Mrs PM walloped me with a book the other night.
We were lying in bed, reading, and I had reached the stage where I was having to re-read the same sentence over and over again, dozing in between words. I had finally succumbed to sleep when I was rudely awoken by having a paperback smashed across my face. Accompanying this apparently act of random violence was a high-pitched screech. Totally disoriented and reeling from being physically abused, I fell out of bed, reaching up imploringly. For a second I thought that our bedroom had been invaded by a screaming banshee.
By the time my senses cleared, Mrs PM had also leapt out of bed and was pointing at the duvet.
“What are you doing?” I asked in bewilderment, trying to recall whether I had done something awful to provoke this unwarranted attack.
She could barely speak but managed somehow to speak:
I stood up and looked at the bed expecting to see the world’s largest arachnid. Instead I saw a typical, small British house spider, measuring approximately one centimetre in length (including legs). Apparently the creature had abseiled down from the ceiling and landed on the very word she was reading. In a fit of absolute panic she had lashed out and clobbered me full in the face with the book.
When she had calmed down she dispatched the poor creature to the afterlife with maximum prejudice.
She is terrified of spiders. I have a confession to make – so am I. I wonder what I would have done had the eight-legged beast landed on my book instead. I would probably have reacted in a similar way. The only difference between Mrs PM and myself is that her fear encompasses ALL spiders whereas I am scared of those that are slightly larger.
My fear is irrational; I admit that. I have never encountered any eight-legged monster larger than a fly but the thought of a large tarantula crawling on my skin fills me with absolute dread. The mere fact that a spider has fangs and that some can actually puncture the skin is enough for me. Worse still, some are totally and utterly poisonous and can actually seriously damage human beings.
In 2005, we went to Australia on holiday. On the flight I had plenty of time to read about the creatures inhabiting that far away place. As I read, my imagination began to run amok. Ignoring the snakes, jellyfish and other toxic creatures, I focussed wholly and absolutely on the arachnid population. Two specimens in particular captured my imagination and hurled it into the pits of Hell. The two beats I am about to describe can be found in Australian cities - inclduing the cities we were visiting:
(1) The redback spider bites frequently and can cause serious illness or death yet are only about a centimetre in length. Looks harmless doesn't it? Don't be fooled:
(2) The funnel-web spider is much bigger and is the stuff of nightmares. A bite from this satanic creature can cause death. Bizarrely, the venom is only toxic to primates (and of course that includes humans). Dogs and cats for example can break down the venom in half an hour. For humans, they are bad news because they like to nest under houses. They are also quite large and their fangs are strong enough to penetrate a finger nail or soft footwear. What’s even scarier is that they are aggressive and will bite repeatedly. This one looks horrific:
In the three weeks I was there, I was totally paranoid about everything that touched my skin, including inanimate objects. When walking through some grass to get to the beach at Port Douglas I was so on edge that I almost screamed every time a stalk of grass brushed past my legs. Bizarrely Mrs PM seemed to have no fear – you remember Mrs PM – the person who assaulted me in my own bed because a harmless spider landed on her book?
Anyway, in England my arachnophobia is under control though I have an irrational fear that if I were to kill a spider, my punishment would be a visit from a larger toxic cousin (even though no such creatures exist on our beloved island). When I encounter a spider, I either capture it in a plastic tub and dispose of it outside, or I set the cats on it. My three cats have no qualms about devouring spiders. To be honest it makes me convulse just to think of having one anywhere near my mouth.
One final thought – I would like to thank the producers of the movie “Arachnophobia” for creating one of the scariest films I have seen. I quite literally watched it through my fingers and have never seen it since. I even struggle to watch that episode of Red Dwarf where Lister was forced to eat a tarantula.
Is my fear irrational? I don’t know. But if any hypnotist or therapist reading this thinks that they can cure my terror by allowing a tarantula to crawl on my bare skin should think again. I am a pacificist but will use everything in my power to escape, as will my lovely lady, Mrs PM who is normally not the kind of person who batters loved ones with books.