I am a little bit afraid of spiders. And I am very ashamed to admit it.
As a zoology student and general outdoor person, I pride myself on being made of ‘tougher stuff’. Snakes, rats, mud – all fine.
Spiders, however, do cause a slight issue.
I have a couple of vague memories from when I was small, in which these eight-legged beasties feature.
The first must have been from when I was very young, because I can remember not actually feeling afraid at the time. There was a rather large spider on the landing and my mum was yelling for my dad to remove it. I think that’s probably where it began, the terrible thought process (or lack of) that spiders were something to be feared.
The second was when I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth. There was another very large spider crouching on the floor, and I was vigilant, keeping an eye on it in case it decided to scuttle over my bare toes. But then my mum was there, and I was distracted, at least until I unwittingly stepped backwards, and she said, ‘mind the spider!’ – and then came the leap of terror away from it.
Another time, I was rummaging around in the cupboard, on my hands and knees (it was one of those low-down cupboards underneath a staircase, so there was no other option) and then as I backed out again caught sight of the two spiders sat just inches away from my face.
To summarise, I have encountered many spiders during my twenty one years on earth and so far, I’m not overly enamoured.
I don’t want to be afraid of these creatures. They’re actually insanely beautiful and I am fascinated by the webs they create. For this reason, (and for my own pride) I began to work on my fear.
(On a side note, I had a friend who, once she found out about this, used to send me a picture of a spider every day. I’m not entirely sure that this helped much, but I felt that she deserved a mention anyway.)
Before, anytime a spider had run across my bedroom floor, I had sat on my bed, drawn my knees up to my chin and watched it until it disappeared, only to then wonder incessantly where it had gone and when it would return.
After telling myself that I was a wimp, I got braver and would cover the spider with a cup, slide a piece of paper underneath and carry it outside.
I’d say that this is probably as good as it’s ever got…
Fast forward a few years, and at the end of sixth form I went to Tanzania and Kenya for a month to volunteer in community and conservation projects.
There are a lot of weird and wonderful gigantic bugs in Africa and for the most part I was comfortable with them. In Tanzania I saw the odd spider, but they were usually quite small and remained at a reasonable distance.
Upon arrival in Kenya, I noted the four huge spiders on the light above the dining area but was determined not to be bothered by them.
In Kenya we had lovely little wooden buildings to sleep in, and the first thing I did after choosing my bed was to unfold the mosquito net and note (with much satisfaction) that it touched the floor.
With the heat and the tough manual labour we were doing, it was imperative that we drank huge volumes of water (between five and eight litres per day), so inevitably every night you would have to hop across camp in the dark to relieve yourself… and having to untuck a mosquito net from your mattress while still half asleep but bursting for the toilet is less than fun – so the fact that my net reached the floor and could prevent mosquitoes while not having to be tucked in was a marvellous thing!
Five nights went by and I didn’t think anything of this decision.
Then, everything changed.
On the sixth night, I fell asleep laying on my left side, with my right arm resting on my hip over the top of my sleeping bag. At approximately two o’clock in the morning, I woke up and, still in a fuzzy, sleepy state registered that something was crawling on my arm, next to my elbow.
This realisation jolted me from half asleep to wide awake in a matter of milliseconds – I swiped at whatever it was, felt it brush past my hand and then hurriedly searched for my torch in the pitch black. It seemed to take hours to find the torch, although I know it can’t have been more than a few seconds.
Turning it on, I shone it onto the bed and saw my early-morning visitor for the first time.
A huge, black spider was making its way along the edge of my bed. I froze and watched it as it disappeared over the end of the mattress.
To cut a long story short, I woke up the other girls in my room and one of them kindly got up, located the spider and took it outside for me.
(I feel I should clarify here: I didn’t scream at any point during this ordeal. If I am genuinely afraid then I tend to go completely mute – if I do scream it’s probably not real fear!)
The whole group seemed to be talking about it at breakfast the next day; it had certainly freaked me out and I learnt my lesson about tucking in mosquito nets – I will never let one drag on the floor again!
After returning to England, I did a little bit of investigation and believe that this spider was a ‘wandering wolf spider’ – commonly found in buildings and perfectly harmless – just not particularly welcome in my bed in the early hours of the morning.
Since this incident, I have been much better with British spiders (they are honestly tiny in comparison), although I’m still not comfortable touching or holding them (I haven’t actually tried, but the thought makes me uneasy, so I can make an educated guess!)
Inevitably, at some point in the future I am going to travel to more exciting places which will be home to various species of large spider. Let’s hope I can kick this fear by then, or I could be in for more trouble!