The last time I wrote in this space it was to complain about persistent and unwelcome visitors to my garden pond – rapacious, fish-eating herons. Now I can report a rarer and more welcome visitor, one that I’m not inclined to shoot on sight – though some people would not share such benign sentiments. The new garden guest was a snake. To be specific, a grass snake, a handsome and entirely harmless three-footer. I had noticed it while strolling around the pond. It was far from happy. The wretched creature – the first I’d ever seen in the garden – had somehow entangled itself in a spare piece of fine plastic netting – part of my complex heron defence system, I should add, to allay my guilt – which I had carelessly left dangling off the end of the pond bridge. In its struggle to wriggle free, the snake had become more and more enmeshed and was in danger of throttling itself, a predicament that seemed irreversible. My first instinct was to put the thing out of its misery with a swift blow to the head. My second was to launch an unlikely rescue operation. Fortunately, my daughter Sara’s boyfriend George was on hand. “Fetch a pair of small scissors,” I commanded, and for the next twenty minutes, George, with impressive surgical precision, snipped away at the netting, while I held the snake still. When we had finally freed our reptilian friend, which we named Sam, apparently none the worse for the experience, immediately slithered into the pond to hide behind a clump of reeds. There it remained while we all went back into the house for a cup of tea, feeling very pleased with ourselves. When I returned, ten minutes later, the snake had gone, probably never to return. I’ll post a couple of photographs when I get around to it. Here’s why the self-congratulation was well-deserved: I HATE SNAKES.
From the mundane to the momentous, or perhaps the other way round: Osama bin Laden apparently has been killed by the American military in a daring raid on a compound in Pakistan. The use of the word ‘apparently’ doesn’t mean that I’m suspicious of the event, announced on television by President Obama, merely that in the absence of pictorial evidence my journalistic instincts demand such a qualifier. Conspiracy theorists no doubt will produce a variety of reasons for scepticism, even if the Americans release photographs of the body, which was buried at sea within hours to prevent his grave becoming shrine. I will not be joining them, as it seems inconceivable from every practical aspect that the American military Establishment would lie about such a thing. Meanwhile, television news footage showed ecstatic Americans whooping it up noisily on the streets, arguably an understandable reaction among those who had lost family members or friends in the World Trade Center attack. “We got him!” screamed the headlines – and indeed the President himself – which struck me as reminiscent of the infamous British tabloid headline ‘Gotcha!’, which announced the sinking of the Argentine cruiser Belgrano during the Falklands War with the loss of 250 sailors. If I’m reluctant to share the elation, it’s not because I had any sympathy with bin Laden’s terror campaign, but because it seems to me that any death, even that of an evil man, ought to be an occasion not for celebration but for sober reflection, in this case about the reasons why society produces such virulent fanatics as bin Laden.. Put it down, if you must, to further evidence of my squeamish nature.