Dabbler Diary – Giant spiders

What’s the earliest age it is possible to develop a phobia? I ask because my younger daughter E, who is seventeen months old, has taken to seeing spiders everywhere. She will be playing happily enough when, suddenly spying some bit of fluff or black smudge on the floor, she will squeak ‘Pider!’ and leap into the nearest available pair of arms. When she’s really in the zone it’s fifty Piders a minute. Pider! Pider! Pider! Piders under the table, Piders on the stairs. When lowering her into the bath she will curl up her legs like a refusenik cat, imagining Piders in the water. It is becoming tiresome. Yet at other times she satirises her own obsession, pointing at everything – chairs, teddies, parents – and saying ‘Pider’ while cackling with laughter. And a few days ago she picked up an ant and nonchalantly popped it into her mouth.

I see a lot of myself in E, more so than in C, who is like her mother. My own arachnophobia is significant but I have learnt to live with it as just another irritating background feature of life. Tarantulas are frequent guest stars in my dreams, as are zombies and Noseybonks, but even my recurring nightmares don’t really frighten me any more – they’re more like a wearying chore.  Oh well, here come the flesh eating zombies plodding up the stairs, suppose I ought to run away then, sigh. That said, the other night I dreamt that E and I were wedged into a triangular space in the corner of an attic, and when the monstrous spider that lurked in the beam overhead came scuttling towards us the surge of icy adrenaline that went through my spine was so severe that I woke instantly, gasping.

***

Despite the above I am the least arachnophobic adult in the house, and as such the spider-removing duties fall to me. For this I have developed a couple of psychological tricks, which I hereby pass on free of charge.

Arachnophobia tip 1: when using the pint-glass-and-piece-of-card method of removal, it helps to unfocus your eyes a bit, so that the unspeakable hideousness of the spider’s anatomy becomes a relatively benign black blur. (Naturally the pint glass method only applies to middle-sized house spiders. Anything bigger than the diameter of a pint glass is obviously out of the question and should be destroyed with a nearby object, preferably one with a long handle. Very small spiders, meanwhile, are for some reason ‘not worth’ sparing and can be similarly killed, e.g. by stamping. We live in a cruel, illogical world.)

Arachnophobia tip 2: spiders are evil creatures from hell, but fortunately they are quite small. ‘Small’ is of course a relative term – a hairy arachnid the size of your face does not seem ‘small’ when it appears in the sink one bleary morning.  But you can turn relativity to your advantage with this ingenious self-deceptive trick which I invented some years ago and which is always appreciated when I pass it on to fellow arachnophobes. When confronted with a ‘big’ spider, you must imagine that it was once impossibly huge – a gargantuan slobbering Shelob, the size of a tractor – but that a wizard has cast a shrinking spell on it to reduce it to its current dimensions. Seen that way, even a real biggie loses much of its horror. At least until it starts scuttling towards you.

***

In this diary on 2 March I suggested that, come election day, a great many people “might toddle along to the voting booth and put a cross in the UKIP box” as a specific protest about the scale of Eastern European immigration.  And on 2 May that’s exactly what they did. UKIP came from nowhere to second in my ward, a traditional Labour stronghold.

For myself, I am pro-immigration, primarily because we must import young workers to fund our ageing population. But immigration should be a steady trickle, spread as evenly as possible across the country to allow for painless absorption. Instead, what we have had is a flash flood, like when a month’s worth of rain was dumped in one night earlier this year and the infrastructure couldn’t cope. News reports tend to talk about immigration stats in national terms, but these are only obliquely relevant because the practical effects are very local – i.e. flash flood immigrants live together. In my ward three Polski Skleps have opened within a hundred yards of each other. The doctor’s surgery has signs in Polish and English and, as anyone who has tried to make an appointment there will know, the local public services have been put under unreasonable strain. The UKIP vote was a “That’s enough for now”, not, I fancy, a wish that Bristol St George West secede from the European Union.

***

But on the subject of exiting the EU, has anybody seen a single argument advanced by a British pro-European that isn’t based on economic scare tactics? I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising since, as a ‘democratic’ institution, the EU is indefensible. Call-me-Dave’s fear of UKIP means that he’ll be fighting the next election on the centre-ground but with the promise of an EU referendum. I reckon this formula could see him, against all odds, squeak to a minority Tory government. It almost never happens that a government increases its share of the vote at an election, which the Tories must do to win, but these are strange times and in Ed Miliband he couldn’t wish for a less Prime Ministerial opponent. I have no idea how Cameron would deal with the referendum he would then be presiding over, given that he’ll presumably be arguing for staying in. Politics was so dull under Blair and Brown, but we’re heading for interesting times.

***

So Sir Alex Ferguson has retired, and in doing so has severed the last link between the current professional game and the football that was my innocent passion and joy as a schoolboy. He is a Celtic Giant and the managerial landscape looks featureless in his absence. How I hated him and his numerous brilliant Manchester United teams – particularly the Roy Keane-led skinhead manifestation that invented choreographed referee-intimidation. In the end though my feelings toward Ferguson are of respect and sympathy. Respect for his achievements, and sympathy because in football no achievement is ever enough. He wanted to ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’, which he did when Man Utd surpassed their record of 18 league titles. But then what happened? Football just carried on, is what. It is a race without a finishing line, there is always another season hurtling along as soon as the last one is ended. There can never be a moment when you say ‘Now we’ve done it, we’ve Won Football once and for all!” Which is why he took so long to retire, poor old bastard. Such is my theory, but at any rate, one thing we can say for absolutely certain about Sir Alex Ferguson is that nobody in the history of football has ever chewed gum more disagreeably.

