Friday, January 04, 2008

The Gatepost Lizard (2000)

The island of Corfu looks rather like a severed horse’s leg. Down near the ‘hoof’ is where you’ll find the Bacchanalian excesses of resorts like Kavos. Which is precisely why we chose to head to the North of the island. It is up here at the 'stump' that you find the real Corfu; unspoiled, undiscovered, undeveloped and unpopulated by lager-fuelled Brityobs.

We discovered the small fishing village of Roda quite by accident. A month before the holiday started, Dawn and I had walked boldly into a High Wycombe travel agent armed with £800 and a desire to get away from it all for a couple of weeks. It was one of those last-minute, don’t-know-where-we’ll-end-up type holiday decisions. We had no idea where our £800 would get us, but we suspected Greece, Turkey, Spain or Portugal. In the end we plumped for Greece and Corfu in particular. We hadn’t been before so we looked forward to new sights and new experiences. And we weren’t disappointed.

The dawn chorus in Roda starts early and sounds very much like the dawn chorus back home in England. That’s because most of the birds are the same. In fact, despite being in the Mediterranean, I don’t think that we saw a creature on Corfu that was unfamiliar.

Except the Gatepost Lizard. He was evil.

I’ve always tried, despite the best efforts of Hollywood, to teach my children that animals are animals, and not little humans in furry packaging. It hasn’t been easy. The hypnotic world of the cinema, media and toy manufacturers are all against me on this and insist on anthropomorphising everything from piglets to lion kings. It also doesn’t help when the animals themselves sometimes exhibit human-like behaviours. How often do you hear people describing their pets as having character or personality? I know that dogs and cats and other animals are simply following deeply-rooted instinctive patterns and that stick-chasing and post-scratching are those behaviours adapted to the human environment. But that doesn’t stop people assigning intelligence to such activities. And intelligence presupposes a little bit of humanity.

It was hard not to assign some degree of intelligence to the Gatepost Lizard as he seemed to outsmart me every day for nearly two weeks. Let me set the scene:

The gate at the back of the Elizabeth Apartments, where we stayed, led onto a pleasant lane that passed between shady olive and orange groves and, in turn, to the village. It was all quite idyllic. The view across the sea to the awesome red mountainous coast of Albania was inspiring and, as we were to discover, the village boasted some fabulous seafood restaurants and excellent shops and we ate like kings. On the morning of our first full day on the island, we decided to walk into the town to buy some local produce. We’d gone self-catering as usual. We always prefer it. Self-catering means availing ourselves of the better local fish, meat, fruit and vegetables. Plus it also leaves us free and flexible enough to explore a variety of restaurants. We walked from our apartment and out of the gate when suddenly Dawn noticed something. A small lizard was poking its head out of a hole in one of the gateposts. It was a tiny brown common lizard, just like we get at home, and it was soaking up the morning sunshine. I immediately reached for my camera and almost as immediately the Gatepost Lizard ducked back inside his hole. And he didn’t come out again. I waited a few minutes but then decided to call it a day. I clipped my lens cap back on, pushed the camera back into its case and turned to go … just as the little bugger popped out again. I unzipped the camera case, flicked off the lens cap, lifted the camera to my eye and – zip! – he was gone once more (I say ‘he’ – the little git’s perverse behaviour seemed altogether childish and laddish to me). So I did the same thing again. And so did he. Eventually Dawn got fed up with the game of cat and mouse – well, man and lizard – we were playing and dragged me off to the village where we had a meal of slow pot-roasted lamb cooked with tiny onions and rosemary that simply melted in the mouth.

A few hours later we returned to the apartments … and guess what? The Gatepost Lizard was craning his neck out of his hole. So I carefully and quietly unzipped my camera case, popped off my lens cover … you can guess the rest. And this went on for 13 days. Every day I would try a different approach to sneak up on the little sod and every day he’d outwit me. I approached him with the sun in my eyes so as not to cast a shadow over his post. I walked downwind so he wouldn’t catch my scent. I crawled along the floor to try and catch him from underneath. I tried every single thing I could think of to photograph the little brute – even to the extent of seeking out a suitably powerful long lens (which was always unlikely in a small fishing village where nthe taxi was horse-drawn) – but I failed. So in the end I gave up. It was so frustrating! Every other kind of wildlife I’d seen on the island – including prettier and more impressive lizards - had posed beautifully for me. But the Gatepost Lizard remained aloof and elusive and taunted me from his hole. Well, that’s what it felt like.

On the final day of the holiday we were to be collected by coach from the rear of the apartments; just by the gate where my Nemesis lived. I tried not to think about him sat inside his post laughing at me. I consoled myself by fantasising terrible events ... like his being mauled by a cat or plucked from his little cave by a local bird of prey. But at least I was rid of him. Or so I thought. As we joined the other guests gathered at the gate, I saw that the lizard was giving them all a floor show! He bloody was! He was allowing everyone, even children and pensioners, to get really close and take photographs of him. Oh, he was taking the piss now, I decided. But, undaunted, I unzipped my camera case, popped the lens cap off and ‘snap’ I got a perfect picture. Then ‘snap!’ I got another. And then as if to say ‘That’s all folks!’ he bolted back into his hole. Everyone oohed and aahed and packed up their cameras. ‘That was lovely’ they said. ‘Oh, wasn’t he cute!’ they cooed.

But all I could think was … for nearly two weeks I had been outwitted by a small, cold-blooded reptile with a brain the size of a grain of rice.

Little bastard.

All photos by me - some of the last I ever took using a 35mm SLR loaded with film!


Michele said...

Yep, no doubt about it...The Gatepost Lizard is most definitely Evil.

Such a great story!

Stevyn Colgan said...

Yeah ... he really did taunt me! Every other living thing on the island - no problem. I have some great shots of kingfishers, shining green lizards, turtles ... trust me to find the most camera-shy reptile in the Mediterranean. Thanks for calling by!