A nightmare encounter in a north London suburb.
Holloway resident and TV producer Neal Wallace shares his slithering horror story…
PART ONE: SNAKE!
I was, as freelancers sometimes are, between jobs, and enjoying a Tuesday at home. It was knocking on for 5 pm, for something to do, I decided to fix myself a pointlessly early dinner of fish fingers.
While my grill got hot ‘n’ heavy with Captain Birds Eye, I retired to my bedroom for a lie-down, exhausted from the effort of opening the freezer and so on. A short time later, the beep of the oven timer roused me from the deliciously undeserved nap of the unemployed. Hungry for breaded fish, I stepped out into the hallway and
A big fat wiggly-fuckery snake, specifically a red-white-and-black snake, which if Attenborough has taught me anything is Nature Code for I WILL KILL YOU FOR FUN AND LAY EGGS IN YOUR CORPSE AND THE SNAKE BABIES WILL EAT THEIR WAY OUT OF YOUR EYES.
I leapt, by instinct, over the snake and towards the kitchen, so that I might rescue my fish fingers: now surely my Last Supper for One, the final meal of a man condemned to die; specifically, to die from snakes.
I slammed the kitchen door behind me, the better to deter the serpent, and gathered my thoughts, which were roughly “Oh no! Fuckity no. A fucking SNAKE?! Fuck.”
I’ll admit it: I was proper panicking. I don’t even like it when Planet Earth does a segment on wasps. (They’re vindictive bastards, wasps. ‘Don’t wave your arms and it won’t sting you!’ Fuck off, you don’t know, it MIGHT.)
My next realisation was that the sly scaly bastard had me cornered, as there’s no exit from the kitchen, and I’d left my phone in the bedroom. This fucked my Plan A, which was to call my girlfriend Ashleigh, who I shared the flat with. (Ashleigh had spent a portion of her childhood in Australia, familiarising her with the scuttling, slithering, and stinging branches of Mama Nature’s Tree of Terror.)
She is also much braver than me in general.
Ultimately, I had no choice but to fucking LEG IT down the hall, vault the writhing beast and barricade my room, where my phone and salvation awaited.
I was still petrified, but Ashleigh, on the phone, was calm, possibly unhelpfully calm. ‘Just relax. Calm down. Try calling the RSPCA.’
So I called the RSPCA.
I said: ‘I’ve got a snake in my house.’
The woman on the line said: ‘Oh. Is it yours?’
Of course it’s not mine, I thought, I’m obviously not ringing you up just to show off about the cool snake I have.
‘No, it’s not mine.’
‘Oh! ‘ she said. ‘To be honest, you’re talking to the wrong person. If there was a snake in my flat I’d be running down the street screaming by now.’
‘Do you think a warden could come?’ I ask, hopefully.
‘Oh they’re ever so busy today. Sit tight and we’ll ring you back in an hour or two.’
PART TWO: THE SNAKEY STAKE-OUT
Tentatively. I position myself on a desk that looks out from the study into the hallway, in the general direction of the snake. This will be my Snake Watching Position, and I even have a chair to put my feet on so the snake cannot Get Me. In fact my girlfriend will find me still cowering in this exact spot hours later, and take this photo.
After a short while, the snake guiltily slithers into a corner, under a bookcase, of which I have a good and snake-proof view. I now at least KNOW where the snake is, and knowledge is power. I’ve got you now, snake! Obviously I have no intention of literally ‘getting’ the snake but it’s a good start.
I maintain my silent vigil for around four minutes until my mind cries out for distraction and I take to social media. And let me tell you, #SnakeGate is an instant sensation! I crowdsource helpful suggestions from my Facebook friends, such as ‘just move out and never come back’ or ‘kill yourself before the snake does it for you.’ But one reptile-fancier suggests it might be a milk snake, a harmless creature that, in appearance, closely mimics the deadly coral snake. Although, then again, it could just be a Coral Snake.
Speculation is rife. Eventually, my brave, partner returns home. It’s time to get that slippery fucker.
PART THREE: DUDE, WHERE’S MY SNAKE?
We divide the roles thusly.
Ashleigh, as the former Australian, will wear the Oven Glove of Protection, seizing the snake from its bookcase hiding place and sequestering it in a hold-all.
I, the cowardly TV producer, will film the experience on my phone, from a safe distance, and stream it live on Facebook.
And so we begin.
We approach the bookcase. (Well, Ashleigh does.)
We gingerly start removing books from the bookcase. (Ditto.)
The snake isn’t there.
The snake isn’t fucking there.
What’s happened is this: I’ve been so busy commentating on the snake on Facebook, I have neglected my snake-watching duties, and now the snake has escaped. I now have 125 Facebook comments on a single photo, at the harrowing personal cost of 1 snake on the loose. And where? In the bathroom? In my bedroom? Where I sleep?
The hunt begins.
We look everywhere. In the kitchen:
In our bedroom:
Under our flatmate’s bed (sorry Liz):
Even in the… uh, pipes place?
The snake is nowhere to be seen.
We cannot find the snake.
We do not the find the snake.
It’s Snake 1, Us 0.
If our flat were a board game, it would simply be called ‘Ladders.’
EPILOGUE: MAYBE I LIVE WITH A SNAKE NOW
After transmission concluded, the following things happened.
A Facebook friend I worked with eight years ago, in a different city altogether, had seen the live video.
He messaged me, to tell me that, by coincidence, his friends lost a similar snake not long ago. Where did they live? I asked. It turns out, just three doors down for me. Snake owners CONFIRMED!
Then, the snake owners came over to search. It turns out their ludicrous pet had been on the run for a fortnight. In fact, they told me, the snake had recently appeared at another intermediary flat, and freaked out the lady who lived there so badly she’d called the fire brigade.
(This explained why the fire brigade were outside our flat the week before.)
The owners could not find the snake in our flat. They left, declaring it ‘gone’, a judgement a friend described as ‘pretty cocky considering their track record of knowing where their snake is and isn’t.’
And in the end, the owners never found the snake.
Snakes struggle in the cold, so, they say, it’s unlikely to have survived the winter.
But here’s the thing. Before the Snake, we used to have a problem with mice. Yet ever since the Snake, I haven’t seen a mouse once.
It’s a bit like adopting a cat!
A long, slithering, fork-tongued cat that lives beneath the floorboards, growing bigger and stronger on a diet of miniature rodent. Until it eventually hungers for bigger, juicier prey.
This is my life now. I love you really, Mandatory Pet Snake. Please don’t kill me.
As told to Guy Parsons. Follow Neal on Twitter.