Ophidiophobia: Steve Canavan talks about his 'perfectly rational' fear of snakes

If you’re a long-term reader of this column (so basically, that’s no one) you’ll be aware I have a fear of snakes. There’s nothing unusual about that. It’s perfectly rational I’d say to be apprehensive of something that slides silently along the ground before biting and killing you.

By Steve Canavan
Wednesday, 25th May 2022, 12:37 pm

Anyway, the reason for mentioning this is because at the weekend my sister asked if I fancied taking the kids to a local nature reserve. We go a lot as there’s a play park and an ice cream shop, and it’s a splendid way of keeping even the stroppiest young children relatively quiet for a couple of hours.

Then she casually added, ‘and there’s some sort of reptile thing on that might be interesting’.

I absent-mindedly replied in vaguely positive manner while thinking, in my head, it would be some poxy small thing, with a bored-looking staff member giving a talk while pointing to a couple of tanks containing a lizard and a small grass snake (interestingly, I’ve just googled grass snakes and discovered that under threat they release a pungent odour - which is uncanny because so does my mother, the only difference being that she doesn’t have to be under threat).

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Steve has a fear of snakes. Photo: Ian Rutherford

We arrived at the nature reserve place and saw a slightly amateurish-looking sign stuck on a doorway reading ‘Reptiles 12-3pm’. This was clearly going to be pretty tame.

Then we entered and I almost had a cardiac arrest on the spot.

It was a little like stumbling into a particularly dangerous, reptile-infested area of South American rainforest.

There were containers with snakes in everywhere, and – I noted with an emotion way beyond alarm – seven or eight people stood at various places around the room (and the room was small, about 12 feet square) with giant snakes wrapped around their bodies.

“Good god almighty,” I gasped, and turned to run in the manner of someone fleeing an axe-wielding assailant, only to find my path blocked by another large family group that had followed us in (by large I mean there were several of them, not that they were obese).

My legs suddenly went weak and I came over all queasy.

‘Are you ok?’ said a voice. I looked up to see a not unattractive brunette, who I couldn’t help but notice was wearing a very low-cut top.

“Me?” I said, straightening and turning slightly to my left (as I’ve had a long-held theory that the left side of my face is slightly more attractive than the right). “Yes, fine thank you.”

‘It’s just you look a little pale,’ she said.

I noted she had the most piercing beautiful eyes and briefly thought about going down on one knee and proposing, then looking up RightMove on my phone and finding a nice semi-detached house for us to settle down in.

“Pale? Me?” I replied. “It’s because I didn’t sleep very well. I entered an Ironman contest yesterday, then spent the night caring for a sick elderly relative, and I’ve been cleaning the house this morning in between doing charity work for the more vulnerable and needy in society.”

I didn’t actually say that last bit because her husband – who was wearing a vest and had a physique that suggested his line of work was professional boxer – was staring at me, so instead I assured her I was fine and turned back towards the room of snakes.

My sister and I had four children under the age of seven with us. All were jumping with excitement and completely fearless. I pointed out – just to quieten them down a little – they were just about the right size to be an evening meal for a boa constrictor.

Speaking of which, that’s exactly what the man who approached us had around his neck.

‘Hi there,’ he said. ‘Do you want to stroke him?’

The kids screamed yes, while it was all I could do to not squeal “for the love of god, no man”, and throw myself out the nearest window.

The man – who looked surprisingly normal for someone with a huge boa constrictor on his person – was called Daz and told us he had 70 snakes at home.

“Why do you do it?” I stammered.

‘Because they’re beautiful,’ he said, before informing us that Bones, the name of his boa, had more than 90 teeth and regularly bit him.

“But it only happens when I feed him,” Daz said, as if that made it ok. He explained Bones eats frozen rodents. ‘You dip its head,’ said Daz, ‘into boiling water for five seconds (I think he meant the rodent’s, not the boa constrictor’s) and then hold it in the air. That’s when the snake lunges forward and grabs it … but he often misses and gets me instead.’

He said this last bit with a chortle, though I can’t help but think he isn’t chortling at the very moment Bones – who clearly requires an eye test - plunges 96 teeth into his hand.

I asked Daz where he lived and was relieved it was more than 100 miles from my house.

“Do your neighbours like the fact you have 70 snakes?” I enquired.

‘No, not really,’ said Daz.

He then gave us – as a gift – a snake skin that Bones had shed earlier in the year.