I love Autumn, it is definitely my second favourite season. The bright blue sky, sunny days with a little chill to them, the beautiful colours of the leaves, the arrival of conkers. However, there is one major problem with Autumn… massive huge spiders! It is the season for normally rational people like myself doing a weird dance when walking down the garden, flinging my arms about like a maniac after walking through a million spider webs.
I know I’m not alone with my lack of love towards the Arachnid. In my 20s my fear of spiders was at an all-time ridiculous which came to a point after a face-to-face with a spider as a tenant at my parents house. I was alone one Saturday morning and decided to run a bath, I glanced at the plug hole as I went to run the hot water, there was something dark there, I reckoned it was probably hair so left it and ran the tap. As the water splashed down and I guided the plug towards the plug hole, the ‘hair’ sprouted 8 legs and started running, in a weird sort of race I headed in the same direction to get out of the room as the spider ran to the end of the bath. I closed the door and weighed up my options. There is a massive huge spider in the bath, the hot water is running and I need to deal with it. Not brave enough to do anything about it and with no-one to help I remembered that next door had some landscapers in to redesign their front garden. So in my irrational panic I forgot that I was in my pink towelling dressing gown and sheep slippers and went outside to get help. Obligingly, one of the gardeners agreed to ‘help the little lady’ out. “Where’s the monster then darling?’ he asked giving his co-worker a wink as I pointed at the bathroom door murmuring, “Spider, bath”, unable to speak in sentences as if I just been discovered in some wild log cabin. Mr Bravado swaggered in as I cowered behind the door, I heard him shout ‘ Jesus he’s big!’. He emerged about 5 minutes later (presumably after he calmed his nerves) balancing the spider on the end of his trowel. I responded with a strangulated whimper and then shouted ‘Thanks’ just before the door slammed. When I retold the story to my parents later, they decided it was time to take action on the basis I could crash my car if a spider popped up in it. I said I would probably pull over calmly and happily donate the car to the spider and walk back home. This was again enough reason for them to seek help for me.
So, for my 24th birthday my parents gave me a ‘Arachnophobic day’ at London Zoo. We were asked to arrive bright and early for our day course to cure our fear of spiders. It was quite a big class which was mainly female with a few embarrassed looking men. There were a lot of very nervous looking women that you could probably hiss ‘spider’ at and would reduce them to tears. But I wouldn’t do that, I was one step away from nervous wreck and was suddenly ecstatic to be there. First up was the ‘why spiders are good for the world’ lecture taken by the spider zoo keeper who informed us he was once as scared as us but now owned 3 pet tarantulas, everyone raised an eyebrow, no-one believing this statement. We were all told about how spiders are good for the environment, how they rid the world of pests such as flies and mosquitos and we would literally be over-run by bugs if we didn’t have spiders. My initial thoughts were ya da ya da ya da, I knew this, I agreed with it, I didn’t want to kill them, I just wanted to re-train them to not enter my house and if they accidentally did then to walk slower and immediately go back out the way they come in rather than run towards me. We also learned how spiders mate in September and is the reason why during this month you see bigger spiders as they are the females looking for a male. Again, is there not a way we can re-condition them to have a meeting point in the garden for their reproductive needs. We were asked individually to say how we got rid of spiders, my response was ‘phone a friend’ or not re-enter that room until someone comes home’, lame I know. The woman next to me said she wore socks on her hands while on her own and would walk in loud steps to scare any from running into the room, she was so petrified that she couldn’t eat tomatoes due to the spider-like green topping. I stared at her in disbelief starting to feel a bit less of a scaredy cat. When they asked one of the few men in the room what he did to remove spiders, he explained that he was a carpenter and would see quite a few in his work shed. The way he dealt with them was by turning on his electric sander and liquidising them, the zoo keeper looked almost tearful.
