Wednesday 23 November 2011

Uninvited Guests

It’s getting bloody hot again in Angola. I am actually perspiring. How distasteful.

John Gray over at Going Gently recently posted a link to a blog called The Idiot Gardener. I repeat it here because I have not enjoyed such a good laugh in ages. I read IG’s post on the difference between men and women and sniggered all the way through. Then I read his post about Lloyds TSB and had to stop. I have not had my stents put in yet so there was a distinct possibility I would die laughing and since I had not yet enjoyed my supper, this would have been a shame and probably annoyed Marcia who hates seeing food go to waste.

John, the St Francis of Assisi in Wales, also posted earlier about a house guest he was expecting who preceded his visit with an explicit set of instructions regarding the standards of hygiene expected, an email which commenced with, ‘the house had better be fucking clean when I get there’, and went on to list all the proscribed items he did not want to see such as dead rodents in the kitchen.

I can imagine that if you were the owner of a cottage in the Welsh countryside as well as a menagerie mostly housed in the garden but occasionally found on a sofa or under a kitchen table, it would be bloody hard to expect you to guarantee the absence of everything zoological right down to the tiniest beasty and this reminded me of my brother’s first visit to my house in Angola.

If the generally benign setting of John’s cottage can throw up a sometimes overwhelming variety of unwanted visitors, just think what the African bush can offer. Only the other day I was summoned by a frantic phone call from the young lady, my new neighbour, to find that the cause of her not inconsiderable angst (OK, dribbling hysteria) was a five foot snake wrapped comfortably around one of her veranda plant pots and gently hissing at anyone within range. Her six foot six, 220lb guard was also dribbling so I told him to go and change out of his uniform trousers and back into civvies and I would take it from there. I don’t know much about snake wrangling but I have seen enough Discovery Channel to know that trying to piss on a snake may not be a good idea for any number of reasons and I certainly was not going to suck out the poison. I rather fancy my neighbour so would rather see a man writhe in horrible agony than give her the wrong idea about the bloke she has just moved next door to.

One definition of Bravery could be, ‘The extraordinarily stupid things men have the capacity to do when suffused with Lust’, the definition of lust being, ‘a condition that makes men stupider than they normally are by diverting blood flow away from the brain’. Alcohol, of course, exacerbates both conditions.

This was a mean looking snake and I had no idea what it was. I thought I could recognise the vipers we get around here as well as the harmless African House Snakes and, more importantly, make the distinction but this was something else. It most definitely wasn’t a baby python or any other kind of constrictor. This was lean and mean and, scariest of all, didn’t seem inclined to slither off with the sudden attention it had aroused. All this went through my mind in a split second along with idle speculation of just how far it could fling its jaws from the plant pot.

I could, of course, have wimped out, gone back to my house and returned with my sword and slashed the bastard to death but that would hardly be the heroic, Steve Irwin like lasting image I wanted to leave the delightful Nela to ponder as she snuggled safely between her sheets later that evening. But, we mustn’t forget, Irwin was an expert and he still got killed, poor sod. Imagine if I ended up in heaven having arrived with a system overloaded with neurotoxins and had to spend the rest of eternity being followed around by a motor mouth telling me where I went wrong. Was the very slim chance of a shag worth such a risk?

So, with the definitions of bravery and lust, and one cause of their stimuli already explained, I grabbed the snake’s tail and gave it a tug.

For the first few seconds, this was a good thing as the snake appeared keener to hang on to the pot than sink its jaws into my groin, which would not have been the way I would have chosen as a test for any blossoming affection my neighbour may have held for me. A man’s last words should not be, ‘So you don’t love me after all?’

Now I know we have all seen Real Blokes, usually in shorts and stupidly battered bush hats, grabbing snakes by the tail and the Real Blokes waving them around while giving a spellbound audience a narrative of just how deadly the reptile is but I have decided that all those snakes must have spent the night in the fridge or be doped up on something because I have never, I mean never, seen anything on earth move as fast as this bastard did. All of us blink, even with eyes like bloody saucers and veins full of adrenalin we still have to blink. So I blinked and when my eyes opened again the snake was no longer around the pot, its jaws were planted firmly through the bottom of my trouser leg and into my boot. And it wasn’t as if it was just hanging on (I told you it was mean), it was actually gnawing away. Now I really understand the expression, ‘Madder than a sack full of cut snakes’. I was only hanging on to one, and then only by its tail but by heck was it angry.

