Tag Archive: spider

So what has me thinking about fear this week? 

Is it because a few nights of heavy sleeping have brought on nightmares, in which fear is unconquerable; or that because there are going to be some big changes and challenges in my life over the next year?

I’ve always taken a certain approach toward fear: tackle it head-on.  All those years of kid’s fiction, comic books and video games have taught me something.  Run away from fear and you’ll be running forever, but kick it in the nuts and you’re gold.

It’s not always easy, obviously. 



          a persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it.

If you could talk yourself out of it, you wouldn’t be afraid.  But fear is one of the biggest obstacles to happiness: fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of what people will think of us, fear of failure.  These fears stop us from having new experiences, discovering new places and new parts of ourselves, and worst of all, from trying.

I have never blamed a person for being afraid of anything.  But I lose patience with a person who doesn’t try to master their fear.  Successful or not, that is a respectable thing.  It is the definition of bravery. 

Case in point.  My girlfriend has everything going for her: she is beautiful, brainy, stylish and ambitious.  And yet, if a house spider materialises in the middle of the lounge, she freezes up.  Her fear is literally paralysing. 

Some people aren’t afraid of spiders.  I can’t say I’m entirely comfortable with them myself, but I can snatch one up in a piece of kitchen roll if I have to and wash it down the sink if I have to. 

Nasty murderous giant that I am. 

There’ve been enough studies into why we have this irrational fear of such harmless, tiny things.  I presume most people agree that it’s an evolutionary throwback to when we were apes wandering through the lush forests of our deep past.  Those curious chimps who dared poke a venomous spider may not have survived to breed; those sensible or fortunate enough to stay away passed on some genetic predisposition toward creepy crawlies and this fear allowed the survival of their DNA to present day.

But we’re smarter than chimps (albeit marginally, natch) – so why can’t our rational minds defeat the notion that this spindly thing skittering against the side of the bath is something to be terrified of?

Fair enough, I live in the UK, comfortably far away from black widows, redbacks and camel spiders.  I’ve little to be afraid of (although there are a good dozen species in the UK capable of painful, poisonous bites). 

I can live with the little creatures if I have to, and my relatively shallow fear means that I can tackle them without acts of great bravery.  And yet to my girlfriend, whose fear is close to absolute, successfully capturing and releasing a spidery is supremely brave.   And capture it she did, setting the little blighter free in the driving rain of our front yard.

To her, the spider was two feet wide, with slashing palps and mandibles dripping with toxic venom, its bloated abdomen bristling with hair.  It was capable of leaping onto her face.  It was capable of 0-30 mph in about a second.  And it was most definitely a sadistic, predatory monster that would have taken great joy in sinking its fangs into her vulnerable flesh.

Fighting that takes bravery.  It has prompted me to tackle the fears, and to ask you to tackle yours.

Face them head on, don’t let them have any power over you, and post your success stories (however small) here on this board for your Bravery Points.



Veils, Waterfalls and the Snooty Fox

I travel with my mother to Kirkby Lonsdale by car.  We were to meet my two brothers, my sister and her boyfriend at a holiday house somewhere up in that general area.  This was a send-off of sorts for my eldest brother, who moves for a year at least to Canada this summer, for work.

My younger brother, who has owned and demolished several cars in the short years he has legally been permitted to drive, set off around the same time as my Mother and I.  He has already arrived.  We have more than halfway to go.

Too far north, missing the ideal junction, has put us somewhere near Wetherby.  To need to go west.  These small towns are congested with traffic and the heat is making me sleepy. More than an hour as a passenger in a car and I get restless and irritable.  I had the inbetweenness of travel.  I suppose this is normal.

A quick stop at the biggest garden centre I’ve ever seen.  It’s like a cavern inside.  They sell everything.  Furniture.  Lots of furniture.  Huge plants fill one partitioned area like a shrine to Skull Island.  The weather has given this place a tropical feel.  Mum goes for the ladies.  I have my heart set on the bacon sandwich I saw advertised on a board outside.

The restaurant – this garden centre has a restaurant – closes at 17:00.  I check the clock on my phone.  It’s nearly twenty past five.  Shit.  But maybe there’s a gift shop?

Shelves and shelves of books.  Three for five pounds!  The urge to spend at least an hour here is strong, but I’ve already told Mum off for dithering.  Better not.  Through the gift shop is a café – this garden centre has both a restaurant and a café – and my mouth waters at the prospect of tasty food.  I check the notice.  It closes at 17:30.  I look at my phone.  It’s gone half past.  Shit.