Next we were taken into a room and told to sit down, a charismatic American man introduced himself as our hypnotist who would re-train our brains to like spiders, I glanced over at the sock woman who was shaking her head. We were asked to lay down and close our eyes, keeping completely still. He then asked us to visualise 10 steps leading down to a water’s edge, we had to imagine ourselves at the top of the stairs looking out to sea. We then had to imagine a big white cloud drifting towards us, we had to focus on the cloud and walk slowly down the steps as he counted us down. As we reached the last step he informed us that we were now in hypnosis, I tried to open my eyes and they felt stuck together, my arms felt weighted down, it was a really strange feeling. He told us to look at the cloud and push all our hatred of spiders into the cloud and to turn it to grey, after which we had to blow it away and watch it drift out to sea and disappear. We then had to mentally re-climb the 10 steps and were told to open our eyes, which I could now do quite easily. And then we had to clap our hands to congratulate ourselves on our freedom of hatred to spiders. I wasn’t convinced yet and was nervous at what was next as we were led from our function room and into the zoo.
Once inside, our zoo keeper suddenly re-appeared as if we were now in an episode of Mr Benn. He led us into a room off the ‘creepy crawlies’ section where a large clear plastic box with a lid was full of house spiders scampering about. Before we had time to protest and still sleepy from our hypnosis, a plastic cup and a card was shoved in my hand and I was suddenly in a queue in front of the spider box. With a semi-forceful ‘lets see you catch a spider’ request, the zoo keeper picked up a house spider released it on the table and we were expected to put our cup over it, card underneath and then told to walk round the room and release it back into the box. Sock woman was rifling through her bag, I suppose looking for her socks and I was third in the line. Everyone seemed to be either brainwashed or cured as one-by-one they completed the exercise. My turn was up, zoo keeper smiled as he flung a spider on the table, the spider as if briefed by the zoo keeper, started to run towards me, without knowing how I did it I put my cup over it and my card underneath then circled the room the fastest I’ve ever walked and literally threw my cup at the box. I had done it, slightly still in hypnosis and a massive amount of pressure on my shoulders, but I did it. Then zoo keeper shouted over the excited/hysterical squeals the word ‘Next…’ to which the whole room went deathly quiet, there’s more?? He continued, enjoying the atmosphere he was causing, ‘Next, we meet Freda.’ Who is Freda? His colleague? his girlfriend? Wrong! It’s his pet tarantula! The hypnosis wasn’t that good! He held Freda in his hand as if it was a gerbil gently tickling it. Most of the people took a few steps back, sock woman I think was now vomiting in her handbag. ‘Who wants to hold Freda and I’ll take a picture?’. A line started to form, how were these people cured enough to do this? Suddenly, I found myself in the queue and before I knew it I was holding my hands together for the zoo keeper to place Freda on top of my grip. As he said ‘smile’ to take my picture, I looked down and actually realised I was holding a massive huge spider with fur, it felt warm, it didn’t seem scary until it moved a leg onto my wrist and I nearly threw it far enough to make a home run. Zoo keeper sensing my change of heart, unhooked (!) Freda from my hands, wasn’t till then I realised that’s how they climbed walls! He gave me my Polaroid, a photo of me holding a tarantula with an expression that would probably warrant me an overnight stay in an asylum!
I’m sad to say it didn’t cure me. It has eased my irrational fear. I no longer run into the street in my dressing gown to find someone to help me. I can deal with smaller ones with the cup and card technique and I have allowed a spindly one to live in my conservatory. I think the hypnosis has made me love them a bit too much, I can’t bear them to be hurt and when I get a big one, which I still can’t deal with, I tend to cover it with a mixing bowl until hubby returns or my long-suffering neighbour gets called in to chuck spider outside, all the time I worry if there is enough air for the spider and if he is lonely in the bowl! We’re halfway through September, I have had 4 big spiders this week in my living room. It is true what they say, knowledge is power, I know that September they will mate, the female then kills the male, the female produces her egg sack and fills it with spider eggs, then she dies and the spider orphan babies start the cycle again. Roll on October….