Grass snake (Shutterstock.com. See main credit below)
Blog Words : Chris Stewart | 07 December

Tilting at snakes in Spain

Chris Stewart manfully deals with a reptilian intruder in his bathroom, just as he gets to the best bit in Don Quixote.

A house out here in the hills is a much more primitive thing than we were used to back in Britain – or at least ours is. There are no such sophistications as double-glazing, closely fitting doors or central heating.

In fact, our house is little more than a primitive shelter: something to keep out the worst of the weather and discourage wild beasts.

It’s not 100% effective, though, even in these simple capacities. This morning – and it’s not the first time – there was a snake in the bathroom.

I was deep in my Don Quixote... It’s the fourth centenary of Cervantes’ birth (born on the same day as Shakespeare), and we are all supposed to read the Quixote this year. So there I was, absorbed by the unfathomable doings of the ‘Man of la Mancha’, when I hear a voice from the bathroom – no, not the snake... the wife.

“Chris,” it said.

“Mmm? Yes, dear?”

“There’s a snake in the bathroom.”

“Really?” I said, trying to feign more interest than I actually felt. This is not such a singular occurrence as to have you leap hastily from your chair.

“Yes...” a pause... “What are you going to do about it?”

“Me? Why me? It’s not my snake... and anyway, I’m busy.”

“You like to think of yourself as the man of the house; well, it’s the man’s job to get snakes out of the bathroom.”

I thought I detected a withering tone in her voice and resolved to take my time.

“Er, I’ll just finish my chapter.”

“No. Come now or else we’ll lose sight of it.” This was classic nagging; surely to lose sight of the snake was what we wanted. The real issue here was that Ana was resentful of the fun I was having reading Don Quixote, while she was doing whatever it is she does in the bathroom.

“Cleaning it, actually... while you sit there pretending to read that book.”

Argh! Sometimes I forget that they can read your mind.

“OK, I’m coming.” I know when I’m beaten. I went into the bathroom to see what sort of snake it was and thus what sort of equipment I would need to get it out.

It was a snake all right, not a big one, but a snake for all that, and it was covered in viperish markings – they all are in my experience. “Look for the ‘V’ on the back of its head, that’s the sure sign that it’s poisonous,” say the herpetologists, reassuringly. Well, I’ve yet to find a snake without a ‘V’ on the back of its head.

“Hmm,” I said, in a professional manner. “I’m going to need some equipment to move this character.”

“Well, hurry up,” said Ana. “We don’t want it disappearing into the bathroom cupboard and lurking in there to spring out and catch us unawares when we’ve forgotten about it, do we?”

“No, dear. You keep an eye on it while I go and get the stuff.”

Five minutes later I returned in my snake-catching outfit, which consists of a pair of Wellington boots, thick gloves, a bucket and some tongs.

“Look at you!” snorted my wife. “You look like some sort of astronaut for heaven’s sake! It’s not a rock python, you know; it’s only a little grass snake.”

“Quiet,” I hissed. “This is a delicate business and not to be taken lightly, and besides, just who is it who’s taking the risks here, hmm?”

I surveyed the terrain and decided on a discreet flanking movement followed by a quick lunge.

“Right, you stop it getting behind the washing-powder box and I’ll grab it, OK?”

Catlike, I crept and, with a sudden bold lunge, caught the snake with the tongs behind the head and slipped it into the bucket. It lay there looking up at me calmly, none of this hissing and flickering of the tongue business. So I took it outside and let it slither off into the distance.

Lucky snake, that one. Had it found its way into a native’s bathroom it would have been for the chop – local people kill snakes... any snakes. Then, with a good manly sort of feeling I returned to my study of the Quixote.

Chris Stewart is the author of Driving over Lemons and A Parrot in the Pepper Tree. He lives in a farmhouse in the Alpujarras, Spain

A grass snake in the grass (Shutterstock.com)