Erikka Askeland: Two legs good, eight legs … just creepy

IT IS now perhaps safe to return to the Asda in Chesser, Edinburgh, after staff found a giant poisonous tropical spider in a shipment of bananas this week.

Petra Merriman, the employee who calmly captured the thing, should be given the George Cross. Not just because she kept her head while all those around her were losing theirs – she actually described her colleagues as “running around like headless chickens”. But she should also be recognised by all women for taking one for the team – she was the only one who wasn’t terrified by the great hairy beast, while it was the blokes who were screaming like girls.

This is because the fairer sex is more likely to be arachnophobe than are men – around 55 per cent of women and 18 per cent of men experience a fear of spiders, according to some reports.

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I should know because I am one. And while the Man in My Life serves many important functions in our relationship, I’m not sure quite how aware he is of how important his role as chief spider dispatcher is.

My fear of eight-legged things is not debilitating. I survived my last encounter, despite being home alone, but only after I was forced to curl up in ball on the sofa and send a text message in capital letters: “IT’S SO BIG I CAN HEAR IT SCUTTLING ACROSS THE FLOOR!!!!”.

But I am not like the woman who felt compelled to tape up all the vents in her house to prevent arachnid ingress. Nor have I been driven to the extremes of Chris Welding, who was taken to hospital after he blew up his bathroom trying to kill a spider using an aerosol and a lighter.

The reporting on that story was telling – not only had his wife sent him so armed into the bathroom on her behalf, but a spokesman for the Essex Fire Service reported that: “We’re not entirely sure whether the spider got away or not, but there was no sign of it at the scene.”

I detect in this comment an effort to try to keep a straight face at the extremes to which Mr Welder went in order to get the damned spider.

Those of us with irrational fears are often subject to the smirking of others. Yet it is possible to be aware that spiders in Britain are mostly non-venomous and hardly ever make leaps from tree branches into your hair, and still quail at the sight of their creepy little legs.

I have tried to come to terms with certain spiders. I once had a – not very hygienic – friend who hosted the nest of a spider on the ledge of his bathroom sink for months. It was home to one of those colossal wolf spiders that seem to have beady little black eyes on the end of stalks. Upon using my friend’s loo, the spider and I would stare at each other warily. I may even have eventually worked up the nerve to wash my hands afterwards, although the thought of it still makes me jittery. I did not turn my back on it.

I wasn’t always afraid of spiders. When I was a child, I was the most likely one to be sent into the dark, spidery crawlspace underneath the house when the taps needed tightening. I was fearless. I don’t know what happened except that come puberty the sight of a spider made me tingle all the way down the back of my neck, and not in a good way.

Those who have tried to talk me out of my fear of spiders, smirking or otherwise, have often attempted to appeal to my softer nature. I know those behemoths that hurl themselves from underneath the sofa come autumn are just lonely hearts looking for a mate and a little lie down before winter sets in.

I am happy for the Man to gently cup the spider in his palm and take it outside. And while it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy to see an example of his humanitarian nature, he isn’t allowed to touch me until he’s washed his hands.

Yet I was genuinely saddened to hear that the poor banana spider, who, having survived the long trip in a packing crate sent from Honduras, died shortly afterwards. The spider guy at its final resting place, the Edinburgh Butterfly and Insect World, said it probably died of shock – perhaps from waking up to all that screaming.

But it does mean it should be safe to go back to Asda. Although I might still wait a few days before I do.