I have a new regular gig. On Thursdays and Fridays I take my three-year old nephew Big Al to nursery.
Thursday dawned. I always have his sisters, the princesses, from 7:45am: now a pint-size addition careered in with his diminutive Thomas the Tank Engine backpack, stuffed with small cars and Shammy the Indispensable, his cuddly creature.
This was change. Usually, Big Al stays in the car with Mummy while his sisters are dropped off: on this day he came in.
But he stomped around, casing the joint, as is his wont. We dropped the older children at school and then before we knew it he was through the nursery door, hanging up his stuff and poised to thunder down the steps into the brightly coloured playroom.
He didn’t see it at all, but I did. It had chosen the third step down and I cannot help but speculate that it was utilising every brain cell it possessed wishing mightily that it hadn’t .
It was the spider’s body language that gave it way. It resembled nothing so much as a wiry old man hardened against the elements, taking shelter in a snowstorm by a tall wall, hanging onto his fag for grim life.
There was a kind of resigned, weathered stoicism in the way it hunched as close to the crevice in the step as it could, waiting, just waiting for the storm to pass.
In spider time, the wait must have been eternal. Great big toddler feet crashed down just inches from the delicate arthropod’s fragile frame. Such a work of creation to be sat there, poised in fright, waiting to see if it would live to spin another thread or trap another fly.
But stop it did. We all tiptoed past it if truth be told. The Mums had a universal healthy respect for house spiders, and it wasn’t on the toddler’s radar. Everyone trooped in, the day began, and the spider was free to scarper.
They’re everywhere, here in Britain. This is the time of year they potter in through windows and doors and crevices and practise their virtuoso alarming skills.
A favourite strategy is to wait until one is sat on the toilet and then sidle across the wall, closer and closer, while you are irrevocably held captive by fate. One year we were stuck being good in church when the most enormous house spider you have ever seen crawled inexorably towards us. Maddie and I were almost ready to cause a commotion mid-mass and bolt, when it inexplicably changed direction and meandered off to bother other members of the congregation.
And I will never forget the day I pulled up the crisp Egyptian cotton sheets and duvet to arrive face to face with someone impossibly huge with eight legs and mandibles.
It is not only the spiders who will be enjoying Open Houses this weekend. No: some of the most fabulous piles of bricks and mortar in London are throwing open their doors to two-legged tourists as well as the eight-legged variety. It’s called Open House London.
The bewildering variety of events is so vast they have a handbook: and indeed, an iPhone app. Properties old and new, large and small are included: I noticed a London junior school will be opening, as will the House of Lords. Hampton Court will do its bit, opening Apartment 39, a ‘house of easement’, which usually does time as the offices of the Historic Royal Palaces. I can just see the hustle there this afternoon as desks were made pristine and all cuddly mascots were kidnapped home for the high-profile weekend.
It’s the lesser-known surprises which tempt me; the Twickenham Victorian cottage; the Kempton Great Engine’s Trust in Hanworth will open its huge ‘industrial cathedral’ which houses two triple expansion steam engines and two steam turbines. The Royal Military School of Music’s HQ at Kneller Hall makes accessible this magnificent building, designed by Christopher Wren for court portrait painter, Sir Geoffrey Kneller.
I thought last week, the Heritage Open Days weekend, was choice enough: this is going to have to be a bit like a cultural trolley dash. My brain is bewildered by the sheer scale and choice, all available in a small area.
It makes me wonder how a spider must feel. All these venues: modern semis, Victorian cottages: the House of Lords is open to eight legged residents, and the Gothic mansion at Strawberry Hill. It’s enough to send one into a whirl.
No wonder that spider was in such a state. His decision-making processes were askew, warped by choice, and he came to find himself crouched on the nursery steps as three-year olds thundered past.
This weekend, I shall be heading for the busiest open buildings.
But for the spider, maybe a quieter venue is in order.