While it's true that I was dying with excitement to get to Australia, one thing that I could really do without, in fact, the one thing that gave me significant pause if not the outright heebie-jeebies, was Australia's reputation as the Mecca for all the world's most brutish and downright evil arachnids. If you're a young and up-and-coming spider who wants to make it as a really first-class terrorist, you know you have to go to Australia and earn your stripes. The stories are legion: the redbacks that apparently like nothing more than hiding in toilets to get first dibs on a tourist's arse; the huntsman, a spider the size of a small but malevolent dog, that likes to hide in a car's sun visor so that it can fall into laps, the better to cause maximal cardiac arrest; the white-tail, a spider with a bite that, according to popular lore, causes one's skin to go black and die; Atrax robustus, the Sydney funnel-web, infamous for falling into swimming pools and not dying or climbing into babies' cribs and into urban myth.
But my years in Oz were notable for a complete lack of encounters with our eight-legged f(r)iends. This I achieved by the simple expedient of living half way up a tower block. Job done. The only spiders I saw were the stupendously large and comically evil golden orb weavers, slinging giant webs across the cliff tops of Clovelly. If you're so inclined, you can see a picture of such a spider — eating a bird. Yes: a bird.
But my first encounter with a live huntsman is fixed in my memory. I was staying in a friend of a friend's flat, moving between Clovelly and Balmain by way of Newtown. Unlike the bracing airs of the Clovelly and Balmain, Newtown has the air of a reclaimed swamp: there's something oppressive and more than a little fetid about it. Anyway, I would use their office to listen to music on their giant PC while they were at work. One day, I was strewn across their giant leather seat, I came face to face with a huntsman on the wall. How it stayed attached to the wall was a feat of natural engineering that baffles me still; surely it weighed as much as a small grapefruit. I sat riveted for 20 minutes, willing the spider to move and break my trance. It did not move. I managed to back out of the room in a cold sweat, then ran round the house trying in vain to get my sang-froid back. When, in order that I might get a better look at my adversary, I willed myself to poke my head round the corner, it had completely vanished. I wonder if you've ever read Julio Cortazar's wonderful short story, "House Taken Over"? It's about a couple who gradually are confined to one half of their house, then a single room, by undescribed assailants or invaders. Eventually they are forced to leave:
Before we left, I felt terrible; I locked the front door up tight and tossed the key down the sewer. It wouldn't do to have some poor devil decide to go in and rob the house, at that hour and with the house taken over.That was pretty much how I felt about that room, and then that house. In practically no time, I was safely installed in a Potts Point antiseptic tower block with nothing more horrifying to worry about than the odd roach and the unceasing and implacable mosquito.
What's this got to do with Kylie Minogue? Honestly, not a great deal. But the track I was listening to, and greatly enjoying, at the moment of this momentous encounter with a mobile nightmare unit, was the fantastic Chemical Brothers remix of Kylie Minogue's "Slow". And that's enough to get it into my list. Enjoy (but don't think of a giant huntsman while so doing):