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Soup of This Day #366: And Dance The Blues

March 30, 2014

Christmas Spider
A Christmas spider. These ornate Australian arachnids like to play as a team, making large community webs – Photo: Fir0002, 2005. Fir0002 is not affiliated with Longworth72. Image cropped by Longworth72.

I’m ok with spiders – Most of them anyway. They generally don’t freak me out and I’m comfortable at having most species of the 8-legged critters closely inhabiting my world.

The notable exception to my comfort level with arachnids is Latrodectus hasseltii, more commonly known as the redback spider.

I have zero tolerance for the redback.

Which is a problem because they’re ever-present in the urban Australian environment. This is the same urban Australian environment that I am also ever-present in. We don’t, it’s true, sit down together often, but we are forced to hang out on occasion.

Actually I sit down while the redback hangs out, sometimes under the chair that I’m lounging in, about an inch from my arse.

There it sets what is rather wonderfully called a gum-footed tangle web. You’d think that nothing that is bad in this world could create a gum-footed tangle of anything. Instead it sounds like the kind of description you’d apply to my dancing – My feet are adhered to the floor as if it was fly-paper and yet a tangle of limbs is as sure as if there was a game of Twister. In spite of this, my dance floor grooving has only ever trapped bewildered looks, so no real harm has been derived from it.

The redback web by contrast ensnares all manner of bystanders and sadly for them, this net’s creator has intentions beyond those behind my good-natured locomotions. Basically, the redback spider wants to envenomate it’s helpless captives with a complex concoction, before sucking out the resultant liquefied insides.

That. Is. Not. Why. I. Dance.

To be fair to the redback, it’s not like they’re trying to entice victims in under false pretences – Just 1 look at 1 of them and you’re operating under no delusions that contact with this spider is a good thing. Their appearance bespeaks malevolence, exuding a brooding evil, with an inky-black body marked by an almost contradictory garish red stripe.

That red mark is a warning that a relationship with it’s bearer is not going to end well. It certainly doesn’t for the male of that species – Redbacks are members of the Black Widow family. The female cannibalises the male after sex.

So the redback spider isn’t a great standard-bearer for spiders. In Australia I’d give that role to Austracantha minax, which I’ve always known as the Christmas spider. They are so named because they become prominent around Christmas time each year and also because they look like tiny Christmas ornaments, the kind you might hang on a tree and gaze at, fondly remembering yuletides past.

That’s my kind of spider – I’m all for Christmas and for a bonus, according to Wikipedia, these ornate little critters give a bite that is:

‘…only mildly painful.’

Given that everything in this country bites, then ‘only mildly painful’ is as good as a warm hug. This festive arachnid is clearly for everyone.

Except maybe sporting outfits.

Your typical competitive team wants a mascot that is going to strike fear in the hearts of opponents and inspire confidence in the minds of fans. That’s just not what a Christmas spider is about – That’s more Redback territory.

Take the Perth Basketball Association (PBA) teams in Western Australia’s State Basketball League (SBL) and Women’s State Basketball League (WSBL). Founded in 1964, their men’s and women’s outfits have been known as the Perth Redbacks since 1984. On the court and they’re dangerous too – The women have won the WSBL title twice (1989 and 2000) while the men have won the SBL title 3 times since the league’s foundation in 1989 (1989, 1990 and 1997). The Perth Redbacks can also count Australia’s most successful basketball export among their alumni – Luc Longley, who won 3 NBL rings with Chicago.

And then there are the Southern Redbacks, the South Australian men’s cricket team. This outfit has has been a part of Australia’s premier domestic cricket competition, the Sheffield Shield, since it’s inaugural season, 1892/93. They have subsequently won the Shield 13 times and featured a host of great names, including Clarrie Grimmett, the Chappell brothers and imports such as Barry Richards and Garfield Sobers. Great stars of the game all, but they dim in comparison to South Australia’s brightest cricket representative.

Donald Bradman.