Perhaps I have been a bit flippant in my references to the late, great and hugely entertaining Mr Irwin and perhaps he was more worried about spending eternity with me (my first two wives never managed a decade between them) than I was spending a similar amount of time listening to him calling me a pommie poufter because without thinking, I reached down and grabbed the snake behind its head and was able to unwind it and display it, jaws gaping and hissing horribly at a terrified audience.

And then I was stupid again. I let go of the tail, and the snake wrapped itself around my arm. I wasn’t bothered. Much as it evidently wanted to, it could not bite me and shit, I must have looked so cool. So cool in fact, that I decided I wanted to show Marcia, my soon to be wife, which is pretty shabby really when you consider that I hoped that Nela’s knickers were moist for reasons different to her guard’s and now mine. I actually took her parting comment, ‘Now that’s one crazy white man’ as a compliment.

So I trotted off back to my house and strode into the sitting room.

‘What the Fuck! Are you mad?’, exploded Marcia as fast as she grabbed Alex and leapt over the back of the sofa.

Now Angolans, which is surprising to me since they live amongst all these beasties, are scared of anything. Even the kids, as soon as they can walk, learn to stamp on or throw rocks at anything that moves so I was rather enjoying myself.

‘That’s a Surucucu’, she said. By then she had reached the other side of the dining room table with an equally wide eyed Alexander..

‘A what?’

‘A Surucucu. It will kill you faster than we can reach the clinic’

The clinic is a recent addition to our neighbourhood established by a soon to retire Doctor who spent most of her professional life working for international oil companies so she is clearly competent and would know what to do. The salient point, though, is that her clinic is only two streets away. You could walk there faster than it would take to back the car out of the garden and drive round the block. So, the rather fetching bracelet wrapped around my arm, its reptilian blood warming up nicely as were, presumably, its reactions, came from the ‘Death in Sixty Seconds’ collection.

And that got me thinking. Reptiles can survive months between a feed. Clearly God blessed them with enormous reserves of patience and only God knows how long they can hold a grudge but most likely far longer than I could stay awake keeping my fist clenched around this one’s neck, especially considering that such a game of 'blink first and you lose' would be spent in the garden banished from the house as in Marcia’s eyes, a future husband with a Surucuco wrapped around his arm and an affinity for his new neighbour are justifiable grounds for instant expulsion. In other words, the snake was hardly likely to get bored, unwrap itself from my arm and slither off without exacting some form of terrible revenge on my exhausted and comatose form, whether that be a lethal bite or an equally terminal beating from Marcia. How the hell was I going to get it off my arm and preferably a mile away in less time than the sod could react?

A willing volunteer would have been a bit of assistance. Maybe someone who would grab the tail and help me unwind it but I think we can all imagine the scenario. I’m hanging onto the head, my brave saviour is hanging onto the tail and we are saying to each other, ‘So is it, one, two, three, throw? Or is it throw on three?’ Neither of us would want to be left hanging on to a single end of the beast and given my own reluctance to trust anyone nearby, I can hardly feel too hard done by when they, in turn, told me I was on my own with this one.

I suppose I could have asked someone to dig the garden shears out of my store and sever its head from its body but then I really would have been in for some shit when I inevitably ran into Mr Irwin, especially considering I have spent all my fatherhood teaching sons not to stamp on or stone things but to study them leading to a listing for Number One Son on the Natural History Museum of London’s website as the ONLY person to photograph an incredibly rare Phasmid, aged ten.

On the other side of my property to the delectable Nela’s, the land is undeveloped (and possibly the source of her unwelcome visitor) so even though I wasn’t entirely sure how I could persuade it to release its embrace, I knew where I at least, would prefer it to be.

I do not suppose that many of you have experienced such an unusual situation but I ask you to think about the simple physics. In your left hand, you have hold of the neck of a venomous snake the body of which is wrapped around your left arm. By reaching somewhere behind your neck you can, with your right hand, grab its tail. Unwinding it requires you to lower your left hand so that your right, clutching its tail, can pass over the left and so on with to me at least the unexpected, but to anyone of the meanest intelligence, the bleeding obvious consequence of putting a twist in the snake’s body. For a five foot snake, that’s quite a few twists to the spine and by the time I had the bugger unwrapped, it was as stiff as Moses’ staff.

