Monday, 12 October 2015

Try, try and try again said the spider. But the spider isn’t always right.

The time-honoured story of Robert the Bruce is especially popular in Scotland, where there is considerable taste for any tale in which the plucky Scots ultimately kick the stuffing out of the dastardly English. Sadly, in most of the historical confrontations, the outcome was the opposite. But Robert was one Scottish leader who did eventually pull off the trick.

Robert the Bruce, who led the Scots to victory over the English
But he cheated: he was helped by a spider
On his way to what my Scottish friends assure me was a highly desirable achievement, he encountered some terrible reverses. According to legend, at the low point of his life, he was in a cave which a spider kept attempting to span with her web. Each time she failed, she started again. Robert watched this struggle with great interest and, instead of reaching the obvious conclusion that, since one side of the cave was pretty much as miserable, wet and dank as the other, it was a colossal waste of time, he drew from this spectacle the courage he needed to persevere in his own struggle to win the Scottish crown.

So he tried, tried and tried again, until he won triumphant success.

Great story. And a moral from which we can all learn, no doubt.

Except that there is, in my garden at the moment, a spider from the Bruce school of strivers. She has chosen the garden’s narrowest point, between the house wall and the fence, to weave herself a web. This means that each time I follow the poodle Luci into the garden, after she has done her business (a great illustration of the truth that certain kinds of business often leave the rest of us with a mess to clear up), the first thing that happens is that I walk straight into a web. Which is annoying for me, because the stuff gets in my hair. But it must be annoying for her, because there’s little left of the web afterwards.

In fact, on one occasion, I emerged with the spider herself sitting on my shoulder and giving me what I could only feel was a deeply reproachful look. I tried to reason with her, explaining that unlike many fellow members of my species, I have nothing against spiders – indeed, I value the work they do on flies – and would far rather not destroy her web.

However, she has failed to take my advice to set up her web somewhere less heavily trafficked. So every morning, the experience is repeated. With little pleasure for either of us.

It seems that she truly believes that, if at first you don’t succeed, you should try, try and try again.

So you can fail once more.

That’s an aspect the Bruce legend somehow fails to capture. I’d like to suggest that sometimes it might not be such a bad idea to decide that, if at first you don’t succeed, you might try something else. Or at least, in the case of our spider, somewhere else.

On the other hand, I’d have been delighted if the English rugby team had applied a policy of try, try and try again, in the current world cup. It proved beyond them. 


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