There aren’t many rules to abide by in my house—I reckon there are enough rules already in the world to deal with so I like to keep those at home to a minimum. Apart from those two listed on the right (which should be obvious anyway) there are only a couple of others which I do at least try to enforce:
- No unnecessary barking. (You may bark if there is actually something to bark at—like letting me know a visitor is at the front door, or there’s an intruder at the back door, or to warn me about a big dog sneaking up on us when we are out walking (but then you must stop when I tell you to). You may not bark just because the dog next door is barking and you feel like joining in, or if you hear a car door slam three blocks away, or the neighbours cat is sitting in his own front yard across the road, or even just because it seems like a good idea at the time. No.)
- No ‘lollies’ (i.e. dog treats) in, on, or anywhere near my bed. (Yeah, right. I have been fighting that losing battle for years.)
- No fighting over food. (Well—no fighting at all really but especially not over food. There is enough dog food in this house to sink a battleship. Any arguing over food will result in it ALL yummies being taken away until table manners are completely restored.)
- No spiders in the house.
(Nothing else to add here. I think that statement speaks for itself.)
Three out of four of these House Rules are broken on a semi-regular basis (two of them just this morning before I left for work—sigh), but the breaking of Rule Number 4 really upsets me. I do not like spiders in the house. I’ll say that again—I do not like spiders, at all, ever, under any circumstances, in the house. And that applies even more to humumgus ‘Aragog‘ type spiders. Now I know that Dave Barry was not talking about Australian spiders when he wrote the above, but, I assure you the quote is appropriate. For those of my overseas friends who have never lived in nor visited Australia—all those stories you hear about huge hairy arachnids large enough to carry away babies and small dogs—absolutely true.
Now, I’m not totally ignorant of the good that spiders do. Spiders eat lots of other insects (even other spiders—yay) and without them whole crops might be decimated and consumed by pests. Research suggests that chemicals harvested from spider venom may actually hold the key to alleviating chronic pain. If science can manage to find a way to make artificial spider silk, which has proved to be the strongest natural material (“tougher than Kevlar and stronger than steel”) it could be used to make everything from artificial tendons to bulletproof vests. And that’s all good. Great. I am happy for all the good that spiders do—they just don’t have to do all that good from the comfort of my home.
I could not swear to when my real fear and dislike of spiders started (although eight hairy legs, eight eyes each and the tendency to scuttle really quickly up your leg when you are not looking is possibly reason enough) but I can make a pretty good guess at it. I vividly remember a day at school when I was about 10 years old and a boy who, we were told, had been bitten by a spider, was paraded into each and every classroom in the school to show us ‘what happens when you mess about with spiders’. I can still ‘see’ the raw weeping sores on his chubby little legs. Now it may not even be true that he was bitten by a spider at all (it could have been any number of other creepy crawlies that Australia is famous for) but that doesn’t matter. That image stuck. Spiders were bad. Spiders were dangerous. Apart from the poor wee boy himself, I am sure I was not the only student traumatised and having spider nightmares from that day forth.
(Before I go on you will note that there are no real photos of spiders in this article. I did attempt to find some relevant images but all that did was give me a severe attack of the screaming heebie-jeebies and ensure that I am going to be seeing spiders in every nook and cranny for at least the next week. So instead I have put in links to pictures of the the spiders I mention, which you can go and look at for yourself if you really feel you must. Oh and just a heads-up—never, ever google the words ‘spider-puppies’ in an effort to find a cute picture of a dog dressed in a Halloween costume. You will instead be confronted with a whole page of pictures of spiders as big as puppies—images now indelibly burned on my retina for all time. I am never going to be able to un-see them ever again. Shudder.)
