AA COUPLE of years ago, after spotting a giant spider marching purposefully across my kitchen floor, I had to confess in this column to a paralysing fit of arachnophobia, hoping, I suppose, that someone would come round with an AK-47 and blitz the eight legged alien that had somehow escaped from under an overturned cast iron pot I had thrown round it in a panic. But I got very little sympathy indeed from my fan base – if that’s what I can call you.
Most of you were too focussed on the threat of water charges at the time to be bothered about the baby elephant in my room. I hadn’t much to worry me, I was told.
Afterwards, people told me I was in delirium tremens, when I reported seeing pink tarantulas running up the walls as well.
But now, just when I am coming to terms with my fears - which by the way have more to do with the nightmare of being enmeshed in a huge cobweb than with the consequences of a bite from a false widow - the whole country is suddenly on spider alert. You’ll say I’m very contrary altogether, but this time I’m on the side of the spider. I’m always on the side of the downtrodden, am I not? I don’t want to see spiders wiped out in a fit of undue hysteria, because they do a lot of good, like eating tons of nastier bugs, and I certainly don’t want to make them aggressive by waging war on them.
The thing is I’m worried that the anti-arachnid frenzy whipped up by the media in recent days might have the potential to upset the whole eco-system, and if that happens, we’ll never see a dry day again, not to talk of a spider. To kill a spider, according to folklore is to invite bad weather, and if that’s the case, I wouldn’t want to be around when we’ve obliterated the species out of pure squeamishness. But then, I don’t see Eamon Ryan rushing to their defence ether. And while I’m not exactly going to open a spider sanctuary myself, I do think it’s time we copped ourselves on and stopped acting as if we were being invaded again. And stop screaming, for God’s sake, or you’ll make them really aggressive.
I know there are more spiders on the march this autumn than ever before, and I’m also well aware that among them is the infamous false widow, a bite from which could, reportedly, leave you without an arm or a leg.
Even as I write, reported sightings of the widow are multiplying; hysteria is setting in and we’re all on edge. There is even talk of a fleet of widows sailing in from the Canary Islands on banana boats and while this is a bit scary alright, there really is no need for such widespread panic. It’s too late now, but I do think that we’d have been better off if we had continued growing our own fruit and vegetables and given the EU and its spider laden cargoes as wide a berth as possible.
But there is nothing new about the spider season. There were a lot of spiders around too when I was young, probably because we didn’t have vacuum cleaners – in my house anyway. Every time I looked in the bath at this time of year, there was a spider sitting there, waiting for a mate to stroll by, apparently. I wasn’t afraid of them then – although I did find their silence a bit unnerving - but no-one had arachnophobia back then, and even if they had they certainly wouldn’t admit to it.
Come to think of it, I don’t think we had any phobias, apart from peniaphobia, a fear of poverty, but then we were living in De Valera’s dreary Eden, and the threat of poverty was much more pressing than the possibility of being bitten by a spider. In fact cobwebs were a source of wonder and fascination to us and while we didn’t like the little web processors a lot, we certainly didn’t scream every time one scuttled across our line of vision. Our mantra was: ‘if you want to live and thrive, Let the spider run alive’.
I really don’t know how I developed arachnophobia in later life. Maybe the creatures just mutated and got a lot bigger and bolder and hairier too. Maybe, a bit like ourselves, they mixed with the invaders and produced a super race. Or maybe it was because I once saw how they made their webs and decided that they were much smarter and better equipped than we were, and they might well be planning to take over. Then again, maybe I just lost my nerve.
How I overcame it, is also a mystery to me. I still dive under the duvet and listen to my heart pounding when a spider runs across the ceiling, and my only prayer is that he won’t lose his footing and fall on top of me. But I can meet one face to face, fearlessly. I don’t know what I’d do though, if he challenged me.
Meanwhile, despite the lurid headlines, there’s really no need for spider panic. If there was, the Government would surely be issuing a box of horse chestnuts to every household - the one sure remedy guaranteed to keep every type of spider at bay.