Spiders in Acton are a sign of seasonal change. I’ve not experienced
anything like it, nor lived anywhere like it since the age of seven, when I was
ripped from the suburban housing estate comforts of Hertfordshire, and rerooted
to an ugly working village in the middle of Suffolk. In that village there was
space, and the privacy that comes with four walls separated from
the neighbouring houses. I discovered birds. Cocksure Pheasants strutting
through the garden, the raucous Rookery over the road and Fieldfares raiding
the apple trees in the garden of my neighbour too elderly to pick them. The
first Chiffchaffs of the year became important to me. It signified spring.
Autumn by the sky filling with birds again after the summer lull. Juveniles of
many species locating due south and sailing over.
Last summer I moved to London. To a job in deepest west London, where
the grey and beige seep from the sky and the concrete and color everything. I
lost my horizon to the perimeter of the street. My sky was no longer so full of
birds. In its place I found spiders. I found spiders straddled across my front
gate in the murky half light of the morning, only I didn’t find them until I
found them on my face, silk breaking around me and feelings of both disgust and
guilt. Sorry little guy. We repeated it for two months, gradually decreasing in
frequency until around November and the arrival of winter in the city.
Winter isn’t a season worth celebrating in London: it is damp, mild and
filthy, and its citizens match the gloominess of their surroundings. It is mild
enough so that the Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps don’t have to leave, and this
doesn’t give spring a headstart but spoils it’s grand arrival with the longer,
brighter days. If the leaves never quite all fall from the trees than what is
winter? Where does that leave spring?
So instead I celebrate autumn, and away from the countryside and coast
that I grew up on, in and with, I’ve turned to spiders. I watch them on grey
Saturdays as I wash away the past week with endless coffee. I learn their
names. It seems the polite place to begin. The Garden Cross spider. With a name
it can go beyond mere surface appearance. A surface that is stripy brown legs,
alternating light and dark, with a crucifix of broken white stamped onto its
abdomen. And I watch one weaving its web from the inside out, against the
pale sky where the web can’t be seen, leaving her to space-walk slowly and
purposefully, suspended by her own invisible lines. When woven the web is both
intricate and massive, the size of the window looking out onto the garden. It
collects a hoverfly and a small wasp, both quickly wrapped up in excess webbing
and slowly deflated. A life transfusion. In it she finds the protein that gets
metabolised into the white crucifix mark on her back
Meanwhile in the spiders I find a life that makes me feel better about
being in the city. Amidst the rush that threats to drain the life out
of me, I can still find new ways to mark the seasons, and keep in touch with
the nature around me that’s different to what I’m used to in the country.
And then October. The spiders begin to fade away and the sky is pierced
with the soft edged calls of Redwings and the clatter of Fieldfares amongst the
traffic noise, jet engine roar, parakeet shriek and sirens, alarms and the
hectic hurry. I miss the spiders just sitting there.