Said the Spider to the Fly
I have a very ambivalent relationship with spiders. This is in no small part due to my mother’s terror of them, which came from a childhood experience. Her younger brother had a nightmare in which spiders were crawling all over his body. She was unable to wake him and reassure him it was just a horrible dream. Instead she had to pretend to pick them off him, one by one. At some point she managed to convince him that they had all gone. Neither of them quite recovered, and to the end of her days she could not stay in a room if she had spotted one of the terrifying monsters.
So I grew up with a distaste but not an outright fear. But now I am looking at spiders in a totally new light; I am of course referring to the head of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, who sported a glittering spider brooch as she delivered the Court’s verdict on Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament.
The humble arachnid became an object of approval and almost veneration within minutes of its appearance – in certain circles that is. T-shirts produced by a company in the hours that followed the ruling sold out in record time. Coincidentally, they are based in Uxbridge, which is Johnson’s constituency and has a significant problem with homeless people. It is worth noting that the company donated 30% of the proceeds to Shelter.
There have been various interpretations of why Lady Hale wore the spider brooch that day; it might simply have been the first one that came to hand that morning. But perhaps not; Walter Scott wrote: ‘Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.’ Is this perhaps what the venerable judge had in mind?
It seems that this is not the first time that women have used jewellery to make a particular statement. Madeline Albright was Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton. She made a habit of sporting brooches that gave a very specific message. When Hillary Clinton stood as Presidential candidate, Albright wore a brooch depicting a shattered glass ceiling. After Iraqi state media called her ‘an unparalleled serpent’, she wore a snake brooch to her next meeting with them. She has even published a book about her brooches – or pins as they are known in the US – called ‘Read my Pins’.
But why stop at brooches? When the Queen opened Parliament in July 2017 she wore a blue hat with yellow flowers – a colour scheme that reminded quite a few people of the colours of the European flag. There was intense speculation that she might have been making a pro EU statement.
Designer Katharine Hamnett designed numerous t-shirts with strong political messages. When she met Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1984 Hamnett was photographed with the Iron Lady in an oversized t-shirt that read: ‘58% don’t want Pershing’. As she explained ‘It came from a European opinion poll about the proliferation of American cruise and Pershing nuclear missiles across Europe without consulting the electorate, which was totally undemocratic. Wearing that on a T-shirt was the best thing I could think of at the time.’
At this point it is still not sure whether Johnson’s fly has really been trapped in Hale’s spider’s web. You can probably guess which way I’m hoping it will go.