Friday, March 05, 2010

Who’s Got My Spider?

A rubber spiderWhen I was 6 or 7 – no older as my youngest sister hadn’t yet been born – my grandparents took me and my other sister to Twycross Zoo. My memories of the day are like the recollection of a dream: both vivid and yet fragmented and incomplete.

I know that it was a blazingly hot summer’s day. The kind we don’t seem to get anymore when you can feel the heat bouncing up from the grass. I know my mother had dressed me in the ubiquitous seventies combination of open toed sandals and really short shorts. Both were brown and I daresay I’d been put into an orange t-shirt as well. Coupled with my National Health spectacles I must have looked like a street urchin from one of Gene Hunt’s nightmares.

I have vague recollections of watching the chimp’s tea party – this was back in the days when such things were accepted as normal and not at all cruel or detrimental to the mental health of the animals. I remember the chimpanzees as being very smelly, very noisy and very messy. My recollections of the day start to run dry from this point onwards. I don’t remember seeing any of the other animals, or the car journey there and back and though the faces of my grandparents are strongly imprinted in my mind I can’t quite picture them on this day though they were undoubtedly there. It’s like they’ve been blurred out, pixelated.

The one overriding memory of this day that I do have is of being allowed to buy something from the zoo gift shop. I went for a “huge” (probably only a foot long) rubber spider. It had long dangly legs that were covered with little rubber stipules giving it a hairy appearance. And it was on a piece of elastic which meant it could be bounced like a demonic yo-yo.

I loved that spider.

Inevitably, like all favourite toys, it was unwisely taken into school. It caused a great stir. I can remember causally getting it out of my satchel to show my best friend at the time (John McCrae – hello if you’re reading this) and hearing a glass shattering screech from somewhere to my left. Mrs Reeves, one of the hardest teachers in the school, was stood pole-axed, looking at me. Or rather looking at the spider. Thankfully she realized I wasn’t deliberately trying to give her a heart attack and laughed it off in that way that teachers have that is neither laughing nor quite forgiving you even though you haven’t exactly done anything wrong.

The spider accompanied me everywhere for weeks. Either in my satchel or stuffed up – a wriggly, brown rubber ball – in the pocket of my parker. It naturally found its way into break time games. The favourite of these was John and I using it as some kind of ball or bizarre projectile. Throwing it to each other or, even more stupid given its eventual fate, using the elastic to swirl it around at high velocity and then releasing it upwards into the air.

It was John who in the end misjudged the release. My last memory of my spider is seeing it sailing over the school yard wall into the back garden of one of the gloomy houses that backed onto the school perimeter. It fell through the air, legs fluttering behind its body like a black comet, and made an insignificant crater somewhere amongst the scary shrubbery of the forbidden garden.

I peered through the gate many times but could never see it. It was gone forever and the mindset of a child seems to skip over any possibility of asking a grown-up to help or even just knocking on the door of the house to see if the owner would hand it over. In all honesty it never crossed my mind. I feared we’d get into trouble for throwing it over the wall in the first place (the owners of the nearby houses were always moaning about footballs ending up on their property) and I couldn’t see Mrs Reeves being very sympathetic.

It took me a long while in kid’s terms to forgive John. At least a week.

The school is now long gone. It was converted years ago into some sort of horrible hi-tech media training centre and I daresay the surrounding houses have been renovated and new owners come and gone. But every time I walk by I always wonder what happened to my spider. Was it callously binned or did it find itself another appreciative owner? Sadly I don’t think they make toys like that anymore. Certainly I’ve never come across any and I do look occasionally.

I do think that if I’ve kept hold of that spider my subsequent education would have taken me on a completely different career path - botanical scientist or wildlife conservationist. Instead, thanks to one erroneous twang of the elastic, here I am: up to my spiderless arms in alarms, toilets and maintenance.

Oh what a tangled web we weave, eh?


33 comments:

Clippy Mat said...

you sad traumatised child you.
let's hope someone found Boris and gave him a new home where he wasn't flung up into the air every 5 minutes.
;-)

Steve said...

Clippy Mat: apparently spiders often use their webs as parachutes and let the wind carry them about... so really we were just recreating Boris's natural environment...!

Clippy Mat said...

Steve: gerraway. Isn't that like African flying spiders or something? Not rubber spiders from Twycross Zoo surely?
parachutes!
ha

French Fancy said...

Oh Steve, you must have been devastated at the time. I can almost picture the look of horror as John - the dirty culprit - made his error (see, I resisted the word 'fatal' there).

Maybe a poor wee bird picked it up intending it to feed the nesting tribe - who then choked to death on the plastic.

Have you drafted out your covering letter yet? Planned the CV? Decided to abandon the poetry magazine retrieval?

Steve said...

Clippy Mat: no, I'm serious! They do it in the UK. At certain times of the year tiny spiders float about in the air, travelling the locale on little gliders made of silken webbing... and to prove it click here!

FF: it would have had to have been a bloody big bird! An eagle at least! The CV and covering letter are now both drafted out (thank you for asking) and I'm hoping Karen and I can go through it together at the weekend to finalize things. I'd like to get them sent off next week (see; I've set myself a proper deadline and everything)! The poetry mags are still in but can be deleted if deemed necessary.

French Fancy said...

