Arachnidae – Fall and spiders go together if you live in an islands’ house.


I wrote this way back in 1994. I’ve met a few spiders this week.

Really the spiders are getting a bit much. I know I’m supposed to like spiders and how insect-free they keep us and I do rescue spiders from the bathtub but the other morning a wolf spider fell from the ceiling and landed on my head with a discernible thud while I was reading in bed. It scampered off across the bed clothes. If this had happened to me when I was a young woman I would have been gibbering in a corner, as it was I merely gave a small shudder and went back to the good bit in my book. I was careful not to relate this incident to my daughter, or son-in-law come to that, when they visited soon after. However it did harden my heart.

I’m so tired of seeing piles of desiccated sow bug corpses and miscellaneous body parts of other insects at every angle between surfaces. And did you know that spiders poop— sort of  insect version of bird droppings? I can’t imagine why I thought they didn’t, plain ignorance I should think. Beneath each spider’s lair is a tiny pile of guano.

I simply can’t keep up with the cobwebs. There are swags of them hanging between the track lights and the beams. Every doorway is decorated in its upper corners with a matching triangular pair, rather like the filigree wrought iron-work that decorates houses in Western Australia. The pitched ceiling is festooned. We took off the skylights a month ago to finish the trim (I’ve only been getting-a-round-to-it for eight years!); the new lightwells are already crisscrossed with webs.

My theory about spiderwebs is that by the time they become cobwebs and come to our attention they are dusty and obsolete and so removing them is no crime. Anyway I feel like challenging those architectural insects to practice their art; cobwebs are a far cry from those iridescent discs hung between branches.

Late summer seems to be spiders’ prolific time, especially for nest building. I can’t imagine how many thousands of the minute babies have been hatched and loosed upon me. I bet those spiders pick their time; in summer you’re outdoors more and hardly use lights at all so webs and nests don’t show up as much.

The full horror of cobwebs shows up in darkening September. I’m beginning to feel like Miss Haversham in Great Expectations, especially when I found a new one overnight— from the sugar pot to the juicer. I begin to fear that I shall be spun upon if I sit too long over dinner. I almost duck when I come in the door from the studio.

Instead of lying in bed in the morning contemplating logs and beams and roof pitch, (mine’s about the angle of the snowsheds in the Rogers Pass and I think about far-off mountains and wild weather), I find myself scheming how and when I will climb high enough to remove the webs.

For twenty-five years I had a vacuum cleaner that would happily lock itself into place on the little flap-out shelf at the top of my stepladder and up I would hoist it and get cracking. Last year I got a brand-new bigger one with lots of suck. It had no head for heights. On the first go at the skylights it plunged off the ladder into the abyss and broke off one of its little wheelies on impact; was I ticked off. This has made the whole cobweb vendetta more fraught.

Well, I began my dewebbing this morning early. I have company coming from Alberta next week and, while I don’t think they will love me any less festooned, I do feel it’s an extra motivation to be taken advantage of, and I really don’t want to be judged by the length of my cobwebs.

There’s nothing like company coming to bring on a cleaning fit. Though my Mother was a very sociable person, she always found guests a bit of a burden. She was a hopeless housekeeper and I, the eldest daughter, had to fill the void. We might have guests for Sunday lunch but it wasn’t until Saturday when I was home from school, or job, that my mother would plan the cleaning campaign or ‘clearing up’ as she called it.

Of course I must tell that there were a large number of younger children to create and recreate the degree of disorder we lived in and always a cow and other livestock; even when my stepfather, then a plastics engineer, worked in London. (He commuted insane distances so that we could live in a seventeenth century farmhouse in the wilds of Buckinghamshire.)

In fact the recurrence of disorder was the reason for the delaying of the cleaning. Often we would start on Sunday morning in great haste while the roast was in the oven. The pressure and tempo would build as the succulent odours from the oven increased. My mother was as good a cook as I was a housecleaner.

Our rationale was sorting, dusting and vacuuming of living areas first. Given the time frame, bedroom doors were merely firmly shut. In fact the sound of doors being gently closed is associated in my mind with day guests. And woe-be-tide any child who left a bedroom door open once the guests had arrived.

Bathrooms were done as late as possible as they would surely be undone by the youngsters. The kitchen floor was usually washed right after the mashing of the potatoes, one of my specialities, and concurrently with the making of the gravy which led to some fancy footwork.

On the stairs we had bright rust-red cord carpeting, a decorating mistake which showed every piece of lint. On one particularly fraught Sunday morning my Mother and I were having a running logistics council, and as I dash away she added, ‘And don’t do the stairs till you can see the whites of their eyes.’ I turned, looked her in the eye and we broke into laughter. One of the countless good laughs I had with my Mother.

In fact that priceless remark has probably been the basis of my entire career in event management. The Sunday morning sessions were certainly where I taught myself logistics, timing, organization and working to deadlines—I had to in sheer self-defense.

Dewebbing – Excerpted from ‘Christa’s Almanac of Expedient Country Housekeeping’

Don’t expect to complete the house at one go. Think of this as an entirely different chore from regular house cleaning; the cobwebs will by their nature not be in the traffic patterns, so you can do a little at a time. Assume a Zen frame of mind in which you don’t care if you never get finished, you’re just here for the experience. Leave the vacuum cleaner, ladder and brush standing about—out of traffic patterns at night naturally. As the urge to get that long trailer comes over you on your way to the bathroom, turn urge into actualization.

Begin at the ceiling and work down wherever possible. Unless you live with exceptionally smooth walls you cannot remove cobwebs with a cloth, broom, whisk brush, or even a nylon bristled handbrush. Nothing but a pure bristle handbrush (a wooden handle adds to the aesthetic) or the crevice tool of your vacuum will suffice. Anything else merely smears the web into an ugly trail across wall or ceiling, light if you have a dark wall, dark if you have a light wall; rather like clouds by day, and clouds by night. The amount of sticky left on the threads ensured that the resulting smear can only then be removed by picking it off with your fingernails.

Attempt to flick or suck your web off cleanly. The advantage of the crevice tool is that the removed web will not then be twisted around the head of the brush and in narrow spaces it’s the only way to go. however the weight if the vacuum cleaner may make you choose the bristle brush for upper walls and large areas.





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