Our trip to Dorset, as it turned out, coincided with the annual spider Olympics, heavyweight division. Every time I stepped into the garden I had to snap a branch from a nearby tree and move forward, twirling it in front of me like a foil as if I were fencing an invisible but energetic opponent.
In a way, I was. The spiders, with a few notable exceptions, were not visible during the day but they could collectively spin enough silk over night to trap a fly the size of an Airbus 330. Therefore, every afternoon, the garden table needed de-webbing, as did the chairs (along with a peek under the seats to make sure nothing untoward was hiding there) the pathways and any bushes close enough for a spider to leap from hiding onto any part of my body. (And, as I understand it, your average spider can leap about 50 feet.)
After this daily ritual, however, I was able to settle in for a relaxing beverage and watch the evening ease over the downs, with only the occasional glance at nearby shrubbery and under the table to make certain nothing unsettling was sneaking up on me.
On Saturday, we left for home.
On Sunday morning I stepped into the spare room and saw the most incredible thing.
Somehow, one of Dorset's mutant spiders had managed to hitch a ride back with us. How this was possible I can only guess; it must have clung to the underside of our car because our suitcases surely weren't large enough to hold it.
I'm going to step out on a limb here now and let you in on a little humorist's secret: not everything I write is 100 percent accurate. No, it's true. This is due to a device we in the business call "comic exaggeration." Though I'm likely to be drummed out of The Society For People Who Think They're Funny for revealing that guarded bit of insider information, I felt it was necessary to gain your trust so you would not doubt me when I tell you that the following sentence is 100% true (after that, you may continue to suspect the occasional hyperbole).
The spider had spun a web with anchor points on the ceiling, both walls and the floor; the business part of the web wasn't much bigger than one of those circular tables you find in bistros or upscale pubs, but the web itself stretched, literally, from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. And there, in the center, waiting patiently for a victim, sat a spider about the size of a Doberman pincer (there's that exaggeration I promised would be coming back.)
The web, like an atomic explosion or an electrical storm viewed from the top of a tree, was a thing of terrifying beauty. It possessed such hideous fascination that, although I was repulsed, I couldn't help gazing at it (this is the same phenomenon that keeps Big Brother on the air). It also moved me to consider, for a brief time, allowing the interloper to live.
Upon retreating to the sitting room and mulling it over, however, I changed my mind.
The biggest obstacle was how to capture the beast. Any scenario involving a live takedown required an attack on two fronts and since the spider had made it impossible to get behind the web, well, it was its own fault. Besides, I felt it would be better that way. Releasing the creature into the wild would only consign it to a life of loneliness, with the other spiders making fun of its west-country accent and taunting it about sleeping with its spider relatives and alleged, curious habits with sheep. This might lead the Dorset spider to fight the Sussex spider, which would be too close to one of those old "Godzilla vs Mothra" movies for my taste, especially as I'd be playing the part of 150,000 terrified Japanese extras.
No, a quick end would be best. Fortunately, I recently bought a Dyson vacuum cleaner with a telescopic wand, which did the trick nicely. I was able to cower in the hallway and extend the wand into the room until the spider, the web and the anchor lines suddenly vanished into the nozzle. Gotta love those Dysons.
Me with an unexpected friend from Dorset
I let the vacuum run for another 15 minutes to make sure the spider was having a really bad time in the cyclone chamber, then stuffed a rag into the nozzle, just in case. The Dyson is now back in our bedroom closet and the world is a safer place, free from the oppressive prospect of an infestation of Dorset/Sussex crossbred spiders.
But still, I think until I actually empty the vacuum and see the spider-infused debris off with the bin men, I'm going to sleep with one eye open.
This post was written by Mike Harling, an American author living in the south of England. His debut novel Postcards from Across the Pond, is a hilarious account of life as an expat. You can keep up with Mike at his blog, Postcards from Across the Pond, Dispatches from an Accidental Expat.