Stag (June, 2016)

You fly like a man drowning. Frantically paddling, wings out of sync, legs akimbo, worried faces. Trajectory: downward. Down on to the stillness of your back.

Our natural reactions are to stay motionless — completely still — in the face of danger. But being on your back at the bottom of Lewisham station stairwell is not where you evolved to be. Lewisham evolved around you. While you crept out at night from the dead wood pile, drunk on hormones and ready to wrestle, a city was built around you. Concrete towers grew tall and were felled. Metal and glass towers grew in their place. You stayed.

We guard you. People rush past, fear of the beetle in their eyes. We flip you the right way with our tickets. Your grappling hook feet still thrash for grip. Your movements jerky, like a clockwork toy that can’t quite get going. Antennae waving — four points on the end, like fingers reaching out to hold onto air. Between your shields, gilt edges.

Down the stairs comes the only other person not afraid. He looks at us. Nice stag beetle, he says. They’re rare now. We shepherd you to the edge. The bright lights behind you, the thick dark night of the undergrowth ahead. Your antlers twitch.

Spiders (October 2014)

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.