***

Talking of old bastards, the new David Bowie album is a treat. Having heard the single Where are we now? I was expecting a croaky, meandering meditation on old age and death. Far from it, the single is anomalous and The Next Day is full of huge, hammering tunes and rocks like a mutha. A glorious surprise, do check it out.

***

As I said earlier, I see a lot of myself in E. Her arachnophobia seemed to start on Bank Holiday Monday, when we put her on the grass in the back garden and she became spooked by the crawlies therein (she hasn’t had much practice in the garden, bless her: of her 500-odd days on the planet, approximately three have been sunny). I’ve never been entirely comfortable with grass, especially long grass. Peripheral horror of the hidden stickies and creepers and biters and dog turds. I grew up on the coast, give me shingle, sand dune, slabs of granite. I’d rather stretch lizardlike on a rock than loll in a meadow. Boiling hot tarmac is the smell of summer for me.

Besides, grass isn’t natural. It’s an effete affectation, probably imported from France. The real Britain – before the bronze age and before the stone age – had no grass and was made of bare rock, thistles and dead mollusc shells. In those days Celtic Giants bestrode the country, pounding up and down in herds from the North Sea to the Welsh mountains. They were called things like Benandonner na bhFomhóraigh, or Gog, and they patrolled the edges of the tangled black forests of Ancient Mercia, and whenever one of the huge, Shelob-like spiders dared to venture out into the light they would splatter it with a big crude club.

Dabbler Diary is brought to you by Glengoyne single malt whisky – the Dabbler’s choice.
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About Author Profile: Brit

'Brit' is the blogging name of Andrew Nixon, a writer and publisher who lives in Bristol. He is the editor and co-founder of The Dabbler.

12 thoughts on “Dabbler Diary – Giant spiders

  1. wormstir@gmail.com'
    May 13, 2013 at 08:07

    I am thankful for not living in the colonies, where having your day invaded by an enormous gorilla-sized spider is par for the course.

    My favourite stories as a child were not Roald Dahl but those Celtic giant tales like Finn McCool, I liked the way that they tried to explain the landscape through stories

  2. zmkc@ymail.com'
    May 13, 2013 at 12:54

    A good way to deal with spiders is to use one of the tube bits on the vacuum cleaner to suck them up. I might branch out into household tips full time one of these days.

    • Worm
      May 13, 2013 at 13:13

      as an australian though Z, you will surely be acquainted with those particularly rude huntsman spiders that seem to be too big to go down, and their legs wave around for a bit out of the top of the vacuum like something from Aliens

  3. joerees08@gmail.com'
    Joey Joe Joe Jr.
    May 13, 2013 at 18:24

    I used to scoff at arachnophobics. After all, we don’t live in the Australian bush, or jungles of Africa; our spiders are perfectly harmless. Not only aren’t they venomous, but they don’t bite or sting, which other bugs will happily do, even in Blighty (spheksophobia is perfectly respectable, wasps being Evil and people who can ignore a wasp in the vicinity without flapping at all are, I suspect, slightly sociopathic.) Then a friend gave me a statistic, probably made up thinking about it, on the number of tropical spiders owned as pets, and suggested that these sometimes will escape. Since then, every spider I can’t immediately recognise is definitely a black widow, and has me standing on the furniture like the lady in the Tom and Jerry cartoons.

  4. george.jansen55@gmail.com'
    George
    May 13, 2013 at 18:45

    About 45 years ago, a brown recluse spider bit a boy who lived somewhere in the Midwest. The boy had a life-threatening reaction to the bite, and the hospital treating him went to great lengths to get anti-venom; I believe that the US Air Force may have flown it to the city.

    Not long after that, my father interviewed with a company in Arizona. Did the city, he asked, have problems with brown recluses or black widows? “Oh, no. The scorpions eat them all.”

    A next-door neighbor in Colorado had been bitten by a black widow. The spider had apparently spent the winter resting in stored safety vest. When Eddie put in on for his first day of summer work, the spider woke from its hibernation and bit him. He was in the hospital for a couple of days. I gather that the first symptom is intense nausea.

  5. andrewnixon@blueyonder.co.uk'
    May 13, 2013 at 21:57

    These spider comments are giving me intense nausea, funnily enough.

  6. youandpi@aol.com'
    Michael Smith
    May 13, 2013 at 22:21

    Boiling hot tarmac is summer for me too: watching ants struggling to escape the black doom, like so many tiny mastodons in a tar pit. I’m led to believe by reliable sources that in sufficiently bright weather you can set fire to them with a magnifying glass; probably works on spiders too.

  7. alasguinns@me.com'
    Jeff Guinn
    May 13, 2013 at 23:44

    Funny how when feminists are whingeing about the unfair distribution of housework, they never mention the shifting or squishing of spiders.

    • wormstir@gmail.com'
      May 14, 2013 at 06:30

      In our household it’s definitely my wife who does spider duty as she’s not afraid of them at all and has no problem scooping them up in her hands. This is balanced by her terror of tiny little moths

  8. tobyash@hotmail.com'
    Toby
    May 14, 2013 at 09:31

    I used to play party trick where I would surreptitiously pop a spider in my mouth, start talking to someone and watch their horror as it dashed for freedom out of my mouth mid-sentence. So, when are we going to have a Dabbler get-together…??

    • Brit
      May 14, 2013 at 13:58

      Dear me. Did you take a spider with you to parties for just that purpose?

      • tobyash@hotmail.com'
        Toby
        May 14, 2013 at 15:27

        It’s always best to find one at the party Brit. They have so much more va va voom than one that’s been stuffed in a matchbox. Daddy long legs make an excellent alternative when one fancies a bit of a change.

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