The minutiae of life

There’s a spider in the corner of the window above my desk.  He’s one of those spindly, gangly types, and he set up home there about three weeks ago.  I call him Maurice.

Maurice the spider.

I’d say he wasn’t too sure what sort of welcome I’d give him, because he waited about a week before making a web.  He used to watch the little flies darting around near him and you could see him getting tense if one of them came within range, with his little spider ears pricked up and his little spider lungs pumping.  Back in those days before webs, getting a meal meant serious sprinting, but my little spider was up for it because he was young then.  One quick lunge at just the right moment and the unfortunate fly was tonight’s dinner.

That was back in the days before Maurice realised I wasn’t going to bash him with a newspaper, but why would I do a thing like that?

He has his job to do and I have mine.  He isn’t doing anything to me.  People routinely whack much higher animals to provide me with a dinner.  Fish.  Sheep.  Cattle.  Not yet ostriches though, or reindeer.

Tristram Shandy’s uncle Toby “scarce had heart to retaliate upon a fly”, though I have to admit that Toby is a better man than I when it comes to bluebottles.  This world surely is wide enough to hold both thee and me, he told the housefly as he ushered it out the window, but Uncle Toby was one in a million.

I read that book on trains all over Europe many thousand years ago when, as a twenty-something, I wandered from this country to that, and it has never left my mind, for some strange reason.  I’ll never forget Uncle Toby, whose groin was dismally crushed by a stone from the parapet at the siege of Namur, even though the author, Laurence Stern,  lost the run of himself about half way through his book and descended into turgid unreadability.  I don’t blame him; after all, he was writing the very first English-language novel, and for that alone he’s entitled to a little slack.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman will forever evoke memories of short-tempered border guards at nameless frontiers demanding Papers Papers in the middle of the night.  If I had Maurice with me, I’d have set my spider on them.


Curiously, the first time I read Ulysses was on one of those trains, and  I bought the book in Italy, which I suppose had a happy Joycean symmetry about it, but this is straying far from spiders.

After about a week, Maurice became confident enough to build a web which saves him a lot of running.  At his age it isn’t so easy any more, but in fairness to the poor devil, he keeps it spotlessly clean, flinging out the carapaces and exoskeletons of his dinners every single day.

He’s much tidier than I am, though not as good as Uncle Toby, since he’d be more than happy to devour a bluebottle if he could get his legs on one. I’d say he’s stronger than he looks.  Wiry.

I wonder if he has tattoos.

Sometimes of an evening, I stare at Maurice and Maurice regards me with a sort of wary contempt.

I’d eat you, you bastard.

Luckily, I’m about a million times bigger than Maurice, which is just as well, for I fear his glitttering eye.

A good friend of mine — Wrinkly Paddy — had a dog much like my own dog, Satan, and sometimes of an evening, as we tossed away the cap from a newly-opened whisky bottle, Paddy would point at his pet.

See him? he’d demand.  What do you reckon he’s thinking?

I’d shrug.  Maybe he’s wondering what we’re doing.

Nothing! Paddy would shout.  Nothing at all.  Not a thing.   Not one single thing is going on inside that little skull.  Nothing!!

When I see the behaviour of many humans, I incline more and more to agree with Paddy.  Everywhere I look, there are dimwits with absolutely nothing going on inside their heads, and these are people with human-sized craniums.  What then of a dog?  And how much less a spider?

Inside poor Maurice’s head, there is nothing at all going on except Housefly!  Jump! Eat!

Here’s the curious one-sided relationship between me and this arachnid. I wouldn’t dream of bashing him with a newspaper because I don’t see any need to do so and I recognise his right to exist.  Maurice, on the other hand, has absolutely nothing at all going on in his little spider skull, would happily devour me, given half a chance.

It isn’t a great basis for a friendship really.  Is it?



I’m sorry to tell you that Maurice passed away overnight.  He didn’t suffer.

14 thoughts on “Webs

  1. I’d imagine most people have too much going on in there heads.. We could learn a lot from dogs, they do seem much happier than humans.

  2. I don’t go out of my way to kill flies or spiders. But I also don’t stop my cats from eating them and spiders.

    I wonder is not caring whether they live or die better than killing them whenever I can?

    then again, I do help the “higher” animals if I can. Lifting tired young birds off the pavement and into local gardens if they can’t get the energy up to do it themselves. Dragging run-over fatally injured cats off the road and onto the path so they can at least die in less fear.

    this has sometimes backfired though – one of our cats, Flidais, was originally a wild-cat, until she was knocked over and damaged her spine so badly that she couldn’t move her back legs and was incontinent. We discovered her sitting in a closed cardboard box on our doorstep one rainy evening. I’m sure someone helped her into it, but we never found out who (maybe they were afraid of a bill?). We nursed her back to full health, including the use of her back legs. She eventually had some kids, and then got knocked down again, this time fatally – ah well – you can’t teach cats, can you…

    Back to spiders – I once had this idea of building a web-cam-and-motor controlled laser cannon for shooting flies and spiders, with the idea that each week, a video montage of successful shots could be played back. Unfortunately, I don’t have a laser and wouldn’t know how to build one powerful enough, so I changed my mind to do it with tiny ballistae. Then I found out last year that some research students in America had come up with exactly my idea (laser-cannon), but for mosquitoes. Bastards. I should have patented the idea.

    well… long and pointless ramble over.

  3. From W.H. Davies: Forgiveness

    Stung by a spiteful wasp,
    I let him go life free:
    That proved the difference
    In him and me.

    For, had I killed my foe,
    It had proved at once
    The stronger wasp, and no
    More difference.

    Glad that you are at peace with Maurice. Hope it will not grow your size. Best regards to both of you.

  4. Let’s see now. Spider, web…I hate to say it but Maurice might actually be a she. Not that it matters at all. Good post.

  5. Many of Maurice’s relatives have set up camp in my house.

    I am not as nice as you.

  6. As a child I had a pet spider. I use to feed tiny pieces of chicken on the head of a pin. By holding in the web very gently, and the thing used to pounce on it as if it were alive and eat it! Weird I know! But it is odd the type of things kids will get up to.

  7. Bock, this is worrying – I too first read Ulysses on an Inter-rail odyssey through Europe in 1981. You’re not by any chance me in an alternative time-line, are you? Do you remember this happening? A German tries to strike a conversation with you with the comment, “Ah so, you are readink Ulysses. Wery good book, I haf read it in German.” Your reply shuts him up; “Fair fucks to you, mate, I find bits of it difficult going in English, and I’m Irish and live in Dublin.”

  8. I’m with Kirk… if he’s a she then there’s probably a nest full of mini-maurices lying around somewhere waiting to hatch and crawl into your mouth while you sleep. Yummy.

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