Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spiders KNOW!

My family has always said that I exaggerate a lot. Well, I don't! I don't, I don't, I don't! So there! I just tell it as I see it! It has also long been known in my family that me and spiders do not cohabit well. Especially the bigger spiders, like the Huntsmen with their long grey hairy legs (haven't they heard of waxing in Spiderville?), the big fat black house spiders (do the have a spider Atkins diet?) and the even worse White Tail spiders with their nasty bites that you never feel (usually while you are asleep in bed, the rude buggers). Weeeeellllll, a couple of days ago, it rained here in Canberra like never before, at least not in the ten years I've been here in this drought ridden city. Three inches in three days, which will drive the outdoor spiders indoors. Then my diligent husband went around and sprayed under the eaves for spiders which seem to increase rapidly in numbers at this breeding time of year, early spring. Which again will drive spiders indoors, in particular under the roof into the roofspace. Which wouldn't be a problem except that in two of our three bathrooms, we have heat lamps with an exhaust fan, which leaves gaps into the roofspace around the fittings. Now, before I married my Charlie in 2004, I had 51 years of managing spiders myself, overcoming my natural instinctive fears and squashing many an interloper into my home. I have used thongs, brooms, big sticks, heavy boots, kitchen chairs and sundry other inventive spider squashing devices. They have plenty of world OUT THERE to live, so go live OUT THERE! But I have a husband now, and a good one at that, and what are husbands really good for? Why, killing spiders of course! Any woman knows that! So, two days ago, I was doing my hair in the second bathroom and noticed something in the mirror, something hovering just above my left shoulder. Turned around and EYEBALLED a big White Tail spider. Didn't have time to move or scream, just hit it with my very hot hair tongs and fried it! It had come down on a single strand of web from the exhaust fan overhead. One fried spider gone! Didn't think any more of it. Once I'd stopped shaking, that is. BUT ...  the next day, I went into that bathroom and opened the drawer in the vanity unit to get a tissue and there, SITTING ON A LARGE RED VELCRO ROLLER WAS THE BIGGEST, FATTEST BLACK SPIDER I HAVE EVER SEEN! And it was looking RIGHT AT ME! Now, anyone with arachnophobia will know that I speak the ABSOLUTE TRUTH! I am still having nightmares about how it got into a sealed drawer that I go into every day. Regardless of how it got in there, I know it went in there because it KNEW I go into that drawer every day, it KNEW that we had sprayed it's web outside under the eaves and killed a lot of its mates (and probably its family as well) and it KNEW that I'd fried its best friend, the White Tail spider the day before. My hand ALMOST TOUCHED IT! It clung to the velcro roller (or was it stuck to the velcro, will we ever know?) and it glared at me. I ran for my husband, who came and said "Oh, it really is a big one", then picked up the velcro roller carefully and threw it into the spa. He looked at me, I looked at him, we looked down into the spa - AND THE SPIDER WAS GONE! Just the red velcro roller sitting in the bottom of the spa. SO ...  did that big fella go down the plughole, or into one of the spa outlets????? That is the question that haunts me now. I plugged up the plughole and there the plug remains, but I want to have a spa this afternoon and have decided to run a very hot one, turn on the motor and see what comes out of the outlets before I even think of putting my little toe into the water. And if it did go down the plughole, I'll empty the spa AFTER I get out of the water, don't want the bugger swimming it's way up my leg as the water drains out! So, there you are. Not one iota of exaggeration in that story AT ALL! Don't you agree? I'm off to run a spa. Will let you know the outcome.

Adventures With Snakes!

