It’s that time of the year again. The first chill winds of autumn have been circulating for a while, and this is the season when my least favourite visitor arrives.
Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy having visitors. Especially the friend who stayed with me the other week. We chatted into the night about books and writing, while consuming red wine and devouring glorious chocolate-covered nougat. No, the visitor I dread is Herbert, with his tendency to hang about in my lounge, uninvited and unwanted.
I particularly loathe seeing the end of his green tail dangling down in my line of sight. Yes, Herbert is a snake, but let me make this clear: Herbert is not a pet! Herbert is not even the pet of my pets, although my cat Galadriel is convinced that I invite him in just for her to play with.
Herbert is about seventy centimetres long, pencil-thin and emerald green with patterns of black dots arranged along his body. He’s a Spotted Bush Snake, and I’m supposed to take comfort from the fact that they’re not poisonous. Well a dog isn’t poisonous either, but being bitten by one can be pretty traumatic. What nobody seems to realise is that if Herbert bit me I would probably die of fright, just from the terror of seeing his snake-mouth attached to my pale, trembling flesh. “It’s okay, he’s not poisonous” wouldn’t be the first thought to rush through my brain in that situation, and I don’t fancy dying of a heart-attack just because Herbert decides to surprise me.
So wary am I of this element of surprise, that for most of autumn I am too scared to look up at my lounge ceiling in case I see green coils hanging from the rafters. In fact, I recently draped twenty-two metres of gathered, white pongee lining across those rafters. Yes, I told everyone it was for the Bedouin-tent look, for the insulation, and to minimise the endless spattering of gecko-poo that rains down throughout the summer, but I had a darker motive: I don’t want to see Herbert!
As soon as I walk through my front door I put my head down and whip off my spectacles so that I won’t see him lurking up there, adding a few last minute geckos to his winter feeding scheme before he hibernates. And I certainly don’t want to see if Herbert has brought any friends or relatives with him.
We’ve had this problem before, Herbert and I. He doesn’t understand that I must see only one of him at a time. That’s why I call him Herbert. It’s my attempt at believing that he’s the only one, and that he’s tame enough to name. (Why that name? Word-play on the term Herpetology – the study of reptiles and similar creepies. It was a short, lazy jump from there to Herbert-ology.)
Needless to say, the first word that jumps into my brain when I see him is not Herbert, but SNAAAAAKE!!!! – usually yelled at full volume. My cats are very good at protecting me from him. Or his eardrums from my yelling. I’m never sure which.
“Yes, Galadriel – you can play with Herbert if you want to. You’re a little too clumsy to catch him, but as long as you chase him outside, we’ll all be much happier.”
Winter – bring it on!