Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 8 Legs of Christmas


It was the night before Christmas and all through the house nothing was stirring except the blood curdling scream of my oldest daughter encountering a massive spider next to the TV set in the living room. I was in the smallest room of the house hoping that someone else could deal with whatever the problem was but when my wife and younger daughter also started yelling I knew that this screaming was more significant than the normal screaming that goes on in our home. Some sort of innate fight or flight instinct kicked in; alas flight was impossible because the bathroom window doesn't open properly. 
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I walked breezily - or perhaps was pushed violently - into the living room (the circumstances are still hazy) and the door was shut behind me. The spider was not difficult to spot. I have seen big spiders before. I saw a bird eating spider up a tree in Cambodia once and while my brother and I were looking at it I did a little spider dance with my fingers on the back of his neck and watched him leap a good five or six feet into the air. This spider was bigger. This spider was easily the breadth of my hand with a body the size of a Matchbox car. It was green and  brown and hairy and as it hung there on the wall it seemed to be pulsing the way radioactive spiders do in 1950s science fiction films. 
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Normally I don't like to kill spiders and I've got a 100% pacifist track record for this house. My technique is to trap the beasts under a plastic glass, slide a coaster under it and hey presto, caught. This spider looked too big for any of our glasses but I thought perhaps that I should give it a go. Keeping an eye on it I went to the kitchen and grabbed a plastic milk tumbler and just in case it all went wrong a metal spatula. 
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Did I mention that Australia has 9 out of the 10 deadliest spiders in the world? I don't know if this is a fact as such but it's something I've heard and something Australians tell you. My adrenalin had certainly kicked in now. The TV was on, tuned to one of those music channels playing light classical. The music selection had been something rather calming from Delibes but that ended and O Fortuna from Carmina Burana began (I'm not making this up). The music was an unnecessarily dramatic soundtrack but I couldn't turn the TV off because it was too near the spider and I didn't want to startle it. I advanced towards it with my upturned cup. I felt less like one of those guys on Animal Planet and more like a bomb disposal guy in Restrepo. The spider was on the wall but near a window so there wasn't much room to manoeuver with the cup. I'd have to be fast and accurate. Close up I saw how enormous it was. I could see its eyes and fangs and the bristly hair on its legs. I hesitated for thirty seconds or so and tried remember the calming breathing exercises a nurse had told my wife to do when she'd been giving birth. I couldn't remember if it was in through the nose and out through the mouth or vice versa. "To hell with it," I muttered and then I went for it. I tried to bring the cup down quickly on the spider but I botched it. The cup hit the TV first and the spider saw what was coming and jumped off the wall towards me; I dived out of the way and it landed next to me on the floor. My heart was in my mouth now and I stifled a yell. The spider jumped again and started making for the Christmas tree. That would have been a bad place to hide so I lashed out with the spatula, missed it, lashed again, hit it, squishing it flat.  
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I don't know what the spider was. Probably not a dangerous funnel web, but more likely a fairly benign huntsman. I certainly have never seen one that big in the house (or any house) before and the thought I have now is: where there is one there certainly can be more.