Country Life: Snake tales

Share
Related Topics

My theme this week is exotic animals. I know this is not necessarily what you might expect from a column called Country Life, but then it doesn't specify which country. So let me return to Nigel the corn snake, whose forebears hail from the south-eastern seaboard of the United States.

My theme this week is exotic animals. I know this is not necessarily what you might expect from a column called Country Life, but then it doesn't specify which country. So let me return to Nigel the corn snake, whose forebears hail from the south-eastern seaboard of the United States.

Regular readers, of whom I understand there are several, will recall that a few weeks back our household was bracing itself for the arrival of a pet snake. Our neighbour Will, a wildlife consultant, has a friend called Nigel, who lives in Ledbury and breeds reptiles, and who promised our son Joseph a baby corn snake, which Joseph naturally decided should be called Nigel.

Nigel Junior will eventually grow to 3ft but at the moment he is not much longer or thicker than a boot lace, and we all think he's terribly sweet - even Joseph's older sister, Eleanor, who was extremely dubious about sharing a roof with anything quite as slithery as a snake. Which is somewhat paradoxical, because there is nothing round here more slithery than our roof tiles.

Anyway, I am grateful to a reader, the Reverend Alex Martin, from Crediton in Devon, for writing to tell me that my Nigel story reminded him of a boa constrictor called Barnabas, which belonged in the early 20th century to the chaplain of Trent College, in Derbyshire, an eccentric but plainly rather wonderful cove nicknamed "Daddy" Warner.

When the Rev Martin became a chemistry master at the college, after the Second World War, Daddy Warner was still chaplain, and liked to tell the tale of how he had once been in bed with flu, and feeling the need for company had sent for Barnabas to share his bed. When the school doctor arrived to treat the chaplain, he drew back the sheet and was confronted by Barnabas rising towards him. Not unreasonably, he fled.

Daddy Warner also used to take Barnabas on long summer treks with the pupils. One year, in the New Forest, Barnabas disappeared from the camp and could not be found. Happily, a day or so later someone saw a headline on the front page of a newspaper: "Dangerous tropical snake discovered in the New Forest." Barnabas was duly reunited with Daddy.

Whether Joseph will grow as attached to Nigel as Daddy Warner was to Barnabas, I don't know. I rather hope not. On the other hand, it is pleasing that a boy whose grasp of personal hygiene is iffy, to say the least, has so far looked after Nigel in exemplary fashion. If mucking out Nigel's tank encourages Joseph to muck out his own bedroom from time to time, we will be delighted. However, we were slightly disconcerted to learn that Nigel Senior was nine years old, precisely the age Joseph is now, when he was given his first snake. His interest became a passion and in due course a livelihood. He now has a sizeable number of snakes - which makes us wonder whether, by allowing Joseph to have Nigel, we might be storing up problems for him when he reaches courting age. "Come upstairs and see my python" is really not a great chat-up line on any level.

* The entirely true story I told a couple of weeks ago - about the circus bear in China that escaped and was next seen 100 miles away by some bear-hunters, when it entered the sights of their rifles wearing a bowler hat and riding a monocycle - has prompted another nice letter from another reader. He is an occasional correspondent of mine called David Gorvett, of Leominster, who says it reminded him of a booklet he wrote in 1987 about the Herefordshire village of Eardisley.

In late Victorian times, apparently, the Eardisley May Fair was a hugely popular event, with a circus as its centrepiece. Those were less sensitive times than our own, of course. Circuses had dancing bears, and sad old elephants which were sometimes compelled to walk dozens of miles from one showground to the next. Anyway, Mr Gorvett found that on one occasion in Eardisley a dancing bear slipped its shackles and climbed to the top of a nearby poplar tree, where it stayed all day and well into the evening, resisting all blandishments for it to come down.

"Circumspectly gathered near the open doors of the two pubs," wrote Mr Gorvett, "many onlookers offered their advice, ranging from a swift use of Sir John Coke's elephant gun to the more hazardous employment of a two-handed saw from Powell's Spade Yard." Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately given the wretched existence it was returning to, the bear eventually made the descent of its own accord.

Mr Gorvett certainly did his research thoroughly. He also discovered details of a May Fair in the 1890s when the circus elephant caused a sensation by inconveniently dying on arrival in Eardisley. In warm weather a dead elephant was only going to be an attraction for so long; after a while it would start to keep folk away. So negotiations quickly opened with a local farmer, John Edwards, who agreed that a grave could be dug on his land and the exceedingly large corpse buried within.

Apparently, there is still a mound - or was in 1987 - showing where this interment took place. I wonder whether future archaeologists will get excited over what they think is the skeleton of a young woolly mammoth?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’  

Children's TV shows like Grange Hill used to connect us to the real world

Grace Dent
An Indian bookseller waits for customers at a roadside stall on World Book and Copyright Day in Mumbai  

Novel translation lets us know what is really happening in the world

Boyd Tonkin
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine