|You’re locked in a room with your greatest fear. Describe what’s in the room.|
When I was about three years old, I was playing with my brother and sister, running up the alleyway behind the terraced house we lived in at that time. As I ran, I came across an old, abandoned wheelbarrow, discarded in the bramble hedge that ran the length of the path behind the houses.
I was paralysed by what I saw that day, and not for the last time in my life. Completely spanning the interior of the wheelbarrow was as perfect an example of a spiderweb as you are ever likely to see. And at the centre of this web was a huge, fat, striped, orange spider.
As I watched, mesmerised by the creature, it began a strange, rapid reverberation; the entire web pulsating at great speed. In that moment I could take no more, and began to scream in blind terror. This was the moment of the birth of my fear, Arachnophobia; and this is also my earliest memory.
I was nine years old when it happened, and if I ever need therapy, I have a hunch it will involve this day. At this time I was living with my family in a Victorian red brick detached house in Lymington, in Hampshire.
My Dad was in business with his brother Peter, and their father, George. They were house builders, and had purchased all the houses in the block where we lived and were planning to redevelop them at some time in the future.
The house next door was converted into offices, and the long gardens behind were converted into a builders yard, with sand and gravel a-plenty, and Diggers and Dumpers parked up at the weekend.
Halfway down the gardens, spanning almost the width of both plots was an ancient brick building with a slate pitched roof. The bricks were old and flaking off where years of hard winters had seen water penetrate the porous surface, only to freeze as the temperature dropped, expanding as it did so, and cracking lumps off of the surface.
One corner of the building was truncated by a diagonal row of a much newer brick, a repair made by Dad to patch up some damage that occurred during an air-raid in the Second World War.
Incongruous across the front of the building was a large, modern, metal, sliding door, which as a nine year old boy I barely had the strength to move. Once opened, it revealed a large bay, subdivided into three sections with a dark passageway set in the back wall that led to three entirely different rooms.
Looking up you could see beyond the blackened rafters to the underside of the slates and battens that made up the roof covering, and here and there a finger of light, poking through the tired and weathered slates.
The first two rooms are of no interest to this story, but the third was the stuff of nightmares. The Electrical Store. Merely to type the words raises goosebumps on my flesh. The door was wooden, with its black painted surface peeling and curling to reveal earlier brighter shades that hinted at a time when its contents were of a different nature.
Once you removed the large, silver padlock that secured the door, it opened inwards onto a long, low, narrow room. On both sides of the room, running its entire length were ancient wooden shelves that rose from the floor right up to the rafters that crossed barely above your head, every sixteen inches.
The shelves were filled with wooden crates and boxes holding all manner of electrical goods. Switches, sockets, cable and clips in their hundreds and thousands. Suspended on the rafters above were lengths of plastic tube in varying sizes to suit the many different cables that stood stacked at the end of the room, wound on wooden reels.
I didn’t go into that place willingly, or ever alone. Vast, white sheets of cobweb hung between the rafters, and between the boxes, hideous white cotton tubes in their multitudes snaked behind and beyond the boxes; the front doors of dark, disgusting, hairy legged inhabitants.
On the crumbling walls were the skeletal remains of impossibly large specimens, like the bones of prehistoric arachnids, hung in some perverse museum, or as trophies on the wall of a great spider hunter. I was nauseous and weak in their presence, my life force ebbing away with each agonizing second I was forced to endure their company. They were my Kryptonite.
One weekend, while playing with my Hot Wheels cars on the orange race track I had arranged down the stairs, a large brown spider ran out from under the door to the cupboard under the stairs. I screamed involuntarily, and my Dad came to see what the problem was.
I pointed to the spider and crying, I asked him to get rid of it. I don’t know what snapped in him that day, why he did what he did next, but it will live with me forever. Perhaps he thought he was doing me a favour; to cure me of my condition. Or maybe he had just had enough of my irrational fear. Either way he grew angry, and picked me up, and carried me over his shoulder down to the Electrical Store.
I screamed so much my throat hurt, I told him I was sorry and begged him not too, but he was resolute. He took out his keys and took off the silver padlock. Then he took me off his shoulder and thrust me into the Store, and slammed and padlocked the door. I don’t know how long he left me there but it was a long time.
I don’t even remember any more when he took me out. I think my mind couldn’t cope and shut down to spare my sanity. It didn’t cure me, but I learned to try and conceal my fear in his presence to avoid another lock-in. I am still afraid of spiders. I don’t even want therapy, because I don’t want to have to get close to them.
I forgave my dad for this a long time ago, I think he must have thought it would help me. We never talked about it and we never will. He isn’t the kind of guy to sit down and read a blog, and to tell you the truth, I wouldn’t want him too. I don’t want him to feel bad about this now, all these years later.
What would be the point of that?