Ruminations and recipes from a small kitchen in a big city.


Dinner guest.

I opened the shed door carefully and with difficulty. The shed, vintage 1948, is on a lean and the door sits awkwardly in its frame, the timber of which is so weathered it will no longer take nails or screws without crumbling or splitting. The door, and the shed itself, will last as long as I don’t slam it, or leave it open to swing. One blast of wind will have it off its hinges and then the whole shed will have to come down and I will have to put up one of those flimsy Bunnings aluminium ones that you can’t stand up in and how long will that last? Stick with what I’ve got.

The shed’s unlined interior timber framework is still fine even though the uprights are several degrees out of perpendicular. The horizontal beams have had countless nails hammered into them over the years and from these hang tools, ropes, interesting pieces of metal waiting years to find uses, ancient extendable timber-handled iron wood clamps from the days when people made furniture with dowel and glue using hardwood instead of pine, old dog collars and leads, plastic bags containing extension cords and power boards, and hundreds of other items that cannot be thrown out because they are useful, even if not in actual use.

The shed has no windows. To look into some corners you have to wait until the sun is at a certain angle. Or use a torch. Power is not connected. In one dusty corner sits a stack of spare plastic chairs. I bring these out each summer. I hose the dust off them and set them around the table and we have barbecues all summer and at the end of summer, the spare chairs go back in the shed and collect dust again, a kind of mundane suburban equinoctial event.

This year, flecks of dust and broken dead leaves were caught underneath one of the chairs in a web. Webs don’t hose off. I upended it and pulled out the web strands and couldn’t see any arachnids, but it had to be there. The recessed squares of plastic adjacent to the underside of each leg make perfect spider holes. I scrubbed out some more web and there it was, folding itself up into nothing; but when forced out, poor thing, it was dazzling glossy black in the sunshine with a striking red diamond on its back like a winning jockey’s silk and eight shiny black thin legs. It was a about an inch in length including the legs and was as fine a red back spider as you’re likely to see and there it was living under my guests’ chair.

It was just one of the original family. We seem to be living in a red back spiders’ ancestral home. About a year ago, Thomas was wheeling one around in his wooden trolley. Lucky he didn’t pick it up. William wandered inside and asked me what the orange bug was in Tom’s trolley. I thought it was going to be one of those bugs we used to call billy beetles, or the like, but it was Mrs Red Back. Another time several were under the outdoor table at a lunch we gave.

Further inside the recess there was another screwed-up lump of grey web. I pulled it out and could see that it contained another spider. This one had no red diamond. It was her partner. He was dead. She would eat him later.