I found a spider in the bathroom the other day. It wasn’t actually threatening me—no suggestion that it was about to drop onto my scalp, paralyse me with a quick jab of venom and lay its eggs in my brain—it just perched in a high corner of the shower, waggling its eyestalks at me suggestively in a hi-there-big-boy sort of way. So naturally one of us had to go.
I have something of a phobia towards spiders. It’s not exactly irrational—when I was a child I awoke one night to find one scuttling across my face. Nightmares involving spiders sealing my eyes and mouth with webs swiftly followed. Of course, I know that British house spiders are harmless, they’re more afraid of us and their natural prey is about the size of a pollen grain—I understand all that. But then again, their looks are against them: they do rather resemble something assembled by Satan on one of his days off from bits of twine and matchsticks and leftover evil he found lying around on his workbench.
And it’s not just a question of looks. Take lions, now: they kill creatures for food—cute creatures, too, the kind that appear on greetings cards. And yet there’s a sporting chance when a lion goes after a gazelle that the gazelle might get away; it’s a sort of 200-metre hurdles with the chance of a decent meal instead of a gold medal at the end. (And if you look closely at nature documentaries you can see the lions give a little nod when the prey eludes them, a gesture of respect between equals.)
Not so, spiders: they basically mug their victims in dark alleys, knifing them in the back, then taking their wallets and going off sniggering. If they had any sporting instinct, instead of sneakily weaving webs to trap the unwary, they’d build hang gliders and go after moths and flies in the air. And you never see a spider with its back turned, counting to a hundred under its breath, while its prey runs away and hides, do you? There you are, then: I rest my case.
Meanwhile, one knits. Rather a lot, in fact, so that I might even reach the gussets in the next week. What a great pattern this is: a real classic. (I tell myself it will be big enough when it’s blocked, but the pattern does rather concertina in on itself so that I seem to be knitting the gansey equivalent of a surgical stocking, or a tourniquet.)
As for the spider, of course I didn’t kill it. Most house spiders you see at this time of year are perfectly blameless males looking for a mate; and anyway, every spider you see means up to 2,000 fewer bugs in your house each year. No, I trapped him in a jam jar and released him back to the wild, along with some loose change and a caution not to spend it all on drink.
[By the way, Margaret has eluded the guards again and escaped to America for a month. As a result I’m afraid the quality of photos on the website will take a dive, rather, and I won’t be able to add any images to the Readers’ Gallery. Normal service will be resumed just in time for Halloween…]