One summer a few years ago, my wife and I rented a house near Charlottesville in Virginia. It was one of a number of houses around a small lake, roughly the size of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens.
Every single day was hot and sunny, so I was surprised to find that, whenever I went swimming, I had the lake to myself.
Why was this? Did everyone else own a swimming pool? Had Americans become so cosseted by luxury that they were now too scared to venture into water which was unheated, and had no tiles underfoot?
On the first five days, I got in and out of the lake at same spot, but on the sixth day I decided to emerge on the opposite shore for a few minutes, and potter about in the sun. It was only when I came to get back in that I found myself confronted by a sign: DANGER — SNAPPING TURTLES, writes Craig Brown
These smug questions kept me going as I boldly swam up and down, up and down, imagining all sorts of women looking out of their windows, calling out to their husbands and children to come and marvel at the plucky Briton who was putting their country to shame.
On the first five days, I got in and out of the lake at same spot, but on the sixth day I decided to emerge on the opposite shore for a few minutes, and potter about in the sun. It was only when I came to get back in that I found myself confronted by a sign: DANGER — SNAPPING TURTLES.
I had never heard of snapping turtles, but I didn’t like the sound of them. Certainly, their name was against them. I don’t like people who snap, let alone turtles.
On the other hand, from films like Jaws, I had detected an alarmist streak in Americans, so it crossed my mind that snapping turtles might well be as harmless and carefree as goldfish.
So I was faced with a decision. Should I risk humiliation by being seen to take a long, cowardly walk around the side of the lake in my swimming trunks, or should I just plunge back in, and act as if nothing had happened?
Picture of a snapping turtle in The Bronx. Craig Brown writes that one summer a few years ago, my wife and I rented a house near Charlottesville in Virginia. It was one of a number of houses around a small lake, roughly the size of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens
I decided to plunge back in, though this time my swimming was rather more urgent, and I kept my ears open for any tell-tale sounds of jaws snapping.
On getting back to the house, I looked up Snapping Turtle on the internet. The news was not encouraging. ‘Snappers can stretch their necks back across their own carapace and to their hind feet on either side to bite. When they feel stressed, they release a musky odour from behind.’
There were, admittedly, some half-hearted messages of reassurance: ‘While it is widely rumoured that common snapping turtles can bite off human fingers or toes, no proven cases have been presented’. But some reassurances serve only to boost anxiety.
Nothing I read made me want to venture back into the water, particularly in my flimsy swimming trunks. A headline kept flashing before my eyes: Tragic Briton Offered Replacement Private Part. The next day, our last day in Virginia, I decided to go sight- seeing instead.
Recently, a snapping turtle, nicknamed Myrtle the Turtle, was discovered in a lake near Scunthorpe, the first reported sighting in Britain for years.
For some time, anglers had been finding tench in the lake with their tails bitten off. There were no claw marks on the fish, so otters were ruled out. But who, then, was the culprit?
The mystery was solved by four-year-old Connor Brocklesby, who spotted 11lb Myrtle crawling along the bank. ‘I’ve never seen anything so aggressive in my life,’ reported the manager of the lake. ‘There was absolutely nothing even remotely cute about it.’
He then whisked Myrtle away to a destination unknown, quite possibly the cooking pot.
It’s now mid-June in Britain, the sun is out, and the North Sea is sparkling. No swim is entirely hazard-free, however. Some time ago, a friend of mine was swimming along when he felt something on his back. It turned out to be a large eel, clinging on by his teeth.
Once, on my very first swim of the year, around Easter, as I ran into the sea I felt a sharp stabbing pain. I hopped back to the shore to take a closer look. A discarded picnic skewer was sticking all the way through my left foot.
As I danced around with the skewer through my foot, two Finnish exchange students looked on, imagining it was a traditional British sea-dance.
And June usually signals the arrival of the first jelly-fish of summer. At the cosy English seaside, peril always lies in wait, snapping turtles or no snapping turtles.