La Ferme is located fifty kilometres to the south of Montpellier and twenty to the east of the town of Sete. You’ll know it if you ever go there by the huge grin the white haired man with the half eaten ear gives you as you hand him your camping fee for the night.
That was in May on the way down to Corbières via the coast when we saw a sign in the road:
CAMPING A LA FERME
in wavy childlike writing on the back of a piece of discarded board. We turned in, drove down the track and fell hopelessly in love with it. Geese and ducks wandering freely. Exotic and wild trees shading the site. Herbs growing up among the grass in the camping area. The toilet block resembling a miniature French chateau built out of oak and whitewashed stone.
After chatting with the owner and parting with our money, we were unloading our camping gear when the first one struck. I was grounded in an instant. Writhing around in agony from the sting of a sniper’s bullet. I thought it was a kid firing acorns at me with a catapult from the oak wood next to the site but then I felt another. This time inside my shorts.
I whipped them off and saw a beast fly out. A giant feathery, long legged, blood sucking, big brown beast. And then another and another. They were everywhere. Both of us were being subjected to a gruesome mosquito assault the type I had only ever read about on Yahoo! News. ‘Horse bitten to death by killer mosquitoes.’
But this was unbelievably real. And terrifying. Giant beasties gnawing away at my freshly exfoliated English skin. Years of spending money on moisturiser down the drain as they savaged and ripped it apart. Thousands of them. ‘Where have you come from!’ I shouted waving my arms about. ‘Tran-syl-BLOODY-vania?
No. A marsh around the corner. The entire region being an endless string of lagoons dammed off from the sea centuries ago. And seeing that we had arrived after weeks of heavy rain, wearing shorts and T-shirts, on a hot humid day in May, an hour before sundown. We may as well have walked into an alligator enclosure smeared in fish paste.
I didn’t even have time to unwrap the groundsheet before diving back into the car. Taking off my shirt, I saw in the windscreen mirror the surface of the moon imprinted on my back. Like a pop-up book. Huge welts rising like volcanoes from the surface as though I had been lashed by a belt. I reached for the bottle of rum in the boot. Not for the wounds of course, that would be a waste, simply to numb the intense itching. I took a long slug and noticed we weren’t alone. Like the original Alien film, trapped in a pod with the beast just when we thought we were safe. But in this movie there were seven or eight of them hovering like angels of doom looking for a snack. We jabbed them with our hands. Blood spurting all over the car as we crushed their bloated bodies. A total interior redecoration. Bright red.
They were Greater Marsh mosquitoes I later learned and they had been waiting the entire spring for two dumbass English campers to stroll on by. Showtime! Or not. I rushed outside and tossed the camping gear back in the car. Took another massive pull of rum and sped off back down the farm track and onto the main road. Heading for Corbières and the sanctuary of strong red wine and the mountains. There would be no beach holiday this year.
I mention all of this because I was thinking of it lying in bed last night getting bitten to buggery again. Not by the Greater Marsh. These were the puny, weedy, pathetic Lyon versions. Yet just as maddening. But I was so tired I didn’t even move. If you recall I had this problem last year, in Lyon 41, and lost a lot of sleep chasing mosquitoes around the room all night. This year I’m just going to lie here. They can never win…
…Forward six hours and I’m sitting in my classroom, my head on the register, as tired as a dog. I’ve got a four hour class, then a three hour one, then a phone class, then a long French dinner, then a concert, then a nightclub. I have a one hour break at lunchtime which I’m going to use to buy a box of Mister Doom. A big one. Full strength. Special Brew. There’ll be no mosquitoes in my room tonight.