Wednesday 19 December 2012

Another Beastie Quiz

Could you get tired of this?  I am.
Marcia climbed out of bed this morning at an hour even owls are considered insomniacs if they are still hooting.  I don’t know what it is about women, they can even make a noise applying lipstick.  And I was knackered.

On the first water trip I made, I delivered around sixty 20 litre containers, all of which I had to fill at road level and then heave up onto the truck.  Yesterday I delivered one hundred and nine 20 litre containers.  For those whose attention it may have escaped, a litre of water weighs one kilogram (about 2,2 pounds).  Confining twenty of them together in a container makes a noticeably heavy load.  Ask a heavy smoker in his mid-fifties with two myocardial infarctions behind him to fill and lift a hundred and nine of these bastard things onto the bed of a truck, unload them for their recipients and then get out of bed early the following morning and make his wife breakfast before she goes to town is a bit much.

Clearly deeply unsympathetic, she ensured both I and Alex were wide awake before she left.  Sure, we could have tried to go back to sleep but Alex is four so his bladder is the size of a peanut and my kidneys are over half a century old and tired of processing the shit I pour down my neck meaning both of us were faced with the choice of getting up or swamping the bed in stereo.

So what are a knackered old soak and his four year old son expected to do at sun up?  I know!  Let’s go snake hunting!  I know a thing or two about reptiles.  I married and divorced a couple and have even worked for a few.  They may not actually be heartless, although I did wonder, but they are definitely cold blooded.  Marcia is not a reptile.  Like this morning, she can be bloody cold blooded but clearly she doesn’t need a warming dose of the sun to reanimate her at first light and once, about four years and nine months ago, she was surprisingly warm and affectionate leading to the birth of my youngest son and now fellow snake hunter.

Alex was up for this.  ‘Vamos apanhar uma cobra e eu vou matar!’ he said with an enthusiasm that warmed my hunter’s heart and got my blood circulating.  A four year old eager to rush out at dawn, hunt down a snake and kill it.  OK, I wasn’t too keen on the last bit, unless it was deadly but, you have to admit, it's a hell of a way to start the day.  The nights can get pretty chilly here so reptiles in the morning are generally quite lethargic (perhaps I am a reptile?) so it is the best time to go looking for them.  They need sun to get going just as much as I need a strong cup of tea and a decent dump.  Reptiles hunting me could do worse than hide behind my tea caddy at six in the morning, or if they were after awful revenge, under the toilet seat about ten minutes later.

Choking down an SL, Angola’s equivalent to Woodbines, I set off with Alex into the scrub.  We were sensibly dressed.  Alex in flip flops and shorts, me barefoot with a towel wrapped around my waist.  Now when hunting soporific snakes, it doesn’t do to make a lot of noise which, with a hangover like the one I was sporting, suited me fine.  The trick is to be patient and observant.  The snakes will crawl out from under the wood pile, out from the grass, wherever they call home to catch a few rays but they still have enough reserves left to bolt or bite if they are disturbed.  It is movement that gives them away to a keen eye but we don’t want them to notice us first.  Picture it, the sight of an old duffer puffing on a tab dressed in a towel accompanied by a four year old, both of them playing statues in the early morning sea mist.

My eyes are so shot, lenses like the ones my glasses sport were last seen in the Hubble telescope so it was hardly surprising that Alex spotted the first snake.

‘There! There Daddy!’ he screamed jumping up and down.  The snaked pissed off sharpish before I managed to get radar lock so I will have to take his word for it.

‘If you see another snake, Son,’ I said, ‘You do this’.  I then made a fist and pumped the air as if I was a train driver pulling his whistle before extending my arm and pointing.  I saw John Wayne do that in a movie  once, just before he got shot up in an ambush but I don't think the snakes have guns here so as a means of communication between two hunters silently stalking their prey it would probably have been OK.  ‘There’s another one!’ Alex screamed before stamping after it.  Ah well, let's just do it his way.  All this without a cup of tea and no pockets in my towel for fags.

But we caught one.  I told Alex to get the plastic container of crispy snacks he had emptied the night before and, holding the snake by the tail, I fed it into the container and bunged the lid on.  I dumped the container back in the jango and went to make a cup of tea. 

Parents just know when their kid has been up to something.  At four, as in this case, they haven’t mastered the mask required to conceal deceit.  For that, they have to be old enough to marry.  'Was the food nice?', 'Does my bum look big in this?', 'Do you like it?', the sole response being, 'Lovely'.  A chap hardly need distract himself in the pursuit of marital harmony.  It is a skill that children lack.

I came out of the kitchen clutching the tea tray, took one look at Alex and asked him ‘What’s up Son?’ before placing the tray on the table.  ‘Come and get your tea, Son!’.  He didn’t move.  ‘Alex, come and have some tea!’ I ordered.  Still he did not move.  Then I noticed he was holding the lid of the snake container in his hand.  Of the container and snake there were no immediate signs.

 ‘Where’s the snake, Son?’ 

‘It took the tampa (lid) off, Daddy’, he said in a desperately forlorn voice. 

