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Torfaen Tales

Reptile Awareness Day

Has Anyone Seen a Crocodile?

Gill Meadows stood stunned, speechless, unbelieving. She had just bought a sliced loaf and a dozen eggs in the supermarket and was thinking of the sexy little number she had seen in the window of the little boutique next door, when her path was blocked by an 8 foot alligator, or it may have been a crocodile, she was never sure of the difference.

‘It must be plastic’ she thought. ‘A joke. Alligators just don’t stroll around Pontypool on a Wednesday morning.’ A swish of its tail convinced her it was real and alive. She stood very still.

The morning had started quite normally in the town with shoppers shopping, dossers dosing and sales reps selling as much as possible. The only telltale sign of something unusual was the poster on the front door of the Sports Centre in the middle of town. It had been on display for about a month, but today was the day for the event to happen. “Reptile Awareness Day”, it said in large red letters. “The Llandrago Zoo will be bringing along specimens for members of the local community to see and handle. Anyone owning a reptile is welcome to bring it along. No dogs allowed. No Smoking.”

Over the last few months, the Manager of the Sports Hall had been trying some unusual ideas to bring in both the public and extra income, sport in Pontypool not being a high priority on everyone’s agenda. Successes so far included a cat show for pet cats as opposed to pedigree ones, a swim-in for pet goldfish, and an insect-fest. It had never failed to amaze him, the strange and fantastic animals hidden away behind people’s private front doors.

People poured into the hall, they had been queuing an hour before it was due to open. Some carried little shoe boxes or plastic Tupperware pots all containing something with scales. School children full of excitement shouted and jumped about.

Attendants just inside the door directed customers accompanied by reptile guests to the appropriate areas, others were sold programmes of the day’s events and the school children, still full of excitement, shouted and jumped about.

The organisers had decided it would be interesting to compare the speed and type of movement of some of these creatures. So they had erected a long low polytunnel type structure along the centre of the room. Their idea was to enter the creatures at the one end and then collect them from the other, after they had completed the length of the room with everyone watching and learning. The expert, with loudhailer in hand, would indicate relevant points of interest.

Unfortunately, no-one had explained this to the various lizards and iguanas who decided that with the extra spotlights which had been rigged up to enable observation, this tunnel was an ideal place to lounge and even sleep Crowds were now gathering to observe the antics of the owners huddled at either end of the tunnel. Some were calling sweet words, others not so sweet. Tit-bits were being waved enticingly, without result, as most reptiles had been fed copiously before the show to ensure good behaviour. Two men had even resorted to walking sticks and crutches provided by pensioners or disabled in the crowd. These implements were to try and pry and prod the animals into some sort of action.

Everyone became a little nervous when a battered blue transit van arrived, accompanied by four outriders on Harley Davidson motorbikes and wearing a large quantity of leather and tattoos. As well as the rattling engine, the van had it’s own extra rather unnerving sound. Something inside was clanging against the battered sides of the van, which were already crinkled and rippled.

To everyone’s amazement the back doors of the van opened into the large double doors of the arena and the driver and accompanying bikers proceeded to lift out a rather large crocodile. A blue rope secured his jaws and a red one made a sort of bridle around his chest and stomach. Josh, the owner, proceeded to explain that Brian, the croc was fully fed and normally quite quiet and docile on these occasions. He just didn’t like travelling in the van. It made him grouchy,

“Because”, Josh explained, “it reminded him of when he had been rescued, and brought back from Africa to Pontypool in this van”.

The crocodile stood staring at the crowd and the crowd stared back. This inactivity soon became boring for the curious crowd, and lack of action meant they soon moved on to other attractions.

The local amateur photographic group were present – good material for a portfolio. The speed of some of the creatures tested both their skill with the camera, and the film speed. Hopefully, the results of their work would later be sold to the local and national newspapers for very large sums of money.

The happy snappers (the photographers, not the reptiles) spread out around the room. They had learnt from attending other functions that a different angle is always good, even if it is of the same occurrence.

Close-up lenses focussed on scales, eyes, feet, claws, and the expressions of glee and revulsion as people caressed, held and generally man-handled accumulated specimens.

In the corner by the crash mats, Geraldine, a zoo keeper was showing an array of geckos.

“They come from various parts of the world”, she explained, “and are relatively harmless compared to some other members of the reptile family”. She was demonstrating how geckos can crawl up extremely smooth surfaces. A particularly bright orange spotted variety was removed from its glass tank and placed on a sheet of glass balanced against the wall. There was a camera flash and the creature immediately took off up the wall and proceeded to observe the remainder of events from the ceiling, some twenty-five feet above the arena.

The boa constrictor was particularly striking at twelve feet long, and one guy was permanently occupied snapping everyone brave enough to wear the snake as a colourful muffler for a few seconds.

Gradually all the photographers congregated around the bikers and their croc, which, although dramatic, was still rather an uninteresting photographic study. Only the eye seemed to move, the rest could have been a rather rugged tree trunk or a plastic replica from a window display.

Someone requested the rope be removed from Brian’s jaws. “It was spoiling the composition’”, and “wouldn’t it be great to see his teeth.” Josh was happy that the croc was sleepy enough after his breakfast of offal and bones from the butcher. The wish was granted, the photographers were delighted. They snapped and so did the croc, at the nearest person. The sudden burst of light from multiple flashes startled Brian who writhed and wrestled with the bridle and the bikers. A burger disappeared inside the huge jaws without him even noticing as people dropped everything and ran. Schoolchildren even more excited shouted and jumped about and screeched loudly. It was better than TV.

There was the proverbial pandemonium, most of the crowd who had paid five pounds to get in, were now desperately trying to get out. Others were scrabbling, bent double, trying to catch creatures who just appeared as a blur between chairs and tables.

‘Watch Out’ came a shriek just before a piercing scream from a rather slow moving overweight lady in a flowery dress. The flying orange gecko had landed fullsquare on the large yellow sunflower in the centre of her back and proceeded to the highest point – her head. This was now moving very rapidly whilst sporting a rather fetching reptile headgear.

The glorious pair of two foot long caimen were desperately struggling to find a cool damp resting place, by disappearing down the storm gulley outside the arena. They were in severe risk of losing their tails to the two zoo keepers grasping firmly through thick leather gloves.

Gill was now as marble, both skin colour and stance, Brian’s huge eyes checking out lunch. The shopper had stood their as though waiting for a bus, not knowing what to do or what was going to happen next. Then they were surrounded by a noisy group from across the road. They were bikers in leather gear and carrying stout rope and cricket stumps from the sports shop. One leapt on Brian’s back, quickly followed by a second behind him. Thrashing and wrestling ensued accompanied by loud shrieks and screams from the various shoppers who had happened to come upon the scene whilst going about their normal Wednesday business. Josh and his mates knew their stuff and soon, assisted by zoo keepers, traffic wardens and the local constabulary, had Brian back in the van. The traffic warden waived the ticket for the van parking on double yellows, due to the circumstances.

Newspapers and TV Stations all over the country had the show as their lead story that evening.

All in all, at the end of the day, the photographers considered it a great success. There had been no casualties requiring hospital treatment, maybe just a few cuts and bruises.

“Reptile Awareness Day” had certainly made people aware of Pontypool, the Sports Centre and reptiles in general, but despite this there wasn’t much enthusiasm from the committee, or the local police for a repeat performance.

By Margaret Gurney

Last Modified on: 05-11-2015

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