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About A Week: Snakes All-Too Alive!

Peter Hinchliffe considers a slithery subject.

Our son Dave is chuckling over a sign he saw in Penang.

Penang? I confess I had to consult an atlas. Phnom Penh, Padang, Penang. Hard to remember ‘tother from which among those faraway places with strange-sounding names.

Penang is in Malaysia. “Blessed with exotic sights and fabulous beaches,’’ says the guidebook.

A travelling man, our Dave. He lives on Koh Chang, the second-biggest island in Thailand. Publishes a regularly updated guide to the island. Often goes skipping around Asia.

Anyway, there he was in Penang , far from his Yorkshire roots, standing under some vines on the veranda of a charming colonial-style hotel, when he noticed the following sign.

“The snakes living in the vines above your head are green marsh vipers. Please do not disturb them.’’

“Needless to say, I didn’t,’’ wrote Dave.

He stayed put though. My survival instincts would have sent me scampering from the veranda in search of a vine-less hostelry.

Dave obviously takes after his mum. I still break into a sweat when recalling an experience Joyce had while teaching a class of teenage boys at a private school in Nairobi.

There was a disturbance at the back of the classroom. Isn’t there always?

“What have you got there?’’ Joyce demanded. At the time she was new to the school. “Come on, bring it here.’’

A boy came to the front of the class clutching a small vividly-green snake.

“Is it poisonous?’’ Joyce asked calmly.

“No miss,’’ said the boy. “It bit Sutherland this morning and he’s OK.’’

“Give it here then,’’ said Joyce. She took the snake which coiled itself neatly around her left wrist and appeared to go to sleep, allowing her to go on chalking on the blackboard.

No discipline problems from then on.

While living in Kenya I also had a snake event. An experience which all these years afterwards still slithers around in memory’s darkest chamber. I wrote a tourism and wildlife column for Kenya’s national newspaper, The Daily Nation. From time to time I called in at the Snake Park to pick up news.

Early one morning I was sitting in a work room, surrounded by wire-topped cages, drinking tea laced with condensed milk while chatting to the chap in charge of the Park.

A ghastly noise came from one of the cages. “What’s that?’’ I asked involuntarily, not really wanting to hear an answer.

“Python. Having it’s breakfast.’’ “Not bacon and eggs?’’ said I with the weakest of grins. “No, a rat,’’ said the curator.

I beat a hasty retreat.

A study by Arne Ohman, a Swedish psychologist, suggests that our fear of snakes dates back millions of years to the time when evolving mammals had to survive in a world dominated by reptiles.

That makes sense to me. Caution nurtured by evolution If a snake comes towards you turn around and go back. Rapidly.

Mind you some don’t have chance to retreat. I heard recently of a large lady who lives in a small Texas town. A very large lady. She woke in the night, decided she needed a breath of fresh air and went out onto her veranda.

She trod on something. A rattlesnake. Looking down in horror she saw that she’d killed it.

Humans 1 Snakes 0.


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