Open House

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.

35 thoughts on “Open House

  1. For fear of incurring the wrath of spider-lovers, Kate, I suggest you put a little can of pesticide in your bage … just in case. Once bitten twice shy, sorry to coin the cliche …

      1. In this country, 90 to 100 per cent of the bite cases are caused by no more than 12 of the approximately 700 native species. Of all the remaining species, the great majority are quite harmless, in spite of having venom, and have no history of biting humans. Furthermore, the increase in bite cases is believed to be linked to just two species of exotic spiders that have become established here and are now spreading widely.
        (from that webpage I quoted)

      2. Cheers Pseu, knew you’d have a handle on this one. Bearing your link in mind I’m going to take Cindy’s advice. Although I think my small comrade at the nursery was a common house spider. Blurry huge though.

  2. A. I wish I were in England to do these Open House things.

    B. My dear husband MTM insists that all the spiders in our house are necessary to kill the cockroaches that sometimes invade. It is creepy to see them in the bathroom windowsill, in the kitchen, at the corner of the fireplace. EVERYWHERE.

    C. Thanks for recommending me on Twitter today. I haven’t much been there, but I saw it earlier. I’m enjoying getting to know you through your blog and appreciate your compliments. Enjoy your weekend, minus the spiders.

    1. A. So do I
      B.That reminds me of the Triceratops vs Tyrannosaurus rex fights – get rid of one horrible monstrous adversary by setting another on them
      C. You’re welcome, Andra, and have a great weekend yourself 🙂

  3. Have a wonderful time traipsing through all the open doors this weekend . . . sounds like lots to do and see and celebrate.

    As for spiders . . . I don’t mind them lurking about on the stairs, but I prefer they stay clear of the bath and the bed.

  4. Now, this is would be something I would love to do. The Heritage Open Days, that is. Have fun, Kate, and come back and tell all about it.

    Most spiders don’t bother me, however, there have been some rather large black ones around here that I do not appreciate.

    Charlotte’s Web?

  5. I have never even once before thought of Britain and spiders in the same sentence. Fascinating. And the Open House sounds wonderful…I’m a bit envious of the opportunity! Please keep telling us about Big Al…I can’t but smile every time you even mention him! Debra

  6. I love that photo of Big Al – what a determined little character he looks. Hope you have a great day, and look forward to learning where you end up, I understand there is Open House at a Windmill in Brixton of all places!

  7. Don’t worry, Kate: that spider will retire to my home soon. Knowing the Hub’s reluctance to kill them, spiders congregate around the door in September, waiting to sneak in. I am not allowed to scream, though I am allowed to panic quietly until he comes to rescue them.

  8. Well, today and tomorrow’s posts are scheduled. I’m amazed at another coincidence – I’m not letting on as to what tomorrow’s is about.

    We won’t be visiting today, DH is still cuddled up in bed and making the most of ‘it’. I’m off to babysit my grands, at least I should get some sensible conversation from a 4yr old, lol, at best I’m getting a groan here……

    1. Best to be ‘secret squirrel’ about tomorrow…have we coincided on two posts? So sorry! Blogging daily I do this every now and then, finding the most amazing coincidences. Spiders just happen to be extremely topical around our part of the world: the house spiders are such exhibitionists. They might as well hold placards saying, “Here I am, are you ready to scream now?”

      Did feel sorry for your little chap in the bottom of the box. Hope the babysitting of the grands went well. If your four year old is anything like my nephew they are excellent blogging material!

  9. We have a nasty few here Kate. Black widows, brown recluse. They are what this mom worries about with her boys outdoors digging and playing. Yet, I do love an open house.

  10. You may remember being at Church in Cottingham one Sunday morning, and your father finding an earwig on his jacket. Flicking it off my jacket propelled it on to the bottom of the lady in a nice red dress just in front. I was tempted to remove it from the lady’s bottom, but felt this might be mis-interpreted, especially in church. It crawled up under her dress belt. I never heard more and I hope it simply dropped to the floor out in the street later!
    Earwigs aren’t any more popular than spiders Kate.
    Love Dad

  11. One can almost feel sorry for that nursery spider cringing on the third step – almost. I have been bitten by (relatively harmless-looking) spiders more than once and it’s not pleasant…

  12. I love spiders. Not entirely deluded that they may not share the sentiment. We have plenty of widows in the American Southeast to dodge, but we have those lovely, large, not-so-indigenous banana spiders everywhere, too. One of the more surreal spider sights I recall consisted of dozens of black tarantulas scattered about the California desert in the morning, still in somewhat suspended animation as they emerged from hibernation in the Spring. They were lethargic and vulnerable enough to handle, but Ms. Karma said be nice… 🙂

  13. You know I love a good spider! This was priceless…the thundering juggernaut of Big Al meets the frail yet mighty arachnid. This late summer, my gardens are hung about with black and yellow spiders who finish off their gorgeous webs with a signature zigzag stitch. The dewdrops in the morning are strung everywhere like diamonds…

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