I am an entomologist. I don’t mind stick insects. I love butterflies, beetles and grasshoppers but when it comes to crane flies I am hopeless. They are flying spiders.
Spiders terrify me. I’m an arachnophobe.
We were seven years old and out playing in the street with some of the older boys. There were hardly any cars around on our estate. It was pretty safe.
My friend Jeff was the same age as me. We were both little and wiry and used to spend a lot of time together playing. We swapped comics, played on our bikes, tennis and cricket. We spent most of our life outside.
It was summer and we were having a hot spell. Jeff and I were dressed alike in shorts with short-sleeved shirts.
One of the older boys had made a find round at our friend’s Martin’s house. There was a path at the side of the house and someone had left a bucket there. It was one of those white enamel buckets with the dark blue rim. There was a spider in it. It was unusual because of its size.
The spider was a classic house spider but it was huge. Nobody had seen one that big. It looked like a tarantula. Its long hairy legs actually spanned the whole bottom of the pail.
Of course we all had to go and peer in at it. It sent shivers through me. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
Equally inevitably what happened next was as predictable as day follows night. One of the big boys grabbed hold of the spider and began chasing us around with it.
We ran off terrified as he bellowed with laughter and pelted after us. There were kids scattering in all direction.
He caught Jeff.
Jeff was in the middle of the road when he was caught. We saw the boy thrust the huge spider down Jeff’s shirt.
It was like one of those frozen moments of horror.
Jeff stood like a statue with his arms out either side and screamed. He screamed and screamed and screamed.
We were all shocked. Even the boy who had done it was shocked. We all stood and watched from a distance as Jeff screamed.
Doors flew open and neighbours rushed out. They thought there had been an accident.
Jeff was shrieking and had wet himself.
The neighbours asked us what was up but nobody would dare speak. We were transfixed. We could all imagine that huge spider scurrying around under his shirt, running over his bare skin. Its legs and hairs on his flesh. We were watching for signs of it. We were watching his shirt.
Our eyes were on stalks. Our breath was held firm. We were waiting.
Eventually one of the neighbours got the story out of someone. They undressed Jeff right there in the middle of the road. It was a pale concrete road. They unbuttoned his shirt and took it off. It was hard because he was rigid and still shrieking. They took off his shorts and pants.
We waited in anticipation on the edge of a scream.
No spider appeared.
There was no way for that spider to have run off. We would have seen it. Our eyes were all firmly fixed on him. We’d seen it go down the back of his shirt. It was too big to miss. Nothing had come out yet the spider had disappeared into thin air.
They took Jeff off to his Mum’s. They had to carry him. He was still gibbering and rigid. A doctor had to be called and a sedative applied.
We all stood where we were and stared at that block of concrete.
It had disappeared.
That spider had gone straight from under Jeff’s shirt into my dreams