The long, hairy legs of political disillusionment

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Spider Among assorted memorabilia on top of my wardrobe is a cap. I think you would call the colour forage green. The cap has a peak, and above the peak is a red, five-point, metal star. My brother brought it back from China — as worn by members of the Chinese armed forces, he said — some time in the early 1980s. We knew them as 'the Red Army', without any understanding of the politics.

I might not have known about Chinese politics, but I knew very well what I was doing when deciding to wear that hat to work. It suited me, at the time, to be seen as a 'leftie', and a green hat with a red star would leave little room for political ambiguity. So in my early days on university staff I donned the cap every morning, wound a scarf around my neck, and set off to my lecturing in a topless Mini Moke.

'Smug', I think, best describes this particular period of my political life. Smug and naïve. But alas, one is always found out by smugness. I think this is because to be smug is to have one's nose in the air. There is, with smugness, no feeling of compulsion to keep one's eye on the ball, and so tripping up — to pursue a tangle of metaphors — will almost certainly follow. Just deserts seem to work with smugness.

My tripping up occurred one cold, autumn morning. I donned the cap and scarf and set off in peak hour traffic. At about 25 minutes in, and still some distance to travel, the meandering line of commuters inevitably ground to a near stand-still, and crawled and grumbled its way through several sets of traffic lights before the final open stretch to campus. There was nothing for it but to wait. I sat and rehearsed a lecture, or watched others watching me. Maybe they were wondering about my cap ...

In the next instant I became acutely aware of three things in rapid succession. First, people in an adjacent car were pointing at me and to one another, animated in conversation behind their closed window. Second, I caught sight of some wisps of hair blowing in the wind under the peak of my cap. And third, I realised there was no wind and that I had no hair to blow in the first place.

All this awareness came together in the sudden realisation that what appeared to my first glance as wisps of hair were in fact the legs of a creature — a large creature — that was attempting to step off the peak of my cap. Although desperately hoping otherwise I felt burdened by the conviction that this creature was an over-dimensional huntsman spider. Isopeda Isopedella.

I do not like spiders. I can trace this loathing back to the days of my childhood when mother and I, in father's long absences, would lay siege with mop and broom to 'tarantulas' that had crept in during the night and clung, spread-legged, on the cornice. The hapless spider most often ran down the handle to screams from mother and me, or leaped from the cornice to land at our feet.

It was on the basis of this deep loathing that my body sprang to action on the day of my undoing. I swiped at the cap with all my might, and sent it spinning to the farthest corner of the tiny cabin. My last glimpse of the spider — a big and fat specimen — was of its hasty retreat to safety up behind the dashboard.

Later, I sat for a long time in the university car park, the forage green cap with the Red Army star held limply in my hands, and reviewed my life thus far. A silken thread traced the spider's journey: six circuits of the rim, each punctuated with dots of attachment as it had clung to my head in the breeze. The last circuit ended abruptly at the edge of the peak.

I'd lost all enthusiasm for Chinese politics and any radical statements I thought that cap could make. It became clear that a little political humility was warranted. And that if I was to make political statements about anything at all then it would have to be on the basis of energetic and sustained intellectual work — in the head rather than what was on it.

My hats in future would be politically neutral.

Roger TrowbridgeRoger Trowbridge has explored 'the social condition' through positions in community organisations, government departments, and the Social Science Department of RMIT. His writing has been published in Griffith Review, Australian Quarterly, Thirst and New Matilda.


Flickr image by smccann

Topic tags: roger trowbridge, huntsman spider, chinese politics, red army, red star cap



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Existing comments

the spider in the picture is identicle to one that was found in a pot at my work. pots from china! do u have any more information re the spider?

aaron | 28 November 2008  

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