Saturday, 2 August 2014

A teacher and his ticks.

We teachers all love ticking work.  That green, unaccompanied tick on every page of an exercise book - a solemn nod to the Ofsted inspector that this work has been read by teacher, and that the student must, therefore, be making lovely rapid progress.

Ah, sarcasm.  Can't beat it.  But as a slightly foolish and over-excitable relative of irony, very relevant indeed.  For this week, the ticks were not a teacher's best friend at all; no, they made life a complete misery.

Exmoor is a beautiful, wild zone separating the Bristol Channel from the A361, a realm of heather-smirched rounded hills and terrifying steep descents into sleepy seaside towns.  It is famous for its scenery, its cider, its horrifying 1950s floods and its beautiful population of red deer, which have wandered the place since God-knows when.  These deer are content to bellow maniacally and smash each others' heads in, seemingly oblivious to the grim creatures that stud their exterior.  Deer, you see, are the Pearly Kings and Queens of Exmoor, studded with tiny, shiny humps of pearlescent white and marbled brown - often resembling the branch of Selfridges in Birmingham, so cloaked in blood-sucking ticks they are.  For these arachnid vampires are a very real presence anywhere that large mammals such as red deer, roe deer, dogs and people interact with each other through the medium of long grass: a lesson I have learned well this week.

Exmoor's coast, near Lynton.
A picture of a tick would just gross you out.
Pitching a tent by a river on a flattened plain of trampled long grass seemed a splendid idea at 6pm in the evening, after a long drive along apparently endless hills of 25% gradient and above.  Get the tent up, crack open a beer and sob by the camp fire - that was the plan.  And it worked.  The tent was up in no time, the beer was rivaling the stream at our feet in volume and swiftness of flow, and the exhausted sobbing of amateur campers could be heard in Tiverton.  In fact, the whole time there went reasonably well.  Maritime vistas were photographed and instantly spread by Facebook, steak was consumed in dusty old inns tucked under perilous cliffs and dogs were befriended and sat by the campfire like sentinals.  It wasn't until we had packed our tent and made our way home that we discovered we had stowaways, presumably picked up from the long grass that had become our carpet.

No red deer had been seen at all in the week, so ticks had been of little concern to us; our hubris would have made Macbeth tut and shake his head in worry.  For my part, I had never even seen a tick in the wild, and was of the opinion that ticks only ever happened to 'other people' - people who liked carrying maps in plastic envelopes around their necks and ate Kendal mint cake more than once a year.  They never happened to folk who drank lattes and drove a Fiesta.  Well, they did happen
.  Four separate ticks, all nuzzled in that peculiarly intimate way of theirs into just one individual.  Four tiny little beasts - spiders drawn by toddlers - all eagerly burrowing down to the artesian well of blood that lies beneath the skin.

Cue a brace of days frantically tumble-drying every single item of clothing taken on the trip, at a high heat, for twenty minutes.  Cue panicked research online into the order of symptoms and likeliness of death from Lyme Disease.  Cue endless - limitless and deathly boring - examinations of bare skin every time an itch was felt.  Believe me, the experience was so icky that itches were a constant, dull reminder of the body's ability to freak itself out unnecessarily.  Everything itched.  I'm fairly certain that for a short time, even my pockets were itching.

It's all over now, but I'm painfully aware that should another darling little critter rear its abdomen at any point in the next week, we'll have to go through the whole de-ticking process once more, at which point I will probably just give in to their whims and allow them to turn me into a walking nosebag.

I look forward to September, where I will once again be dishing out the ticks, rather than being a dish for them.

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