Most Australian children learn very early on to give spiders a wide berth. I never really got the hang of which ones were poisonous and which ones weren’t, and I still can’t really tell any of them apart. Well—that’s not quite true. I could tell you it was a Redback Spider if I saw one, ‘cos ‘red-back’ kind of gives it away (although I have just found out that a ‘similar species’ to the Redback is called the ‘Cupboard Spider’. OMG—that is not going to freak me out much next time I open my wardrobe door.)
Oh, and the Huntsman because everyone knows what a Huntsman looks like. They are very worst rule breakers of the spider world and live in every house in Australia. Even if you have never actually seen one in your house there really is one there, living the Life of Riley behind the curtains, or in the linen cupboard, or under the sink, or in your favourite shoe. Guaranteed. Huntsman spiders are not poisonous. They can, however, almost scare you to death, much to the amusement of other family members not in the immediate vicinity.
To illustrate, I’m going to do a Max Bygraves here—’I wanna tell you a story”. . .
When I was a kid, our house, like every other in the neighbourhood, had an old metal postbox nailed onto the front fence and I always checked this box when I came home from school. One day I gathered up the mail as usual, flipped a letter over to see who it was from—only to find a huge huntsman spider clinging desperately to the back of the letter. Mum, hearing the shriek (from me, not the spider—although you never know . . . ) came running out of the house to find letters fluttering gently down around the yard and a dust cloud forming in the general direction of where I had headed. When he heard the story Dad laughed until he cried (and tormented me mercilessly about it too I remember)—until the same thing happened to him a couple of weeks later (my sisters and I having resolutely refused to bring in the mail ever again). It wasn’t quite so funny then. Dad went out and emptied a can of Mortein into the letterbox (while standing as far back from it as his ego would allow). On asking whether the spider was dead now he replied ‘Not yet, but I can hear him coughing’.
Now my Auntie Norma always told us that you if kill a spider you really need to look around for his partner, because they always travel in twos and the one you don’t see is the one you really have to worry about. (And people wonder why spiders freak me out—to this day I still do a quick check around the house for the ‘other’ one.)
Anyway, after the demise of the letterbox spider his best mate (let’s call him Bob) decided to move into our house to avenge his pal. Bob had been spotted briefly once or twice high on my bedroom wall (why my wall? Dad was the one who killed his friend . . . ) but vanished just as quickly. I was sure Bob had taken up residence behind one of the posters on my wall. That was kinda sorta okay with me—as long as he stayed behind the poster (out of sight, out of mind) but he started to get a bit full of himself and poked his hairy legs out from behind the poster once too often (and OMG was he growing too big to stay completely hidden?) It was too much. Tears and tantrums and ‘I’m never going to sleep in here again’ finally wore Dad down and he promised to get ‘rid of’ Bob for good (as long as the dog came with him).
I remember watching (from the safety of my position standing on the bed) as the dog danced excitedly around the room and Dad valiantly wielded the broom about trying to knock Bob down. Bob was having none of it. He ducked and weaved, and zigged and zagged and, then, when it looked like Dad might finally be getting the upper hand, Bob turned and ran down the broomstick handle. I remember the broomstick hitting the floor and the door slamming behind Dad as he, and the dog, vanished as if by magic, leaving a very irate Bob alone in the room with me. My heroes.
I have absolutely no memory at all of what happened next (it is a well known fact that the brain will block this kind of trauma out) but I am pretty sure it was probably Mum who eventually saved the day.
Well, I am not a kid any more and it is a long time since I have run screaming from the room after just spotting a spider (well—there was that time last week, but he totally took me by surprise) and I am willing to admit that other people don’t experience the same horror of spiders that I do. In fact, many cultures believe spiders to be incredibly lucky and therefore it is very bad luck to kill one. That’s okay. I can still rarely get close enough to them to actually kill them myself anyway and have to get someone else to do it for me, so reckon I am covered there. As to the other ‘lucky spider’ superstitions I have read about—I’ve listed a few of them below for you—make of them what you will!
For myself I don’t think there is anything convincing enough there to tempt me into a re-write of Rule Number Four just yet . . .