No gum-footed tangle, the Don, without question the greatest batsman to have played cricket, began his career playing for his native New South Wales but moved to South Australia in 1934. Thus began a relationship that went beyond Bradman’s exploits on the field – Where he retains the record for the highest score by a South Australian player (369). As well as playing, Don Bradman was a committee member of the South Australian Cricket Association from 1935 until 1986.

All of that though is history. Of late, mirroring the recent record of the Perth Redbacks, the Southern Redbacks have not seen much success. They last won the Sheffield Shield in 1995/96 and since then have finished 6th and last, 9 times. Had they finished last this season just completed they would have taken the wooden spoon home for a 5th consecutive season, an outright record in the modern, 6-team, era. Mercifully though, they managed to avoid that dubious honour with some style – They were in fact in contention for a spot in the final, right up until the conclusion of the regular season – Had they beaten, or even taken 1st innings points against Tasmania, they would have made it into at least 2nd and therefore a play-off for the Shield.

Sadly for those cricketing Redbacks, they struggled from the off, scoring just 212 runs in their 1st innings at Tassie’s Bellerive Oval home. The Tigers by contrast were less gum-footed at the crease and so managed to edge 1st innings points.

By a venomous 439 runs. Which is awkward and left the South Australians needing to make up those 439 runs before Tasmania could even be forced to bat again.

The Southern Redbacks got nowhere near their prey, being all out for a paltry 123 and thus losing by a deadly innings and 316 runs.

So maybe the name isn’t working out for them. I’ve found a use for that 8-legged handle though.

I’ve lately been battling depression. Again.

Winston Churchill dubbed his battles with depression, ‘the black dog’, and with respect to dogs of all hues, I think that this is a fitting description to apply. By envisioning bouts of depressions as visits from a dog, I feel like the depression loses power – I’m no longer defined by it, instead it is this corporal and external thing – A dog. Given that dogs are a person’s best friend, this black dog seems like it can be managed with some training.

So I think I have the dog under control. This black dog though isn’t my only problem – Depression and anxiety often go together and for me, the latter is an immediate problem.

Recently I was asked to find a personal descriptor for anxiety in the same way that Churchill had found a black dog for his depression, and after some thought I went with the redback spider. Because when anxiety is visiting I get adrenaline surges, waves of fear that seem to liquify my insides and leave me unable to move – Trapped in a gum-footed tangle.

Yeah, I’m not comfortable with the spider in the way that I am with a dog, but I’m not comfortable with anxiety either. I can deal with the spider though – I can dose it with bug-spray or I can squash it. I usually do both. I’d like to be able to do that with anxiety – Hose it’s sorry arse down and then flatten it with something serious. Like a basketball or a cricket bat.

I think that’s doable too – Anxiety has very physical symptoms – Sometimes so strong that I can feel like my heart is about to explode or that I can’t breathe, almost as if I’m dying. A redback spider bite is potentially fatal too but here’s the thing…

Since 1956, when an anti-venom was developed, nobody in Australia has been recorded as having died directly from a redback bite. I figure on telling myself that my own personal redback ‘bites’ won’t kill me either…

And Dance The Blues

  1. The University of Richmond (Virginia, US) has long had their team nickname as the Spiders. Their basketball court features a giant art worked spider with some webs. They also have a student parade around in a spider costume. Needless to say a human in a spider costume causes far less anxiety than seeing a real live spider. While I’m well aware real live spiders have their place in society they best not enter my place.

    • Inspired, I looked up this University of Richmond team you mentioned and learned, via Wikipedia, how they got their name:

      ‘But in 1894, a baseball team comprising Richmond students and city residents took on the “Spiders” name after Ragland Chesterman of the Richmond Times-Dispatch used the term to refer to pitcher Puss Ellyson’s lanky arms and stretching kick.’

      I’m sold.

      Meanwhile, I believe that Philly is too cold for redbacks and so you are safe from those.

      • And this speaks towards the joy of waking each day…not knowing what new nugget of knowledge you may acquire. I certainly did not awake today expecting to learn the lore of one Puss Ellyson. Meanwhile, I continue to monitor the temperature in advance of a possible redback invasion. They have been warned.

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