Something is bugging Ruth Wood and it’s very, very hungry...
Puzzles of French property ownership
Even though my mum hung out in Liverpool’s Cavern club in the 1960s she never actually saw the Beatles live.
I’m hoping it stays that way when she joins us in Brittany this summer because I get the feeling our holiday home has a few live beetles of its own. Whether we’re hosting a fab four, a ferocious 400 or a lonely heart’s club one-manband of a beetle, I’m not sure. But let’s just say I have a few woody worries at the moment.
I’m not talking about bogstandard woodworm by the way. You can’t have an old house in rural France and not expect to host the odd petite vrillette as the French call the common furniture beetle anobium punctatum. I guess that’s why new-build French houses have a 10-year guarantee against insectes xylophages (wood-boring insects) and their larvae, and why occasional woodworm treatment is common practice in older houses.
No, I’m talking about something more sinister.
It all began one night in spring. I was just floating off to sleep when I heard a tapping noise coming from behind the plasterboard above my bed. I strained to listen. It was very faint, a series of brisk taps; then silence; then another set of taps a few seconds or minutes later.
In the morning, my husband Jon did some googling and identified the likely culprit – death watch beetle.
Death watch? Yep, some say it is so-named because that eerie tapping sounds like a clock counting down to Doomsday. Evil big cousin to the petite vrillette, the grosse vrillette (or xestobium rufovillosum) is a dark mottled brown beetle, about 5-9mm in length, that taps its head on timber in springtime to attract a mate. The adults are ‘ inoffensifs’ and live for only a few weeks. But their eggs – 60 to 100 – hatch into cream-coloured larvae that burrow galleries into the wood. They have a particular taste for old oak doorframes and floorboards and live for an average of three years and as much as 10. If left unchecked for years, they can eventually compromise the building’s integrity.
Great. So to recap, our house guest was a sex-mad beetle whose babies could eat our house. Not an elf sending morse code. Plus, we had either an historic or existing damp problem since the grosse vrillette only hangs out in wood previously affected by wet rot.
Jon seemed relaxed, but I was conjuring up Harry Potter and the Deathwatch Beetle in which the boy wizard reduces Voldermort’s gîte to rubble with the spell “Xestobium rufovillosum!”
We couldn’t stick our heads in the sand. Ostriches only do that to swallow gravel to help them digest their food whereas we would probably die. So instead we contacted a traitement de bois specialist who’ll be paying us a visit next week. Everything is going to be fine. Touch wood.