I did not believe for a second a snake could unscrew the lid of a container and escape leaving it in my son’s hand.  I took in the whole scene.  My son was standing rigid clutching the red plastic top of his snack jar.  At his feet was the empty jar.  Coiled on top of it, the front third of its body raised, its beady little eyes demonstrating an alarming awareness of its immediate environment, of which Alex figured prominently, was the snake.  He’d let the bloody thing out.  With the curiosity of a child he had unscrewed the lid and the snake had, like any snake trapped in a biscuit jar, gone for it.

Damn.  I have never seen a snake like this one.  I really wanted to photograph it well and try and identify it.  As far as snakes went, this one was beautiful.  Now it was wide awake and would be impossible to catch again without risking hurting it.

‘Keep very still, Son, I am going to get the camera’. 

I hurried off cursing myself I hadn’t put cold water into the container first to chill the beast down making it even more lethargic, a trick TV snake hunters use before handling snakes in front of the camera.  Actually, they use pre chilled cool boxes but, like policemen, there’s never one around when you need one.

For the first time in his short life, Alex did exactly as he was told and I managed to get these snaps.  I really wanted a photo of him holding it but once the snake was busy avoiding me Alex was a vapour trail out of there.  I even managed to catch it again but he refused to come to me and take the camera.  My fault really, I never thought to lay the camera on the ground and retreat twenty yards. 

House snakes are brown.  I can’t imagine a grass snake with such iridescent colours.  Any ideas?
I´m outta here...
The tiles are 50cms across which makes our subject over a metre long

Beautiful.  Alex was standing on the dining room table as I took this

Here's a snake I killed earlier.  Bugger ecology, you don't muck about with these which is why I invested in some serious rocks from the temple vendors rather than just a bag or two of pebbles for the Saturday Afternoon Stoning.


  1. Sleek, shiny, reptillian, crawling on its belly to disguise the fact that it is probably lethally poisonous; it's a merchant banker.

  2. I thought of you when I saw this:

    No clue about the snake.

  3. I also don't know what kind it is, but i love its iridescence.

    As for the one you killed, not sure what kind he is, either but i'm sure he could give a nasty bite.

  4. Churn Dash,

    That article nails it on the head. You want to see the bitching and fighting that goes on. As far as I am concerned, you give me ten containers, I'll give you ten full ones back. That's not good enough. The containers MUST be the exact same containers that were handed over and no, no-one will come and help me.

    Now it transpires that they are hoarding containers and selling them to citizens of other villages walking in from miles away.

    Jesus. For fifteeen hundred bucks, each community could have their own well.

    And while all this is going on, an American Church has built a resort here for its pastors to chill out in. A resort secured by armed guards to keep the locals out.

    I did not deliver water today. Instead I sent a message up the line saying I could do 1,400 litres per day tops and it was up to them to sort out who gets it. I bet the kids are right at the bottom of the food chain.

    Human beings. They are scum.

  5. Megan,

    I still haven't a clue about the iridescent one but it was very placid. The one I killed, which was ages ago, is Bitis Arientans, a Puff Adder and quite horrible.

  6. Saturday afternoon stoning eh? Is that a Monty Python reference? :)

    This post cracked me up. I made my honey stop what he was doing so I could read it to him.

  7. It looks like the Equatorial Guinea 'President' Snake. I prefer the dead one.

  8. May I be pedantic for a moment! It is a litre of WINE that weighs a Kilo. Wine was originally sold by weight (they weighed the filled barrels); water was never sold (in Europe anyway).

    I believe that Water and Wine do NOT have the same specific gravity; although the difference must be MINUSCULE.

  9. Well Cro, if you are going to nit pick, I think my snake looks nothing like President Teodoro Obiang...

  10. You are correct Cro, when you say that a litre of water isn't necessarily a kilo. At 4 degrees c it is. With the temperature here it must be around 996 grammes.

    I never knew about the connection between a kilo and wine, another one of those interesting ways units of measure were derived (like a furlong being the distance an ox could pull a plough before having to rest). It is all fascinating, isn't it. I like your Christmas tree, by the way!

  11. Robin!

    I am so pleased you liked the post. I thought I would be censured for leaving my four year old staring down an unknown snake while I fetched the camera.

    I just knew someone would get the Monty Python reference!

    The snake, although I still cannot identify it properly, is non-venomous. We get loads of house snakes here but they are all generally brown. I think I might make up a display case and keep a few interesting examples for people to look at in the restaurant.

  12. I gave my snake a damned good bashing this morning too Tom!


    Where's the logo for Fat Hippo's you promised me?

    Isn't yours a bishop?

  14. Looks like a young black mamba (google images), which is venomous but no visible fangs unlike I expected. I'm no expert do like looking at snakes on a laptop screen! The telling characteristic for that one is a black tongue and black inside it's mouth. It is an African snake. Fangs look like they are covered by skin in the pictures I saw.

  15. John,

    Not a Mamba, black or green (at least I bloody hope not!). This is some kind of constrictor. Perhaps it is just an unusually pretty African House Snake but I would love to find out for sure.

    It is a sobering thought but one day I will grab a snake by the tail for the last time...

  16. I think, after an hour or so crawling the web, that it is a jevenile Spotted Bush Snake (Philothamnus semivariegatus).

  17. What you described was like a scene from a low budget Indiana Jones movie. The snake is clearly a rare legless Angolan one called Dave.

  18. Ah, Sir Pud, Cameronius impotēns. I never thought of that.


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