They say that much of what we are, we learn at the knee of our parents. Well, I learnt my fear of spiders from Mom. Maybe she learnt that from her mom but, then again, Granny Dix looked so stern that she would have scared away the spiders. Mom was terrified of them to the point of irrationality. Unfortunately for her, the rain spider is endemic in Southern Africa and, I must admit, they are big, hairy and scary. To her they were not the gentle rain spider, they were the worst thing she could think of – tarantulas.
Main picture: One of at least 6 rain spiders that inhabited our bedroom
One day when I was 5-6 years old, Mom was pottering around cleaning the house when she shrieked. There was a tarantula in the corner of the kitchen. She shooed me out and frantically phoned Mrs Siesel from across the road to help her. Mrs Siesel was the polar opposite of Mom. Let’s just say that she was a robust and direct German woman who could have singlehandedly faced down the Allied armies at D-Day.
She bustled over and calmed Mom down. She brushed the ‘tarantula’ off the wall with a duster and proceeded to beat it with the broom until it crumpled its long legs into a confused ball. In order to teach Mom a bit of bravery, she commanded Mom to sweep it outside. Mom reluctantly did this and with a final swish it landed on the pathway.
At this point, this Rambo ‘tarantula’ decided that it had enough of being pushed around. It unfolded its legs and advanced on the offending broom. It was probably just a bit disorientated but Mom nearly fainted. Luckily Mrs Siesel was still there and she beat the spider to a pulp with the edge of the broom this time.
And so I grew up hating all things creepy crawly and spiders in particular. Isn’t it great that we can just lay the blame of our peccadillos and shortcomings on our parents? Over the years, I’ve made my peace with them. I’ve learnt to live with ‘tarantulas’ and just let them be, knowing that they will go outside again when the rain goes away.
This uneasy truce lasted until 1998 when Gaye, myself, our girls, Niels and Antje went away for a weekend. We arrived at this idyllic cottage tucked away in the hills above Sedgefield, looking forward to a nice relaxing few days. This bubble was rudely burst upon entering the cottage when we found that an extended family of ‘tarantulas’ had claimed squatters rights and annexed every room by force majeure.
Gaye and I were still quite fresh in our relationship and I still cut a heroic figure with her until that point when I asked her to do something about them. My 35 years of progress in my relationship with spiders and my fresh relationship with Gaye regressed somewhat.