Snakes In The Mother-In-Law’s Woodpile: A Thailand Cobra Chronicle

And so it came to pass one muggy and overcast Saturday afternoon in the wilds of Northeast Thailand, that I found myself on my backside, cowering away from a stream of highly concentrated venom being shot from the fangs of an extremely vexated Indochinese spitting cobra.

“How did you arrive at this juncture?”, I hear the cries from the back row, and note the puzzled expressions at the front.

Well, the answer is simple.

In fact it’s a stockpile answer I tend to refer to whenever my life takes a desperate turn for the worse: “It’s all my mother in-law’s fault”.

It is. She is to blame. And I’ll tell you why…

So there I was lying in my hammock, busy devouring the works of a certain Mr John Grisham while making steady but sure inroads into a box full of Australian Award Winning lager beer (Chang, if you study the label closely), when ‘she’, she-who-must-fuck-everything-up, Mair, breezed around the corner and nonchalantly chimed, “there’s a snake in my garden, can you please remove the fucker?”.

Now this annoyed me. I was just about to celebrate the climax of chapter two with a massive slug of booze and a cigarette — but no.

Despite residing in the arse end of Southeast Asia, where the most exciting thing to happen in the last fortnight was Great Uncle Somjit’s annual delousing, times of solitude and relaxation are unusually scarce.

I was handed a large, heavy garden implement — a job, or a hoe, and weighing the tool in my hand I quickly concluded that the offending reptile wasn’t something that my dear, and so often misinformed, mother in-law had confused with a large earthworm or something.

In her garden now, I was greeted by the squeals of half a dozen or so of Mair’s mates, sarongs hoisted up to their knees like some Asian version of a Carry On film. They gestured, panic-stricken to the point of pissing themselves, towards a pile of wood.

Nguu hao, ngu hao,” they chanted at me.

Back in those days my standard of Thai could be described as “Where is the beach?” at best, so while I was able to translate the word ‘Ngu’ meaning snake, I didn’t know what ‘hao’ meant.

I later surmised that ‘hao’ was the Thai for ‘spiteful twat’, but was actually corrected by a farmer I later regaled the tale to. ‘Hao’, it transpires, means ‘bark’. And cobras are known to make a kind of growling noise as oppose to the bog-standard hiss associated with all things that slither.

So with hoe in hand and a now very intrigued spectatorship cooing and clucking behind me, I approached the woodpile with a view to perhaps making friends with the snake and asking if it minded moving, I don’t know, several kilometres to the right, because a) yes, my mother in-law is to be obeyed at all times, and crucially, b) my young children often play around here and we wouldn’t want it to be mistaken for the skipping rope that went awol circa November 2012.

Using the metal plate of the hoe, I freed up the topmost planks of the pile, one by one, systematically, unsure if the next would be the one to unearth a scowling serpent. But now, after having dismantled the pile and pared it down to just a few lengths of lumber, I wondered if this wasn’t an elaborate ruse concocted by the Mair and her muckers to liven up their Saturday night.

Nothing on tv? Let’s get that foreign chap round here to look for a snake that doesn’t exist.

But then I saw it. A coiled spring. A scaly black ring of writhing muscle. Unravelled this thing must have been approaching the six foot mark. It flicked its forked tongue in my direction, eager to hone in on the scent — which at this point was probably a heavenly bouquet of beer Chang fumes, stale sweat and fresh flatulence.

Because I’m an idiot, and the crowd behind me were growing delirious, I made the first move: a little prod just to help it on its way.

“Go on, bugger off. There’s a good chap.”

Nothing. If that snake had shoulders it would’ve shrugged them. Instead it just lay there, blowing raspberries at me.

Now, at this stage, I might be wrong, but I’m quite sure one of the spectating contingent passed out through sheer excitement — there was an anguished wail which appeared to be cut short, followed by a thud on the deck. But I had no time to look around to see what’d happened. I was too busy playing mind games with Nagini here.

Another prod, more indifference.

Calling for backup, which came in the form of a fresh bottle of suds, I drained half the contents and went back to business, this time, though, with perhaps a little more zeal. The prods were turning into pokes, the pokes into shoves, and finally, the shoves into a fairly robust jab. And that was that.

Rearing up towards me with robotic precision, it tilted its hood flanked head back, stared me straight in the eye, and said, “Right, get a load of this, you prick”.

Bringing its head crashing forward, it spat a gin clear, arrow straight stream of poison, directed right at my face.

Fortunately, I was so terrified, I’d began staggering back/falling to the floor before it had discharged the venom, so instead of having the desired effect of blinding me, it merely left a soggy patch on my t-shirt. I reeled around on the dusty ground, frantically scrabbling backwards.

Mair and her friends were already 12 amphurs up the road.

Then something quite unprecedented befell the situation.

Great Uncle Somjit, fresh back from a day in the fields and on the outside of several pints of moonshine if one were to judge his erratic gait, suddenly activated Samurai Warrior mode.

Entering the theatre of conflict, he noted the cobra and appeared to consider the situation for a second or two before brandishing a machete and casually — and I mean casually — lopping its head clean off, before continuing his onward stagger.

Have you ever tried pad pet ngu hao?

Mair has. And she loves it.


Featured image is a photoshop of images by Pavan Kumar N (Creative Commons) and ahtibat-stock 



About Author

A connoisseur of larb moo and lau khao, Steve Edwards spent 14 years in the Siamese underbelly. He's currently licking his wounds in London, preparing to step back into the breach... Follow him on Twitter @isaansteve

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