Hayley Matthews: I can cope with two hairy legs, but eight of them?

Handling a tarantula at Butterfly and Insect World. Picture: Toby Williams
Handling a tarantula at Butterfly and Insect World. Picture: Toby Williams
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If you have kids, then the sheer panic of “how do I fill six weeks of activities” might be filling you with the same anxiety that’s its filling me with right now.

I do like to get out of Edinburgh during the holidays and being an animal lover places like East Links Farm, Five Sisters Zoo and Butterfly and Insect World are always a nice excuse to leave the city for the day. I love all animals, reptiles and insects too, well all apart from one. The tarantula. What a beast of a spider that is.

I’m not scared of spiders but a tarantula just turns my legs to jelly. It’s proper fear. I’ve asked myself so many times: “What is it about a tarantula that gives me the heebie jeebies?” Is it that hairy body? To be fair, that would be a bit hypocritical as I have a beard and chest hair that would make any hipster jealous. Is it the legs? Is it the huge bulbous body? Is it the fact they can pierce a can of coke with their fangs 100 times without blunting? Is it just all these things put together?

Now if you’re scared of spiders you’ll appreciate the fear I’m talking about. The sweats, the shakes, and most annoyingly the internal dialogue of how “this isn’t logical, I’m much bigger than the spider”. So why the freak on?

As a parent I don’t want to transfer my fears on to my child and I encourage him to face his fears – “Be brave and go for it,” I say. So when at the weekend, he started asking to go to the butterfly farm I gave the parent chat of “How cool will it be to hold the snakes and the hairy spiders?”. To which he replied: “Yes mummy and I’ll do it once you’ve done it”. I’ve raised a smart one. Some might say a wee wide-o. I’m as proud as punch with him and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not thinking he’d take me up on my offer of the spider holding as he was so excited about the butterflies and bees, off we went. The place is beautiful. It’s like walking into paradise. Butterflies fluttering all about the place. Terrapins sunbathing, ants working hard, hens walking about along with a reptile room too. We turned up just in time for the handling session. Encouraging my son to hold a python was unsuccessful, as was showing him the queue to hold the hairy spiders.

Not wanting to push it we went on the new bee trail and had a wee peak at the scorpion in the nocturnal room. Thinking I’d gotten off lightly on the way out, Kevin, Keith and Cameron were still in the handling area with the tarantula. I thought its now or never and told my son to put his hands out. He had an actual “get tae” face on and told me under no circumstances would he be doing it unless I did it first.

I’ll spare you the description of the process that it took me to pluck up the courage, but I did it, twice (without swearing) and it felt amazing! Rosie the tarantula was actually so cosy, she fell asleep in my hand. I can’t thank the guys enough for letting helping me face my fears.

My five-year-old gave wee Rosie a paw shake and I didn’t push it any more than that. However I’m sure we’ll go back soon for another try. After all, I do have six weeks of holiday to fill.

Hayley Matthews – @hotlipshayley – is a TV and radio presenter