Ian McMillan: Spider intrudes in life of cartoon hero

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Imagine for a moment that this column is a cartoon strip; in the first frame, there’s Jolly Ian McMillan in his kitchen. He’s wearing his dressing gown and he’s pouring Bran Flakes into his bowl for his breakfast. Maybe the words “Mmm! I’m hungry!” appear above his head in a “thinks” balloon. In the second frame Jolly Ian grins a broad grin as he anticipates tucking in to his breakfast. Maybe the words YUM YUM appear above his head in a “thinks” balloon and his eyes grow as big as foglamps as he gazes at the cereals. Then, in the third frame, which my cartoonist mate Tony tells me is where the gag always comes, we see Jolly Ian suddenly transformed into Terrified Ian. He’s shouting WURRRRGH! And GERRAWAY! His arms are flailing like the sails of a windmill and he’s trying to run away and hide. In a final humiliation as a result of the attempts to run away, one of his slipper socks comes off which makes Terrified Ian look like Pathetic Ian, the Tramp with One Slipper Sock.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you that the preceding paragraph isn’t fantasy. It isn’t a cartoon: it’s my life. It’s what happened to me the other morning, when I was having my breakfast in my dressing gown and slipper socks. I was starving, let me tell you. I could have eaten a horse between two slices of bread. With chips.

I poured the cereals into the bowl with vigour and then I poured some more. I splashed the milk on and plunged the spoon in and my happiness was about to be complete when suddenly I felt a terrible sense of movement in the few scrubby hairs on my chest. I panicked. I whirled my arms and shouted in the manner described. The bowl was flung into the air and it rotated like a satellite orbiting the Earth. Milk and Bran Flakes scattered everywhere in awful guilt-inducing slow motion. Frankly, at that moment I didn’t give a toot because I’d got a spider on me! A spider as big as a scrubbing brush! I could feel its legs tickling me! Please make it go away!

The funny thing is that I’m not normally that bothered about spiders; It’s just the unexpected arachnid that makes me yelp.

At that point I remembered with a shudder the last time I’d felt a spider crawling all over my flesh. It was a few years ago (but a twinkling of the eye in crawling-spider time). I’d put my pinny on to do the washing up and somehow a spider had been in the pocket and, unknown to me, had crawled out and was creeping up the back of my neck.

I remember my wife saying “You’ve got a spider on you” and I screeched and thrashed at my neck like Basil Fawlty thrashed at that car with that sapling.

And then, back in the present in the kitchen in my dressing gown, I stopped mid-flail as something fell to the floor with a hard noise, the noise a falling spider wouldn’t make.

It was a Bran Flake. A flipping Bran Flake. Not a spider at all. I fell to the floor in humiliation. I curled up into a cringing ball of embarrassment.

I am a cartoon character. My life is a cartoon.