The time had come, we decided, to call in outside agency. Do it, England.
I contacted A and C, who had a nest in their chimney disposed of last year, the denizens of which occasionally dropped into the fireplace, to see if they could recommend someone. A regaled me with a tale of how C had recently stumbled downstairs for a pee in the middle of the night and, in the dark, brushed off something that was tickling his leg, which turned out to be a hornet making its way upwards, perhaps having been resting first on his slipper. They were still shuddering at the what-if scenarios. She went on to recommend a firm the other side of St Brieuc who had cleansed their chimney of its unwanted residents.
So, a phone call later, a strapping and reassuringly calm young chap drew up at our door in a large van with ladders. The destruction of wasps' and hornets' nests used to be done for a small charge by the pompiers, the professional and volunteer firemen who are the unqualified heroes of modern France, not only rescuing people from burning buildings, cutting them out of smashed cars, and maybe even getting stranded cats out of trees (nah, perhaps not that, this isn't the UK...) but also taking people to hospital an performing all manner of emergency medical treatments. However, it would seem that pest control is no longer deemed to be within their remit (unless the intervention requires ascending above a certain height, in which case they still do it but for a steep fee) so you have to get private business in instead. Now quite a lot of the people who do it for a living are apparently ex-pompiers, and this fellow certainly had an air of the firefighter about him, so we felt that we were in good hands.
Yes, he said, that was indeed the nest, where all the hornets had been coming from all the time even though we hadn't noticed before, and no, they would not be dying off naturally for a good month or so, and when they did, all the incubating queens, having hibernated, would be heading back for next year to recolonise, so it really was worth our while to get rid of the nest, and then to get the holes in the wall blocked up. They were so evident now because the nest had reached such a size that they could no longer be discreet about their comings and goings, it seemed. He could deal with it toute de suite, he said, no worries.
And without further ado, despite the chilly weather, he stripped to the waist, donned heavy padded overalls, boots and visor, and scaled our lean-to roof and gable wall, noxious chemicals in hand, as if it were nothing whatsoever.
Well, in fact that is a bit of imaginative licence; I didn't in fact see this, since by then I was hiding in the house, as he warned us that once the insects were 'unwell' with the poison, they would start falling about in a rather dangerous fashion. However, Tom did go out the back and brief me as to the hornet man's attire and actions. Within a short time he was down again, and we ventured out to observe the scene. Hornets were still coming and going, though, he assured us, not for long. It was a big nest, he said, basketball sized, probably, though extending into different chambers in the wall.
'Ca ronronne,' he said - it hums*.
'They don't seem angry,' I remarked.
'No,' he said 'they aren't. With hornets that is rare. Wasps are much worse.'
At this point one of them entangled itself in my hair. I did a small tarantella, with sound effects, in the road until it dropped to the ground, where Tom gallantly trod on it, and we all repaired straightway indoors.
The hornet man had quite a lot of forms to fill in, but I was full of questions. He turned out to be quite an apologist for them, and gratified to find someone who was as much of a hornet nerd as he was. Yes, he said, they are interesting, and when you see a complete nest in a loft space, it is truly beautiful, they work so well... The largest nest he had ever dealt with was a full metre across, under the eaves of a house.
The dreaded Asian hornet, it seems, has found its way into Brittany, and in our department. They have been sighted and caught somewhere east of here, but no nests have been found. 40 % of their diet is honey bees, and they are more aggressive than their European relations, he said, who eat very few bees. I told him of the one A caught decimating bees on her sedum flowers, and speculated that perhaps the reason we have had so few butterflies this year is because the hornets have eaten them. He insisted that they didn't really eat butterflies, only things like flies and spiders and caterpillars...
Ah, said I, but if they eat the caterpillars then there will be no butterflies!
He had to concede that point to me.
Eventually Tom had to tell me to shut up and let the man fill his forms in.
''A la prochaine!' said the young man cheerily as he left.
'I hope not,' I replied 'but if necessary.'
'Oh we do all kinds of things' he went on 'flies, mice, moles, we do moles...'
For someone whose business was killing things, we agreed, he was a very gentle, likeable and thoughtful person, and we were very glad of his services. It still fills me with grateful relief when it turns out that problems don't always have to be endured or solved by ourselves alone, that there are people with the knowledge, equipment and experience to step in and help us out, for pay or otherwise.
Next morning, Tom reflected that it seemed as if there was a kind of silence about the place, which was odd, because he'd never heard the hornets, and all that time we'd been assuming they were Out There In The Woods, they had been discreetly coming and going as our very near neighbours, actually living in the house with us.
'And they never really did us any harm. I feel a little sad.'
This from the man who was swearing violent revenge on the bee-murdering bastards for besieging us in our own home every night for months.
But in the end, we didn't get rid of them it in any spirit of cruelty or spite or arrogance, I don't think, but because they were simply too many, and would have been more so, and we saw the need to redress a balance and preserve our own peace of mind and what we consider, rightly or wrongly, our right to live reasonably free from risk and discomfort. In truth and on the whole, we're pretty relieved.
* But also the word for a cat's purr!