Sunday, 6 April 2014

I hate spiders. And crawling around in the 4ft void beneath our circa 1868 house is not exactly a clever way of avoiding them.

The UK only has one species of spider which bites, and it's called the False Widow (Steatoda nobilis), so we're very lucky. As far as I know the experts say that there are no recorded deaths from its bite, although I know one man who spent  several days in hospital after being bitten, and had an allergic reaction resulting in a balloon-shaped leg.

But having to trace a fuel line the other day through the house meant accompanying a plumber beneath the floorboards to see where it ran. (Okay, maybe I didn't have to... but after taking a quick look and seeing the passageways and voids, there was no way I was not going to investigate further).

I mean, this is history beneath our feet, and absolute food for thought for a crime writer.

When Danny (the plumber) asked me to pop down and take a few measurements, I put on my head lamp (a treasured bit of man kit not used often enough) and down I went. I glanced at Ann, my wife, and gave her a cavalier wave, the way you have to when departing on a mission. Well, it's the thing to do, isn't it?

Which is when I saw the cobwebs. Dozens of them, great hanging curtains of Victoriana with lots of little faces looking back at me from behind the strands of sticky stuff. Maybe the faces was an exaggeration, but there was lots of moving bodies, so the rest was hardly imagination. I shiver you not.

Anyway, I'd committed myself by then, so forward was the only way to go. Or should I say, downwards. Convincing myself that my head lamp and my sheer size was deterrent enough, I dropped through the hole with the agility of a cat and brushed aside the webs (yuk), scuttling across the rubbish-strewn floor. I say rubbish, it seemed to be mostly Victorian-era builder's crap, proving that builders haven't changed much over the years. And when I say scuttled, it was a sort of monkey-crawl to avoid the low-hanging webs infesting the joists above me.

Writers have to posses a vivid imagination; it comes with the job description. Unfortunately, in the presence of spiders, mine goes into overdrive. Expecting at any moment to feel the pitter-patter of tiny feet down the back of my neck, I reached the designated spot and took out my tape measure, then got on with checking numbers, all to the accompaniment of Danny shouting instructions from where he was nice and safe on the outside.

I didn't stay down there very long. But as soon as I was back topside (a technical term), I began wondering where the various spaces I'd spotted went to. Some disappeared round corners, others seemed to end in blank walls. The trouble is, most of them had even more colonies of spiders, which was a bit off-putting. I'm tempted to go down again with the vacuum cleaner. That would clear them double-quick. But it might also tick them off enough to prove the so-called experts wrong.

I hope to God they stay down there and don't develop aspirations to join us upstairs, that's all I can say.

In the meantime, I keep looking at the trap door in the corner and wondering...


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