… but here’s a blog. Sort of. It’s actually just a ‘focussed freewrite’ from the prompt Phobia I started as an example for my writing group, but it ended up being a bit longer than anticipated. So here it is. Warts and all:
When I was very small I had no fear of spiders. In fact, I seem to remember quite liking them. There was an old water trough in the playground of my primary school and when I wasn’t rolling marbles around in it I would sometimes race spiders in the bottom. I have vivid memories both of watching the races and collecting the participants from various hidey-holes around the school. I also recall collecting spiders and their cobwebs in traps I made from privet branches I would pull off the bushes around my front garden. I would strip the leaves from the branch and then bend it in a loop to form an oval. You could place this loop under a web and then lift the whole thing, including the spider who had woven it, free. I think this game was mostly played in autumn, because the webs were easier to find and more prolific on cold mornings and the frost trapped on the silk painted pictures with them.
Whatever my feelings regarding spiders, my brother Robert – four years my senior and the bane of my life – was terrified of them, so from time to time when he had really upset me I would go on the hunt and round up half a dozen or so of the ugly little buggers and pop them in his bed. This may seem mean, but by comparison it was small tatas – Robert would climb into my bed while I was sleeping and piss up my back rather than get up and go to the toilet.
I never felt him climbing into my bed, but would wake, wet and wild, as he climbed out and scrambled back into his own bed. I would scream and rage and he would pretend to wake up as my mum came into the room to tell me off and strip my soiled bedding away. I would spend the rest of the night sleeping on a cold, damp rubber sheet burning with anger and shame because no matter how much I protested my mum would never take my word for it about what was really happening. When she left the room Robert would sit up in bed and poke his tongue out or stick his fingers up at me.
I lived with this for years, until my sister moved out and I finally got my own room. Nobody seemed to notice that my bedwetting was miraculously cured overnight simply by the change of room, nor that Robert, who was still too lazy to walk downstairs to the loo, had taken to carrying a hot water bottle to bed with him, and that said hot water bottle always seemed fuller in the morning than it did the previous night.
But I digress: back to spiders.
At some point my Brother’s fear of spiders transferred itself onto me. I think I was about ten or eleven, but by the time I reached my mid-teens this had become a real phobia, and if one happened into the room I was occupying I would do the standing-on-a-chair-screaming thing like the little old black lady in the MGM cartoons trying to distance herself from Jerry the Mouse. I didn’t scream for Thaaaamaaasss, of course, because he wasn’t real, but I did scream for my mum, whose job it was to suck them up in the Hoover while her brave little soldiers cringed in the corner.
When I was eighteen I got my first flat, which I shared with my then girlfriend. She was terrified of spiders too, and the general consensus was that I should ‘man up’ and learn how to deal with them. My answer was to set the cat on them. Poo Cat, our cat, and her daughter Stink Kitten (Poo Cat had a bit of a wind problem, which is how she got her name. Stink Kitten just seemed an appropriate name for her offspring, despite the fact that she was less prone to gastric disturbances), were both rather partial to a nice bit o’ spider, so it was just a matter of batting the offending arachnid onto the carpet with a rolled up newspaper and pointing one of the cats in the right direction.
One evening, when Poo and Stink were both out on the tiles, my girlfriend spotted a huge bastard clinging to the wall of our living room. ‘Go and get the Hoover,’ I whispered.
‘Actually,’ said the girlfriend, ‘one of the girls at work gave me a tip… If you spray them with hairspray they set, and then you can just pick them up in a tissue and drop ‘em down the loo.’
This, thinking about it, seemed a good plan, and also alleviated the fear – never far from mind – that they would start breeding in the Hoover bag and emerge mob-handed and eight-legged one night to seek their revenge. Remember, this was the late seventies, when big hair was all the rage: hairspray then was something like a cross between concrete and superglue, and the flimsy limbs of your average spider would, you would imagine, have stood no chance.
Standing on a chair I blasted the bastard with about half a can of Silvikrin Max Hold. He started to make a dash for it, but sure enough within seconds he appeared frozen to the spot. I waited another three hours, just to be on the safe side, but when he hadn’t moved by bedtime I thought I had him on the rails. Picking up a tissue from the box on the coffee table I climbed back on the chair, and pinching said tissue betwixt finger and thumb I grasped the bugger around his hideously hairy fat abdomen.
VOOOM! Off he went like a clockwork mouse, scampering away between my fingers in a bid to reach the ceiling and safety. I would like to claim that I kept my cool and held on, but I can’t. What I did do was flail my hands in the air while screaming like Fay Wray when confronted by King Kong. I flew backwards, falling off of the chair and landing on the coffee table, which splintered beneath me. Spiders 1 – Humans 0.
Years later I had my son, Ben. I was determined that Ben should not acquire my phobia (phobias are learned from our ‘significant adults’, psychologists advise), so I spent the next couple of years undergoing self-motivated aversion therapy in order to build up my tolerance for spiders. By the time Ben was three I was able to suppress my fear and project, while inwardly cringing, an air of confidence that allowed me to pick them up in my palm and stroke them, all the while reassuring Ben that they ‘tickled’ delightfully and were our friends because they kill all kinds of naughty bugs like flies and midges that we don’t want around. Ben was never entirely convinced and couldn’t actually bring himself to touch them, but he was comfortable enough to share house space with them, an attitude I fostered and encouraged despite my own reservations.
Then Ben went to primary school, and within a week all of my good work was undone by a phobic teacher and the general prejudice towards all things creepy and crawly displayed by the vast majority of his tiddly peers.
An interesting side note to the above concerns that CBBC favourite, Peppa Pig, and an episode where Peppa befriended a spider and encouraged watching children to do the same. This episode was banned in Australia, where insects generally but spiders in particular are often capable of killing an ox with a sideways glance, let alone a full-on bite. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – context is everything.
I may not live in Australia (thank God!), but given the scaremongering about False Widows and invasive species I tend to err on the side of caution these days and take a shoe to anything smaller than a mouse that crawls across my living room floor. I also keep a large can of hairspray on standby, just in case…