Somewhere in the Bible it is bound to say that it is OK to hate spiders.
Although let’s think about this. They scuttle, they’re hairy, they eat their wives- there’s already a lot for them to deal with.
What justification vindictiveness?
Yet if I Google my brain for spider memories the guilt synapses compete for attention.
There is really only one spider story.
It’s the one about the enormous black shadow on the carpet, illuminated by the televisual rays of a John Hughes film, when you were 12. The sheer shocking size and black hairiness of it, that scared the living daylights out of the whole family. The Benny Hill transference of the beast in a cup and post-card, after it concealed itself behind a chair. Or maybe the drowning or crushing of its threatening presence.
Some people will have a special Black Widow tale, or maybe an encounter with a weird kid who kept tarantulas. Most know never to initiate a chat on the subject in the company of anyone who has lived in a hot country. They’ll rain all over any anecdote you may have, unless you can pull up your trouser leg and draw a gasp from the crowd.
Surprisingly, my salient arachnid moments seem to be joined together by a cobwebby thread of emotion and these are they:
At some age under 10, my father made me a bunk bed out of wood, that had a desk and draws under it. It was magnificent. It was also very close to the ceiling, bringing me closer to the creatures that therein dwell.
One night, traumatised by the sighting of such a fellow, I called for my mother, who seemed unwilling to negotiate the bunk-bed ladder and embuggerance of hastening its swift exit. I proceeded to launch into a full Gwyneth. Two minutes later she was looking it in the eye and grappling with a glass.
Everything seemed to happen very quickly. A distracting squeal (me), a bodged lunge (mother) and an ill-advised side-step (spider) conspired to make the operation a failure.
I had caused a death for the sake of a night’s sleep- a fact that had not escaped my mother, over whom I had exerted my powerful, murderous influence.
In the event, I did not sleep that night or for some nights to come.
This might have had something to do with the nuns at my Convent school, whispering ‘Be sure your sins will find you out’ into my ear as I changed into my gym plimsolls every morning.
Some years later I was listening to Mozart’s requiem in the dorm of my boarding school, while my friends were smoking behind the music wing, when I looked out of the window and caught sight of a large spider on the windowsill.
It was a sunny day and the spider was slap-bang in the middle of it, as if sun-bathing. What a strangely relaxed critter, I thought.
On closer inspection, however, the full horror of its predicament was revealed.
Rather than topping up its tan it was, in fact, being baked alive, its eight legs stuck fast into the drying paint of the recently re-decorated window.
To the strains of classical music, I watched as it heaved its stubby body from side to side within the restricted range of its fixed position, whereupon I embarked on the following thought process:
‘Does it realise what has happened? Is it in pain? Is it panicking? Do spiders feel fear? Do spiders have feet? If I intervene, would it be crueler for it to live the rest of its life with eight feetless legs or for me to kill it straight away, even though it is clearly expressing a will to live?
If only I had thought to juxtapose this episode with my formative spider experience. I may have seen that, where I had once cowardly taken action to cause an unnecessary death, I now had the opportunity to take action bravely, to cause a necessary one.
Instead I lay on my bed and thought morbid thoughts and wondered why I was so prone to bouts of childhood melancholy.
The spider perished, one freed footless leg waving aimlessly in the air, grateful perhaps for the sip of water I had dribbled into its mouth during its dying moments.
I went on to study a joint degree in Philosophy and English Literature at university, dropping the Philosophy just before my tutor lost the will to live.
In my later teens I stayed the night with my student sister, drinking alcohol and trying to talk to boys when actually I was itching to get into the kitchen and do all their nasty washing up.
That night I was awoken by the heavy footsteps of a gigantic dinosaur-spider on the headboard of my bed.
I had, at this point, had time to reflect on my childish behaviour and had developed a humanitarian stance towards the whole spider-removal debate.
Responsibly, I fetched a mug and proudly overcame yawning chasms of all-encompassing terror, to trap the creature in its tea-holding void.
Holding it away from my body in case its captive made any clever moves, I took the Bee Gee mug into the un-lit kitchen and flung its contents out of the back door, despite an uncomfortable awareness of the temptation that an open kitchen door at midnight may provide to any shivery spiders waiting outside.
