From bed bugs to chess boards — a view from an artist and vermin controller

Artist and vermin specialist Justin Gilday

Bed bugs are on the increase, according to vermin specialist and artist Justin Gilday.

And then he recounts a story that could have come out of a horror film.

Called to a sheltered housing block near Canterbury, he was told that the bed bugs were on the walls in one flat.

Unusual that — as this form of blood sucker, which grows to the size of a match head, rarely attaches itself to vertical surfaces.

“Then I walked into this man’s room — and they were on the walls and the ceiling,” Justin said.

“The floor was moving with them. They were in the grouting in the bathroom, clumps of them, golf ball-size.

“This man had three shirts — one clean; one where you couldn’t see it properly for the blood; and one, half-covered and he was wearing that one.

“I had to condemn every single thing he had in that flat. He was someone with issues who didn’t know how to ask for help. I had to help him deal with that.”

It is partly because of this kind of experience that Justin, owner of Pestatak, has taken to poetry and the art of the silver smith to express his feelings — particularly over human suffering, the planet’s wasting ecology and the neglect of society overall.

This Sunday, 7 April, he will close his four-week window exhibition. ‘choices, choices’ in Whitstable, at ‘The View’, 9 Oxford Street.

Each week, he has set up a different scene. ‘Wonders of it all’ progressed to ‘Upon the Plains’ and then ‘Broken Mistreated’.

The final episode, ‘The Pilgrim’s Tale’, shows an old pilgrim (a single moth) taking his last trip to his ancestral home.

These scenes reflect much of what he has seen through his work dealing with seagulls, rats, mice and other kinds of pest and animal. Many aspects of society’s callousness and the degradation of the earth seriously trouble him.

He noticed something deeply disturbing in the wasp nests of east Kent in 2018. “Wasps are the finest pest controllers there are,” he said. “But we found that in 80 per cent of nests last year the wasps were seriously undernourished.

“So when the finest pest controllers are starving it means that there is nothing to feed on. It means that the insect world is collapsing.”

Inheriting Pestatak from the business his father set up in 1971, Justin trained as a dental technician in Canterbury.

The firm used to be called in regularly by Kent County Council and other local authorities in the days when they ran pest control schemes.

“Now there is no social body controlling pestilence,” said the father-of-two with a shake of the head.

“But it is a social responsibility as important as waste collection.”

He has noticed an increase in rat problems in the last year but does not want to sensationalise it.

What really worries him is finding that there is no help for the lower ends of society. He describes the 17-year old mother-of-two who has got rats and mice.

“Who can she turn to?” Justin asked. He describes some members of the middle classes who are horrified and angry when they find a rat at the bottom of the garden.

And it is, perhaps, this kind of society that inspires his chess board works.

Justin Gilday’s chess board art

His ninth and latest chess board is called ‘Bloody and burnt is their playing field’. The figures include the Tarantula Queen, the Cockroach Rooks, the Hornet Pawns and the Locust Knight.

“Society is being manipulated,” he said. “The chess player doesn’t appear on the board but knows what the outcome will be five moves in advance.”


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