It’s 4:51 am here in Leeds, and I have been up all night. That isn’t by itself all that unusual, as since almost immediately after embarking on this adventure I reverted back to the natural night owl tendency that is my default mode. Tonight however, I am awake for an additional reason- my asthma is acting up and my inhaler is empty. I’m not in any danger, its just mild wheezing at the moment, but it is harder to breathe when lying down so I am propped up on the couch waiting for the local Walk In Centre to open at 8 am.
I brought two inhalers overseas with me, figuring that way when one ran out I would have a spare, get a new one and then never be caught without. HA! Apparently one of the ones I packed with me was already empty. Oops. That was a nice surprise this morning. (Well, I say morning…)
Now, how does an American with no health insurance get a prescription filled in the UK, land of the NHS? Yeah, I didn’t know either. So after a bit of ‘doing the googling’, I decided to walk to a pharmacy I had seen nearby and get the info straight from the horses mouth. I shook the inhaler and figured I had about two or three puffs left. (A lot of asthmatics call an inhaler their ‘puffer’. Since childhood I have called mine my ‘squeezie breathie’. ) I wasn’t wheezing yet, but quite often an attack can be brought on just by the simple knowledge that you have no meds. There is a huge psychological component to asthma that you have to train yourself to control. When I have trouble breathing I’m like a friggin’ swami. Nothing ruffles me. It’s like the exact opposite of the movie Crank. (Speaking of asthma and movies, it drive me CRAZY when they have a character in a film having an asthma attack and they are LAYING DOWN. Do you hear me Signs? I’m talking to you. Or when they show someone using an inhaler improperly…like Samwise in The Goonies. Do some damn research. I’m available for consultation. Just sayin…)
Where was I? Oh yes..ok…so I headed off to the pharmacy, walking a pace about 1/3 of my normal one so as not to raise my heart rate. I noticed up ahead of me was a group of young men clustered together in the middle of the sidewalk. They were very excited about something, and there was lots of arm waving and yelling. They all appeared to be between the ages of 17-25, and as I got closer two more rode up on bicycles, bringing their number to 8. And they were completely blocking the sidewalk. Now I don’t like stereotypes or generalizations any more than you do, but lets face it…most women walking alone would be at least slightly tense about having to force their way through a large group of sparky men standing in their path. But I was full swami mode, and gave no fucks. Surprisingly, as I approached, they parted like the red sea as if to let me though. But then one boy stepped in front of me, and put out his hand in the universal gesture that means ‘stop’. I halted, and geared myself up to be annoyed when he surprised me by saying “Be careful! There’s a snake!!” He then pointed to the ground to the left of me, and sure enough, there was a snake.
I am 100% sure that these boys were not expecting me to respond in the manner I did.”Oh cool!”, I replied. “Ooh, its a beauty too.” I squatted down to get a closer look at it. She was a beautiful pink color, not terribly large, probably about three feet fully extended. One of the young men behind me asked “Do you know what kind it is? Is it poison?” After watching it for a few more seconds, I turned around to reassure him. “No, I don’t think so. It’s not displaying any aggression, or opening its mouth. It kind of looks like a rat snake.” They all looked at me as if I were an alien. The first boy (who I am naming Harry) then asked me, ” Do you know..does anyone around here have snakes?” (For the purposes of this narrative, you must imagine all the boys speaking in a think, broad Yorkshire accent. If you don’t know what that sounds like, you must You Tube it. It’s wonderful.) Of course I had to explain to him that I was American and knew no one. Another boy then asked me, “Can you pick it up?” Before I could respond, good old Harry spit out “No she can’t. She’s a girl.”
Oh Harry darlin’, you were so lucky I was still firmly in swami mode. I turned away from him to the other boys. “I need a stick. Around three feet long, preferably with branches on the end that form a ‘Y’ shape.” There was a tree right there, and immediately two boys jumped up and ripped down a huge branch and began to prune it down to the specifications I had given them. I turned around and saw that Harry was holding a piece of fence post about a foot long. He looked at me, and then dropped it and picked up a slightly longer stick. I then noticed he had cleverly fashioned a bag out of a tee-shirt, and he began to poke at the snake in an effort to get it into the shirt-bag. By this time, the other boys had stripped a branch to the correct size, and one of them handed it to me. I looked around and realized the crowd had grown…we’d added some older men who had been working on one of the nearby houses and a few more young’uns. They all watched the proceedings intently and were strangely quiet.
I then turned back to the snake, and for the next 5 minutes it was mano a mano. Harry had given up after the snake had slithered up his wee stick and he’d dropped the branch and taken up position as bag man, which was fine…except that every time I went to place the snake in the bag Harry squealed and dropped it. This could have gone on indefinitely, but luckily one of the workmen had procured a plastic box that had been used at some point for housing a critter, and after placing it on the ground it was then only a matter of seconds before I was able to gently maneuver the snake safely into the box.
Of course, Harry ended up with the snake. I asked what he was going to do with it. I had figured they would take it somewhere wooded and release it, but Harry told me he believed the snake would die if left outside and planned on taking it home. Which was fine with me. I stood there for a few moments, looking at the crowd of 15 men, who were staring back at me, the only woman. After some awkward silence, I broke it by saying, “Right then, I’m off. Cheers.”, and I turned and continued on my way to the pharmacy. I turned around after a few steps, and saw the men were dispersing. A few were following Harry, but the rest were heading off in different directions.
The entire encounter lasted about 10 minutes, and at no time during it did I lose my swami cool. As a matter of fact, I was so determinately chill that it wasn’t until I got back to my lodgings after chatting with the pharmacist that the absurdity of the entire event hit me. And of course, I started laughing, and had to use one of my precious remaining puffs. It was worth it though. 😉
Well, I’ve made it! It is now 7:40am. Time to get ready to head to the Walk in Clinic and get a new ‘squeezie breathie’. Thank you for keeping me company tonight. It made it go by ever so much faster!
We’ll chat again soon,
P.S. I did some research and it turns out she was a ‘cornsnake”, which is a type of rat snake. Non venomous, non aggressive. Doesn’t even have fangs. I have to admit, that was probably a lucky guess on my part, I am hardly a snake enthusiast. I just read a lot.