According to legend, Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. He chased them into the sea with some sort of Holy Stick (or whatever) after they disturbed him during a 40-day fast. Good old Saint Paddy.
Actually, that's probably not true, Fact Fans: Wikipedia tell us that "all evidence suggests that post-glacial Ireland never had snakes."
Here at Casa Cecilia, our Paddy is just a dog - a scruffy dog and undoubtedly one of life's Slow Learners (although he is Portuguese/English bilingual, which is a lot more than I can claim.) In short, he's got a good heart, but he's no saint.
Today, however, Paddy got the chance to demonstrate his own admirable snake-herding skills. If post-glacial Ireland wasn't bothered by the bastards, modern-day Portugal certainly is.
Working in my study some time after lunch, I heard him jump off the bed in the next-door bedroom, scramble across the floor and begin barking and snarling. The unearthly hissing response that followed convinced me that he'd squared up to one of next door's cats, so I headed that way to sort it all out, pursued as always by a very nosy Dachshund.
A snake! A bloody snake! Rearing up and seething and spitting at my precious dogs, with a look on its face that I know damn well I'll see again and again in my nightmares. He was a big bugger, too.
I'm not proud of what follows. I'd love to say that I brandished my Holy Stick and drove the bastard into the sea. Instead, and in the spirit of Next Best Plan, I got up on the bed and started screaming. And I kept on screaming until Tim came galloping across the verandah and into the bedroom.
Within seconds, he was armed not with a big stick, but with the nearest thing that came to hand: a dustpan and brush. The snake was unimpressed, and in any case, far too big and far too angry to be shepherded happily into said receptacle.
I somehow managed to drag both dogs into my study and shut the door. The lock was on the outside, or I'd have used that, too. In the meantime, Tim somehow managed to convince the snake to shoot off out of the door, along the verandah, off to god knows where. But I'm pretty convinced it's still watching me as I type this. The bastard.
I've always been suspicious about phobias. While I wasn't that keen on snakes before, I would never have said I have a phobia. And I've probably not developed a phobia about snakes today (ophidiophobia, for those Fact Fans who are still reading), but I've certainly developed a new-found respect for them.
And, perhaps, a new-found respect for scruffy old Paddy. He may not not have driven the snake out of Casa Cecilia, but he at least alerted me to its presence. And he didn't let the snake creep up on me (oh god) while I was working at my desk.
Tim has since identified our unwelcome visitor as a Montpellier Snake - Malpolon monspessulanus. There's a picture at the top of this post - yes, I DID pick the most scary example I could find. They can grow up to 2.5 metres in length.
Wikipedia again: "The rear fangs reduce the possibility of venom injection and the venom is of low toxicity." That really doesn't make me feel any better - but Paddy's constant presence is quite a comfort.