Oh there's a photo now! I'm sure that wasn't there before - or was it and I'm just a blind person?

Delighted you've got yourself sorted out now - see, aren't you glad you mentioned the prevarication a couple of posts ago. I'm a prize nagger - I could get on anyone's nerves reminding them about things.

Selina Kingston said...

I don't like spiders Steve. It was harding reading this post with that picture there and everything!

Steve said...

FF: the photo is a recent addition - you're not going blind. And thank you for the nags. It's of great comfort to me to know that I have so many e-naggers at my disposal when I need to be pushed into doing something! ;-)

Selina: I'm sorry. I feel like I've let you down this week. Dodgy toenails and now spiders. I'll try and write about nicer things next week!

Heather said...

oh you poor boy! But money tea parties jogged a memory or two - gosh, i'd forgotten all about those!

ArtSparker said...

There is something about rubber that lends itself to laughter. I recall handing my one and a half year old nephew a rubber bat and his bouncing it up and down by one wing with great delight.

Steve said...

Heather: yes, those were the days! When we could be casually cruel and derogatory to the lower animals purely for our own enjoyment!

ArtSparker: I think it's the (almost) infinite flexibility that tickles the infantile mind. It still has that effect on me.

Joe Bloggs said...

Superwelltold&relayed, Steve; it was just like being at Whipsnade Zoo again - back in 78 complete with a similarsimian outfit... and later losing my souvenir key-chain skeleton at skoolditz. Fangs for all the murmuraids!

KAZ said...

I'm sure you could use this vignette in your next novel.

Steve said...

Joe Bloggs: you know what? I'm now wondering if it was Whipsnade Zoo that we were at... I know I've been but can't remember it... but... no... Twycross feels right. I can remember my nan talking about it. Memory eh?

Kaz: possibly my autobiography...

TheUndertaker said...

Ahhh, sad... And a bit creepy at the same time, since its a rubber spider.
I pity the person who came across your spider. What heart attack material, lying there with its dangly rubber legs. I would have peed my pants! I bet it looked real. Guess what your wife is getting you for your birthday...?

Steve said...

TheUndertaker: why do you think I wrote this post in the first place? *chuckles*

Gina said...

I remember you mentioning this spider once before so I can see this incident has very definitely left its mark on your psyche.

Just imagine finding that though in the undergrowth of your garden when you are having a clear out. I'd have nightmares for years. I feel sorry for the person whose garden it landed in.

We used to take my daughter to Twycross Zoo.

Steve said...

Gina: now I am having a guilt trip thinking I may have unknowing killed an old lady by giving her a heart attack...!

Löst Jimmy said...

I had one of those, they had a strange feel to the texture. I'd like to think it has gone to toy spider heaven where it will no doubt wobble and weave for posterity.

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: now that's a nice thought. That makes me feel a little bit better.

The Sagittarian said...

When we were in Australia last Christmas some friends (term used loosely...) brought us a Huntsman spider in a plastic takeaway food container just so we could 'see what a real spider looked like'..I stopped running last week

Steve said...

Amanda: just Googled Huntsman spider - nasty little buggers, aren't they? So I was relieved to read that they are not deadly to humans. I guess that makes it alright then...!

Owen said...

And it doesn't come back too often to haunt your dreams ? Or rather, your nightmares ?

Funny how we attach importance to objects like that from childhood that disappeared...

A Write Blog said...

I used to have those National Specs.......with a patch.

My 'thing' when young was Elephants. That stemmed from watching one have a poo in Edinburgh Zoo when I was about 5. It was enormous......and so was the Elephant.

Never, never liked spiders.

Steve said...

Owen: alas he has never deigned to return to me... even in my dreams...

AWB: I must admit I have no urge to snuggle up to one but our house is full of them and nothing we do gets rid of them. However, as I always say, better spiders than flies...

The Poet Laura-eate said...

If only today's children were so easily pleased! Surely your parents were more than happy to invest in a replacement one for the sake of some peace and quiet?

I bet it cost less than a fraction of the average spend on your own children's regular (even when it's not their birthday) presents.

Steve said...

Laura: given the recession and current financial climate we've had to cinch in our budget... I bet what we spend on the kids now is very cmparable to what we had spend on us as kids!

femminismo said...

Lovely story. Brought tears to my eyes, really. I think it was the part about a week being a long time in "kid time." So true. I lost an "Alice in Wonderland" book and always thought it had been taken by the White Rabbit. I looked for it many times.

Steve said...

Femminismo: do you think the white rabbit has my spider as well? And my Scooby-doo stickers that I lost in '79?

Old Cheeser said...

A belated response to this post - loved the story! I seem to remember those spiders being in the shops when I was a kiddie ... well we're about the same age aren't we?

You need to watch a Dr Who story called "Full Circle" which features very similar looking arachnids, this time, clockwork ones ... at the age of 11, I thought they were VERY scary. You should watch it, you know.

Steve said...

OC: we are indeed about the same age. No need to be mathematically accurate about it - let's just say we're in our prime. I suspect there's a lot of Dr Who classics I am missing out on. One day I shall make a concerted effort to catch up and shall come to you for a "set list"!

Anonymous said...

hi, new to the site, thanks.

Steve said...

Anonymous: hi, new to your comment, thanks.