Today – and almost any day – is “fly day” in Manly. Spring or Summer brings swarms of flies that would carry off small dogs were they not well tethered. They drive pedestrians to mad semaphoric wavings.
The phrase “bloody flies” is the local equivalent of the American reference to inappropriate maternal affection.
If, as they say, the proof of God’s love for poor people is that he made so many of them, consider then the superior Divine Affection in which the Australian fly must be held.
They return that Regard with a persistence and diligence unknown anywhere else in Creation. We must thank Divine Providence that neither snakes nor elephants have the wings and energy – and above all, the divine blessing – of a fly.
You may ask, of what use is the Aussie Fly? As long as you do not count both houses of the United States Congress, nothing else in this world is as useless.
The fly’s value in Australia is obvious to anyone who has shaken hands with an Australian of either gender.
As people walk along, flies swarm about the face. If not swatted away, they will land on it, often at the tender, moist corner of an eye. The dark ticklish recess of a nasal passage or ear is a favorite spot. They must be kept off.
The reflex is to raise your hand to your face, waving vigorously. Every wave flexes the tendons on the hand, exercises the wrist muscles, improves circulation to the ligaments on the forearm and lubricates the shoulder joint. Do that every thirty seconds and at the end of the day you’ll have a handshake grip that could crack a brass doorknob.
Only that energetic wave, know locally as the Aussie Salute, keeps off the flies. For those who have never visited here, those ridiculous hats with corks hanging around the brim are ridiculous not for how they look but because they are ineffectual.
Chemicals sprays and roll-ons that claim to repel flies are actually a fly pheremone that arouses them to a frenzy that may eventually exhaust them, but only after they have formed groups that square-dance on your skin.
The intriguing question is, for which no one here claims to know the answer, where is the fly-paper? Apparently, in its rush from its original status as depository of England’s outcasts, to its current justifiable claim as home the world’s biggest and best collection of beaches, a major source of excellent computer software and gorgeous movie stars, Australia has whizzed right past a staple product of any hardware and housewares outlet in North America and Europe, the hanging, spiral, sticky-paper fly-catcher.
In six years of regular visits to Oz I have never seen a single one of them. There is a fortune waiting to be made for the person who will import a few shiploads.
Of course, the fly is not limited to Australia. No news footage of an earthquake or civil war in Africa or India is complete without the obligatory shot of a flies crawling across the untwitching face of a child. It’s that un-natural lack of a twitch that we find more disturbing than the tragedy of the child or the fly itself.
Then there are the “two jeans” flies that own the best remote fishing camps in Canada. Unless you wear two layers of denim, you will certainly be bitten right through your single-layer Levis. Bears that ignore angry bees whilst raiding honeycombs are driven into roaring rages by flies.
The only reason flies in America are not so frequently encountered is they have been the subject of the enforcement of laws against terrorism. It is widely agreed that, ever since the Patriot Act, the likelihood of anyone commandeering a fly and ramming it into a building has been sharply reduced.
But back here in Manly, the only peace you will find on a fly-day is in a huge crowd of people, perhaps at a football match or a shrimp barbie. In that situation, the number of flies per person reaches a rough parity. If you are lucky, the density of people may be such that there are fewer than one fly per person.
Of course, that establishes a new, even more annoying problem. People can be even more annoying and persistant than flies.
PS: Do you doubt that the fly is a divine invention? See Mark Twain’s mordant, epistemological essay, The Fly.