Despite finding that the very best possible thing to do when treating terracotta floors is to call in an expert, my experience with “woodworm” was quite the opposite.
Soon after moving into my newly-restored house, I became aware of some unwanted activity in the new chestnut beams. This was particularly evident when I was alone and quietly wrestling with a knotty translation, when my efforts would inevitably be accompanied by a determined boring sound that sounded not unlike someone pulling their thumb down the teeth of a comb.
Over the years, I applied, or managed to persuade other people to apply, various noxious fluids to the beams, but my little friend (as I had come to think of him) lived to gnaw another day on every occasion.
In the end, thinking my house was imminently about to collapse on my head, I turned in desperation to the Pagine Gialle, which resulted in three “experts” visiting my property. The first one applied a stethoscope to my beam and declared that I had termiti, not woodworm (tarli) and I would be lucky if I escaped without having to tear my ceilings down. As she departed, she told me she would report the situation to the local Public Health Department and I would soon be hearing from them with the next steps.
After waiting in trepidation for a week or so without hearing anything, I called in someone else from the Pagine Gialle, who cheerfully declared that I did not have much of a problem and proceeded to blow out the holes in my beams with compressed air and thoroughly fumigate himself, me and whatever was in my beams.
Unfortunately, this did not have any effect either, so my next step was to call in one of the firms that kills off the beasts in your beams by microwaving them. This turned out, quite literally, to be a case of overkill when the firm in question told me that every beam in the house would have to be treated. The whole operation would take nearly a week and the bill would be over €4000.
As I was disconsolately recounting all this over a cappuccino to my friend Gabila at the bar, she finally took pity on me and marched me back home, pausing only to grab a ladder, a hammer and a chisel. She then spent the next 20 minutes or so finding the small hole in the beam where the animal had entered, guided by the noise it made, and then carefully following the trail it had made, leaving nothing but wood powder in its wake, by stripping away the outermost layer of wood.
Eventually she reached the animal itself and pulled it out of its lair. Face to face with the tiny tormentor for the first time, I was able to identify it as a type of wood boring beetle larva, probably a powder post beetle, before unceremoniously frying it in the microwave.
I am aware that my beams are probably harbouring more wildlife, but no longer feel quite so alarmed now I know what I am dealing with and that they can be winkled one by one when they make their presence known…