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A strange thing happened on the way to Armidale

Posted on April 17, 2012 at 11:00 AM

I like Australians. Like their US cousins their outlook on life is extremely positive and forward looking, and they like to remind you of this state of affairs regularly. But they can overdo it at times, and some Aussies can be a little over-exuberant in their eagerness to please. Witness the conversation I had with Michael the proprietor of the Pembroke Caravan Park in Armidale. “ Hasn't it been a beaut of a day?” he says in standard 'strine, absolutely reeking of positivity. “Yes, we’ve had a dream run with the weather so far, “ I reply. I was hoping for a slightly more diffident tack but it came out a little too committed for my liking. “ Yeah, Beauty.” “We’ve been very impressed with Armidale so far,” say I. “Beauty.” “ And the waterfalls at Wollomombi were breathtaking?” “Beauty.” He adds, this time with a little more emphasis. “That was until today. My wife and kids are down with food poisoning and my car is also sick” “Beauty.” He says without breaking stride. Up until this conversation we had got the green light treatment all the way. Great weather, great campsites, some lovely friends for Emma to play with and Fraser still hadn't walked. All was fan dabby dozy. Then what Vera feared might happen, did. We were parked overnight in a secluded bush camp near Wollomombi; the view across a massive split in the earth, like a version of the Grand Canyon yet overrun with vegetation, had been well worth the hike across country. It was bedtime and Vera and I were trying to make our bed as comfortable as possible. “What are all these ants doing in the bed?” I ask her. “Oh, these ants don’t bother me,” she says as she brushes them off the bed. Then I notice her muscles in her neck twitch and contract as she looks at something I can’t see. “But, thaaaaat bleep bleep thing scares the bleep shit out of me.” She is off the bed before she can finish the sentence and already at the door of the caravan. Above the curtain, about a foot from where our sleeping heads would usually be is the mother of all ugly, hairy spiders. I am unnerved, you might say, and I don’t mind spiders. Actually I am almost as freaked as Vera. I do a mental reckoning and reckon it’s about as big as a dustbin lid. “It’s got to go, you’ve got to get it,” hisses Vera, a little unnecessarily. But what with, it’s on the side of the caravan and hasn’t budged for five minutes? In fact it was kind of taunting us. “So what. I’m here. You two are huddled over there. What you going to do about it?” “What about I try and snare it with the barbecue tongs,” I say to Vera who looks like she’s about to leave a small puddle on the lino. “ Do it.” I make a grab for the meat of the spider with the tongs. I miss badly and it scurries off in one direction, while Vera screams in another. All the time this natural world mayhem is going on the kids are sleeping peacefully up the other end of the caravan. I try to calm Vera a little, if only to calm my nerves. “What does your spider chart say it is?” She goes to the drawer and takes out the visual ready reckoner of Australian poisonous spiders. Nothing. It looks nothing like any of the 20 spiders on the chart. These all look like they’re under a microscope compared to this hirsute bruiser. The only thing close is the Huntsman. It doesn’t help us much. We know it probably isn’t poisonous, but Vera is already looking to pack the kids and her into the car for a journey to a hotel, and call wildlife services tomorrow to search the caravan. It doesn’t help when I suggest we sleep in the car tonight, and make a search tomorrow. “And, what about the kids?” asks Vera in a voice hovering somewhere between contempt and disbelief. Ah yes they had momentarily slipped my mind. So we had to get it. Vera spies a juicy fat limb emerging from between the ceiling and the curtain. This time, it was suggested, we pull the curtain rod off the tracks and I rush out with it through the door. “Spiders will always run upwards won’t they? You just hold it carefully and whatever you do don’t let the curtain rod drop?” says Vera. She stands back. I carefully pick up the end of the curtain which doesn’t have a spider attached. I get the sense something moves and quickly drop the rod. The spider literally triple jumps off the mattress and hides under the bed. Vera screams again. “Right, that’s it. We’re out of here,“ she screams. I have enough about me to know this is probably a bad idea. Even if it is an enormous but nevertheless benign spider, I didn't want to be the one standing there while National Parks man pulls it out by his fingertips, stroking it gently, while simultaneously giving me funny sideways looks. It’s something we had to deal with then and there. “There’s nothing for it, we just have to dismantle the bed.” Under the mattress are some slats, we know the spider is under one of them. I pull the slats off and there he is, now looking a little less large than before but nonetheless still in the game. Now I have the bright idea of hitting him with the end of the broom. So, I take aim. Boom. I thwack it hard down on him. He looks stunned and a little bent in places. Vera, by now fully in charge of her faculties, quickly grabs the salad bowl and while he’s still thinking about his next move has thrown the container over the top of him. And, in the time honoured fashion we find something to slide under the bowl and I take him out and throw him into the bush. Oddly, I notice how small he has become while sequestered beneath the salad bowl. That night we each sleep with one eye open. How am I sure of that? Each time I take a peek at Vera she is looking at me. The next morning is a bright blue sky day, already warm with nary a wisp of wind. All is fan dabby dozy, again. I go to get us some bread from the shop, start the car, engage first gear. Shit, the clutch has gone.

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