1 September 2008

My Life and Other Animals

Because of the rural nature of the place we live in we often see sights people in the cities don’t. Some of the sights are welcome, some are not, but each and every one of them is worth experiencing, even if they pose some degree of danger.

Not long after I’d moved over to Tourrettes, I was weeding at the end of our lane. The sharp spines on some of the plants made me wear thick gardening gloves and I was tearing away at the brush when a large snake slithered past me. I’m not sure who got the biggest fright but I gave up weeding for the day and went back to the house for a stiff drink – any old excuse ! The next morning I ventured down to that area of the garden again wearing wellies, gloves and gripping a baseball bat but I needn’t have bothered. The snake was dead – something had bitten its head clean off. A few weeks previously and in anticipation of seeing a variety of animals down here I had bought a book called Mediterranean Wildlife and I looked for two things that day – what sort of snake was it (Montpelier Snake – length up to 200cm or about 3.5 feet) and what could have killed it (no idea). The second discovery was more worrying than the first !

Thereafter, on a regular basis we’d see a variety of wildlife in and around the house. Wild boar with their young in the garden, other, smaller snakes, buzzards and various creepy-crawlies. Badgers, foxes, rabbits and deer to name but a few. Now you can see deer in Richmond Park in London but you don’t often see snakes meandering across the roads. On one occasion when I was returning home from the school run the kids pointed out a small snake right in the middle of our path. It was just sitting there in the middle of the road, so being the big brave guy I am I jumped out and, trying desperately to remember how the late Ray Mears picked snakes in his TV show, I grabbed it just behind its head. Obviously not close enough to its head because it just bent it’s neck 180 degrees and sunk its fangs into my finger. It was excruciating, like two red hot needles being stuck into your flesh just below your fingernail. Well, the snake went flying as I threw it off, I started hopping about holding my hand, wondering how long I had to live and the kids just sat in the car laughing their heads off ! Since then I give snakes a wide berth. Even the smallest ones.

Scorpions on the other hand I kill. I stamp on them and make sure they are absolutely dead. The scorpions you get out here can give adults a nasty sting but are a more serious threat to young children, so if I see one, they’re dead. They don’t do any good anyway – like wasps they may be part of nature but I don’t like them. Normally you only find scorpions in wood piles but recently our neighbours have found them on the sofa and in the bedroom, luckily not under the pillows but just wandering around the floor. Nasty if you don’t wear slippers ! I tried to kill one only the other week and as I tried to squash it, it jumped up to eye level (I was kneeling down at the time), looked me square in the eye and seemed to suggest that its mates would get me.

However, the real object of this blog posting is the strange marks we had all over our lounge ceiling the other morning. Little black spots of dust with no particular pattern. I immediately thought the kids had been bouncing something off the ceiling (like one of the cats) but they protested their innocence. It was a hell of a job cleaning them off. It took about 2 hours and I could only get one or two spots before I had to move the steps to get to another couple. It was back-breaking work.

Once cleaned however, it was all forgotten about until tonight when the biggest moth you’ve ever seen started bouncing itself all over the hall ceiling, and yes you’ve guessed it, leaving black spots every time it bashed its head on the white plaster.

It was enormous. Like a small sparrow so out the book came again and it appears to be a Privet Hawkmoth (Sphinx Ligustri) which has a wingspan of – wait for it …….4 inches and which is also native to the UK !! Now I know moths are not supposed to be dangerous but I still took the precaution of trying to catch it with one of J’s dishcloths – a J-cloth even . Once I’d grabbed it, I swear that the lift generated by its fluttering wings raised me off the kitchen floor. Or that could have been the wine I had with dinner !

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