We leave with discount junk including chocolate chicks.  These make us both a little hyper but biting the head off the sweet little thing upset Mum a bit.

I don’t tell her about the Turkish Delight in the carrier bag.  That’s all mine.

More traffic.  A65.  I can taste it.  The fumes.  The fume-laden ‘fresh’ air blowing through the open window.


Then outside Otley, approaching the A-road, and on it, speeding onward.

The scenery: it is beautiful out here.

When I die I want it to be somewhere like this.

*   *   *   *   *

Pink Flower

Blue Flowers

The directions said something about a road veering sharply to one side and a track shooting off to the other.  We are to follow the farm track a short way to the place we are to sleep.

It’s still light even though it’s getting late.  We drive very slowly up the track.  It is two rows of dusty white gravel split by a hump of rough grass.  The gravel is uneven and the hump is tall.  The path is extremely narrow; bracken and fern brush small insects in through the open passenger window.

It takes us a long time to reach the end.  The first thing I see is a cage of chickens.  This can’t be right.  A collie runs out of a barn of corrugated iron, back in again.  We nose the car into the small open space in front of this barn.  There are geese.  These geese are surprisingly huge, waddling with their beaks up and open, side-facing eyes scrutinising us, their thick tongues wagging.

‘This can’t be right,’ one of us says.

We say this a few times before we get there.

*   *   *   *   *

The next morning I sit in an angler’s chair, the sun beating down on me with incredible warmth and brightness.  I have a now-cold tea and 180 pages of Ray Bradbury.  Birds twitter somewhere out of sight, and sheep bleat to each other about a mile away in the up-and-down of the hilly fields.  A fly buzzes a lazy Spirograph above my head, bees – maybe four of them – a basser tone behind me.

A large spider moves in stops and starts along a line of cobbles.  It runs fluidly over and between them, sometimes disappearing for a few seconds and reappearing further along.  The cobbles are arranged in a square surrounding the central picnic table.  The spider follows the corner and moves towards me.  I realise that I couldn’t care less.  The thing could probably crawl up the leg of my jeans and it wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

I sacrificed a tiny lion to the Deep Magic on this table.

That is one big pile o' shit. And my mum.

I’m normally good at hiding my dislike of creepy crawlies.  Spiders I will happily crush between a few layers of kitchen roll if they bother anyone, or – in exceptional circumstances – I can stand to capture them with my bare hands.  I release enough critters out the kitchen window to wonder if they don’t have a club there with a charter planning the eventual raid and conquest of my ground-floor flat.

Bees and wasps bother me.  They strike a chord of deep terror in me that I haven’t yet been able to rationalise away.  I hide this terror well, also.  The first instinct an animal has when hearing the noise of something that terrifies it is to run.  I normally suppress this impulse.  The next instinct is to stand stock still and hope that the thing goes away without touching you.  When faced with a wasp in my bedroom, this is my usual reaction until I pluck up the courage to try to waft it out the window.

Today, sitting in my angler’s chair with cold tea, I don’t even look up at the bees to keep track of them.  Normally I would be predicting their flight paths and calculating whether said paths might intersect my own airspace in the time it would take me to get inside and shut the door.  But the bees don’t upset me, either.

I am completely relaxed.


It is family tradition to have huge English breakfasts every morning when on holiday.  It’s rather healthy, relatively speaking: grilled sausages, bacon with the fat cut away.  Apparently baked beans are rather good for you – if you don’t count the salt and sugars.  This fairly uncommitted information comes from my older brother, a doctor.

The shower that morning was weak but warm enough.  The bath has sloping sides and I felt like I was standing in a large tin bowl or coracle.  Unnervingly, the little window opens up at eye-level onto the small paved area behind the house.  In my own home I can take half an hour under a showerhead; elsewhere I’m finished in minutes.

It has been a lazy morning.  Two of Mum’s friends are spending the night here also.  They arrived as I’m writing up the ‘journal entry’ for the day before in the room I’m sharing with my little brother.

This morning we woke up around the same time.  I stretched, turned to grope for my mobile to check the time, and my brother said “morning”.  I said “uuuuuuuuh”, which he found hilarious.

Politely I greet our guests.  They are visiting from South Shields near Newcastle.  From years ago I remember my last visit to their home by the river: shelves and shelves of books, which I loved even then, including Douglas Adams’ ‘The Meaning of Liff’.  We played a lot of Risk, which I had never played before and haven’t played since for lack of an interested second party.

They did not and still do not own a television.

