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Sunday, 6 March 2016

About spider web

Yes, I have been remiss, but I am about three days from completing the first draft of a two-volume work that will be ~255,000 words.  That takes time.

So here's something I drafted a while back,

When I was younger, I ran with my children in the early morning, on the rough trails around Dobroyd Head. I used to lead, and often collected a face full of spider web from orb weaver and St Andrew’s Cross spider webs that spread across the track.

I quite like spiders, and I have done, ever since I saw the facial resemblance between my Latin teacher and a salticid or jumping spider like this one on the right. Still, an early-morning face-full of web was a wake-up. I tried sending the children ahead, but they were shorter than me, and went under the web, leaving it standing.

Then, with a Scots heritage, I discovered the St Andrew's Cross spider, which is pretty neat, with the saltire in its web.

Now I am older, and walk along trails. I still get the occasional face full of web, but I never dismiss web as useless, because two of my recent temporary obsessions are quack remedies and the winning of gold.

On the quack side, there was a real Dr Muffet (the father of a Miss Muffet) who proposed giving people "a spider hidden inside a raisin" as a cure for malaria. John Wesley, better known as a churchman, recommended spider web to cure the same thing, though he called it ague:
Or make six middling Pills of Cobwebs. Take one a little before the cold Fit, two a little before the next Fit, (suppose the next day,) the other three, if need be, a little before the third Fit. This seldom fails.
— John Wesley, Primitive Physic, 1785, 22.

Elias Ashmole used spiders for ague in 1681, writing in his diary: — "I took, early in the morning, a good dose of elixir, and hung three spiders about my neck, and they drove my ague away — Deo gratias [thanks to God]."

Between 1576 and 1578, there was a fraudulent gold mine near Hudson’s Bay, based on salted samples and a report of spiders on Kodlunarn Island. Martin Frobisher claimed that spiders were "… signs of great store of gold".

This puzzled me, but Lynne Kelly, a friend who is the author of an excellent book on Australian spiders, explained it. She said: "Golden orb weavers (Nephila spp.) are all over the world … and their webs shine gold in the sun—like very finely spun gold thread. I suspect this spider is the link to the myth."

You can see the goldness here in this side shot that I took, mainly to illustrate the way these spiders hang from the underside of a sloping web.

Next time you run into a web, remember: there may be gold at the end of that web: either real gold (improbable) or a cure that you can get the gullible to shell out gold for (highly probable).

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