I have few claims to fame. If I mention that I’ve done something remarkable, someone else will always have done the same, but before me and with a far superior outcome, despite having one leg in plaster and being threatened by a terrorist with an AK47 and the flu. But how many of you have had a snake try and eat you?
Got you there, haven’t I.
I used to own a snake. We named it Charles as it was a Californian King Snake and as Prince Chas seemed unlikely to ascend the throne for some time, we thought it would be nice to give him a go. It was a non-venomous constrictor, although its saliva could cause a reaction in the skin of most people. It is difficult to measure a live snake, but Chas was around four and a half feet long.
It was all black with gold (yellow) dots. Whenever it had sloughed a skin it almost glowed. It looked stunning.
It was quite friendly, well for a snake. It would crawl (if that’s the word) up the sleeve of my shirt, get onto a shoulder, go around the back of my neck to the other shoulder then crawl down the other sleeve. If it was tired, it would curl up in a sleeve.
When cleaning out its vivarium I would put it in the pocket of the apron I wore and it would stick its head out and sniff around. I answered the door to two Jehovah Witnesses but the hoped for reaction never occurred as they didn’t see it.
We used to feed it dead baby mice, thawed to room temperature. I would hold one in front of Chas in order to hone its hunting skills. The reason is as obscure to me as it is, no doubt, to you. Its aim was often poor and it frequently took three or four lunges to get a good hold. It would then coil itself around the mouse and swallow the thing head first.
It once missed its target and bit my index finger. I tried to shake it off but it just bit harder. Before I could react it wrapped its body around my wrist and began to tighten. It was never going to break a bone, but it was unsettling.
The time honoured method of getting a snake to break its grip is to feed alcohol to it via a pipette. My wife poured a shot of whisky into a glass, filled the pipette and fed it to Chas. A reward, it seemed to me, for being so aggressive.
I waited and so did Chas. He got another pipette of single malt but didn’t change his grip. The same went for the third time.
Our vet was phoned. He had had the occasional interface with Chas but only when the animal was laid back, which might explain his lack of urgency. He told me to feed it alcohol. I told him he’d had three pipette fulls. He told me not to feed the animal any more as it might kill the thing. This alternative was beginning to increase its attraction as I’d had a snake around my wrist for an hour or more.
We phoned a chap who advertised snakes for sale in a herpetological magazine. While I phoned, Chas moved along my finger towards the tip, with the obvious intent to swallow me whole, finger first. Glad to be able to show him the benefits of evolution, I exercised my opposable thumb. He stopped where he was.
The chap expressed no surprise that I had been bitten, but he too told me not to feed any more alcohol to Chas as it might do untold damage.
With the air of someone who had done it many times before, he said I should fill a sink with warmish water and put my hand in so that the snake’s head was under water. I asked if it might drown, more in hope by that time than fear, but he assured me that no snake, even a drunk one, would kill itself.
So I followed the instructions and plunged my hand into the sink. I wondered who would blink first – which would have been me, of course, given that Chas had no eyelids, but you know what I mean.
It took Chas nearly four and a half minutes to realise it had met its match and let go. I took hold of its now flaccid tail, held I upside down for a minute or so following instructions and then put it back into its vivarium.
A rash appeared on my finger within a few hours, and it itched enough to stop me getting off to sleep. I went to a pharmacist to ask what I could put on it but she put on an act, making out I was the first person ever to ask her how to treat a snake bite.
After a period of reflection, Chas appeared from under his bit of bark, hopefully chastened by his experience.
So who else has had to fight off a snake for over an hour? Got you there.