Wednesday 17 July 2019

Flying Electric Spiders

That should so be the name of a band, shouldn’t it?  A no-holds-barred garage band whose super-fans throw gigantic fluffy spider toys on stage at gigs (so much more hygienic than knickers).  My sister once had a gigantic fluffy spider toy;  it had pipe-cleaner legs and red teddy-bear eyes on wire stalks, and you could bounce it up and down on the thin elastic attached to its furry black head.  As a child I used it covertly a couple of times by half-hiding it in my bedroom in a bid to scare off the little lady that came once a week to help my mum with the cleaning.   (I’m aware how terribly middle-class that is... Truth being that my mum did struggle to cope, and this was at a time when she was also reliant on another kind of mother’s little helper – the small round one commonly known as Valium).

I was a horrible, naughty child and poor Mrs Sibley in her flowery overall and thick tan tights was the intended victim of my cunning plan.  I was sure that if I carefully secreted the spider in a dusty corner, the unexpected discovery of it would be enough to make her shriek and leave my bedroom in a panic.  The Betta Bilda blocks, my Francie doll and assorted plastic farm animals could then stay strewn on a dirty floor for another week.  ( I tried the same tactic with a rubber snake, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, that’s how much I believed in the power of spiders…

And I still do.  I’m convinced that if real spiders were aware of the fear they are capable of inducing, even in otherwise rational adult humans, they could take over the world.

I also believe that most of the creatures surrounding us are far superior to us in so many ways, they just lack the arrogance and vindictiveness (two purely human traits) to use it against us.   From tiny worms, blind and limbless, being able to detect minute changes in air pressure which means that even underground they can tell when it’s going to rain, to the incredible navigational sense of birds migrating thousands of miles across mountains and oceans to the exact same place each year, these are innate skills we humans can only dream of having.  Then again, worms and birds don’t know how to add a cat face filter to a selfie so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves...

So here is where flying electric spiders come in.  ‘Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity’ is the sort of headline that makes my ears prick up (without the need for a cat face filter) and to my mind, totally supports the theory of their superiority.  Marvellous, amazing, fantastic spiders - I love them. We know that they are able to travel beyond where their eight little legs can carry them; they've been found two and a half miles up in the sky and 1000 miles out to sea, and recently two researchers at the University of Bristol were able to demonstrate that it was far more than just random wind power that propelled them.  Spiders can actually sense the Earth’s electric field and use it to launch themselves into the air.

These researchers "... put the arachnids on vertical strips of cardboard in the centre of a plastic box, and then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling of similar strengths to what the spiders would experience outdoors.  These ruffled tiny sensory hairs on the spiders' feet... In response the spiders performed a set of movements called tiptoeing - they stood on the ends of their legs and stuck their abdomens in the air...  Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them..."   

Now I don't know if this sort of stuff interests you as much as it does me, but you can read the full article here.

All this leads me to think that, one day when we've properly fucked up the planet and each other, leaving behind a world inhabited only by the last surviving creatures of the non-human variety, they will fare very well indeed.  Whereas me - well, Mrs Sibley did still clean my room, and moved my toys, unnerved by a fluffy spider with pipe cleaner legs - I'm merely human.

This gives me a good excuse to post some Australian '80s garage punk in the form of the Lime Spiders too, don't you think?!

Tuesday 2 July 2019


This kind of edge

Not this

56 years ago today in an East End hospital my mum was having a very hard time.  She was trying to give birth to a baby which had somehow got itself stuck the wrong way round and was determined to come out feet first – a breech birth.  At least that’s what she always gave as the reason for any subsequent occasion when I behaved awkwardly and uncooperatively and, to be honest, there were many.    I too am happy to blame it on the fact that I couldn’t even enter the world the right way up - I think it sort of set a precedent.

So I find myself reflecting on this today, the anniversary of my upside down arrival on the planet, because I think I’m having a teensy weensy bit of an existential crisis.  Nothing serious, don't worry. Just one of those phases when you find yourself thinking and then having aBOOF!moment – like a sudden metaphorical punch in the gut – when you consider just  how much time you’ve actually been alive and what the future might hold.  Oh shit.  I don't mean the nursing homes or the tablets - let's not even go there - I mean the damping down of our personal fires.   It feels like one of those cinematic effects commonly used in horror films, when the camera draws back from its subject in a series of abrupt, increasingly distant moves, creating a sense of growing unease, of disconnection with the scenery.  Not that I’m going to descend into the depths of despair about it.  Oh no - instead I just feel my inner awkward, rebellious spirit getting particularly fidgety, wanting to kick against conformity and middle aged blandness more than ever.  I’m feeling a need to keep my edges sharpened; I fear they’ve been getting a little too blunt lately, like I've let things rust, or start to atrophy. (Mixed metaphors must also be a symptom.)  Anyway, I never did feel comfortable fitting neatly into the mainstream, so why start now?

Maybe I’ve just seen too many clich├ęd adverts (for 'seniors') featuring insipid people discussing their prize roses and pension plans as if that's all life has ever been about.  Overheard too many twee conversations in the supermarket about golf and jacuzzis.  Been surrounded by too many Middle Englanders with their misplaced pride and their nasty, petty prejudices, and read about too many opinionated arseholes with closed minds and tight lipped, mean-spirited ways.  I witnessed a trumped-up older man - a 'jobsworth' type - having a go at a younger man on the Tube as I made my way back from London on Friday (after a lovely day) and I felt ashamed to be closer to him in age than the subject of his ire.  Okay, so his 'fire' hadn't been damped down, but his attitude was so narrow, his sense of entitlement obnoxious. By contrast I then spent the longer part of my journey home sat with five great, bright young people...the difference pulled me up short.  After all, being a kind, decent person and keeping your edge are not mutually exclusive.

So, with the exception of good trousers, I'm just not ready for the straight and narrow, and the passing of another year has brought some things into sharp relief.  I reckon it's probably a good thing.  (Perhaps it'll help me blog more?)

Other than all that, though, I’m having a lovely birthday... :-)

Jarvis Cocker's new single has been my earworm of the seems oddly apt.
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