Imagine my horror when, examining the emptiness of the cup in the moonlight, I discovered the dinosaur-spider still lurking within.
Actually, you don’t have to imagine it and neither did most of Surrey because I screamed convincingly and dramatically flung cup, spider and honorable intentions onto the paved garden.
Thus killing spider with a sharp shard of Robin Gibb, together with the chance to make peace with the Spider kingdom.
Oh God, will I never make amends?
Many years of pedestrian spider encounters passed. No infestations, no escapees from the Creepy Crawly enclosure, no memorable face-offs involving the slippery surface of bath enamel.
Until the honeymoon in Zanzibar.
And a spider so gargantuan, so gob-smackingly, eye-wateringly out-sized it would have toppled John Prescott with the gentle outreach of one casual leg, during nap-time.
Right above the marital bed, thrown into relief by a white mosquito net and stucco walls.
Now, the usual argument for the just eviction of a spider in Spider kingdom court, is that they are out of their element. Whilst one wouldn’t chase them around with implements in the garden, when they introduce themselves into the interior of a home they do so univited.
This the domain of nertured Man. This is where Laurence Llewelyn Bowen unwinds.
Things weren’t quite so cut-and-dried on this occasion, however. This was a beach hut. A very nice beach hut but no carpets or loo-roll dollies- the usual turn-back signs for a spider who has lost his way.
And yet there were so few places for the spider to hide. And no way there was going to be enough oxygen in the room come sunrise, considering the enormous gulps of air the wall-climbing animal must be consuming, competing with my own rabid intakes every time I caught sight of its shadow throwing the room into darkness.
Q: How do you bring yourself to explain to a local man, at one with nature, that you cannot contemplate one of their national treasures sharing your room?
A: Contemplating the national treasure sharing your room.
Once he had finished laughing, our friendly host made his way towards the intruder, armed with some tools of destruction. Which he very much needed.
Because this sucker was going nowhere.
The Terminator of spiders, it refused to die. To the extent that, had the laughing not made me feel ever so slightly stupid, the spectre of 3 adults losing a fight with a furry foe, would have done the job.
Almost a whole can of poisonous spray finally ended its evening.
And a whole heap of shame ended mine.
So we arrive at last week.
Not content with wreaking my own twisted form of spider aggression on the world, I now feel it necessary to involve my innocent child, who has recently taken an uncommon interest in the raven rascals.
In the process of examining exhibit number 23 on the way home from nursery, I decide that it would be educational for Bruno to watch a spider negotiate its web to catch some food. Having little patience to wait for a flying sacrifice it seemed like a rollicking good idea to lob a tiny morsel of my raw carrot instead.
Mother and child then spent an agonising five minutes watching the following scene unfold.
Conscious of the ‘tug’ of food that has landed in its expertly-crafted home an excited spider leaves the comfort of his central position to approach lunch. Smacking his chops in anticipation, he is confused- to say the least- by the bright orange mass he finds on arrival.
Assuming it to be a super-breed of rare fly, bolstered by a balmy European Summer, it attempts to get its jaws around the vegetarian treat, only to be overwhelmed by the denseness of its composition, the indigestibility of its sinews, the sheer weightiness of its corporeality.
Soon, the combined strain of root vegetable and spirited spider begin to deplete the intricate lacing of the web so that by the time the carrot has fallen from its sticky net curtain and the spider is heading back to HQ in a huff, there are missing rungs of the ladder.
Not only exhausted from exertion and ravenous from the unfulfilled promise of a feast, the hapless spider must now desperately struggle for foothold in the house of his own making.
‘Do spiders eat carrots?’ is the question that inevitably drives the stake through my callous, spider-hating heart.
It is, therefore, with a modicum of relief that I can summon this photograph of my lovely friend’s Spider Hoover, which she keeps in Switzerland to deal with her mountain visitors.
Smiley and so very much like a flower, what spider would fail to be charmed into its gentle suction? What spider would resent being lovingly replaced in its own environment amongst the bees and the singing birds?
Certainly not the one I recently helped to re-habilitate- calmly and sensitively and without more than half an hour’s rumination.