Thursday, 27 September 2012

On Extermination

I grew up in suburban Surrey with a fascination of pond life... nose close to water surface, you can witness battles as exciting on any safari. Visiting the home I grew up in this week, I had time to dip into another treasuretrove: my Ballymena-born Dad's library. An Ulster Childhood (written in 1922) caught my eye and the author bio made me smile. Lynn C Doyle is a pen name: say it out loud and you'll hear linseed oil.
Doyle's writing style is lovely but I was a touch offended when I read that rural people of Northern Ireland seem to diss pond-dwellers. They used to say....
"A newt [is] a 'man-creeper', a wicked insect [sic] that if you fall asleep by a waterside crawls down your throat and exterminates you."
I like newts, especially crested newts: they give a touch of the exotic to an English puddle, pond or stream. So what is it about such benign, belly-crawling creatures that scares people so?
Is it that we need creatures to fear (in Ireland there are no venomous snakes)? In Nepal too people have unfounded anxieties about the shiny pin-striped skink - a fine and beautiful reptile that villagers say kills on contact.
Fortunately that is complete twaddle too.

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