Neil's News


30 October 2004

For three years I've been waking up in the middle of the night to a mysterious scraping, crunching, ticking sound.  As soon as I get up to investigate, it stops.  Then starts again.  Then disappears for a couple of days.  Then returns.

It seemed to be coming from the area around my writing desk.  The prime suspect was the electric heater.  That got switched off.  Innocent.  Then I suspected a quantity of old batteries might be undergoing some form of chemical degradation.  They were disposed of.  Innocent.  Next was my alarm clock which contains an unusual electro-mechanical mechanism.  I deactivated it.  Innocent.  I pulled up the carpet looking for insects.  Innocent.  I moved from Inverness to Elgin.  The noise followed me.  I started methodically shifting objects out of my room.  Innocent.  At a certain point one starts to seriously consider that it's a hallucination (which are quite common when associated with waking up or falling asleep).  Was I imagining this noise?  I started sleeping with my RDC-7 digital camera under my pillow, but whenever I tried to record the sound it never seemed to pick it up (human ears are very sensitive at night, whereas the RDC-7 didn't benefit from 50 million years of evolution as a tasty snack for nocturnal predators).

Finally I noticed tiny piles of fresh sawdust under my writing desk -- directly under holes in the wood.  Woodworm!  Suddenly the noise made sense, it was several generations of larvae crunching and chewing their way through my desk.  The next question was how to get rid of them before my desk was reduced to kindling and my sanity destroyed due to prolonged sleep depravation.  My first attempt was to spray some WD-40 into their holes.  The can says that it "stops squeaks", though I wasn't sure that would apply in this case.  It didn't.  The second attempt was to use a syringe to inject a single drop of potassium dichromate into the holes.  I have quite a bit of the stuff left over from some holographic experiments a few years back.  The results were quite satisfactory.  The noise is gone.

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