I dislike spiders – they make me shudder and I avoid them if I can. I never kill them! After all, as my mother used to quote to me when I was small, 'If you want to live and thrive, let the spider run alive'. Much later I discovered that she, too, hated spiders and my father, who usually had the job of removing them, didn't much care for them either. In his case, it was probably a well-founded dislike for he had travelled all over the world in the Royal Navy and encountered many an unpleasant beastie. From him I learnt that I should knock my shoes or boots out before putting them on in the Tropics.
Attempting to ensure that my arachnophobia did not transfer to my children, I made a special effort with them, particularly with the then youngest. I bought a book about Spiders and read it with them in an eager, 'Aren't they wonderful?' tone. I managed to keep the distaste out of my voice when I saw an arachnid, pointing it out with an 'Ooh, look!' and following up with homilies about the good that spiders do. It was all completely wasted on Susannah's siblings, by then five and seven years old. They had already seen through me. The thin veneer of enthusiasm by which Susannah was taken in was insufficient to convince them that spiders were 'a good thing'.
Susannah, though, just three years old, with her ash blonde hair and constant smile trusted me, believed me and adopted a spider. She called him Sid and though she didn't bring him indoors, she spent many a long hour chatting to him and watching him. I'm not sure if it was even the same spider she saw each time and he was probably female, but let's not split hairs.
I relaxed. I felt I had succeeded in encouraging positive attitudes to arachnids in my youngest child. My pleasurable glow of achievement was not destined to last. Brother and sister combined forces to tease Susannah. Egged on by each other they told their little sister nasty things about spiders – they bite, you'll die, they walk all over you in bed when you're asleep, they get into your mouth and ears and nose. They pushed pictures of big ugly spiders under her bedroom door and rattled on the bathroom door. Finally Susannah was more arachnophobic than me and I could have throttled her siblings, the little blighters.
Well, that was all a long time ago. The strange thing is that Susannah has always retained an interest in spiders. She has travelled extensively to places where there are some really venomous spiders and every so often she will tell me an interesting fact. Take tarantulas, for instance. (No, please, take them . . . as far away from me as possible.) Many children are encouraged to handle exotic creatures in the course of their education but they are always told to take particular care with tarantulas. I thought it was because the wretched things might sink their fangs into tender flesh if mishandled but it appears that, if dropped, they shatter like thin-shelled eggs. Somehow that makes me shudder more than a whole one!