Then, he was a tall man, dark-haired and mustachioed, with a firm grip and deep, booming laugh that always surprised people he was meeting for the first time.  Today I shake his hand: he does not seem so tall, his hair is finer and shot through with grey, even the ‘tasche.  His handshake is not so overpowering.  He speaks more quietly than I remember.

She was a friend of my mother’s back when they both studied medicine.  Like her husband, she is still recognisable as the same person, however slow illness has shrunken her.  They come with a black wheeled trunk like a children’s travel case that contains a portable dialysis machine; a cardboard box containing plastic packets of fluid, like the kind that hang from IV trees.

They are excellent, excellent company, but would not appreciate my saying that for a moment only I am remindeded of the process of age and ailment that brings us inevitably to death.

*   *   *   *   *

We are staying five or six miles away from Kirkby Lonsdale, the second K of which I am told is mysteriously silent.  Rather than being reminded of starship captains, without the K I am reminded of pink balloons.

We go.  As always happens on family outings, we dither over the decisions, bicker, then go our separate ways.  My sister and her boyfriend take one direction.  We three brothers take another.

The eldest and I take a few moments to decide over hats in a small shop on one of the main roads.  I like an Indiana-style number in brown leather that, remarkably, does not make me look stupid.  It’s forty quid.  He settles for a casual Panama hat for less than a tenner; I buy shorts, which I never usually wear, because I have only brought jeans.  I am never prepared for a heatwave.  The sun is ferociously hot this weekend.

Whenever somebody says to me, ‘the sun is hot today’, I can never resist pointing out to them that the sun, night or day, is always hot.

Years of being indoors hunched over a word processor with barely a window cracked has left me unsuitable for extended exposure to the sun.  The protective cream that is offered to me is factor 30 and I wonder if this is enough.  Then I decide that if coating on a substance that provides thirty times the natural UV protection of my skin is not enough to protect it, then fuck it, I’ll just die.  Cavemen never had Ambre Solaire, and I bet they did just fine.

The youngest of us, barely old enough to total his first car, has become an amateur photographer.  I am jealous of his semi-professional camera, which looks like a machine built purely to purpose.  There is no aesthetic value to a good camera. The shell is designed only to keep the sensitive innards in the right place and to allow a human being to hold it reasonably comfortably.

I point out good things to take pictures of.  The pub signs, animals, mainly tumbling stone walls layered with ivy and colourful flowers, their vines spidering up the adjacent building.

We pass through a churchyard where a wedding is taking place.  The bells are ringing calamitously.  There are many smartly dressed women here.  I wonder what it is about weddings that make girls feel compelled to wear shawls.  On no other occasion would a woman consider wearing a weightless transparent shawl about their shoulders, so flimsy that when it blows away in a light breeze the only indicator is a feathery touch on the cheek of diaphanous material before it’s gone over the nearest flying buttress.

The wide river Lune curves into the town and away again.  Either the water is particularly clear, or the bright, direct rays of the sun are providing a spectacular view of the river bed, its silt, its smooth trails of green weed, the multiple layers of stone, slate and gravel that are different shades of grey beneath a layer of shifting sediment.

A set of uneven steps descend steeply to the riverside, and from there a flimsy-looking wooden bridge stretches over fallen trees, rocks, and damp earth.  I jump up and down on it, probably a little loony from sunstroke, and screech, ‘Look Doct-ah Jones!  It safe!  It safe!’

Thankfully they get the reference.  Not many people get my film references, probably because I pick the less-quoted of them.  There’s nothing more annoying that hearing some idiot shout ‘This … is an ex … parrot!’ and actually expect a laugh.

I am dying for a coke and an ice cream.  We make our way along the riverside, then turn around and go up a second route that weaves between buildings affording a fantastic view of the surrounding hills.  My brother lets me borrow his camera, and I take pictures of things that I find interesting:

Back at the cottage, all I want to do is drink the coke I got from a shop and sleep.  Being outside is tiring and I find myself fatigued.  Company, for me, is equally exhausting.  Groups of more than three or four make me sullen and introspective, as though too much stimulus turns my thoughts inside out.  I become despondent and irritable, I suppose like a child.

I take off my jeans and sit on the bed, fiddle with my phone then read.  By page 50 of ‘Fahrenheit 451’ I feel like crying.

I watch a spider cross the bedroom floor and climb into my upturned shoe.

But I’ll get it later.

*   *   *   *   *

A fallen tree with thousands of 2p pieces pounded into it as part of local tradition