Spiders - Eight-legged freak out

Cate Simpson faces her acute arachnophobia head on at the Butterfly & Insect World’s spider-handling workshop

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Spiders

A spider fear is an embarrassing thing to admit to. They don’t bite, they don’t sting, they’re almost blind, and yet I find the sight of one running towards me distinctly unsettling. I’d like to be one of those people who scoops them up in her bare hands, muttering, ‘it’s only a spider’ to the fully grown adults scrambling for cover. In short, I’d like to feel just a little bit cooler. So, I’ve come to Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World’s spider phobia workshop, in the hope I might learn to love – or at least accept – the monsters that lurk in my bath.

Our small, quavering group is greeted by the resident spider expert, Kevin Thom, who tells us that he’s going to ease us into archanids gently: by first introducing us to Rusty the tarantula. Tarantulas seem less like training wheels to me, and more like something you build up to, slowly, after several weeks and a few drinks. I voice my concern.

Actually, Kevin explains, tarantulas are an ideal starting point for arachnophobes. For a start, they don’t scuttle; neither do they possess the disconcerting propensity for swarming exhibited in films like Arachnophobia. In fact, they don’t move much at all. They’re also soft and furry. ‘Just like a teddy bear,’ he says, ‘but more leggy.’

Rusty is a two inch-long Chilean Beautiful. Kevin calls her ‘Baby’. He tells us that tarantulas are fragile creatures (a fall of just one metre can be fatal, unlike the sturdy house spider which can be flung from windows with reckless abandon). This sounds like a twist on the familiar they’re-more-scared-of-you refrain, but that doesn’t stop it from working.

Rusty’s feet are pleasingly soft against my palm, and although at one point my brain kicks in and screams, ‘There’s an enormous spider on my hand!’, she really just feels like an extremely lethargic hamster. By the time I return her to the tank, I am already less apprehensive about the next challenge.

Kevin introduces us to the house spider in increments, first getting us to peer at it inside a cup. Instead of the expected horror, I find myself thinking, ‘Huh, it’s just a less interesting tarantula.’ Still, I am relieved to hear that it won’t be crawling across our hands. Instead, Kevin asks us to poke it with a stick. This is designed to desensitise us to the dreaded scuttling, and after a few minutes of prodding the thing I start to feel slightly cruel, apparently an indicator that I am ready to progress to the next level. Half an hour later, we have all successfully ushered the spider under a cup and practiced releasing it into the wild.

The workshop hasn’t altogether cured my fear of spiders. There may still be some screaming if I find one in my bed. But – armed with my new spider poking stick – I feel confident enough to issue it into a cup and get it the hell out of my room. And, for now, that’s enough to help me sleep at night.

Edinburgh Butterfly & Insect World, at Dobbies Garden World, Lasswade, Midlothian, 0131 663 4932. Spider-handling classes start at 1.30pm and cost £7.70; the next classes are Thu 29 Nov, Wed 12 Dec and Mon 17 Dec.

Spider Phobia Workshop

Meet arachnophobia head on, armed with knowledge and a safe and friendly atmosphere. Booking recommended. Price includes full admission to Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect world.

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