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Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 5 – 26 August

And so August is already receding in the rearview mirror of history. The days still feel like late summer, sometimes, but the nights bring the early chill of autumn. Autumn, mind you, is my favourite season: everything seems to snap into focus after the sprawling hazy summer heat, as though God is back from His annual vacation and has adjusted the focus of His celestial microscope to see what we’ve all been up to.

A beautiful day at the beach

Another sign of the change of season is the number of spiders you see around the house. I used to think that they came indoors out of the cold, but apparently they’re cold-blooded, like Jacob Rees-Mogg, and don’t feel it. No, they’re here anyway, and we just see more of them because the males, in that rather mucky way nature has, are trying to attract a mate. I bear spiders no ill will, not even the one that ran across my cheek when I was falling asleep one night aged about 12, something psychologists tend to refer to as a “formative experience”. (Is it just a coincidence that creatures that catch their prey by stealth tend to look downright evil? I mean, you don’t usually see spiders or pilot fish on the front of golden wedding anniversary cards.) No, spiders are welcome to share my house—just not my bed, or my face; plus I really don’t want my obituary to include the words, “laid its eggs in his brain”.

Watching the boats in the harbour

In gansey news I have finished the collar and have started the first sleeve, have reached the end of the pattern band, in fact, so it’s plain knitting all the way to the cuff. It’s a race against time to finish this navy gansey before the nights draw in too far for me to be able to see to knit it properly: another three weeks should finish it, so I should be OK. Then it will be time to work in lighter yarn for a few months, till the sun comes back.

Seeing double

And speaking of spiders, everyone knows the story of how Robert the Bruce, at the lowest point in his fortunes in 1306, defeated and on the run, his brothers captured and killed, his wife a prisoner of Edward I, his army scattered, took refuge in a lonely cave. There he saw a spider try several times to anchor its web, and fail, but eventually it succeeded; and from this he took inspiration to carry on the struggle that would ultimately lead to Bannockburn and victory. Well. It’s a good story, and it has the right kind of truth about it, whether or not it really happened. Hugh McMillan wrote a witty little poem in Scots dialect about it, The Spider’s Legend of Robert the Bruce, which always cheers me up. It’s irreverent (Bruce is described as “a big lug o’ a mon… raggety, right dosser”) but not disrespectful. I won’t infringe copyright by putting it here, but I urge you to follow the link—it’s very short.

And I’ll leave you with this curious fact: did you know that spiders have blue blood? Our blood is red because it contains iron, while spiders’ blood is blue, a useful point to bear in mind next time you run out of ink, because it contains copper. Spiders and the nobility, both defined by their bloodlines. Who knew?

7 comments to Thurso (Donald Thomson): Week 5 – 26 August

  • Bridget

    Hmmmm, Gordon,
    I’m wondering if you have spiders on the brain, (hopefully not IN the brain). In your last article you mentioned Bruce who “armed himself with an enormous spider and marched against the English”.

    Not to be outdone, I just sucked up two ginormous spiders in my cats’ potty room.

    You can keep them if you don’t mind….the spiders, not the cats. 🙂

    • Gordon

      Hi Bridget, living in the country, spiders are rather a fact of life. There’s a terrible 1950s-1960s b-movie about a spider that gets irradiated, and ends up the size of a house. It’s pretty dumb by that stage, but there’s a time when it’s the size of a small dog, and you see people in their home with this thing creeping about in the background, and it gave me nightmares!

      (Your trivia for the day. The movie features an early role for Clint Eastwood as a fighter pilot called in at the end to zap it from the air.)

      So, yeah, that and the Lord of the Rings movie. Giant spiders (*shudder*)

  • =Tamar

    Love the poem.

    I don’t know what color lobster blood is but I think I’ve heard it is also copper-based. An old dialect word for lobsters is “spider”, so maybe someone was more observant than me.

    • Lois

      Lobster blood is clear, but turns blue when exposed to air. So says my husband, who works at a marine research station, and asked one of the scientists.

      Just one of the things that I didn’t really need to know, I shall think of that every time I eat lobster.

  • Elizabeth

    Brilliant poem, thanks for brightening my day, again!

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