It’s an odd thing – life. We travel every day on our journey, often far from Nelson, not sure where the train might stop. Stop it does, and sometimes in the most surprising places.
This particular, not-so-little surprise began one wintery day in London. I was living south of the Thames in a small but comfortable abode with two Kiwis – Little John and Big John, when I decided to buy a snake. Why? Maybe I was finally ready to settle down and become a responsible, mature person.
I was working as a tour guide for tourists around Europe, based in ye olde London town. Having left work early one Tuesday, I turned left out of the Clapham Common underground station and headed home. Halfway there I stopped to light a cigarette and looking up I found myself standing, casually, outside a pet shop.
I had passed this pet shop dozens of times and thought nothing of it – except that it sold small furry things to little children who got bored after three months and returned to sender. I moved closer to the front window and peered into a darkly mysterious interior.
Being a Kiwi boy who grew up in the bush around Nelson, I knew the only thing that could kill me was me getting lost. We had no indigenous scorpions, big hairy spiders, blood sucking beetles or snakes of any kind to threaten us. As I looked through that window I felt like an explorer on the verge of discovering a new land of the deadliest kind.
I slowly opened the door and to my absolute amazement saw rows and rows of cages filled with everything in god’s grand design that might kill you – silently. No squawking birds, yappy dogs or ear-piercing Siamese cats – just snakes, scorpions, spiders and creepy crawlies of every description making no sound whatsoever.
I was instantly hooked, bitten, stung and constricted, and every Tuesday afternoon from that day I would return to the shop I renamed “Indiana Jones and the Shop of Death.”
They always say that if you have never owned a snake, start small. Accordingly, I ordered my 12 inch Burmese python from Dennis the shop owner. Dennis had once sold life insurance before buying his shop full of things that could kill you – a real comedian.
As a two week wait turned to months of delays, I got to know Dennis and his dark menagerie. I asked him why on earth he would want a pet shop like this. He could never answer me, but I started to feel the same unspoken addiction. I was curious about Dennis as all he seemed to do was be in the shop. I found out he had been married with four kids but his wife disappeared – some say she ran away with another bloke. Given the ridiculously oversized snakes in ‘Serpent Corner’ I always wondered.
You can imagine my excitement when, after three months of helping Dennis in the shop feeding scorpions and handling Chilean Rose Tarantulas, my snake duly arrived. Dennis led me to a large wooden cage sitting on the shop floor and pointed at a carefully positioned banana box behind two glass doors. As anyone who owns a copy of Snakes for Dummies 101 knows, start small and work your way up. I knelt down for a closer look and involuntarily recoiled when I first saw Otis, my brand new 10-foot long Burmese Python. Surprised – I almost soiled myself!
To be continued…….
by Simon Duffy