From the pages of 'The British Tarantula Society Journal'

C.I.A.,K.G.B.? NO. Much, Much Worse!

Martin Overton

It was a warm, sunny day. I was being interrogated by a crack team of excitable mischief makers, watching my every move, hanging on my every nervous word.

My palms were sweating, my heart was pounding, I wanted to get out of there, but there was to be no escape! Not until they got what they wanted from me! Who were these people? C.I.A., K.G.B., or worse!

I know this sounds like the start to a James Bond novel, yet these were only school children after all, weren't they? If you are anything like me, then you know the last thing you want to do is get up in front of a group of people and do a talk. I know this is easy to some people and a nightmare to others like myself. I spent eight years in retail sales and I appear to most people a very ,outgoing person, but this is nothing but a masquerade for me to hide, quaking behind!

It all started when one of my colleagues at work found out I kept tarantulas. His father is a headmaster at a local school and his mother is a teacher at another primary school. So, I was asked if I could bring a tarantula to his fathers school to show the children from one of the classes, as they were doing a project on mini-beasts. I agreed to do this, as there was no mention of doing a talk.

Well, the day came. I came home at lunchtime to pick up Helga, my Chilean Rose (Grammostola Spatulata), a book by John G. Browning (as it had colour photos) and a moult from Helga. I arrived with Stephen, the headmasters son, feeling a little trepidation for what was to come.

We went inside and were immediately engulfed in curious children eager to see this large spider they had been told would be coming to visit them today. The teacher dutifully shooed them away and escorted us to the classroom in which the project was being compiled by the children. The wall was covered in pictures from the children and were of a wide variety of insects. Vivid splashes of colour had been used on most, as kids do, instead of the more uniform colours of the real thing.

A few minutes later all hell broke loose as the children came back in from the playground, making a wave of sound that a gaggle of geese would be proud of. They were hushed by the teacher and she announced that I had come to do a talk on tarantulas and that I had brought one with me. I felt my stomach knot up and fill with butterflies when she mentioned the word, "TALK".

Here was one of my worst nightmares coming to life before my very eyes. After a few 9 month pregnant pauses I started asking the children questions about what they knew about tarantulas. The replies were what I expected. The media induced replies of "Killer Spiders", and this I immediately put into perspective as the non-truths that the media has published. The reaction from then on became more and more inquisitive, and one of increased wonder.

With my increased calmness I explained the basics about tarantulas, fielding great flurries of questions. I was actually beginning to enjoy myself. I passed around the book I had brought with me and also the moult. The expressions on the children's faces ranged from intense concentration to mild loathing at what they were seeing.

Then came the big moment when they were to see Helga. It went deathly quiet as they lined up to look at the real spider in her tank. Lots of hushed whispers and exclamations were heard, along with the spontaneous questions I had expected.

What did surprise me was the lack of fear, even though their parents and the media had almost certainly, as had already been confirmed, brain-washed them with half truths and untruths. Here was an excellent case of curiosity getting the better of programming.

As I was about to leave the class, the teacher asked if I wouldn't mind going round the other four classes while I was here. Somewhat surprised, I agreed. Well, what an eventful day that had been! Before I left I donated my John G. Browning book and also Helga's moult. A week later I received about sixty letters and drawings from the children.

I have since done other talks. As I do each one it seems to get easier and less stressful. I know there are a lot of members out there that, like me, are unsure whether they could ever give a talk to a group. Well I am proof that you can only find out one way. Go on, go and let your local education authority know that you are prepared to give talks to schools or other groups.

Most schools ask if you want a donation made to any charity. Well, why not suggest the Venom Research Fund. If nothing else you will help overcome the misinformed fear of arachnids and do the BTS Venom Research Fund some good too, which means we can learn more about the effects of venoms once and for all, making our hobby a safer one for all.

I have spoken to various groups, including the Beaver Cubs, but most of my talks are given to primary schools as these seem to be the most enthusiastic of the schools.

Below is a list of items I would suggest you could take along with you for talks:
A tarantula and scorpion (if part of your collection)

  • Books
  • Photos or slides and projector (although most schools have one)
  • Drawings and paintings
  • Information on the BTS
  • Moults
  • Enthusiasm

If transport is a problem most schools or organizations are quite happy to pick you up and return you after your talk. As I have no transport of my own I have to rely on this method.

Copyright 'The British Tarantula Society', 1996,2007

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Last Updated: February 12, 2007