Monday, May 3, 2010


When we first moved to Whyalla, our house was plagued by spiders.  Redback webs* covered the outside walls like tatty lace curtains, and mama redback spiders sat in the window tracks laying down egg-sacs like strings of sea grapes. Inside the house, there were Great Big Black Spiders with abdomens like ripe plums. When you entered the kitchen you'd see them scuttle across the floor and flatten out under the fridge like they'd been cross-bred with cockroaches. They were in the bathroom.  They were in the bedrooms. They were in the closets. They were, god help us, in the cracks between the cushions on the chairs.              
            More seasoned heads told us, in superior tones, that that these big black things are not, for a strictly limited definition of poisonous, actively lethal.  Unless you are pregnant, weigh less than sixty pounds, have a compromised immune system or are Canadian.
            If you are a Canadian, it's not the venom, it's the psychological shock.  Canadians do not do well with Bugs. When we lived in Toronto, we spent a fair bit of our free time in the comedy club scene. The city has some good clubs, and there's a huge range of comedians that pass through, and whoever the comic, or whatever his style, the biggest laugh that a Canadian comic will get all night is the one that happens right after he talks about the Great Outdoors.
The jokes go like this:
            "I was out camping last weekend, and I saw a bug!"
            Gales of laughter. 
            "No kidding, eh?  It was thiiiiis big."  He holds his hands about three inches apart and the Canadians in the audience will roar and slapped their thighs and roll their heads from side to side with hilarity.
            "It was sooo big, I saw a shadow!"
            And the Canadians fall out of their chairs sideways because they're laughing too hard to breathe.**

Back in Whyalla, our first real breaking point was when, less than a day after we'd set up the furniture, Mr Tabubil found a redback building a web among the television cables under the TV cabinet. The web was a solid and substantial piece of real-estate, indicating permanence and long-term planning- the sort of brick-and-mortar edifice for which you're prepared to stump up a 60 year mortgage, then move in to bring up all your children.
            Mr Tabubil hollered. "Where's the Raid?"
            "There is a redback underneath the television and he's looking back at me and I don't like the way he looks at me and he's gonna die."
            Half a can of Raid later, even Mr Tabubil could safely admit it was definitely dead, but the living room was uninhabitable. He claimed that opening a window would dilute the potency of the gas.
            We began to spend our evenings with the can of poison gas underneath our elbows and things went from worse to worser. I'd lift a pile of laundry from the basket to dump into the washing machine and a big black eight-legged grape would scuttle shamefacedly out of the sleeve of a shirt.
            Mr Tabubil would pick up a pile of clean and folded laundry to put into the closet and he'd find another spider making a run for it from the bottom-most pair of underpants. 
            But the absolute, ultimate straw was when Mr Tabubil put on his trousers one morning and a juicy black thing the size of a 50 cent coin made a high-speed getaway down his right leg.
            We are city folks. We make no truck or peace or treaty with nature when it's got eight legs and a venomous overbite. We called the exterminators.

*For my North-American friends: imagine a black widow spider with a big red cross on its back and a bite that makes your North-American venom feel like the soft furry nuzzle of a newborn puppy.

**To be perfectly fair to Mr Tabubil, when my Australian Mum and Dad moved to Vancouver two years ago, Mum had to deal with a few small issues of her own.
            A week or two after they arrived, a friend of theirs came to town to care for his brother in law, who had been mauled by a bear while out in the woods doing a survey inspection along a power line.  Mum reacted sensibly. She took Dad out to buy a high-riding station wagon that could double as an armored personnel carrier. A few days later I had a phone call from Dad, sounding oddly diffident.
            "Hi Tabubilgirl."
            "How you doing?"
            "We're in a sports store."
            "Your Mother wants to buy a bear kit."
            "A bear kit?"
            "It's for when we go hiking."
            "Mum hikes?"
            "You know what I mean" Dad said impatiently. "For emerging from the car, walking gently in the mountains, that sort of thing."
            "So what's in a bear kit?"  I asked.  "Pepper spray?"
            I heard a gusty sigh. "There's a bell that you tinkle all the time when you walk so the bear can hear you coming.  Not sure of the logic of that. He might think it's a delivery bell. There's pepper spray for when he decides you are the menu and wants to season the dish.  There's a water bottle. For you. Not for the bear. There's your basic hiking stick that can double as a club or a spear for when he decides the pepper spray is a seasoning. There's a flare gun to scare him off when he decides the hiking stick's a toothpick - "
            There was a clanking sound in the background.
            "What's that?"
            "I think that's the Howitzer…."

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