You already know I have a THING about spiders. Well, that is nothing compared to my THING with snakes. And if you are a snake lover, then I should apologise, but I won't. I was born with an aversion to snakes. Not lizards, which is strange because snakes are basically just lizards without legs. I even had lizards as pets when I was a little girl. Two blue tongue lizards and two sleepy lizards. I fed them every day and spent a lot of time holding them. But try to get me near a snake and it's like I sieze up. I actually went to the trouble of approaching a snake handler at a rural show a few years ago and asked if I could touch the python curled around his neck. I really wanted to overcome my fear of snakes. My hand moved towards it, but as I got within a foot of the creature, I simply went into meltdown and had to leave quickly. So, to my first encounter with a snake. Well, that isn't hard to remember. When I was ten, my family moved from the city to the South Australian Riverland, a fruit block of approximately 20 acres. We went from a very modern house in Adelaide suburbia to what can only be called a shack in the middle of an old soldier settlement block (hence the term "block" and "blockers") surrounded by mature apricot, peach and orange trees, with a small section of natural scrub with a few big gum trees. The block was right on the River Murray with a steep cliff dropping down to the river. There were many adventures during the decade I lived there, but today, I'll just tell you about the snakes. Black snakes, brown snakes, pythons, but mostly tiger snakes, the most common snake on the Riverland. They are nasty snakes because, whereas black and brown snakes will mostly run from you, tiger snakes will go for you. You don't take chances with a tiger snake. And there were lots of them! Oh, and I mustn't forget the purple snake. Yes, purple! My first memory of a snake was with a purple one. We had a long sandy track running from the house to the main road where my Bro and Sis and I walked to catch the school bus into Loxton. The track passed through some of the natural scrub and one day, as we were walking home after getting off the bus, I looked down and there at my feet was a BRIGHT PURPLE SNAKE! Oh, yes, it was PURPLE! I went into snake meltdown, threw my school case in the air and RAN. Of course, we'd had the lecture from all the locals about what to do when you came across a snake. You were supposed to FREEZE, not move AT ALL, and let the snake move on. Are you kidding? All sense, reason and planning goes out the window at the merest hint of a snake in the vicinity of my person! So I ran, all the way back home, where my father said, "There is no such thing as a purple snake! And where is your school bag!" He didn't believe me at all. Bro and Sis hadn't seen the snake, so I got no backup there. And Dad drove me back up the track and made me go through the scrub looking for my school bag. I was in tears. All I could think about was that purple snake! And for years, I have not been able to explain it, until a couple of years ago. I was visiting some sort of animal reserve that had some snakes in glass cages. In one of those cages was a big healthy black snake. As I walked past it (feeling sick and shaky), I saw how the sunlight glinted on its gleaming black skin, like sunlight glinting on oil floating on water, and it had a PURPLE SHEEN! Mystery solved. Pity Dad isn't still around, I would have phoned him and told him straight away. I wasn't making it up, it WAS PURPLE! Maybe he's listening up there somewhere, or reading this Blog in cyber-heaven or whatever. Hope so. Would also like to thank him for teaching us kids how to use snake wires. He made them out of heavy gauge wire, about six feet long, double over and twisted around itself. We were made to carry our snake wires with us whenever we went out onto the block without him or without Patchy, our dog who was the best snake dog in the world. But I'll tell you about him in the next blog. I always felt safer with my snake wire in my hand. And I had more than one occasion to use it! I'll finish Part One with the Day of the Four Tiger Snakes. As I've said, our block ended in a steep cliff which dropped down into the river. Across the river were the endless flood plains of untamed bush and backwaters. The pump which we relied on to pump water onto the block to irrigate the fruit trees lay at the base of this cliff and there was a set of steps carved into the cliff face to access the pump. Grass grew on either side of the steps and got quite high before it dried out during the summer months. My siblings and I had carved three seats into the cliff face and would sometimes take our fishing rods down there, sit quietly on the sandstone seats we'd carved and watch the Murray Cod swim around our hooks and bait (yes, the river was clear back then, we're talking early and mid 60's). I decided to go down to do some fishing myself one hot summer's day (it was ALWAYS hot there in the summer) and was about to descend the carved steps when, to my immediate right, a tiger snake raised it's head above the brown grass, hissed and flattened its head. Yes, just like a cobra! Just as I was about to throw my fishing rod in the air and run, another snake to my immediate left raised it's head, hissed and flattened its head. Now, if you think that is a tall story, I haven't finished yet! I was so terrified (both snakes were within striking distance of me) that I actually did freeze, not because it was the correct thing to do, but because I thought I was having a heart attack! As I stood there, truly frozen with fear, a third snake lifted its head about four feet to the right of me, and then a fourth snake did the same about four feet to the left of me. FOUR TIGER SNAKES hissing with flattened heads! I thought I was dead for sure! I was about twelve at the time, just a little bit of a girl with no courage at all. At that moment, our dog Patchy came up behind me and went berserk. He went for each of the snakes in turn, barking (he had a particular bark for snakes), jumping up and down in the grass (he was only a little dog but completely fearless), and drove each of those snakes back down into the grass. Which meant I couldn't see them and didn't know which direction they were going in. That was when my legs started to move again! And the next thing I knew, I'd run all the way back up the track (uphill) to the house and run inside to tell Mum. Who, of course, thought I was just exaggerating and didn't pay me much mind at all. But Patchy knew, bless him. He knew we hated snakes and used to bring us gifts of dead ones he'd killed. He dropped a big black snake onto the front doormat one day. Dad went out to get rid of it and it rose up and challenged him. It wasn't dead! Dad killed it. And that's just the first part of my adventures with snakes. I killed quite a few over the years, but that is for Part Two.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Things my children don't want to know about.

I'm C. A. Hocking, author of two novels, one of which was shortlisted for an Australian literary award, am currently working on some screenwriting for television as well as a new novel coming out soon, and I think I'm a rather intelligent, capable, talented and interesting woman. BUT ... and here's the BUT ... I'm 57, I'm middle aged, I have four adult children with lovely partners and three gorgeous grandchildren as well as two adult stepchildren with lovely partners and five gorgeous step-grandchildren (which makes me and my husband very lucky and wealthy people indeed), and as soon as I open my mouth to talk about HOW I AM FEELING TODAY, the veil comes down over their eyes. Does anyone out there know what I am talking about? I don't get that reaction from my middle aged female friends, we LOVE to talk about how we are feeling, what aches and pains we have, what operations we've had, what tablets we take. Yes, yes, I've become one of THOSE middle aged women. Alright, I saw the veil come down over your eyes just now, you can go now ... WAIT! Come back! You can't go yet! If you stayed, then you are probably just like me. If you wanted to tune out, well, I've got news for you. ONE DAY, YOU'LL BE ME! Oh, and by the way, I think I'm pretty lucky to be living in a country, a city and a community in which not always feeling the best doesn't mean I have a hard life. In some countries, some cities and some communities, it isn't easy not always feeling in tiptop shape. In my world, it simply means I have an occasional bad day, I wallow in it with chocolate, old musical DVD's and naps on the sofa until I feel better, and then I get on with things. Is this ringing any bells with anyone? My middle son jokingly suggested I write a book using all my complaints as the plot line, but it's already been done and very successfully. "Ladies of Letters", wonderful stuff! But that was before the days of blogging, stream of consciousness writing. Aahh, we live in such lovely times. More about my aches and pains tomorrow!