Phobias and the law of the jungle

Phobias are funny things, I think, as we watch Matilda, aged 10, arachnophobe, poke a tarantula with a stalk.

The tarantula, which is about the size of my aunt, strikes, its large black fangs puncturing the stalk impressively, and the rainforest children with whom we are staying whoop excitedly before lifting it with a leaf and chucking it into a bush (from where it will doubtless later return to same corner of the hammock it was in earlier).

The rainforest baby giggles and my husband comments that if you grow up in the Amazon jungle you learn early on about the dangers of tarantulas. I figure that what this baby has learned today is how to take turns poking tarantulas with a stick. This seems dubious to me - but who are we to bring our Western values here?

Still, I think, Matilda won't be scared of spiders any more. Not like Leonora, who is usually not afraid of anything, but who screamed for 15 minutes in the darkness when we were all trying to sleep, because of a moth on her face. Safely tucked into my own mosquito net in our open-sided ecocabin, I took a parental decision that if, at 15, she couldn't keep her own net tucked in all day, she had to learn to live with that which had decided to share it with her.

'Dadeeee! Get it off meeeeee!' came the cry. Well he wasn't going to look either, you just don't leave your mozzie net in the Amazon darkness, so we did what all good parents do and let her fight her own battle, fairly sure that, even here, the moth couldn't win.

Back at home, Matilda refuses to sleep until a spider smaller than an atom has been removed from its haven about a mile from her bed, and Leonora insists that it was no moth but a cockroach the size of Luton. Everyone hates cockroaches, obviously. That's not a phobia, that's normal.

As I say. Phobias are funny things.

- Dr Selby is a GP in Suffolk. You can write to her at

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