, I still lather myself up with anti-mosquito creams so thoroughly that I resemble a swimmer attempting to navigate the Bothnian Gulf in January, but it’s progress.
We even open a window now and then. But then we do have in the region of 23 plug-in anti-mozzie devices.
And we finally found a house. It’s by a lake too. And there’s very little tree coverage, so the mygg get blown about and dispersed. We’ve been there three times now and seen very few mosquitos.
Still, we’re taking no risks. We’ve already purchased not one, but two, Mosquito Magnet machines, and five rather expensive mosquito net windows. Next summer we’ll be prepared.
Bring it on, myggs!