The Worst Of Times: It buries its fangs and sticks like grim death: Ranulph Fiennes Talks To Danny Danziger

One summer holiday, when I was nine, all my sisters, who are older than me, were taken from our home near Cape Town on a trip to the Victoria Falls, and to see all the wonderful animals at the Kruger National Park.

It was decided I was too young to go, which made me feel very left out. I got sent instead to stay with a boy from school, called James Walker. We had always been friends at school, but in the holidays he turned out to be a most grotty child, and he threw rocks at me and bullied me, which must have been very awkward for his parents, who got rid of me as soon as they possibly could.

They drove hundreds of miles to take me to relatives who lived at a place called Commanche Sands. And they whispered in my cousin's ear when we arrived: 'He's dreadful, we can't put up with him any longer.' I heard them saying it.

Cousin Francis had a chicken farm. There were thousands of these lovely little furry chickens, but there is a huge mortality rate among young chicks; many of them get trampled, and they can be quite cruel to each other. Every morning I was made to help my cousin take out the casualties from the previous night. I had to reach in below the fence and put the dead chickens into a satchel, and then take them to the crematorium. I hated doing it: when they are dead, the fluff seems to go out of them, and they just look pathetic.

We would go out very early in the morning, cousin Francis carrying a kerosene lamp, as it would still be dark. I remember the bitter smell of kerosene, the eerie, dancing shadows the lamp threw out, the old Dutch house with lace everywhere, and the many dark corners. And then we went out into the old barn where there were two huge cart-horses, great 18-hand beasts, a brown one and a white one. There were 5dozens of spiders' webs in that barn, too, and they were enormous, they had dust in them, and hung down like swollen bellies, and the spiders were extremely scary to a little person.

One morning, I was excused chicken- burning duties, and treated to a tour of the farm. Even that turned out to be a horrible experience. The family's lovely cocker spaniel, Bartles, got bitten right in front of me by a bomslung or tree snake, and died in a very unpleasant way. The bomslung is a browny-green colour, long and thick, and evil-looking. It hides in a tree, coiled up along the lower branches, and then leaps on its victim, buries its fangs and sticks like grim death. I watched helplessly as the snake writhed and twisted in a frenzied, murderous attack, while the poor dog howled and screamed, until eventually, mercifully, it succumbed. I've been frightened of snakes ever since.

At the weekend, cousin Francis and his wife took me down to a place called Betty's Bay, a very beautiful beach on the coast. When we got there, they went off with their friends and left me on the towels they had spread on the sand. As I sat there, waiting for them to get back, I happened to notice a young couple a few yards away.

They were talking intimately to each other, laughing and joking, while the man put sunburn cream on his wife's back. Perhaps they were on their honeymoon. They seemed very much in love, quite oblivious to the rest of the world as they kissed and caressed, and I felt rather embarrassed.

The man eventually went out into the surf, and I watched him become a little speck as he went further and further out to sea. I began to worry about him before his wife did, and I watched her, asleep on the sand, to see when she would wake up and look for her husband.

Eventually, she got up, and I saw her alarm increasing as the enormous tragedy that had happened somehow became evident to her, although she did not yet know for sure - and she started screaming, over and over: 'He's drowned, he's drowned.'

Several hours later, people dragged a body out of the surf, and the young wife jumped on top of the corpse of her young husband. It was the first time I had witnessed human tragedy first hand, and seeing a dead body unsettled me. I got quite good at shutting the recurring images out of my mind, but I could remember the screams of the woman for a long time.

I was generally a good-natured, easy child, but when my family got back from their wonderful Victoria Falls holiday, they found me in a very unsettled way. My mother tried to find out what had happened, but I couldn't speak about it. A few days later, I broke down in tears, and told her everything.

That holiday made me frightened for the first time. The fear of pounding water and creepy crawly things has stayed with me ever since; whether on my expeditions, or at home, they are absolute anathema to me still.

Sir Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes Bt has updated his autobiography, 'Living Dangerously', which is published this week by Macmillan.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

    £30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    ***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

    £35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

    Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

    £47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

    Day In a Page

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker