An occasional column by author, musician, and organic farmer Chris Stewart about life on his sheep farm in the Alpujarra region of Andalusia, on the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
A house out here in the hills is a primitive thing… or at least ours is. There are no such sophistications as double glazing, or closely fitting doors. 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 that effective though, even in these simple capacities. One morning – and it’s not the first time – there was a snake in the bathroom.
I was deep, as it happened, in Don Quijote… a much postponed resolution of mine, finally come to fruition. So there I was, absorbed by the unfathomable doings of the Man of la Mancha, when I hear a voice from the bathroom – not the snake, the wife.
“Chris,” it said.
“Mmm? Yes dear?”
“There’s a snake in here.”
“Really?” I said, feigning 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 – “So what are you going to do about it?”
“Why me? It’s not my snake… and anyway I’m busy.”
“You like to think of yourself as the man of the house, no? Well, it’s the man’s job to get snakes out of the bathroom.”
I thought I detected a slightly withering tone in her voice. I resolved to take my time.
“Er, I’ll just finish my chapter…”
“No. Come now or 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 Quijote while she was doing whatever it is she does in the bathroom. There came a menacing silence.
“OK, I’m coming.” I know when I’m beaten. I went into the bathroom to check what sort of snake it was, and thus what sort of equipment I would need to deal with it. It was a snake alright, not a very 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 sort of a 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.”
Ten minutes later I returned in my snake-catching outfit – a pair of Wellington boots, gloves, a bucket and some tongs.
“Look at you!” snorted my wife. “You look like some sort of astronaut for heaven’s sake…” and she hooted with laughter. “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?”
I surveyed the terrain and decided on a discreet flanking movement followed by a quick lunge.
“Right, you stay there and 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. I took it outside and let it slither off into the chumbo.
Lucky snake that one. Had it been another Alpujarran bathroom it had found its way into, it would have been for the chop. Local people kill snakes, any snakes. Then, with a good manly sort of a feeling I returned to my study of the Quijote.
Author and farmer Chris Stewart’s best-selling novel Driving Over Lemons about his family’s relocation to Spain is to be turned into a TV Drama. Inspired by his family’s adventures, the drama follows Chris, a hapless optimist, and his pragmatic wife Ana, as the couple embark on a new life, uprooting from the UK and relocating to Andalusia, in an attempt to build a new life in the Alpujarra mountains. You can find out more about Chris at his website Driving Over Lemons. You can buy his books from Waterstones in the UK here, and listen to him reading extracts from Driving Over Lemons here. See all articles by Chris at SPI here.
Chris Stewart’s best-selling novel Driving Over Lemons about his family’s relocation to Spain is to be turned into a TV Drama. “Inspired by his family’s adventures, the drama follows Chris, a hapless optimist, and his pragmatic wife Ana, as the couple embark on a new life, uprooting from the UK and relocating to Andalusia, in an attempt to build a new life in the Alpujarra mountains,” the producers say.