Once bitten, twice shy, goes the saying. On the basis of a quick straw poll I took around the table the other day, it seems this is not the case. All my dinner companions had been bitten again and again, although – granted – usually by different animals. A. had been bitten by leeches, a monkey and a dog. S. by a sheep, numerous horses and a cow. E. by an otter, which we all got rather excited about, until he clarified it was an otter from last night’s dream. No, it didn’t count. I added my ‘nearly’ bite from a crocodile in 1978 when dad took me to Duffy’s Circus. The croc escaped into the crowd and he held me aloft in the air above his head, offering up his ankles in defence of his daughter. Yeah, go dad! L. told us she once accidentally punched a bee and it stung her back. Do stings count? We decided they did. We can put ourselves in the way of a bite, almost asking for it, whereas stings can be less deserved, almost unavoidable. E. reminded us of the group holiday we’d had in Donegal some years ago. O. (only about 6 years old) got stung by a weever fish that was hiding in the soft sand of the estuary at low tide. Some call the weever ‘the stealthy assassin of the east Atlantic’ because of the nasty, potent toxin in its spine. When you step on one of these hidden beasties you know all about it. When O. began to scream and howl his mother thought he had lost a foot. Having counted all of his toes, and made sure everything was intact, a weever fish sting was diagnosed. Time is the only cure, though plunging the affected foot into hot water brings some pain relief. However, so anxious were the adults to help this child in his misery, that they plunged the wrong foot into the hot water as the brave little soul did as he was told. Ice cream was brought, it distracted him until eaten, his quick breathing slowing down, but then he took to quietly sobbing again. “Dad”, he said, pointing to the foot out of water, “this is my sore foot.”
There are times when the physical bite is that of a human. Lots of small children, especially those going through the ‘terrible twos’, bite. Some primitive instinct must kick in when snatching and grabbing toys from others in the nursery is replaced with a short, sharp bite for good measure. Little E. went through this phase, much to his mother’s horror. “He’s not seen it anywhere. Why is he doing this?” she would cry. Who knows, but the main thing is, it stopped. My nana used to tell a story about taking C. out as a toddler. He was fearlessly playing with a poodle – the smaller breed – and the dog owner warned nana that her little grandson was being too rough with the dog and she should lift him before he goaded the dog into biting him. After all, it wouldn’t be the dog’s fault, she added. Before either woman had a chance to separate dog from child, C. had turned the tables depositing a baby teeth bite on the poodle’s rump leaving it yelping and running for cover. He too has given up biting.
What about the surreptitious little bites we take from food in the hope that it will go unnoticed? The moments when you think: I’ll just have a wee bit of his chocolate bar in the fridge and push it down into the packet again, he’ll never notice. M. is a great one from taking a bite of a plum, an apple or a pear and then deciding she didn’t like it, or it’s under-ripe so she puts it back into the fruit bowl, offending bite and teeth marks neatly turned away so it looks untouched. Then there are the most audacious of all…. those who would take the bite out of your mouth, the crazy spitfire seagulls! Last summer K. was sitting on the seat at the front of her house in Edinburgh, a half eaten sausage roll on a plate beside her and sketchbook on her lap. Down swoops guzzling gull and in one bite her snack was gone.
As the new week dawns, may you be safe from literal and metaphorical bites – both giving and receiving – and save all bites for mealtimes, eaten well away from the seagulls.