It has probably been obvious as the Year of the Fly has progressed, that I would soon be needing professional help. At first I pretended that there was nothing wrong with spending long hours immersed in the study of trivial minutiae, with obsessive poring over arcane, out-of-print texts. There were unexplained parcels surreptitiously stowed away in my private den and late nights of taxonomic frustration before restless sleep and an early rising to continue the self-imposed flagellation. Eventually I could see that the trend was towards an unhealthy set of solitary, even anti-social behaviours, with daily communication with non-initiates becoming increasingly awkward, even incomprehensible.
Eventually, I booked myself onto a week-long retreat where I would have the chance to meet some fellow-suffers and, with their support, begin the healing process. I was nervous at first, not knowing most of the other attendees, except by repute, and I worried about what form the treatment might take and how distressing it might be. It was probably against the rules, but once I had unpacked my things I couldn’t resist a quick pre-dinner wander with my net up into the wooded hills that loomed over our isolation wing. A few last flies couldn’t hurt. Amongst the illicit treasures were some tiny, unfamiliar acalypterates with spotted wings, no vibrissae, no preapical dorsals on the mid-tibiae, a complete subcosta without a right angled bend – Opomyzidae. Really it was shame to be giving up this altogether innocent pastime when it was becoming so easy.
At our first communal meal there was the usual awkwardness of finding out everyone’s name and teasing out the particular nature of their affliction. Each heart-breaking story seemed to begin with a childhood enthusiasm gone wrong, though for some there was a long relapse with the symptoms not surfacing again properly until retirement. Whatever the trajectory, the disease had now overwhelmed all resistance and brought each participant to their present crisis.
Or so I thought. After dinner the group hurried off to a laboratory generously supplied with microscopes and unashamedly succumbed to their weakness, exchanging specimens and exclaiming over particular beauties, Latin names crowding out English words. Instead of self-reflection, small-group workshops and the sharing of experiences, the evening degenerated into excited and shameless planning of how they could indulge in their obsession for the rest of the week. Some of them, it transpired, had been attending this same kind of retreat every year for decades now, and instead of hoping to effect a cure, were joyously resigned to their fate. I may have misunderstood the purpose of the Dipterists Forum.