Something clamps the skin on my right arm and I look to see: a flattened arrow, ashy coloured and the size of a fingernail, is on my forearm. Reflexively I shove it off. It leaves a swelling globe of blood behind, and I peer at it. “Horsefly,” my wife says.
It’s a hot day. A walk outside the bewitching village of Easton on the Hill on a route we haven’t taken before has taken us along rights of way, into farmland. Within sight of the steeples of the town we live in, the packing of a map for such novel walks is now a regular occurrence: the exploring of ways near home one of the few welcome discoveries of so much time spent closer to it.
This route is clumsy, grasping those dashed green lines rather than landscape logic. Paths through cornfields, along a road and down a field edge. Flies have only been around this last few hundred yards. First a cloud of gnats over each of our four heads, then the horsefly on me. I haven’t been bitten by one before; it hurts, worse than a midge, not as bad as a wasp – probably annoying later, like a mosquito.
A notch-horned cleg fly, probably. This Tabanidae family of blood-sucking flies are a bewilderment of rural christenings: horseflies, dun-flies, clegs, stouts. As with most insect biters, it’s the females who get you, and it’s a queasy process I’ve just enjoyed, as I would learn later. The lower jaw punctures, the upper jaw slices, a salivary gland dumps in an anti-clotting agent and a sucking tube enters the wound. Fast, nasty, fiercely efficient work.
It’s the inflammatory season, the summer: the flies, the sharp foliage, the itches, the sweat, the sun. And, perhaps inevitably, the blood – albeit in that parochial sort of way. We reach the village again through neck-high crop, and three of us are now sporting little wounds: one from flies, another from thorns, and my three-year-old mysteriously bleeding from the leg. Our first worry, depressingly, is barbed wire. I wonder what that says, too. Horsefly blood I can deal with. I hope his isn’t from the barbed wire.