THERE’S a snake on the path near the back door. It regards me with little sparkly eyes. Its little tongue flicks in and out, in and out. The snake is heading for the house. I think it can smell my chili con carne simmering on the stove, which is a bit worrying because there’s hardly enough for me and Anne, never mind a snake as well . . .
I rush inside for my camera and shout, almost triumphantly: “There’s a snake on the path.” Anne looks concerned and replies: “Is it a big one?”
This throws me into confusion because the snake is only about 15cm long, and not being an expert on this sort of thing I am not in a position to make an assertive judgement. Plus, I saw a video of an anaconda in a Peruvian river the other day, and this little fellow heading for the back step is not in the same league. In fact, that’s just what he is: a little fellow.
Feeling somewhat deflated, I answer: “No. It’s a little one.”
Anne comes hurrying out and we both stare at the visitor. “Oooh,” she says. “I didn’t know snakes were as little as that.”
It’s funny how words said in innocence can feel like betrayal. Imagine you are a Mesolithic hunter-gatherer returning from benighted forests with a young roe deer over your shoulder and your wife says: “Huh. Is that the best you can do?” That’s how I feel.
“Well, it’s probably a baby snake,” I say.
“I didn’t know baby snakes were that small,” she says.
“Well how big did you think baby snakes were, for Christ’s sake?”
The little baby snake seems determined to head for the kitchen door. I need to divert him onto a new course. I also need to take a picture. But how close will he allow me to get with my camera? If I invade his personal space he might bite my hand – or my bare toes, and then Anne will have to suck out the venom, like in that old joke (Smoke signal say you going to die, Kemosabe).
The little baby snake demonstrates his discomfort by recoiling extremely energetically when confronted by my camera lens. His dexterity is matched by my own as I leap backwards.
At this point Agnes, one of our two cats, wanders round the corner and immediately takes an unhealthy interest in the visitor. Suddenly we have a three-way stand-off. I need to get rid of the snake before the cat pounces and is bitten in the process. And I need to achieve this without getting bitten myself or scratched by the cat.
“Shall I get a spade and chop it in half?” I venture.
Anne is horrified.
I find a plastic fly swatter. It’s one of those silly hand-shaped things on a flimsy handle that’s no use for anything except swatting flies or doing George Formby impersonations when you’ve had a few beers. Admittedly, it would be little match against a Peruvian anaconda but it might just persuade our little baby snake to veer away from the kitchen door.
I slide the fly swatter under the snake and flip him over. Blimey, this really gets him vexed. He twists and coils, and his little head sways from side to side. I’m wondering if snakes go for your throat when cornered, like rats do. I flick him again while shielding my throat with my free arm.
This time I flick him over the wall into long grass. The cat bounds after him, but there’s not much I can do about that. Still, at least the Mesolithic hunter-gatherer within, having defended his home and wife against rampaging serpents, feels a little less aggrieved. Time now for some chili con carne.
SPAIN has thirteen varieties of snake, five of which are poisonous. I can’t say for certain, but our visitor appears to have been a hooded snake, also known as a false smooth snake. They can grow up to 44cm in length and are one of the five venomous types. Ours was only a little baby hooded snake, but I’m glad I didn’t try that trick where you grab them behind the head and hold them up to the camera.