IT would appear the current lockdown is not just taking its toll on the human psyche.
Reports from zoos and wildlife parks around the world suggest that animals have been puzzled by the lack of visitors and interaction.
You can imagine how the midges must feel. You awake refreshed and raring for the new season, ready for the tourist smorgasbord that will be descending on your home territory, except … there's suddenly a dearth of dining options.
With the days counting down to a (hopefully) gradual return to the hills, it's worth bearing in mind that there will be billions of the starving little bleeders waiting in ambush. Remember the massive queues when McDonald's re-opened? This will be the insect equivalent – a Big Mac and flies to go. They will be so happy to see you.
Midges are a bit hit and miss, though. A lot depends on what kind of summer we have – hot, dry and sunny is better than warm, cloudy and damp – and the nuisance level can vary wildly from area to area, even different kinds of terrain. We've all had occasions where you have to get dressed on the run, but there are so many days in a typical Scottish summer that could easily pass for winter when even these determined beasties won't venture out.
I reckon I could count my yearly 'midge hell' days on one hand, but when they're bad they are horrendous. The worst in recent memory was on an ascent of Ben Alder where the decision to stop and change soaking socks was quickly proved to be a bad one.
Everyone has their own method of defence. I've found that the Smidge spray works well; it doesn't stop them swarming me but there are few bites. I carry a midge net as an emergency but I have never had to use it. Suspect it would be a different story if camping or bivvying.
Surrounding yourself in a fug of smoke seems to work, but I'm not about to take up the fags at this late stage. A good intake of alcohol the night before has been successful, but not so much that you pass out and lie there in the heather like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Smelly feet are also said to be a turn-off but that applies to virtually every living creature, so if you find yourself constantly walking alone and insect free, it may be a hint to splash out on a pair of odour eaters.
No matter how bad the midge can be, it is a mere irritant compared to the horsefly. Luckily, bad cleg seasons are not that common, and they tend to be in particularly hot and dry conditions that keep the midge at bay.
I hadn't really felt the full wrath of the cleg until I travelled to Knoydart in June 2009 for my Corbetts completion weekend. There was no hint of a problem as we walked in on the Barrisdale Path from Kinloch Hourn and over Ladhar Bheinn to Inverie. The following day was a different story. As we walked along the track towards Beinn na Caillich, I felt a sharp sting in my shoulder. Then another. I thought at first there must be a thorn stuck under my clothes.
The rest of the trek saw us under constant attack. Every couple of minutes, I would hear a yelp or a naughty word from my walking partners. Despite the heat, we put on more layers but the effect was negligible. We were relieved when we awoke next day to duller conditions for the final ascent of Beinn Bhuidhe. I had never been so happy to see midges.
Nine years later, the heatwave summer of 2018, and we were in full flashback mode during the short ascent of Sgurr Choinnich above Loch Arkaig, clouds of clegs attacking relentlessly as we struggled up a deep, heather-clad gully. We went wild swimming afterwards to cool down. Next day I thought I had contracted measles, my entire top half covered in red blotches.
There is another method I haven't yet tried which could be the solution to both these pests. Studies have shown that zebra stripes deter flies and biting insects, the pattern causing confusion and disturbing their ability to land.
You can buy zebra stripe body covers for horses and cattle, and even full face masks, so now I'm on the hunt for a black and white striped onesie. I may even resort to going the whole way and purchasing a pantomime zebra costume to walk with a friend. It certainly wouldn't look out of place on Ben Nevis.
Perhaps that's why there were so many people queuing for the big stores re-opening in London the other day – they were actually walkers waiting to get their hands on zebra accessories. What other reason could there possibly be?