Even pissed as rats, most of us are blessed with the coordination required to open both left and right hands simultaneously. This would be an action as simple as grasping a short length of garden hose by both ends, raising one’s arms over one’s head flipping the hose over one’s back as if preparing to skip, and then letting it fly. I was so scared though I actually sent mental test signals down each arm to my hands to check they weren’t paralysed with fright. I raised my arms over my head and felt the thump of the snake’s body on my back. Now I had the sudden image of me throwing my arms forward and letting go only to find the bracelet had become a necklace as the body of the snake hung up round my throat. I used to box, light middleweight, but was a tosser when it came to skipping and regularly used to tangle myself up in my own rope. While I stood there, arms outstretched, head bent forward, a snake dangling across my back considering my ineptitude, I must have looked like a Jesuit performing some bizarre penance.

‘I know’. I thought, ‘just as I throw it, I will duck my head down’

So I went for it.

When I came to my senses, I realised I was lying flat on my back on the poolside decking.

There was no sign of the snake but it did have its revenge. I had head butted the garden wall so hard I had knocked myself out.

Which brings me back to my brother, Micky.

He is a construction Engineer and works for a prestigious German company. As a result his standards are extremely high.

‘So this is the place you designed and built, is it?’

‘Yes, what do you think?’

I never knew it was possible to say ‘Hmn’ and sniff at the same time.

‘What’s that brown trail up the wall?’

‘Termites. Bastards are eating the place up and they make themselves little tunnels out of chewed dirt to get from one bit of the house to the next. Shit, with all the chemicals I use, HSE would condemn this place as a health hazard’

‘What the fuck was that noise?’

‘Oh that? That’s cats in the roof’

‘You have cats living in the roof?’

‘Feral cats, mean as fuck if you corner one. Even the dogs leave well alone but they do keep the mice down. I only wish they would go outside to piss. You see that dark patch on the ceiling above your head? I think that’s where they do their business 'cos it drips sometimes’

Micky moved from one armchair to another.

‘Are there lots of mice?’

‘Shitloads. Especially during the rainy season. You try sitting here late at night, they’re running over your feet and rattling the dishes in the rack. We use a kind of glued paper to catch them. You can hear them squeaking all night long as they struggle. I used to try and peel them off and throw them over the wall but now I just roll the paper up and beat it a couple of times with a rolling pin. That usually does the job. By the way, don’t be surprised if you open a draw and a gecko pops out. They crawl in there to catch the cockroaches’

‘Marcia has knocked you up a fish curry’, I continued since Micky was strangley mute, ‘you’ll love it. I’ll just get you a plate’

‘But there’s a clean plate here on the table’

‘That was the remains of Alex’s food, I think the dogs licked the plate clean. What do you want to drink?’

‘Anything that comes in a sealed can’


  1. now IG should read this inspired blog entry too!!

    "Now I know we have all seen Real Blokes, usually in shorts and stupidly battered bush hats, grabbing snakes by the tail and the Real Blokes waving them around "

    this phrase had me pissing my pants!!!!!!!

    thanks for the big up

  2. Well that's four of us with moist undies now...

  3. Thank you. I will add this to the list I call "learning what not to do from other people's stories".


  4. Now, personally, I can understand the situation. Do something, and shit happens. I've never understood people who go through life without shit happening. Well, I do; they stand back and let people like me (and you) deal with it.

    I must say, I would have gone for the 'head off' option. Even before you mentioned it I thought, 'Get someone with a saw'.

    I was once bitten by a squirrel which locked its teeth onto my hand. I had been taunting it with a banana (don't ask). My friend hit it in the head with a stick, nearly breaking my hand. The bastard ran off, and my mate was confused when I turned on him. I wanted him to just disable it; I had plans to cook the bastard.

    Thanks for mention; I'll be back.

  5. Man. I tried all ways I could think of to drop a comment on your blog. I even got John Gray to post on my behalf but he forgot to post any link to me.

    I have ripped my guts out reading your blog. Fuck knows who you are or what you do besides till soil but the blog is brilliant.

  6. I lived in Kenya as a child. Back then we had a house boy who would rid the house of snakes with his panga. I came home from school one day to find a snake had killed my cat..


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.